Swaddling Clothes

Velazquez Magi

“Mary brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger.” It is the custom in those southern parts to treat the new-born babe in a way strange to this age and country. The infant is swathed around with cloths much resembling the winding-sheet, the bandages and ligaments of the dead. You may recollect, my Brethren, the account of Lazarus’s revival; how that, when miracle had lifted him up out of the tomb, there he lay motionless, till his fastenings were cut off from him. “He that had been dead came forth, bound foot and hand with winding-bands; and Jesus said to them: Loose him, and let him go.” So was it with that wonder-working Lord Himself in His own infancy. He submitted to the customs, as well as to the ritual, of His nation; and, as He had lain so long in Mary’s womb, so now again He left that sacred prison, only that her loving hands might manacle and fetter Him once more, inflicting on Him the special penance which He had chosen. And so, like some inanimate image of wood or stone, the All-powerful lies in the manger, or on her bosom, doubly helpless, both because His infancy is feeble, and because His bonds are strong. (Blessed John Henry Newman, Omnipotence in Bonds)

According to Herders Neue Bibel Lexikon swaddling clothes were about 6m long!

In the first draft of the American Lectionary for Masses with Children Luke 2:7 reads: “She dressed him in baby clothes and laid him in a feedbox”. The bishops later had “feedbox” changed to “manger”. I think they should have gone after “baby clothes” instead: “feedbox” may sound silly, but it is at least an accurate rendering of φάτνῃ, whereas “baby clothes” completely misses the point: the Almighty God is bound, He who “moves the sun and other stars” cannot even move His little hands and feet.

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