25 February 2010

'The Banquets of the Holy Word'—Early Mediæval Poetry on St Scholastica

Thanks to Brigit of Under the Oak fame, I have been made aware of some wonderful old sources on St Scholastica, woefully overlooked in my post for her feast Tuesday. Here, at the Monastic Matrix site—edited by Lisa Bitel, author of the article on St Brighid I linked to here—there are Latin texts and translations of three poems about St Scholastica, one by St Aldhelm of Sherborne (c. 639-709), whom the Venerable Bede calls ‘a man of wide learning . . . remarkable for his erudition in both ecclesiastical and in general studies’, [1] and two by Paul the Deacon of Monte Cassino (c. 720-799), famed for his history of the Lombards. They were translated by Mary Forman, OSB, and originally published in Vox Benedictiana in 1990. [2]

I had planned simply to post St Aldhelm’s poem here, and direct readers to the Monastic Matrix page to read the others, but when I tried to read them myself I found them badly jumbled. Fearing that other readers may have a difficult time reading the poems too, I copied and pasted them into a Word document, arranged them correctly, and decided to post all three of them here. I have no idea if the breaks here represent original ones, or if they are page breaks reproduced from the journal, but not knowing what else to do I left them in. I have left out the Latin texts in the interest of reducing the size of the post. Consequently, I decided also to leave out Forman’s notes documenting the texts she used, but I kept three explanatory notes on the last poem.

Incidentally, the image above is a 12th-c. fresco of St Scholastica from Monte Cassino.

A Song about St Scholastica
by St Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne

Scholastica took her very name from schola,
God enriches her abundantly with heavenly favour,
She who gained golden rewards by her virginal vow.
Concerning whom a little twig of nourishing life
is wont to scatter excellence
as widely as the world extends.
Because the virgin impatiently urges her brother
who is joined to her by a covenant of kinship,
and supports her pleas with reasoned argument
So that, at night, they might partake
of the sweet courses of the holy books
and the banquets of the holy word.
From which the breasts of many
are sufficiently filled,
And the hearts of holy people nourished.
But the faithful brother is not moved by any pleas,
Nay rather he disdains his holy sister in his words.
Then the virgin urged the good Christ in her heart
to deign to heal the wound of sorrow for her.
Thus soon the whole sky grows dark
with a stormy whirlwind
and the vault of the heaven with gloomy air.
Huge rumbling thunder,
mingled with flashing lightning bolts,
And the Earth quaked,
trembling from the great noise.
Wet fleecy clouds moisten it with dewy drops,
And the air bedews the land with gloomy showers.
The valleys are filled
and abundant streams overflow,
Then unwillingly he remained
who before had deliberately refused
what his distressed and weeping sister had sought.
So God heeds those who ask with burning heart,
Even when they pay attention to words
which do not console.

A Metrical Life of St Scholastica
by Paul the Deacon

The beautiful spouse of God, Scholastica, seeks
the heights of heaven
The beautiful spouse of God enters
the bridal chamber.
Today she is raised above the stars
with angelic hands,
Today she consorts with the angelic hosts.
Thus the company of saints in the stars
shout with joy to the Lord,
Thus our people on earth
shout with joy to the Lord.
Hence the evil band of demons grieves and groans,
Hence the ancient serpent groans and grieves.
This life tolerates his snares in everything,
But dying she vanquishes his snares.
Dedicated from her earliest years to God,
She remained a virgin.
From her infancy, the virgin was dedicated to God.

Desiring the kingdom of heaven,
she left her country with her brother,
Desiring the kingdom of heaven, she sought Cassino.
Benedict established for himself a dwelling
in a sanctuary on the peak,
But the sister established for herself
a dwelling on the plains.
The brother was wont to descend each year,
The brother was wont to visit his sister.
It was the next day that the virgin left her body,
She sought heaven; it was the next day.
As was his custom,
the brother descended from the sanctuary,
He visited his sister,
as was his custom.
When the dawn arises, their meeting takes place
And with the rising dawn, a conversation arises.
They exchange words about the kingdom
and everlasting life,
They exchange words about the combats of Satan.
The sun sinking to the ocean now buries the light,
Phœbus bears shadows, sinking to the ocean.
As was their custom,
they had given foods which their souls loved,
And they give foods to their bodies
as is their custom.
Eating, the virgin sighs;
indeed, she brings forth gasps from her heart,
The brother fashions words;
eating, the virgin sighs.
Her loving mind burns,
her ear earnestly seeks discourses,
Her mouth tastes foods, her loving mind burns.

Becoming more hungry
as she is accepting different foods,
Becoming more hungry not for banquets
but for conversation.
Now as both prepare to clear the table
and the foods,
Now as both prepare to give thanks to God.
Grieving in mind, she hesitates and fears to speak.
Finally, grieving in mind, she speaks these things.
‘O venerable Father,
you have no mercy on me, who grieves,
You forsake your sister; O venerable Father.
I beseech you to remain here;
Behold the light of day is receding,
Now darkness approaches,
I beseech you to remain here.’
‘So as to prevent you from asking
for these things which you demand, sister,’
the most holy father says,
‘I will grant them not at all
So as to prevent you from asking.’
Grieving, she immediately moistens her face
with profuse tears,
Grieving, she immediately lowers her head to the table.
For her the Lord was hope,
thus does the sorrowful one entreat the Lord,
What he wishes may be done,
since for her the Lord was hope.
All the surface of heaven is covered
with dark clouds,
All the surface of heaven grows dark with clouds
Frequent lightning bolts flash,
blasts of wind beat down,
As the heaven falls, frequent lightning bolts flash.

Seeing it, her brother
asks why he should rebuke her,
Seeing it, her brother stays the night in the house.
When the next day comes,
the turbulence and darkness flee,
the path lies open to the just man.
When the next day comes.
Three days after his departure from there,
she passed on,
Three days after this sign, she passed on.
Benedict looks up at the heights
and prays to heaven,
Thus does he look up at the soul of his sister
in the heights.
In the form of a bird,
she flew to the heights like a dove,
What she was, was revealed
through the form of a bird.
He gives thanks to the Almighty One
that his sister seeks the heavens:
He explains to the brothers
that his sister seeks the heavens.
He puts the body of his sister
in the tomb prepared for himself
And afterwards he puts his own body
in that very tomb.
One sepulchre holds them whom one will held:
One sepulchre holds them whom one womb begets.
Exceedingly wondrous signs
make people rejoice in life
The dead ones effect exceedingly wonderful signs.
Here we saw many men snatched away
from the devil,
Here we saw mad men made healthy.

Here was given to many
a voice for the mouth, a light for the eyes
Well-earned strength of feet
was here given to many.
Here almighty God is placated by their merits;
Whatever is sought, here almighty God provides.
May God here and everywhere
protect us with their prayers,
May God rule us and cherish us
here and everywhere.

A Song about St Scholastica
by the Same Author

O blessed sister of Benedict, by the will of Christ
And of the majestic Father, O blessed sister.
Ready to attend to God
You are rightly called Scholastica,
You are seen from your cradle
ready to attend to God.
A vessel for counsel, although then still a young girl,
A treader of the cosmos, a vessel for counsel.
Noble spouse of God, you are adorned with pearls,
you will bear holy lilies, noble spouse of God,
You desire the heights of heaven,
you despised the sweet things of the world,
You desire the lofty mountains
of the everlasting heaven.
All things hateful to you were placed
under the light of Phœbus,
And the seductive things of the earth
were all hateful to you.

You went before the Castalian leaders [3]
as their inspired guide,
Exulting, you illuminated the Castalian leaders.
Behold you joined your own virginal [4]
to the abode of your brother,
Behold your own virginal abides as unplucked.
You are grasped by fragile finger tips,
when exchanging the things of heaven,
And grasping victory
you are grasped by finger tips,
You bring back magnificent trophies, [5]
virtue, zeal, and discipline,
Virgin Daughter of Sion,
you bring back magnificent trophies.
Most chaste one,
we have written other praises in heroic verses,
behold we have written to you in heroic verses:
From which it was clearly shown
by the whole summit of merits
That she is perfect in all things,
from which it was clearly shown.
Let the sisterly vow suffice to excel in prayers
Unconquered by all, let it suffice in prayers.
It remains now to describe her feast day
with swift pen
to render into verse
the place where you were ordered,
it remains now to describe.
Blessed virgin, on the day
you approached the thresholds of the kingdom
on the tenth day in the month of Numa,
blessed virgin.

The sun in Aquarius already snatching away
the twenty-four parts,
the sun in Aquarius.
Nursed by the spiritual unction in wondrous flowers,
Whose odour was evident
from the spiritual unction.
Conveyed by arms of sentinels
to the bosom of Abraham
She will remain in the holy bosom of Abraham:
With virgin choirs
she was laid in a lasting abode
With harmonious praises and virgin choirs.
Organs which resound the odes of the celestial name
Angelic leaders, organs which resound.
You return now to feed on lilies
each with a thousand-fold blossom,
You return now to feed on paradisial lilies.
Here may you thrive, may you be strong,
may you worship, may you love,
Now and forever.
here may you thrive, may you be strong.

[1] Venerable Bede, EH 5:18; The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, tr. Bertram Colgrave, ed. Judith McClure & Roger Collins (Oxford: Oxford U, 1994), p. 267.

[2] Mary Forman, OSB, tr., ‘Poems on St Scholastica’, Vox Benedictina: A Journal of Translations from Monastic Sources (Saskatoon: Peregrina Publishers, 1984-), 7/3 (1990): pp. 229-251.

[3] Tr. note: ‘Castalian leaders’: Castalia was the proper name of a spring on Mount Parnassus which was sacred to the Muses; hence ‘castalian’, pertaining to the Muses.

[4] Tr. note: Virginal: ‘the book containing the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary’: Albert Blaise, Lexicon latinitatis medii aevi, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaeualis (Turnout: Brepols, 1986) in reference to Th. Rymer, Foedera, conventiones, litterae inter reges anglia et alios quosvis imperatores, reges … IX (Hagae Comities, 1739-1745): p. 276. See also Oratio 14 aug., Sacramentarium Gregorianum 147, 1, quoted by Albert Blaise, Le vocabulaire latin des principaux thèmes liturgiques (Turnhout: Brepols, 1966): p. 347.

[5] Tr. note: These trophies refer to the fruits of monastic asceticism; see, for example, RB, Chapters 4, 72, 19 et passim.


Brigit said...

Great to see these texts made more readily-accessible on your blog, Aaron. Your posts are a wonderful tribute to the saint.

By the way, I have ordered Buechner's novel on Brendan, it's coming from the US so will probably take a couple of weeks to reach me. I see he has also written a book on the English mystic Godric.

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you for your kind words, Brigit.

I think you'll like Brendan. It's no hagiography, but it's certainly a neat book. I enjoyed Godric as well, but the style is very different.