06 February 2009

Renunciation in St Columba's 'Altus Prosator'

This is just a little foretaste of one of my most treasured books—Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery, by Thomas Owen Clancy and Gilbert Márkus, OP (Edinburgh: Edinburgh U, 1995), a serendipitous find at a local used bookshop for $6.95. It is a bilingual anthology of Latin and Gaelic poems written at Iona Monastery between the years 563 and 704. Aside from the primary source content, the book is also to be commended for the various introductions and notes, wherein one finds some sound scholarship cutting through all of the nonsense that has become synonymous with 'Celtic Christianity', or, even worse, 'Celtic spirituality'.

The following is a Responsio from the first poem in the anthology—the 'Altus prosator', commonly accepted as the work of St Columba (Colum Cille) himself, and notable for its 'foreign and exotic vocabulary' (p. 43) as well as its heavy dependence on St John Cassian. The Latin text of these lines is found on p. 52, with the translation on p. 53.

Quis potest Deo placere novissimo in tempore,
variatis insignibus veritatis ordinibus,
exceptis contemptoribus mundi praesentis istius?

Who can please God in the last time,
the noble ordinances of truth being changed,
except the despisers of this present world?

If you are intrigued, don't worry, there will be plenty more about this book in the future!


Justin said...

I look forward to more. I was a big fan of the literature from Ireland and Scotland. Several years ago someone broke into our storage space and nicked a few of our things, including my box of celtic books which included a Carmina Gadelica and some other antique thick hardbacks from Scotland and Wales.

I've learned to let it go.

The Ochlophobist said...

I found a copy on Amazon for $21 and I ordered it. I can start dipping into my beer allowance as Lent approaches.

the noble ordinances of truth being changed What a lovely line.

Thank you for this.

aaronandbrighid said...

I'm glad to hear I've scattered my seed on good soil!

Shoshana Piatek said...

Thank you for this post, I have added the book Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery to my Amazon Wishlist and it appears that I can order it used for under $8.00 USD, plus shipping. :) Looking forward to adding the title to my Iona book collection as I prepare for a trip next there next Spring.

By the way, I stumbled across your post when google searching: "Altus Prosator", which I am studying as part of my Family History project.

Have you seen this on JSTOR:
Structure and Image in the "Altus Prosator": Columba's Symmetrical Universe
Margaret Wesseling
Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium
Vol. 8 (1988), pp. 46-57

LINK: Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20557197

Best wishes,
Shoshana Rose Piatek