Notker Balbulus, Bl.
NOTKER BALBULUS, BL.
Poet, chronicler, Sequence writer; b. either in Heiligau (now Elgg, near Zurich) or Jonschwil (near Sankt Gallen), Switzerland, c. 840; d. Sankt Gallen Abbey, April 6, 912. Born of a noble Swiss family, Notker entered the Benedictine Abbey of sankt gallen as a child, remained there as a student under such masters as Iso and Moengal (Marcellus) the Irishman, and stayed on to become an admired and beloved teacher, despite the speech defect that won him the sobriquet Balbulus, the "Stammerer." He was appointed librarian of the monastery in 890 and was guest master in 892 and 894, but his reputation is based on his literary activities.
Notker is now almost universally recognized as the monachus Sangallensis who c. 884 composed the anecdotal and highly imaginative Gesta Caroli (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Germanicarum [new series] 12), based on folk tales and legends and written in colloquial Latin prose. This work, of which only the first part and some of the second are extant, won immediate and lasting popularity in the Middle Ages; its tales of charlemagne's encounters with his Frankish bishops are chiefly responsible for the emergence of the legendary (as opposed to Einhard's historical) figure of Charlemagne in medieval literature. About 881 Notker wrote the Breviarium regum Francorum, a continuation of Erchanbert's chronicle. He is the author of four hymns in honor of St. Stephen and the metrical Vita s. Galli, of which only fragments remain; the hymn Media vita, ascribed to him by a tradition that can be traced only to 1613, is probably not his. His extant letters reveal a man of spirit and wit.
It is, however, for his role in the development of the sequence that Notker is most often remembered. In the preface of his liber hymnorum [ed. W. von den Steinen (Bern 1960) with melodies], a collection of Sequences dedicated (c. 884–887) to Liutward, bishop of Vercelli and chancellor of Charles the Fat, Notker recounts that in 862 a monk from the recently sacked monastery of jumiÈges in France brought to Sankt Gallen an antiphonary in which a text (prosa ) had been set to parts of the jubilus (the melody that prolonged the final a of the Alleluia following the Gradual of the Mass). Considering this an excellent mnemonic device for committing to memory the difficult jubilus melody, Notker composed a text that both imitated and improved upon the French text, the Laudes Deo concinat. His master Iso praised his first attempt but suggested making each syllable of the text correspond to a note of the jubilus; this Notker did in the Psallat ecclesia, a text for the dedication of a church, which won the approval of both Iso and Moengal. Many scholars are not totally satisfied with this account of Notker's, for it only obfuscates the question that they consider crucial to a proper estimate of his traditional role as originator of the Sequence; that is, to what extent was he influenced by the earlier and much simpler French Sequences of the eighth and ninth centuries (Analecta hymnica [Leipzig 1886–1992] 53)? In addition, scholars are not certain how many or, in some instances, which Sequences are to be attributed to Notker. The original manuscript of the Liber hymnorum is not extant, and though there are eight manuscripts dating from not later than the eleventh century, no two of them are identical. Nor is Ekkehard IV's statement in the Sankt Gallen chronicle that Notker composed 50 Sequences of any help, since Ekkehard does not identify them by incipit. Whether or not Notker was the originator of the Sequence, there can be no doubt of his influence on German literature. His Sequences, in rhythmical prose and without rhyme, were in frequent use throughout northern Europe until the middle of the twelfth century. They are characterized by simplicity and nobility of language and style and by profundity and orthodoxy of theological content. Notker is also called the first musical composer of German stock, for he is known to have composed the music as well as the words of some of his Sequences, thus freeing the text from too great dependence upon an already existing musical composition.
Notker was beatified in 1512. Permission for a commemoration of him on April 8 was granted to the monastery of Sankt Gallen by a papal bull of Dec. 12, 1512, and
was extended to the Diocese of Constance in 1513. His relics were brought to the cathedral of Sankt Gallen in 1628. Notker's vita by Ekkehard V (Acta sanctorum April 1:579–595) is not altogether reliable.
Feast: April 6.
Bibliography: j. julian, ed. A Dictionary of Hymnology, 2 v. (2d ed. London 1907 repr. New York 1957) 1:812–816. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 1911–31) 1:354–367, for Notker's works. s. singer, Die Dichterschule von St. Gallen (Leipzig 1922). w. von den steinen, Notker der Dichter und seine geistige Welt, 2 v. (Bern 1948). f. j. e. raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (2d ed. Oxford 1953) 211–215, brief but comprehensive survey in Eng. h. f. haefele, "Studien zu Notkers Gesta Karoli, " Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 15 (1959): 358–392. w. kosch, Deutsches Literatur-Lexikon, ed. b. berger (Bern 1963). e. lechner, Vita Notkeri Balbuli. Geistesgeschichtlicher Standort und historische Kritik (St. Gallen 1972). r. l. crocker, The Early Medieval Sequence (Berkeley 1977). k. haller, Die Legende des heiligen Notker, ed. e.-a. koeppel (Göppingen 1983). h.-j. reischmann, Die Trivialisierung des Karlsbildes der Einhard-Vita in Notkers "Gesta Karoli Magni" (Constance 1984). p. ochsenbein, Die Notkere im Kloster Sankt Gallen (St. Gallen 1992). j. szÖvÉrffy, Die Annalen der lateinischen Hymnendichtung. Ein Handbuch, 2 v. (Berlin 1964–65) 1:282–299.
[m. f. mccarthy]
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