18 May 2023

Word Play on Ascension Day can get you to heaven

The chairman of the coetus charged in the 1960s with revising the Breviary Hymns, Dom Anselmo Lentini, was convinced that 'word-play' ["nimius lusus verborum", as he put it] was out of place in texts for modern use. So he disliked two superb lines in an Ascension Day fifth century Office Hymn

culpat caro, purgat Caro,
regnat Deus Dei Caro. 

In his first draft Hymnale he deleted them; then he re-admitted them but bowdlerised them.

[literal crib: "flesh sins, Flesh cleanses, God rules, the Flesh of God." The Anglican Fr John Mason Neale produced a fine rendering into English verse: that flesh hath purged what flesh had stained / and God, the Flesh of God, hath reigned.]

Unbowdlerised, these seem to me two of the most sublime lines in Latin poetry, whether sacred or profane, during the last two and a half thousand years.

Visitors to the Cathedral at Cefalu in Sicily will have seen the same sort of word-play pressed into the service of the same shattering, profound truth. In this Norman church, built by King Roger II and adorned with a purely Hellenic mosaic Pantocrator of about 1141, a Latin elegiac couplet [hexameter + pentameter] goes round the arch of the apse and reads:

Factus Homo Factor hominis factique Redemptor
     iudico Corporeus corpora corda Deus.

["Made Man, I, the Maker of man and the Redeemer of what I have made, judge, as God Embodied,  bodies and hearts."]

Lentini was a learned and able and civilised man. He was a far better latinist than ever I could claim to be. It is telling, in my view, that even the very best of those who hacked away at the Liturgy during that most terrible decade could have been so blinded and limited by the fashions of their age. 

Proof, indeed, that Liturgy should only ever evolve organically and without ineluctable ideologies.

Praise to that redeeming and triumphant Flesh!


PM said...

At least the wreckavation of the sanctuary in Cefalu, while it threw the old high altar on the tip and replaced it with a table behind which is a nondescript curtain and the celebrant's chair (not the tabernacle), left the apse alone.

That said, I wouldn't put it past the present management in Rome and their local Grilloid sycophants to replace the Norman mosaics with the work of Fr Rupnik.

Matthew F Kluk said...

Marvelous word-play indeed!

Albertus said...

''culpat caro, purgat Caro,
regnat Deus Dei Caro.'' You may well be right, that these dogmatically perfect lines of superb catholic latinity are the best ever written in the last two-and-a-half thousandyears. Sadly, i believe that there lay another, more sinister reason behind Ventini's and other post- conciliar experts' dislike of this and like liturgical wordplays: they too often explicitly call Jesus Christ ''God'', which is much too forthright and embarassingly orthodox for modernist, oecumenically semi-arianist sensibilities.