The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius
348 -ca. 413

Among the important hymn writers who came after Saint Ambrose, Prudentius wrote a large and significant body of Latin poetry.

Prudentius (whose name is sometimes shown with a prefix of "Marcus"), was evidently born into the upper class. A native of Spain, (born 348 either at Saragossa, Tarragona, or Calahorra) but a loyal patriotic Roman, who regarded the "empire as an instrument in the hands of Providence for the advancement of Christianity," and who lived to see the imperial influence cast avowedly into the Christian scale.

In his boyhood, however, the throne was filled by Julian the Apostate, whom he describes as "faithful to Rome, though faithless to his God." Prudentius was trained as a lawyer and rose to high office in the State, "holding the reins of power over famous cities," serving as a judge. He was later called to the court of Theodosius I.

But at the age of fifty-seven, brought somehow to feel that his past life had been wasted, he resolved

Now, the, at last, close on the very end of life,
May yet my sinful soul put off her foolishness;
And if by deeds it cannot, yet, at least, by words give praise to God,
Join day to day by constant hymns,
Fail not each night in songs to celebrate the Lord,
Fight against heresies, maintain the Catholic faith.

John Mason Neale calls him "the prince of early Christian poets," and Bentley" the Horace and Virgil of the Christians," his poems are now chiefly studied for the sake of their historical and ecclesiastical allusions.

Many beautiful hymns have been gleaned from his poems, especially Cathemerinon ("The Hymns of Prudentius"), a collection of 12 long poems, one for each hour of the day and for chief Christian festivals (for a listing of all 12 poems, see below). The twelfth poem, Hymnus Epiphaniae (Hymn For The Epiphany), formed the basis for four hymns of the Epiphany in the Roman Breviary (and their many translations).

    (1) For the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Vespers and Matins, beginning Quicúmque Christum quæritis, consisting of lines 1-4, 37-40, 41-44, 85-88. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, there are 24 translations, including "All Ye Who Would Christ Descry" (A. McDougall). See: Hymn For The Epiphany (XII. Hymnus Epiphaniae; first line: "Lift up your eyes, whoe'er ye be"). Translations include:

    (2) For the Epiphany at Lauds, beginning O sola magnarum urbium, lines 77-80, 5-8, 61-72. Translations include:

    (3) For the Feast of Holy Innocents at Matins, beginning Audit tyrannus anxius, lines 93-100, 133-136. (With Terror Doth The Tyrant Hear)

    (4) Also the Feast of Holy Innocents at Lauds, beginning Salvete, Flores Martyrum, lines 125-132. Numerous translations, which include:

See, generally, The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents.

Other hymns of Prudentius from Cathemerinon that have found a place during the Christmas-tide include

He died after 405.

His works include:

Other Hymns:

Nox et tenebrae et nubila (From Cathemerinon, II. Hymnus Matutinus, "Morning Hymn"; first line: "Ye clouds and darkness, hosts of night." It formed the basis of the hymn by that title, plus "Day Is Breaking, Dawn Is Bright" "Now with Creation’s Morning Song," and others).

"Ye Clouds And Darkness, Hosts Of Night" can be found in The English Hymnal (London: Oxford University Press, 1906), #54, p. 85. Translation is by "R. M. P." It can also be found in Dearmer, Williams and Shaw, eds., Songs of Praise (London: Oxford University Press, 1931, 1959, #37, p. 39, translation by Rev. R. Martin Pope.

Lux ecce surgit aurea ("O! Golden Light Rekindles Day," translation by "R. M. P." See The English Hymnal (London: Oxford University Press, 1906), #55, p. 85.)

Cultor Dei memento ("Servant Of God, Remember," Translation by "T. A. L." (presumably T. A. Lacey, one of the editors of The English Hymnal (London: Oxford University Press, 1906), #104, p. 146.)

Beate Martyr, prospera ("Blest Martyr, Let Thy Triumph-day," Translation by "A. R." (presumably Athelstan Riley, one of the editors of The English Hymnal (London: Oxford University Press, 1906), #185, p. 272.)

Deus ignee fons animarum ("Father Of Spirits, Whose Divine Control," Translation by "P. D." (presumably Percy Dearmer, one of the editors of The English Hymnal (London: Oxford University Press, 1906), #352, p. 491.)

"All Ye Who Seek For Sure Relief," translation by E. Caswall from Prudentius, Hymns Ancient And Modern (1922), #112, p. 109. Latin original not identified.

"Father, Most High, Be With Us," translation by compilers from Prudentius, Hymns Ancient And Modern (1922), #493, p. 581. Latin original not identified.

A much longer listing can be found at Cyberhymnal: Prudentius.

 
 

The Twelve Hymns of Cathemerinon, and their first lines are:

I. HYMNUS AD GALLI CANTUM | HYMN AT COCK-CROW (Ales diei nuntius | Awake! the shining day is born!)
II. HYMNUS MATUTINUS | MORNING HYMN (Nox et tenebrae et nubila | Ye clouds and darkness, hosts of night)
III. HYMNUS ANTE CIBUM | HYMN BEFORE MEAT (O crucifer bone, lucisator | Blest Cross-bearer, Source of good)
IV. HYMNUS POST CIBUM | HYMN AFTER MEAT (Pastis visceribus ciboque sumpto | Refreshed we rise, and for this bread that feeds)
V. HYMNUS AD INCENSUM LUCERNAE | HYMN FOR THE LIGHTING OF THE LAMPS (Inventor rutili, dux bone, luminis | Blest Lord, Creator of the glowing light)
VI. HYMNUS ANTE SOMNUM | HYMN BEFORE SLEEP (Ades Pater supreme | Draw near, Almighty Father)
VII. HYMNUS IEIUNANTIUM | HYMN FOR THOSE WHO FAST (O Nazarene, lux Bethlem, verbum Patris | O Jesus, Light of Bethlehem)
VIII. HYMNUS POST IEIUNIUM | HYMN AFTER FASTING (Christe servorum regimen tuorum | O Christ, of all Thy servants Guide)
IX. HYMNUS OMNIS HORAE | HYMN FOR ALL HOURS (Da puer plectrum, choreis ut canam fidelibus | Let me chant in sacred numbers, as I strike each sounding string)
X. HYMNUS AD EXEQUIAS DEFUNCTI | HYMN FOR THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD (Deus ignee fons animarum | Fountain of life, supernal Fire)
XI. HYMNUS VIII. KALENDAS IANUARIAS | HYMN FOR CHRISTMAS-DAY (Quid est, quod artum circulum | Why doth the sun re-orient take)
XII. HYMNUS EPIPHANIAE | HYMN FOR THE EPIPHANY (Quicumque Christum quaeritis | Lift up your eyes, whoe'er ye be)

 

 

Sources:

Bach Cantatas, Prudentius (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Prudentius-Aurelius.htm; accessed February 5, 2007)

Rev. Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, Fourth Edition, 1908)

Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent: Prudentius (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12517c.htm; accessed February 5, 2007)

Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), Prudentius (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wace/biodict.html?term=Prudentius,%20Marcus%20(?)%20Aurelius%20Clemens; accessed February 5, 2007)

The Cyberhymnal, Prudentius (http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/p/r/prudentius_ac.htm; accessed February 5, 2007)

Project Gutenberg, Browse by Author: P (a listing which includes Prudentius) (http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/p#a5755; accessed February 5, 2007)

Wikipedia, Prudentius (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prudentius; accessed February 5, 2007)

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window