27 September 2009

very old and strange latin

"Father Mars, I pray thee that thou wouldst forbid defend-against avert diseases seen and unseen dearth and ravage calamities and disorders". " I beseech solicit and seek favour of thee that thou desert this people and state and leave the sacred defined spaces and their city and go away from these ...". The first was a prayer for the lustration of fields used in ancient Rome centuries before the age of the Caesars; the second the text of a prayer by which the Romans attempted to persuade the Gods of an enemy city to desert it. Here are the original texts; and I ask those who do not understand Latin to spot at least the parallelism, the wealth of words, the alliteration, the rhyme, the lawyer-like precision. "Pater Mars, precor uti tu morbos visos invisosque vidueritatem vastitudinemque calamitates intemperiasque prohibessis defendas averruncesque". "precor veneror veniamque a vobis peto ut vos hunc populum civitatemque deseratis loca templa sacra urbemque eorum relinquatis absque his abeatis ...".

These pieces of archaic Latin were used by the great Christine Mohrmann (the towering intellect of liturgical scholarship in the generation before the Council whom the Bugnini generation, semiliterate jumped-up fools, ignored and forgot) to explain the nature of the Latin of the Canon of the Mass. She has in mind the words of the Quam oblationem: benedictam adscriptam ratam rationabilem acceptabilemque [blessed written-up ratified reasonable and acceptable]. What she is demonstrating is that there is nothing vernacular about such language, nothing simple and clear, nothing that the-man-on-the-top-of-a-Clapham-omnibus could understand.

Mohrmann argues that Christian liturgical Latin is a hieratic dialect deliberately created in the image of the liturgical Latin of pagan Rome centuries before Christ. The rhythmically balanced flow of words, the juridical precision, the monumental verbosity, combine with scrupulosity towards the Gods.

Forget the idea that when the Roman Church replaced its Greek liturgy with the Latin, it was trying to be more understanded of the people and comprehensible by the man in the street. It was trying to do exactly the opposite. It was trying to be dignified and obscure.

Continues ...

5 comments:

Independent said...

Was Thomas Cranmer with his stately English trying to do something like that? Dignified and at times obscure?

Michael McDonough said...

I'm nearly 60, and have always wondered just what was being said in the Quam oblationem. Just knowing the "sense" of the words doesn't really help. Thanks for clarifying this idea.

It brings up a question though. To your knowledge, was this "trying to be dignified and obscure" a characteristic of a known moment in Roman/Latin culture when there was an attempt to "recapture" the linguistic glories of the past?

Patricius said...

Independant, no Cranmer was trying to strip the Liturgy of anything that smacked of mystery. He understood the Liturgy with a cunning understanding, and despised it.

Steve said...

In my experience, whether or not anything in the Liturgy "smacks of mystery" depends far, far more on how it is celebrated than on its content per se.

I have seen just about everything from the BCP to the modern Roman mass (a) done worshipfully and (b) murdered.

Independent said...

Patricius - thank you ,but I would welcome some evidence and examples. "The Book of Divine Worship" sanctioned by John Paul II makes full use of Cranmer's English.