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He Who Came to Seek and Save Adam, Adam Became

By Canon Chris Palmer

I got intrigued by an old inscription on the outside wall of the south tower of the Cathedral recently. There is much uncertainty about the date, text, and translation. It may date to the 14th century, before the cloister was built, or to the 17th century after the cloister was destroyed. And it’s been re-lettered at least once. One possible reconstruction of the text is thus:

Primus Adam sic pressit Adam : salvet Deus illum, 
Is qui venit Adam quaerere factus Adam.

And the translation is something like this:
The First Adam— may God save him, Adam so whelmed with shame, 
That He who came to seek and save Adam, Adam became.

It’s possible that it’s a play on the name of a 14th century canon called Adam. But more clearly it relies on a play on the name of the biblical Adam that St Paul also uses in 1 Corinthians 15. Adam is a Hebrew name that simply means human being. Adam, the first human being spoilt everything by rebelling against God. But Christ, the second Adam, undoes the curse and corruption of sin, and restores us to relationship with God.

But the key thing, is that Christ could only save humankind, by becoming human himself. This self-emptying, this humility of God the Son, to be born in human likeness, is the very stuff of Christmas. Humanity would not be saved by an arm’s-length relationship; God takes on human nature in order to redeem human nature. He who came to seek and save Adam, Adam became

I constantly marvel each year at what this says about the dignity of human nature: that our humanity is capable of bearing the divine life; that God is delighted (as St Paul says) to dwell bodily in our human flesh. Of course it gives much opportunity for the poets and hymn writers to revel in the paradox, as in this 19th century example by Henry Ramsden Bramley:

O wonder of wonders, which none can unfold:
The Ancient of days is an hour or two old;
The Maker of all things is made of the earth,
Man is worshipped by angels, and God comes to birth

We rightly say that the incarnate Jesus reveals who God is: whoever has seen the son, has seen the Father (John 14.9). But the really remarkable thing is that the incarnation also reveals who we are, the wonder and glory of human being. When God does humanness, God allows us to see the boundless possibility of humanity, the call to fullness of life, to generosity in relationship, to revel in the life of God. Salvation is realising the potential of our humanity

So, I invite you simply… be amazed at what God is doing in you this Christmas!