Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ad cenam Agni providi

Tonight's office hymn was "The lamb's high banquet we await". The translation is by J.M. Neale but has been substantially altered at various points in the New English Hymnal.

I think the one that most annoys me is the fact that they have changed "and tasting of his roseate Blood" to "and tasting of his precious Blood".

Now why do that?

The original in the Latin is

sed et cruorem roseum
gustando, Dei vivimus

Neale's translation renders that exactly, using "roseate" to translate "roseum". "Precious" is not there at all. And the phrase "precious blood" is too common and trite to be striking here. The image is, in any case, not meant to be one of price, but rather of the tasting of red wine. Sometimes these editors seem to be just crass.

The other less serious but apparently unnecessary piece of interference is in verse 4. This is what we have in the Latin:

Iam pascha nostrum Christus est,
agnus occisus innocens;
sinceritatis azyma
qui carnem suam obtulit.

In J. M. Neale's translation this went:

Now Christ, our Paschal Lamb, is slain,
the Lamb of God that knows no stain,
the true Oblation offered here,
our own unleavened Bread sincere.

The NEH editors have (in their wisdom) changed "paschal lamb" to "Passover". They have also changed round the last two lines, rendering them

And he, the true unleavened Bread,
Is truly our oblation made.

I don't think much of the rhyme (Bread and made), nor do I find the lines comprehensible in this approximation to English. Certainly these are no improvement on Neale's. In fact it looks to me as though sinceritatis azyma is a reference to the "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" from 1 Corinthians 5.8.

So lines 3 and 4 ought to go "Sincerity's unleavened bread, who gave his very flesh instead."


Tiger said...

Instead of what?

The NEH editors have (in their wisdom) changed "paschal lamb" to "Passover".

But pascha does mean "Passover" – the whole feast, not just the physical lamb. It's the Greek version of the Hebrew "Pesach" meaning "to pass over", either literally or in the metaphorical sense of sparing or exempting. It's still the term in the Holy Orthodox Church for what in English we inappropriately call Easter (from a pagan spring festival).

The animal itself (agnus) is specified only in the second line of that Latin quatrain. Neal presumably wrote "Pascal Lamb" because "Passover" would have been incorrectly stressed as an oxytone. His first "lamb" is to that extent pleonastic; but, as another hymn found in the old and New English Hymnal "At the Lamb's high feast..." (which must surely be a paraphrase from the same source) makes clear, once we recognise the distinction we may comprehend the essential and mystical unity of rite, substrate and divine Celebrant:

Gives his body for the feast,
Love the victim, love the priest.

So (to return to our original moutons) we have:

Now Christ is [i.e. has become] our passover,
the slaughtered innocent lamb;
the yeast-free things of sincerity,
who has offered his own flesh.

Azyma is, I think, a borrowed Greek neuter plural, but here thoroughly assimilated to Latin, and so it would require a plural verb and can't grammatically be the subject of obtulit. Not can it logically be so, because unleavened bread obviously doesn't have caro (flesh) to offer. It is the Lamb's flesh, conflated by poetic licence with the unleavened bread of 1 Corinthians. But that conflation expresses a deep theological truth, as I've hinted above.

The oblation is quite clearly the flesh, and those Editors have got it spectacularly wrong by offering the vegetarian alternative.

Catherine Rowett said...

"Instead of what?"

Well, either instead of us, ie as the ransome price/sacrificial lamb to buy our freedom,

or instead of the passover lamb, offering the unleavened bread that is his own flesh where the old Passover prescribed a lamb as victim.

Imani said...

Pardon my very off-topic comment, but I just discovered this blog through the History Carnival archives. I like it very much and find it so informative, not least because of the theological critique of the lyrics -- something that was never brought up in all my years of Sunday school, catechism classes or youth groups. (Very odd!)

I do have a question. I notice that you typically refer to the New English Hymnal (?). Do they not use the Ancient & Modern in the UK any more? (Is it terribly outdated?) I'm from Jamaica and that's the hymnal we use; if I had to make a guess, the 1950 Revised edition.

Catherine Rowett said...

Hi Imani! Thanks for your comments.

On the Hymns Ancient and Modern question, here's a bit of an answer. Different parishes in the UK use different hymn books. Many still do use Hymns Ancient and Modern, either the Revised edition that you mention, or Hymns A & M New Standard (a 1983 edition).
Hymns A & M tends to be the book used by "Middle of the Road" Church of England parishes especially in the country. The English Hymnal was mostly used in high church or anglo-catholic parishes and those with a strong musical tradition, including Cathedrals. It's in those parishes and cathedrals that the New English Hymnal has been flooding in as a replacement for the English Hymnal. And because I am an admirer of the English Hymnal, and because many people suppose that the New English Hymnal is the same or better, that's why I've been writing a lot about the faults of that book.
There are other even more terrible books in use in increasing numbers of English parishes, in particular a ghastly book called Hymns Old and New which has been mentioned in one or two comments on this Blog. Now if I wrote about that, we would get a great deal of grief and/or entertainment. Perhaps when I have finished pointing out the faults in the New English Hymnal I'll move onto that!

Imani said...

Ahh, it's all clearer now. Thanks for answering. :)

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!