Gemma Animae (1): Preface

Commentaries on the Mass and Divine Office form an important yet unhappily understudied body of mediæval writing. Few critical editions exist, much less English translations. In a modest attempt to remedy the situation, we shall undertake the translation of one of the finest instances of the genre, Honorius Augustodunensis’s Gemma Animae, ‘gem of the soul’. Little is known about the author; controversy still rages about what city or abbey his demonym refers to. He was certainly a monk, however, and authored sundry works on various subjects, many of them exegetical in nature. The Gemmae Animae is his exegesis on the sacraments, and provides a suitable introduction to the allegorical bent of the mediæval mind.

*Readers are of course invited to comment on whatever strikes them about the commentary, and to throw their own expertise into the discussion.


Honorius’s Preface to Gemma Animae

Most people today are so insane—a fact that troubles my mind to consider!—that they are not ashamed to expend the greatest effort investigating the abominable deceptions of the poets and the frivolous doctrines of the philosophers, which fetter the mind in the ineluctable bonds of vice, while being completely ignorant of the Christian profession through which the soul may reign with God in eternity. For it is a deluded man indeed who desires to know the laws of a tyrant while ignoring the edicts of the great emperor, and not to understand the things that necessity obliges one to do every day. For what good does it bring the soul to know the battles of Hector or the disputes of Plato, the poems of Maro or the lullabies of Naso, who along with all their ilk shriek in the prison of the infernal Babylon under the cruel sway of Pluto? But the wisdom of God grants the highest honor to the one who ruminates ceaselessly upon the doings and writings of the prophets and apostles, who now exult with the king of glory in the palace of the Heavenly Jerusalem, as no one dares to doubt.

In the judgment of the wise, a man of understanding differs from a man without understanding, as much as a seeing man from the blind. For he who does not understand what he does, is like a blind man, who knows not where he goes; and like Tantalus perishes of thirst in the midst of the waters. And though the simplicity of the faithful pleases our God, nevertheless he approves the understanding of the wise as much as he prefers light to darkness. For this reason, as you commanded me, I have written a little book on the divine offices (De divinis officiis), to which I have given the name Gem of the Soul. For indeed just as gold is adorned by a gem, so the soul is made beautiful by the divine office.

Honorii praefatio in Gemmam animae.

Plerosque vesania captos piget me mente considerare, quos non pudet abominanda poetarum figmenta ac captiosa philosophorum argumenta summo conamine indagare, quae mentem ideo abstractam vitiorum nexibus insolubiliter solent innodare, religionem autem Christianae professionis penitus ignorare, per quam animam liceat perenniter cum Deo regnare. Cum sit summae dementiae iura tyranni velle scire, et edicta summi imperatoris nescire, atque ea quae quotidie necessario facias non intelligere. Porro quid confert animae pugna Hectoris, vel disputatio Platonis, aut carmina Maronis, vel neniae Nasonis, qui nunc cum consimilibus suis strident in carcere infernalis Babylonis, sub truci imperio Plutonis. Dei autem sapientia maxima gloria hunc cumulat, qui prophetarum et apostolorum facta et scripta investigando iugiter ruminat, quos nunc in coelestis Hierusalem palatio cum rege gloriae exsultare nemo dubitat. Sapientum namque iudicio tantum differt a non intelligente intelligens, quantum a caeco videns. Qui enim non intelligit quae agit, est ut caecus, qui nescit quo vadat; et ut Tantalus in mediis undis siti depcrit. Et licet simplicitas fidelium Deo nostro placeat, tamen intelligentiam sapientum quantum lucem prae tenebris approbat. Ob hanc causam ut iussistis, libellum De divinis officiis edidi, cui nomen Gemma animae indidi. Quia videlicet veluti aurum gemma ornatur, sic anima divino officio decoratur.

Theophilus Raynaudus’s Christianum Sacrum Acathistum (Prologue)

As many of his contemporaries in that glorious century of the Society of Jesus, the learned French Jesuit Théophile Raynaud (1583-1653), professor of philosophy and theology at both Lyon and Rome, was a prodigious writer on all subjects of theology and philosophy. Indeed his work is as varied and vast–the early modern edition of his collected works amounting to 19 volumes–as his taste is eclectic and even verging on the bizarre. (One lengthy monograph purports to be a universal catalogue of world headware!)

Among his liturgical writings is a curious treatise on liturgical posture, or more exactly, a fiery tract against the introduction of pews and of sitting during the liturgy, practices that Raynaud was alarmed to discover had grown up during his absence in Rome. In this prodigious work of scholarship, Raynaud deploys a considerable number of Patristic, medieval, and modern testaments on liturgical posture in a forcible argument against the practice of sitting at Mass. The work is so extensive that he even includes an entire chapter on liturgical posture in pagan religions!

The authors hope to post their translations of this valuable work on a weekly basis, and hope it can contribute to the debate, ongoing among both Eastern and Western Christians, over the suitability of current practice. Western Christians interested in recovering their pre-modern liturgical heritage will find copious resources in Raynaud.

(Translation from the 1655 Lyon edition of Raynaud’s collected works, Tomus Sextus, Eucharistica.)


The Origin of the Word “Acathist”
and its
Application to Christian worship

It will be lost on none of the faithful that I have used the word “sacrum” antonomastically.[1] For it is in the sacrifice of the divine Eucharist that, to use the words of St. Epiphanius, lies “the “chief salvation of Christians.”[2] For what is more holy than that sacrifice? “Holy of holies”[3] Cardinal Hugo calls it in the letters through which he first declared the feast of Corpus Christi. The name’s foundation is not obscure. For as Cornelio Musso[4] has sagely and correctly observed in his exhortation to the synod in Bitonto, everything called sacred among us finds its consummation in relation to this sacrifice. Indeed, in comparison with this, all upon which the name “sacred” is conferred appear so cheap, that they are hardly deserving of the name. Francolino[5] seconds Musso’s opinion, demonstrating that all sacerdotal functions and the whole apparatus of the sacred ministry, and everything that we call sacred, must be referred to the sacrifice of the Mass, which is thus simpliciter and antonomastically “sacred.”

Thus it is clear why I have called it “sacred” absolutely. But why have I added “acathistum”, and what does the word imply? That deluded sectarian Franciscus Iunius[6] imagined that, since Codinus[7] says the word refers to a feast of the Acathist Virgin (which is the second of the Palatine feasts), it should be taken to be a feast of the “non-sitting” or “resting” Virgin, being the feast of the pregnant Blessed Virgin who made the journey to Bethlehem to be espoused to Joseph, just before the birth of Christ. Rubbish, rubbish! The feast simply does not exist in the calendars or ritual books of the Greeks.

In a historical study about this feast recently published in Greek and Latin, this is discussed at some length. The book is called Triodio and is very notable among the Greek books of ritual. It presents the legitimate understanding of the term “Acathistos” where it deals with the Saturday of the fifth week of Lent, when the feast of acathist was celebrated in honor of the most holy Virgin, recalling the favor by which the city of Constantinople was liberated through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.

For when Heraclius [r. 610–641] had departed into Persia and Chaganus, leader of the Scythians and Mysians, arrived with an innumerable host from the eastern regions just as Sarbarus Chosroes [Sassanid King of Persia] began his simultaneous attack on the city: so that just when the strong and numerous armies of the enemy conspiring for the city’s destruction had brought it well near ruin, as a last resort the people betook themselves to the protection of the Blessed Virgin of Constantinople at the instigation of Sergius, bishop of the city. He carried the sacred garment and image of the Deiparae, not made by human hands, taking it round the walls and exhorting everyone with great intensity to place their hope in the protection of the Blessed Virgin.

The queen of heaven did not abandon the city Constantine her founder had dedicated and consigned to her, beseeched with such devotion. By means of a few soldiers, she repulsed the immense forces of the enemy. Indeed a sudden storm scattered the enemy ships and struck them on the sea shore in front of the temple of the Deiparae, which is called Blacherni, and a great number of barbarians perished. The land forces, seized by fear and panic, were routed in an instant, and the city was saved from the siege and all danger.

Remembering therefore this unexpected victory brought through the Blessed Virgin, and the city’s deliverance from so many enemies, the clergy and the whole people sang a hymn to the Blessed Virgin, standing upright all throughout that night without intermission and never sitting down. Hence, both the day and the hymn were called “acathist,” which means without sitting. From this I have also called the “sacrifice of our prayer” (as Augustine calls it) acathist, for during it there ought not to be any sitting. But a new abuse has arisen against which I now gird myself to expose and destroy.

[1] For those of our dear readers (alas! too many) whose may no longer recall their Greek, the figure may be explained as follows: “The substitution of an epithet or title in place of a proper noun.”

[2] Epist. Ad Ioan. Hierosol.

[3] Found in Barthélémy Fisen’s (1591-1649) de festi Corporis Christi institutione.

[4] (1511–1574) was an Italian Friar Minor Conventual, and Bishop of Bitonto, prominent at the Council of Trent. He was, perhaps, the most renowned orator of his day, styled the “Italian Demosthenes”. Returning to ancient patristic models, he raised the homily to a high form of perfection. (Source: wiki)

[5] Marcello Francolini (1533-1591) Tractatus de horis canonicis cap. 42 n. 3

[6] Franciscus Iunius (François du Jon, 1545-1602) was a Reformed scholar and theologian. Born in Bourges in central France, he initially studied law, but later decided to study theology in Geneva under John Calvin and Theodore Beza. He became a minister in Antwerp, but was forced to flee to Heidelberg in 1567. He wrote a translation of the Bible into Latin with Emmanuel Tremellius, and his De Vera Theologia was a text in Reformed scholasticism. (Source: wiki)

[7] George Kodinos or Codinus (Greek: Γεώργιος Κωδινός), also Pseudo-Kodinos, kouropalates in the Byzantine court, is the reputed 14th-century author of three extant works in late Byzantine literature. (Source: wiki)