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Walter Berschin

Valuation and Knowledge of Greek 

From: Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa   Translated by Jerold C. Frakes. Revised and expanded edition. The Catholic University of America Press, http://cuapress.cua.edu/  


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1. "Sacred Languages"  

... adsolent Latini homines Graece cantare oblectati sono verborum nescientes tamen quid dicant.

[The Latins are accustomed to singing in Greek, delighted by the sounds of the words, but not knowing what they are saying. ]

The "Ambrosiaster" (saec. IV) on 1 Cor 14:14; CSEL 81, 2, p. 153, 6

Sex lectiones ab antiquis Romanis grece et latine legebantur; qui mos apud Constantinopolim hodieque servatur, ni fallor, propter duas causas: unam quia aderant Greci, quibus incognita erat latina lingua, aderantque Latini quibus incognita erat greca; alteram, propter unanimitatem utriusque populi. [Six texts were read by the ancient Romans in Greek and Latin; this custom is observed even today in Constantinople for two reasons, if I am not mistaken: first, because Greeks were present, to whom Latin was an unknown language, and Latins were also present, to whom Greek was unknown; secondly, for the sake of concord of both peoples.]

Amalar of Metz (saec. IX), Liber officialis II 1,1, ed. I. Μ. Hanssens, Amalarii episcopi opera liturgica omnia (Rome 1948), II, 197  

Ekkehart IV of St.Gall tells of a pupil in the monastic school who was taken to the Hohentwiel to Duchess Hadwig so that he might learn some Greek from her. He expressed his wish in the hexameter1

Esse velim Grecus, cum sim vix, domna, Latinus.
[I would like to be Greek, my lady, although I am scarcely a Latin.]

This is the most concise formulation of the aporia in which the Latin West found itself during the Middle Ages in relation to Greek. Latin was enough of a problem by itself: it was no longer anyone's native language, but it was nevertheless indispensable as the language of the liturgy, political administration, scholarship, and most arts, and almost all energy expended on language learning was concentrated on Latin.2 Greek could at best be one's "second foreign language"-and thus only a very few medieval Westerners acquired the ability to understand a Greek text with unfamiliar content. Nevertheless, Greek held an important place in the medieval consciousness. In several periods of the Latin Middle Ages, Greek was held in remarkably high regard -measured by the knowledge of Greek that one could acquire over and above Latin.  

The valuation of Greek in the Latin Middle Ages has its origin primarily in the position of prominence which the Greek language enjoyed in the early history of Christianity. In scriptural study and to a great extent also in medieval exegesis, it was never forgotten that Greek was one of the original languages of the Scriptures (the New Testament). The untranslated symbolism of the threefold "Ego sum A et Ω" of the Apocalypse, for example, referred the reader of the Latin Bible to the Greek original.3 If for Christians of late antiquity, Greek was the second of the tres linguae praecipuae4 -those languages in which Pilate, as a blind instrument of divine providence, had the inscription written on the Cross5

Pilatus iubet ignorans: I, scriba, tripictis

digere versiculis, quae sit subfixa potestas,

fronte crucis titulus sit triplex, triplice lingua

agnoscat Iudaea legens et Graecia norit

et venerata deum percenseat aurea Roma

[Unknowing, Pilate ordered: "Go, compose and arrange in thrice-written lines what kind of ruler is hung below, let the legend on the front of the cross be threefold; in three languages let Judaea read and recognize, Greece know, and golden Rome the revered regard God"]

-the notion of the special dignity of the three languages of the Cross acquired its specifically medieval character from Isidore of Seville, who first wrote of the tres linguae sacrae.6 Here the essence of medieval language acquisition and especially the medieval study of Greek is already expressed with the greatest concision: the three sacred languages were cult languages; the veneration of which they were the instruments came to be directed to them also. Thus Greek was more honored than studied in the Middle Ages, even if Jerome (the vir trilinguis) in his letter to the Goths Sunnja and Fribila concerning the translation of Psalms (epist. 106) "kept alive the conviction of the utility and necessity of knowing Greek,"7 and at the same time asserted the final authority of the hebraica veritas in Old Testament textual criticism. In the early Middle Ages, the Irish followed in Jerome's footsteps;8 in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was the Englishmen Andrew of St. Victor,9 Robert Grosseteste, and Roger Bacon, and in the fourteenth century, Simon Atumanus; Erasmus of Rotterdam and Johannes Reuchlin rise above the late antique-medieval horizon. 

During the Middle Ages the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite were closely associated with the Scriptures. The confrontation with the great Syro-Greek theologian of symbolism runs through the Latin Middle Ages in an unbroken line; even when his apophatic theology was unintelligible or too contemplative for the West, at least his doctrine concerning angels had an influence -from Gregory the Great to Dante, who otherwise had almost no knowledge of Greek matters.10  

For the Latin Middle Ages Greek was also an "original language of the liturgy"; after all, the Latin liturgy contained Greek in prominent positions -whether as a remnant of the ancient Roman use of Greek as the liturgical language, or as an ornament of ecumenical intent added at a later date to the Latin liturgy.11 No exclamation appealed to the Germanic peoples as strongly as the liturgical ΚΥΡΙΕ ΕΛΕΗΣΟΝ;12 it is also to be found as a battle cry, as well as the last line of stanzas in vernacular songs. Next to the kyrie, the trishagion was the most popular Greek element in the Western liturgy:  

Αγιος ο Θεός, άγιος ισχυρός, άγιος αθάνατος, ελέησον ημάς  

Τhe Old Spanish ("Mozarabic") and Old Gallic ("Gallican") liturgies adopted the Greek chant, which in these liturgies took the place of the gloria in the Roman mass. From the ninth century -first in the Frankish Empire- the trishagion was incorporated into the Roman rite, in the improperia sung on Good Friday.13 

Greco-Latin readings from the Old and New Testaments were also introduced into the Roman rite; the Greek and Latin reading from the Epistles and the Gospels in the solemn papal mass is a relic of an originally more general practice; it is not certain whether the practice was native to Rome or had been brought there from the North.14 The bilingual readings and the readings of the Greek prologue to the Gospel of St. John on Easter night were especially remarkable liturgical usages in the Latin Middle Ages.

In the ninth century, the Order of St. Amand, for example, prescribes for Easter night: "Deinde secuntur lectiones et cantica seu orationes, tam grece quam latine" ("then readings and songs or prayers follow, Greek as well as Latin"); Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen âge, ed. Μ. Andrieu (Louvain 1951), III, Ordo XXX Β, p.472. Clear evidence for this liturgical usage is contained in the famous Oxford manuscript Bodleian Library Auct. F.4. 32, a facsimile of which R.W.Hunt published under the title Saint Dunstan's Classbook from Glastonbury (Amsterdam 1961). The third section of the manuscript, "the patriarch of all Welsh books known" (Henry Bradshaw), written around 817 in Wales, is a brief scholarly collection of computational and Greco-Latin texts (and a runic alphabet). The Graeca are written partly in Greek majuscules, as the pauca testimonia de prophetarum libris per grecam linguam, fols. 24r-28v. The scribe attached a Greco-Latin alphabet as an aid to reading. In the subsequent readings for Easter night, tam per latinam quam per grecam linguam, he wrote the Greek column of the text in Latin minuscules. The variation in the system of rendering the Graeca-between the texts of the prophets and the readings for Easter night- may be explained thus: the former were seen as material for study, the latter as liturgical texts, which were to be read fluently and were therefore transcribed. On liturgical classification, see Schneider, Cantica, pp. 67 ff., and Fischer, in Colligere Fragmenta, Festschrift Alban Dold (Beuron 1952).  

The Greek prologue to the Gospel of St. John is found at the end of the Greek Psalter Vat. Reg. gr. 13, which is thought to have originated in the West (more likely in the twelfth than in the tenth century); see H. Stevenson, Codices Μanuscripti Graeci Reginae Svecorum (Rome 1888), p.9. Schneider (in Biblica 30 [1949], 490 f) sees a magical significance therein: "Regin. 13 endet mit dem Johannesprolog, diesem alten christlichen Abwehrmittel gegen die bösen Geister. So übernimmt der Psalter noch eine neue Aufgabe: Er ersetzt die Zauberbücher der Heiden" ("Regin. 13 ends with the prologue to John, the ancient Christian protective device against evil spirits. Thus the Psalter assumes yet an additional purpose: it replaces the heathens' magical books"). This conclusion is, however, based too exclusively on late medieval circumstances; in the "Evangeliarium Spalatense" (Split, Chapter Library, s.n.), after all there is the example of an appended Greek prologue to John, which plainly served liturgical purposes. Such an interpretation proceeds from the prefatory liturgical acclamation: Ειρήνη πάσι ... Δόξα Σοι Κύριε (cf. facsimile in Lowe, CLA, XI, 1669). In recent years the prologue to John in this codex has been repeatedly interpreted as evidence for the knowledge of Greek in early medieval Dalmatia. After Lowe, in his paleographical description, located the half-uncial evangelary and its appendix (also half uncial) in the vicinity of the North Italian Greco-Latin Psalter of the Chapter Library in Verona (Cod. I), it became open to question whether V. Novak's interpretations are based on an accurate determination of the manuscript's provenance (in the bibliography to CLA, XI, 1669; see also P. Diels  "Zur Kenntnis des Griechischen im Kroatien des VIII. Jahrhunderts," BZ 51 [1958], 41 f).

The bilingual credo, which was sung in the catechumenal liturgy on the Wednesday after the fourth Sunday of Lent ("Mittfasten"), was widespread. In a tenth-century sacramentary from Fulda, the Greek credo is thus embedded in the liturgical order:15
... accipiens accolitus unum ex ipsis infantibus masculum et tenens eum in sinistro brachio ponit manum super eum.

Et interrogat eum presbiter dicens: Qua lingua confitentur dominum nostrum Iesum Christum? 

Respondit accolitus: Greca. 

Iterum dicit presbiter: Annuntia fidem ipsorum qualiter credant. 

 Et tenens accolitus manum dexteram super infantis (caput) dicit symbolum decantando grece: Pysteu ... 

[... taking a male child from these children and holding it on his left arm, the acolyte places his hand above it. 

And the priest asks him, saying: "In what language do they confess our Lord Jesus Christ?"  

The acolyte responds: "In Greek."  

The priest speaks again: "Proclaim their faith, just as they believe."  

And holding his right hand above (the head) of the child, the acolyte recites the symbolum, singing in Greek: "Pystevo ... "]

In this ordo scrutinii the credo was spoken in Latin by another acolyte for the girls. In the baptismal scrutiny, there were many variant possibilities, as there were generally in the Latin liturgy before the Council of Trent. The sentences which preceded the Greek credo could, for example, also have been said in Greek, as in the following tradition, which clearly indicates that the text was copied without being understood:16
Et interrogat eum presbiter graece. Dicit: (P)ya glossa omologesin ton kirion ymon iesun christon?
Respondit acolutus: Ellenistin.  

Iterum dicit presbiter: Anangilon tin pistin auton ton os pisteugesin.  

Et dicit acolutus simbolum graece decantando his verbis: Pysteugon ... 
The bilingual baptismal scrutiny is perhaps the germ of the "missa graeca," the most significant medieval expression of liturgical Hellenism, which is a liturgy of the mass in which the gloria and credo, as well as the paternoster, agnus dei,17 and other parts of the mass, can be sung or read in Greek.  

Up until recently, the development of the "missa graeca" has been studied mainly for St. Denis, primarily through the work of Omont, "La messe grecque de Saint Denys," in Études d'Histoire du moyen âge dédiées à G. Monod, which is supplemented in details by Delisle in Journal des Savants (1900); H. Leclercq, in Dictionnaire d'Archéologie Chrétienne et de Liturgie (s.v. "Grecque, Messe"); Weiss, in Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in Italia 6; Handschin, in Annales Musicologiques 2; and Huglo, "Les chants de la missa graeca de Saint-Denis," in Essays Presented to E. Wellesz. The principal (and most splendid specimen of the Carolingian "missa graeca" in St. Denis is contained in Paris, ΒN lat. 2290 (saec. IX2, fols. 7v-8v although probably a later addition to the codex), which includes, in a liberal format and with an interlinear Latin translation, the Doxa en ipsistis, Pisteugo, Agios, and O amnos tu theu. Based on the emphasis given to the patron of St. Denis in the form ΔΙΟΝΙCII, previous scholars held the origin of the manuscript in St. Denis  to be  certain  (Delisle, "Mémoire  sur d'anciens  sacramentaires," pp. 102-5; Omont, "La messe grecque," p. 178), although it clearly exhibits the "Franco-Saxon" style of painting (cf. the facsimile in V. Leroquais, Les Sacramentaires et les Missels Manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France [Paris 1924.], pl. 10), which has been associated with the Abbey of St. Amand since Delisle's study. The manuscript was written in "St. Amand for St. Denis" (Κ. Gamber, Codices Liturgici Latini Antiquiores, 2nd ed. (Fribourg 1968], p.356, no. 760). Two additional Carolingian manuscripts containing texts of the "missa graeca" are -as has long been known- traceable to St. Amand: Paris, ΒN lat. 2291 (with "paleofranconian" neums; cf J. Handschin, in Acta Musicologica 22 (1950], 69 ff., and E. Jammers, in Scriptorium 7 (1953], 235 ff.) and Stockholm A 136 (cf Gamber, Codices Liturgici, pp. 413 f, no. 925, and p. 356, no.763). Thus the interest in the origin of the "missa graeca" should concentrate much more on St.Amand than St. Denis. Cf. the table of "Handschriften, die griechische Ordinariumsstücke enthalten," in C. Μ. Atkinson, "Zur Entstehung und Überlieferung der 'Missa Graeca,"' Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 39 (1982), 113-45, here pp. 120 ff. Atkinson assumes that the origin of the "missa graeca" was linked with the first translation of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite by Hilduin of St. Denis. He dates the origin to ca. 827-35. But the valuable list of manuscripts published by Atkinson points to the last third of the ninth century and to the monastery of St. Amand. 

The "missa graeca" in St.Gall may well date from the end of the ninth century as well, the texts of which are transmitted in numerous manuscripts of the tenth and eleventh centuries (see Chapter VIII). The texts of the "Minden Troper" (which belong to the Berlin library, but are now in Cracow), written for Bishop Sigebert of Minden (1022-36), probably also come from St. Gall: "KYRIE o theos, Δoxa en ipsistis, πisteuuo, πatir imon, Agyos" and the agnus dei, all in Greek and Latin, in part with variant possibilities (cf. V.Rose, Verzeichniss der lateinischen Handschriften [of the Königliche Bibliothek in Berlin] [Berlin 1903], II/2, theol. qu. 11 = no. 694, pp. 684 ff:). MS Vienna 1888 (saec. X), which includes texts of the "missa graeca" (in part with neums), comes from St. Alban's in Mainz, the most important abbey of the Ottonian period in terms of liturgical history (H. J. Hermann, Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der illuminierten Handschriften in Österreich [Leipzig 1923], VIII/1, 185 ff.). A unique and splendidly designed "missa graeca" is found in the MS Dusseldorf D 2 (saec. X-XI), from the convent at Essen, which contains melodies (in part new) and a new interfusion of the Latin mass with Greek chant (Jammers, Die Essener Neumenhandschriften, esp. pp. 19-21 and pls. 8-9); I. Opelt, in Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 23 (1974), 77-88. In this manuscript, the "Cherubicon" -as an offertory- appears for the first time: I ta cherubin mysticos Iconizontes.... In England there are also traces of the "missa graeca"; cf: W. H. Frere, The Winchester Troper (London 1894), pp. xxvi f (bibliog.), and E. Bishop, Liturgica Historica (Oxford 1918), pp. 140 ff. One peculiarity here is a Greek litany, which, according to Bishop, goes back to the Byzantine era of Rome; the most important manuscript is the "Psalter of King Aethelstan" (d. 941) from Winchester, now London, BL Cotton Galba A XVIII: fols. 199v-200r, the aforementioned litany; fol. 200rv, a Greek paternoster, credo, and sanctus (incomplete). On the manuscript, see also Caspari, "Über den gottesdienstlichen Gebrauch," pp. 5 f. 

This selection from several of the manuscript sources important in the history of the "missa graeca" demonstrates clearly that the "missa graeca" had its high point from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. Up to the present, evidence from the late Middle Ages has come only from St. Denis, where, in the Renaissance, Guillaume Budé was set to revising the texts and where the "missa graeca" survived until the Revolution -in a revived, Baroque form. The later history of the "missa graeca" is, however, not entirely restricted to St. Denis: around 1500 this form of the liturgy again appeared in Germany -in Würzburg, for example, where it attracted the attention of Conrad Celtis and served him as evidence of an unbroken Greek tradition in Germany:

Graecorum linguam gensque hodierna tenet.

Nam faciunt lingua Graecorum sacra quotannis

Et templum Argolicis personat omne modis ...

[And the people of our day hold fast the language of the Greeks. For they carry out their religious services in the language of the Greeks, and the entire church resounds with Argolian melody

Conrad Celtis, Amores I 12, 42-44, ed. F. Pindter (Leipzig 1934), p. 24. On this subject, see also Pralle, Würzburger Diözesangeschichtsblätter 16/17 (1954-55), 360, and Μ. Hoffmann, "Nachlese zum Problem des 'Missa Graeca' in Würzburg und Bamberg," Würzburger Diözesangeschichtsblätter 26 (1964), 140-47. Hoffmann took the erroneous designation of a baptismal scrutiny (in a Bamberg manuscript of the fifteenth/sixteenth century) as Officium Missae Graecae to be just cause for regarding the "missa graeca" collectively as a late mystification of the Graeca in the catechumenal liturgy: "The Greek of the 'missa graeca' is due to the Greek credo, which was occasionally used, and to severa1 other linguistic scraps, laboriously learned for the sake of the traditio symboli [the catechumenal liturgy]. To see in them a version of the mass entirely in Greek -such an assumption is based on no liturgical manuscripts and no credible evidence and remains the postulation of an excessive Philhellenism" (p.147). This erroneous judgment (which neglects the manuscript tradition and the research literature) and the omission of the "missa graeca" from J.A. Jungmann's Missarum Sollemnia illustrate the need for a clarifying and comprehensive treatment of the "missa graeca,"which would have as its task the differentiation of the baptismal scrutiny and "missa graeca," scholarly and liturgical traditions, precursors, fundamental form and later developments. The U.S. musicologist Charles Μ.Atkinson has published lists of sixty manuscripts of the "missa graeca" and related texts, which now provide the basis of such research (in 'O amnos tu theu': The Greek Agnus dei in the Roman Liturgy from the Eighth to the Eleventh Century," 7-30, and "Zur Entstehung und Überlieferung," pp. 113-45).

Μany liturgical texts survived in the West exclusively in Latin translation; it is often difficult to prove that they are translations from Greek, if no clear indication of Greek origin, such as the incipit with Hodie (CHMEPON), is present.18 The Marian antiphon Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, which leads to the pictorial image of the Madonna of Mercy and which circulated in the West from the ninth century on at the latest, is an example of a famous Latin text which was recognized as a translation from Greek only after a fourth-century papyrus with the Greek text was found:19

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus sancta dei genitrix
nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus
sed a periculis libera nos semper
virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

[We take refuge in your protection, holy mother of God, that you might not disregard our prayers in times of need, but free us from danger always, glorious and blessed virgin.]

The Alleluia of the Roman mass, with versicle, is of Greek origin and was most likely introduced in the second half of the seventh century under the Eastern popes via Constantinople or Syria;20 the famous Alleluia versicle of the third Christmas mass, Dies sanctificatus, is translated from Greek:21  

Dies sanctificatus illuxit nobis

venite gentes et adorate Dominum

quia hodie descendit lux magna super terram.

[The holy day has dawned for us. Come all peoples and praise the Lord, for today the great light has descended to earth.]

This Alleluia was sung in Latin, in Greek (Ymera agiasmeni), in both 1anguages, and with Gregorian and Greek melodies, with the greatest of variety. 

There were also hymns and tropes translated from Greek, such as the Hymnos Akathistos (perhaps translated in St. Denis), an ode composed by Romanos Melodos -which, as the Latin Grates nunc omnes, became the most famous Christmas sequence of the Middle Ages- and the O quando in cruce of the Beneventan liturgy.22 

The most conspicuous evidence of the medieval effort to incorporate Greek into the Latin liturgy is to be found in the ceremony for the dedication of a church, in which the bishop drew with his staff the Greek and Roman alphabets in the form of a reclining cross (X) on the floor of the church. This rite is first documented in an eighth-century ordo, according to which the Latin alphabet is inscribed.23 Even the Tractatus de dedicandis ecclesiis, attributed to Remigius of Auxerre (d.ca. 908), bases its interpretation on the Latin alphabet.24

What it signifies, that the bishop writes the alphabet on the floor.

Having duly finished these things  the bishop should begin to write the alphabet on the floor with his staff, beginning in the left corner in the east and proceeding to the right corner in the west, and begin again there in the same manner. ...This might seem a childish game, if it were not believed that it was established by great and saintly men, that is, the Apostles. ... What else is to be understood in the alphabet than the first principles and rudiments of sacred doctrine [initia et rudimenta doctrinae sacrae]. Thus even Pau1 says reprovingly to the Hebrews: For you who should be teachers for the time again need to be taught what the elements of the world and the first principles of God's word are ... [elementa mundi et exordia sermonum dei; cf.Heb. 5: 12: elementa exordii sermonum dei (Vulgate); τα στοιχεία της αρχής των λογίωv του θεού (Septuagint)].

Hence it follows that the subject here is more than a "learned and yet naive" ceremony ("gelehrte und doch naive," Gardthausen), for the ancient στοιχεία doctrine lives on here -the alphabet as symbol of the world,25 which, through the form X of the dedication symbol, also represented Plato's symbol of the cosmos "chi," which the Latin Middle Ages also knew from the Timaeus.26  

Since two crossed rows of letters had to be drawn, it was only natural to provide the doubled sign of the cosmos with still a third symbol -the "ecumenical symbol" of multilingualism. The use of the Roman and the Greek alphabets in the dedication rite is fιrst documented in the "Pontificale Romano-Germanicum" (probably produced in the second half of the tenth century at St. Alban's in Mainz).27