Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Nican Mopohua (1)

[The following is the work of Memo Rodriguez, who knows English, Spanish and Aztec, and who has done a beautiful job of commenting on this old text.]

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is nearby, and I'd like to share with this forum some thoughts about this event, without any doubt, one of the most important in the Christian history of these lands.

The way I'd like to do this is to quote fragments of the original narrative of the apparitions, the "Nican Mopohua" ("Here is told").

I will base my translation on the one you can find here:
Nican Mopohua in English
But I will edit it where I think it is appropriate.

My comments will follow the quotes.

Let's begin with the first apparition. Our Lady speaks to Juan Diego:

23 She said to him, "Listen, my little son, the youngest, my Juantzin. Where are you going?"

24 And he answered her: "My Lady, my Queen, my Little Girl, I am going as far as your little house in Mexico-Tlatelolco, to follow the things of God that are given to us, that are taught to us by the ones who are the images of The Lord, Our Master: our priests."

25 Then she talks with him, she reveals her precious and holy will;

26 She says: "Please know, and put in your heart, my little son, the most beloved, that I am the perfect, Ever Virgin Saint Mary, and I have the privilege to be the Mother of the Very True God, of Ipalnemohuani (The Giver of Life), of Teyocoyani (The Creator of People), of Tloque Nahuaque (The Owner of what is near and what is far), of Ilhuicahua Tlaltipaque (The Lord of Heaven and Earth). I want very much, and fervently wish that you (or they) would please build for me a sacred little house,

27 In which I will show Him to you, and magnify Him,

28 And give it (the sacred little house) to Him. He, who is all my love. He, who is my merciful gaze. He, who is my help. He, who is my salvation.

29 For in truth I am honored to be a compassionate mother to all of you,

30 yours and of all the people who live together in this land,

31 and of all the other people of different ancestries, those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who honor me by putting their trust in my intercession.

32 For there I will be always willing to listen to their weeping, they sorrow, to cleanse, to heal all their miseries, their troubles, their sufferings.

33 And to bring about, with all certainty, what He, who is my merciful gaze, wants to do. Kindly agree to go to the palace of the Bishop of Mexico, and tell him that I myself am sending you as ambassador to manifest to him how big and fervent is my wish for him to provide me with a house, to erect my shrine here on this plain. You will tell him everything, to the last detail, all that yu have seen and marveled at, and what you have heard.

34 And be assured that I will appreciate it very much and reward you for it,

35 for I will enrich you and glorify you,

36 and you will deserve that I reward you greatly, for your fatigue, your trouble, to carry out what I am asking of you.

37 My son, the most beloved, you have heard, my breath, my word. Kindly accept, and go, and do your best effort.

38 And immediately he prostrated himself in her presence; he said to her: "My Lady, my Little Girl, of course I am right now going to make your venerable breath, your beloved word, a reality; I, your poor servant, depart from you for a while."

39 Then he came down (the hill) to put her errand into action: he came to get onto the causeway that comes straight to Mexico City.

40 When he reached the center of the city, he went straight to the palace of the Bishop, the Governing Priest, who had just recently arrived; his name was Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan Priest.

To those of us who were born and raised in the shadow of that "little house", these words are as familiar as our heartbeat, more ours than the marrow in our bones, but still, our hearts jump in our chests and our eyes water in awe and gratitude every time we hear them or read them.

How can you surpass the beauty of "He, who is all my love. He, who is my merciful gaze. He, who is my help. He, who is my salvation."? How could we miss the clear echoes from the Magnificat in these words?

And who pronounced these words? None other than the Mother of the Very True God, The Giver of Life, The Creator of People, The Owner of what is near and what is far, The Lord of Heaven and Earth.

I intentionally left the original Nahuatl words to show something all translations will hopelessly miss: These are all proper names.

Originally, they designated distinct Nahua deities, however, just when the Conquistadores were about to arrive, the Nahuas were well on their way to Monotheism. They were coming to believe there was only One True God, they called Him "Teotl", and all other "gods" were nothing but distinct aspects and manifestations of "Teotl".

By using all these proper names, Our Lady was declaring herself to be the Mother of Teotl (yes, she uses the precise word/name of Teotl), the One True God, in a tactic already used by St. Paul when he presented Christ as the God the ancient Greeks venerated as "the unknown god".

God was preparing our forefathers for the Gospel, and Our Lady fully acknowledged that this positive move, as everything good, was from God.

And what does she want? Only a little house (well, today this house is anything but little, but the precise meaning of "little" for the Nahuas needs more explanation, more on this later). Why?

In the Nahua culture, and most prominently in Aztec culture (the Aztecs were Nahuas, but there were other Nahua peoples besides the Aztecs), the temple was, if you pardon the expression, a "sacrament" of the nation. That is, a symbol, but more than that, a symbol fully integrated with the reality it symbolizes.

By demolishing the Aztec temples of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the Conquistadores effectively and actually demolished the Aztec nation.

Our Lady wanted a new nation to be built, and that nation needed a new temple, but this time, it was to be a Christian temple. A temple in which she could reveal Her Son to us, and then magnify Him, and then present (or consecrate) the temple, and therefore, the nation to Him.

And she wants to do that because she is our compassionate mother. Not only of "Juanito", but, as she said, of all peoples living together in the land.

Please notice the humilty of her language: "I am honored to be your compassionate mother", "It is an honor that you place your trust in my intercession", "Please know", "Kindly agree", "I will reward you for your troubles".

Finally, I need to explain about being little. I've already worte about this, but it wouldn't hurt to go over it again.

Just as some cultures use plural as "royal we", Nahuas used diminutive to indicate respect and rank. Expressions such as "My Lady, My Queen, My Little Girl", are entirely consistent, with the third phrase giving it a formal and respectful tone.

In the Nahuatl language, diminutives are indicated by the suffix "tzin", and you can add as many as you want to the end of the word, each one "kicking respect up a notch".

For instance, the Nahuatl word for "our mother" would be "Tonana" (prefix "to" denotes the first person, plural posesive "our"), however, since a mother always deserves respect, you would never say that in polite conversation. The correct word is "Tonantzin", which litetally would mean "our little mother".

Of much interest is the fact that Our Lady also addresses St. Juan Diego using diminutives. He is "Juantzin" (Johnny), and "my youngest son".

It has been long assumed that St. Juan Diego was a humble peasant, but recent discoveries seem to indicate otherwise:

His Nahuatl name was "Cuahutlatoac", which means "He who speaks like the eagle", quite an impresive name for a farmer, but even more, he is some times refered to as "Cuahutlatoatzin", notice the diminutive suffix. Certainly a name proper of a member of a royal house. Could it be?

It seems to be the case. A study links St. Juan Diego as a rather close relative of Nezahualcoyotl, the poet king of Texcoco, who is famous for this poem:

I love the singing of Zentzontle,
bird of four hundred voices.
I love the jade color
and the beautiful smell of the flowers,
but even more I love man, my brother.

Is it possible that the Queen of Heaven wanted to meet with one of the highest-ranking noblemen left alive in the country? Yes, it is very possible, and truly a meeting that would give birth to a new nation.

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