1 April: St. Venantius and Leonine distichs

Today is the feast of St. Venantius, bishop and martyr. This fellow is not to be confused with Venantius Fortunatus, whose magnificent poetry we lately heard in the Roman liturgy during Holy Week. Here is his entry in an old Martyrologium Romanum of 1878:

Eodem die sancti Vanantii Episcopi et Martyris

Not too helpful.

Here is the entry in the 2005MartRom:

Romae, commemoration sanctorum martyrum Venantii, episcopi, atque sociorum Dalmatiae et Histriae, scilicet Anastasii, Mauri, Pauliniani, Telii, Asterii, Septimii, Antiochiani et Gaiani, quos communi laude honorat Ecclesia.

That is a little more helpful.

I am guessing that we honor Venantius, at the others, on this day because it, probably, is the anniversary of the translation of their relics to Rome from Dalmatia by Pope John IV (+642) or to the chapel dedicated to them.

Next to the Lateran Basilica you find the very ancient Baptistry, itself a little church called San Giovanni "in fonte" originally build by Constantine, making it one of the oldest baptistries in the world, if not the oldest. Pope John IV built a chapel in the church for the remains of Venantius, et al.

I went to the Lateran University, right next to the Basilica and Baptisty, and used to pop in just to gaze at the place and ponder it. Among the interesting details are poetic distichs about baptism by Pope Leo the Great (+461) when he was still the archdeacon of Pope Sixtus III (+440). Remember that, as archdeacon, Leo also did the grand mosaics in St. Mary Major, which convery Catholic teaching in the face of Manichean errors. But back to those distichs… this is a 16 line poem divided into eight distichs, which is from Greek distikhon, refering to "two rows, lines", so a distich is a couplet. You find distichs in, for example, Elegaic poetry. Leo’s couplets are carved in the octagonal archtrave on top of the pillar which are arranged around the baptismal font in the center of the building:

GENS SACRANDA POLIS HIC SEMINE NASCITUR ALMO
QUAM FECUNDATIS SPIRITUS EDIT AQUIS.
VIRGINEO FETU GENITRIX ECCLESIA NATOS
QUOS SPIRANTE DEO CONCIPIT AMNE PARIT.
CAELORUM REGNUM SPERATE HOC FONTE RENATI:
NON RECIPIT FELIX VITA SEMEL GENITOS.
FONS HIC EST VITAE QUI TOTUM DILUIT ORBEM,
SUMENS DE CHRISTI VULNERE PRINCIPIUM.
MERGERE PECCATOR SACRO PURGANDE FLUENTO,
QUEM VETEREM ACCIPIET, PROFERET UNDA NOVUM.
INSONS ESSE VOLENS ISTO MUNDARE LAVACRO,
SEU PATRIO PREMERIS CRIMINE SEU PROPRIO.
NULLA RENASCENTUM EST DISTANTIA QUOS FACIT UNUM
UNUS FONS, UNUS SPIRITUS, UNA FIDES.
NEC NUMERUS QUEMQUAM SCELERUM NEC FORMA SUORUM
TERREAT HOC NATUS FLUMINE SANCTUS ERIT.

Here it is, but not in my translation:

Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven,
whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful.
Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God,
and bears them virginally in this water.
Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font.
Eternal life does not await those who are only born once.
This is the spring of life that waters the whole world,
Taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ.
Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water.
It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man.
If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool,
whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own.
There is no barrier between those who are reborn and made one
by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith.
Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone;
Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.

Perhaps some of you would like to take a crack at the distichs!

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to 1 April: St. Venantius and Leonine distichs

  1. Tomislav says:

    Thank you for reminding us, father.
    Greetings from Croatia!

  2. Rob F. says:

    I don’t know what AMNE means, so I’ll ignore it. And I’m not very sure of PREMERIS (thou art bought?), but pressing on I get:

    “Here is born from holy seed a race of the city which shall be sanctified, which the spirit of fertility begets from the waters, waters which the breath of God conceived. Mother Church readies her children with a virginal birth. You who are born again by this font trust in the kingdom of heaven. The happy life does not receive those who are begotten once. This font is the the font of life which washes the whole world, taking its origin from the wounds of Christ. O Sinner who should be cleansed, be submerged in this sacred current. Whom the water receives old, it yeilds new. Thou who wantest to be sinless be washed in this very bath, thou art purchased from crime, both thine and thy father’s. One font, one Spirit, one faith makes one those who are reborn, for whom there is no difference. He who is born in this river shall be holy, whom neither number nor type of his sins shall afright.”

  3. Rob F. says:

    Now that I’ve made my translation, I’m looking at the one you provided, Father. I’m impressed, although I usually prefer more literal translations. The one I prepared is itself rather more paraphrastic than I what I usually write, but there is something about this text that defies a more literal rendering, at least to me.

    If you can, please let us know who made that translation.

    I see that I mistranslated PARIT; I said “readies”, I should have said “bears”.

  4. Maureen says:

    From seed the Holy Spirit’s sown,
    A nation springs to be His own,
    A holy city. God’s Breath sighed
    On the waters, and they fructified.
    Our Mother Church thus children bears
    Conceived by Him — still a virgin fair.
    All you reborn within this spring,
    Hope for the Reign of Heaven’s King.
    The Lucky Life is not for those
    Born only once. The spring arose
    To wash the world and wet what’s dried
    With water from Christ’s wounded side.
    O sinner who’d be purified,
    Plunge underneath the sacred tide.
    It takes the old man, makes him new.
    If you’d be innocent, then do
    Be washed in this bath from your sin
    And from your father’s deep within.
    Those reborn know no parting wall.
    Font, faith, and Spirit same for all.
    So in their union, they’re made one,
    And none need fear their sins — not one.
    For number or for kind, don’t faint –
    Who’s born in this flood is a saint.

  5. Rob F. says:

    Maureen:

    Magnificent.

  6. John Pierce says:

    Elegiac couplets is what they are.
    “QUAS” in the 4th line has to be “QUOS” (antecedent NATOS)
    POLIS does not mean CITY (consult your L&S)
    Nice find. One is always pleased to be reminded that people continued to write good Latin verse after the fall of the Empire.

    John P

  7. Hoka2_99 says:

    I’ll take your word for it! I adore Latin and did A level but it was in 1962 and I’m no scholar now.
    Thanks for the translation.

  8. Ferde Rombola says:

    Beautiful, Maureen. Thank you.

    You, too, Rob

  9. Rob F. says:

    John P:

    I think QUAS is right. Antecedant AQUIS.

    Good advice about L&S. Now that I have a dictionary handy, I see that AMNIS means a brook, and POLUS in the plural means the heavens. Beautiful.

  10. Rob F. says:

    “Here is born in heaven from holy seed a race which shall be sanctified, which the spirit of fertility begets from the waters, waters which Mother Church conceived by the breath of God in her virginal womb; she bears her children in this brook. You who are born again by this font trust in the kingdom of heaven. The happy life does not receive those who are begotten once. This font is the the font of life which washes the whole world, taking its origin from the wounds of Christ. O Sinner who wouldst be cleansed, be submerged in this sacred current. Whom the water receives old, it yields new. Thou who wantest to be sinless be washed in this very bath, thou art pressed by crime, both thine and thy father’s. One font, one Spirit, one faith makes one those who are reborn, for whom there is no difference. He who is born in this river shall be holy, whom neither number nor type of his sins shall afright.”

  11. In the Neo Catholic church it is always April Fools Day, the same day as John Paul the Great died.

  12. Jordan Potter says:

    What is this “Neo Catholic Church” of which you speak that celebrates April Fools Day on April 2 instead of April 1?

    And why do you think the death of John Paul II of blessed memory is an April Fools Day joke?

  13. Margo says:

    Maureen,

    That was absolutely stunning. Thank you, thank you!!

  14. John P says:

    Rob F,

    No, quos is right. It is simply impossibel to have a pronoun refer to such a distant antecedent as aquis, which, as puntuated, is in adifferent sentence. Besides natos concipit …. parit makes much more sense than aquas …..

  15. Joseph says:

    I take some exception to the use in Maureen’s poem of the phrase “Lucky Life” – opposed to the concept of blessed or appointed, or something better, but never a roll of the dice, and the word itself, I am told, is derived from “lucifer,” though that will be debated here, and my imploring does not hinge on this idea, but should there be a glimmer of truth of any connectedness, all the more so.

    Even without the luciferan tie in, that phrase just is not on the money; never should this be used in a prayer or in reference to sacred things. The name is too well connected, in a primary way, with the occult and gambling. Just an avoid.

  16. Joseph says:

    A heaven-destined race is quickened here from holy seed: begotten by the Spirit that upon the waters moved.

    Plunge sinner then, who would be pure, into the sacred streams; whom the flood old receives, return to life renewed.

    No difference divides the newly born, united by one source, one Spirit, and a common faith.

    What children of God’s Spirit she receives as virgin progeny does Mother Church bear here from out this stream.

    Would’st thou be sinless? Cleanse thyself beneath the show’ring flood, by thine own sins or by thy father’s guilt oppressed.

    Here springs the fount of life by which the entire earth is laved since from Christ’s wound it takes its origin and source.

    Await the heavenly kingdom, who are reborn in this font: eternal life does not accept those who are born but once.

    Though his sins be many or grievous, let none draw back afraid; reborn from out this stream, a Christian he shall be.

    Matilda Webb, “The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome: A Comprehensive Guide” (Sussex Academic Press, 2001), 45-48.

  17. Maureen says:

    Thanks for everybody’s comments. I will adjust my translation
    accordingly. (I was at work, and didn’t have much access to reference
    works; so I was pretty much working off the translations here as
    you could tell.) I’m not happy with the scansion, so that’ll give
    me a chance to freshen it up.

    There really isn’t any good way to translate “felix”, but it really
    is closer to “lucky” than “happy”. It’s used a lot in church poetry,
    I know, and always implies that God’s love and grace is our
    incredibly undeserved good fortune. However, there’s apparently
    another meaning that I’d never heard of — “fruitful” — which
    seems to go along with the whole planting and having kids imagery
    in the poem.

    Re: the etymology of the word luck —

    Joseph, let me set your mind at rest. “Luck” has a very interesting
    etymology, but it’s Germanic. It has a lot to do with things that
    spring up and things that lock and unlock, and also with happiness;
    and nothing to do with “lux” or “lucifer”. You may read about it
    below, or in the article referenced in its footnotes.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=qsGPshCzsjsC&pg=PA161&lpg=PA161&dq=luck+etymology&source=web&ots=0p499qhCJG&sig=9HhULfgboMU3EcmpzJBWYmXprcw&hl=en#PPA161,M1

  18. Rob F. says:

    John P.

    My apologies, I think you are right. At any rate, Google seems to agree with you. A search of “SPIRANTE DEO CONCIPIT AMNE PARIT” yields many more hits for QUOS than QUAS. The number 1 hit says QUAS, so I guess this is where Father Z got his text. That hit also contains the translation provided in his post. I guess the editor of the number one website mis-typed.

  19. mpm says:

    Maureen,

    That’s a beautiful rendition — I hope you notice us where to read
    your final version, and perhaps, give us a last name, for attribution.

    Fr. Z,

    I’m curious about the photos — is the “middle” photo a close-up of
    what is within the pillars of the “third” photo?

  20. I corrected the typo. Good catch.

  21. John P says:

    Maureen

    Thanks for your beautiful translation.

    The root fe- as in felix is connected with generation, as in
    femina and fecundus

  22. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Jordan Potter, quoting ‘Paddy the Papist’, asked:

    “What is this “Neo Catholic Church” of which you speak that celebrates April Fools Day on April 2 instead of April 1?

    And why do you think the death of John Paul II of blessed memory is an April Fools Day joke?”

    Paddy the Papist was referring to a rather nasty urban legend, an example of ‘archtraditionalist mythology’. It was promoted by the Traditio website. The claim is that Pope John Paul II, R.I.P., actually died on 1st April, which was appropriate because, in their view, his entire pontificate was one big joke. In order to avoid such associations, it is alleged, the curialists faked the death certificate and moved his death a few hours forward, into 2nd April. I don’t know all the details about this, but I believe they base it on an advanced report of the Pope’s death on 1st April. What probably happened, I think, is that some Italian journalist ‘jumped the gun’ in the last hours, hoping to get a first report on the Pope’s death, ahead of rival papers.

    P.K.T.P.

  23. Joseph says:

    Lucky you,
    you babtised today,
    It might have gone
    Quite another way
    Yes, Luck smiled on those
    Who happened this way
    But please remember
    luck may change, someday.

    Maureen, Germanic, shermanic,Lucifer or no,
    it stinks. (Note your poem, just the line — the poem is very nice).