A penitent medieval stanza

Came across this this morning before popping Parsifal into the DVD drive:

Since first I could do harm I sinned my fill;
In deed, with mouth, with all my limbs did ill;
My grief for many sins, which now I spill,
Should earlier have flowed, with Christ’s good will.

This is from a stanza of a poem to the Mother of God in Medieval English Verse, the Penguin Classic translated by Brian Stone, p. 69. My Protestant sensibilities are not much moved by the poem’s appeals to St Mary the Virgin, but this stanza struck me as a potent reminder of the human condition, however much we may try to avoid speaking of it these days.

Wrongdoing runs deep in the human soul, and the mediaeval mind was profoundly aware of this fact, as were the pious men and women of the Early Modern Age.

Have our cries of, ‘Grace, grace!’ deafened our ears to the sounds of sin today? Would it be so wrong to ‘moan and bewail’ our manifold sins and wickedness as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer says? Perhaps some ages were too obsessed with sin. And perhaps a fault of our age is ignoring it and taking it too lightly.

‘Let us gather hand in hand’ – A Mediaeval Poem for Christmas

medieval nativityFrom Medieval English Verse, trans. and ed. Brian Stone (pp. 30-31):

Let us gather hand in hand
And sing of bliss without an end:
The Devil has fled from earthly land,
And Son of God is made our friend.

A Child is born in man’s abode,
And in that Child no blemish showed.
That Child is God, that Child is Man,
And in that Child our life began.
Let us gather, etc.

Be blithe and merry, sinful an,
For your marriage peace began
When Christ was born.
Come to Christ, your peace is ude
Because he shed his blood for you,
Who were forlorn.
So let us gather, etc.

Sinful man, be blithe and bold,
For heaven is both bought and sold,
Through and through.
Come to Christ, and peace foretold:
His life he gave a hundredfold
To succour you.
So let us gather hand in hand
And sing of bliss without an end:
The Devil has fled from earthly land,
And Son of God is made our friend.

Stone writes that this Nativity carol ‘is the earliest in English yet discovered, for it appears in a Franciscan list of sermon outlines written not later than 1350. The words of the refrain clearly convey both the manner of performance and the joy of the occasion.’ (p. 25)

Love/Eros for God 1: Preliminary thoughts

Recently, things have been aligning in the direction of the love we are to have for God. First, it was my discovery of Poems of St John of the Cross in Aberdeen, which I tried my best to ration over a few weeks. Then two Sundays ago I was asked to lead my Wednesday evening study group for church, which was on Question 7 of the New City Catechism, whose verse is Mt 22:37-40:

OUR Lord Jesus Christ said: Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Book of Common Prayer trans.)

Then the swirl of circumstance brought me to my devotional reading after the poetry of San Juan de la Cruz, Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios. I’d already read the autobiographical section and the first of the teachings, on the church. What do you think the second chapter of Elder (St) Porphyrios’ teachings is on? Divine Eros, of course.

And then, just a couple of days ago, I pulled out Medieval English Verse, a lovely Penguin Classic translated and edited by Brian Stone. This book’s selection of poetry on the Passion inspired my series of poems for Holy Week — in particular this one. The next section of the book for me? Poems of Adoration.

Assuming there are no coincidences — or exploiting the circumstances if I were an unbeliever — I think a message is coming through to me. I thought, therefore, I might share on this blog some thoughts on Divine Eros, on love for God.

First of all, Mt 22:37-40 has been a part of my life for ages. It is embedded in the Canadian 1962 BCP and usually used in place of all Ten Commandments. I grew up at a church that used the modern Book of Alternative Services, but it also comes fully equipped with these verses at the appropriate moment, just in a modern translation. The command to love God with all that makes me myself has thus reverberated through me for years, having been recited once a week for almost thirty years of my life.

But what does this love of God mean? What is divine eros? How can we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, strength? These are the questions that this verse makes bounce around in my head.

Over the next while, I hope to explore such questions as well as sharing with you from the texts that have brought them to mind. As a result, I hope we can love God better, filled with passion and desire for Him and His Kingdom.

Good Friday: Man and woman, look on me!

IMG_6474
Flemish Gothic Retable, Musée nationale du Moyen Age, Paris

Man and woman, look on me!
How much I suffered for you, see!
Look on my back, laid bare with whips:
Look on my side, from which blood drips.
My feet and hands are nailed upon the Rood;
From pricking thorns my temples run with blood.
From side to side, from head to foot,
Turn and turn by body about,
You there shall find, all over, blood.
Five wounds I suffered for you: see!
So turn your heart, your heart, to me.

-14th century, trans. Brian Stone, Medieval English Verse, p. 38