3 April 2016

DISIMPROVING HYMNS

The text of the hymns in the post-conciliar breviary is a great deal better than in the 1962 breviary; the texts have been restored to what they were before Urban VIII classicised them in the 1620s. So the new texts are in line with the Sarum and Benedictine usages of the Roman Rite. They are, many of them, in their original forms. But the coetus which redacted them in 1968 did make some alterations of its own, which seem generally to have an unfortunately flattening effect. Take, for example, Chorus novae Ierusalem, by S Fulbert of Chartres (d1029), now, happily, an optional hymn for OF Lauds on Paschal ferias. The author called upon the choir of new Jerusalem to utter 'novam meli dulcedinem' ('a new sweetness of melos'), where melos is a Greek word meaning melody or lyric song. The coetus replaced the Greek with a drabber Latin word 'cantus' (which after more reflection they changed to 'hymni') on the grounds that 'meli non facile intelligatur'. But surely S Fulbert had, in half his ear, the Latin word 'mel', 'honey'. Interestingly, the Carmelite breviary followed some manuscripts in reading 'nova mellis dulcedine', 'with new sweetness of honey'. The revised text loses this half-echo, this subliminal suggestion.

More disastrously, the coetus proposed to omit, in the Fifth Century Ascension hymn Aeterne rex, altissime, the glorious words 'culpat caro, purgat caro, regnat Deus Dei caro' ('flesh sins [in Adam], flesh cleanses [in Christ], God [the Son] rules [so what rules is] the flesh of God'. English Hymnal - i.e. the superb Anglican hymnographer J M Neale - renders it (141) 'That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained, and God, the flesh of God, hath reigned'). The coetus found these words 'vel obscuros vel nimio lusu verborum expressos': 'too much playing around with words'. Fortunately, somebody stood up against this philistinism. and the lines survived; unfortunately, in a bowdlerised form: '...regnat caro Verbum Dei' ('flesh reigns, [which is] the Word of God'). This still slightly shies away from the divinely glorious boldness of saying (crisply and epigrammatically) that the God who reigns above the highest heavens is nothing other than the Flesh which the Incarnate Second Person assumed of that Palestinian Girl.

3 comments:

Matthew Roth said...

Gregory DiPippo on New Liturgical Movement pointed out Dom Lentini was the prinicpal author of the hymns of the Liturgia Horarum. Was it so hard to simply restore the older hymns? Only a few, those which tend to be used outside the office, might have to be considered for remaining in the Urban edition. But had we had such lucid decisionmaking and catechesis, the Roman Rite in full would have been restored...

Marc Puckett said...

And there are so many of the Lentini compositions! hadn't realised (don't often use the LH) how numerous they are until I went through the index of the Liber hymnarius.

John L said...

Are the hymns in the Monastic Diurnal the old ones or the new ones?