The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Why, Impious Herod, Vainly Fear

For Evening during Epiphany And The Following Week.

Words: "Hostis Herodis Impie" from "Paean Alphabeticus de Cristo," Sedulius
Translation by Rev. John Mason Neale

Music: From the Salisbury Hymnal
Other Music includes "St. Venantius," Rouen church melody
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Source: 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,
and George Radcliffe Woodward, ed., Songs of Syon (London: Schott & Co., Third Edition, 1908), # 36.

Isaiah ix. 1. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee."

1. a Why, impious Herod, vainly fear, 1
That Christ the Saviour cometh here ?
b He takes not earthly realms away,
c Who gives the crown that lasts for aye.

2. d To greet His birth the wise men went,
Led by the star before them sent :
e Called on by light, towards Light they press'd, 7
f And by their gifts their God confess'd.

3. g In holy Jordan's purest wave
The heav'nly Lamb vouchsaf'd to lave :
h That He, to Whom was sin unknown, 11
i Might cleanse His people from their own.

4. New miracle of Power Divine !
k The water reddens into wine :
He spake the word ; and pour'd the wave
In other streams than nature gave.

5. All glory, Lord, to Thee we pay
For Thine Epiphany to-day :
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

Notes from A Short Commentary on the Hymnal Noted (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), #XVII, pp.  16-17.

This is, in reality, only the continuation of Hymn XIV, From Lands That See The Sun Arise.

1. For when the wise men came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" we are told : ''When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Return

7. Called on by lights towards Light they pressed. Led on by the light of the star, they hastened to Him that is the True Light, our Lord Jesus. Return

11. So in the service of Baptism : "And by the Baptism of Thy well-beloved Son in the river Jordan, dost sanctify water to the mystical washing away of sin." The Epiphany is kept, not only in remembrance of our Lord's manifestation to the wise men, but also of His Baptism, and of His first miracle ; because all these also were His manifestations. So S. John says : " This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested forth His glory." Therefore, in the next verse, the Hymn refers to the turning water into wine. Return

    These notes are Limited to Part I, Hymns 1-46.

Notes from The Words of the Hymnal Noted Complete With Scriptural References (London: J. A. Novello and J. Masters, no date, circa 1855), #17 (Combined Edition #42), p.  46.

a. S. Matt. II. 3. Return

b. S. John xviii. 36. Dan. ii. 44. Return

c. 1 S. Pet. i. 4. 1 S. Pet. v. 4. Return

d. S. Matt. ii 2. Num. xxiv. 17. Return

e. Isaiah lx. 3. Return

f. Psalm lxxii. 10. S. Matt. ii. 11. Return

g. S. Matt. iii. 13. Return

h. 1 S. Pet. ii. 22. Return

i. 1 S. Pet. iii. 21. Return

k. S. John ii. 9. Return

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. From the Salisbury Hymnal.

44.jpg (486504 bytes)

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)

Note 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), p. v.

A cento from Paean Alphabeticus de Christo by Sedulius

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. 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 Catholic Encyclopedia.

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." Hydrić is the subject, and aquć the genitive of contents. Constr.: Et unda (quć) 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 Hostis Herodes Impie, A Sortis Ortus Cardine, and Paean Alphabeticus de Christo.

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