Saturday 1 December 2012

Dear light, clear light: Adam of St Victor on the Holy Spirit

One of my happiest discoveries at AAR last week was the new series of Victorine Texts in Translation, published by New City Press. These thematic volumes bring together annotated translations of mystical, exegetical, liturgical, and theological materials from the twelfth-century Augustinian community at the Abbey of St Victor in Paris. The Victorine school, with its contemplative piety and its pedagogical approach to theology, played a major role in the later emergence of scholasticism. It also produced some of the richest liturgical poetry of the Latin Middle Ages. There are two volumes so far, Trinity and Creation and On Love, with a third volume on Interpretation of Scripture: Theory coming soon.

I've been slowly devouring the first two volumes, and am especially impressed by the translations of Adam of St Victor's Sequences, liturgical poems that were sung before the Gospel reading in the mass. Adam wrote 47 sequences, and it looks as though each volume will include a few of these poems. They are very wonderful. Here's the poem on the Holy Spirit, included in the first volume. This ought to be a test of any theology: whether it can be sung!

Sequence for the Octave of Pentecost

You who proceed from both
begetter and begotten,
equally, Paraclete,

give us eloquent tongues,
make our minds burn in you,
and enrich them by your flame.

The love of the Father and of the Son,
equal of both, and
equal and entirely similar to each,

you replenish everything, you foster all,
you rule the stars, you move heaven,
remaining unmoved.

Dear light, clear light,
you put to flight the darkness
of the internal shadows.

Through you the pure are cleansed.
You destroy sin and
every trace of sin.

You make truth new
and show the path of peace
and the way of justice.

You shun the hearts of the wicked
and enrich the hearts of the good
with your gift of knowledge.

You teach and nothing is obscure,
you are present and nothing is impure.
Under your presence

the joyful soul glories,
the conscience – happy through you,
pure through you – rejoices.

You change the elements.
Through you the sacraments
have their efficacy.

You drive away the hurtful power.
You overthrow and refute
the wickedness of the enemy.

When you come
you ease the heart.
When you draw near,
the darkness of the black cloud
takes flight.

Sacred fire, 
heart of fire,
you do not burn,
but when you visit,
you clear away cares.

You educate and awaken
minds formerly unskilled,
asleep and forgetful.

You warm our tongues. You form the words.
Your charity given inclines
the heart toward good.

O aid of the oppressed,
O comfort of the miserable,
refuge of the poor,

give contempt of earthly things,
lead desire
to love of celestial things.

Consoler and founder,
dweller and lover
of humble hearts,

drive out evil. Wipe away filth.
Make what is discordant harmonious.
Bring us protection.

You who once visited,
taught, and comforted
the frightened disciples,

may you consider us worthy to visit,
and if it pleases, may you console us,
your believing people.

The majesty of the persons is equal,
their power and
common divinity are equal.

You, proceeding from two
are equal to both,
in no way dissimilar.

For you are as great and
of the same kind as the Father.
May the humility of your servants

return the praises
due to God the Father and the Son,
Redeemer, also to you.

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