A debut book provides a blend of scholarship and creative translation focusing on Christianity’s formative years.
Though contemporary Christians of all types are used to singing hymns in church, the praise song has a history in the Judeo-Christian tradition going back perhaps four millennia, existing in the earliest biblical texts; scholars find it in the first Psalms, Exodus, and arguably even Genesis. Glendinning offers a sturdy contribution to this tradition in these new English renderings of Christian hymns from the Middle Ages. Some are reworked from Latin originals by giants of the ecclesiastical tradition; Thomas Aquinas is here, as are Abelard, Ambrose, and Bonaventura. Others come from dimmer stars in the pantheon, among them Fulbert of Chartres, Marbod of Rennes, and Alan of Lille. But each of these verses earns its place in this volume. Here is the end of a lauds song by Aquinas: “O Lamb of God, salvation’s grace, / That opens for us Heaven’s door, / We know the throes that all must face, / O bide with us, our strength restore!” And here is a piercing stanza from the lesser-known Paulinus of Aquileia: “Like teeming olive trees of God, the two, / A candelabrum’s fervent arms of gold, / Two luminaries lighting Heaven’s sky, / They loose and cast aside the chains of sin, / Unlock the gates of Paradise anew.” Glendinning is right to point out that both of these passages—along with many others in this valuable, satisfying compendium—engage a common theme: the urge to “prepare one’s soul for eternity.” And this shared concern acts as a narrow ribbon lacing together these 40-odd poems from roughly 1,000 years of religious history. But as remarkable as Glendinning’s work as a translator is, the academic writing here is even more impressive. In an extended introduction and brief prefaces to each set of hymns, the author presents historical context, formal analysis, and his own translation theory. Even better, he rolls out all this worthy material without the unnecessarily complicated jargon that mars many similar scholarly volumes.
A substantive, streamlined look at early Christian poetry and music.