The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Crudelis Herodes, Deum

Hymn For the Epiphany. Revised from Hostis Herodes Impie
Derived from Paean Alphabeticus de Christo

Source: "Sedulius and His Abecedary," American Ecclesiastical Review, Volume 3 (Catholic University of America: Fr. Pustet & Co., 1890), p. 443

Crudelis Herodes, Deum,
Regem venire quid times?
Non eripit mortalia,
Qui regna dat cælestia.

Ibant Magi, quam viderant,
Stellam sequentes præviam;
Lumen requirunt lumine:
Deum fatentur munere.

Lavacra puri gurgitis
Cælestis Agnus attigit:
Peccata, quae non detulit,
Nos abluendo sustulit.

Novum genus potentiæ:
Aquae rubescunt hydriæ,
Vinumque jussa fundere,
Mutavit unda originem.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui apparuisti gentibus,
Cum Patre, et almo Spiritu,
In sempiterna sæcula.

Notes from Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B., Hymns from the Breviary and Missal (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1922), #46, pp. 113-114.

Author: Sedulius, 5th cent. Meter: Iambic dimeter. Translation [of Why, Impious Herod, Vainly Fear] by J. M. Neale. There are about twenty-five translations, eight of which, including both texts, are in the Annus Sanctus [see below]. Liturgical Use: Vespers hymn on the Feast of the Epiphany. First line of Original Text: Hostis Herodes Impie. The texts differ only in the first two lines [and a few words in the last verse]. In the Original Text these lines read:

Hostis Herodes impie
Christum venire quid times?

This hymn is a continuation of No. 39, A Solis Ortus Cardine [the full hymn is from Paean Alphabeticus de Christo]. The word Epiphany signifies appearance or manifestation. This manifestation was threefold: To the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi (Matt. 2, 1-12); to the Jews at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (Mark 1, 9-11); to the Apostles when Christ wrought His first miracle at the marriage feast at Cana (John 2, 1-11). In the hymn, it will be observed that a stanza is devoted to each of the three manifestations.

Read the articles on Epiphany, Herod, Magi and Cana, in the Cath. Encycl.

1. "Cruel Herod, why dost thou fear the coming of the Divine King! He taketh not away earthly kingdoms, who bestoweth heavenly ones." Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo (John 18, 36).

2. "The Magi proceeded, following the star, which they saw leading the way: by the aid of light, they seek the Light: by their gifts they acknowledge Him to be God." In the East it was customary when visiting kings or princes to offer them appropriate gifts. The gifts offered by the Magi were expressive of their belief in Christ's royal generation, in His divine nature, and in His human nature. Gold, the noblest of the metals, hence a gift suitable for a king, was symbolical of His royal generation: frankincense is a symbol of prayer, and was therefore, an acknowledgment of His Divinity; and myrrh, which is used in embalming, was expressive of His mortality as man.

3. "The Heavenly Lamb touched the cleansing bath of the limpid waters: by washing us, He took away (sustulit) sins which He Himself had not committed (detulit)." Ecce agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccatum mundi (John 1, 29). "It is the teaching of St. Thomas that the Baptism of Christ was the occasion when He gave to Christian Baptism its power of conferring grace; but that the necessity of this Sacrament was not intimated to men till after the Resurrection" (Father Hunter's Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, p. 532).

4. "A new manifestation of power: the water of the jars becomes red, and the water which was bidden to issue forth as wine, changed its nature." Hydriæ is the subject, and aquæ the genitive of contents. Constr.: Et unda (quæ) jussa (est) vinum fundere, mutavit originem. The following is the Catholic poet Crashaw's beautiful epigram on the miracle at Cana:

Lympha pudica Deum vidit et erubuit.
The modest water saw its God and blushed.

Editor's Note:

See the extensive notes following A Sortis Ortus Cardine.

The eight translations from Shipley's Annus Sanctus include:

From the main text:

Crudelis Herodes, Deum.

For the Epiphany. Revised from Hostis Herodes Impie. Vespers Breviary Hymn, by Sedulius.

44. Why, Ruthless Herod, Why Should Fear. Very Rev. Prior James A. Dominic Aylward, Order of Preachers, 1843-1850. 42 - Epiphany and Octave.

54. What Makes Thee, Cruel Herod, Shake, Based on the Primers of 1685 and 1706, but partly original. Evening Office, 1710. Author unknown, 49  - Third Week After Epiphany.

57. Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear. Very Rev. Provost F. C. Husenbeth, 1840-1841. 52 - Fourth Week After Epiphany.

60. Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear, Rev. Professor Thomas J. Potter, All Hallows College, Dublin, 1857-1858. 54 - Fifth Week After Epiphany.

From the Appendix:

Hostis Herodes Impie.

Vespers Breviary Hymn, by Sedulius, for the Epiphany.

Crudelis Herodes, Deum.

Vespers Breviary Hymn, by Sedulius, for the Epiphany. Revised from Hostis Herodes Impie.

This hymn is discussed in conjunction with it's parent hymn by John Julian in his Dictionary of Hymnology (1892), p. :


Notes from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1892, 1907), pp. 4-5.

A solis ortûs cardine. Ad usque. Coelius Sedulius. [Christmas.] This hymn, which opens with the same first stanza as the next annotated herein, with the exception of Et for “Ad” in line 2, may be distinguished therefrom by the second stanza, which reads:—

“Beatus auctor saeculi
Servile corpus induit,
Ut carne carnem liberans
Ne perderet quos condidit.”

It is a poem, dating from the first half of the fifth century, in 23 stanzas of 4 lines, entitled Paean Alphabeticus de Christo (“A triumphal song concerning Christ, arranged according to the letters of the alphabet.”) The subject is a devout description of the Life of Christ in verse. The full text is found in an eighth century manuscript in the British Museum (MSS. Reg. 2 A. xx. f. 50), and is also given in the numerous editions of Sedulius’ Works (that of Faustus Arevalus, Rome, 1794, especially); in the works of Thomasius from Vatican manuscripts of the 8th and 9th centuries; in Wackernagel, volume 1, number 48 [Paean Alphabeticus de Christo], and others. For ecclesiastical purposes it has been broken up into two hymns, the first known as A solis ortus cardine, and the second, Hostis Herodis Impie, with the Roman Breviary form of the same, Crudelis Herodes, Deum. Following the order of this arrangement, the details are:—

[Notes concerning A solis ortus cardine are not reproduced here. Please see: A solis ortus cardine]


ii. The second portion of this poem is the Epiphany hymn Hostis Herodis Impie, found in many Breviaries, and consisting of lines 29-36, 41-44, and 49-52, or in other words, the strophes commencing with h, i, l, n, s. The text is given in Hermann Daniel’s Thesaurus Hymnologicus, volume 1, number 120, together with references to various Breviaries, etc.

In the Hymnarium Sarisburiense, London, 1851, it is given as the Hymn at first and second vespers on the feast of the Epiphany, and daily through the Octave at Matins and Vespers; with various readings from the uses of York (which assigns it to first and second vespers and Lauds on the Epiphany, and daily through the Octave), of Evesham and Worcester (through the Epiphany at Vespers), St. Alban’s (Vespers and Lauds), St. Andrew de Bromholm, Norfolk (Lauds). Hermann Daniel’s Thesaurus Hymnologicus, volume 4, 148, 370, cites it as in a Rheinau manuscript of the 9th century, and a Bern manuscript of the 9th century. In the British Museum it is also found in an 11th century manuscript (Jul. A. vi. f. 36) and others; and in the Latin Hymns of the Anglo-Saxon Church, 1851, page 51, it is printed from a Durham manuscript of the 11th century. The strophe Katerva matrum (the troop of mothers) occurs in a manuscript of the Harleian Library, of the 11th century (2961, f. 229b), as a hymn for the Holy Innocents. In the Mozarabic Breviary, Hostis Herodes impie is the Hymn at Lauds for the Epiphany, the strophes h, i, l, n, q, r, s, t, v, x, y, z of the original being used, with doxology. Strophes k, m, o, p, with two additional, and a doxology, are used in this rite on the Feast of the Holy Innocents at Lauds; or “In Allisione Infantium, sive Sanctorum Innocentium,” “On the dashing to pieces of the Infants, or Holy Innocents.” (See Psalm 137:9, English version; Psalm 136:9, in the Latin; for the idea.) In Migne’s Patrologiae cursus the hymns will be found in col. 184, 185, and 135, 136 of tom. 86 respectively. [W. A. S.]

Translations in common use:—

1. How Vain Was Impious Herod's Dread. By Arthur Tozer Russell, in his Psalms and Hymns, 1851, number 71, and with alterations, into Benjamin Hall Kennedy’s Psalms and Hymns Selected and Arranged in the Order of the Christian Seasons, 1863, Number 226.

Why, Impious Herod, Vainly Fear. By John Mason Neale, in the first edition of the Hymnal Noted, 1852, number 17, from whence it passed into later editions of the same, the People’s Hymnal, 1867, the Hymner, 1882, and others. In Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861, it is given in an altered form, as:— “Why doth that impious Herod fear?” but in the enlarged and revised edition, 1875, the opening line is again altered to, “How vain the cruel Herod’s fear.” Another form is that of the Hymnary, 1872, where it reads:— “The star proclaims the King is here.” It was thus altered by the Editors of that collection.

Translations not in common use:—

1. Herod, grim foe, whence this dismay. William John Blew, 1852.

2. Why, Herod, Impious Tyrant, Fear. John David Chambers, 1857.

3. Impious Herod, Wherefore Tremble. Hamilton Montgomerie Macgill, 1876.

Various translations of this have been made into German. The translations from one of these are thus noted by Mr. Mearns:—

Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr. A full and faithful translation by Martin Luther, written Dec. 12, 1541, and first published in Klug’s Geistliche Lieder, Wittenberg, 1544. Thence in Wackernagel, volume 3, page 25, in 5 stanzas of 4 lines. Included in Schircks’s edition of Luther’s Geistliche Lieder, 1854, page 18, and as number 81 in the Unverfälschter Liedersegen, 1851.

Of this the only translation in common use is, “Why Herod Unrelenting Foe!” in full in Richard Massie’s Martin Luther’s Spiritual Songs, 1854, page 13, and thence in Dr. Bacon, 1884, and, altered, as number 53, in the Ohio Lutheran Hymnal, 1880.

Other translations are:—

1. “What Dost Thou Fear, Oh, Enemy ?” by Miss Henrietta Joan Fry, 1845, page 23.

2. “Fiend Herod, why those frantic fears,” by John Anderson, 1846, page 11 (edition of 1847, page 36).

3. “Fiend Herod! why with fears art torn,” by Dr. J. Hunt, 1853, page 38.

4. “Herod, why dreadest thou a foe,” by Dr. G. Macdonald in the Sunday Magazine, 1867, page 331; and thence, altered, in his Exotics, 1876. [J.J.]

Hymns on this site based on Hostis Herodis Impie:

  1. How Vain The Cruel Herod's Fear, John Mason Neale & Editors, Hymns Ancient and Modern

  2. How Vain Was Impious Herod's Dread, Arthur Tozer Russell, 1851

  3. Impious Herod, Wherefore Tremble, Hamilton Montgomerie Macgill, 1876

  4. O Herod, Wicked Enemy, Primer, 1619

  5. That Christ is Come Why Dost Thou Dread, Primer, 1604

  6. The Star Proclaims The King Is Here, John Mason Neale

  7. Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr, Martin Luther;

  8. What Dost Thou Fear, Oh, Enemy ? translation by Henrietta Joan Fry, 1845 of Luther's "Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr"

  9. When Christ's Appearing Was Made Known, John Mason Neale

  10. When Christ's Appearing Was Made Known (The first verse in this version is trans. The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada, Copyright, 1971)

  11. Why Doth That Impius Herod Fear. Hymns Ancient And Modern

  12. Why Herod, Unrelenting Foe, Richard Massie, Martin Luther's Spiritual Songs; This is Massie's translation of Luther's "Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr"

  13. Why, Impious Herod Shouldst Thou Fear, Percy Dearmer

  14. Why, Impious Herod, Vainly Fear, John Mason Neale

  15. Why, Herod, Impious Tyrant, Fear, John David Chambers

iii. The Roman Breviary form of Hostis Herodis is Crudelis Herodes, Deum. The alterations in the text are stanza 1, lines 1-2, and the doxology only [which is a later addition]. In the Roman Breviary it is appointed for the first and second Vespers of the Feast of the Epiphany. The text is in Hermann Daniel’s Thesaurus Hymnologicus, volume 1, number 120; Cardinal Newman’s Hymni Ecclesiaè, 1838-65, and other collections. [W. A. S.]

Translations in common use:—

1. Why, Herod, Why The Godhead Fear! By Bishop Richard Mant, in his Ancient Hymns, 1837, page 43; and in Chope’s Hymnal, 1864, and others as:— “In vain doth Herod rage and fear.

2. Why, Ruthless King, This Frantic Fear! By William John Copeland, in his Hymns for the Week, 1848, page 70. In 1868 it was given as, “Why doth the wicked Herod fear?” in the Sarum Hymnal, number 66.

3. O Cruel Herod! Why Thus Fear? By Edward Caswall. First published in his Lyra Catholica, 1849, page 53, and his Hymns and Poems, 1873, page 30. This is the translation in common use in Roman Catholic collections for Schools and Missions.

4. Why, Cruel Herod, Why In Fear? By Jame Aitken Johnston, in the English Hymnal, 1852, and later editions. This is based upon older translations.

5. Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear? By Richard Corbet Singleton, made for and first published in his Anglican Hymn Book, 1868, number 58. In the second edition, 1871, number 73, it was altered to, “Why Should The Cruel Herod Fear?

6. Why doth that cruel Herod fear? This, which is number 120 in the St. John’s Hymnal, Aberdeen, 1865 and 1870, is a cento from Copeland (stanza 2) and Neale, with alterations in the text of each.

Translations not in common use:—

1. Why, Herod, Dost Thou Fear in Vain. Primer, 1706.

2. Cruel Herod, wherefore fearest thou? Hope, 1844.

3. Why, Herod, shakes thy soul with fears. F. Trappes, 1865.

4. Why, cruel Herod, dost thou fear. James Cowden Wallace, 1874. [J. J.]

Hymns on this site based on Crudelis Herodes, Deum

  1. Most Cruel Herod, Whence Does Spring

  2. O Cruel Herod! Why Thus Fear

  3. What Makes Thee, Cruel Herod, Shake

  4. Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear - Husenbeth, 1840-1841

  5. Why Cruel Herod Dost Thou Fear - Parsons, ca. 1844

  6. Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear - Potter, 1857-1858

  7. Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear - Singleton, 1857

  8. Why, Cruel Herod, Why In Fear

  9. Why, Herod, Dost Thou Fear in Vain (Primer, 1706)

  10. Why, Herod, Why The Godhead Fear

  11. Why, Ruthless Herod, Why Should Fear

  12. Why, Ruthless King, This Frantic Fear

  13. Why Should The Cruel Herod Fear? - Robert Corbet Singleton; Original 1858 title was "Why, Cruel Herod, Dost Thou Fear," (above).

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.