St. Ambrose's Hymn to St. Agnes
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Agnes beatae virginis (att. St. Ambrose)

    The blessed virgin Agnes flies
    back to her home above the skies,
    and she is born in heav'n above
    because she gave her blood in love.

    Mature enough to give her life,
    though still too young to be a wife,
    what joy she shows when death appears
    that one would think: her bridegroom nears!

    Her captors lead her to the fire
    but she refuses their desire,
    "For it is not such smold'ring brands
    Christ's virgins take into their hands."

    "This flaming fire of pagan rite
    extinguishes all faith and light.
    Then stab me here, so that the flood
    may overcome this hearth in blood."

    And she was stabbed, and she was brave,
    and dying, further witness gave,
    for as she fell on bended knee
    she wrapped her robes in modesty.

    O Virgin-born, all praises be
    to You throughout eternity.
    and unto everlasting days
    to Father and the Spirit, praise.

    Translation c. 2010 Kathleen Pluth. Permission is given for parish use during January 2011. All other rights reserved.

    Agnes beatæ virginis
    natalis est, quo spiritum
    cælo refudit debitum
    pio sacrata sanguine.

    Matura martyrio fuit
    matura nondum nuptiis;
    prodire quis nuptum putet,
    sic læta vultu ducitur.

    Aras nefandi numinis
    adolere tædis cogitur;
    respondet: «Haud tales faces
    sumpsere Christi virgines.

    Hic ignis exstinguit fidem,
    hæc flamma lumen eripit;
    hic, hic ferite, ut profluo
    cruore restinguam focos».

    Percussa quam pompam tulit!
    Nam veste se totam tegens,
    terram genu flexo petit
    lapsu verecundo cadens.

    Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
    qui natus es de Virgine,
    cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
    in sempiterna sæcula.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    (Bumping)
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    There were a couple places here where I thought the image was odd or contrived or something- but then I looked at the Latin- and you were simply being faithful.
    I'm really quite amazed at your ability to create rhymed, metered translations that keep so closely to the original. That's quite a skill.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Thank you, Adam. I think it's what I have to offer. Tho I think it's stilted in some places.

    What would you do with "stabbed" in line 5.1, for example?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    That's tough. "Percussa" means hit or beaten, not stabbed- but stabbed is more poetic, and is related to the stanza prior.
    What bothers me about that line isn't "Stabbed," it's the two-fold use of "and." Seems meter-driven- which is fine once, but twice gives the trick away.
    What about:
    So she was stabbed, yet was she brave.
    OR
    Then was she stabbed



    (I love "And dying, further witness gave," BTW)


    A line I find slightly more bothersome than "Stabbed" is the end of the first stanza:
    "because she gave her blood in love."

    This could be a taste issue, but I find similar-voweled, non-rhyming words in successive accented syllables to sound a little weird.
    That could just be me, though.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    The blessed virgin Agnes flies
    back to her home above the skies.
    With love she gave her blood on earth
    to gain a new celestial birth.

    Mature enough to give her life,
    though still too young to be a wife,
    what joy she shows when death appears
    that one would think: her bridegroom nears!

    Her captors lead her to the fire
    but she refuses their desire,
    "For it is not such smold'ring brands
    Christ's virgins take into their hands."

    "This flaming fire of pagan rite
    extinguishes all faith and light.
    Then stab me here, so that the flood
    may overcome this hearth in blood."

    Courageous underneath the blows,
    her death a further witness shows,
    for as she falls she bends her knee
    and wraps her robes in modesty.

    O Virgin-born, all praises be
    to You throughout eternity.
    and unto everlasting days
    to Father and the Spirit, praise.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 652
    "And wraps her robes in modesty"

    Ah. This explains why the Spanish girl martyrs, Ss. Nunilo and Alodia, were so careful about the same thing. Ya gotta keep up with your heroes. :)

    Re: Agnes and Ambrose, he discusses the lives and martyrdoms of Agnes and a good many women in his book (for his sister and her nun household) on virgins. Sometimes he's a bit too classically Roman about it all (which is probably why St. Augustine definitely opposed the death before dishonor thing in The City of God). But tons of interesting info. Agnes was a fairly recent martyr, so of course he was very interested in her.
  • G
    Posts: 1,388
    "Struck"?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,170
    Here's another attempt at the first stanza:

    1. The blessed Agnes, virgin maid, / is born today to Heav'n above,
    the martyr's duty more than paid, / her blood and spirit poured from love.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    I like those revisions a lot. This went from really good to really great.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Thanks to all.

    I can't believe I had used the expression "on bended knee." One really needs critique.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    (bumping, for the feast)
  • Thanks for bumping...my pastor mentioned St Ambrose's praise of St Agnes in his heartfelt homily this morning.

    Interesting that the last verse--doxology--uses the Christmastide form to address Christ...O Virgin-born (Qui natus es de Virgine). This is specified for all the office hymns in Christmas/Epiphany. As years circle around, I'm growing to love more and more the extended Christmas season that lasts till Candlemas. I wonder if this doxology refers to the Christmas season, is a subtle tribute to the virgin Agnes (along with Christ's Mother, of course), or both?
  • The Anglo-Catholic Fr John Hunwicke at Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes (blog) has an interesting post on this hymn at http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com/2009/01/modesty-in-martyrdom.html
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Chastity and faith are linked in the Scriptures, in which idolatry is like adultery. The virgin martyrs symbolize the link. No mention is made in the hymn of her refusal to marry, which is part of the story. Instead, the choice is between idolatry and death--by stabbing.

    St. Thomas links chastity and faith together in several places in the Summa Theologiae II-IIae q. 151, for example here:

    The word "chastity" is employed in two ways. First, properly; and thus it is a special virtue having a special matter, namely the concupiscences relating to venereal pleasures. Secondly, the word "chastity" is employed metaphorically: for just as a mingling of bodies conduces to venereal pleasure which is the proper matter of chastity and of lust its contrary vice, so too the spiritual union of the mind with certain things conduces to a pleasure which is the matter of a spiritual chastity metaphorically speaking, as well as of a spiritual fornication likewise metaphorically so called. For if the human mind delight in the spiritual union with that to which it behooves it to be united, namely God, and refrains from delighting in union with other things against the requirements of the order established by God, this may be called a spiritual chastity, according to 2 Corinthians 11:2, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." If, on the other hand, the mind be united to any other things whatsoever, against the prescription of the Divine order, it will be called spiritual fornication, according to Jeremiah 3:1, "But thou hast prostituted thyself to many lovers." Taking chastity in this sense, it is a general virtue, because every virtue withdraws the human mind from delighting in a union with unlawful things. Nevertheless, the essence of this chastity consists principally in charity and the other theological virtues, whereby the human mind is united to God.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    the extended Christmas season that lasts till Candlemas

    A homeowner in my neighborhood has livingroom corner windows with drapes
    open to reveal a large tree and multi-color lights still on every night.
    I enjoy seeing it as I drive the street toward my boring apartment complex.
    It reminds me of mid-Jan 1985 in Chicago (actually while sightseeing in Wilmette)
    where the snow was deep and crisp and even, and many houses were still adorned.
    Since then I have thought such behavior a very wise preventative to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
  • Kathy, you are gifted indeed.
    I have no revisions to offer, just thanks for the moment of grace that reading this brought me today. How grateful I am to martyrs like Agnes, who uphold the true strength and dignity of women, as uniquely brought to fruition in their total love for Jesus.
    I have to ask- got anything like this for
    St. Teresa Benedicta or St. Clare or St. Mary Magdalene?
    Greedy, I know.
    And we still use your translation for the St. Anne text at the parish. Love it.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Just making this available again prior to the feast. Cheers.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Happy feast day!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Sadly topical....
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    I applaud Kathy's use of 21st century English in her hymn texts. Brava. "Thee" "thou" "wouldst" and "shouldst" are appropriate in the hymns of Wesley, Watts, and other 18th century hymn writers, because that was the way folks spoke English when they were writing. It pains me to see that language in recently written hymns, as is often the case with posting on this Forum. No reputable 20th or 21st century hymn writer uses such language.

    I do wish Kathy would address the cosmology expressed in stanza 1. "flies" "above the skies" "in heaven above" aren't in Ambrose's Latin text, so why use language from folk religion to replace Ambrose's authentic theology?

    "wraps her robes" needs tweeking. It sounds like something a holiday-hire would do at Dillards. Perhaps something like "her robes arranged with modesty"

    And with the previous references to virgin and virgins in the text, many may miss "Virgin-born" as referring to Christ Jesus.
  • Fr. Ron, I have to disagree. Some archaisms are legitimately 18th century - but "thee" and "thou" still hold currency as the more intimate alternative to "you". I believe it makes sense to use that more personal language when referring to God.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,349
    Fellow Fan of Arnold, who among Daw, Idle, Troeger, Duck, Bringle, Stuempfle, Wren, Perry, Dudley-Smith, Dufner, Tice, Duncan, Pratt Green, Bell, Murray (among the most published 20th and 21st century hymn writers throughout the English-speaking world) use "thee" and "thou" in their hymns? Apparently none of them shares your opinion that "thee" and "thou" are "more personal language when referring to God." One may see "thee" and "thou" used by writers who put their works on the internet because no reputable publisher will publish it, but what does that prove?
  • I don't count being published as any great signifier of quality. Certain publishers have seen fit to pick up stuff like the Mass of Christ the Saviour Agnus Dei that runs counter to ICEL's own terms of use for MR3, and the kind of people that would recognize "thee" and "thou" as an actual linguistic distinction rather than "ew, old white people language" are not the kind of people writing for mass-market suburban Catholicism anyway. I like much of Perry's work, but I think there are legitimate variations in taste and style. My point was more in counter to yours that it isn't legitimate use in modern English - it absolutely is, even if modern publishers wouldn't pick it up.

    Sorta like gendered language, both in general and in reference to God - OCP may not want to pick it up, but it is a legitimately allowable choice on linguistic grounds, and a matter of style and taste.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    Sometimes hymnal editors make weird choices.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,989
    "No reputable 20th or 21st century hymn writer uses such language."

    Of course, "reputable" is not a self-evident qualifier, but I would note for the record that "thee" in particular ("thou" less so) happens to offer far more rhyming possibilities than "you" as a terminal syllable of a line. I don't mind that usage at all for that purpose, even if it means the text is a mild stylistic mash (that is, for example, not employing "wouldst" et cet. - which is awful for singing). I am mindful of Stephen Sondheim's helpful distinction between lyrics and poetry (the latter has a certain inherent musicality, while the former needs music to bring that dimension out) and his explanations of stylistic concessions to rhyme.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,162
    It's hard to imagine a hymnal editor accepting a translation of "Heart of Christ Jesus, radiant and bright" for "Corazon Santo, Tu reinaras,"--but these unfortunate things do happen.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Gothic architecture is not a dead language. Latin is not a dead language. Tallis is not a dead language. Old Church English is certainly not a dead language. Etc., etc. From the hands of artists (as opposed to run-of-the-mill hacks and copy cats) these antique creative vocabularies may produce works of art that have as much cultural validity and artistic integrity as was had by them in the historical periods in which they originated (but to which they are not bound). We have on this forum and in the CMAA gifted composers who can and do give us renaissance-like polyphony that is true art, not the ridiculous warmed-over-Palestrina that was pawned off on the Church a century ago (which the Church swallowed, hook, line, and sinker). I should not want to live in a world in which antique language was thought of as inappropriate for modern creative endeavour. Why should language be any different from other creative vocabularies? Many of us pass Gothic or classical, or romanesque churches or museums, libraries or court houses every day. Some are indisputably fine art, some are the work of hacks. The problem is the artist or the hack, not the antique vocabulary. The same is true of language. If someone is inspired to write a literary work in Elizabethan or Chaucerian language hoorah for him or her. Let us judge the merits, or lack thereof, of the work, not the artist's choice of vocabulary.

    In my judgment the two most profoundly holy sacred spaces in Houston are Walsingham and St Basil's Chapel at UST. One, Gothic in inspiration (an accomplishment of the successors of Ralph Adams Cram), the other a bare minimalist chapel (the work of none other than Philip Johnson). I am thankful that we have both and that there is no one telling us that we can only avail ourselves of a 'modern' architectural, musical, or literary vocabulary. We would be drastically impoverished were this so.

    I do not want to be seen as denigrating modern English, or any of our modern arts. I hope that it is clear that all art, old and new, is on an equal, and timeless, plane. We are its heirs and may use any or all of it for our creative endeavours. As for Fr Krisman's list of contemporary literati, I can only say that we are unfortunate indeed that none of them was asked to give us the translation of the missal.