Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Christian Humanism

A friend just sent me a heavy box of books, full of good things, such as Dante's Divine Comedy in Italian, Botticelli's illustrations of the Divine Comedy, Pascal's Pensées in French with a facing English translation, Leopardi's works in Italian, The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, and much more, enough to keep me busy and contented for months.

Thumbing through one of the books, the Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, tr. F.E. Brightman (New York: Meridian Books, Inc., 1961), I was struck by something in the "Litany of Deprecation" on pp. 241-244, in which Andrewes prays to be delivered from a long list of evils. The margins are dense with literary sources for almost everything on the list. Most of the sources are, as might be expected, from the Bible, with one notable exception, on p. 244, where Andrewes prays to be delivered from "a life unlivable." The literary source for this phrase is as far removed from sacred scripture as can be imagined — Aristophanes, Wealth 969 (ἀβίωτον ... βίον).

This reminds me of a passage in E.K. Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 64-65 (in the chapter on "The Church and Pagan Culture"; footnote omitted):
For the moment, I will take as type and symbol a bit of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church preserved in one of its most ancient monuments, the Missale Gothicum. In the benedictio populi in the mass for the eve of the Epiphany, Christ is besought to turn dull hearts to Him, just as at the wedding of Cana He converted plain water into — not just wine, but Falernian. Horace's best! Let this be a symbol of the history of Christian humanism. Though the stricter souls have denounced it and even threatened to break it, that jar of old Falernian has always reposed in the sanctuary of the Church.
Thanks for the books, dear friend!

Anonymous, Old Man Reading (York Museums Trust)

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?