Latin: O quanta qualia
Text: Peter Abelard (1079-1142) Tune: O quanta qualia 16th century, French Antiphoner
1. Oh, what their joy and their glory must be, Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see! Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest; God shall be all, and in all, ever blest.
2. In new Jerusalem joy shall be found, Blessings of peace shall forever abound; Wish and fulfillment are not severed there, Nor the things prayed for come short of the pray'r.
3. We, where no troubles distraction can bring, Safely the anthems of Zion shall sing; While for Your grace, Lord, their voices of praise Your blessed people shall evermore raise.
4. Now let us worship our Lord and our King, Joyfully raising our voices to sing: Praise to the Father, and praise to the Son, praise to the Spirit, to God, Three in One. Tr. John Mason Neale
MEDITATION It was probably the most famous love affair of the Middle Ages. Peter Abelard, very likely the most brilliant logician and theologian of the twelfth century, and Héloïse d'Argenteuil (ca. 1100-1164), the niece of Fulbert, the Canon of the Cathedral of Paris.
Abelard was sought after by students and highly esteemed by the world. When he walked around Paris teaching, it is said, over time, thousands of students followed after him, debating him and learning from him. His rationalistic theology, however, got him into trouble with the theological establishment. Still everyone knew he was brilliant. Unusual for the time, he was asked to tutor the very bright young woman, Héloïse d'Argenteuil
Héloïse, a brilliant, well-educated person with a command of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, flourished as Abelard’s student. She was already well known for her intellectual accomplishments. Of course, they fell madly in love. When she became pregnant, Abelard, a priest, proposed marrying her in secret. Héloïse was against the marriage, preferring to be his mistress, but finally agreed to it. Abelard wanted it secret, because he hoped to advance in the church, but Fulbert spread the news. After a while, Fulbert came to suspect Abelard wanted to get rid of his niece, so he sent his henchmen in to Abelard to castrate him.
After a time, Abelard became a monk and, at his insistence, Héloïse became a nun despite her protests that she had no vocation. Abelard continued his theological work, not very happy about being in the monastery; she did not feel that she was fit for a convent.
Abelard's works changed the direction of theological thought, greatest among them, Sic et non/Yes and No. Héloïse, at Abelard’s behest, became an Abbess at the Oratory of the Paraclete. His account of the relationship and their correspondence over some time is still read, in fact, their story has been the basis of many a novel, poem, play or opera. They remained friends and corresponded with each other until he died.
Abelard's ideas brought him into conflict with Bernhard of Clairvaux, the great spiritual force of the day.(Much much more could be said about all of these characters, alas!) After a bitter fight, almost resulting in his excommunication, Abelard found refuge, but soon became ill and died. He and Heloise were buried together, where is not quite certain today. The Oratory of the Paraclete says they are buried on their grounds, but others disagree.
Our hymn for today is one designated as appropriate for All Saints’ Sunday. The description of the glories of heaven is rich. One hears in the poem Abelard’s longing for the place; it will be a place where longing is ended, as in Dante’s Paradiso, the beatific vision where, Dante feels his desire and will became one. Almost a quote from this hymn.
The sense that it is good when one wants what is far away and almost unattainable is a very well-established notion in human life. "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" (Tennyson's Ulysses) is the force that gives us the possibility for success. A goal we desire pulls us forward. When we get there will we be satisfied? This is the truth Tennyson wrote about in his poem Ulysses. Once back home life gets boring. Will heaven be boring? The idea of an endless sabbath is not something everyone desires. How tedious, some may think, sitting in church for all eternity. That could be someone’s definition of hell!
What Abelard pictures for us is something quite different from years sitting in church—He wants us to fathom that all of eternity will be like the high moment one loves in a sabbath. Our desires will be completely satisfied. We do not understand eternity and can only get a glimpse of it through these images. Whatever image is used will pale before its reality. But something about it attracts us even as it eludes us. It gives us a mysterious hope for something much better than what we know now. It is what Christ lived and died to give us. Those mansions. They are enough for me, for now.
HYMN INFO Abelard’s music is lost to us, except for a tune for this text, which we do not use. We do have some of his hymn texts. This was written for the Saturday night vesper service and first published in his collection Hymnarius Paraclitensis. John Mason Neale, one of the most influential of the Victorian translators, translated the hymn in 1854 to be published in Hymnal Noted. It has achieved a kind of lasting place in English hymnals. The tune is from an Antiphon collection found in 17th century Paris.
LINKS St. Clement’s Choir, Philadelphia https://youtu.be/1zS5IjdkbuM
Kings College Choir, Cambridge O quanta qualia tune https://youtu.be/N9uEnVljyWI
Benjamin Nold https://youtu.be/gR7eYspGw4Q
Choral anthem by Healey Willan https://youtu.be/Ire7R5Odsac