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.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Gemma Animae (1): Preface

  1. At first I thought: “this fellow truly likes his infinitives.” I then realized that he was rhyming! Though his rhymes aren’t Dante, they are yet pleasant. Shows how much we’ve lost in the art of prose over the centuries, that even a lowly monk puts his all into a short treatise.

    Not really relevant to the topic but just a thought.

    By the way, is this the complete preface, or only the beginning?

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    1. You’re right! Here’s what I came up with after looking a bit more closely. Notice all the rhymes, and the parallel structures. Also, the numerology. If I count correctly: 10 stanzas, with a total of 30 lines. And it’s certainly relevant to the topic! If he decided to write the whole book in rhyme, there must be a reason. What do you think?

      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 deperit.

      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.

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    2. And to your question, the Patrologia edition includes, before the preface, a short epistolary exchange between Honorius and certain “fratres” requesting the commentary. Perhaps the indefatigable Notkerus will add it to his literary labors.

      Like

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