Late Have I Loved You

A famous Augustinian prayer, on this Feast Day of St. Augustine:

Late have I loved you,
Beauty so old and so new:
Late have I loved you.

And see, you were within
And I was within the external world
And sought you there,
And in my unlovely state
I plunged into those lovely created things
which you made
The lovely things kept me far from you
Though if they did not have their existence in you
They had no existence at all.

You called and cried out loud
And shattered my deafness
You were radiant and resplendent,
You put to flight my blindness.
You were fragrant,
And I drew in my breath and now pant after you.
I tasted you,
And I feel but hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me,
And I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

~ St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 10.27

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The Dove

O cease my wandering soul,
On restless wing to roam;
All the wide world, to either pole,
Has not for thee a home.

Behold the Ark of God,
Behold the open door;
Hasten to gain that dear abode,
And rove, my soul, no more.

And when the waves of ire
Again the earth shall fill,
The Ark shall ride the sea of fire,
And rest on Zion’s hill.

~ “Like Noah’s Weary Dove,” William A. Muhlenberg (1827)

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Wondrous Type

“Oh wondrous type” is a wondrous Transfiguration hymn. Some hymnals emend “type” to “sight,” but that is clearly a mistake. A “type” in the old sense of the word is closer to what we now call a “prototype.” Christ’s transfiguration is a first instance of, and authoritative model for, something else: his people’s own transformation into glory.

That, anyhow, is the point of this hymn. It’s based on an old Latin text from the Sarum Rite, which was the liturgical book of the Church of England before the Book of Common Prayer.  The hymn is sung to the tune “Deo gracias” (also known as “Agincourt,” the same tune as “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High.” A reconstruction of the medieval tune with period instruments is here).

Oh wondrous type
Sarum, 1495; trans. John Mason Neale

Oh, wondrous type! Oh, vision fair
Of glory that the church may share,
Which Christ upon the mountain shows,
Where brighter than the sun he glows!

With Moses and Elijah nigh
Th’incarnate Lord holds converse high;
And from the cloud the Holy One
Bears record to the only Son.

With shining face and bright array
Christ deigns to manifest today
What glory shall be theirs above
Who joy in God with perfect love.

And faithful hearts are raised on high
By this great vision’s mystery,
For which in joyful strains we raise
The voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.

O Father, with the eternal Son
And Holy spirit ever one,
We pray you, bring us by your grace
To see your glory face to face.

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Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration in the new Western calendar. It’s an old feast, with old traditions. The following is one of the oldest anthems for the day, written by a contemporary of Augustine.

All Ye Who Seek
by Aurelius Prudentius (348-413)
trans. W. C. Dix (1837-1898)

All ye who seek for Jesus, raise
your eyes above, and upward gaze:
there may ye see the wondrous sign
of never-ending glory shine.

Behold him in celestial rays
who never knoweth end of days;
exalted, infinite, sublime;
older than heav’n or hell or time.

This is the Gentiles’ King and Lord;
the Prince by Judah’s race adored,
promised to Abraham of yore
and to his seed for evermore.

To him the prophets testify;
and that same witness from on high,
the Father seals by his decree:
“Hear and believe my Son,” saith he.

All glory, Lord, to thee we pay,
transfigured on the mount today;
all glory as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete

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by George Herbert (1633)

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask’d, if Peace were there,
A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:
Go seek elsewhere.

I did; and going did a rainbow note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peace’s coat:
I will search out the matter.
But while I looked the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden and did spy
A gallant flower,
The crown-imperial: Sure, said I,
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digged, I saw a worm devour
What showed so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man;
Whom when for Peace
I did demand, he thus began:

There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who lived with good increase
Of flock and fold.

He sweetly lived; yet sweetness did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat;
Which many wond’ring at, got some of those
To plant and set.

It prospered strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth:
For they that taste it do rehearse
That virtue lies therein;
A secret virtue, bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sin.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there.

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Peace to thee

A friend of mine just returned from a Holocaust conference in Germany. He briefed me on it over lunch today, not only on Nazi atrocities but on the uncongenial relationships between Europeans and Jews in history. Another friend of mine is a retired Israeli social worker who has me listening to BBC Arabic to improve my Arab ear. Atrocities, politics, the Middle East — they’re hard to get away from these days.

Jerusalem especially is hard to get away from. In Hebrew it means “Vision of Peace,” but in Arabic it has a different name: al-Quds, “the Holy.” Arabic speakers almost always and only use this name of Jerusalem. Both names have the vice of being empirically and obviously false. Jerusalem has been as holy and peaceful for the last 2,000 years as the Holy Roman Empire was holy and Roman and an empire. And yet Jerusalem endures. It is like Adam and all his children: fallen, disappointing, weak, vicious, dying, and yet with impossible glories promised for the future.

One of my favorite poems is Psalm 122. It’s a song of ascents for Hebrew pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem. One of my longstanding projects is to metricize the psalms as an interpretive and poetic exercise. So from this jumble of related threads comes today’s poem: a metrical version of 122, meant to take what the psalm requests (“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”) and express it performatively. It’s written especially for the tune Beech Spring, an American folk tune and Sacred Harp melody. (A flute-and-strings version of the folk tune is here, and the hymn arrangement here.)

*        *        *        *        *

Psalm 122

Come with me to holy Zion,
To the house of prayer and grace;
And our feet shall stand together
In that sweet and holy place.
Peace be with thee, peace around thee,
Peace upon thee without end,
Peace to every soul who loves thee,
Peace to thee, Jerusalem.

O Jerusalem, how lovely
Thou art fashioned, stone to stone,
Round the mount that stands forever
At the everlasting throne.
And the tribes of all the nations
Join together and ascend
To the place where God has met us
And has made His peace with men.

Peace be with thee, peace around thee,
Peace upon thee without end,
Peace of God and man surround thee,
Peace to thee, Jerusalem.
For my brethren and companions
I will bless thee yet again:
Peace of Father, Son, and Spirit,
Keep us evermore. Amen.

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The Great Hides in the Small

The circle’s in the point, the fruit is in the seed:
Seek God within the world, and you are wise indeed.

~ Angelus Silesius, CW IV. 158

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