Humanities: towards a holistic and integrative vision
KYRIE FONS BONITATIS, a hymn with a thousand years of history
Author: Luis Fernando Hernández, L. C. | Source: http://www.regnumchristi.org/Magazine In-forme No. 50
KYRIE FONS BONITATIS, a hymn with a thousand years of history
Humanities: towards a holistic and integrative vision
The faculties of humanities are usually the most suitable for the bohemian people, the troubadours, and the artists; for antique lovers and, in some cases, antique dealers.
By: Luis Fernando Hernández, L. C. | Source: http://www.regnumchristi.org/Magazine In-form No. 50
To understand how humanities provide a holistic and integrative vision, I propose to the reader a practical exercise. We will analyze a text from an ancient Latin chant from several points of view. But first, let us clarify why our proposal is about the vision given by the humanities.
The faculties of humanities are usually the most suitable for the bohemian people, the troubadours, and the artists; for antique lovers and, sometimes, antique dealers. Just take a look at the departments of the faculties of humanities as in the universities of Copenhagen, Oxford, Harvard, NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Stanford, to realize that there are no number of disciplines and that within "humanities" they fit musicians, historians, and scholars of religion together.
Such diversity is due to the fact that humanities are quintessentially the science of man. The "humanist" always flees from the highly specialized spirit of our time. And when, for example, a dialogue is lost looking for the hapax legomena of an old author, that is, the words or expressions that only one once find in that author ends up staying with the "science" and leaves aside the "man". This is because humanities try to encompass the artistic, cultural and speculative expressions of men, and not just multiple data that could be stored on a head or computer indiscriminately.
We will, therefore, make an exercise to demonstrate how useful life is for the analysis that goes beyond measurable or very detailed data and tries to encompass a phenomenon in its entirety.
Before we begin, I want to bring up the idea that a historian, Ian Morris, presented in the journal History Today holding that the key to explaining the success of a culture over others was the privileged geographical position (cf. Ian Morris, «Latitudes not attitudes: How Geography explains History» in History Today, v. 60, 11). He was partly right, but it is a rather narrow view of reality. That is precisely what we want to achieve: the humanities offer to the man of today the capacity to sharpen his reason and judgment, to go beyond the mentality of the epoch and to widen the horizons of the wit. That way we will avoid reducing great truths and facts to simple empirical data. Here we present the text of a Latin song and the Spanish translation. It is a Kyrie Eleison trope that is still sung today. It is called Kyrie, fons bonita-tis. There are some versions on YouTube, like the following: Http://youtu.be/E0Q825shqIo.
Kyrie, fons Bonitatis (Spanish version)
Lord, source of kindness, Father not begotten, from whom all goods come, have mercy. Lord, that to the born to suffer for the crime of the world, you sent it to save the world, have mercy. Lord, you give the gifts of the sept form spirit, who are filled with heaven and earth, have mercy. Christ, the only begotten (only son) of God the Father, who announced the holy prophets who would be in an admirable way to the world, have mercy. Holy Christ, king of the heavenly palace, for whom sings the melody of glory the chorus of angels that is always in your presence, have mercy. Christ from heaven heeds our supplications, you whom we devoutly honor with humble souls, you pious Jesus we implore you, have mercy. Lord, giving Spirit, that you are united with the Father and the Son, being of the same substance, coming from both, have mercy. Lord, that after being baptized in the river Jordan, you appeared radiant in the form of a dove, have mercy. Lord, divine fire, light our hearts, so that being worthy we may likewise sing always: have mercy.
Reading the translation is easy to realize that the text is structured in three parts. There are three Kyrie (the Greek word that it means "Lord"), three Christe and three other Kyrie. And, if the doctrine about the Holy Trinity is known, it is evident that each of these three groups refers to one of the three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The other detail that any reader can perceive is that in each of the three groups, the first stanza has to do with the Person of the Father, the second with the Son and the third with the Holy Spirit. To facilitate the understanding of the above we have used different geometric figures to represent the same type of melody with which each "group" of stanzas and the different colors are sung to note the relations between the verses of the Son in relation to the Father, with himself and with the Holy Spirit, for example.
There is one other thing that might interest someone who does not know much about the Gregorian chant, which is what is called the monodic song with which this type of text is interpreted. We refer to the accents of words (indicated only by way of help) that fall in the same order of syllables, as can be seen in the first group of verses addressed to the Father (Pater in Latin).
We have said that this text is a trope, but we have not explained what a trope is. A trope is the insertion of a new and non-authorized text into an authentic and official liturgical text (cf. Gautier, Histoire de la poésie liturgique au Moyen Age, Paris 1886). So the Kyrie that we have presented equals the Lord have mercy of the present mass, but with a text that was interspersed while it was singing the various notes of "Lord" before "have mercy".
The tropes date from the IX century approximately. They were composed to sing them simultaneously to the invariable parts of the mass, like the Kyrie, Glory, Saint and the Lamb of God. The Kyrie fons bonitatis is a prose trope, but there were also tropes in verse. We know, as it is read in the Analecta Hymnica (a great compilation of hymns of the Church), that the melody used in the Kyrie fons bonitatis existed already before and that only later the text was composed. The Kyrie fons bonitatis probably dates from the S. X or XI.
Now the tropes responded to the spirit of singing. For example, in the Kyrie what stands out is the humble request to God; In Glory, praise; In the Holy, exaltation; etc. For this reason, the text that was entered between the syllables could not be arbitrary.
We do not know the name of the composer: an anonymous monk who left a beautiful text. This monk and the many others who composed hymns have bequeathed to us a testimony of the spirit with which the Kyrie, Glory, etc. should be prayed. This monk wanted to make it clear that whoever sang the Kyrie with his nine verses did so to invoke the Holy Trinity. And, in addition, in the first verses of each group we transmitted the formulas that synthesize faith on the Trinity: God as a good Creator, Christ as the Only Begotten and Redeemer who came into the world; and the Holy Spirit as that which comes from both and has the same substance (in the text comes even in Greek: ο σ α – usia, which literally means "essence", but which for the Church translates as substance in Latin).
This good monk had ample reason to compose a Trinitarian text in the Kyrie. But we know that this triple invocation of mass was not born with the Trinitarian halo with which this trope shines.
The fact that the Kyrie is a prayer in Greek (Κριε λησον, which means "Lord, have mercy") could make one believe that it is a prayer of the Church of the first three or four centuries of Christianity. But it's not like that. It is rather a prayer that came later to Rome, with the influx of the eastern liturgy in the V and VI centuries. And this invocation was used to direct prayers to Christ for various purposes.
We have testimony of this last in a prayer called Deprecatio Gelasii (Prayer of the Pope Gelasio) of the S. V. There are several petitions addressed to Christ. And in this prayer, for example, we do not see the markedly Trinitarian character of the trope we are discussing; well, on the other, there was no request for Christe Eleison.
It was not long without the change of the invocation primarily Christological to the Trinitarian, given that the Christe eleison was introduced between two Kyrie and the requests of the Kyrie were separate as such, which was normally sung. In some later liturgical books, as in the Ordines Romani (which are the first liturgical books of Rome), are the three repetitions. And in the S. X, we find the allusion to the three people of the Holy Trinity.
Our anonymous monk might not have known the particulars about the history of Kyrie, so that it was clear to him that it was a prayer to the Holy Trinity. He was one more receiver of all that history, to which he simply added his grain of sand, which still lasts.
We can be daring in the interpretation of this trope, arming that the unity of the melody represents unity in the divine nature and diversity of content, the diversity of people. This interpretation is daring, but it does not remove a certain truth from the fact that, as we have seen, the author expressly wanted to make a prayer to the three people with the symbolism of the numbers and the text.
Our author is not an innovator or the only one in his kind. It is more like a reflection of the epoch, of that Middle Age that would give to the world an author like Dante Alighieri, who in his Divine Comedy also makes use of the Trinitarian symbolism of the three: three large parts (Hell, Purgatory and Sky), with thirty-three songs each , each stanza with three verses (Terceto), among other allusions.
Currently, the Kyrie fons bonitatis is no longer sung in the part that would correspond during the mass. The disappearance of such a rich song was given in the 16th century, being Pope Saint Pius V. Neither the Kyrie fons bonitatis nor any other mass trope, as poetic as it was, survived the Tridentine reform of St. Pius V. But Pope Pius V did not act arbitrarily. There were reasons that justified this depuration of the liturgy then.
The historical context gives us a very important clue. The 16th century was the age of the Protestant Reform and the so-called Reformation. It was in this context of a launching of the catholic faith that Pope Saint Pius V decided to undertake the reform of the Latin rite mass and ratify it for all places in the world, with some exceptions. In the bull (a type of official document of the Pope very used at that time) Quo primum tempore the Pope explains the reasons for the liturgical reform: he wanted to return to the original form of the liturgy, according to the ancient manuscripts and codices (encyclical Bula Quo primum tempore (157 0): « [...] ad pristinam Missale ipsum sanctorum Patrum normam ac ritum restituerunt». [Men scholars] restituted the same missal according to the ancient disposition and rite of the Holy Fathers [of the Church]). This desire for the purification of the liturgy is understood in the agitated atmosphere of the protestant period when the hierarchy of the Church became aware that it was necessary to present the doctrine more clearly and simply. So also the multiple musical and written expressions that had been added to the rite of the Eucharistic celebration were entreated and codified, to make the teaching of the Church simple, intelligible and universal.
The Kyrie fons bonitatis trope has now been recovered, although not as a liturgical part of the mass, but as a hymn. As you can see, in our exercise we have tried to approach the spirit of the text we present, with its many implications. We have not exhausted history or made great interpretative discoveries. We have tried to delve and take a look at the panorama.
In the understanding of man, while we live or study, we need this kind of global vision of things, so as not to get lost in so many data, and all at hand and in the order of the day with a simple search on Google or Wikipedia.
The humanities help to form this kind of vision about the world and the man trying to encompass several perspectives without reducing all to a single one.
In this "practical" exercise of analysis of a text we have tried to combine theology, history, Latin and music to show that the humanistic sciences are able to offer something that goes beyond the mere objective data, since the man does not reduce to his cells nor the great works of art to the molecules of which they are made. When we defend the integrative nature of the humanities, we are defending not only all the sciences of man but especially man himself, who cannot be reduced to a simple product of all sciences.