2 October 2023


 Those who have experienced the 'brilliant firework display' (Lancelyn Green); 'the puns, witty, rhymes, antitheses, allusions, alliterations, homophones and other tropes ... zest ... far fetched similes ... metaphors ...' , of the Akathist Hymn may sometimes have wondered why Western Liturgy is incapable, just occasionally, of letting its hair down a bit. 

Some of those baroque hymnographers who served the dear old Sacred Congregation of Rites in the high Counter-Reformation period did indeed, happily, sometimes stray in a naughty direcction, although never as far as carefree Byzantines. 

Take the hymn the hymnographi composed for the Third Sunday in October, Feast of the Purity of our Blessed Lady. I includes the line Intacta Mater Numinis.

Numen is an intriguing word. The post-Conciliar revisers modified it to Deique mater innuba on the grounds that Numen  smells a bit of Mythology. You might have thought that Dei did the same. But I get the point: Mater Dei  had been going around for centuries, so, you could argue, it had setttled down into its accepted usages.

But one of the convictions of our culture is that it might be a good idea sometimes ... occasionally ... to use a startlingly unusual word or turn of phrase, in order to stimulate thought. Numen is vaguer; less easy to pin down; and less easy to dismiss as being merely a word we've been thoughtlessly hitching on to descriptions of the Theotokos for a couple of millennia (how often do we pause when praying the second half of the Hail Mary?).

Classicist readers might be intrigued to chase after Numen in the Augustan poets. They might, then.  care to sober down and remember that Leo XIII himself was not too fussy to incorporate this line into a hymn of his own.

1 comment:

Grant Milburn said...

NUMEN reminds me of The Adoration of the Shepherds  by Ghirlandaio and the prophecy inscribed on the sarcophagus turned manger turned cradle: 

Ense Cadens Solymo Pompei Fulvius Augur Numen Ait Quae Me Contegit Urna Dabit. 

(While Fulvius augur of Pompey, was falling by the sword in Jerusalem he said: the urn that covers me shall bring forth a god.)