Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Review of the New Edition of Honorius of Autun’s Jewel of the Soul

We are grateful to Dr Erik Ellis for sharing with NLM this review of the translation of the Gemma Animae by Honorius of Autun, by our friends Zachary Thomas and Gerhard Eger, the authors of the Canticum Salomonis website. Dr. Ellis is Assistant Professor of Education at Hillsdale College, and Senior Fellow of the Boethius Institute.

Gemma Animae, Jewel of the Soul, by Honorius Augustodunensis. Zachary Thomas and Gerhard Eger, ed. 2 vv. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2023.
Photo by Joseph Barnas
“…libellum de divinis officiis edidi, cui nomen Gemma animae indidi, quia videlicet veluti aurum gemma ornatur, sic anima divino officio decoratur. – … I have written, as you bade me, a little book on the divine services, to which I have given the name Jewel of the Soul. For you see, just as gold is adorned by a jewel, so the soul is made lovely by the divine services.”

The appearance of Thomas and Eger’s edition of Honorius’ Jewel of the Soul in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library furthers the contemporary recovery of the allegorical interpretation of the liturgy, signaled by the Knibbs’ edition of Amalarius of Metz’s On the Liturgy in the same series, and of Abbé Claude Barthe’s A Forest of Symbols (reviewed at Rorate here.) After more than a century of the almost complete domination of liturgical scholarship by either historian-archaeologists or pastoral theologians, it is encouraging to see a renewal of interest in liturgical allegory at both the scholarly and popular levels. This follows a similar trend in biblical studies, where fatigue with the historical-critical method led first to a ressourcement of patristic exegesis, then a recovery of medieval approaches to the Bible, and finally to the renewed and productive school of biblical studies represented by Carbajosa and Ratzinger. We may now hope that contemporary and future approaches to the liturgy follow a similar trajectory, and the availability of this important set of books will be a sure aid to this necessary project.

Readers will likely be familiar with the Loeb Classical Library, which over the last century has provided the educated public with well printed and bound editions of the Greek and Roman classics with serviceable texts, pleasant translations, and brief scholarly apparatus at an affordable price. At the turn of the last century, Loeb’s publisher, Harvard University Press, brought out the I Tatti Renaissance Library, which focuses on Italian Neo-Latin texts, in a less pocket-friendly but handier format to complement the Loeb, and medievalists have now for a little over a decade enjoyed the press’ Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, which extends the same idea to texts in medieval Latin, Byzantine Greek, and Old English. As physical objects, the books are beautiful to behold and delightful to use. In an age when even well-established academic publishers charge three-digit prices for print-on-demand paperbacks, the gold-jacketed and purple clothbound volumes, printed on cream paper sewn in signatures and furnished with a bound in scarlet ribbon marker, are a bargain.
In keeping with the design principles of the series, the editors’ introduction is brief but comprehensive. The author of the Jewel of the Soul was named Honorius, was a cleric in the southern German-speaking lands, and is known conventionally as Augustodunensis (“of Autun”), but as the editors point out, there is very little to support this geographical identification. Like many contemplatives, Honorius seems to have wished his text to eclipse its author. Further details of his biography have so far eluded researchers and are likely to do so in the future. We are left with a bountiful corpus of allegorical reflection on the texts and ceremonies to which Honorius dedicated his life to performing and contemplating.
The Jewel of the Soul is divided into four books, the first and longest of which is a close study of the ceremonies, vestments, and paramenta of the Mass. The commentary is not tied to the text but rather floats freely among rubrics, typology, canon law, and moral instruction, while generally following the temporal forward movement of the Mass. Honorius clusters discussions of particular persons, like the subdeacon, vestments, like the sandals, or rites, like the dedication of a church, in discrete and digressive sections of Book I once he has concluded his general exposition of the Mass.
Chapters are generally quite short – two to a page in most cases – making the Jewel an ideal source of daily devotional reading, or a faithful companion that one can dip into and out of when one has a few minutes to gather Honorius’ nugae and spend the next few hours chewing on them. It is like being in the presence of a learned elder whose oral mystagogy flows freely from the practical to the sublime, constructing a dense web of meaning that stitches the heart and the intellect together in dialogue, while preserving a childlike freedom to follow associations wherever they lead. The editors are careful to point out that this is a conscious literary effect, and that Honorius’ measured, rhythmic prose is the product of a careful and practiced stylist. Despite this craftsmanship, his Latin should be familiar to those who know the Mass in that language and pose no real linguistic challenges. In fact, given its self-contained chapters, the Jewel would be an ideal text for those who are looking for an easy and edifying way to practice extensive, daily reading of Latin in short, frequent bursts.
Book 2 of the Jewel treats the Office in a much less effusive manner. Honorius concerns himself with the organization of the hours, the disposition of the Psalms, and the pre-Christian history of regular prayer, both in Israel and among the Nations. Books 3 and 4 are dedicated to the Church year, considering both general structural features and the particular significance of each of the feasts of the temporal and sanctoral cycles. Book 4 is the most challenging and original section of the Jewel – an attempt to synthesize all of the feasts of the year in a single allegorical scheme. While most readers will no doubt focus their attention on Book 1, these last two books reward careful attention. Honorius’ treatment of particular chant melodies highlights the often-overlooked interdependent nature of text and tune in plainsong, and in the final book, his typological understanding of sacred history, which positions Constantine as a new Solomon, will be of interest to contemporary students of medieval political theology.
For scholars, clergy, and interested laymen, this new edition of Honorius’ Jewel of the Soul should prove to be of great and abiding interest. The editors look forward to continuing their work on Honorius and hope to move forward to treat his commentaries on the Song of Songs and the Psalms. Should readers be in a position to support their work directly or indirectly in this time of economic uncertainty and decreasing academic opportunity, the editors would be most grateful to hear from you.

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