16.06.18, Knibbs, ed. and trans., On the Liturgy

Main Article Content

Christopher Jones

The Medieval Review 16.06.18

Knibbs, Eric, ed. and trans. Amalar of Metz, On the Liturgy, Volumes I (Books 1-2) and II (Books 3-4). Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 35 and 36. Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 2014. pp. xxxvi, 537 and 694. ISBN: 9780674060012 and 9780674417038 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Christopher Jones
Ohio State University

The Frankish scholar Amalar, or Amalarius, of Metz rose to prominence late in Charlemagne's reign and died around 850. His various writings pursue a single end: to uncover through allegorical exposition the order (ratio) beneath the words, gestures, and physical objects of Christian liturgy. He was not the first person to read the liturgy allegorically, but he was, it seems, the first western author to attempt to do so on a nearly comprehensive scale. His longest and best-known work, the Liber officialis ("Book on the Liturgy"), had a complex history that was not well understood until Jean-Michel Hanssens prepared the first critical edition for his Amalarii episcopi Opera liturgica omnia (Studi e Testi, 138-140; Vatican City, 1948-1950). Hanssens concluded that Amalar himself extensively revised the Liber officialis at least twice, adding new material and altering earlier passages in light of fresh discoveries. Hanssens chose to print the final authorial revision (or "third edition") as the principal text. But that version was never as well known as the prior two--possibly because Amalar completed it only shortly before a synod in 835 condemned his works for alleged theological errors. The controversy cut short Amalar's career as a prelate, but it did not arrest his influence in the longer term. The Liber officialis left its mark on almost every subsequent liturgical commentator down to the twelfth century.

In the modern era, Amalar's work has fascinated readers with a range of interests. Naturally, historians of liturgy have mined his writings, but the Liber officialis has also drawn attention from scholars of medieval spirituality as well as historians of art, architecture, and literature. Given the breadth of interest in Amalar, Eric Knibbs has performed a useful service merely by attempting the first complete English translation of the Liber officialis. The task called for expertise in several specialties, with an extra dose of perseverance: Knibbs's translation, together with the Latin plus notes and bibliography, runs to more than 1200 pages and fills two thick volumes in the new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series (hereafter DOML). The Latin provided here is the complete third-edition Liber officialis based closely on the critical text by Hanssens, albeit with many adjustments to the punctuation and some to the wording. A few of the latter changes require discussion below, but it seems better to focus initially on the translation, since that is bound to be the main draw of the books for many who consult them.

Scholars as well as general readers interested in liturgical tradition will have reasons to welcome an affordable text and translation of Amalar's greatest work, despite the fact that problems of several kinds make Knibbs's publication less reliable and less useful than it had potential to be. In a review such as this, it is important to acknowledge from the start that DOML volumes are not conceived as full-service scholarly editions. Their purpose is to make important medieval texts, with facing-page translations and minimal explanatory notes, available to a readership that is not restricted to academic specialists. (Here I should disclose that I serve on the editorial board for one DOML subseries, but not the one in which Knibbs's volumes appear; at no time did I have any role in their production.) Because DOML volumes aim to serve a range of readers, some of whom will not be able to construe the original languages, it is all the more important that the translations be accurate and as lucid as possible. Through many parts of On the Liturgy, Knibbs does show himself an able translator with a good grasp of how allegorical exegesis works at the sentence level. Too often, however, the accuracy and clarity of the translation are uneven. The following paragraphs offer examples of only the more significant kinds of problems that I happened to note, and the list, while long, is far from exhaustive.

Given the dependence of Amalar's thought on detailed knowledge of the liturgy, the translator's most consequential mistakes occur where he appears not to have understood the liturgical frame of reference. In Lib. off. 1.25.2 (1:242/243), for example, Amalar is discussing the priest's exorcism of the baptismal water at the Easter Vigil: "Quali ignominia dignus sit hospes aquae expelli per suam insufflationem sacerdos monstrat [...]." Not recognizing insufflatio as a technical term for the priest's blowing on the water, Knibbs translates, "The priest shows with how much dishonor this water guest deserves to be expelled because of his pride [...]." About the Easter Vigil Mass itself Amalar says (1.31.11 [1:296/297]), "Vice mulierum [scil. at the empty tomb] iterum Agnus Dei reticent cantores," which Knibbs renders, "Playing the role of the women, the cantors sing the Agnus Dei a second time," apparently confusing reticent with recitent, even though the context of the fuller passage makes clear that the point here is the omission of the Agnus Dei. (Knibbs has a note on this passage that further confuses the issue and wrongly ascribes the whole mistaken interpretation to Hanssens.) A final example touches three different points in the translation where Amalar discusses the wearing of chasubles by deacons: the first instance, in the proem beginning "Postquam scripsi" 21 (1:16/17), is translated adequately, but the supporting note (at 1:496) betrays a misunderstanding of the passage, as do the text and translation at 2.19.3 (1:458/459): Amalar there says (in Knibbs's edition), "Casula dupla est: post tergum inter humeros et ante pectus"; Knibbs has "The chasuble is twofold: over the back between the shoulders and over the chest." Hanssens's punctuation, omitting the colon, was preferable, with dupla an attributive rather than predicative adjective. Both this and the aforementioned passage from the proem "Postquam scripsi" refer to the wearing of chasubles folded over (dupla as here, duplicata in some other sources) and slung diagonally across the chest and back; see, e.g., Braun, Die liturgische Gewandung (Freiburg, 1907), pp. 166-167. The same custom is probably also indicated in Amalar's description of the deacon as "girded by" (circumcinctus--Knibbs loosely translates "wearing") the chasuble in 2.21.9 (1:467).

I count more than a dozen additional places where the translation either misinterprets or obscures consequential references to liturgical details. In many more instances, however, mistakes in translating the Latin are of more mundane kinds: e.g., for 1.11.10 (1:99) "Pro utrisque mortuus est Christus," Knibbs has, "Christ died in both respects" where Amalar intends "Christ died for the sake of both [body and soul]." Or, at 4.21.6 (2:451), Knibbs takes Amalar's "ut doceant [scil. cantores] malum conventum vitare suos" as "to teach that evil company shuns its own" instead of, correctly, "to teach their followers to avoid evil company." At 1.14.19 (1:183), the quotation of Sedulius ("Splendidus auctoris de vertice fulget eous") becomes "The founder's glittering eastern star shines from the summit" instead of "The star of the east shines radiantly from the top of the Creator's head" (and note the last line of the Latin should read creantis, not creatis, a typo, and this quotation is from Carmen paschale 5.190-194, not 5.5.190-194 as stated in Knibbs's note).

It is necessary to restate that these are just a few examples among numerous errors made where the Latin is not especially difficult. In some passages where the Latin is inherently more challenging, the problem is less that the English version errs than that it tries to pass off unsuccessful guesswork as something more assured. Thus at 1.15.3 (1:186/187), where Amalar writes, "Et sic tandem manducemus et bibamus saluberrimum illud sacramentum--non iam pransi, quod apostoli fecerunt in caena Domini, sed ieiuni," Knibbs apparently takes pransi and ieiuni for second-declension nouns, yielding the curious statement: "And so at last we will eat and drink that most healthful sacrament--which does not now consist of the meal that the apostles celebrated at the Lord's supper, but rather of a fast." The correct and very different sense is "And so, not having already dined, as the apostles did at the Lord's Supper, but rather having fasted let us finally eat and drink that most healthful sacrament." Similarly in 2.13.8 (1:432/443), for "Comites non dedignentur esse quod duces fuerunt," Knibbs has "They are not disdained as mere counts, or companions, because they were dukes, or leaders." From the context (on the habit of certain apostles' styling themselves mere "priests" instead of "bishops"), a more plausible rendering is "Members of a retinue should not disdain to be what their leaders were." Knibbs has a note on this paragraph, but it sheds no light on his enigmatic translation.

Other obscurities that the translation neither resolves nor candidly acknowledges include 1.36.1 (1:322/323), where Amalar quotes Augustine's Ep. 55 to Januarius: "'Quadragenarius autem partibus suis computatus addit ipsum denarium, et fiunt quinquaginta.'" The Latin is unclear; Knibbs offers "Now the number forty, computed by its multiples, adds ten to itself and they make fifty," without comment on the sense here or when Amalar uses the same quotation again in 4.29.1 (2:513). (The meaning is perhaps "Now, forty, converted to a sum of its factors, gains ten [with an allusion also to the "denarius" paid to the Laborers in the Vineyard], and forty and ten together make fifty"; but this solution only works if forty is not included among its own factors.) Another example of a real crux smoothed over is in 2.6.2 (1:400/401), where Knibbs translates "alii [scil. clerics in minor orders] vero intra diaconium illa praeparant quae ad diaconi pertinent ministeria" as "and others among the diaconate prepare those things that pertain to the ministry of the deacon." This section is discussing clerics below the rank of deacon, however, so describing them as "among the diaconate" seems contradictory. Perhaps diaconium here has its rare sense "sacristy" (as if diaconicum; see s.v. in Du Cange and the Thesaurus linguae latinae)?

Along with its mistakes and evasions, the translation sometimes makes choices that, while not absolutely wrong, seem to invite misunderstanding, especially from general readers. "Pontiff" throughout 2.14 (from 1:438/439) will mean "pope" to most modern audiences, not "bishop" as Amalar intends. Many may find jarring the decision to translate Latin sacramentum, a word occurring often in the text, as Modern English "sacrament" almost invariably. The justification that Knibbs gives for doing so (see 1:xxvi-xxvii) is understandable, but the practice leads to some unnecessarily opaque English sentences. Another defensible but at times counterproductive choice is the reliance on the Douay-Rheims version for rendering scriptural quotations and echoes. Many medievalists endorse such a policy, but it is surely preferable not to rely on Douay-Rheims when the latter is obscure or bizarre. Knibbs claims not to follow the policy slavishly (1:xxvi), but Douay-Rheims phrasing in the translations of 3.29.10 (2:206/207), 3.30.4 (2:212/213), and especially 4.9.18-19 (2:392/393) halts the puzzled reader in his tracks. At other places, simple inconsistency in matters of translation has obscured the recurrence of an allegorical motif (e.g., denarius, sometimes rendered "(the number) ten," sometimes "penny," neither of which will effectively convey to most modern readers the allusion that is usually intended to the parable in Matthew 20).

On rare occasions, problems in Knibbs's translation arise from too ready an acceptance of Hanssens's text, which was certainly a very good edition but not infallible. The major instance is in 3.41.1 (2:248/249), where Knibbs, closely following Hanssens, has

(The cross inserted after caelebrarentur was Amalar's way of marking the end of quoted matter; Hanssens included these crosses, and Knibbs retains them.) Knibbs's translation of this passage perpetuates a confusion arising from Hanssens's mispunctuation: "Ut opinor" etc. belongs in sense with the preceding fact about Telesphorus, while "in eadem Nativitate" ought to begin a new sentence on the topic of the second Mass of Christmas. Similarly, misled by Hanssens's comma in 2.2.3 (1:374/375 "cui subicitur corpus, ad regendum ex quattuor elementis"), Knibbs proposes "The body is subjected to this spirit, to be governed through the four elements" instead of "The body, made from four elements [...] is subordinated to the spirit in order to be governed by it." Overreliance on the critical edition for its annotations, too, has caused Knibbs to miss the occasional biblical echo that Hanssens failed to identify. Simply knowing that a scriptural allusion is at work would reassure the reader who meets in the translation such otherwise mystifying phrases as in 1.7 (1:67) "we trained in the forum" (better: "we have played in the marketplace," echoing Luke 7:32 and Matthew 11:16-17); or 1.12.12 (1:113) "because the principal spirit is bestowed" (the allusion is to Psalm 50:14); or 1.38.4 (1:341) "before seven women took hold of one man" etc. (see Isaiah 4:1).

If Knibbs has sometimes trusted Hanssens too much, at other times he has not trusted him enough, proposing unnecessary emendations to the latter's text. Some of these instances are minor, but at least two yield translations that depart substantially from Amalar's intended meaning. The first is in 1.35.9 (1:322/323): "In diebus Quadragesimalibus ante Pascha informat eos sancta ecclesia qui proprie paenitentes vocantur, excepto quod non excommunicantur, et ad manus reconciliationis episcoporum non redit nisi in fine." The word nisi is Knibbs's addition, who translates: "In the days of Lent, before Easter, the holy church represents those who are properly called penitents, but not those who are excommunicated. And it does not return to the hands of the reconciliation of the bishops, except at the end of Lent." In part, the problem is Amalar's peculiar usage of the verb informare as part of his allegorizing vocabulary; here it means something like "to create a form/pattern [for someone]" (see s.v. in Hanssens's index). With that sense recovered, the text makes better sense as it stood in Hanssens, without Knibbs's nisi: "In these days of Lent that precede Easter, the holy church establishes [i.e., by fasting and self denial] a pattern for those persons who are termed 'penitents' in the actual sense, except that [members of the church] are not excluded from communion, and the church does not return at the end of Lent to seek forgiveness from the bishops' hands." The second instance of a significantly wrong emendation is in 2.26.2 (1:484/485), where Knibbs's opaque rendering "The line of the shoe is the prohibition of the feet from hastening to evil" arises from his incorrect emendation Calciamenti linea. Restore Hanssens's reading Calciamenta linea and translate "Linen bindings for the feet" (this passage is clarified by Amalar's earlier allegory in 2.18.3).

There are other, less consequential examples of mistaken emendation (e.g., in 1.12.41 and 1.23.2). In at least two more cases, the departures from Hanssens's text are not only unneeded but not indicated as changes in Knibbs's "Notes to the Text." Thus in 1.41.1 (1.362/363) he prints Contingit for Hanssens's Contigit but translates as if assuming the latter form and does not register Contingit as an emendation. More noticeably, at 4.34.3 (2:556/557) Knibbs prints "morti obnixae mori nos debere" (translating "that we ought to die to the death that has struggled against us"), where Hanssens has the less jarring "morti obnoxiae mori nos debere" ("that we should die to servile death"). If an emendation to Hanssens is thought necessary here, obnixe (adverb) would seem preferable and is a variant actually attested in one of Amalar's earlier editions.

The unwarranted changes to Hanssens draw attention to further small but nagging problems in the presentation of the Latin text. DOML volumes do not allow full critical apparatus but only brief "Notes to the Texts" at the end of the book. Knibbs's stated intentions for his textual notes are that they indicate (1) places where Hanssens emended conjecturally against all the manuscripts and (2) places where Knibbs departs from Hanssens's text. The latter category includes not just the unneeded emendations mentioned above, but, far more often, alterations to Amalar's lengthy quotations of the church Fathers. Hanssens tried to reconstruct those quotations as Amalar copied them out, corruptions and all. Knibbs states that the cleanup of such passages by consulting modern critical editions has been undertaken "only when necessary for the translation" (1:487). In practice, the interventions are more frequent and sometimes occur where Amalar's form of the quotation made acceptable sense already. Such editorial excess can have minor but real consequences, when doctoring Amalar's quotations obscures how he understood his sources. This objection could be raised to Knibbs's changes in quotations at 1.12.47, 1.27.27, 2.2.9, and 2.5.2, but I will quote just one example, from the long excerpt of Jerome's Ep. 77 to Oceanus quoted in 1.12.40 (1:136/139). There Knibbs changes Hanssens's text in no fewer than four places, even though at all four points the grammar posed no insuperable problems, and three of the four changes subtly alter what Amalar would have understood Jerome to be saying. Here, slightly abridged, is the relevant sentence from Jerome as Hanssens reconstructed it:

In addition to several adjustments of punctuation, Knibbs restores four readings from modern editions of Jerome's letter (I insert angled brackets here simply to highlight the changes): "[...] saccum indueret, errorem publice fateretur [...] episcop et presbyteris et omni populo conlacrimanti, spars, ora lurida, squalidas manus, sordida colla submitteret?" (Actually, Knibbs prints sparsum crimen, taking over a typographical error from Hanssens's notes, but he translates correctly as "hair.") Admittedly, the differences are small; but since the quotation as Amalar gave it poses no real difficulties, why change it at all--especially if doing so effaces the small but interesting details that, for example, Amalar's Jerome seemed to describe a public penitential liturgy involving multiple bishops, or that he imagined sympathetic laments rising from the crowd but not from the officiating clergy?

My focus so far has been on the accuracy of the translation; I have dealt with problems in the Latin text mainly in so far as they register noticeably in the translation. The final issue to be addressed, however, is the accessibility of Knibbs's work even when his English rendering is free from errors. This point matters especially in view of the mission of DOML to open up medieval texts for non-scholarly audiences and for academics reading outside their areas of expertise. In Amalar's case, the hard truth is that even a perfectly accurate translation will often not suffice to communicate his meaning clearly. His lines of reasoning can be extremely difficult to follow, whether because he supposes that minutiae of the liturgy are entirely familiar to his readers, or because his arguments routinely leave unexpressed this or that step in their logic. What the Liber officialis requires, along with a solid translation, is patient commentary explaining the liturgical frames for Amalar's allegories and making overt the links in his thought. The need for such handholding is, unfortunately, somewhat at odds with the general format of DOML, which only allows for relatively brief introductions and notes. The volume-editor has to make careful choices, weighing what kinds of information will most benefit readers who consult those parts of a DOML book. Knibbs has in fact struck just the right balance in his introduction covering Amalar's career and the character of the Liber officialis. While concise and accessible to a general audience, these opening pages offer more specialized readers a well-informed review of opinions on Amalar's canon and the controversies that led to his downfall after 835.

By contrast, it is often hard to conceive what audience the appended "Notes to the Translation" are addressing. Even if these notes could not, for reasons of space, amount to a full commentary, they might have gone much farther than they do to help readers at many points. As they stand, these notes mainly identify Amalar's patristic sources and give references to modern editions of liturgical texts that he mentions. Nearly all such notes derive from annotations in Hanssens's critical edition. Knibbs acknowledges the debt and offers in his introduction an overview of the liturgical sources cited (1:xxvii-xxviii). The notes themselves, however, are often dead ends, giving a bibliographical citation only and not quoting the liturgical text on which Amalar's commentary depends. Such notes are, at best, conveniences for readers who are already knowledgeable about medieval liturgy, who read Latin well, and who have access to a major research library--in short, the kind of readers who could already get all this information about sources and liturgical analogues from Hanssens. Whoever approaches Knibbs's translation without a good grasp of the structure and general content of the medieval Mass and Office will need to keep close by a generous introduction to the topic such as Harper's Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy (1991) or Palazzo's History of Liturgical Books (1993; English trans. 1998).

The fact that the notes provide information that many a reader will not find useful is all the more frustrating when, as often, they also decline to address questions that readers will have about very basic matters of content. This difficulty is pervasive, but a single illustration will have to suffice. In 3.21.8 (2:138/141), Amalar is spinning out an allegory based on the concluding passage of the praefatio that leads into the Sanctus just before the Canon of the Mass (here, for simplicity, I omit Knibbs's embedded scriptural references):

Knibbs translates:

While anticipating what an audience will or won't understand is inevitably subjective, I cannot imagine that many readers who make it to the end of this passage in translation will have any grasp of what Amalar is arguing and why. It is not simply an issue of mistakes in the translation (e.g., instead of "they adore the sacrifice of the dominions [...] Those who are dominated are ruled," read "The sacrifice of the Dominions is adoration [...] They who hold dominion exercise rule"). The deeper problem is that the exegetical target of these comments is never made clear by Amalar or Knibbs. There are two "Notes to the Translation" for this passage (2:643). The first directs a reader to a separate treatise, possibly also by Amalarius, on the Canon of the Mass; if followed up, this reference is illuminating, but Knibbs gives no hint how so (and the treatise in question has never been translated into English). Knibbs's second note outlines the angelic hierarchy as described by Pseudo-Dionysius; the information, while generally relevant, does nothing to help a reader understand Amalar's point--which is to explain why the closing sentence of the Eucharistic preface names only some of the angelic orders explicitly (he maintains that the names mentioned include, implicitly, the rest of the orders as well). Perhaps this is how Knibbs has understood the passage, but neither his translation nor notes make it at all clear. A more accurate but also more directive translation of the whole passage is needed, accompanied by a note of explanation that also quotes and translates the Latin target text (from "maiestatem tuam laudant angeli" etc.).

The preceding example is not at all exceptional; much of the time a reader is left alone to try to follow the meandering exegesis. There are, to be sure, moments when Knibbs does offer effective annotation (explaining Amalar's appeals to Isidorean-style etymologies, for example). The notes also include, as a bonus, full texts and translations of the marginalia that an irate reader left in Paris, BNF nouv. acq. lat. 329, a copy of the Liber officialis that belonged to the cathedral library at Lyon, where Amalar's teaching provoked the most vehement attacks. This material (on which see Knibbs's introduction, 1:xxv-xxvi) is genuinely fascinating for the light it sheds on Amalar's downfall, and it has not been translated fully into English before. But, in view of how much more essential annotation is lacking from the notes, it is hard to ignore how much space they devote to quoting and translating these marginalia. The material itself is interesting but once again leads a reader to wonder about the rationale and audience for the notes as a whole.

Those who are already familiar with Amalar's writings will appreciate what a formidable challenge Professor Knibbs took on, and all readers can be grateful for his decision to publish the result in an affordable venue. Despite their shortcomings, the books should still have the desired outcome of introducing more readers to Amalar's work. Since so much effort has already gone into the two volumes, my own hope is that there might eventually be opportunity for a corrected and extensively revised re-issue that could address the kinds of problems sampled above.

Article Details