14 April 2017

Regnavit a ligno Deus

"The Lord has reigned from the Tree".

As Neale translates this stanza of the Vexilla Regis:

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations, God, saith he,
Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.

You will not find the words from the tree [literally, wood] in any version of the psalter that reposes upon your bookshelves ... nor in any translation ... unless you are lucky and learned enough to possess a copy of the 'Psalterium Romanum': where it does occur in verse 10 of psalm 96MT/AV=95LXX/Vg. This psalter was used by many in the time of Venantius, as well as much earlier. S Justin Martyr knew the reading a ligno, and accuses the Jews of deliberately censoring these words from their text because of the embarrassing Christian resonances. Tertullian, S Cyprian, Lactantius, and S Augustine knew it, but S Jerome could not find it in a Hebrew text. Nor is it in the Septuagint, except in one single bilingual manuscript ('apo xulou') where it might have crept across from the Latin side.

Despite this, could it be original? Well, the discovery of Hebrew Biblical manuscripts much earlier than the medieval Hebrew 'Masoretic text' which Jewry treats as authentic, has shown a much greater diversity in the textual tradition than most people expected ... especially in the poetic books. (I counted some 28 occasions on which the producers of the New Vulgate adopted a reading from the Qumran Isaiah, supported by early translations, in preference to a reading from the Masoretic Text.) And it has become very obvious (not least to that admirable Methodist Margaret Barker) that elimination of 'Christian' verses did occur. If this phrase is original, it could originally have referred to the wood of the ark of the Covenant, victorious over the Philistine god Dagon. That's quite a nice piece of typology anyway, isn't it?

This, however, is not in my view the big question. Texts, before the invention of printing, were inherently unstable (look at the apparatus criticus of the OCT Homer), and this phrase, 'original' or not, is quite simply part of our Biblical tradition (just as is the story in S John of the Woman Caught in Adultery); canonised by the Fathers who were fed by it ... and by the use of Venantius' hymn throughout the Latin Christian centuries. Dom Lentini, in his first draft (1968) of the revised Breviary hymns, retained the stanza, and admirably added in a footnote "We do not dare [non audemus] to suppress the strophe nor to change the line". Good for him.

However, by the time the Liturgia Horarum was authorised (1971), a more radical and philistine attitude held sway; a determination to 'dare' to make the Great Tradition less visible; a hermeneutic of rupture. It is the prayer of all right-thinking people that Papa Ratzinger was successful in starting a process of turning the Philistines back. The restoration of this stanza to the Liturgy is overdue.

Perhaps I should make clear that I would not, for example, want to add the phrase to the Vulgate or neoVulgate psalters. I just object to editing it out of Venantius, so as to create a univocal and exclusive model of the interaction between biblical texts and patristic/liturgical texts. Both in secular literature and within Scripture, intertextualities are often immensely complex and extremely rewarding.

As long as some addict of 'Enlightenment' linearity doesn't come along and rob us of them.


Emsley said...

"Philistine attitude." Brilliant, Father. Dagon still has his supporters.

Anonymous said...

It is similar in archaeology, an amateur interest of mine; the true professional records and preserves all the evidence without forcing it to conform to one interpretation. Then later experts, with perhaps better technology, can offer better interpretations of what was found. But the arrogant clodhopper and the careless treasure hunter (or the over-enthusiastic antiquarian) discards the pieces that don't fit their pet theory and destroys the context, so nobody can revisit the evidence.

On the wider issue, it doesn't seem accidental that the 'sola scriptura' idea arose not long after the invention of printing. Putting one's faith in 'The Book' was bound to run aground once textual criticism got going on it on a popular level it a few centuries later. Then all apparent certainty drains away in the minds of ordinary people. But if you hold to the priority of Tradition - the Scriptures being a particularly sacred part of that Tradition - then the Authority does not rest with the text on the page but with The Word living and teaching in His Church.

Andreas Meszaros said...

Ex S. Hieronymi Praefatione in Librum Job:

Quod si apud Graecos post Septuaginta editionem, jam Christi Evangelio coruscante, Judaeus Aquila, et Symmachus ac Theodotion judaizantes haeretici sunt recepti, qui multa mysteria Salvatoris subdola interpretatione celaverunt, et tamen in Hexamplis habentur apud ecclesias, et explanantur ab ecclesiasticis viris: quanto magis ego Christianus, de parentibus Christianis natus, et vexillum crucis in mea fronte portans, cujus studium fuit omissa repetere, depravata corrigere, et sacramenta Ecclesiae puro et fideli aperire sermone, val a fastidiosis, vel a malignis lectoribus non debeo reprobari.

Dale Crakes said...

Fr any comments on the Coverdale Psalter in comparison to the Vulgate translation of the original Douay Rheims or subsequent Challoner editions? Also any suggestions on the texts discussing the elimination of Christian verses in the Masoretic texts? Searched Coverdale, Challoner, and Masoretic in your blogs with no related results. Hoping you'll find time to wax eloquent on the topic in the future.

william arthurs said...

In my opinion Margaret Barker ought to have more fans among classicists who relish a bold conjectural emendation that shews everything in a new light.

As it is, most of her readers seem to be LDS.

Stephen Barber said...

I have read Margaret Barker and consider that Christians need have no special loyalty to the Masoretic text, which post-dates Christianity, and should prefer readings which were familiar to the disciples and early Christians. Our version of what we call the Old Testament need not be the same as the Hebrew Scriptures.

Calvin Engime said...

What excuse is there for suppressing the stanza when the current liturgical books, that is, the Novus Ordo ones, direct us to sing the Psalm verse itself at Mass on Friday in the Octave of Easter? It can be found in the Graduale Romanum on page 212.

Figulus said...

Dear Father,

You wrote above that, "The restoration of this stanza to the Liturgy is overdue", to which I quibble, it was overdue, but is overdue no longer.

In the Liber Hymnarius, published by Solesmes in 1983, also known as Antiphonale Romanum Secundum Liturgian Horarum Ordinemque Cantus Officii Dispositum Tomus Alter, for Hebdomada Sancta ad Vesperas, there is an option. After the Vexilla Regis identical to the one in the breviary, there is a second option, labelled Vel ad libitum, secundum veterem editionem vaticanum. This option has a third stanza:

Impleta sunt quae concinit / David fideli carmine / dicendo nationibus / Regnavit a ligno Deus.

Of course, I am being too cute. By "Liturgy", anyone can see that you really mean the breviary, and if you mean that this stanza, optional or not, should be restored to the breviary, then I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Nevertheless, there is no reason I can think of why one should not (as I have done) pencil in between the 2nd and 3rd stanzas of his breviary the above missing stanza. It is, after all, approved for the Liturgia Horarum. And it is, after all, the Antiphonale Romanum. And it does come with "approbatione Sacrae Congregationis pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino" 24 June 1982.

Tuus in Xo,