Monday, April 09, 2007

Sure Enough--It Was the Jesuits!

Here's a bit of history (telling us that when you fail to learn from history, you are damned to repeat it...)

In the seventeenth century came the crushing blow which destroyed the beauty of all Breviary hymns. Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barbarini, 1623-1644) was a Humanist. In a fatal moment he saw that the hymns do not all conform to the rules of classical prosody. Attempts to reform them had been made before, but so far they had been spared. Urban VIII was destined to succeed in destroying them. He appointed four Jesuits to reform the hymns, so that they should no longer offend Renaissance ears. The four Jesuits were Famiano Strada, Tarquinio Galluzzi, Mathias Sarbiewski, Girolamo Petrucci. These four, in that faithful obedience to the Holy See which is the glory of their Society, with a patient care that one cannot help admiring, set to work to destroy every hymn in the office.

(And in 350 years, they 'resurrected' hymns?)

They had no concept of the fact that many of these hymns were written in meter by accent; their lack of understanding those venerable types of Christian poetry is astounding. They could conceive no ideal but that of a school grammar of Augustan Latin. Wherever a line was not as Horace would have written it, it had to go. The period was hopelessly bad for any poetry; these pious Jesuits were true children of their time. So they embarked on that fatal reform whose effect was the ruin of our hymns. They slashed and tinkered, they re-wrote lines and altered words, they changed the sense and finally produced the poor imitations that we still have, in the place of the hymns our fathers sang for over a thousand years. Indeed their confidence in themselves is amazing. They were not ashamed to lay their hands on Sedulius, on Prudentius, on St. Ambrose himself.

Ah! Zeal!!

... It was as foolish a mistake to judge poetry of the fourth and following centuries by the rules of the Augustan age, as it would be to try to tinker prose written in one language, to make it conform with the grammar of another. There are cases where these seventeenth-century Jesuits did not even know the rules of their own grammar books.

I recall a classic 9-round fight between a 'reformer' and a 'classicist' over the question "Whether We Should Use English in Gregorian Chants?"

Why not set the lyrics of "Oklahoma!!" to the score of "West Side Story"?

HT: The New Liturgical Movement

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