Saturday, September 5, 2009

St Lawrence Justinian

The first Patriarch of Venice, St Lawrence Justinian (1381-1456), has some unintentionally amusing things told of him in his Breviary legend to-day: for instance, renuntiare in Latin means not to renounce, but to appoint, so to an English reader he appears to renounce high ecclesiastical office rather than be appointed thereto (this is a false friend of a verb - a Dominican told me he was once scandalized to read the Latin acts of a chapter and to find that the friars "renounced" the Papal dogmatic statement on the Assumption, but later discovered that it was his education that was at fault: for the verb can also mean to declare or convey the word of some occurrence).

Similarly, I somewhat impiously chortled at the sentence beginning Plura virginum monasteria excitavit ("he excited many monasteries of virgins"), where excitare must be read as "raised up". The Breviary makes it clear that it was his boundless charity to the poor, his strict religious way of life, his restoration of church discipline and his signal gifts of tears, prophecy and healing that inspired all around him to a more perfect way of life.

My missal notes that he lived at the time when the Most Serene Republic of Venice reached the apex of its power and glory: but in due process of time, that ancient state, in existence for over a millennium, declined and was slain: sic transit gloria mundi. But the saint now lives and reins with Christ for ever: St Lawrence, pray for us that we may thus live.

The Breviary somewhat snobbishly notes that he wrote books conspicuous for their heavenly doctrine and piety, but of rather rough grammar (grammaticæ pæne rudis)! Some Baroque arbiter elegantiarum included that put-down. Mediæval Latin was alive, not some pale imitation of Cicero: later pedants "corrected" hymns that all now agree were fine to begin with.

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