Monday, May 23, 2011

On the Flightiness of Thought

The famous Irish manuscript, an leabhar breac, (the 'speckled book') preserves an interesting poem written by an Irish monk who was struggling to pay attention during Church services. Irish monks would pray the Psalms during the six different 'hours', nocturns (at night), lauds (at dawn), three times during the day (third, sixth and ninth hours), and vespers (evening time). Some of the stricter monasteries (like at Tallaght) would recite the whole Psalter of 150 psalms during this cycle of prayer. Many a sleepy monk would struggle to keep up.

"Shame to my thoughts how they stray far from me! I dread great danger from it on the day of lasting doom.

During the Psalms they wander on a path that is not right; they run, they disturb, they misbehave before the great eyes of God

Through eager assemblies, through companies of foolish women, through woods, through cities – swifter than the wind

They run (not a course of great wisdom) near, afar, after roaming of great folly they visit their own home

Though one should set about binding them or putting shackles on their feet, they lack constancy and recollection for undertaking the task of remaining still

Neither edged weapon nor the sound of whip-blows keeps them down firmly; they are slippery as an eel’s tail gliding out of my grasp

Neither lock, nor firm vaulted dungeon, nor any bond at all, stronghold, nor sea, nor bleak fastness restrains them from their course

O beloved truly chaste Christ to whom every eye is clear, may the grace of the sevenfold Spirit come to keep and check them

Rule this heart of mine, o zealous God of creation, that thou may be my love, that I may do thy will

May I attain perfect companionship with thee, o Christ: may we be together; you are neither fickle nor inconstant - not as I am."

Friday, May 20, 2011

When a preacher gets it wrong

Qui aliquam novitatem extra Scripturam vel haeresim praesumpserit, alienetur; si autem poeniteat, suam publice sententiam damnet, et quos decepit, ad fidem convertat, et jejunet judicio sacerdotis.

Whoever takes up any novelty outside the Scriptures, which might lead people to heresy, shall be sent away. But if he repents, he shall publicly condemn his own opinion and convert to the faith those whom he has decieved. (from the Penitential of Cummean)

The early Irish Christian writer Cummean (d. 662) was a renowned Biblical scholar. His influences were Augustine, Gregory the Great, Origen, Jerome, Cyprian and others. He valued the role of the Scriptures in the life of the Church. According to Cummean the teacher of the Scriptures must not just be a gifted orator but more importantly he must be accountable for what he teaches. If he has erred in his handling of Scripture he must show a sincere penitence and publically retract his comments. Anything less is pride and blasphemy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rop tĂș mo baile - Be Thou my vision

MS G 3 f.22r
An Irish manuscript (MS G 3) in the National Library Dublin preserves an old prayer in Irish, probably composed around AD950. It’s a beautiful prayer and most readers will recognise it straight away since it was adapted and versified into English during the last century. Here is a translation from the Irish.

May You be my vision, beloved Lord; none is anything
But the King of the seven heavens

May You be my meditation by day and night;
May it be You that I behold forever in my sleep

May You be my speech, be my understanding;
Be for me; so I may I be for You

May You be my father, may I be your son,
May You be mine, may I be Yours

May You be my battle-shield and my sword;
Be my honour, and my delight

May You be my shelter and my stronghold,
May You raise me up to the company of angels

May You be every good to my body and soul;
May You be my kingdom in heaven and earth

May You be my heart’s special love;
Let there be no-other but the High-King of heaven

May You be my noble and wonderful portion;
I’m not looking for men’s privilege or lifeless wealth

To see You, You alone!
May I despise all time, all life, as a stinking corpse!

Your love in my soul and in my heart!
Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens

Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens,
Your love in my soul and in my heart!

To the King of all may I come after prized practice of devotion;
May I be in the kingdom of heaven in the brightness of the sun

Beloved Father, hear my lamentation,
This miserable wretch (alas!) thinks it’s time

Beloved Christ, whatever befall me,
O Ruler of all, may You be my vision.