Monday, 30 June 2014

Ave spes et salus: a hymn to Maria.

Whoever thinks that the history of Christian dogmas is one of peace and serenity is utterly wrong: monks and bishops fighting with each other at synods – and not only with words.  Often the divisions were not only ideological, but also ethnical and theological points were used to underline ones background.
One of the issues was the status of Maria. Maria worship started in Egypt in the second century, which explains why she has taken over traits of Isis. Isis was originally an Egyptian goddess, but in the Hellenistic period, her cult spread over the Roman Empire as one of the many mystery cults. Indeed, Christianity was one of these cults too and the formation of this religion cannot be understood without knowledge of its socio-religious context. In popular devotion Maria had risen to the status of goddess, which is theologically impossible, but somehow her importance had to be theologically defined. At the first council of Ephesus in 431 she got the status of `Theotokos’ Mother of God. Much to the dislike of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, and his followers. They were of the opinion that no one could be called Mother of God. At the same council Nestorius was condemned as heretical and had to flee to Persia. Why is it that the more reasonable theologians of the ancient church are the first to be condemned? Take Arius (`the Trinity is a philosophical monstrum and Jesus is not God’) or Pelagius (`there is free will!’).  Well, only God knows.
All this came to my mind when I recently made a translation of the following hymn. A friend had asked a translation for a choir for their program booklet and of course I was willing to do so.  I have no clue how old this hymn is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is from before 1000.  I would be glad to exchange a couple of Maria hymns for couple of hymn to Isis:  almost nothing has survived, just one hymn discovered in Nag Hammadi.
The Latin is quite simple with here and there mediaeval words.

Ave spes et salus
infirmorum ,
revocatrix.                                       revocatrix (f.)): one who calls back

Salve fax coelestis
luminosa ,

Laude plus laudabilis
coeli terraeque gyro                      gyrus: circular motion
dominaris ;                                       dominor (+abl.): to rule over

Virgo venerabilis
materque sine viro
nuncuparis,                                      nuncupo: to call, name (nomen + capio)

Summi regis nostri
plasmatoris                                      plasmatororis (m,):  creator
sedes amoris                                   sedes,  –es (f.): seat, foundation

aberrati sumus
in hac via,
virgo Maria,
male stamus

in peccatis multis
constituti ,                                        constitutus: placed, set
per te soluti                                     in order that we may become released by you
ut fiamus.

Da tuo juvamine                             juvamen , –aminis (n.): aid, help
delectamenta carnis superare,  delectamentum (n.): pleasure
ut sine gravamine                           gravamen, -aminis (n.): trouble, hindrence
die novissimo queamus stare       die novissimo: youngest day.  queo quivi quitum: be able

coram justo judice                          coram (+ abl.): before the eyes of
et non flendo
cum damnatis.

Hoc perpendat                                perpendo perpendi (-ere) to consider
homo mundi levis,
haec vita brevis
cito cedit,

mors perennis
post hoc minitatur,                         minitor minatus: to threathen   
non terminatur,                              termino:  to limit, bound
malos Iaedit.

Curta delectatio                              curtus: short
peccantibus suavis reputata,
longa castigatio
pro hac est in inferno praeparata,
a qua nos digneris custodire,       dignor dignatus: to be worthy
sed fac nos ire
cum beatis


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Johannis de Capua: a most welcome thief!

Johannis de Capua (1250-1310) was an Italian Jew who converted to Christianity. Not much is known about him, except that he translated Hebrew works into Latin. One of these works was the Kalilah wa-Dimnah by Rabbi Joel. This work was a translation of  an Arabic  translation of a Persian translation of the Sanskrit Pañcatantra. The Pañcatantra is a collection of fables and stories with a loose frame story dating from about the third century BC. In Persian version the frame story was widely altered and expanded, but the fables and stories were more or less the same.
The translation into Latin became widely popular and in due time it was translated into various European Languages. The Latin of Johannis de Capua is more than terrible regarding classical syntax and morphology, but the language itself is not difficult to follow. As a comparison I have included an English translation of the original Sanskrit by Arthur W. Ryder (1877-1938), American professor of Sanskrit and a most gifted translator. Compare the Latin and see how much has been lost during the transmission of Pañcatantra.
In the following story an old merchant had a beautiful wife, who refused to come close to him at night. Then a thief enters the house and she is scared…

Johannis de Capua, Directorium humanae vitae alias Parabolae antiquorum sapientium, 5,5

Dicitur fuisse quidam dives mercator senex valde, qui, cum haberet uxorem pulcram, non tamen ab ea diligebatur, nec volebat sibi uxor sua in lecto adhaerere, sed quantumcunque ipse traheret ad se, illa semper elongabat se ab eo. Quadam vero nocte, dum iacerent simul in lecto, supervenit eis fur; et excitata mulier ad strepitum furis expavit, et accedens prae timore adhaesit viro suo fortiter donec excitatus est. Et ait vir suae uxori: Unde hoc novum, quia mihi adhaesisti nunc magis quam unquam? Et attendens vir audivit strepitum furis in domum; tunc percepit, quia ex timore furis adhaesit sibi uxor sua; et ait furi paterfamilias: Magnam gratiam reputo te mihi nocte ista contulisse, de quo tibi teneor cunctis diebus vitae meae, postquam fuisti causa, ut amplexaretur mihi uxor mea. Nunc autem accipe quaecunque vis, et omnia tibi de domo mea licita sunt.

valde: very
cum haberet uxorem pulchram: In the original Sanskrit story the old merchant was a widower who remarried a young girl. (see below)
diligo dilexi dilectum: to love
lectus: bed
adhaereo adhaesi adhaesum: to stick
quantumcunque: as soon as
elongo: to remove
iacio ieci iactum: to lay
supervenio = venio (Mediaeval Latin loves using prefixed verbs without much difference from the simplex .)
fur furis (m,): thief
strepitus –us (m.): noise
expavesco expavui: to become afraid
accido accidi: to come
attendo attendi attentum: to give attention
Magnam gratiam reputo te mihi nocte ista contulisse: I think I have owed you great thanks this night
de quo tibi teneor cunctis diebus vitae meae: for which I am obliged to you (litt. kept/hold by you) during all days of my life
amplector amplectus sum: to embrace (amplexaretur = amplexa esset. Nothing is impossible for God and writers for some Mediaeval Latin at their worst: non-existent Latin forms are created ex nihilo.)
licitus: allowed, permitted

The Sanskrit original translated by Arthur W. Ryder, The Panchatantra (Chicago, 1925)

There was once an aged merchant in a certain town, and his name was Lovelorn. To such an extent
had love clouded his reason that, when his wife died, he gave much money in order to marry the daughter of a penniless shopkeeper. But the girl was heartbroken and could not bear to look at the old merchant. This, indeed, might have been anticipated.

The silvered head will sue in vain,
A maiden's love beseeching;
The maid, despising it, is fain
To flee afar with screeching;
Like Hangman's Well it causes pain.
Where dead men's bones are bleaching.

And furthermore:

Slow, tottering steps the strength exhaust;
The eye unsteady blinks;
From driveling mouth the teeth are lost;
The handsome figure shrinks;
The limbs are wrinkled; relatives
And wife contemptuous pass;
The son no further honor gives
To doddering age. Alas!

Now one night, while she was turning her back to him in bed, a thief entered the house. And she was
terrified at seeing a thief, and embraced her husband, old as he was. He, for his part, felt every limb thrill with astonishment and love, and he thought: "Gracious me! Why does she hug me tonight?" Then, peering narrowly about, he discovered the thief in a corner, and reflected: "No doubt she embraces me from fear of him." So he said to the thief:

"She who always shrank from me.
Hugs me to her breast;
Thank you, benefactor! Take
What you like the best."

And the thief made reply:

"Nothing here that I should like;
Should I want a thing.
I'll return if she does not
Passionately cling."

Thus advantage may be anticipated from a benefactor, thief though he be.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Tertullian, Ad Martyres, chapter 1: support from the sideline for those facing death.

Quite some years ago I read with a friend of mine writings by Tertullian. She was working on het PhD on church history and needed help with Latin. I duly translated and annotated some texts and one of these is Ad Martyres, of which I give chapter 1. Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus 160-225) was a Christian writer living at Carthage.  He was the first who wrote about theological issues in Latin in any quantity and much ecclesiastical Latin is coined by him.
His treatises give a fascinating insight into North African Christianity and the 31 surviving texts are not only important for historians of theology but also for historians of the later Roman Empire as they give glimpses of daily life and customs of an area not well attested in literature  around 200. Tertullian was a polemic writer, warning strongly against Christian maidens walking unveiled (De virginis velandis), using makeup (De cultu feminarum) and against public shows and performances (De spectaculis). He must have had a difficult and irascible character – not uncommon amongst theologians (and not only ancient) - and turned away from mainstream Christianity to the sect of the Montanists, Pentecostals avant la lettre, who did not recognize the authority of priests and bishops and allowed women to preach. One reason could be that Tertullian was probably a layman himself and maybe he found is superior intellect colliding with people in power, but less gifted. However, this is speculation on my part.
His Ad Martyres is a consolation for Christians taken into custody during the persecution under Severus around 202. He uses the word martyr for those who had to testify their faith and not justfor those already martyred. It is a short treatise consisting of 4 chapters and apart from spiritual consolation it is also a warning against dissent amongst those facing martyrdom: in the face of a certain death some were willing to give up their faith.
The first chapter is not that loaded with theological language and quotes from Scripture. What makes this chapter interesting is the mentality it reflects: vivid imaginary of the Devil and reverence for martyrs. This is especially clear in the last sentence, in which the martyrs are assigned the power to forgive those Christians who have elapsed from their faith and now repent that. In mainstream Christianity only priests and bishops could do that, but in more sectarian circles and doubtlessly too in the vision of many common Christians, martyrs to be stood nearer to God than the clergy and had therefor special powers. The tombs of martyrs, especially in North Africa, became holy sites and had special powers. The nearer one was buried to those graves, the closer to God and the more chance for a place in heaven. More magical thinking than firm belief!

Tertulliani ad martyres. c.1

I. [1] Inter carnis alimenta, benedicti martyres designati, quae vobis et domina mater ecclesia de uberibus suis et singuli fratres de opibus suis propriis in carcerem subministrant, capite aliquid et a nobis quod faciat ad spiritum quoque educandum. Carnem enim saginari et spiritum esurire non prodest. Immo, si quod infirmum est curatur, aeque quod infirmius est neglegi non debet

designati: martyrs were seen as chosen by God.
domina mater ecclesia: the first time the church is described as `mother’.
caro: Tertullian contrasts  caro and spiritus. The flesh, being part of this world is negatively valued.
singuli fratres: Prisoners had to be sustained by their family and friends and Christians who were rich enough supported those in prison.
sagino: to fatten
esurio: to be hungry
infirmius: the spirit is weaker than the flesh and Tertullian knew very well that at least some would  in the face of death give up their faith.

[2] Nec tantus ego sum, ut vos alloquar; verumtamen et gladiatores perfectissimos non tantum magistri et praepositi sui, sed etiam idiotae et supervacui quique adhortantur de longinquo, ut saepe de ipso populo dictata suggesta profuerint.

praepositus: leader
idiotae et supervacui: common and worthless people
de longinquo: from a distance (The whole passage gives a good picture of what was happening  at a gladiator contest: people shouting to their favourite gladiator.)

[3] Inprimis ergo, benedicti, «nolite contristare Spiritum sanctum», qui vobiscum introiit carcerem. Si enim non vobiscum nunc introisset, nec vos illic hodie fuissetis. Et ideo date operam ut illic vobiscum perseveret et ita vos inde perducat ad Dominum.

nolite contristare Spiritum sanctum: Eph. 4,10
contristo: to sadden

[4] Domus quidem diaboli est et carcer, in qua familiam suam continet. Sed vos ideo in carcerem pervenistis, ut illum etiam in domo sua conculcetis. Iam enim foris congressi conculcaveratis.

Domus quidem diaboli est et carcer: the prison is also the house of the devil as especially here there was the last temptation for Christians to give up their faith.
familiam suam: those Christians who gave up their faith
conculco (conculcare): to trample down
foris: outside prison

[5] Non ergo dicat: «In meo sunt, temptabo illos vilibus odiis, defectionibus, aut inter se dissensionibus.» Fugiat conspectum vestrum, et in ima sua delitescat contractus et torpens, tamquam coluber excantatus aut effumigatus. Nec illi tam bene sit in suo regno, ut vos committat, sed inveniat munitos et concordia armatos: quia pax vestra bellum est illi.

ima sua: i.e. the depth of hell
delitesco: to hide away
torpeo: to be stiff
coluber colubri (m.): snake
excantatus aut effumigatus: snakes were driven away by using charms or smoke.
committo:  to bring together for a fight

[6] Quam pacem quidam in ecclesia non habentes a martyribus in carcere exorare consueverunt. Et ideo eam etiam propterea in vobis habere et fovere et custodire debetis, ut, si forte, et aliis praestare possitis.

quam pacem: i.e. admission to the liturgy and the rituals of the church
eam (pacem)

Translation T. Herbert BINDLEY, The Epistle of the Gallican Churches : Lugdunum and Vienna - with an appendix containing Tertullian's Address to Martyrs and The Passion of St. Perpetua.  Translated with introduction and notes.  SPCK, London (1900) pp. 51-61

I. Amongst the provisions for the body which not only our lady mother, the Church, from her own bosom, but also individual brethren from their own private resources supply to you in your prison, blessed martyrs1 designate, accept something from me too, |p52 which may serve to nourish your spirit also. For it is not well for the body to be filled and for the spirit to hunger. Surely if that which is weak receives attention, that which is weaker ought still less to be neglected. Not that I have any claims to address you; yet to the most skilled gladiators, not only experts and their own trainers give advice, but even non-professionals and any chance onlookers from outside the ring, so that hints suggested from the very crowd have often proved profitable.

First of all, then, blessed ones, grieve not the Holy Spirit (Eph. iv. 30) Who hath entered with you into the prison. For if He had not entered in with you, you yourselves would not be there to-day. Therefore give heed that He may remain there with you, and so may He lead you thence to the Lord.
The prison is also the devil’s house wherein he keepeth his own family. But ye have come into the prison to trample on him in his own house. For already have ye trampled on him, having engaged with him outside. Let him not then say, “They are in my house; I will tempt them with petty quarrels, failings, and mutual strifes.” Let him fly from your sight and skulk away into his own abyss, coiled up and torpid like a charmed or out-smoked snake. Nor let him so prosper in his own kingdom as to set you at variance, but let him find you fortified and armed with concord; because your peace is war to him. And this “peace” some in the Church having lost, have been wont to entreat from martyrs in prison.2Wherefore also on this account you ought to have it in yourselves, and to cherish it and guard it, so that you may be able to give it, it may be, to others also.

A site with all extent works in Latin and translation: