Cogitis me

St Mary the Virgin

Paschasius radbertus (785–865) was Abbot of Corbie (one of the most important abbeys in terms of scholarship at that time, renowned for its library) and author of several important works. His De Corpore et Sanguine Domini is the first important Western treatise on the Eucharist and upholds the idea of the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species (it led to a controversy with his predecessor Ratramnus and Rabanus Maurus); he also wrote scriptural commentaries, a work on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and other works.

He is also, as it happens, the author of an epistle purporting to have been written by St Jerome to his friends Paula and Eustochium upon the subject and feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Portions of this text, known by its incipit, ‘Cogitis me’, were read at Matins in the Roman Rite until the Tridentine reforms, at which time doubt about the attribution to Jerome led to its suppression.

I ran across this work via the series of vernacular homilies on the feasts of the Church year written or adapted by Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham in the second half of the tenth century, one of the most important writers in Old English. Two passages caught my eye (I present them here in over-literal crib to help give the sense of each Old English word):

First, a hesitation to assign belief in Our Lady’s assumption (though strongly held) to the realm of dogma –

Ne wiðcweðe we be þære eadigan Marian þa ecan æriste, þeah, for wærscipe gehealdenum geleafan, us gedafenað þæt we hit wenon swiðor þonne we unrædlice hit geseþan þæt ðe is uncuð buton ælcere fræcednysse.

Nor gainsay we about of-the blessed Mary the eternal resurrection, though, for wariness, holding belief, us it-befits that we it hope, rather than we rashly it assert that which is unknown without any danger.*

– and second, this beautiful setting-forth of the reason for celebrating saints’ days, and those of the Blessed Virgin in particular:

God ðurh his witegan us bebead þæt we sceolon hine herian and mærsian on his halgum, on ðam he is wundorlic : micele swiðor gedafenað þæt we hine on ðisre mæran freols-tide his eadigan meder mid lofsangum and wurðfullum herungum wurðian sceolon; forðan ðe untwylice eal hire wurðmynt is Godes herung. Uton nu forði mid ealre estfulnysse ures modes ðas mæran freols-tide wurðian, forðan ðe þæt siðfæt ure hæle is on lofsangum ures Drihtnes.

God through his prophets us commanded that we should him praise and magnify in his holy-ones, in whom he is wonderful: much more fitting that we him, on this great festival of-his blessed mother with praise-songs and worthy praises, worship should; for that undoubtedly all to-her honor is of-God praise. Let us now, therefore, with all devotion of-our mind this great festival honor, for that the way of our healing is in praise-songs of-our Lord.

* nos de beata Maria Virgine factum abnuimus, quanquam propter cautelam (salva fide) pio magis desiderio opinari oporteat, quam inconsulte definire, quod sine periculo nescitur.

† Deum ore prophetice in sanctis tuis laudare jubemur, multo magis eum in hac celebritate beatae Mariae Virginis matris eius oportet cum hymnis et canticis diligentius extollere, et dignis Deo jubilare praeconiis, ac mysticis honorare muneribus. Nulli enim dubium, quia totum ad gloriam laudis eius pertineat quidquid digne genitrici suae impensum fuerit, atque solemniter attributum.