Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pedro Calderón de la Barca and the Natural Law, Part 2

WE LEFT OFF THE DISCUSSION OF CALDERÓN'S PLAY with Intellect and Thought joining forces to discover how it is that pagans can ascertain through nature the existence of God, and even pay him natural worship. How can they worship a God they do not know? God unknown: "Doesn't this imply a contradiction?" Thought asks.

In response to Thought's query, Intellect reasons that it is the nature of God to reveal himself, or to communicate about himself. Indeed, if God was not communicable, then God would not be God, he states. Intellect reasons thus: Any good not communicated is imperfect. However, God can never be an imperfect good. Therefore, Intellect reasons, God by nature communicates himelf to man. The prophet Habakkuk, Intellect states, speaks of how his people the Jews awaited God who would communicate, not only in great prodigies, but even in the soul and body in man.

The Parthenon

(The minor prophet Habakkuk, himself perhaps a member of Jewish temple's Levitical choir, is the Jewish analogue to the singing Gentile choir. Additionally, this book is unique in that it presents for perhaps the first time in Israelite literature man questioning the ways of God. "How long, O Lord? . . . " (Hab. 1:2, ff.) Its central message is not one of doubt, however: "the just, because of his faith, shall live." Hab. 2:4. And its conclusion equally faithful despite the initial questioning: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and exult in my saving God," or as the Douay Rheims puts it developing the full messianic implications of this passage, "I will joy in God my Jesus." Hab. 3:18 Habakkuk's concept of faith was referred to by St. Paul in his epistles. So Habakkuk may be the Judaeo-Christian source of the Anselmian and Augustinian fides quarens intellectum, "faith seeking understanding." All this is probably why Calderón had Intellect refer to the prophet Habakkuk here.)

The Prophet Habakkuk

But Habakkuk doesn't apply to the Gentiles: Habakkuk is of another time and place. The voices of the choir that Thought and Intellect hear are not informed by the Prophets or the Law. The Jews knew God, as he had made himself manifest to them as his people. These people, Intellect observes, are of a different stock. What sort of people give to a God they do not know worship? What kind of people are both blind and yet enlightened, ya alumbrados y ciegos, as they approach the threshold of their temple?

Out upon the stage comes Music, singing, followed by men and women in Roman garb dancing before a character personifying the Gentiles, who bears a crown of laurel, an imperial mantle, and a sword and torch. A woman sings:

Dios no sabido hasta ahora,
Pues solamente por Fe.
La Gentilidad te cree
Entre los dioses que adora,
Permite que quien te ignora
te conozca, a cuyo efecto:

God unknown until now,
And known only by Faith.
The Gentiles believe you
Among the gods they adore,
Grant that he who does not know you
Recognizes you, to which effect:

A second woman completes the thought of the first, as the Gentiles dance crossing and crossed, singing "Great God whom we do not know, Shorten the time . . . ."

Ser, que sólo imaginado,
Te adivina la noticia.
Tal vez Dios de la justicia,
Y tal vez Dios del agrado;
Permite que declarado
Te merezca el amor nuestro.

Being, the very imagination of which,
Implies the message
Of perhaps God of justice
And perhaps God of pleasure;
Allow that so declared
Our love is worthy of You.

The character that represents the Gentiles (we shall call her "Gentility" so that we can refer to her in a singular personal pronoun, though the word "gentility" does not normally connote the state of being a Gentile.) looks face to face, whether to the people or to Intellect and Thought, or whether to the God she seeks, it is unclear. But she sings:

Dios de pocos prevenido
Y de muchos, esperado,
A cuyas aras postrado
Todo este pueblo ha venido;
Ya que el Templo te ha ofrecido,
Ven á poseer el Templo.

God by few prevened
And by many hoped for,
Prostrate before these altars
All these people have come;
Now that they have offered the Temple to you
Come and possess the Temple.

As the men and women, the chorus, sings: "And make that we may know you, as . . . ," when Intellect interrupts the entire group.

Calderón de la Barca

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