Skip to comments.On Romanus the Melodist
Posted on 05/21/2008 7:52:34 PM PDT by ELS
On Romanus the Melodist
"If Faith is Alive, Christian Culture Will Never be Outdated"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square [Paul VI Hall].
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
In the series of catecheses on the Fathers of the Church, I would like to speak today of one who isn't well known: Romanus the Melodist, born around the year 490 in Emesa (today Homs) in Syria. Theologian, poet, composer, he belongs to the group of theologians that have transformed theology into poetry. We think of his countryman, St. Ephraim of Syria, who lived 200 years before he did. We can also think of theologians of the West, such as Ambrose, whose hymns form part of our liturgy and touch our hearts to this day; or in a theologian, a thinker of great vigor, such as St. Thomas, gave us the hymns of the feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate tomorrow; we think in St. John of the Cross and in many others. Faith is love, and so it creates poetry and music. Faith is joy, and so it creates beauty.
Romanus the Melodist is one of these, poet, theologian and composer. He learned the foundations of Greek and Syrian culture in his native city, and then moved to Beritus (now Beirut), to complete his classical education and knowledge of rhetoric. After being ordained permanent deacon -- around 515 -- he was a preacher in this city for three years. He then moved to Constantinople, until the end of the reign of Anastasius I -- around 518 -- and from there he settled in at the monastery of the Church of the Theotokos, Mother of God.
A key moment of his life took place there: the Synaxar tells us that Mary appeared to him in his dreams and gave him the gift of poetic charism. Mary, in fact, asked him to swallow a scroll. Upon waking the next day, it was Christmas, Romanus began to recite from the pulpit: "Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent" (Hymn On the Nativity, I. Proemium). He became in this way a preacher-cantor until his death (around 555).
Romanus is known in history as one of the most representative authors of liturgical hymns. At the time the homily was for the faithful practically the only opportunity of catechesis. Thus Romanus was not only an eminent witness of the religious sentiment of his day, but also of a lively and original method of catechesis. Through his compositions we can see the creativity of this form of catechesis, of the creativity of the theological thought, of the aesthetic and the sacred hymnography of the era.
The place where Romanus preached was a shrine on the outskirts of Constantinople: he would ascend the pulpit, located in the center of the Church, and he would speak to the community using a rather elaborate setting -- he used images on the walls or icons on the pulpit to illustrate his homilies, and even used dialogue. He recited chanted metrical hymns, called kontakia. The word "kontakion" --"small rod" -- seems to make reference to the small rod around which he rolled the scroll of the liturgical manuscript, or another such scroll. There are 89 kontakia attributed today to Romanus, but tradition attributes a thousand to him.
In Romanus, each kontakion is composed of stanzas, at the most 18-24, with the same number of syllables structured according to the model of the first stanza (irmo); the rhythmic accents of the verses of all the stanzas are modeled according to the "irmo." Each stanza ends with a refrain (efimnio), in general identical, to create poetic unity.
Furthermore, the beginning of each stanza indicates the name of the author (acrostico), frequently preceded with the adjective "humble." A prayer referring to the celebrated or evoked events ends the hymn.
Upon ending the biblical reading, Romanus sung the Proemium, generally in the form of a prayer or supplication. He thus announced the theme of the homily, explaining the refrain that was repeated all together at the end of each stanza, which he recited aloud in cadence.
A significant example is the kontakion for Holy Friday: It is a dialogue between Mary and her son that takes place on the way of the cross.
"Where are you going, son? Why have you completed the path of your life so rapidly?Jesus responds:
I would never have thought, my son, that I would see you like this.
And I could never have imagined that the fury of the wicked could go so far,
laying their hands on you against all sense of justice."
"Why are you crying, mother? [...] I shouldn't go? I shouldn't die?Mary's son consoles his mother, but also reminds her of his role in salvation history:
How will I save Adam?"
"Lay down, then, mother, lay down your pain:In the hymn on the sacrifice of Abraham, Sarah reserves for herself the decision on the life of Isaac. Abraham says:
It is not fitting for you to cry out, for you were called 'full of grace.'" (Mary at the Foot of the Cross, 1-2; 4-5).
"When Sarah hears, my Lord, your words,Romanus did not use the solemn Byzantine Greek of the imperial court, but the simple Greek that was close to the language of the people. I would like to cite here an example of his lively and very personal way of speaking about the Lord Jesus: he calls him the "spring that does not burn and the light against the shadows," and says:
upon knowing your will, she will tell me:
If the one who has given wants to take back, why has he given?
[...] You, watchful one, leave me my son,
and when he who called you wants him, he should say so to me" (The Sacrifice of Abraham, 7).
"I desire to have you in my hands like a lamp;The strength of conviction in his preaching was based on the great coherence between his words and his life. One prayer says:
in fact, he who carries the light among man is illuminated without being burned.
Illuminate me, then, you who are the light that never burns out" (The Presentation, or Feast of Encounter, 8).
"Make clean my tongue, my savior, open my mouthLet us now examine some of his main themes. A fundamental theme of his preaching is the unity of the action of God in history, the unity between creation and the history of salvation, unity between the Old and New Testaments.
and, after having filled it, penetrate my heart so that I may act
that I be coherent with my words" (Mission of the Apostles, 2).
"With divine virtue they have conquered all men;Another central theme is, of course, Christology. He does not involve himself in the difficult theological concepts, highly debated at that time, which tore at the unity among theologians and Christians in the Church. He preached a simple Christology, but fundamental, the Christology of the great councils. But above all he spoke of popular piety, in fact the concepts of the councils came from popular piety and the knowledge of the Christian heart, and in this way Romanus underlined that Christ is true man and true God, and being true man-God, is only one person, the synthesis of creation and Creator, in whose human words we hear the voice of the Word of God himself.
they have taken up the cross of Christ like a pen,
they have used words like fishing nets and with them they have fished all over the world,
they have used the word of God as a sharp hook,
and they have used as bait
the meat of the Sovereign One of the universe" (Pentecost 2:18).
"He was man," he said, "Christ, but he was also God,Regarding what he said about Mariology, in thanksgiving to the Virgin for the give of poetic charism, Romanus remembers her at the end of almost all of his hymns, and he dedicated to her some of his most beautiful kontakia: Christmas, Annunciation, Divine Motherhood, New Eve.
now, he wasn't divided in two: He is one, son of a Father who is only one" (The Passion, 19).
"Ten virgins possessed intact the virtue of virginity,Palpitating humanity, arduous faith and profound humility pervade the songs of Romanus the Melodist. This great poet and composer reminds us of the entire treasure of Christian culture, born of faith, born of the heart that has found Christ, the Son of God. From this contact of the heart with the truth that is love, culture is born, the entire great Christian culture.
But for five of them the practice prove futile.
The others shown with their lamps of love for humanity,
And for this the bridegroom invited them in." (The Ten Virgins, 1).
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this ping list.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Romanos, your soul rejoices with the angels.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
As a harmonious harp of lofty wisdom from on high and an expounder of things seen in God-inspired ascents, we extol thee, Father Romanos, and we hymn thee. As a trumpet of the gifts that pass the mind of man, do thou rouse us to divine and saving watchfulness, as we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Father elect of God.
“in fact the concepts of the councils came from popular piety and the knowledge of the Christian heart, and in this way Romanus underlined that Christ is true man and true God, and being true man-God, is only one person, the synthesis of creation and Creator, in whose human words we hear the voice of the Word of God himself.”
This is elegantly Orthodox!
Here’s a link to a site with kontakia by +Romanos the Melodist. We still chant these kontakia on the great feasts to which they are appropriate.
Caught the end of yesterday's audience. Among the bishops who presented themselves to the Holy Father afterwards, was a bishop from the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
And, pinging Kolokotronis, can you recognize the priestly garb of this individual?
” And, pinging Kolokotronis, can you recognize the priestly garb of this individual?”
Looks like a Greek Orthodox archimandrite or even possibly a bishop, though he’s more likely an archimandrite.
One would guess that Eastern Catholic archimandrites also dress that way.
“One would guess that Eastern Catholic archimandrites also dress that way.”
Not as a general proposition, no. The hat is the giveaway. It was imposed on the clergy by the Turks but perhaps this could be a Melkite priest. By the way, the fellow in the picture might as likely be a married priest. It looks like he might be wearing a cross or an icon which made me think hierarch or archimandrite, but a priest might wear one too. Archimandrites, BTW, also usually (but not always) would have a sort of veil coming down the sides and back of the hat which this fellow doesn’t.
Bach and Mozart being mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI? You don't say? ;-)
Do you know what the narrator is saying? The Cardinal is concentrating so intently while playing, but then at the end there is his beautiful, radiant smile.
No sprechen se Deutsche. ;-)
That’s probably bad German too.
Maybe we can get AnAmericanMother to translate for us?
But so far as I can decipher the voice over, it says that the Cardinal doesn't have as much personal time as he would like, but even though it seems a bit of a contradiction (given his line of work at the time, I suppose) the art of music is very important to him, even when the performance is not letter perfect (that's when he bobbles the sharped note and mutters to himself!) - art to the Cardinal has a "God-dimension" to it.
That's more of an educated-guess translation on the fly than anything else! We need somebody who has been listening to German on a more regular basis than I have!
It's the Bach C minor lute prelude, btw, BWV 999.
use it or lose it!
I lost the grasp of Spanish that I used to have by not using it. When I learned it in high school, the U.S. hadn't been run over by Spanish speaking folk, yet.
My daughter's Spanish comes in such handy, because we certainly have a lot of Hispanic immigrants around Atlanta, not just Mexican but Nicaraguan, Costa Rican, Cuban, etc. etc.
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