Friday, February 13, 2009

Canor, cantor, dulcor

Richard Rolle abandoned the intellectual life and his academic training at Oxford to take to the frock in meditation upon the name of Christ. He didn't have much of an option, though: while praying in a chapel one day, the love of Christ literally inflamed his soul and body. Assuming that this fire was akin to what Moses saw in the desert--a flame that both burned and yet did not consume--we can imagine also that the heat of this flame unstopped his ears so that on the exact date a year later he began to hear the sweetest of melodies enchiming the love of Christ. From fire, to song, to the sweetness of Christ's love, Rolle spent his remaining days repeating and ruminating on Jesus' name. Each syllable a new translation of the love he experienced while engulfed in flames, in sweetness.

"In the translation, I follow the letter as much as I may." To Rolle, Jesus was not some mere intellectual exercise but rather the literal body and materiality of language itself. To follow Christ is to follow the word as pure logos; not some linguistic trope but the sheer manifestation of word as world. And thus we have the first use of "translation" in its meaning to convey from one language into another.

Finally, the Black Death caught up with him before his fiftieth birthday. His body was burned. Yet I imagine that among the ash, not a single iota of Rolle's flesh remained. Ash to ash, dust to dust. Word to word.

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