Monday, November 7, 2011

Whose hands? Another possible case of cumulative authorship

A prose poem meditation beginning "Christ has no body now but yours" is frequently attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila, though sometimes instead to St. Catherine of Siena. You can hear a version of the text here, set to music by David Ogden:


However, as noted here:

the attribution to St. Teresa seems mistaken. I have yet to find anything like them in scholarly editions of St. Teresa's works. I have yet to meet anyone who can give a citation to any attested words of St. Teresa that can be the source of this poem.

So I tried tracing the words themselves. For now, at least, I believe the poem to be a work of cumulative authorship, like the text of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" that is found in the Episcopal Church's Hymnal 1982. In the case of "Christ has no body now but yours", the work is principally by two authors: Methodist minister Mark Guy Pearse (1842-1930), and Quaker medical missionary Sarah Elizabeth Rowntree (dates unknown.) But the poem circulates in various versions which also show minor adjustments by others.

In my present reconstruction (which may change as I gain additional information) the Rev. Mr. Pearse is responsible for the second half of the poem. He spoke as follows in a sermon delivered on January 3rd, 1888, in Steinway Hall, Portman Square, London:
Now you, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ's compassion is to look out upon this world, and yours are the lips through which His love is to speak; yours are the hands with which He is to bless men, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good--through His Church, which is His body.
--Evangelical Christendom, v. 42, February 1st, 1888, p. 46
Pearse cites no sources for his words other than, of course, the Bible.

A few years later Sarah Elizabeth Rowntree used Mr. Pearse's words, which she acknowledged to be his, and to which she added the first half of the poem. Here is the report from the Quaker periodical The British Friend
Sarah Eliza Rowntree gave an interesting account of the recent establishment of the "Home" in Pearl Street, and the progress of the Mission there. She appealed for more workers to assist its further usefulness, concluding with some words of Mark Guy Pearse, "Remember Christ has no human body now upon the earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ's compassion has to look upon the world, and yours are the lips with which His love has to speak. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good through His Church which is His body."
--The British Friend, volume 1, number 1, 1892, p. 15
Around the same time John Wilhelm Rowntree (1868-1905) (I suspect a cousin of Sarah Elizabeth's though I cannot yet confirm it) used the words in a sermon on "The Place of Religion in Modern Life". In the outline for this sermon that was published posthumously in 1906, the piece stood as follows:
Remember Christ has now no human body upon earth but yours; no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which His compassion is to look upon the world, yours are the lips through which His love is to speak, yours are the hands with which He is to bless, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good--through the church which is His body.
--from "The Place of Religion in Modern Life" (notes for a sermon), in Joshua Rowntree, ed., Palestine Notes and Other Papers by John Wilhelm Rowntree, Hadley Brothers, London, 1906, p. 106.
John Wilhelm's notes contain no attribution, either to Pearse or to Sarah Elizabeth, or to anyone else. John Wilhelm's words also differ in a few details from Sarah Elizabeth's, making him possibly the first of many who have adapted the text over the decades.

Update:It is of course possible that it was John Wilhelm (or even someone else) who added the first part to Mr. Pearse's words. But Sarah Elizabeth remains the first one on record to have spoken the whole poem in something like the form it now has.

I might as well end with something that St. Teresa did write. Or at least, she is said to have had it on a bookmark in her breviary, and the scholars seem to have accepted it has her work.

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante;
todo se pasa.
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta;
solo Dios basta.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"When Adam dalf and Eve span..."

This year, 2011, has been the 630th anniversary of the uprising of 1381.

Friday, April 22, 2011


In discussions of the computus, that is, the method for determining the date of Easter, one often encounters the erroneous statement that the Eastern Orthodox churches use precise astronomical computations to determine the date of Easter. For example, at this URL

as recently as today I found the following:
The Orthodox church uses the same formula to calculate Easter, but bases the date on a slightly different calendar—the Julian calendar instead of the more contemporary Gregorian one, the calendar that is most widely used today. Consequently, both churches only occasionally celebrate Easter on the same day. Unlike the Western Church, the Eastern Church sets the date of Easter according to the actual, astronomical full moon and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem.
This can be broken into two statements: (1) The Orthodox churches use the Julian computus, and (2) the Orthodox churches use precise astronomical computations.

These two statements contradict one another. One who sets the date using the Julian computus cannot at the same time set it using precise astronomical computations. And only occasionally do the two methods give the same result.

The statement that the eastern churches use precise astronomical computations derives from an agreement reached at a 1923 synod of eastern Orthodox bishops. Here is the report as it appeared in a standard reference work, the Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Ephemeris and the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac.
At a meeting of a Congress of the Orthodox Oriental Churches held in Constantinole in May, 1923, the Julian calendar was replaced by a modified Gregorian calendar...[in which] Easter is determined by the astronomical Moon for the meridian of Jerusalem.
This statement from the Explanatory Supplement is literally true. The Julian calendar, including its computus (also called a "paschalion") was replaced at the meeting in 1923. But it was never permanently replaced in practice anywhere else. Only the solar part of the 1923 calendar agreement has been put into effect, and even that has been controversial. Presumably the bishops, when they got home, found that the Julian computus (which was to be replaced by the lunar part of the 1923 proposal) was too old and traditional to change easily. Amost all the eastern Orthodox churches still use the old Julian paschalion. The reported exceptions are small dioceses such as Finland, which use the Gregorian computus.

However, some folk reading the report in the Explanatory Supplement with no knowledge of eastern Orthodox cultural politics appear to have naively assumed that what the eastern bishops decided had but put into effect. Hence was born the statement that the eastern churches use precise astronomical computations to set the date of their Easter, a statement that has taken on a life of its own and continues to be repeated, even though a simple check against astronomical facts could show that it is false.

In 2003, for example, the vernal full moon occurred at 16 April 19:36 Universal Time. The following Sunday was April 20th. This was Easter according to astronomical reckoning. The Gregorian Paschal Full Moon for 2003 (the 9th year of the 19-year cycle) was also April 16th, the same day, at least for some time zones, as the astronomical full moon. The Julian Paschal Full Moon that year was, however, on April 20th (Gregorian). Hence eastern Orthodox Easter that year was on the following Sunday, April 27th.

In 2006 (the 12th year of the 19-year cycle), the vernal full moon was at 13 April 16:40 Universal Time. The Gregorian Paschal Full Moon for year 12 is also April 13th. The following Sunday in 2006 was April 16th. However, the Julian Paschal Full Moon that year was not until April 17th Gregorian, so that eastern Orthodox Easter was the following Sunday, April 23rd Gregorian.

Some who try to explain these dates away might fall back on another canard, the Zonaras Proviso. They might try to claim that this proviso requires eastern Orthodox Easter to fall entirely outside the seven scriptural days of Unleavened Bread as computed in the present-day Rabbinic calendar. But a simple check will show that this year, 2011, the Hebrew calendar's week of unleavened bread runs from April 19th through April 25th. (Some in the diaspora will add an extra day, April 26th). Eastern and western Easter, however, are both on April 24th, 2011, within the Rabbinic calendar's days of Unleavened Bread. Hence the Zonaras proviso, even if it existed (in fact it does not except in the minds of canon lawyers) could not have this precise form.