The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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The Ascension of Agnes

Canisius | 21 January, 2006 04:20

In vol. 3, p. 364-9, Gueranger offers a hymn from Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. He remarks that it is "quite long", but in fact what he gives us is only the portion used in the Mozarabic breviary for the feast of St. Agnes: the original poem was a much longer work that honored many different martyrs, although the part about St. Agnes is said to be one of the best.

I was quite struck by several scenes in the poem, but most particularly the scene where Agnes ascends into heaven. It is very well done, and ends the poem on exactly the right note of triumph.

Jewish and Christian literature has a long tradition of having holy folks ascend into heaven. The short note in Genesis 5:24 about how Enoch was "taken away" by God was worked up into a much more detailed legend in which he ascends to heaven to be enthroned above the angels. Elijah was taken up into heaven, and an early Christian legend tells about the ascension of Isaiah. There was even a pagan version: Cicero wrote about a fellow who ascended into heaven in his well-known Dream of Scipio.

I may be wrong on this, but my recollection is that the Jewish and Christian ascension stories focus on what the character sees in heaven as he ascends through various realms; the Dream of Scipio is different in that it focuses on what Scipio sees on the earth behind him, and how his new vantage point makes the might empire of Rome seem rather trivial. Given this similarity to the bit about Agnes in today's poem, and given that Prudentius was prone to imitating classical Roman authors, I would bet money that his Agnes poem echoes the Dream of Scipio. But if you compare them, you can see that he has thoroughly Christianized it--it really is a masterful bit of work!


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