Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Proper Hymn for St Augustine

Despite his overwhelming importance to Western theology, there was very little liturgical devotion to St Augustine in the Roman Rite during the first millenium. His feast does not appear in the majority of ancient liturgical books; his day was originally kept in Rome itself as that of an obscure martyr named Hermes, who is still celebrated as a commemoration on August 28th in the traditional rite. Towards the end of the eleventh century, however, as the great reform movement within the Western Church gained momentum, there emerged a huge number of new religious congregations of the sort which we now call canons regular, followed within a few generations by the mendicant friars. [1] Many of these, such as the Premonstratensians and Dominicans, took the Rule of St Augustine as their own, since it is very simple, and permitted a wide variety of adaptations and additional customs. Augustine himself then began to be honored in the liturgy as the great legislator of canonical life, just as St Benedict had long been honored as the great legislator of monastic life.

Sometime in the 12th century, a proper Office was composed for him, and widely adopted by many of the Augustinian orders in their various kinds. Here is the hymn which the Dominicans sing at Vespers and Matins, the Premonstratensians at Vespers and Lauds. The prose translation given below is my own.

Magne Pater Augustine,
Preces nostras suscipe,
Et per eas Conditori
Nos placare satage,
Atque rege gregem tuum
Summum decus Praesulum.
Great Father Augustine,
receive our prayers,
and by them, seek thou to
reconcile us to the Creator,
and rule thy flock,
o highest glory of bishops.
Amatorem paupertatis
Te collaudant pauperes:
Assertorem veritatis
Amant veri judices:
Frange nobis favos mellis
De Scripturis disserens.
The poor praise thee
as one who loved poverty:
true judges love thee
as a defender of the truth;
share with us the sweetness
as thou expound the Scriptures.
Quae obscura prius erant
Nobis plana faciens,
Tu de verbis Salvatoris
Dulcem panem conficis
Et propinas potum vitae
De Psalmorum nectare.
Making plain to us
what was once obscure,
thou makest sweet bread
from the Saviour’s words,
and offer us the drink of life
from the nectar of the Psalms.
Tu de vita clericorum
Sanctam scribis regulam
Quam qui amant et se-
Viam tenent regiam
Atque tuo sancto ductu
Redeunt ad patriam.
Thou didst write the holy rule
for the life of clerics;
and they that love and follow it,
keep the royal way,
and under thy holy leadership
return to the Father’s land.
Regi regum salus, vita,
Decus et imperium:
Trinitati laus et honor
Sit per omne saeculum:
Qui concives nos adscribat
Supernorum civium. Amen.
To the King of kings be life,
salvation, glory and rule:
to the Trinity praise and honor
be through every age:
and may He make us fellow-
citizens of those that dwell
in heaven. Amen.

The Office also includes a full complement of proper antiphons and responsories; here is the antiphon for the Magnificat at Second Vespers, set as a polyphonic motet by Sulpizia Cesis (1577-1619 ca.), an Augustinian nun from Modena, Italy.

Aña Hodie gloriosus pater Augustinus, dissoluta hujus habitationis domo, domum non manufactam accepit in caelis, quam sibi, cooperante Dei gratia, manu, lingua fabrefecit in terris, ubi jam quod sitivit internum gustat aeternum, decoratus una stola securusque de reliqua. – Today our glorious Father Augustine, the earthly house of this habitation being dissolved, received a house not made by hands in heaven, which he built for himself with his hand and tongue, helped by God’s grace, where now he tastes within himself forever that for which he longed, graced by one stole, and sure of the other. (i.e., of the final resurrection.)

[1] See the introduction (p. 430) to the article “On the Prose Historia of St Augustine” by Janka Szendrei, in “The Divine Office in the Latin Middle Ages: Methodology and Source Studies, Regional Developments, Hagiography”, edited by Margot Fassler and Rebecca Baltzer; Oxford Univ. Press, 2000.

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