SP @ 10: Benedict XIV and sacred music

Facistol y órgano
Facistolium and organ in the church of San Agustín in Intramuros

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. To celebrate this milestone, having a soft spot for namesakes, we find the occasion opportune to release our full English translation of the landmark encyclical on ecclesiastical discipline and church music issued by Benedict XIV on 19 February 1749: Annus, qui hunc. (The repository of documents we have curated is here.) Unlike Saint Pius X’s Tra le sollecitudini, whose English and even Latin translations are already available online, the only full translation of Annus, qui hunc we have seen so far is Italian.

The encyclical is rather long and, while its tenor is chronologically situated close to the Jubilee Year of 1750, it surprises us with how current the problems it raises are. For example, when Benedict XIV states that there is no other evidence of a bishop’s bad administration besides his own priests going about in ugly clothing celebrating Mass haphazardly, aren’t we reminded of those vacationing Filipino priests who say Mass in shorts and flipflops? Or, when he condemns music that merely sounds more like an accompaniment to dance and theatre rather than to prayer, aren’t we reminded of those Masses where the sacrilege of dance itself was incorporated in the very heart of the Liturgy?

Via Crucis in the Colosseum
The Stations of the Cross erected during the Jubilee Year of 1750 by Saint Leonard of Porto Maurizio, four years before being pulled down by the new Italian government in 1874.
Benedict XIV
Benoît XIV | Pierre Subleyras | 1740

Cardinal Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, the future Benedict XIV, was known to be a consummate intellectual, hailed as one of the greatest scholars of Christendom, and his encyclical, published nine years into his papal reign, just shows that. He synthesised his arguments from at least three Ecumenical Councils and seven local Synods, two collections of documents, four Doctors of the Church, five popes, six cardinals (including himself), two archbishops and four bishops, six monks, five canons, seven priests, one deacon, one musicologist, two musicians (who were choirmasters of the Papal Chapel), one scientist, one philologist, and one divine. Religion-wise, Benedict XIV quoted six Jesuits, five Benedictines, three Dominicans, two Cistercians, and two Oratorians. He only went as far as to quote an Anglican divine to drive home his point about the necessity to distinguish between the music that is churchworthy and that which is not, and this he did with a disclaimer that the source was heterodox, and on a section that referenced Saint Augustine.

We will not go as far as to provide a review of this encyclical, however delicious the prospect appears to us, if only to juxtapose it against the recent irreversibile speech, which, incidentally, is also noteworthy for the selectivity of its bibliography. But indulge us with this one whim. See below a rough structural outline of the encyclical:

SECTION LEVEL TOPIC
0 Introduction Upcoming Holy Year
1 Objective I State and upkeep of churches
2 Objective II Time and fulfilment of the obligation to recite the Divine Office
3 Objective III Sobriety of polyphonic and organ music
4 III-Auth-A Authorities who disapprove the use of polyphonic music
5 III-Auth-B Authorities who approve the use of polyphonic music
6 III-Auth-C Authorities who propose a distinction between theatrical and ecclesiastic music
7 III-Mus Theatrical vs. Ecclesiastic music
8 III-Mus-A Singing proper to churches
9 III-Mus-B Method and rationale of singing in church
10 III-Mus-C Musical instruments permitted in churches
11 III-Mus-C-1 Instruments tolerated in churches
12 III-Mus-C-2 Sound, as accompaniment to singing, tolerated in churches
13 III-Mus-C-3 Sound, by itself, tolerated in churches
14 Synthesis I Application of the law
15 Synthesis II Propriety of priestly attire

One more thing. We might have gotten too carried away with the references. The footnotes that we added are as kilometric as the encyclical itself.

Annus qui hunc LTAnnus qui hunc EN

Ut quae prava sunt, corrigantur ; quae infirma, curentur ; quae mala, amoveantur.

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