Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Naissance de Français

It'd be hard to overestimate the influence Latin has had on me. This post isn't about Latin, though, except indirectly. But if my mind hadn't been trained by Latin, this post wouldn't exist. Specifically because Latin was my entree to French; but generally because Latin gave me an intellectual framework, a cadre, on which to hang practically everything I've learned. Latin provided a Grand Unified Theory of Everything such that no information is of value only in its own category, but incrementally adds to a coherent whole, the Biggest Possible Picture. And in the past 15 years or so, I've come around to the idea that all knowledge points to God...because it seems like more and more that's what my life points to, and everything I know reinforces that....as if by accident.

Didn't I say this post isn't about Latin? That's right: it isn't. It's about...French? No....it's about people, and how God's creative energy infuses everything they do, especially when they speak.
In A.D. 842 a couple of Charlemagne's grandsons, brothers Ludwig and Charles, swore loyalty to each other and against third brother Lothar. The oaths they swore, and other information about the alliance, were recorded. What makes this otherwise mundane event fascinating is that while the clerks wrote their account of the event in Latin, they wrote Ludwig's oath in a kind of proto-French, the precursor to Old French, because that was the 'language' he was speaking when he took the oath; or to paraphrase Chris Tucker, because those were the words that were coming out of his mouth.

Why wouldn't Ludwig just speak Latin? Well, my guess is that he and the rustic Franks he was addressing thought he was speaking (vulgar) Latin, the Roman tongue. The clerks however, being familiar with written Latin, considered it something else. The Franks' vernacular Latin had diverged so far from written Latin that it was treated as another language.

Here's Ludwig's oath in English:

For love of God and for Christian people, and our common safety, of this day forth, as much as God gives me to know and to be able, I will protect this my brother Charles, and will aid him in each thing, as one in justice must protect his brother, in which he would do the same for me; and I will make with Lothar no pact, which of my will can injure this my brother Charles.

Here's what Ludwig said in the Rustic Roman of the day:

Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in ajudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il me altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui, meon vol, cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.

Here it is in modern French:

Pour l'amour de Dieu et pour le chrétien peuple et notre commun salut, de ce jour en avant, en tant que Dieu savoir et pouvoir me donne, ainsi secourrai-je ce mien frère Charles, et en aide en chacune chose si comme homme par droit son frère sauver doit, en ce (à condition) qu'il me fasse autant; et de Lothair nul accord jamais ne prendrai, qui par ma volonté, à ce mien frère Charles à dam soit.

If you're familiar at all with Latin, you'll see right away that Ludwig's oath just isn't very Latin-y; my first impression was that it was some primitive type of Spanish or Italian (Deo, poblo, nostro, podir, fradre); then looking at other words, it seemed a bit French as well (dreit, plaid, prindrai).

So even though it's not very Latin, it's not especially French...yet. Like a newborn baby it's distinct and separate from its mother, but not fully formed. So I think of the Oath of Strasbourg as marking the birth of French. But regardless of how we might name it, ('Rustic Roman,' for example; thus books written in the new Frankish common tongue were Romances) it shows how rapidly people will change a language. Practical changes; and aesthetic changes, which interest me more. Changes of rhythm, lilt, vowel and consonant shifts, stress, eliminating or adding sounds to existing words, I assume are made collectively over generations to make language more beautiful. People just can't leave well-enough alone.

Funny: growing up, the only speaking I thought was beautiful were some Southern U.S. accents, not often heard in South Louisiana. In high school, I had 2 years of Spanish; I decided Spanish was lovely too. Then 2 years of Latin, plus a pre-Vatican 2 Catholic childhood: discovered Latin was elegant. Over the next couple of decades, using my Latin cadre, I've learned other languages, some fairly well, others just at a tourist level...or less....and surprise, they are all beautiful. My preferred way to learn them is by memorizing poetry or better yet, songs. Beauty and affection first, then vocabulary and grammar.

Decades ago I was struck by Jesus' admonition in Matt 25:
'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' Could this be taken at face value? As many would put it: can you see God in other people? I decided to try. It was very artificial for the first few years, but I'm used to it now, though with room for improvement. Now virtually every good thing anyone does looks like God bursting out of them, like in Alien....bang! right out of their breastbones.

And that's how all language looks to me. Nameless, insignificant people in their millions create these beautiful systems, no two alike. A language contains not mere information, but also a way of thinking, a way of interacting with the world. People are created, born, little bits of God, but their creation continues under the influence of language. The power of language to shape our humanity is clear in this 1908 critique of the Polish-born polyglot author Joseph Conrad: "A writer who ceases to see the world coloured by his own language‑‑for language gives colour to thoughts and things in a way that few people understand‑‑is apt to lose the concentration and intensity of vision without which the greatest literature cannot be made." Yet Conrad said of himself: "...I have a strange and overpowering feeling that [English] had always been an inherent part of myself. English was for me neither a matter of choice nor adoption. The merest idea of choice had never entered my head. And as to adoption‑‑well, yes, there was adoption; but it was I who was adopted by the genius of the language..."

(As Peter Schramm's Hungarian father told his son in '56: we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.)

Both Conrad and his critic understood the power of language to affect who you are as a human being. The critic maintains Conrad can't be true to himself in English, Conrad responds that he can be true to himself only in English.

This gets to the point of the post....at last....part of the value of speaking another language even a little bit offers a glimpse of who you might've become, what culture you might've belonged to, who your fellow citizens might've been, but for the accident of birth. And through another language you make a human connection to strangers, even if it's no more than 'gracias/ de nada.'

It helps us see we're all children of God; and reminds us, as the clerks in 842 may have noticed to their annoyance, that those children continue His creation in every good thing they do.

Trou de Ver & the Mass (not mass..the Mass)

Recent posts by RedCardigan such as And Sometimes Tea: Let the Mass be the Mass and And Sometimes Tea: Obedience and the Liturgy (or, Let Go, Already!) prompt me to elaborate on the 'continuity' theme discussed in Pneuma & Einstein. RedC stated, in reference to liturgy and its, ummm, variants, "The liturgy matters. And obedience in the liturgy, especially, matters." And I agree. In any given year, I probably attend Mass at 3 or 4 different parishes, and reflect on the likely effects of different ways of doing liturgy, i.e., effects upon the congregation, the servers, the priest. But as we know, the Mass is not just an Earthly process, but a Heavenly one as well, which makes me wonder, might changes in Liturgy affect the invisible parts of Mass as well? I don't know. It just occurs to me.

Critical to my thinking are ideas expressed by others, such as in A Short Primer on the Mass...by I. Shawn McElhinney, wherein he quotes Dr. Jeff Mirus: "Catholic worship is not primarily about what we do for Christ, but about what Christ does for us......The Mass is first and foremost an action of Christ Himself......while a non-Catholic worship service is a human action, the Catholic Mass is a Divine action."

And Fr. Dwight Longenecker says in one of his books (I can't remember which, and so I paraphrase here), sacrifice opens a temporary door between Heaven and Earth; the sacrifice goes up, grace comes down.

I envision this door, this connection, as a wormhole, (French: trou de ver) which in this case doesn't connect two remote parts of spacetime; rather, it briefly connects spacetime to heaven. (And I wouldn't tell the kids this, but Jesus was a sort of wormhole connecting heaven to earth for 30 odd years.)

When we cover the Liturgy of the Eucharist in 6th grade, a major idea is that Mass takes place simultaneously in Heaven and Earth.

What do we call it when we go to church on Sunday? Mass. Yes. But over in the gym, where St. Rafka's meets, they don't call it Mass, they call it the Divine Liturgy. Mass is a Latin word, so Liturgy is probably....? Greek! Yes. Different words for the same thing. East and West. By the way, Liturgy means work, more or less: the -urgy is like the -ergy in energy. So Divine Liturgy means what? Divine Work? Yes. And if it's Divine Work, who's doing the work? God? Yes, God, and of course we and the priest do some work too, but God does most of the work....as usual. Why doesn't God mind doing most of the work? Because he loves us. Yes. (a recurring question)

The kids already know the priest is an alter Christus. I draw an altar and a priest, and then some clouds above (clouds = heaven, see?) with Jesus and a couple of angels on them. Then I ask the children to describe any time-travel/ magic-door/ Stargate sort of movies they've seen (e.g., Lion/Witch/Wardrobe). Then we discuss how something similar happens at Mass, and I draw a wormhole/tornado connecting the clouds to the priest & altar. We note that we say 'Holy, Holy, Holy' and burn incense here, and the angels in Revelations do the same in Heaven, too. And at Mass we hear the priest say, "Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing." A quick quote from Rev 8 shows the Catholics aren't just making all this up: "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne."

Then we discuss how as a tornado can briefly connect the ground to the clouds, so can God create an invisible link from Heaven to Earth during Mass.

Trick question! Is the invisible link only spiritual? Yes!....wait, No!...Yes.......?

OK, when Jesus ascended, did his body separate from his soul? No! It went up, too.
And why didn't Jesus' soul & body separate? Because he didn't commit any sins! He couldn't die.
Right...Jesus' parts don't separate due to sin (except on the Cross, God died...they know).....what's his other part, besides the human part? He's God, too.
And would the God and Man parts separate? No.
So, Jesus ascended...to where, the beach, the mall? Ha! to Heaven! Oh yeah, right...and where's his body? It's in Heaven, too. Yes....because His parts don't....? Don't separate!
Yes. So, at Mass, when God creates a special connection for a little while, the angel carries our offering up to heaven. What comes back down to us? The angel? I don't know, maybe...I'm looking for something else...let me read this again and you tell me what comes down:
"Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son.....Jesus! Jesus comes down!
Yes. Jesus comes down....just spiritually? No his body, too. Because...? The parts don't separate! Yeah? I look around at Mass, I don't see Him.....he's in the bread and wine. That's right. But to believe that, I need what? Faith. Yes. You know, I have to pray for faith every time I go up for Communion, because it just looks like bread to me.
So, back to the holy tornado that connects the earth altar and the heavenly altar: is that link just spiritual? No it's physical, too. Yes. because Jesus comes down spiritually and....? Physically. Which is nice, because Jesus has what two natures.....? Human and God. Yes, and they don't ever...? Separate. And we have two parts......? bodyandsoulandtheyshouldn'tseparate either! (learned early on in the year and regularly reviewed).
So when we are at Mass, body & soul, Jesus is there body and soul, too.
And if heaven and earth are not separated in all these ways at Mass, if we aren't behaving properly, not singing, looking around, daydreaming, nose-picking (EEeeeww!), could that affect what goes on in Heaven? Ehhh...ummmm....
Something to think about, maybe? Ehhh.....
OK class over, go to Mass this weekend and pay God some attention!