People who blab in church – an ancient view


The other day I posted a groovy little poem by Commodianus about people who blab or gossip in church.  I noticed something else about this poem when I was correcting my all too fast rendering into the English.  The first letters of each line… well… here it is again, but with BOLD letters and a new translation. 

These verses are in dactylic hexameter, though Commodianus is working with word accents, rather than quantities of syllables.  This is a characteristic of later Latin.  Also, he is all over the place with persons and other grammatical elements, but you can figure him out right along.

Patristibloggers NB: This is in CCL 128: 67-8.

Instructionum Lib. II, 31 (35).

Dum leue uidetur cumcumque neque uitatur
Et quasi facile ruis dum ab utero illud,
Fabulae subueniut, quo uenisti fundere preces
Aut pulsare domum stomachi pro delicto diurno.
Bucina praeconum clamat lectore legente,
Ut pateant aures, et tu magis obstruis illas;
Luxaris labia, quibus ingemiscere debes.
Obde malis pectus uel <illa> in pectore solue.
Sed quia diuitias faciunt aut pecunias frontem,
Inde perit omnis, quando sibi maxime fidunt.
Sic feminae quoque coeunt, qua se inicient balneo.
Et, de domo Dei ceu nundinas facitis, astent.
Terruit hinc Dominus: domus orationis adesto!
Sacerdos Domini cum ’sursum corda’ praecedit,
In prece fienda ut fiant silentia vestra,
Limpide respondis nec temperas quodque promittis.    
Exortat ille altissimum pro plebe deuota,
Ne pereat aliquis; at tu te in fabulis uertis,
Tu subridis ibi aut detrahis proximae forma<m>;
Indisciplinata loqueris, quasi sit Deus absens,
Omnia qui fecit, nec <audiat> neque <te> cernat.

Duh!  Cool, huh?  I don’t know why I didn’t notice that before.  The first letters spell out the title of the instruction: De fabulosis et silentio…About blabbers and silence.  I say "blabbers" but we could also go with "gossips".

Here is my own SEMI-LITERAL VERSION.  Keep in mind that the poetry itself is rough and ready and doesn’t perfectly hang together.  He is in and out of persons here, sometimes 2nd person, sometimes 3rd.  It is strange.  Here goes!

When something seems of small importance and isn’t avoided
and you rush forth as easily as if being born,
blabberings enter into the place where you came to pour out prayers
and to disquiet the house of prayer on account of an irritating daily sin.
The horn of the heralds sounds while the lector is reading,
in order that your ears may prick up, and you would rather shut them out;
Your lips are flapping loosely, with which you really ought to be uttering mournful sighs.
Shut your heart to evil things or loose them from your heart.
But because the wealthy make riches or money their facade,
each one perishes thence, when they strongly trust in their own selves.
Just so also the ladies gaggle together when they spur each other on at the baths.
And you would think the house of God were a street market when they are there.
The Lord scared this type away: let this be a house of prayer!
When the priest of the Lord goes ahead with the "Sursum corda"
in the prayer which must be offered, so as to cause silence to fall,
you respond clearly and you do not water down what you profess.
Let him exhort the Most High on behalf of the devout people
lest anyone perish: but you are engaged in little chats,
you sneer around or disparage your neighbor’s appearance;
you blurt dopey things, as if God who made all things weren’t present,
didn’t hear you, wasn’t seeing you.

Notice the referene to Sursum corda ("Hearts on high!") which begins the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer.  So, we know that this is specifically aimed at people shooting their mouths off during Mass, thus distracting others and endangering their own souls.

I am not quite sure about that birth image near the beginning.  I think what Commodianus is driving at is the infantile behavior of people in church during Mass.  I looked at the critical edition in the CCL and didn’t find a manuscript variation in the apparatus criticus for ab utero.  I though maybe it could have rather had something to do with the verb abutor.  Also, cumcumque is a really interesting word: so interesting that I am not sure what the heck it is.  I am pretty sure I can guess its meaning here, however.  Maybe you can try your hand at this?

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  1. Hank Petram says:

    My Latin is abysmal, but my translation software seems to think “cumcumque” means “whenever”. It offers the following:

    cumque ADVERB (very rare)
    at any time; -ever, -soever; appended to give generalized/indefinite force

  2. Sure, I know about cumque. So, if that is your choice, how do you render it? Also, I found in a little edition of the 1800’s of Commodianus that one editor made it out to be cuicumque.

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