Friday, 28 November 2014

Augustine on what God did before He created the world.

Do you know the concept of guilty pleasures? Till some weeks ago it was unknown to me, but it is taking pleasure in listening to music which is considered wrong. The context was pop music, but transferred to my taste of music it is something like admiring Brahms and Bruckner, but secretly also having a weak spot for waltzes and operettas from late 19th century Austria. I confess… Talking about confessions, I have also a guilty pleasure in reading Saint Augustine’s Confessiones. It is the kind of literature left aside by classicists – too late, too Christian - and by theologians – old stuff and in Latin.  Besides isn’t that the man to whom we own the burden of original sin? Yes, but he was an existentialist writer. Of course he expresses himself in the ideas of his time – how could he else? – but there is something fascinating in his soul searching and his intellectual honesty.
Augustine is contemplating God’s eternity and the relation between eternity and time. The question is: if God is eternal, why isn’t the world eternal? Or in modern terms: why is there something rather than nothing and what was there before the Big Bang?

Confessiones 11.11.13

qui haec dicunt nondum te intellegunt, o sapientia dei, lux mentium, nondum intellegunt quomodo fiant quae per te atque in te fiunt, et conantur aeterna sapere, sed adhuc in praeteritis et futuris rerum motibus cor eorum volitat et adhuc vanum est. quis tenebit illud et figet illud, ut paululum stet, et paululum rapiat splendorem semper stantis aeternitatis, et comparet cum temporibus numquam stantibus, et videat esse incomparabilem, et videat longum tempus, nisi ex multis praetereuntibus motibus qui simul extendi non possunt, longum non fieri; non autem praeterire quicquam in aeterno, sed totum esse praesens; nullum vero tempus totum esse praesens; et videat omne praeteritum propelli ex futuro et omne futurum ex praeterito consequi, et omne praeteritum ac futurum ab eo quod semper est praesens creari et excurrere? quis tenebit cor hominis, ut stet et videat quomodo stans dictet futura et praeterita tempora nec futura nec praeterita aeternitas? numquid manus mea valet hoc aut manus oris mei per loquellas agit tam grandem rem?

qui haec dicunt: those who say that the world must be eternal
conor conatus sum: to try
sapio sapivi:  to taste, perceive, understand
paululum: for a moment
rapio rapui raptum: to seize
nisi ex multis praetereuntibus motibus : it is by movement that time is constructed e.g. the movement of the stars.
sed totum esse praesens: eternity is not an extension of time, but an absence of time and therefore everything is present there, as there is no movement.
omne praeteritum propelli ex future: all past to be driven away by the future i.e. there is a constant flux.
ab eo quod semper est: i.e. eternity
quis tenebit cor hominis: because our mind (`cor’) is constant moving, we are unable to grasp fully the idea of eternity.
quomodo stans aeternitas dictet: eternity `dictates’ time
valeo valui: to be able to
loquella: discourse   
agit: treat

Saint Augustine answers now the question what God did before He created the world: nothing!


ecce respondeo dicenti, 'quid faciebat deus antequam faceret caelum et terram?' respondeo non illud quod quidam respondisse perhibetur, ioculariter eludens quaestionis violentiam: 'alta,' inquit, 'scrutantibus gehennas parabat.' aliud est videre, aliud ridere: haec non respondeo. libentius enim responderim, 'nescio quod nescio' quam illud unde inridetur qui alta interrogavit et laudatur qui falsa respondit. sed dico te, deus noster, omnis creaturae creatorem et, si caeli et terrae nomine omnis creatura intellegitur, audenter dico, 'antequam faceret deus caelum et terram, non faciebat aliquid.' si enim faciebat, quid nisi creaturam faciebat? et utinam sic sciam quidquid utiliter scire cupio, quemadmodum scio quod nulla fiebat creatura antequam fieret ulla creatura.

quidam …perhibetur:  someone  is alleged to
ioculariter: playfully
eludo elusi elusum: to mock
violentiam `force, earnestness’
alta scrutantibus: for those examining deep items
gehenna (Hebrew): hell
libentius: willingly
unde: by which
audenter: boldly
si enim faciebat, quid nisi creaturam faciebat? i.e. to create means to create something, but this would imply – according to Augustine -  the beginning of time. So the answer to the question of what God did before the creation must be `nothing’.
et utinam sic sciam quidquid utiliter scire cupio, quemadmodum scio quod nulla fiebat creatura antequam fieret ulla creatura: And I pray I could know whatever I desire to know to my advantage in the same why as I know that no creature was made before any creature was made.

Translation by J.G. Pilkington (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886)

13. Those who say these things do not as yet understand You, O Thou Wisdom of God, Thou light of souls; not as yet do they understand how these things be made which are made by and in You. They even endeavour to comprehend things eternal; but as yet their heart flies about in the past and future motions of things, and is still wavering. Who shall hold it and fix it, that it may rest a little, and by degrees catch the glory of that everstanding eternity, and compare it with the times which never stand, and see that it is incomparable; and that a long time cannot become long, save from the many motions that pass by, which cannot at the same instant be prolonged; but that in the Eternal nothing passes away, but that the whole is present; but no time is wholly present; and let him see that all time past is forced on by the future, and that all the future follows from the past, and that all, both past and future, is created and issues from that which is always present? Who will hold the heart of man, that it may stand still, and see how the still-standing eternity, itself neither future nor past, utters the times future and past? Can my hand accomplish this, or the hand of my mouth by persuasion bring about a thing so great?

14. Behold, I answer to him who asks, "What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?" I answer not, as a certain person is reported to have done facetiously (avoiding the pressure of the question), "He was preparing hell," says he, "for those who pry into mysteries." It is one thing to perceive, another to laugh—these things I answer not. For more willingly would I have answered, "I know not what I know not," than that I should make him a laughing-stock who asks deep things, and gain praise as one who answers false things. But I say that Thou, our God, art the Creator of every creature; and if by the term "heaven and earth" every creature is understood, I boldly say, "That before God made heaven and earth, He made not anything. For if He did, what did He make unless the creature?" And would that I knew whatever I desire to know to my advantage, as I know that no creature was made before any creature was made.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sulpicia: no way uncle!

How old was Sulpicia when she wrote her poems?  It is one of the many questions concerning this enigmatic Roman poetess.  Almost nothing is known about her, except that she lived at the end of the first century BC.  And are these poems autobiographical or images eluding the reader? These questions are important for the historian of literature, but not for the reader, at least not for a reader who reads these texts first of all as poetry.  It is like watching a movie, e.g. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. Of course we know that the plot is impossible, but no one would be troubled by that or say in disgust `But that is not really Clementine Kruczynski! It is Kate Winslet!’  And so I am fully prepared to step into image of the poems and believe that Sulpicia was around 20.
In the next two poems Sulpicia complains about her uncle Messalla poem II: he was to take her to the countryside for spending her birthday – away from her lover Cerinthus. He had a villa near Arretium (modern Arezzo, north of Rome). With abhorrence Sulpicia thinks about what to do there: villas are not suited at all for a girl and swimming in the cold river there? No way! Actually the river Arno is not cold, but the simple thought of being without her lover makes her shiver.
Fortunately the trip was cancelled, as she gladly writes to her lover in poem III.

Sulpicia II and III

Invisus natalis adest, qui rure molesto
    et sine Cerintho tristis agendus erit.
Dulcius urbe quid est? an villa sit apta puellae
    atque Arrentino frigidus amnis agro?
Iam nimium Messalla mei studiose, quiescas,
    non tempestivae, saeve propinque, viae!
Hic animum sensusque meos abducta relinquo,
    arbitrio quamvis non sinis esse meo.

Scis iter ex animo sublatum triste puellae?
    natali Romae iam licet esse suo.
Omnibus ille dies nobis natalis agatur,
    qui nec opinanti nunc tibi forte venit.

invisus : hateful
(dies) natalis
molestus:  annoying, boring
Arrentino frigidus amnis agro (aptus puellae)
Iam nimium Messalla mei studiose: vocative
nimium : too much
studiosus (+ gen.): zealous for
quiescas : let it rest
non tempestivae, saeve propinque, viae! So the reading adopted by Anne Mahoney. The manuscripts read: heu tempestivae saepe propinque viae. This reading can’t be right and various emendations have been proposed, depending on whether propinque is taken as a verb – from propinquo `to approach (+ dat.) – or as the noun propinquus `relative . The reading of Mahoney means `not fitting/suitable are the ways, you cruel relative!’
Hic …abducta relinquo = abducta, relinquo hic… taken away, I will leave here etc.
arbitrio quamvis non sinis esse meo : in my opinion you do not allow it be in whatever way (I want it)

iter sublatum triste:  the sad journey has been taken away
suo: she refers to herself in the third person  (or a corrupt reading for `meo’?)
dies, qui
nec opinanti tibi = tibi nec opinanti
opinator opinatus sum: to think, believe, imagine
forte: by chance

Translations by Anne Mahoney  (2000)

My stupid birthday's here, and I'm supposed
to go away and leave Cerinthus here.
What's better than the city? On the farm,
it's cold and rustic — no place for a girl.
Messalla, uncle, you're thinking of me,
but stop it: this is no time for a trip.
Take me away, I'll leave my heart and mind
In Rome: what good's free will? You make the rules.

You know, that trip's been taken off my mind:
your girlfriend gets to spend her day in Rome.
Let's spend the day together, as we hoped:
we've had the good luck you were waiting for.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A miracle by saint Nicolas.

Saint Nicolas has arrived in the Netherlands, bringing presents to children and adults, especially at the evening of the 5th of December. At that night he will miraculously disappear, not to be seen again till around the same time next year.  Of course there is nothing surprising about this, as this holy man is a Θαυματουργός, a performer of miracles.  This 11th century mystery-play leaves us in no doubt about the capacities of Saint Nicolas. Three clerics are abroad for study (causa discendi litteras), night is falling and they seek a place to sleep. They come at the house of an old man who lives there with a younger wife (she is both called mulier and vetula). The old man initially refuses shelter for the clerics, but at the request of his wife he does. When all three are asleep the couple notices the well-filled purses and they see their chance for overcoming their poverty: killing the clergymen and keeping the money – and so they do. But then Saint Nicolas knocks at their door. He is let in and asks for something to eat: fresh meat (carnem recentem). The old man denies having fresh meat, but the saint knows better and tells what has happened.  Saint Nicolas restores the corpses back to life and forgives the couple.


Primus clericus.
Nos quos causa discendi litteras
Apud gentes transmisit exteras,                                 exter: foreign    
Dum sol adhuc extendit radium
Perquiramus nobis hospitium.                                                  

Secundus clericus.
Iam sol equos tenet in littore,                                    soon the sun will have at shore the horses,
Quos ad praesens merget sub aequore.    which at the moment he submerges under water.
Nec est nota nobis haec patria ;                                (present for near future) The image is a bit clumsy.
quaeri debent hospitia.  
Tertius clericus.
Senem quemdam maturum moribus                         of a proper age for good manners
Hic habemus coram luminibus ;                                  in front of our eyes
Forsan, nostris compulsus precibus,                          forsan: may be; prex precis (f.): prayer
Erit hospes nobis hospitibus.                                       hospis, hospitis (m.): 1) host, 2) traveller

Insimul clerici ad senem dicant                                   insimul: at the same moment
Hospes care, quaerendo studia
Huc relicta venimus patria ;
Nobis ergo praestes hospitium,                                 praesto: to take upon one self, grant
Dum durabit hoc noctis spatium.

Hospitetur vos Factor omnium !                 May the Maker of all receive you as guests!
Nam non dabo vobis hospitium ;
Nam nec mea in hoc utilitas.
Nec est ad hoc nunc opportunitas.

Clerici, ad vetulam .                                                      vetula: woman somewhat advanced in age
Per te, cara, sit impetrabile
Quod rogamus, etsi non utile.
Forsan, propter hoc beneficium,
Vobis Deus donabit puerum.

Mulier ad senem .-
Nos his dare, coniux, hospitium.
Qui sic vagant quaerendo studium.
Sola saltem compellat caritas ;
Nec est damnum, nec est utilitas.                               there is neither loss nor gain

Senex ad Uxorem
Acquiescam tuo consilio                                              I will comply
Et dignabor istos hospitio.                                           I will honour
(Ad clericos -.)
Accedatis, scolares, igitur.                                          accedo : to enter
Quod rogastis vobis conceditur.

Senes ad uxorem, clericis dormientibus .
Nonne vides quanta marsupia ?                                 marsupium: purs
Est in illis argenti copia.
Haec a nobis absque infamia
Possideri posset pecunia.

Paupertatis onus sustulimus,                                      onus oneris (n.) : burden
Mi marite, quamdiu viximus ;
Hos si morti donare volumus,
Paupertatem vitare possumus.
Evagines ergo iam gladium ;                                       evagino (are): to draw from the sheath
Namque potes, morte iacentium,                              by the death of those lying down
Esse dives quandiu vixeris ;
Atque sciet nemo quod feceris.

Peregrinus, fessus itinere,                                           fessus: tired
Ultra modo non possum tendere ;                             I can no way travel further
Huius ergo per noctis spatium
Michi praestes, precor, hospitium.

Senex ad mulierem :
An dignabor istum hospitio,
Cara coniunx, tuo consilio ?

Hunc persona commendat nimium,                          his appearance (persona) recommends him very
Et est dignus ut des hospitium.                                   much

Peregrine, accede propius :                                         propius: closer
Vir videris nimis egregius ;                                           egregius: excellent
Si vis, dabo tibi comedere ;                                         comedo: to eat
Quidquam voles tentabo quaerere.                           I will try to look for

Nicholaus, ad mensam.
Nichil ex his possum comedere ;                
Carnem vellem recentem edere.

Dabo tibi carnem quam habeo,
Namque carne recente careo.                                    careo (+abl.): to lack

Nunc dixisti plane mendacium ;                                  plane: clearly; mendacium: lie
Carnem habes recentem nimium,
Et hanc habes magna nequitia,                                  by a great wicked deed
Quam mactari fecit pecunia.                                      which to be butchered for money caused

Senex  et mulier, simul.
Miserere nostri, te petimus,
Nam te sanctum Dei cognovimus.
Nostrum scelus est abominabile,
Non est tamen incondonabile.                                   impardonnable

Mortuorum afferte corpora.
Et contrita sint vestra pectora ;                                  and your hearts must be penitent
Hi resurgent per Dei gratiam ;
Et vos flendo quaeratis veniam.                                

Oratio Sancti Nicholai.
Pie Deus, cuius sunt omnia,
Coelum, tellus, aer, et maria,
Ut resurgant isti praecipias,                                        and order that
Et hos ad te clamantes audias.

Et post OMNIS CHORUS dicat :
Te Deum laudamus, etc.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

In praise of good wine!

Whoever thinks the Middle Ages are a bulwark of devote religiosity is utterly erring.  Take for instance the following song: it is in praise of good wine, but it is also criticizing social circumstances. Moreover, it is cast in the form of a religious song, namely verbum bonum et suave. There are many such parodies and more than one begins with vinum bonum et suave. The religious parody is a very interesting subject as the writers of such parodies can hardly be critics of religion and atheists in the modern sense. It could be that such verses acted as a kind of comic relief and/or as an outlet of frustration and were seen as rather harmless. Besides, the poets were mostly clerics themselves and so some self-mockery must also be considered. As for parallels, the Götterkomödien in Homer are of course well-known and the Rig Veda has also some comic hymns. With the same perspective we must consider mockeries of the mass and crowning of children as mock kings at certain mediaeval festivals. Such rituals are known as rituals of reversal. At such rituals social tensions are canalized by a reversal of social structures: masters become slaves and slaves become masters, like at the Roman Saturnalia or the Hindu Divali. Such rituals are especially found in societies with rigid social divisions.  Seen from this perspective, such songs endorse social structures rather than threaten them.
The book in which I found this texts does not assign a date to this hymn, but the 12th century seems to me a safe guess.

Vinum bonum et suave
bibit abbas  cum priore
et conventus de peiore
   bibit cum tristitia.

Ave felix creatura,
quam produxit vitis pura :
omnis mensa fit secura
   in tua presentia.

Felix venter cum intrabis,
felix os quod tu rigabis,
 felix lingua quam lavabis,
   et beata labia.

O quam felix in colore,
O quam flagrans in odoro,
O quam placans es in ore
   dulce lingue vinculum.

Supplicamus, hic abunda,
omnis turba sit facunda,
ut cum voce nos iocunda
   personemus gaudia.

Monachorum grex devotus,
clerus omnis, mundus totus,
bibunt adequales potus,
   et nunc et in secula.

prior: religious rank, mostly lower than an abbot, but higher than a monk
conventus (monachorum)
de peiore (vino)
vitis vitis (f.) vine
securus : free from care
venter ventris (m.): belly
rigo: to wet, moisten
vinculum: fetter
supplico: to pray beseech
abundo: to abound
turba: crowd
facundus: eloquent
ut cum voce nos iocunda personemus gaudia: So that with delightful voice we may loudly express (persono) joyful things.
grex grecis (m.): flock, herd
adequales potus: the same drinks

Here is a musical setting. Cheers!