The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hostis Herodes Impie

Words from "Paean Alphabeticus de Christo" by Caelius Sedulius c. 450, with notes

Source: Philipp Wackernagel, ed., Das Deutsche Kirchenlied von der ästesten Beit bis zu Unfang des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Volume 1 of 5. (Leipzig, Drud und Berlag von B. G. Leubner, 1864), pp. 46-47.

50. In epiphania domini, ad vesperas.

1. Hostis Herodes impie,
Christum venire quid times?
Non eripit mortalia,
qui regna dat cælestia.

2. Ibant magi, quam viderant
stellam sequentes præviam,
Lumen requirunt lumine,
deum fatentur munere.

3. Lavacra puri gurgitis
cælestis agnus attigit,
Peccata quæ non detulit,
Nos abluendo sustulit.

4. Novum genus potentiæ
aquæ rubescunt hydriae,
Vinumque iussa fundere,
mutavit unda originem.

[5. Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui apparuisti hodie,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu
In sempiterna saecula. Amen.]


The fifth verse does not appear in the source document for this hymn, but does appear in other texts. It was common to add such a doxology to the original Latin texts of this nature.

Rev. Thomas Helmore observed "A cento from the ... hymn of Sedulius [Paean Alphabeticus de Christo]." See: Thomas Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Part I (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., and Masters and Son, 1852), Part II (London: Novello and Co., Joseph Masters and J. T. Hayes, 1858), p. iv-v.

When they had heard the king, they departed;
and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them,
till it came and stood over where the young child was.
Matt. 2:9 (KJV)

Sheet Music from J. H. Hopkins, ed., Great Hymns of the Church Compiled by the Late Right Reverend John Freeman Young (New York: James Pott & Company, 1887), #90, p. 138.

Sheet Music from Rev. John Mason Neale and Rev. Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted, Part I. (London: Novello & Co., 1852), Part II (London: Novello & Co., 1856), #15, p. 44

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Sheet Music from Thomas Helmore, Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted. Part I (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., and Masters and Son, 1852), Part II (London: Novello and Co., Joseph Masters and J. T. Hayes, 1858), #17.

17-01.jpg (361875 bytes) 17-02.jpg (593793 bytes)

Editor's Note:

See the notes following Crudelis Herodes, Deum, and the extensive notes following A Solis Ortus Cardine and Paean Alphabeticus de Christo.

Also found in Hermann Adalbert. Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus. Volume 1 of 5. (Halis: Sumptibus Eduardi Anton, 1846), #120, pp. 147-148.

An unrelated hymn with the same name from about 1330 is Hostis Herodes impie - Wm. Herebert.

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).

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