in the style of St. Hildegard of Bingen
The Church & Christ.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 51r.
|1. The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
|1. Fundamentum Ecclesiae solum|
est Christus eius Dominus,
quam novam creaturam facit
per aquam atque Verbum,
de caelo veniens et eam requirens
quam sanctam sibi desponsavit
et suo sanguine redemit,
cui vitam morte dedit.
|2. Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
3. Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
4. ’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
5. Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.
6. O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!
|2. Ex omnibus gentibus una|
per omnem terram vocata
cum desponsatione salutis,
uno Domino, una fide et generatione,
nomen sanctum ipsius benedicit Ecclesia
et ruminat cibum ac sacrificium,
quae cum gratia tota dotata
ad spem singularem festinat.
3. A gentibus contempta,
quam valde oppressa atque conturbata!
A schismatibus saevissimis ac haereticis
nunc scinditur vestis illius olim ornata.
Sancti tamen vigilant
cum vocibus plangendi.
Mox vesper fletus vertet
in auroram cantici.
4. Apud laborem lamentabilem
ac proelii procellam
expectat nuptiarum pacem
in consummatione sempiterna,
dum oculi fulgentes inspicient
in solem civitatis aureum
et fruetur Ecclesia victoriosa
5. Et in terra convenit
cum trinitate sancta
quae vitam refrigerio sanctorum
cum filiis concurrens
qui tangendo magistri pertransientes
per aquas immersas morti
in monte viriditatis permanent.
6. O sancti ac laetissimae!
Velut lapides humiles et gemmae pauperes
pervenientes trans aciem ac lustrum aridum
in vallem vitalem atque viridam,
quo in purissimo fonte de corde Dei
largitatem sponsatae semper inspiciemus!
As we sang this glorious hymn last Sunday, I reflected first on how excellent a primer on ecclesiology it is (a friend of mine has suggested before that we could throw out the catechisms and just use the hymnal), and then on how much its themes resonated with the images that St. Hildegard of Bingen used for Ecclesia, the Church, especially in some of the antiphons that I have recently shared to celebrate the paschal feast (O virgo Ecclesia and Nunc gaudeant materna). The church we attend has a top-notch musical program, in part because it is the large and historic church standing right next to the campus of the University of Tennessee, and thus it has deep ties to the university’s music department.
As the thunderous chords and gorgeous trumps blared from its grand organ and the choir raised their voices in heavenly praise, I began to reflect on Hildegard’s basic insight that music is the language of heaven and paradise, and that the “symphony of the harmony of celestial revelations” is the common idiom in which we today, and Hildegard in her time, and the communion of saints back to the Church’s earliest days, all share and participate. Unfortunately, however, since Hildegard spoke only medieval German and Latin, the only piece of music whose words she would have understood on Sunday was the choir’s masterful rendition of the Exultate Deo of Alessandro Scarlatti.
These various meditative threads came together in my head in the project above—to translate “The Church’s One Foundation” into Latin in the style and idiom of St. Hildegard, so that if she were to join me in church the next time we sing this hymn, she could follow along. Its words were originally composed by Samuel John Stone in the 1860’s, as part of a larger project of catechesis that he called, Lyra Fidelium; Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles' Creed. “The Church’s One Foundation” was the ninth of these twelve hymns, in exposition of the phrases in the Creed, “…the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints…” Like Hildegard in her own day, Stone was keenly aware of the threats posed to the Church by schisms and heresies, especially certain currents in the Anglican church in South Africa in the 1860’s. Thus, the piece has a particular focus on the threats that the Church faces even as she endures until her “consummation / of peace forevermore.”
Originally consisting of seven verses, it is usually sung today (and printed in hymnals) in a shortened version of five verses. I have generally followed the edits that are in common use today, such as beginning the second verse with “Elect” and omitting the verse that would come between verses 2 and 3 above, on the Church’s imperishability. However, I have chosen to take what is commonly printed as the fifth verse, and restore its two halves as the first four lines of each of the final two verses, respectively. This is in part because the second half of verse 5 above, though not often sung, uses imagery similar to that found in Hildegard’s antiphon for prophets and patriarchs, O spectabiles viri. In that verse, as in many others, you will notice that I have often tried to echo Hildegard’s own language, drawing from many of the pieces of her Symphonia that I have translated and discussed on this blog. As a result, the Latin version often departs from Stone’s original imagery, in order to invoke parallel themes found in Hildegard’s thought. Finally, I have chosen Hildegard’s own poetical form—blank verse—rather than any of the more traditional poetic or lyrical meters of Latin; and I have used the more standard orthography that renders the diphthong -ae- rather than -e- (the latter is common in twelfth-century authors like Hildegard).
Since I did often depart from a strictly literal translation, here is a strictly literal English version of the Latin:
1. The Church’s only foundation / is Christ her Lord, / [the Church] whom he makes his new creation / by water and the word, / coming from heaven and seeking her / whom holy he betrothed to himself / and redeemed with his blood, / and to her gave life by death.
2. Called as one out of all nations / throughout all the earth / with the betrothal of salvation, / with one Lord, one faith and begetting, / his holy name the Church blesses / and chews the food and sacrifice, / she who, with total grace endowed, / hastens to a singular hope.
3. By peoples despised, / how deeply oppressed and cast into confusion! / By savage schisms and heretics / her vesture, once glorious, is now rent asunder, / yet saints their watch are keeping / with voices of lament. / And soon the eve of weeping will turn / to dawn of song.
4. ’Mid woeful labor / and battle’s tumult / she awaits the wedding’s peace / in consummation everlasting, / until her flashing eyes shall look / upon the City's golden sun / and the Church victorious shall enjoy / the sweetest rest.
5. And on earth she convenes / with the holy Trinity, / who shares the sweetest life / with the refreshment of the saints, / running together with her children / who by the touching of the Master, passing across / through waters drowned in death, / endure upon the mountain of viridity.
6. O happy ones and holy! / Like humble stones and poor jewels / the dwelling of divinity / with virtues let us build, / traveling across the battle line and arid desert / into the verdant valley of life, / where in the purest fountain from the heart of God, / betrothed we shall gaze forevermore upon its bounty!Notes
 The omitted verse reads: ↩
The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.