Thursday, January 12, 2023

Two Medieval Hymns for Epiphany

For brevity’s sake, the title of this post is slightly inexact: the first of these two hymns is for Epiphany, while the second was used for the whole period from Christmas to the octave of Epiphany.
The Baptism of Christ, 1471-79 by the Austrian painter Michael Pacher (1435 ca. - 1498). Image from Wikimedia Commons by Uoaei1, CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Roman Divine Office is traditionally much more conservative than other Uses in the adoption of new texts, and this is particularly true in regard to hymns. Seasons such as Advent and Lent have three hymns, one each for Matins, Lauds and Vespers, but many feasts, even some of the greatest and most ancient, have only two. And thus for the Epiphany, the hymn Crudelis Herodes (originally Hostis Herodes impie) is said at both Vespers and Matins, and O sola magnarum urbium at Lauds.
Many medieval Uses, however, added one to this repertoire, an anonymous composition of at least the 10th century, A Patre Unigenitus. (Dreves, Analecta hymnica medii aevi, vol. 2, p. 80 and vol. 27, p. 66) In the Use of Sarum, it was sung at Matins during the octave, since on the feast itself, Matins has no hymn; the Carmelites and Dominicans put it at Lauds. It is a slightly irregular alphabetic acrostic; A is used twice, and the not-very-well composed strophe that supplied the letters V, X, Y and Z dropped out of use. The C of “clarum” is written with a K, a common practice in acrostics, since K is hardly used in classical Latin. The original reading of the S line was “Sceptrum tuumque inclitum”; this is grammatically irregular, since the enclitic particle “-que” should be attached to the first word, and so it was often corrected to the reading given below, as in the Dominican and Carmelite Offices. The English translation is by the great John Mason Neale, from “Collected Hymns, Sequences and Carols of John Mason Neale” (Hodder and Stoughton London 1914.)

A Patre Unigenitus
Ad nos venit per Virginem,
Baptisma cruce consecrans,
Cunctos fideles generans.
From God the Father, Virgin-born
To us the only Son came down,
By death the font to consecrate,
The faithful to regenerate.
De caelo celsus prodiens
Excepit formam hominis,
Facturam morte redimens,
Gaudia vita rediens.
From highest heaven His course began,
He took the form of mortal man,
Creation by His death restored,
And shed new joys of life abroad.
Hoc te, Redemptor, quaesumus
Illabere propitius
Klarumque nostris cordibus
Lumen praebe fidelibus
Glide on, Thou glorious Sun, and bring
The gift of healing on Thy wing;
The clearness of Thy light dispense
Unto Thy people’s every sense.
Mane nobiscum, Domine,
Noctem obscuram remove,
Omne delictum ablue,
Piam medelam tribue.
Abide with us, o Lord, we pray,
The gloom of night remove away;
Thy work of healing, Lord, begin,
And do away the stain of sin.
Quem jam venisse novimus,
Redire item credimus,
Sub sceptro tuo inclito
Tuum defende clipeum.
We know that Thou didst come of yore;
Thou, we believe, shalt come once more:
Thy guardian shield o’er us extend,
Thine own dear sheepfold to defend.
Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui apparuisti hodie,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula.
All glory, Lord, to Thee we pay,
For Thine Epiphany to-day;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, the hymn has been subjected to the usual cack-handed alterations by Fr Anselmo Lentini OSB, and assigned to First Vespers of the feast of Our Lord’s Baptism. On the basis of a minority manuscript tradition, the address is changed to the second person, and various other words altered to fit that (e.g. the vocative “Unigenite” in the first line.) The fifth strophe is replaced by a doxology invented by Lentini.

In the Roman Breviary, and in most medieval Uses, the hymns of Prime, Terce, Sext and None are completely invariable throughout the year, although their doxology often changes. However, there existed a minority tradition (e.g. at Liège in the Low Countries, and in England at York, but not in the much more widely diffused Use of Sarum), which assigned a proper hymn, Agnoscat omne saeculum, to these Hours, starting on Christmas day, and continuing through to the octave of Epiphany. The hymn was broken up into two strophes per Hour, plus the doxology of the current feast. When Fr Guido Dreves SJ (1854-1909) was publishing his monumental collection of medieval hymns, the Analecta hymnica, its attribution was apparently a matter of debate; Dreves himself says (vol. 50, pp. 85-6) only that it is certainly by the same author as the common hymn of the Virgin Mary Quem terra, appareently on the grounds that it shares two lines with it. (This seems a weak line of argument; medievals valued originality far less than we do, and borrowing texts was extremely common.) Writing in 1984, Fr Lentini ascribed it to “an unknown author of the 7th or 8th century.” Several more recent scholars, however, accept the traditional attribution to St Venantius Fortunatus (ca. 530-600), the author of the great Passiontide hymns.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, it remains miraculously untouched; the first three strophes and the sixth are assigned to Vespers of the Annunciation, and the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth to the Lauds of the newly invented Solemnity of Mary on January 1st. It is a tribute to the smashing success of the new Office that no recording of either is available on YouTube, but it would have been sung with the same melody used for the other Christmas hymns, according to local custom, so I have included here the original version of the Roman Vesper hymn of Christmas, Christe Redemptor omnium. The English translation is from the same volume of John Mason Neale cited above.
Ad Primam
Agnoscat omne saeculum
Venisse vitae praemium,
Post hostis asperi iugum
Apparuit redemptio.
At Prime
Let every age and nation own
That life’s reward at length is shown;
The foe’s hard yoke is cast away,
Redemption hath appeared to-day.
Isaias quae cecinit,
Completa sunt de Virgine:
Annuntiavit Angelus,
Sanctus replevit Spiritus
Isaiah’s strains fulfilment meet,
And in the Virgin are complete:
The Angel’s tongue hath called her blest ,
The Holy Ghost hath filled her breast.
Ad Tertiam
Maria ventre concipit
Verbi fidelis semine;
Quem totus orbis non capit,
Portant puellae viscera.
At Terce
The Virgin Mary hath conceived,
By that true word which she believed,
And Whom the wide world cannot hold,
A spotless maiden’s arms enfold.
Radix Jesse floruit
Et virga fructum edidit;
Fecunda partum protulit
Et virgo mater permanet
Now buds the flower of Jesse’s root,
Now Aaron’s rod puts out its fruit;
She sees her Offspring rise to view,
The Mother, yet the Virgin too.
Ad Sextam
Praesaepi poni pertulit,
Qui lucis auctor exstitit;
Cum Patre caelos condidit,
Sub Matre pannos induit.
At Sext
He, by Whose hand the light was made,
Deigns in a manger to be laid;
He with His Father made the skies,
And by His Mother swaddled lies.
Legem dedit qui saeculo,
Cuius decem praecepta sunt,
Dignandom factus est homo
Sub legis esse vinculo
He that once gave the Law to men,
And wrote it in Commandments Ten,
Himself man’s nature deigns to share,
The fetters of the Law to wear.
Ad Nonam
Adam vetus quod polluit,
Adam novus hoc abluit,
Tumens quod ille deicit,
Humillimus hic erigit
At None
Now the Old Adam’s sinful stain
Doth the New Adam cleanse again;
And what the first by pride o’erthrew,
This lowliest One uprears anew.
Jam nata lux est et salus,
Fugata nox et victa mors;
Venite, gentes, credite,
Deum Maria protulit.
Now light is come, Salvation shewn,
And night repelled, and Death o’erthrown;
Approach, ye nations! own this morn,
That God of Mary hath been born.

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