Monday, 12 February 2018

Toomas Karmo: Literal Translation, with Notes, of Ambrosian Hymn "Deus Creator Omnium"

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo found enough time to develop his points at a reasonable level of detail.]

Revision history:
All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 5 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 2 hours. 

  • 20180215T1606Z/version 2.2.0: Kmo adjusted his translation in one or two  points of moderate (not high) importance. - He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.2.1, 2.2.2, 2.2.3, ... .  
  • 20180214T1859Z/version 2.1.0: Kmo added to his citation of Sister Julia Holloway a citation of Brother Giacomo Baroffio. - Kmo reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.1.1, 2.1.2, 2.1.3, ... . 
  • 20180214T1818Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his outline into coherent full-sentences prose. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, ... . 
  • 20180213T0103Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to upload a coarsegrained outline. He hoped at some point in the coming 18 hours to finish off a double task - to convert this into a fine-grained outline, and to convert the fine-grained outline in its turn into coherent full-sentences prose.
[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

The "Ambrosian hymn" Deus creator omnium is one of four hymns universally ascribed to Saint Augustine's mentor, Saint Ambrosius of Milan (c. 340-397). This already renders it a composition of interest. Further, it shows (at least to my rather untutored eye) a typically Roman combination of delicacy and austerity. Even humour is perhaps not lacking, with a subtle hint of the importance during liturgy of even the person who sings too loudly, in contrast with the smooth blend achieved by other voices in the choir. 

But I privately treasure this hymn for one really vast reason. Its commonly used, haunting, tune might be one of the few musical survivals from classical antiquity. (The music of classical Rome is a subject on which very little can now be known. Musical notation arose long after 476 A.D.) 

The Gentle Reader visiting this blog might want to do three things in sequence. First, listen to the hymn in some good choral rendition. Second, read through the literal translation I offer below. Third, try to think in your own mind the very thoughts of the hymn, in Latin rather than in English - if necessary using as a crutch the interlinear Latin-with-English-glossing I also offer below, after my literal translation.  

For the first of these things, one could reach for YouTube, for instance for the choral rendition uploaded by YouTube user "Fabio Bertin" on 2013-01-18 under the title "Deus Creator Omnium Canto Ambrosiano". (From my corner of the Internet, this particular material can be downloaded through the URL But even better than the just-mentioned YouTube choral interpretation is one made available by Sister Julia Holloway in Firenze, on her homepage. I think I am conforming to all intellectual-property regulations by citing her homepage here, with her permission duly secured this week. Within her page, it is necessary to scroll down just a short distance, past the first couple of her graphics, and to look for the phrase Recording of Ambrosian Chant, 'Deus Creator Omnium', heard by Augustine in Milan. The part which I have underlined here is on the actual page  a hyperlink to a file named aug.mp3. That file in its turn ought to play in any reasonably up-to-date browser running on any reasonably well-configured hardware. I am told by Sister Julia that the choral rendition is ultimately due to the team of Br Giacomo Baroffio, with Italian-language Web outreach at, but have run into difficulties in my couple of efforts to contact that team.

Concerning the second of these three things, I have to remark that although I am rather confident in the accuracy of my literal translation, I have felt a little uneasy about writing "but may Guilt know slumber". Perhaps some reader will find a mistake there? - It goes almost, yet not quite, without saying that whereas Google will quickly pull up one or more hymnbook translations of this same work, hymnbook translations are in general, for good liturgical and poetic reasons, obliged to be loose, proceeding concept by concept rather than phrase by phrase. I prepared my own translation without reference to what others have done, in compiling their English-language hymnbooks, even while realizing the liturgical propriety of such books.  

Concerning the third of my three things, I remark that I have already discussed, in a blogspot posting of 2017-02-06 or 2017-02-07 headed "Part B" in "Practicalities of Studying Estonian", the possibility of thinking a substantial handful of thoughts in a language one has not formally studied. In that posting of 2017-02-06/2017-02-07, I take people through a piece of bittersweet late-Soviet-Estonian prose, by among other things setting out the meanings of its individual words. Here I am trying something similar. Without knowing Latin, one can still get Ambrose's haunting thoughts (not mere Anglo thoughts) into one's head upon realizing that Devs is "God", creator is (unsurprisingly) "creator", and so on.  - I have taken the liberty of following best Classics Department, as opposed to usual ecclesial, practice, by typesetting Devs, and the like, in place of Deus and the like. The distinction between "u" and "v" became popular only after classical times, and I suspect was not known in the times of Saint Ambrose.

Here is the literal translation:

God, creator of all things,
And governor of the world, clothing
The day in decorous light
And the night in gift of sleep:

May repose restore relaxed limbs
To purposes of labour,
And may repose relieve the burden of tired minds,
Bringing resolution to anxious cares.

Our thanksgiving prayers 
In our now-completed day and in our night's upwelling: 
We, consecrated, deliver to You, singing, our hymn, 
That You might give sinners your support.

May our hearts' depths sing You in harmony,
May the sonorous voice proclaim You,
May chaste affection love You,
May sober minds adore You,

So that when deep nocturnal gloom
Shuts in the day,
May faith know nothing of shadows,
But night shine back in faith.

May You not permit the mind to slumber,
But may Guilt know slumber;
And may Faith, refreshing the upright,
Temper Sleep's steamy breath. 

With the treacherous garment of Sense now cast off,
May the heart's heights dream of you,
And let not Fear, through the jealous Enemy's trick, 
Rouse those whose who rest.  

Let us beg Christ and the Father,
And the Spirit of both Christ and Father,
One full-powerful through all things:
Protect and cherish, O Trinity, these who pray.

Here is my tool for thinking in Latin, intended (I reiterate) especially to guide those who have not yet studied Latin:

Deus creator omnivm 
God creator of-all-things

poliqve rector, vestiens
And-of-the-world governor, clothing
diem decoro lvmine
The day in decorous light
noctemque soporis gratia,
And-the-night with of-sleep the-gracious-gift,

artvs solvtos et quies
May repose-and-silence also the relaxed limbs

reddat laboris vsvi
restore to-the-purposes of-labour

mentesque fessas allevet
And lighten-the-burden-on tired minds

lvxvsqve solvat anxios;
And resolve troubled-or-anxious mental-dislocations
[4th declension acc. plural of "luxus" in the sense of "dislocation",
rather than in the (here irrelevant)
sense of "luxury", "prodigality", "excess"]


grates peracto iam die
Grateful in the-day having-now-been-completed,

et noctis exortv preces,and in the night's upwelling, prayers - 

voti reos vt adivves,
[We who have been] consecrated-or-promised, that You might assist the guilty,

hymnvm canentes solvimvs.
A hymn, while singing, deliver-or-hand-over.


Te cordis ima concinant,
May the of-the-heart depths sing-in-concert You,

Te vox sonora concrepet,
May the harsh-or-sonorous voice resoundingly-or-gratingly-annunciate You,

Te diligat castvs amor,
May chaste affection love You,

Te mens adoret sobria.
May the sober mind adore You.


vt cum profunda clavserit
So that when shuts-in-or-encloses

diem caligo noctivm,
Day the gloom of night-times,

fides tenebras nesciat,
May faith know-nothing-of shadows,

et nox fide relvceat.
And the night shine-back with-faith.


dormire mentem ne sinas,
May you not permit the mind to slumber,

dormire cvlpa noverit,
[But] may fault-or-sin know how to slumber,

castos fides refrigerans
May faith refreshing the chaste-or-pure

somni vaporem temperet.
Temper the-warm-exhalation-or-vapour of sleep.


exvto sensv lvbrico
With the slippery-or-hazardous sense impression stripped off

te cordis alta somnient,
May of-the-heart the-heights behold-in-dreams you,

nec hostis invidi dolo
Nor may of-the-jealous-enemy through-rick-or-dodge

pavor quietos suscitet.
Fear rouse-up those-who-are-in-repose.


Christvm rogemus et Patrem,
Let us beg Christ and the Father,

Christi Patrisqve Spiritvm,
And the Spirit both of Christ and of the father,

vnum potens per omnia,
One all-powerful through all things,

fove precantes, Trinitas.
Cherish-and-protect those-who-are-praying, O Trinity.


If such a treasure can be found in one of the hymns of our current Latin Breviary, then perhaps other such treasures exist. The Latin of the Breviary hymns is often to my eye difficult, in contrast with the very easy (modified Jerome Biblia-vulgata) Latin of the Breviary psalms. Nevertheless, I have the impression of literary depth.  Let us hope that someone, somewhere, has worked on this topic, both on the side of text and on the side of "Ambrosian chant" melodies. 

[This is the end of the current blog posting.]

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