22 April, 2008

Beata Agnes in medio flammorum

The previous post reminded me of one of my favorite Latin expressions, which appears to originate in the antiphon below. The expression appears near the end, in bold. I originally saw it in the shrine to St. Agnes in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. My source for the text is this webpage at Latrobe University, but some version of this is also found in the Memorial of St. Agnes in the Liturgy of the Hours. I sometimes recite these words as a prayer when I approach communion. It summarizes an essential teaching that appears again and again in Christianity: only one thing can satisfy us, and that is union with God through Christ.

Beata Agnes in medio flammarum,
expansis manibus orabat:
Amid the flames
Blessed Agnes stretched her arms out in prayer:
Te deprecor, venerande,
colen de, Pater metuende,
quia per sanctum Filium tuum
minas evasi sacrilegi tyranni,
et carnis spurcitias immaculato cale transivi
"I pray to you, Father
whom we ought to venerate, cherish, and fear,
for through your holy Son
I have emerged from the threat of the impious tyrant
and with unblemished zeal I have passed over the filth of flesh.

et ecce venio ad te,
quem amavi,
quem quaesivi,
quem semper optavi.
Behold, I come to you,
whom I have loved,
whom I have sought,
whom I have long desired.

Notice how she prizes virginity, even above marriage. You can't work that into a prayer text these days, sung or otherwise, without attracting claims of hating the flesh or even misogyny. I have found online a translation of this passage that refers to "Satan's filth" instead of "the filth of the flesh". There may be problems with my translation, but "carnis" most definitely does not mean Satan.

Ironically, St. Agnes' reputation for preferring death to unchastity was the inspiration for one medieval play about a strong woman who overcame weak men. The playwright was a medieval woman, if you can believe it.

No comments: