Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Discendi, amor santo

Here's the full text, in Italian, of Bianco da Siena's XXXVth poem in his Laudi Spirituali; the Laudi were written in the 14th or 15th century, and then published as a book in 1851.  It's not known when da Siena was born, or when, exactly, these Laudi were written; it is known that he died in or around 1434.  The Anglo-Irish clergyman, Richard Frederick Littledale, translated this poem for "Come Down, O Love Divine" in the 19th century.
1. Discendi, amor santo,
Visita la mie mente
Del tuo amore ardente,
Si che di te m’infiammi tutto quanto.

2. Vienne, consolatore,
Nel mio cuor veramente:
Del tuo ardente amore
Ardel veracemente:
Del tuo amor cocente
Si forte sie ferito:
Vada come smarrito
Dentro e di fuore ardendo tutto quanto.

3. Arda sì fortemente
Che tutto mi consume,
Si che veracemente
Lassi mondan costumi:
Li splendienti lumi
Lucenti, illuminanti
Mi stien sempre davanti,
Per li quali mi vesta il vero manto.

4. E ‘l manto chi’ i’ mi vesta
Sie la carità santa:
Sott’ una bigia vesta
Umilità si canta,
La qual mai non si vanta
Per se nullo ben fare,
Non si sa inalzare,
Ma nel profondo scende con gran pianto.

5. Nel fondo più profondo
Discende nel suo cuore:
Di ciascun uom del mondo
Sè  ved’ esser minore:
Non si cura d’ onore,
Ma le vergogne brama:
Di se vendetta chiama,
0dia se stesso sempre in ogni canto.

6. Se dagli altri è inalzato
Nel cuor sempre discende,
Del ben che ‘gli ha, ingrato
Sè esser sempre intende.
Chi tale stato prende
Già ma’ non può perire:
Vita si gli è ‘l morire,
Morendo vive e vivend’ è poi santo.

7. In queste duo colonne
Si ferman gli amaderi,
Perchè sôn le madonnne
Sopra l’ altre migliori:
Chi ben c’è ferm’, ardori
Sì grandi sente al cuore,
Che grida per amore,
Che sostener nol può, si è tamanto.

8. Sì grande è quel disio
Ch’ allor l’ anima sente,
Che dir nol sapre’ io,
A ciò non son potente:
Nulla  umana mente
Entender nol potria,
Se nol gustasse  pria
Per la vertù dello Spirito Santo.
               Deo gratias. Amen.

You can always try Google Translate on this; when I did, I got information about the Holy Spirit's "love of baking" - and something about the Secretary of State!   I'm going, eventually, to try to translate the entire Lauda myself; meantime here's the shorter - but very beautiful - Littledale version used for the hymn "Come Down, O Love Divine".
Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far out pass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Da Siena (whose given name, apparently, was Bianco dall' Anciolin) was a member of the Jesuati, a mystical religious order - a lay order, as far as I can tell - founded by Giovanni Colombini in the 14th Century.  Here's Wikipedia on that movement:

The Jesuati (Jesuates) were a religious order founded by Giovanni Colombini of Siena in 1360. The order was initially called Clerici apostolici Sancti Hieronymi (Apostolic Clerics of Saint Jerome)[1] because of a special veneration for St. Jerome and the apostolic life the founders led[2].
Colombini had been a prosperous merchant and a senator in his native
city, but, coming under ecstatic religious influences, abandoned secular
affairs and his wife and daughter (after making provision for them),
and with a friend of like temperament, Francesco Miani, gave himself to a life of apostolic poverty, penitential discipline, hospital service and public preaching.

The name Jesuati was given to Colombini and his disciples from the habit of calling loudly on the name of Jesus
at the beginning and end of their ecstatic sermons. The senate banished
Colombini from Siena for imparting foolish ideas to the young men of
the city, and he continued his mission in Arezzo and other places, only to be honourably recalled home on the outbreak of the bubonic plague. Howard Eves[3] writes that the order was then "dedicated to nursing and burying the victims of the rampant bubonic plague."

He went out to meet Urban V on his return from Avignon to Rome
in 1367, and craved his sanction for the new order and a distinctive
habit. Before this was granted Colombini had to clear the movement of a
suspicion that it was connected with the heretical sect of Fraticelli,
and he died on July 31, 1367, soon after the papal approval had been
given. The guidance of the new order, whose members (all lay brothers)
gave themselves entirely to works of mercy, devolved upon Miani.

Their rule of life, originally a compound of Benedictine and Franciscan elements, was later modified on Augustinian lines, but traces of the early penitential idea persisted, e.g. the wearing of sandals and a daily flagellation. Paul V
in 1606 arranged for a small proportion of clerical members, and later
in the 17th century the Jesuati became so secularized that the members
were known as the Aquavitae Fathers. Eves[3] writes, "certain abuses, apparently involving the manufacture and sale of distilled liquors in a manner not sanctioned by Canon Law, crept in. This, along with a difficulty in maintaining a reasonable membership quota, led to the order's abolishment by Pope Clement IX in 1668."

Mathematician Bonaventura Cavalieri was a member from the age of fifteen until his death.[3]

The female branch of the order, the Jesuati sisters, founded by Caterina Colombini (d. 1387) in Siena, and thence widely dispersed, more consistently maintained the primitive strictness of the society and survived the male branch by 200 years, existing until 1872 in small communities in Italy.
Here's more about Colombini, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Founder of the Congregation of Jesuati; b. at Siena, Upper Italy,
about 1300; d. on the way to Acquapendente, 31 July, 1367. There was
nothing in his early life to indicate the presence in his character of
any unusual seeds of holiness. Belonging to an old patrician family, he
devoted himself, like thousands of his class in Italy, to commerce,
swelled his already substantial fortune, and rose to a position of great
prominence and influence among his fellow-citizens, who on several
occasions elected him gonfalonier. Fortunate in his marriage, of
which two children -- Peter and Angela -- were the fruit, his private
life was marred by his avarice, his ambition, and his proneness to
anger. One day, while still suffering under a sense of mortification
after one of his passionate outbursts occasioned by a petty domestic
disappointment, he chanced to take up a biography of St. Mary of Egypt,
whose later life had been as conspicuous for penance as her earlier had
been for sin. The perusal of this narrative brought a new light into his
fife; henceforth ambition and anger gave way to an almost incredible
humility and meekness. The great transformation of his life extended to
his business affairs, and excited in the purely mercenary-minded a
ridicule easy to understand. Heedless, however, of raillery, he did not
rest content with selling cheaper than any other merchant, but persisted
in paying more for his purchases than the sum demanded. With the
consent of his wife he soon abandoned his former patrician associates,
visited hospitals, tended the sick, and made large donations to the
poor. Then casting aside the clothes usual to his station, he assumed
the garments of the most indigent, and, having fallen ill and believing
himself treated with too much delicacy at home, deserted his luxurious
house for the ordinary ward of a poor hospital. His relations urged him
to return, and finally elicited his consent on the condition that
thenceforth he would be given only the coarser forms of nourishment.
Nursed back to health, he insisted on making his house the refuge of the
needy and the suffering, washing their feet with his own hands,
dispensing to them bodily and spiritual comfort, leaving nothing undone
that the spirit of charity could suggest. Among the wonders recorded to
have taken in this abode of Christian mercy was the miraculous
disappearance of a leper, leaving the room permeated with an
indescribable fragrance.

It required eight years to render his wife reconciled to the
extraordinary philanthropy of her husband. His son having meanwhile died
and his daughter taken the veil, Colombini with the approval of his
wife, on whom he first settled a life-annuity, divided his fortune into
three parts: the first went to endow a hospital, the second and third to
two cloisters. Together with his friend Francisco Mini, who had been
associated with him in all charitable labours, Colombini lived
henceforward a life of apostolic poverty, begged for his daily bread,
and esteemed it a favour to be allowed to wait on the sick poor, while
in public and in their dwellings he stimulated the people to penance. He
was soon joined by three of the Piccolomini and by members of other
patrician families, who likewise distributed all their goods among the
poor. Alarmed at these occurrences, many of the Sienese now raised an
outcry, complaining that Colombini was inciting all the most promising
young men of the city to "folly", and succeeded in procuring his
banishment. Accompanied by twenty-five companions, Colombini left his
native city without a protest and visited in succession Arezzo, Città di
Castello, Pisa and many other Tuscan cities, making numerous
conversions, reconciling sundered friends, and effecting the return of
much property to its rightful owners. An epidemic which broke out at
Siena shortly after his departure, was generally regarded as a heavenly
chastisement for his banishment, and there was a universal clamour for
his recall. Regardless alike of derision and insult, he resumed on his
return his former charitable occupations, in his humility rejoicing to
perform the most menial services at houses where he had once been an
honoured guest.
 And this, from New Advent:, from the "Italian Literature" page:

[The fourteenth] century in Italy, as elsewhere, is the golden age of vernacular ascetical and mystical literature, producing a rich harvest of translations from the Scriptures and the Fathers, of spiritual letters, sermons, and religious treatises no less remarkable for their fervour and unction than for their linguistic value. From the earliest years of the Trecento have come down the sermons of the Dominican, B. Giordano da Rivalto (died 1311). The exquisite "Fioretti di San Francesco", now known to be a translation from the Latin, date from about 1328. Prominent among the spiritual writers, who thus set themselves to open the Church's treasury to the unlearned, are the Augustinians,
B. Simone Fidati da Cascia (died 1348) and Giovanni da Salerno (died
1388), whose works have been edited by P. Nicola Mattioli; and the Dominicans, Domenico Cavalca, a copious translator, and Jacopo Passavanti (died 1357), whose "Specchio della Vera Penitenza" is a model of style and language.

The admirable letters of B. Giovanni Colombini (died 1367) and the mystical lyrics of his follower, Bianco dall' Anciolina (El Bianco da Siena), have the glowing fervour, the Divine madness, of the first Franciscans. In a less exalted vein, the epistles of the monk of Vallombrosa, B. Giovanni dalle Celle (died 1396), extend from the forties to the nineties of the century. Supreme above them all, a figure worthy, from the mere literary point of view, to stand by Dante and Petrarca, is St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), whose "Dialogo" is the greatest mystical work in prose in the Italian language, and whose "Letters" have hardly been surpassed in the annals of Christianity.
Christian mysticism bloomed during the Middle Ages - and was particularly strong during the 13th-16th centuries - all over Europe (and perhaps elsewhere - something I'll look at at some point).  Here's more from Wikimedia about mysticism during this period:

The Early Middle Ages in the West includes the work of Gregory the Great and Bede, as well as developments in Celtic Christianity and Anglo-Saxon Christianity, and comes to fulfillment in the work of Johannes Scotus Eriugena and the Carolingian Renaissance.

The High Middle Ages
saw a flourishing of mystical practice and theorization corresponding
to the flourishing of new monastic orders, with such figures as Guigo II, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, the Victorines, and Bonaventure, all coming from different orders, as well as the first real flowering of popular piety among the laypeople.

The Late Middle Ages saw the growth of groups of mystics centered around geographic regions: the Beguines, such as Mechthild of Magdeburg and Hadewijch (among others); the Rhineland mystics Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler and Henry Suso; and the English mystics Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich. This period also saw such individuals as John of Ruysbroeck, Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Genoa, the Devotio Moderna, and such books as the Theologia Germanica, The Cloud of Unknowing and The Imitation of Christ.
More about medieval mysticism - and about Littledale - to come.

Meanwhile, below is an image of part of a fresco by Giusto de' Menabuoi (a follower of Giotti di Bondone) around the time that Bianco da Siena lived and perhaps wrotehis Laudi Spirituali; it's a detail of Paradiso, from 1376-78, painted on the ceiling of the Baptistry in Padua, Italy.

Here's an image of one of the amazing walls of the same baptistry:

Here's a photo of the Padua Cathedral; the Baptistry's on the right:

A bit later, around 1435 (da Siena died in 1434), Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden painted "The Descent from the Cross," now hanging in the Prado in Madrid.

And here's "Come Down, O Love Divine" again, sung by the Kings' College Choir:


Caterina, Oxford said...

Delight to find the 8 verses posted here.

The translation is wildly inaccurate and erratic in both languages.

It would be better to replace it with the Littledale version which , though shorter, is a very faithful condensed rendering.

Caterina, Oxford

bls said...

Hi Caterina:

Thanks for commenting. I wrote two posts two days apart, and the first had the Littledale version (which is linked in the first paragraph above - although it wrong before and is now fixed, so thanks for that!).

Here it is again, though.

I put in the Google Translate version here mainly for fun! It's hilarious, I think!


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