Annual lecture, Lent 2004, Sunday, March 28 by the Rev. P. Okke Postma, First Reformed Church, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
This text I received from Mr.Postma, pastor of a Reformed Church, who thought it might be interesting for me. It certainly is, and I saw no better way to show my gratitude than to incorporate it completely in my site. Beside a complete description of Dvořák’s life and his Stabat Mater you will find here some facts about the Stabat Mater and some thoughts about theology and Marian devotion. As it is a quite long essay, I have made an Index to make it easier to navigate through it. I have indicated also in which paragraphs the different movements of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater are discussed. Hans van der Velden
Introduction (including Third Movement)
The Form of the Poem
The Origin of the Poem
Versions of the Poem Stabat Mater Speciosa (including First and Second Movements
Theology (including Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Movements)
Mariology and Soteriology Soteriology (including Seventh and Eighth Movements)
Introduction When Anna married Antonín, a young struggling musician who aspired to be a composer, she had great hopes of having a life filled with song and music, and to be blessed with a large happy family. Soon, children were born, ultimately six would survive. But three of their babies died very young. Antonin would look at his wife’s face and see her grief that matched his own feelings of helplessness. As a Church musician, he played for liturgies that reflected on the grief of Mary, the mother of Jesus; her love tormented by grief at the foot of the brutal cross on which her son was crucified. Antonín could express his grief through his craft and began sketching movements of a large scale Stabat Mater. In fact, it was the submission and publication of this piece, and a few others, that would launch the musician’s career to achieving a firm place in the pantheon of enduring composers. The scale and scope of the soaring ending of the present composition is a witness to the faith of Anna and Antonín and an invitation to allow such music to be our companion in our own healing.
The Stabat Mater, Latin for “Mother standing” (at the foot of the cross, that is) is a late medieval poem that meditates on what Mary, the mother of Jesus, might have felt watching her son die. It is one of the many ways in which Christians reflect on the meaning and impact of the events of the last days of Jesus as described in the section of the biblical gospels known as the Passion of Christ. The entire season of Lent, the forty weekdays days before Easter, is part of the preparation for Holy Week which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Eve. The Stabat Mater poem was composed for devotional use on Good Friday. Through the centuries, composers have been inspired by the text of the Stabat Mater because of its dramatic character. More than 400 musical settings are in print. Early settings are by Josquin des Prés, famous for his early Renaissance Mass settings, by Palestrina (whose music embodies the highest form of the Gregorian chant tradition and the early polyphonic style) and Pergolesi (whose version of vidit suum dulcem natum / moriendo desolatum [she saw her sweet offspring dying desolate] is stunning. For today’s program a setting by Haydn, and even Rossini, was considered, but Dvořák won out because this year is the centenary of his death. His 1877 version is noteworthy for being the longest in duration: some ninety minutes in its entirety. His work is also interesting for theological reasons. It was composed shortly after the Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in 1869/70, where the evolving teaching on Mary was hotly debated on the heels of the formal elevation to dogma of the doctrine of Mary’s ‘immaculate conception’ in 1854. More about that shortly.
Let’s listen to one section of Dvořák’s work, stanza 9, Eia Mater [Oh, Mother]. It is the third movement in which no soloists are used. The full chorus makes the most of this lyric section. The key is C-minor; this after a first movement in B-minor and a second in E-minor. The Latin text is given first, then a literal translation, then a rhymed version (adapted from E. Caswell) that preserves meter and rhyme scheme of the original. Eventually, the text of the entire poem will be rendered in this manner.
|Eia Mater, fons amoris||Oh, Mother, fount of love||Fount of love and holy sorrow|
|Me sentire vim doloris||make me feel the power of sorrow||Mother, may my spirit borrow|
|Fac ut tecum lugeam||that I may grieve with you||of your grieving so profound|
Dvořák separates this stanza 9, from its rhymed pair, stanza 10. Instead, stanza 10 and 11 will be put together, only to give way to another singleton sung by the choir, stanza 12. In this way, Dvořák highlights the very heart of the entire work, stanza 9 through 12. He will use this same technique again to offset stanza 15. At the very end will we find another single stanza as the tenth and last movement, enhanced by a glorious Amen. But for now, let’s listen to this third movement, that begins the middle section.
The form The Stabat Mater is a poem of twenty stanzas of three lines each (tristiches), where each stanza is paired along an aab-ccb scheme. The rhythm of all the lines is short-long (trochaic). The meter is 8.8.7.; that means that the first and second line of each stanza have eight syllables and the third has only seven syllables, making the last downbeat an extra long one. This scheme helps memorization enormously, and fortuitously helps the later composers to maintain clarity of text when the music becomes polyphonic and more complex.
The origin It is not clear who wrote the original poem. Authorship has been ascribed to many, but the most frequently mentioned contenders are Pope Innocent III (ca 1160-1216), or Jacopone da Todi (died 1228-1306). By the end of the fourteenth century the poem was well known throughout the Church and began to show up in regional missals. This argues against authorship of pope Innocent, who moreover is known as “a great and cold intellect.” Indeed, the Roman breviary does not include it until 1727, as part of the “Feast of Seven Dolours of the Virgin Mary,” and restricts it’s use to Good Friday. The rubrics spilt the poem into three parts: the first ten stanzas are read at Vespers; at Matins, eleven through fourteen; and at Lauds, the rest. The rubrics for the actual Marian “feast day” by this name in September do not provide it; other hymns are used instead. The second named author, the Franciscan monk da Todi, could explain why the use of the poem spread through the Franciscan community to which he belonged. It certainly fits this order’s demonstrative and passionate spirituality, and its bend towards a mysticism that places great emphasis on immersion of the believer in the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. The problem is that da Todi’s other known poems are in his Umbrian dialect and only in mediocre Latin translations by him. This may be why the Franciscan’s great medieval theologian, Bonaventure, has also been suggested as a possible author. Exhaustive research by the German musicologist C. Blume suggests the author might have been the English monk John Pecham, who lived in southern France until 1270. It would explain why a chancellor of Genoa , an Italian city near France, mentions the use of the poem by flaggelists in his city in 1388 (see stanza 7, line 3) and also its use in processions in the Provence as early as 1399 by the “whites”, know as”Bianchi”, or “Albati.” None-the-less, if it was an Englishman, why was it never included in English missals? Was it because a very different version existed there, beginning with stanza 9? This version has only six more stanzas after the eighth, but with four lines of an 184.108.40.206 scheme, for a total of 24 lines, instead of the ‘Dvořák’ version of twelve more stanza’s of three lines for a total of 36 lines.
Versions As we will see, the Roman Church resisted making the poem part of official liturgical practices. The Contra-Reformation Council of Trent (1666) specifically excluded it from such use! Its propriety as claimed by the church catholic “everywhere and anywhere” was in serious doubt. Popular piety had made it well known, but any liturgical renewal needed to be carefully weighted against creeping heresy and experimentation. Even though some significant theological development of doctrine had take place with regards to Mary, it was the rather anarchic folk-piety of the Marian veneration that needed to be carefully channeled. More about that below. For now it is enough to say that the biblical basis for the poem points to John 19:25, “Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” This verse is followed by Jesus’ words: “woman, behold your son”, and to John “behold your mother”. Everything else, including the emotions involved and expressed in this ‘beholding’ are pure imagination. The Gospel section ends with “and from that hour the disciple took her into his own house.” Even Vatican I could not muster full agreement on the range of Marian liturgies, so the task was relegated to a committee. Thus it was not until 1908 that an ‘authoritative’ version was approved for inclusion in the Vatican Gradual. For our purposes we will use the early “Analecta” version (Analecta hymnica mediiaevi 1886-1922, 55 vols, a consolidation of the history and the texts of hymns of the Catholic Church from 500-1400; vol. 54, page 312) that Antonin Dvořák actually used (with but one local variation). This version had not yet incorporated changes that would eventually be published in the Vatican rubrics in 1908. It is doubtful whether Dvořák would have used it anyway, because certainly his musical fame is marked by embracing the authenticity and diversity of regional expression. The changes in the poem’s final editing by the Vatican seem rather subtle, but they are theologically interesting because they provide a peek at the process of change. All such changes (in stanzas 4, 13, 14, 16-18) strengthen the focus on either our own ‘participation’ in the suffering of Christ, or intensify Mary’s role and merit, instead of tending toward a more descriptive reflection. Stanza 19 was completely rewritten in this vein; an issue that also will be addressed later.
Stabat Mater speciosa For the sake of full disclosure, a few words about another poem that reflects on Mary, not on Calvary, but in Bethlehem. Biblically speaking, one would have expected a precursor to the Stabat Mater dolorosa, such as a more biblically inspired poem on the text of the infancy narrative as found in Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Not a mother dolorosa [grieving], but a mother speciosa [beautiful]. Although a 1495 version is in print, it was only with the growing interest in Marian piety that the speciosa was unearthed. It is extant in an unpolished version: the Latin is contorted in places, and the rhyme scheme is not adhered to strictly. The end result is that the parallelism is not only a mismatch in perfection of phrasing, but makes the antithesis of theme and thought a jarring experience. We will not pay further attention to this development, other than to mention that Liszt and Diepenbrock have put this poem to music that is currently available on CDs.
Before we will learn more about Antonin Dvořák, the composer of our Stabat Mater Dolorosa version today, let’s listen to the opening of this work, an orchestral introduction followed by the beginning of a choir section. The full text of the first four stanzas is given, followed by the next four stanzas of a second movement that we will not hear in this program. Keep in mind that in a typical performance a full exposition of this first movement in B-minor would last just short of twenty minutes!
|Stabat mater dolorosa||the grieving Mother stood||At the cross her station keeping|
|Juxta crucem lacrymosa||beside the cross, weeping||Stood the mournful mother weeping|
|Dum pendebat Filius||where her Son was hanging||Close to her Son to the last|
|Cujus animam gementem||through her sighing soul||Through her soul, of joy bereaved|
|Contristatem et delentem||compassionate and grieving||Bowed with anguish, deeply grieved|
|Pertransivit gladius||pierced by a sword||now the piercing sword had passed|
|O quam tristis et afflicta||o how sad and afflicted||Oh how sad and sore distressed|
|Fuit illa benedicta||was that blessed||Was that mother highly blessed|
|Mater unigeniti||Mother of the only-begotten||Of the sole-begotten one|
|Quae moerebat et dolebat||who mourned and grieved||O that silent ceaseless mourning|
|Et tremebat, cum videbat||and trembled looking at||O those dim eyes never turning|
|Nati pœnas incliti||her child with torment inflicted||From her dying suff’ring Son|
The second movement is set in E-minor. The poet seeks to include everyone, not as a mere spectator, but as people who will allow themselves to be genuinely deeply affected by what unfolds; feelings both for the one crucified and the agony of Jesus’ mother.
|Quis est homo qui non fleret||Who’s the person who wouldn’t weep||Who on Christ’s dear Mother gazing|
|Christi Matrem si vaderet||Christ’s mother thus seeing||steeped in mis’ry so amazing|
|In tanto supplico?||In such distress?||Born of woman, would not weep?|
|Quis non posset contristari||Who wouldn’t be able to share sorrow||Who on Christ’s dear Mother thinking|
|Christi Matrem contemplari||Contemplating the mother of Christ||Such a cup of sorrow drinking|
|Dolentem cum Filio?||Suffering with her Son?||Would not share her sorrow deep|
|Pro peccatis suæ gentis||For the sins of his people||For his people’s sins in anguish|
|Vidit Jesum in tormentis||she saw Jesus in torment||Seeing Jesus painful languish|
|Et flagellis subditum||and subdued with scourges||Bleeding and by scourges rent|
|Vidit suum dulcem natum||She saw her sweet offspring||She beheld her tender child|
|Moriendo desolatum||dying in forsakeness||Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled|
|Dum emisit spiritum||While he yielded His Spirit||Till His Spirit forth he sent|
The composer Antonín Dvořák was born on September 8, 1841 in the Bohemian town of Nelahozeves, near Vlatou, and not too far from Prague in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is now the Czech Republic. In 1904, he died in Prague, where he is buried. His road to fame was hard-earned. He was originally taught music by local schoolmasters. His interest in, and talent for music brought him to the Organ school in Prague (1857-59). He became organist in St Adelbert’s church in the New Town quarter of Prague, not a particularly prominent post. He taught music to daughters from rich families. Also a capable viola player, he played in several bands, and in a new orchestra that would become the orchestra of the new Bohemian Provisional Theater in Prague. The best known Czech musician of that era, Bedrich Smetana, became its director in 1866. All the while, young Antonín harbored a desire to become a composer. He submitted some pieces in application for government grants for artists, and received the Austrian State Stipendium three times! (1874, 1876 and 1877). These stipends allowed him more time to write various compositions. Johannes Brahms was the most famous of the judges of the Stipend. Brahms very much liked what he saw, and asked his own publisher to publish some of the works. Beside his Moravian Duets, Slavonic Dances and the Sixth Symphony (later numbered as such), the Stabat Mater was soon performed internationally. Remember, by then Dvořák was in his late thirties! While he had been working on the Stabat Mater, off-and-on, he and his wife Anna lost their first three children soon after birth. It is not difficult to imagine that Dvořák’s inspiration was not only gained by reflecting on the pain of the mother of Jesus, but by being torn by the pain on the face of the mother of his own three children they lost. Eventually, six children would survive
This meteoric publishing success led to many commissions, especially from the United Kingdom where oratorio societies welcomed music that was not “German.” He won England in 1883 with his Stabat Mater, and the next ten years would write major works such as the cantata The Spectre’s Bride, the oratorio Ludmilla and a Requiem, among many others. He received an honorary degree from Cambridge university. Dvořák consolidated his position as a leading composer by this steady output of symphonies, choral works and concertos. Toward the end of his life he focused mainly on opera’s (he would write ten of them) but they never reached the level of acclaim he achieved through his other music. He used themes and characteristics of Slavic music throughout, mined the Slavic music for archaic harmonic modes, characteristic modulations and melodic turn-arounds, one of which is the immediate repeat of the first bar of a new theme. He even invented a new form of a specific musical dance rhythm, the dumka (incorporated in his very popular Dumky Trio). His chief compositional ‘flaws’ are his over-discursive and repetitive manner, and a weakness in design in some larger works. “Such shortcomings, however, amount to little in the light of the astonishing fertility of his melody and the simplicity and directness with which he achieved his ends.” (David Lloyd-Jones, Encyclopedia Britannica). He was appointed to the faculty at the Prague Conservatory in 1891, at age fifty. Like Smetana, he was a Czech composer, but he took his themes from a much wider area. Musicologists place him in the Vienna and Romantic school, but his Slavic accents make him easy to identify. In that same year, a wealthy New York woman, Jeannette Thurber, invited Dvořák to come to New York to head “her” National Conservatory. After some hesitation, he accepted and served as Director from 1892-1895. He consented, because he was fond of the progress of civilization, and admired steamships, motor engines, as well as the energy of life in cities. Also, his salary increased from $500 a month to $15,000 a year… He moved to New York with his wife, Anna, and their two oldest children (age 14 and 9), while the four youngest stayed with Anna’s oldest sister in Prague. He taught composition, showing young American would-be composers the theory and practice of how to compose music by using regional or national themes, motifs and modulations. The folklore and songs of African and native Americans, and the music of the Appalachian region and the South, provided rich inspiration. Most notable of this period are his Symphony IX (called “The New World“), the String Quartet in F major (called “the American“), the Suite in A major, a famous Cello Concerto and his beloved miniature Humoresque in G-flat as part of a longer series. None of his students became famous, but they are the ones who created the environment that allowed a Gershwin, Copland and Ellington to grow. Dvořák continued his practice of spending major parts of the summer in rural areas to absorb the sounds and music of nature and ‘natural’ folks. Back home, it was in Vyoska, near Pribam, where he particularly enjoyed tending his pigeons; in the United States it was a summer-long residency in the Czech-American community in Spillville, Iowa, from where he visited Chicago, and St. Paul/Minneapolis in 1893. In the latter city he visited the Minnehaha Falls, because he wanted to set Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha to music. This did not happen, but we are told that he wrote some themes for his Violin Sonata on his shirt cuff. The famous slow cor anglais theme of the New World Symphony is from sketches about Minnehaha’s death. The summer was filled with music. Dvořák was a devout church musician as well, and played the organ at the St. Wenceslaus Church. All this immersion in his home culture made him homesick, and when some business disagreements with Mrs. Thurber arose, he returned to Europe in 1895. The last years of his life he fulfilled his dream of writing several full score Operas. While some of them are still performed, especially in his home country, they did not add significantly to his fame. In 1901 he became Director of the Prague Conservatory. He died in a somewhat operatic fashion. Always a train enthusiast, he went one morning to look at locomotives at the Prague railway station, came down with a chill and died on May 1, 1904.
From the above, it will be clear that the Stabat Mater is one of Dvořák’s earlier major works, remembering that he was 36 when it was finally published. Dvořák joined the ranks of the many composers who were inspired to write musical scores for this medieval poem. As we saw, personal circumstances may well have inspired this choice. Many are Renaissance versions, a few are late Baroque and Early Viennese School (e.g. Haydn). But the intensity of emotion of the piece make it understandable that two streams of music stand out: the Romantic period produced many attempts, especially in West and Central Europe, and the Opera genre gave rise to many Italian versions. Rossini composed a very dramatic and lyrical version that even in his day was felt to be somewhat excessively melodramatic. (Mel Gibson might have chosen this, instead of the surprising copy-cat tracks related to Scorcese’s movie the Temptation of Christ). During Dvořák’s life, the Church of Rome -while very much in favor of Marian devotion- was systematically tightening the interpretation of the widely diverging devotional practices and unauthorized teachings concerning Mary. This is part of the reason a Marian dogma was accepted at the first Vatican Council in 1854; it provided a theological litmus test, and provided a compass for the work of liturgical committees. As mentioned above, in 1908, the official Vatican version of the Stabat Mater finally saw the light. In a little while, we will look at some of the changes that were made from the version Dvořák had available.
Theology This brings us to some of the specifically theological issues. Before we take a look at some of the issues in what theologians call Mariology, and the larger scope of soteriology (the theology of how we shall be “saved”), we should listen to some of the remainder of the central part of the poem. We heard movement 3 (stanza 9, Eia Mater), and small parts of the first and second movement. We now will hear part of movement four, stanzas 10 and 11 that begins with a baritone solo, to be followed by the choir:
|Fac ut ardeat cor meum||Grant that my heart may burn||Make my heart to glow within me|
|In amando Christum Deum||In loving Christ the God||Loving God who came to win me|
|Ut sibi complaceam||That I may greatly please Him||Reading love in every wound|
|Sancta Mater, istud agas||Holy Mother grant me||Holy Mother, pierce me through|
|Crucifixi fige plagas||That the wounds of the crucified||In my heart each wound renew|
|Cordi meo valide||Drive deep in my heart||Deep as in your own they be|
We will also hear part of movement 5, the single stanza 12, Tui nati vulnerati which is written in a dance like swaying movement in the key of E-flat major and a 6/8 meter. It comes to a near halt, several times, as though we begin to realize what we are saying, “let me share your pain.” After a pause, determination takes over, and the plea is repeated.
|Tui nati vulnerati||That of your wounded Son||Your wounded Son for me was slain|
|Tum dignati pro me pati||who deigned to suffer for me||That from his suff’ring I might gain|
|Pœnas mecum divide||I may share the pain||Let me share the pain with thee|
We continue with the properly paired stanzas 13 and 14 in B major. This sixth movement features an echoing outline, where the choir follows a lyrical tenor: “let me truly weep with you.” From here on, we begin to see where the Vatican version made changes: the opening line becomes fac me tecum pie flere, [let me, pious one, weep with you]. The second line of stanza 14 is now supposed to read et me tibi sociare; no longer ‘freely to share‘, but a more specific and intimate ‘let me join with you.’
|Fac me vere tecum flere||Let me truly weep with you||Let me mingle tears with thee|
|Crucifixo condolere||bemoan the crucified||Mourning Him who died for me|
|Donec ego vixero||for as long as I live||Al the days that I may live|
|Iuxta crucem tecum stare||Beside the cross with you to stand||By the cross with thee to stay|
|Te libenter sociare||freely to share||There with thee to weep and pray|
|In planctu desidero||This is my desire||This of thee I ask to give|
It would be wrong to say that Dvořák treats the poem as steering away from Mary, as was sometimes done by those who had less sympathy for Marian devotion. Particularly some English translation librettos were clumsily ‘cleansed’ from ‘Roman’ sentiments. Indeed, Dvořák accents the uniqueness of Mary in the seventh movement, stanza 15, ‘Virgin of virgins,’ by treating it as a singleton, a structural move highlighting an important point, something we saw earlier in the key ninth and twelfth stanza. It is the only the chorus that sings the gentle hymn-like piece in A major. This shows great pastoral wisdom: grieving alone makes one more prone to bitterness; it is far better to lament with others. With stanza 9, it is the only movement in which soloists do not appear. It’s worth taking note of the fact that Dvořák uses more major keys than most composers in a piece such as this. It fits his song-full soul, and generally pleasant disposition.
This special treatment of a single stanza allows Dvořák to take stanza’s 16,17 and 18,19 as musical ‘pairs’ in spite of the rhyme scheme of each third line. This then, sets very much apart the very last three lines which end the piece. Let’s now listen to a few minutes to the beginning of Virgo virginum.
|Virgo virginum præclara||Chosen virgins of virgins||Virgin, you of virgin fairest|
|Mihi iam non sis amara||With me be not bitter||May the bitter woe thou bearest|
|Fac me tecum plangere||Make me weep with you||Make me share thy grief so deep|
Mariology and soteriology. Two questions can be raised. First, is it really possible for a ‘Protestant’ to sing this piece? And second, a question more central to the Christian faith, how is it that the suffering of One redeems all others? We will treat these two questions somewhat separately, but they are closely linked. This is certainly so in the case of the Stabat Mater itself, but also in all Marian developments. The official Roman Catholic teachings on Mary, and the practices of personal and communal Marian devotion are often seen among the greatest doctrinal stumbling blocks of further Christian unity. Between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church this is so with some degree, and between Protestants and the Roman Catholics to an even larger measure. For our purposes we will only say about the first division, that the understanding of Mary as Theotokos, [the bearer of God], is summed up in the Eastern tradition’s saying, “theotokos; not less, but also not more.” (The Old, or various National Catholics, agree with them on this; the sexton of the Gertrude cathedral of the Old- Catholics in Utrecht puts it like this: ‘Mary is Mother of God, no more, and no less’). For the purposes of our program, the story of the Western Church needs further comments. To begin with, a common Protestant dismissal of Marian devotion as a direct consequence of various pagan accommodations through the ages is not very helpful. Often mentioned are the Diana and Artemis divine mother cults in Ephesus, where Jesus’ mother likely lived for quite some time. Also noted are the Egyptian cults of ‘spontaneous’ germination of seed by sunlight (see Plutarch, Numen 4) and their touted ‘proximity’ efficacy of spiritual power. With regard to these notions, the Roman Church is very clear, that their doctrines and dogmas in this realm are not dependent on such pagan history and practices, but on theological and spiritual conceptions. It is not so much about singling out speculative possibilities as much as about deeper truths expressed in those teachings and devotions. Protestants, in wholeheartedly affirming the ecumenical creeds, accept the phrase ‘born of the Virgin Mary.’ However, the further development of further special theological characteristics (communicatio idiomata) with regard to Mary are problematic for non-Roman Christians. An intensification of notions about Mary’s role in God’s work within and among us parallels the much earlier disagreements about how to speak of the human and divine characteristics of Jesus Christ. Not only have there been changes over the centuries, the rate of change has also changed. To admit this, is a truly important step for the Roman Church, which has only gradually warmed up to this notion of development since the mid nineteenth century. It was a key reason for the Anglican bishop, John Henry Newman to revert to the Roman-Catholic Church. The Dutch theologian, Oepke Noordmans said of that action. ‘he was the best Protestant the Roman Church ever had.’ It was all-the-more shocking that the Vatican Council of 1869-70 was largely an reactionary attempt to stifle this ‘Protestant (and evolutionary) innovation.’ The most important safeguard that was thus put in place was the dogma of the infallibility of certain papal pronouncements. With regard to this notion of development of doctrine, the teaching that Mary was born without (original) sin clinging to her, turned into the dogma of the ‘immaculate conception.’ For our program it is noteworthy that this happened well after the year in which Dvořák was born. It was in the year 1854 that Pope Pius IX codified the teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception as dogma. According to Roman sources, this declaration was miraculously affirmed by the apparitions of Mary at Lourdes, in France. The ‘infallibility’ of such papal declarations was secured at Vatican I. Voices clamored for a further step, seeking a declaration of the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven as dogma as well. This is not an “Ascension”, but a “Resurrection of the Body”. The declaration came in 1950, pronounced by pope Pius XII.
The Reformed tradition has always acknowledged the special role of Mary as Jesus’ first true ‘disciple,’ and even ‘reformed’ because of her ‘let it be to me according to Your Word.’ Both Luther and Zwingli specifically agree with the title of Theotokos, and Calvin showed no need to dispute that designation, unlike many other Roman teachings. Calvin specifically underwrites the teachings of the Council of Ephese (431) and Chalcedon (451), in which this title was affirmed and then ratified. In fact, Mary’s response in Luke 1:38, ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your Word‘, is honored above all in the very name of churches that see themselves as Reformed ‘according to the Scriptures.’ Still – as I knew as a child growing up as a minister’s son in a Roman-Catholic town – we Protestants did not say the Ave Maria, nor did we have a rosary, or a Queen of Heaven. In fact, we knew that the Vulgate, the Latin ancient bible, had it all wrong when it translated Luke 1:28 as ‘Ave, gratia plena‘. For Gabriel did not say (in the Greek….) that Mary was ‘full of grace’, but that she was ‘abundantly graced.’ Grace is not hers to possess, but something that happened to her. In fact, the only time anyone in Scripture is ‘full of grace’, is when in Acts 7:55 (a book presumably written by the same author as Luke, so the phrase could have been used for Mary as well), deacon Stephen is declared exactly so filled, before he is stoned to death. Every Sunday, moreover, those who heard the Scripture reading in the ‘Protestant’ Church, would hear the promise of collectively so being graced through the standard closing of every reading. For in Luke 1:27 we read that when someone in the crowd around Jesus cried out, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,’ Jesus said, ‘Blessed rather are they that hear the Word of God and keep it‘ (Luke 11:28). That ‘rather‘ allowed us as kids to say, ‘take that!’ during occasional street arguments… During Advent we would hear the Magnificat, which seemed vaguely ‘Roman’ somehow, but it was always pointed out that Mary (if it was indeed Mary and not Elizabeth, originally) directed her praise to the Lord God without making her more meritorious. It was made clear, it is not Mary as an individual that finally matters. In fact, if anyone deserves praise (and virginity!), it is Joseph! Catholic friends explained to me how it is that actual virginity was preserved by both Mary and Joseph. As deeply spiritual persons, these two had a deep desire to remain sexually pure, seeking only intimacy with God. However, the social, economic and family context of their culture would not allow them to remain unmarried. Therefore, Mary and Joseph together made a secret pact to marry as expected by everyone, but to refrain from intercourse. Through this plot, they shielded and protected each other in their chastity from pressure or disdain by others. This fanciful explanation caused Martin Luther to make it as public as possible that he was going to marry his Katherina, a former nun, to establish the high calling of Christians to fully consummated wedlock. Calvin also writes from his own experience about his own marriage, and Mary and Joseph, in a similar vein. Theologically, the Reformers are clear that Mary has no ‘Office.’ This mediating concept had begun to play an important role in bridging the notion of the Church as an instrument of God (book III of Calvin’s Institutes) and the concept of the Church as an human social construction (book IV of Calvin’s work). The character of any mediation through Mary is purely human, and not divine. As always, they appealed to earlier Church fathers, in this case Ambrose (late 3rd century), who said that Mary was a temple of God, not the God of the Temple. In spite of the Franciscan roots, the greatest late medieval theologian from that order, Bonaventura, agreed as well that the Stabat Mater was not the best way to honor Mary, although it could help believers to develop a personal appreciation for the passion of Christ. Thomas of Aquina was his theological antipode, in many ways, but not on this issue. Thomas taught that Mary’s affinity to God was unique but should clearly be held separate from the notion of any sort of personal union. (Summa Theol. II 2,103 art. 4, ad 2). Because of her full humanity, God could become pura creatura. Because Mary is a creature, she cannot be ‘adored’, only ‘venerated.’ As such, came to be called the “icon” of the Church. These authoritative statements were largely seen by others as a challenge. It gave rise to imaginative attempts to try and see how much Mary then could still be elevated without actually encroaching the Trinity. It is in this era that notions of Mary became much more precise and formally documented. She was Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Mother of Humanity, the new Eve, etc. Most fanciful was the description of Mary as daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Bride of the Spirit. The Council of Trent (which began in 1545, a year before Luther died (1483-1546) and ended in 1563, a year before Calvin died (1509-1564), published decrees of the so-called Counter-Reformation, in which the Roman Church in exhaustive detail responded to (and rejected) a Reformed understanding of Church, Scripture and salvation. It affirmed that Mary was without sin (a special grace protected her from original sin becoming effective in her), but also admitted that many of the Marian devotions were indeed excesses of spurious folk piety. Indeed, this showed once again that unlearned, non-traditional interpretations (protestants) or fanciful expressions of unregulated devotion (catholics) were dangerous. Therefore, the Stabat Mater was explicitly excluded from a list of liturgical texts and litanies that were allowed. This created resistance in various regions of the Catholic realm, but is was not until 1727 that the Roman Breviary (a book with approved Scripture readings and liturgical devotions for each day of the week) included the poem, only after carefully delineating rubrics to be used (see the details under ‘origin’ at the beginning of the paper).
The development of Marian understanding and its formulation continued in subsequent centuries. Calvin agreed to the expression of the Church as Mother, highlighting the historic and generative task of the gathered Church. However, in Roman hearts and minds, Mary as Mother of Jesus, gradually also became the Mother of the Church. Here, Mary is much more than the mother of Jesus. Her motherhood was resurrected through Jesus’ resurrection, making her the mother of the glorified Lord as well. In this view, at Pentecost, Mary became the birthmother of the mystical Body of Christ. In Roman thinking, this gradually became an intrinsic part of the Eucharistic mystery; Mary’s new Motherhood is thus also an act of trans-substantiation, one great transformation of ‘nature’ into the ‘supernatural.’ In and through Mary, on this view, the Church procreates Christ continuously. The German theologian Scheeber even speaks of the perichoresis of Mary’s motherhood and the (Roman) Church. This term is traditionally reserved for the mysterious ‘dance’ of the Trinity. Pastorally, for a Roman Catholic to say the Ave Maria, in this sense, means that one is never far from Mother as the Model of Love, the living principal of the communion of saints. Would Jesus have it any other way? The question, as put to Protestants is, ‘Christ and Mary would not be competing, would they?’ A fine example of rhetoric that presumes its premise! Protestants would indeed answer, don’t go there. Roman-Catholics have a similar point when they cast aspersion on the Calvinist tradition by saying that it ascribes to double predestination. If the Roman Church pushes the ideas about Mary too far, a scholastic argument about the providence of God can indeed lead to what Calvin himself called ‘a horrible decree.’ The warning is the same on both scores: don’t push raw human ratiocination too far into the mystery of God. Needless to say, the Reformed tradition saw this Marian development as a clear sign that Rome was insidiously seduced to place humanity at the center of salvation history. It was seen as one more form of elevating human meritoriousness, riding the sidecar of Mary’s unique position. On the other hand, to be fair, Rome saw that the much touted ‘free will’ of Protestants again and again slipped into a humanist individualism that also placed the human being independently at the center of the universe. From the perspective of our own time, we can see how each side saw the splinter in the other’s eye, but not the beam in their own. As for Dvořák, he grew up in a very Roman Catholic Bohemia. The early reform movements in Prague of Johannes Hus and others, had been brutally extinguished in the fifteenth century. Less than a hundred miles away to the north, and some hundred years later, Luther would finally succeed by exposing many of the same corruptions that harmed the church from within. However, in the neighboring province of Moravia, descendents of the Hussite reform carried on. In Dvořák’s days, although still forced to be a somewhat underground church, Moravians were appreciated for their rich hymnody and trombone choirs. Dvořák’s Moravian Duets became quite popular throughout Europe (including the well-known, “Songs My Mother Taught Me”).
Soteriology For the Reformed tradition, Jesus’ words on the cross, “it is finished,” are to be taken at His Word. The fulfillment of ‘God so loved the world that He gave‘, was without us, and against our will and desire. And Rome does not see the love of God as fulfilled, because it confuses it with completion. Here, we will not enter the theological minefield of the notions of justification and sanctification, but focus briefly on the issue of soteriology. The question may be for some: how is it that our world, our entire human existence, is saved? Part of the conservative Protestant wing finds that to be the most crucial question, but usually in terms of one’s own salvation: Jesus suffered for me. The Romans Catholic Church encourages reflection of the fact that Jesus suffered for us. But, painting in broad strokes, and with the centrality of the cross firmly in sight, the Reformers concentrate on the good news that all is fulfilled in the righteousness of God; it is Jesus who suffered for us. Wherefore the question is now, ‘How then shall we live?’ (Ezekiel 33:10). This is the significance of displaying an empty cross, and not a crucifix. It is not triumphalist, for church steeples of Reformed Churches have a rooster as a weather vane, acknowledging Petrus sumus, [we are Peter]. This is a twist of the papal self-identifying designation!
The Roman tradition holds strongly to the emphasis on the suffering of Christ Jesus. The question, ‘are we saved?’ awaits an answer until the Final Day. Meanwhile, it is only within the motherly embrace of the Church through the ages that we can bear to face the question. Only within the embrace of the church dare we to live in the world with continuously and continually assured hope. The Roman centrality of the crucifix is very understandable from the perspective of the horrible 13th century in Western Europe, in which all sorts of suffering through chaos, the black plague, the breakdown of feudal systems, the aftermath of the Crusades, etc., all contributed to a fixation on knowing that God had entered the darkest places of our life and world. The good news is that we will not be deserted, even if we were to be faithless (II Tim 2:13), because the character of God had been set before us in Christ Jesus. The bad news is, that there is hell to pay, which God in Christ Jesus did it for us and our salvation. In the midst of all the chaos of his days, Anselm (1033-1109) recognized the chivalry of this love and developed what we now know as the ‘satisfaction’ or ‘ransom’ theology and a substitutionary atonement. Abelard (1079-1142) reacted to that by emphasizing the amazing Grace and Love of God made known in Jesus Christ. And later, various other aspects of the atoning work of God were developed. They all have in common that – whether we take as our starting point the birth in Bethlehem, the baptism in the Jordan, the teaching and healing in Galilee, the death on Calvary, or Easter morning – they all capture only a part of the wholeness of God. Next week, when we will discuss Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, we will have opportunity to reflect further on the particular spirituality that draws inspiration from the sheer horror, inhumanity and violence in our world into which God descended. Each year for the last eight years or so, we have seen in Lent how various composers have been inspired by the Passion parts of the various gospels. The portrayal of what came to be called the Five Sorrowful Mysteries, including the 14 Stations of the Cross have been carefully outlined methodically and liturgically. Today’s choice of the Stabat Mater highlights the fact that the tradition which Mel Gibson shoves so violently in our face, has old papers. We can talk about whether the Hollywood movie medium is suited for deep reflection on the Passion, or whether music is more suited to penetrate our hearts and minds. What we cannot forget in our bourgeois temptation is that suffering is very real and everywhere: Creation is indeed groaning in travail, and we are groaning inwardly as well (Romans 8:22, 23)
In the Roman tradition, Jesus has been exalted (ex-altus, [out of here – on high]) to such a degree that only Mary in her more connected elevation seems within reach of mortals. In fact, that is apparently her “office.” She is very necessary, although not sufficient, to make possible the glimpse and entry into the divine mystery of God and creation, especially for human beings. The Stabat Mater allows the faithful to not run away from the suffering place of God, but to remain present to the ordeal by turning our gaze away from the unimaginable, and look at Mother Mary’s pious suffering. If the cross is at the turning point of the history between God and Humanity, it is a place that has become Holy. Taking off our shoes won’t do, we cannot bear to look directly at the agony and avert our face. We can, however, look at Mary in whom all our human emotion is expressed.
Comparing the ‘Analecta’ version (compiled to help the Vatican scholars in their liturgical decisions) which Dvořák uses, with the Vatican 1908 version is instructive. We see, especially in the last stanzas, the traces of efforts to make our own forlornness somewhat more bearable by reflecting Jesus’ agony as in a mirror; that is, by looking instead at the piercing of his mother Mary’s soul. Here are a few of the changes that were made before this work was considered consistent and appropriate for the populace. In stanza 4, Quae moerebat et dolebat / et tremebat cum videbat / nati poenas incliti, becomes: Quae moerebat et dolebat / Pia Mater dum videbat / nati poenas incliti. Thus, “and with trembling we are looking,” becomes “the pious Mother is looking”. While Dvořák does not know of this particular variation, his version does already have Piam Matri [pious mother], instead of Christi Mater [mother of Christ] in line 2 of stanza 6. (Earlier, we already saw a similar change in stanza 13 and again in stanza 14.
Stza. 16. Fac ut portem Christi mortem / passionis eius sortem / et plagas recolere, becomes: Fac ut portem Christi mortem / passionis fac consortem / et plagas recolere Thus, “the destiny of his passion” becomes “may I accompany him in his passion”, again strengthen the personal by making the sentiment less “objective.” Stza. 17. Fac me plagis vulnerary / cruce hac inebriari / ob amorem filii, becomes: Fac me plagis vulnerary / fac me cruci inebriari / et cruore filii Thus “inebriated by the cross because of love for the Son” becomes “let me be inebriated by the cross and your Son’s blood”, a not so subtle reference to the cup of the Lord’s Table.
Stza. 18 Inflammatus et accensus / per te, Virgo, sim defensus / in die iudicii, becomes: Flammis ne urar succensus / per te, Virgo, sim defensus / in die iudicii, which turns “Inflame and set on fire” into “lest I burn, set afire by flames.” More intense! Some librettos have: Flammis orci ne succendar /per te, Virgo, fac defendar. The last part preserves the rhyme without a change in meaning, but the first part translates as “lest I be set afire by flames of death”, which betrays hell and brimstone fear.
|Fac ut portem Christi mortem||Let me bear the death of Christ||Thus Christ’s dying may I carry|
|Passionis eius sortem||Share the destiny of his passion||With him in his Passion tarry|
|Et plagas recolere||And commemorate his wounds||And His wounds in mem’ry keep|
|Fac me plagis vulnerati||Plagued let me be with his wounds||Wound me with thy Son’s affliction|
|Cruce hac inebriari||Inebriated by the cross||Kindle through this crucifixion|
|Ob amorem Filii||Because of love for the Son||Zealous love within my soul|
|Inflammatus et accensus||Burning and set on fire||Thus aflame with fire of love|
|Per te, Virgo, sum defensus||By you, virgin, may I be defended||Shield me, virgin, from above|
|In die iudicii||In the day of judgement||When I hear the Judgment call|
Finally, Stanza 19 in our “Analecta” version is a prayer to Christ which Dvořák attaches seamlessly to the previous solo soprano stanza. Noteworthy are the last bars with an extended gratia, grace.
|Fac me cruce custodiri||Let me by the cross be guarded||Let the cross now guard and shield me|
|Morte Christi præmuniri||by Christ’s death armed||Death of Christ my ward and plea be|
|Confoveri gratia||cherished by his grace||Let me die in your embrace|
This next to last stanza was completely replaced in the Vatican Gradual. Now it has become a petition, still to Christ, but asking that when the time has come for us to pass on, we pray that it is through Mary we shall be able to receive the palms of glory: Christe, cum sit hinc exire / da per Matrem me venire / Ad palmam victoriae. Christ, when it is time to pass away / grant that through your Mother I may come / to the palm of victory
Apart from the drastic change, the last word of this new version, victoriae, destroys the perfect rhyme with the last word of the next, and last stanza, gloria. This twentieth and last stanza of the poem is of an entirely different tone, and Dvořák makes the most of it! The initial B-minor key, so dominant throughout the work, gives way to D-major in this tenth and last movement of the work. In choosing this key, he joins many other composers. It is climactic in every way. It allows for an exciting finale that looks way beyond the crucifixion event: to the resurrection of the body. The earthly pain shall pass. Do we then face either an eternal uncertainty at best, or a joyful entry into the place that Jesus promised to one of the thieves who was crucified next to him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)? The movement seems to refuse to want to come to an end, in spite of an almost raucous ‘Amen.’ After a stunning hymnic a capella repeat of the stanza the music gradually softens to suggests both height and distance, as befits heaven. We are not only finished, we are finally completed in eternal glory.
|Quando corpus morietur||When my body dies||When a stone my dust shall cover|
|Fac ut animæ donetur||Grant that to my soul is given||Grant my soul your saving offer|
|Paradisi Gloria. Amen||The glory of paradise. Amen||Paradise as glory place. Amen|
Endnotes: 1. The CD used in the program is Naxos 8.555301-02 It is a 2000 recording of Robert Shafer, Conducting the Washington Chorus and Orchestra. The recording was made in the Concert Hall, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Soloists: Christine Brewer, soprano, Marietta Simpson, Mezzo-Soprano, ,John Aler, Tenor, Ding Gao, Baritone. The program notes accompanying the CD were written by Keith Anderson. 2. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2003, digital version. 3. Van Niftrik, G.C., De Maria Verering, [The Marian Devotion], Lecture June 11, 1947 (Apologetische Commissie, Kerkeraad der Ned. Hervormde Gemeente, ‘s Gravenhage. Maart 1948). 4. Van de Beek, A., Jesus Kyrios, Meinema, 2002. See section on ‘born of the virgin Mary” and ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate.’ 5. Websites: * www.stabatmater.dds.nl a Dutch site that gives the most comprehensive treatment of all aspects of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa and Stabat Mater Speciosa. * www.czechcenter.com at the Czech Center in NYCity, which hosts a special exhibition on Dvořák this commemorative year through the end of March. * http://music.mpr,org/features/9909_Dvořák which tells the story of Dvořák’s stay in the USA, with sample sound links. * www.cheffjeff.org/spillville_iowa.Htm#Spillville with a detailed account of the Spillville, Iowa stay. 1