aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

OE Bread words

In Old English, "bread" is hlaf, the ancestor of our word "loaf." The Modern English words for "lord" and "lady" are both derived from this word -- (hlaford, hlaefdige) -- and both mean "loaf-giver." The word-picture is of someone dealing out bread to people working on one's farm or in one's household. Charles Williams captures this sense in "Bors to Elayne: On the King's Coins" in Taliessin Through Logres.
I came in; I saw you stand,
in your hand the bread of love, in your head lightness of law.
The uprightness of the multitude stood in your figure;
my fieldsmen ate and your women served,
while you watched them from the high seat. . . .
Now when the thumbs are muscled with the power of goodwill
corn comes to the mill and the flour to the house,
bread of love for your women and my men;
at the turn of the day, and none only to earn;
in the day of the turn, and none only to pay;
for the hall is raised to the power of the exchange of all
by the small spread organisms of your hands; O Fair,
there are the altars of Christ the City extended.

I wish I could say that this word-picture of someone sharing out bread formed the dominant image of Christ for the ancient English, but "lord" came to be used to translate kurios and Adonai AFTER "lord" lost its down-home associations and became a political word; in other words, long after hlaford sank out of use. In OE, the word used for Christ as Lord is Drihten -- a leader of a war band. And yet, somehow, my understanding of what it means to call Christ "Lord" is just the tiniest bit colored by this wonderful old word. He is not only kurios, "boss"; not only Adonai THE/our Lord (of Hosts); he is also the head of our household who distributes to us each day our daily bread, himself.

There is another OE word that is used in liturgical language. Husl, or "housel," means "little house." In OE, banhus, "bone-house," means the human body; "housel" thus refers to the consecrated bread of the eucharist, the "little body" of Christ. While not making a clear or fully intended contribution to eucharistic theology, I find this a pleasing word-image, too. The bread is the body, not merely in the technical sense ("this is my body"), but in the ordinary sense of the thing that sustains and conveys the life within. And the life within is what actually nourishes us, not the material, however sacred, of the host.
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