Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Carmina Burana 34: a protest song.

The Carmina Burana contains quite a lot of poems critical of the Church. Though the Reformation was still some centuries away, there were already voices protesting against the opulence and the lascivious way of life of many of the clergy, Often these songs make fun of the clergy and depict them as eating, drinking and gambling all the time, but this poem is more serious and is reminiscent of the protest of Old Testament prophets against injustice. It could therefore well be that the author is indeed Philippus Cancellarius (ca. 1170 – 1236), a French theologian and chancellor of Notre Dame de Paris, as the internet edition of the Carmina Burana at the Bibliotheca Augustana states, though in my paper edition it is anonymous.
Could it be that Pope Francis has this song in mind, now he is reforming the Vatican and tackling corruption?

Carmina Burana 34.

Deduc, Sion, uberrimas
velut torrentem lacrimas!
nam qui pro tuis patribus
nati sunt tibi filii,
quorum dedisti manibus
tui sceptrum imperii,
fures et furum socii
turbato rerum ordine
abutuntur regimine
pastoralis officii.

Sion: the Church
deduco deduxi deductum: to draw out
uberrimas lacrimas: very abundant tears
pro tuis patribus: as a replacement for the founders (patres) of your Church
fur furis (m.): thief
turbato rerum ordine: the order of things being disturbed
abutor abusus sum (+ abl.): to abuse
regimen -iminis (n.): power

Ad corpus infirmitas
capitis descendit,
singulosque gravitas
artus apprehendit,
refrigescit karitas,
nec iam se extendit
ad amorem proximi;
nam videmus opprimi
pupilum a potente,
nec est qui salvum faciat
vel qui iustum eripiat
ab impio premente.

Infirmitas capitis: the weakness of the head refers to the corruption of the higher clergy which is penetrating the whole body of the Church.
singulos artus: each limb
apprehende –hendi -hensum: to seize
refrigesco: to become cold
ad amorem proximi: cf. Math 22.39 ` Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’
opprimo oppressi oppressum: press down, overwhelm
pupillus: orphan
qui salvum faciat: who rescues him (the orphan)
eripio eripui ereptum: to snatch, take away
ab impio premente: from the impious oppressor

Vide, Deus ultionum,
vide, videns omnia,
quod spelunca vispillonum
facta est Ecclesia,
quod in templum Salomonis
venit princeps Babylonis
et excelsum sibi thronum
posuit in medio!
sed arrepto gladio
scelus hoc ulciscere!
veni, iudex gentium,
cathedras vendentium
columbas evertere!

ultio ultionis (f.) revenge
spelunca: cave
vispilloonis (m.): (nocturnal ) robber (from classical vespillo: a corpse-bearer who carried out the bodies of the poor at night.)
princeps Babylonis: the Devil
arrepto gladio: with drawn sword
scelus sceleris (n.): shameful deed
ulciscor  ultus sum: take vengeance on, punish
cathedras vendentium columbas evertere! Turn over the seats of the pigeon sellers! (it refers to Matth 22.12: And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, Doves were sacrificial animals for the poor.)

This video contains a (sort of) translation in the description:

And here is a rendition with Timna Brauer and the Isreali-Palestinian choir Voices for Peace:


  1. Good evening. Greetings from Paraguay in South America. I have a question for you. Or rather I need your confirmation. The word "Sion", that refers to the City of God, and in some ecclesiastical documents is interpreted as the Church is feminine in gender? As when one wants to use and adjective that goes with it, should it be feminine? Thank you.

  2. Good evening from the Netherlands! Sion can both be feminine and masculine, so the adjective depends on the choice of the gender. Names of towns are feminine in Latin, but may be Sion is masculine in Hebrew. Will try to sort it out, as my Hebrew is rusty.

    1. Thank you. You are very kind. All the eccleisastical documents (Nova Vulgata in the Vatican Web, and the latin translation of the document "Amoris Laetitia" of Pope Francis) that I was able to check, use Sion and when refering to the Church as feminine in gender. But if you get any information I will gladly receive it. Thank you once more.