Tuesday, January 31, 2017

F.J.E. Raby ‘s Appreciation of St. Ambrose

Those who appreciate Christian Latin, still more those who pray the Latin office, never grow tired of St. Ambrose, both as a theologian and as a poet, in the readings of the office and his hymns.  F.J.E. Raby (A History of Christian Latin Poetry), who was hardly one to throw around his praise carelessly, explains why this is so:

The real history of hymns in the West begins with Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. In a well-known passage of the Confessions,  Augustine describes under what circumstances the singing of  hymns was introduced. 'It was about a year from the time  when Justina, mother of the boy-emperor Valentinian, entered upon her persecution of Thy holy man Ambrose, because he resisted the heresy into which she had been seduced by the Arians. The people of God were keeping ward in the Church ready to die with Thy servant, their bishop. Among them was my mother, living unto prayer, and bearing a chief part in that anxious watch. Even I myself, though as yet untouched by the fire of Thy Spirit, shared in the general alarm and distraction. Then it was that the custom arose of singing hymns and psalms, after the use of the Eastern provinces, to save the people from being utterly worn out by their long and sorrowful vigils. From that day to this it has been retained, and many, I might say all Thy flocks, throughout the rest of the world now follow our example:  The Basilica at Milan, beset by the Gothic soldiery of Valentinian, heard the first strains of Catholic hymnody, in which with simplicity and beauty, Ambrose set forth the doctrines of the orthodox faith. The hymns of Ambrose became popular in the truest sense, for they made way into the experience of the Christian Church and were treasured in most of the Western hymnaries until they found a. permanent place in the Roman office. How deeply the appeal of their music could reach is shown in the confession of Augustine, to whose memory they recurred in times of trouble and anxiety. 'What tears', he says, 'did I shed over the hymns and canticles, when the sweet sound of the music of Thy Church thrilled my soul! As the music flowed into my ears, and Thy truth trickled into my heart, the tide of devotion swelled high within me, and the tears ran down, and there was gladness in those tears.' Sorrowing in secret for his mother's death-' for the bitterness of my sorrow could not be washed away from my heart '-he remembered, as he lay upon his bed, the verses of Ambrose:

Deus creator omnium
polique rector, vestiens
diem decoro lumine,
noctem soporis gratia.

artus solutos ut quies
reddat laboris usui,
mentcsque fessas allevet,
luctusque solvat anxios."

The hymns of Ambrose were written definitely for congregational purposes and they soon found their way into the Milanese and other liturgies. . . . Composed with the practical aim of expounding the doctrines of the Catholic faith in a manner sufficiently simple to capture the imagination of the unlearned, these hymns possess at the same time the admirable qualities of dignity, directness, and evangelical fervor. The two examples which follow give a true idea of the poetical quality of the first Latin Christian  hymns which succeeded in establishing for themselves a permanent position in the worship of the Catholic Church.

Aeterne rerum conditor.

Aeterne rerum conditor.
noctem diemque qui regis
et temporum das tempora,
ut alleves fastidium;

praeco diei iam sonat,
noctis profundae pervigil,
nocturna lux viantibus,
a nocte noctern segregans.

hoc excitatus lucifer
solvit polum caliginc,
hoc omnis erronum chorus
vias nocendi deserit.

hoc nauta vires colligit
pontique mitescunt freta,
hoc ipse, petra ecclesiae,
canente culpam diluit.

surgamus ergo strenue,
gallus iacentes excitat
et somnolentos increpat,
gallus negantes arguit.

gallo canente spes red it,
aegris salus refunditur,
mucro latronis conditur,
lapsis fides revertitur.

Iesu, labantes respice
et nos videndo corrige ;
si respicis, lapsus cadunt,
fletuque culpa solvitur.

tu lux refulge sensibus
mentisque somnum discutc,
te nostra vox primum sonet
et ora solvamus tibi.

Splendor paternae gloriae

splendor paternae gloriae,
de luce lucem proferens,
lux lucis et fons luminis,
diem dies inluminans.

verusque sol, inlabere
micans nitore perpeti,
iubarque sancti spiritus
infunde nostris sensibus.

votis vocemus et Patrern,
Patrem perennis gloriae,
Patrem potentis gratiae:
culpam releget lubricam.

informet actus strenuos,
dentem retundat invidi,
casus secundet asperos,
donet gerendi gratiam.

mentem gubernet et regat
casto fideli corpore,
fides calore ferveat,
fraudis venena nesciat.

Christusque nobis sit cibus,
potusque noster sit fides,
laeti bibamus sobriam
ebrietatem spiritus.

laetus dies hie transeat,
pudor sit ut diluculum,
fides velut meridies,
crepusculum mens nesciat.

aurora cursus provehit,
aurora totus prod eat,
in Patrc totus Filius,
et totus in Verbo Pater.

The hymns of Ambrose reflect the mind of the great teacher of the Latin Church. Bred as a lawyer and man of affairs, with all the practical genius of the Roman and that leaning to the ethical outlook which characterized the Roman mind, Ambrose cared little for the speculations which exercised such a fascination over the Greek fathers. He naturally accepted the orthodox Trinitarian position and he spent his life in building up his flock in this faith, inculcating those practical virtues and that simple piety which were always for him the true and characteristic fruit of the Gospel. For Ambrose is always the teacher rather than the theologian. His homilies, full as they are of allegory and the most curious and strained interpretations which he borrowed from the Greek fathers, have always the single aim of moral and spiritual edification. None of the great Latin bishops, before or after, so thoroughly won the hearts of his people by his eloquence, his devoted service, and his own example.

St. Ambrose: HEXAMERON 5.88: Commentary on Aeterne rerum conditor

A, S. Walpole, Early Latin Hymns, says that this section of the Hexameron is a commentary on St. Ambrose’s hymn, Aeterne Rerum Conditor: ‘the passage appears to be based on the hymn, rather than the hymn on the passage’.

The cock's crow is pleasant at nightfall. It is not only pleasant, but useful, too. As a good domesticated fowl he arouses the sleeper, gives him warning when he is perturbed, and consoles the voyager by asserting in musical tones that night is approaching. When the cock crows, the thief forsakes his schemes and the star of dawn rises to illumine the sky. When the cock crows, the sailor's gloom and trepidation disappear. Tempests and storms stirred up by gusts of wind at eveningtide subside. At his crowing the devout of heart bestir themselves for prayer and resume their reading. Finally, on this occasion 'the rock of the Church' washed away his sin which he had committed before the cock crowed. At cock-crow hope returns to all, the sick find comfort, the wounded find relief, the feverish are calmed, the lapsed return to the faith. Jesus has regard for those who stumble and corrects the errant. Hence He paid heed to Peter and forthwith the sin departed. Peter revoked his denial and his confession was completed. That this was God's plan and not a mere accident is revealed in the wordsof the Lord. It is written that Jesus said to Simon: 'Before the cock crows, thou wilt deny me three times.'

My translation of the hymn for comparison:

Eternal Creator of things, you who rule night and day, and give the time of the seasons that you may relieve our boredom. The cock, the watchman through the deep of night, now sounds, a nocturnal light for travelers, separating one night from another. By this the morning star is aroused, the sky is parted from the darkness; by this every band of errors  abandons its harmful ways. By this the sailor regains his strength and the raging sea is calmed; by this Peter himself, the rock of the Church, by song washes away his guilt. O Jesus, look upon those who are falling, for by one glance you correct; if you see us, our lapses fall and crime is absolved by tears. You, O Light, shine on our senses, may sleep of our souls depart; our voices sing to you and our promises to you are kept.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Amalarius of Metz: On the Liturgy: psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles

Amalarius of Metz: On the Liturgy: psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles


Paul shows 'how people should converse in church, saying to the Ephesians: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles." Jerome, in his treatise on the aforementioned epistle, as follows: "He who abstains from the drunkenness of wine, where there is excess, and on that account has been filled with the spirit-he can receive all things in the spirit: psalms, hymns and canticles. We learn  most fully in the Psalter about the difference between a psalm, a hymn and a canticle. Here, however, we should say briefly that hymns are those things that preach the strength and majesty of God, and forever marvel over his favors and deeds. All psalms that are either preceded or followed by an alleluia do this. Properly, though, psalms have a moral subject, to let us know what we should do and what we should  avoid with the instrument of our body.  And he who investigates higher things and sets forth, as a subtle examiner, the concord, order and harmony of the world and all creation - he sings a spiritual canticle. Or actually, to say what we want more clearly for the sake of those who are simpler- the psalm relates to the body and the canticle to the mind. We should therefore sing canticles and psalms and praises to God more in our mind than with our voice."

Book 4:3.13-14:

Paul says to the Ephesians: "Wherefore become not unwise, but understanding what is the will of God; be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury, but be filled with the spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord." As I learned from Saint Jerome's commentary, I recognize that the three modes of celebration of our office are realized in these three apostolic precepts - namely, that there are psalms in our speech when we sing Psalms, and hymns when we are driven to God's praises through reading the sayings of the holy fathers, and canticles when our mind is elevated with joy to the harmony of the heavenly country by singing the responsory. For song is most often practiced  in joy. The mind of the saints has no greater joy than being elevated, through anagogy, to the heavenly kingdom. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Ad Officium lectionis: saec XVIII

Pressi malórum póndere
te, Paule, adímus súpplices,
qui certa largus désuper
dabis salútis pígnora.

Nam tu beáto cóncitus
divíni amóris ímpetu,
quos insecútor óderas,
defénsor inde amplécteris.

Amóris, eia, prístini
ne sis, precámur, ímmemor,
et nos supérnæ lánguidos
in spem redúcas grátiæ.

Te deprecánte flóreat
ignára damni cáritas,
quam nulla turbent iúrgia
nec ullus error sáuciet.

O grata cælo víctima,
te, lux amórque Géntium,
o Paule, clarum víndicem,
nos te patrónum póscimus.

Laus Trinitáti, cántica
sint sempitérnæ glóriæ,
quæ nos boni certáminis
tecum corónet præmiis. Amen.

Pressed down by the weight of evil, O Paul, we come to you praying that you will give us from above certain pledges of our salvation. For you aroused by the blessed blow of divine love,  first persecuted those whom you hated and then as their defender embraced them.  Ah, do not forget your first love, we pray, and lead us back in our weakness to the hope of heavenly grace. By your prayers may love, which knows not damnation,  flourish,  love which is disturbed by no murmuring and which no error can wound.  O victim pleasing to heaven, light and love of the Gentiles, O Paul, we pray to you, our glorious avenger and patron. A hymn of praise to the  eternal glory of the Trinity, who crowns us with you, the reward for those who have fought the good fight. Amen.

Ad Laudes matutinis: saec. VIII-IX

Doctor egrégie, Paule, mores ínstrue
et mente polum nos transférre sátage,
donec perféctum largiátur plénius,
evacuáto quod ex parte gérimus.

Sit Trinitáti sempitérna glória,
honor, potéstas atque iubilátio,
in unitáte, cui manet impérium
ex tunc et modo per ætérna sæcula. Amen

Doctor without equal, Paul, instruct  our life and mind that we be set on the path to heaven; grant that we may more fully  possess what has been perfected and what we now know only in part.  Glory be to the eternal Trinity, honor, power and praise in the Unity, whose authority abides now and for eternal ages. Amen.

Ad Vesperas: Petrus Damianus

Excélsam Pauli glóriam
concélebret Ecclésia,
quem mire sibi apóstolum
ex hoste fecit Dóminus.

Quibus succénsus æstibus
in Christi nomen sæviit,
exársit his impénsius
amórem Christi prædicans.

O magnum Pauli méritum!
Cælum conscéndit tértium,
audit verba mystérii
quæ nullus audet éloqui.

Dum verbi spargit sémina,
seges surgit ubérrima;
sic cæli replent hórreum
bonórum fruges óperum.

Micántis more lámpadis
perfúndit orbem rádiis;
fugat errórum ténebras,
ut sola regnet véritas.

Christo sit omnis glória,
cum Patre et almo Spíritu,
qui dedit vas tam fúlgidum
electiónis géntibus. Amen.

The Church celebrates the most high glory of Paul, an enemy, whom  the Lord wondrously made an apostle. Burning with zeal he savagely raged against the name of Christ; aroused by a more intense fire he preached the love of Christ. O great merit of Paul! He ascended to the third heaven, he hears the words of the mystery, which he dares not tell anyone. While he scattered the seed of the word, a very rich harvest he raised; thus he filled the granaries of heaven with the fruit of good works. As a bright lamp he poured rays of light upon the world; he put to flight the darkness of error that the truth alone should reign. To Christ be all glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who gave to the Gentiles such a resplendent vessel of election. Amen.