Thursday, August 09, 2007

Prof. Laszlo Dobszay on Four Words of the Roman Canon: Fides Cognita, Nota Devotio

[It is worth noting that English is not Prof. Dobszay's first language. Therefore if something seems unclear, it may well be lost in the translation. So, please, ask Prof. Dobszay for clarification on a point if you need it. - NLM]

"Fides cognita, nota devotio"

A Guest Contribution to the NLM by Prof. Laszlo Dobszay (author of, The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform)

When an expression of the Roman Canon seems too difficult, we may expect to find there something important, something which requires research to understand it and to bring its deep liturgical meaning to light. Such an expression is: "quorum tibi fides cognia est et nota devotio”. I have never seen a translation in any language, which attempted to translated the full meaning of this key-expression. In Hungary the late László Mezey, the outstanding professor of philology, history and theology spent long time in query of an accurate interpretation of the Roman Canon. In the following explanation I reference his work.

"...whose faith and devotion are known to you” – says the ICEL-proposal. What is shocking first is that the "cognita” and "nota” (placed in the Latin in a nice rhetorical figure called a ’chiasmus’) is contracted in one word: "known”. In the two verbs, however, the root of these words mean something different. Making a distinction, the two nouns (fides, devotio) become clearer.

The meaning of the verb cognoscere is not identical with noscere. "Cognoscit”, if meant literally, is critical cognition. It is a process of examination that reveals whether something is found good or bad, true or false. Such a cognition is the basis of a transfer to the field of jurisprudence: cognoscere is the process of inquiry; as a result of it, the matter becomes causa cognita and as such can place under the right judgement. "Causa cognita... judicium dabo” – says Ulpianus. "Proconsul cognita pronuntiavit..., contra cognita praetor pronuntiasse” (Dig. 40). The Canon places the true faith of those present (circumstantes) under the examination by God and regards it as examined, tested by the Lord.

Why would this distinction be so important? ’Fides’ is interpreted by some as ’fidelitas’ (fidelity’) or ’confidentia’ (confidence) towards God. The Canon, however, speaks of something different. The rite of almost all sacraments starts with the confession of the true faith, or, at least, with a statement about the cardinal doctrines. The sacrament cannot be 'true' if the faith is spotted. The community and individuals who are present should believe in the creed of the One Church, the fullness of its doctrine – and not only give testimony of fidelity or confidence in general. It comes to light whether the faith of the local church is orthodox or not. (It is similar to the previous paragraph: the local church prays for the Pope and Bishop not only for their blessing, but also as an expression of attachment to the ecclesiastical unity represented by the pope and bishop.) As it were, God examined the faith of the local Church article by article and proved that it is identical with the doctrina Catholica, the orthodox faith.

The situation is different with the "devotio". This key word of the Latin liturgical language has a very rich sphere of meaning and reveals the deepest roots of Christian spirituality. Because of this fact, its proper translation is very difficult. During the past centuries the word "devotio" obtained very different meanings, therefore it causes problems if someone translates it simply, "devotion”. What kind of "devotion"? – this should be clarified! Devotion meant in the recent centuries means ’pious emotions’ (cf. the 15th-century "devotio moderna"), fervent religiousity, and even special "devotional" actions. This kind of interpretation of the liturgical word is, however, banal and distorts the theological content. The German "Opfergesinnung" is nearer to the original sense. The different translations, however, produced in haste after the Council are, in most cases, superficial and trivial.

In Roman antiquity "devotio" is a sacral term meant a special kind of votum -- a vow to the gods. The person's "se devovens" (offering himself) states his readiness to offer to the gods his entire existence and life and to place himself at the gods’ disposal.

In the Christian Latinity, more is at stake. The word here attached to the emotional and objective reality of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The populus adunatus, the people united in Christ – like the collection of grains of wheat and the grapes in the bread and wine – is placed in communion with the highest devotion of Christ, which is present in the Mass. The word here means both a mental disposition and a concrete ritual action.

Augustine (De Civ. Dei 5, 18) admires the pagan Decius just because of this "devotionis affectus" which urged a superhuman decision and death. The Christian analogy of this is, for example, that of St. Agnes, who said – according to her Office: "ipsi soli servo fidem, ipsi me tota devotione committo", i.e. she kept the faith (and not only fidelity) in Christ, and so she offered herself totally, without any reservation [retention] toward Him. Let the Lord do what He will with her. All who live out of the Faith are characterized by this gesture, not only in the last things of human life, but in all details. According to Ambrose (Abraham 1,2) Abraham, "the father of our faith" (fidei nostrae pater) proved this "devotio" when he left his homeland, his relatives, and obeying to God’s word started toward a far and uncertain region. Later, when he had to sacrifice his son, he started toward the Mountain, without asking, how God will fulfill his promise if the son is killed? Similarly, Mary by her "fiat" placed herself totally at God’s disposal taking all the risks of this decision. As a practical consequence, devotio means insecurity, insecuritas, as a basic status in the secular environment. For Christian antiquity, the world (mundus) is simply identical with the Roman Empire and this was called securitas Romana, Roman security. The Christian prayed for this social security but separated himself from it by this Christian insecurity, the devotio, which did not expect any other security, except God’s will. The collecta prayer contrasts these two so: "Nostris, quaesumus, Domine, propitiare temporibus, ut tuo munere dirigantur et Romana securitas et devotio Christiana." The content of the ’devotio’ stands close to the ancient Christian interpretation of religio: the Christian leaves himself unto God; he is linked much more intimately to him than anybody or anything else. Therefore, ’devotio’ is fundamental to all other virtues; practically it is the same as Christian religion.

The prototype of this devotio is given in Christ who totally dedicated himself to the Father on the Mount of Olives and on the Cross. His sacrifice on the Cross is an external, ritual death, which manifests his interior devotio, i.e. the total offering of himself without retention. In the Holy Mass, He left the reality of his sacrifice on Cross to us in order to give chance for all baptized in Him, to unite his/her devotio (which taken in itself has no value at all) with His devotio, the most valuable and precious gesture in the Father’s eye. When we unite our devotio with that of Christ, we ourselves become also acceptable to the Father and the Father’s word is valid for us too: in quo mihi bene complacuit.

Devotio – differently from Faith – is a one, unique, overall decision. Though it should be manifested in the diversity of life, it has no parts. Therefore, God looks at the Christian and in this moment He knows the devotio of this person. This knowledge is not discursive (as was the "cognoscere") but one unique, overall act of the divine intellect ("noscere").

When man wishes to enter the sacred act (the other name of the Canon is actio) and wishes to place himself within Christ's sacrifice, he has to express his fides and devotio. In the first place, reason brings its own offering; second, man offers in one decision his whole existence. The Church places these under the judgement of God: His detailed examination proves the orthodoxy of the fides, and His omniscient insight proves the total self-offering, self-dedication (devotio) of the man.

I don’t know how this crucial and rich meaning could best be transmitted in English, but it should be done! Perhaps this way: "Remember, O Lord, your servants and all present in this space (cirumstantes); their faith is examined by You, and You know they dedicate themselves without reservation [retention] to you."

[NLM: to bring the point back around, Prof. Dobszay is comparing this to the ICEL translation which is "...whose faith and devotion are known to you”.]

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