29 April 2019

Ad cenam agni providi/Ad regias agni dapes

An old post which I am reprinting not least because of a highly interesting Comment

Low Sunday has passed; we are now again using hymns in our Office. If you are accustomed to the Liturgia Horarum, and if you look in a 1961 Breviary, you will get a shock when you got to the Office Hymn for Vespers during Eastertide. Instead of Ad cenam agni providi you will find Ad regias agni dapes. This text is the piece of elegant Renaissance Latinity which Urban VIII substituted for the the fifth century text previously in use. The problem Pope Urban had with the original is that it was written when Latin was still a spoken language, a living and vivid vernacular, and its text is therefore, from the point of view of classical purists, full of irregularities. For example, it treats stolis albis candidi [bright with white garments] as if it were istolis albis candidi (eight syllables): ist- is how they pronounced st- in the 'Vulgar Latin' period*. Like many popular and subclassical texts, strongly influenced by a basically 'oral' culture, the original form of this hymn has anacoloutha, diminutives, and 'intolerably' erratic systems of accented syllables. All this is why I like it. I even have a personal theory that the author was a considerable poet who actually used 'irregular' accentual patterns to emphasise words.

Urban's gang of resurrected Horaces so rewrote the second stanza that not a word of the original remained ... but perhaps by this point I have lost non-latinists. Never mind. If you have your English Hymnal [the finest English Language hymnal there is; one of the Patrimony's principal gifts] to hand, you can find the original, translated by the incomparable John Mason 'Patrimony' Neale, at 125. You will find the Urbanist replacement at 128. You may feel that both, in their different ways, are good hymns. In my opinion, you are right, at least as far as the Latin original of 128 is concerned (the great Adrian Fortescue disagreed: for him, there was not one single good word to be said for Pope Urban's hymns, and their elimination, he felt, should be the first element in a reform of the Breviary). I just happen to feel that Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II was indeed wise to mandate the restoration of the original texts of the hymns (although the Dom Anselmo Lentini's 1968 revisers, foolishly, did straighten out the rhythms a bit). The Benedictines, incidentally, never did adopt the Urbanist texts.

Moreover, the Renaissance version can miss things. Neale was convinced that the old text's description of Christ's blood as 'rosy' (roseo: 'light pink', because Roman roses were not modern cultivars) is explained by that fact that if a body is totally drained of blood, the last few drops are ... pink (how did he know? Was he right?).

*Grandgent writes thus about this prosthetic vowel: "The earliest Latin example is probably iscolasticus, written in Barcelona in the second century; it is found repeatedly, though not frequently, in the third century; in the fourth and fifth it is very common: espiritum, ischola, iscripta, isperabi ..." Isidore of Seville in the seventh century was the first to comment on it. It has, of course, left innumerable marks upon the lexicography of the Romance languages (e.g. stella became istella which became estaile which became etoile).


Timothy Graham said...

Some medical back-up for Neale's claims about "rosy" drops: it is all to do with homeostasis - the life force tries to maintain a sufficiently steady state in the body to keep vital functions running. So if one loses blood suddenly, one doesn't have time to speed up manufacture in the bone marrow and replace it - and if one's blood volume drops too much, one's cardiovascular system will collapse and the heart stop completely. This is where homeostasis comes in: there are blood volume and pressure sensors in the brain & neck that cause hormones to be secreted, allowing lots of fluid from one's tissues to cross the cells lining the blood vessels, and quickly boost the blood volume. Hence in sudden blood loss, the blood becomes more dilute and paler. It is observable: I've seen it in A&E when taking blood samples from people haemorrhaging badly.

Pastor in Monte said...

Very interesting about 'istella' &c. The Spanish often still place a vowel before s and a consonant, (perhaps in the way Italians place the article 'lo' in the same (masc.) context, rather than 'il': 'lo spuntino' (the snack) not 'il spuntino'). In Spanish it seems to be more in spoken usage: a Spanish woman of my acquaintance living in this country speaks of her daughter as 'eStacey' and her son as 'eStephen'.

Andreas Meszaros said...

"This text is the piece of elegant Renaissance Latinity ..."

Perhaps some examples of this elegant Latinity are in order: the Holy Trinity was referred to as a "Triforme Numen Olympi" and the Mother of God was called a "Felix Dea" and a "Nympha Candidissima." The Veni Creator Spiritus was rendered as:

Veni beate spiritus
Nostraeque menti illabere,
Depelle cuncta crimina,
Et da tuis charismata.

Xenophanis ceu lesbii
Te iambicis attollimus
Concentibus: sic effice
Nos esse coeli compotes.

As someone noted: "Worse still is the clothing of these sacred canticles in classical language, full of pagan pictures and allusions, which are introduced with incredible naivete."

What is one to think of all this? St. Jerome comes to mind: Ne quaeras pueriles declamationes, sententiarum flosculos, verborum lenocinia, et per fines capitulorum singulorum acuta quaedam breviterque conclusa, quae plausus et clamores excitent audientium. Amplexetur te modo sapientia, et Abisag nostra, quae nunquam senescit, in tuo requiescat sinu. [] Audi igitur, ut Beatus Cyprianus ait, non diserta, sed fortia.

And elsewhere: Scio haec molesta esse lectori, sed de Hebraicis litteris disputantem, non decet Aristotelis argumenta conquirere, nec ex flumine Tulliano, eloquentiae ducendus est rivulus: nec aures Quintiliani flosculis et scholari declamatione mulcendae. Pedestris, et quotidianae similis, et nullam lucubrationem redolens oratio necessaria est, quae rem explicet, sensum edisserat, obscura manifestet, non quae verborum compositione frondescat. Sint alii diserti, laudentur, ut volunt, et inflatis buccis, spumantia verba trutinent: mihi sufficit sic loqui, ut intelligar, ut de Scripturis disputans, Scripturarum imiter simplicitatem.

bedwere said...


could you tell me the meter of the hymn of Vespers of St. Philip Neri, Pangamus Nerio debita cantica? I tried to figure it out myself, but with little success.