Wednesday, September 30, 2009

conversio ut orator

The past few weeks the impetus of the blog seems to have failed for one reason or another. One such reason (not a large one, it must be said) is the fun and distraction of teaching a course on the historical and cultural context of English literature, 600-1660. Last week's class was about Bede (and "The Ruin", Caedmon's Hymn, and "The Dream of the Rood"); a lot for just two hours of class time.

Tomorrow's class is on just one work: Beowulf. I'm very excited to be able (at last!) to teach about Beowulf. Perhaps more excited than will be good for the class. If anybody's interested, I'll be sure to let you know how it went.

But tonight is the Vespers of the Feast of St Jerome, translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. He defended his translation method as "translating not like an interpreter but like an orator": making an attempt to convey the beauty of the original, rather than (woodenly) its meaning. As this is the blog of a historian and translator, the occasion can hardly be allowed to pass uncelebrated. So today's collect:
O God, Who for the expounding of the Holy Scriptures didst raise up in Thy Church the great and holy Doctor Jerome; we beseech Thee, grant that by his intercession and merits we may, by Thy help, be enabled to practice what he taught us both by word and by work.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our Lady of Sorrows

Or should that be "Sorrows of Our Lady"?

In any case, to continue the last post's theme of ravishing Vespers:

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Exaltation of the Cross

Yesterday evening I spent making Latin flashcards, including "REX / regis (m.) king". And to help the morphology sink in, a dose of Vespers for today:

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Monday, September 7, 2009


A conversation in the comments of another blog brought up some remarks that the Archbishop of Westminster made about social networking sites (Facebook and so forth), as reported in the Telegraph. Reading it is hilarious.

I should perhaps say that I wrote my doctorate about newspapers, so when I'm reading a newspaper report my foremost thought is not "What happened?" (or "What was said?"), but "What does the journalist think happened?" (or "Did he even understand what was said?").

It's unavoidable that some simplification should be found in a newspaper report (that is pretty much what journalists exist to do: pot things), but even so it's remarkable here how the Archbishop's own words are an awful lot more nuanced than those that the journalist "fills in" without using quotation marks. It begins with the headline.

Headline: "Facebook and MySpace can lead children to commit suicide"
Actual quotation near bottom of article: "Among young people often a key factor in them committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships."

Journalist: "The archbishop blamed social network sites for leaving children with impoverished friendships."
Actual words of Archbishop: "Facebook and MySpace might contribute towards communities, but I'm wary about it. It's not rounded communication so it won't build a rounded community," he said. "If we mean by community a genuine growing together and a mutual sharing in an interest that is of some significance then it needs more than Facebook."

It is worth reminding young people (and not-so-young people, and - need I add? - ourselves) that a Facebook "friend" and an online "community" are not at all the same thing as a friend or a community. That handy tools for keeping in touch with people at a distance shouldn't distract us from getting in touch with people in the same street as us, or the same house. Strange that it's a point that a Telegraph journalist can't grasp without sensationalising.
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Thursday, September 3, 2009

1419 years ago today

Gregory, a man renowned for learning and behaviour, was promoted to the apostolical see of Rome, and presided over it thirteen years, six months and ten days. He, being moved by Divine inspiration, in the fourteenth year of the same emperor [maurice], and about the one hundred and fiftieth after the coming of the English into Britain, sent the servant of God, Augustine, and with him several other monks, who feared the Lord, to preach the word of God to the English nation. they having, in obedience to the pope's commands, undertaken that work, were, on their journey, seized with a sudden fear, and began to think of returning home, rather than proceed to a barbarous, fierce, and unbelieving nation, to whose very language they were strangers; and this they unanimously agreed was the safest course. In short, they sent back. Augustine, who had been appointed to be consecrated bishop in case they were received by the English, that he might, by humble entreaty, obtain of the Holy Gregory, that they should not be compelled to undertake so dangerous, toilsome, and uncertain a journey. The pope, in reply, sent them a hortatory epistle, persuading them to proceed in the work of the Divine word, and rely on the assistance of the Almighty.

(Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk 1, ch. 23, as found at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook)

St Gregory's instructions on evangelization, written to Mellitus in 601, were among the most influential ever:

When Almighty God shall bring you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have, after mature deliberation on the affairs of the English, determined upon, namely, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed, but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples - let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that the be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts and, knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed.

And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be substituted for them on this account, as, for instance, that on the day of the dedication, or of the nativities of the holy martyrs whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, no more offering beasts to the devil, but killing cattle to the praise of God in their eating, and returning thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are permitted them, they may the more easily consent to thee inward consolations of the grace of God.

For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface every thing at once from their obdurate minds, because he who endeavors to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps and not by leaps. This the Lord made himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt: and yet he allowed them to use the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the devil in his own worship, commanding them in his sacrifice to kill beasts to the end that, changing their hearts they mad lay aside one part of the sacrifice whilst retained another: that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God, and not to idols, and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices.

Oh, and he wrote the Life of St Benedict :)
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Seventy years ago today

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