The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Paean Alphabeticus de Christo

A solis ortus cardine

Words by Cœlius Sedulius, c. 450
(Or
Caelius Sedulius)
Sedulius is also the author of the epic "Paschale Carmen,"
"Paschale Opus," and "Cantemus, socii, Domino"

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. 45-46.

48. Hymnus acrostichis, totam vitam Christi continens

1. A solis ortus cardine
ad usque terræ limitem
Christum canamus principem
natum Maria virgine.

2. Beatus auctor seculi
servile corpus induit.
Ut carne carnem liberans
ne perderet, quos condidit.

3. Clausa parentis viscera
cælestis intrat gratia:
Venter puellæ baiulat
secreta quæ non noverat.

4. Domus pudici pectoris
templum repente fit dei,
Intacta, nesciens virum,
verbo concepit filium.

5. Enixa iam puerpera est
quem Gabriel prædixerat ,
Quem matris alvo gestiens
clausus Iohannes senserat.

6. Fœno iacere pertulit,
præsepe non abhorruit,
Parvoque lacte pastus est,
per quem nec ales esurit.

7. Gaudet chorus cælestium
et angeli canunt deo,
Palamque fit pastoribus
pastor, creator omnium.

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

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

10. Katerva matrum personat,
collisa deflens pignora,
Quorum tyrannus millia
Christo sacravit victimam.

11. Lavacra puri gurgitis
cælestis agnus attigit:
Peccata, quæ non detulit,
nos abluendo sustulit.

12. Miraculis dedit fidem,
habere se deum patrem.
Infirma sanans corpora,
resuscitans cadavera.

13. Novum genus potentiæ
aquæ rubescunt hydriæ,
Vinumque iussa fundere
mutavit unda originem.

14. Orat salutem servulo
flexus genu centurio.
Credentis ardor plurirmus
extinxit ignes febriurn

15. Petrus per undas ambulans
Christi levatur dextera:
Natura quam negaverat,
fides paravit semitam.

16. Quarta die iam fœtidus
vitam recepit Lazarus,
Cunctisque liber vinculis
factus superstes est sibi.

17. Rivos cruoris horridi
contacta vestis obstruit,
Fletu rigante supplicis
arent fluenta sanguinis.

18. Solutus omni corpore
iussus repente surgere,
Suis vicissim gressibus
æger vehebat lectulum.

19. Tunc ille Iudas carnifex
ausus magistrum tradere,
Pacem ferebat osculo,
quam non habebat pectore.

20. Verax datur fallacibus,
pium flagellat impius,
Crucique fixus innocens
coniungitur latronibus.

21. Xeromyrrham post sabbatum
quædam vehebant corpori:
Quas allocutus angelus,
vivum sepulchro non tegi .

22. Ymnis, venite, dulcibus
omnes canamus subditum
Christi triumpho tartarum,
qui nos redemit venditus.

23. Zelum draconis invidi
et os leonis pessimi
Calcavit unicus dei
seseque cælis reddidit.

Also found at: The Latin Library; Also found at Intratext Digital Library

This poem by Cœlius Sedulius was written in the first half of the fifth century, in twenty-three stanzas, entitled Paean Alphabeticus de Christo: "a song of triumph to Christ, according to the letters of the alphabet. " The first letter of each of the 23 verses follows the pattern: A, B, C, D, E, etc. More on that in a moment.

Two hymns have been created from this poem; one beginning with the first stanza, "A Solis Ortus Cardine (verses 1-7);" the other, beginning with the eighth stanza, "Hostis Herodes impie" (verses 8-11; a derivative hymn is Crudelis Herodes, Deum). Both have been translated by Luther: "Christum wir sollen loben schon," and "Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr." There are seven English translations of Luther’s version of the first part, and about twelve renderings based upon the Latin original. Some translators include Rev. John Mason Neale, 1852, Rev. J. Ellerton, 1870, Danish translator Claus Mortensen, 1528, and Søren Poulsøn Judichær (Gotlænder), author and minister in Slangerup.

Hymns on this site based on A Solis Ortus Cardine:

Hymns on this site based on Hostis Herodis Impie:

Hymns on this site based on Crudelis Herodes, Deum

The complete text, dating from the 8th century, is found in a manuscript in the British Museum and also in many editions of the works of Sedulius. For links to the full text of Paschale Carmen, see Sedulius (link opens in a new window at an external site, The Latin Library).

Carl P. E. Springer writes that a hymn for the Feast of the Holy Innocents has also been derived from this poem. The De Innocentibus rubric begins with the 10th verse:

Katerva matrum personat
Collisa deflens pignora,
Quorum tyrannus milia
Christo sacravit victimam.

The remainder of the rubric is the following stanzas.

9. Ibant magi, qua venerant,
Stellam sequentes previam,
Lumen requirunt lumine,
Deum fatentur munere.

11. Lavacra puri gurgitis
Cekstis agnus attigit ,
Peccata qui mundi tulit
Nos abluendo sustulit.

13. Novum genus potentie!
Aque rubescunt hydrie,
Vinumque iussa fundere
Mutavit unda originem.

No translation found. See: Carl P. E. Springer, The Manuscripts of Sedulius - A Provisional Handlist (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1995), p. 14, n. 34 (Carl P. E. Springer Transactions of the American Philosophical Society  New Ser., Vol. 85, No. 5 (1995), pp. i-xxii+1-244). A knowledge of Latin and German are helpful to fully understand this article (I possess neither). However, the Introduction can be read profitably without knowledge of these languages.

See also Springer, "Sedulius' A Solis Ortus Cardine: The Hymn and Its Tradition, " Ephemerides Liturgicae 101 (1987), 69-75.

Note that the Bach Cantatas website, citing Grove's Music, states: "... the following four (beginning ‘Katerva matrum personat’) for the Feast of the Holy Innocents." This would be verses 10-13, above, different from Springer's enumeration. See Sedulius.

As I do not read Latin, I am unable to provide a translation, nor have I located a translation on the World Wide Web.

At the beginning of these notes, it was observed that the first letter of each of the 23 verses follows the pattern: A, B, C, D, E, etc, and that this is a special form of an acrostic poem, that is, an alphabetical acrostic poem, a.k.a. an "abecedarian."

In brief, an acrostic poem is one where the initial letters (or last letters, or other arrangement) spell out a word or phrase. In an alphabetical acrostic, the letters follow the regular order of the alphabet. This is a very old convention. Indeed, there are at least eight Psalms that contain acrostics:

Psalms 9 & 10 (wrongly divided says one source; it should have been a single psalm)
Psalm 25
Psalm 34
Psalm 37
Psalm 111
Psalm 112
Psalm 119 (the longest in the Bible)
Psalm 145

In addition, there are acrostics in the books of Proverbs, Lamentations, and Nahum. An unusual example is Psalm 4, which contains an acrostic which, when read backwards, spells: “Unto a lamp for Zerubbabel.”

Geoffrey Chaucer’s “An ABC” is an "abecedarian" poem based on his translation of Guillaume de Deguileville’s allegorical poem Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine (Pilgrimage of Human Life). Instead of the first letter of each line, Chaucer uses the first letter in each stanza of the poem:

Almighty and al merciable queene ...
Bountee so fix hath in thin herte his tente ...
Comfort is noon but in yow, ladi deere ...

Other poems that employ acrostics include:

“Hymn I, Of Astraea” by Sir John Davies (1599)
“Hymn III, To the Spring” by Sir John Davies (1599)
“Hymn VII, To the Rose” by Sir John Davies (1599)
“London” by William Blake (1794)
“An Acrostic” by Edgar Allan Poe (1829)
“A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky” by Lewis Carroll (1871)

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