Ubi Caritas et Amor

For the choral Offertory at my parish this week we’re chanting Ubi Caritas (out of the Parish Book of Chant, BTW). While I love the PBC, I find the translations to be sometimes a bit more distant and decorous than I understand the Latin text to be. As I was trying to explain some of the immediacy and beauty of the original text, one of my choir members suggested that I prepare my own translation for the printed program. I did so, and then I also wrote some “program notes” about the Antiphon. I thought perhaps others outside my own parish may be interested in what I wrote.

The caveat here is that I am by no means a Latin scholar or a degreed theologian. My translation, and the thoughts about the text that follow, were informed by a lot of research and reading (ok… Latin dictionaries and Wikipedia), but are nevertheless the work of an enthusiastic amateur. If you find anything here objectionable or downright wrong, please be quick to correct, but slow to criticize. (Tell me I’m wrong, but don’t tell me I’m stupid.) Comments always welcome.

Here is the original text in Latin:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum.

And my translation for the printed program…

Where there is charity and love, there is God.

We are gathered into one, in the love of Christ.
Rejoice, and be exceedingly happy in this!
We fear, and love, the living God,
and from our hearts, we sincerely delight [in each other].

In the same way, therefore, within the congregation:
Do not be of a divided mind. Beware!
Stop your evil arguing. Stop fighting.
And into the midst of us, let Christ-God be.

Then, in the same way as the Blessed Ones (the faithful dead),
and together with them [at the same time],
we shall see your Glorious face, O Christ-God.
Joy! Joy that is exceedingly great and pure, and is for infinite ages upon ages.

And some thoughts about the words, “Caritas et Amor.”

Ubi Caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Those of us who know this line are so used to translating it “where there is charity and love, there is God,” that it’s hard to realize that “caritas” doesn’t really mean “charity,” at least not as we usually mean it today. “Charity” was the word used in the King James Bible (and other translations) for the Latin “caritas,” which is the Greek “Agape.” Another common Anglican translation for the idea is “loving-kindness.” It is a deep, sincere, and intimate love that has God alone as its source. The early Christians refered to the Eucharistic celebration as the “Agape meal,” and when Paul says that “Love is patient, love is kind,” he is using that same word. Indeed, the most famous verse of Scripture, “For God so loved the world, that He gave is only begotten Son…” (Jn 3:16) uses the word “Agape.”

So what about “amor,” then? Also, “love.” But our conventional sensibilties usually stop us from discussing the fact that “amor” is the Latin translation of the Greek, “Eros,” the root of our modern word “erotic.” This is love, “in the flesh,” just as surely as Jesus is God “in the flesh.” Amor, or Eros, is passionate, fiery, and bold. The ancient Greeks thought of it as “madness from the gods.” Plato, though, gave us the conception that formed the medieval poet who wrote this text: Eros (Amor) is the all-engulfing realization that the pains of desire are a longing for wholeness and oneness. In our broken
world, the desire of Eros is often poisoned with a desire to possess the object of Love. But in the classical and Christian understanding, Eros is the need, felt body and soul, to unite intimately with God, to “reach Wisdom without possessing Her.”

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Language is a reflection of the culture and society that is its source. It is not surprising, then, that there is no good way to translate this short truth into modern American English. Perhaps we might say:

Where there is love heaped upon love, where love is deep and sincere and all-encompassing, where love is passionate and bold, where love is true, where love is good and pure, where love is self-sacrificing and intimate and wholly unselfish, where love is unconquerable, where love is infinite and grand and humble, where love is glorious and overwhelming, where love makes us complete, where love calls us to service and justice, where love is the source of all we say and do, where love can not fail, where love is the greatest of all things, where love is stronger than death- where you find this love, there you have found God.

8 thoughts on “Ubi Caritas et Amor

  1. Two quick thoughts:

    “Congregavit nos” etc. in the first verse literally means “the love of Christ has gathered us into one” — “nos” is the object of “congregavit” and “amor” is the subject. Not hugely different from your rendering but more direct, I think.

    In the fourth line of the same verse, ‘diligamus’ comes from ‘diligo, diligere’ which means “to love” (not so much ‘to delight’).

    This word for love has a different significance from amo/amare although I couldn’t expound on the difference in any reliable detail. Interestingly, the Vulgate has Christ using both forms in John 21:15-17 (“Peter, do you love me?”) — “diligere” the first two times, and “amare” the third time. Whereas Peter answers with a form of “amare” all three times. I’ve heard that this reflects a similar subtlety in the original Greek but I’m not competent to explain that either. At any rate I believe we get ‘diligent’ from the Latin “diligere”, FWIW.

    Also the ‘a’ toward the end tells us it’s a hortatory subjunctive — “let us love” or something to that effect.

    The English word ‘delight’ comes from a different Latin root (“delecto, delectare”). Wouldn’t be surprised if diligere and delectare are themselves related, of course, but “love” or “favor” or “esteem” or even “cherish” would be more direct renderings.

  2. Oh, “videamus” in the third verse is also a hortatory subjunctive — “may we see” would be more accurate than “we shall see”. Matter of fact I think all of the verbs in the text are of that particular flavor.

  3. THANKS!

    You can tell my Latin is a little rusty.

    I don’t remember why I used “we shall” instead of “may we.” I’d like to say it was a poetic choice, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. I just don’t remember my thinking- and looking at it now, it’s not like this is some obscure point you’re making.

    The delight/love issue: I remember making that mistake. I made an assumption about etymology that I didn’t check into. Shame on me.

    (It’s a good thing I don’t work for Vox Clara.)

    Thank you so much for your input here. (And thanks for reading!)

  4. Oh also-

    The first line: I was torn between conveying the word order (which, while not exactly important, does convey a certain amount of poetic intent) and conveying the exact grammar. If I were to re-do it, I might choose “by the love of Christ.”

    This is a somewhat important issue in my mind musically because of the way the phrase is structured with the melody. It sounds like:
    Congrega- vi-t nos in u–num–…. Christi Amor.

    Musically- it sort of raises a question… Who or what has gathered us into one?

    Christi Amor.

    I don’t know if this is a great way to go with something like this, but since this was for the congregation to read along with the singing, I thought it helped if the English and Latin lined up in word-order if at all possible, so that if you had a smattering of Latin knowledge you could sort-of follow how the music was shading the text.

  5. Hmm, interesting point about “Congregavit nos”. I think “by the love of Christ” would probably strike a good balance. If this were the 16th century you could probably get away with something closer to the original word-order but nowadays it would just sound too awkward.

    This word-order stuff can be quite a frustrating issue, really. I bounce between Latin and English when praying the Office with my children and it’s tough to have to abandon the Latin word order, which is often just lovely, if not also rhetorically and musically significant.

  6. Oh, and no relation to Dr. Dunlap, sorry. He seems to have accomplished more with his pinky finger than I could accomplish in ten lifetimes.

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