2 February 2018

Dom Lentini; Heloise; and multiple castrations

When Hannibal Bugnini was busily making the worship of the Western Church more agreeable to the Almighty, the Breviary hymns were handed over to a learned Benedictine, Dom Anselmo Lentini. Lentini was himself no snitch at writing Latin verse: not a few of the better new compositions in the Liturgia Horaum are from his pen. And an occasional new composition, added to the existing treasury, would be in accordance with the principle of Organic Development. Moreover, since the Council mandated that older hymns be rescued from the earlier treasury of Latin hymnody and brought back into use to supplement what had come through the bottleneck of the late medieval Roman Rite, it is proper that a judicious number of such hymns should have appeared in the post-conciliar volumes. Whether that revision should have been quite as radical as it turned out to be is, of course, a matter of judgement.

For example, one might wonder if the elimination of the ancient 'common' Office Hymns for our Lady went a bit too far. Pius XII began the game by equipping his new Marian feasts with 'proper' hymns, so that they would not need to use the 'commons' - although even he made a principle of leaving Ave Maris Stella as the Vespers hymn. But Lentini adopted the practice of searching out and reintroducing (or newly composing) hymns for every Marian festival.

But that idea was not a new one in the mid twentieth century. Centuries before, that erudite if lubricious bluestocking, Abelard's Heloise (well, are you in any real doubt which of them it was that did the seducing ... and which of them it was that paid for it?) had indulged herself one of her tantrums in the Monastery of the Paraclete, complaining about the quality of the hymnody in the Divine Office. Texts, she pointed out, were dodgy, missing syllables messed up the chant, questions of authorship, texts not suiting the times of day they were sung ... you name it. And she wanted Abelard to write a completely new set. (Was this her revenge after the poor chap - we blokes are a tactless lot - had just explained to her that he had never really loved her but had merely been Impelled By Lust? We May Never Know.)

Abelard did write some new hymns for her, from which Dom Lentini borrowed some verses. But, to conclude today's post: a little about Legis sacratae.

This was the hymn Lentini rescued for the Feast of the Purification when the decree had gone out that it was to be re-entitulated "the Lord's Presentation". It is a cento of a Carolingian hymn dubiously attributed to Paulinus, Patriarch of Aquileia (d 882); but doctored (the word people use when they have cruelly sent a new cat - or a niece's lover - to the Vet). You see, (Pseudo-) Paulinus was clearly a chap who had read and enjoyed some of the naughtier verses of Catullus. You can detect this from the language he uses. But Lentini was made of sterner stuff. And, a fine scholar, he easily spotted where 'Paulinus'' mind had been straying. So out came all the author's dear little Neoteric diminutives; out came the line which employed a word that Catullus had used about a tart (lacteola). And the vulgar word "basia" just had to be replaced by "oscula". [Basia is pretty well never used in Bible or Liturgy and it tastes - 'sapit' - of Profanity: that is how Dom Anselmo primly puts it. I bet this learned but rather proper Benedictine versifier had never meditated in front of a Byzantine icon of the Theotokos Glykyphilousa.]

So the pretty assonances of "basia sub labiis" disappear.

I wonder what Abelard, complete or incomplete, would have made of these proceedings.

1 comment:

Andrew Malton said...

What is Latin for LOL? Hmm, maybe MRC.