The Nunc Dimittis
Rev. John Cennick
12 December 1718 - 4 July 1755
Of the Revd. Mr. Cennick
(Who departed this Life, July 4, 1775)
Which he wrote some Time ago, and carried with him in his Pocket-Book, where they were found after his Decease.
London: Printed and Sold by M. Lewis, in Pater-Noster-Row, 1756.
Based on the Canticle of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32.
Now, Lord, in Peace with Thee and all below,
Let me depart, and to Thy Kingdom go.
As, earnestly fatigued in Journeys, I
Have wish'd to see my Town to lodge in, nigh :
So earnestly my weeping Eyes I turn
Towards Thy House; and languish, pine and mourn.
Nor can I help it, for within I feel
A Thirst to see Thee, quite insatiable.
Tis true, Thy Blessings make my Cup run o'er,
I find Thy Favours daily more and more ;
When Troubles me afflict and bow me down,
I am never forsaken or alone :
Thou kissest all my Tears and Griefs away,
Art with me all Night long, and all the Day.
I have no Doubt that I belong to Thee,
And shall be with Thee to Eternity.
For firm my Heart believes, as Thou art true ;
I am Thy pleasant Child, Thy Son, I know.
But take it not amiss, O be not griev'd,
I want from Pilgrimage to be reliev'd ;
I want to be dissolv'd, and no more here
A Wand'rer be, a banishd'd Foreigner.
Sign my Dismission, with a tender Sense
That Thou with my Retiring dost dispense.
I would not Thee offend, (Thou know'st my Heart)
Nor one short Day before Thy Time depart :
But I am weary, and dejected too,
O let me to Eternal Sabbath go.
In no Chastisement, Darkness, or Distress,
In no Confusion, but in inward Peace,
With Thy full Leave and Approbation, I
Entreat to lay my Staff and Sandals by.
No sudden Stroke, or violent Fever give,
Which may me of my Senses quite bereave ;
Lest I should with my Lips offend or err,
Or grieve such tender Brethren who are near :
No, let my fleeting Soul, and my last Word
Confirm my Assurance, and exalt my Lord.
Allow me this, and sign my glad Release,
Let my Heart hear Thee say, Depart in Peace.
I long to see Thee, Son of Man, and be
A pardon'd Part of Thy dear Family.
As, oft, at Sea, when Wind and Tide was fair,
I've seen the less'ning Mountains disappear,
Exceeding sick, yet glad to move so fast,
In hopes e're long on th' other side to rest ;
Till the glad Sailors spy their Native Shore,
And the Land-Breezes my lost Strength restore ;
Then on the Deck how pleased have I seen
My port, and thought, (as if on Shore I'd been)
I see my Friends ! I kiss them, and partake
Their welcomes with their Arms about my Neck !
Till all is realiz'd, and on the Strand
Chearful and thankful lo ! they see me land ;
Then I my Sickness and Fatigues forget,
And what I fancied's real and compleat :
Just so I long my Passport to receive,
And have Permission this sad World to leave.
Like some poor Wind-bound Passenger I wait,
He thirsts for Home, nor Food, nor Sleep is sweet :
So I with love-sick Anguish, Tears and Sighs,
Oft (my Heart melting) look towards the Skies.
No Words express the Throbbings of my Breast,
To fly away and ever be at rest.
If I am by, when one in Faith expires,
Or hear their happy Exit, it inspires
My eager Soul their Footsteps to pursue,
And fain that Night I'd make my Exit too.
I scarce reflect, they now are with the Lamb,
But down my Cheeks the saltry Riv'lets stream.
I long to kiss that Hand, which once me bless'd ;
Those Feet that travell'd to procure my rest ;
Those Lips that me confess'd ; and that dear Head,
That bow'd when on it all my Sins were laid.
O Lamb ! I languish till that Day I see,
When Thou wilt say, Come up and be with ME.
Now Twice-seven Years have I Thy Servant been ;
Now let me end my Service, and my Sin.
Forgive all my Mistakes, and Faults, and Shame,
Neglect, and all things where I've been to blame,
Let the same Kiss my Absolution seal,
And Pow'r convey, all what is bruis'd to heal.
Then loose the Silver Cord with gentle Pain,
Whil'st I on Thy dear Bosom smiling lean ;
Let the Death-Sweat, and sick and fainty Chills,
(With chearing Views of the Eternal Hills)
And Limbs grown cold, and breaking Eye-strings tell,
But a few Moments, and thou shalt be well !
Thine everlasting Arms be underneath,
Thy bleeding Wounds disarm the Tyrant Death :
Thy own cold Sweat my Clam and Sweat wipe off,
Thy Cross my Bed, and Pillow then make soft.
Thy Ministers of flaming Fire attend,
And sing me sweetly to my journey's End.
Then let me hear, then bid my Friends adieu ;
Say, to thine Honour, “Thou art good and true !
I've overcome ! I live for evermore !
My Sorrows now, and Pains and Tears are o'er.
The Angels wait – the Saviour Calls – Farewell,
I go to Him in endless Peace to dwell.”
Then let my Breath grow short, my Strength decay,
The Ruttles low and Pulses die away;
So fall asleep – and soaring, stoop and view
The less'ning World now left, and all below.
Mean while shall I awake in Jesus's Arms ;
Above the reach of Slanders, Wrongs, or Harms ;
And with my dear Acquaintance gone before,
Stay with the Lamb, and go from Him no more.
This text was transcribed from a scan of the 1756 publication, and checked against the version printed in The Moravian Church Miscellany, No. 10, October 1851, Vol. 2, pp. 310-12.
This poem celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth. It is also known as the “Canticle of Simeon,” “Song of Simeon” and "Simeon's Song," and comes from Luke 2:29-32.
The name Nunc Dimittis comes from the first two words of the prayer in the Latin Vulgate:
("Now dismiss your servant, O Lord, according to your word, in peace...")
Simeon was a devout Jew who had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. When he saw Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Presentation of their son, he took Him into his arms and gave praise. Here is the account from the Gospel of Luke:
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2 22-35, NIV; footnotes omitted.)
The King James Version of the prayer is:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
According to the The Oxford Annotated Bible, the phrase "Lettest ... depart," is taken from the manumission of a slave, that is, the formal act of freeing a slave. Likewise, in the Bible, redemption is understood as the process of freeing a slave. Someone, however, must pay the price, the ransom. Christians believe that Christ by his death paid that ransom for us, and thereby redeemed us from the slavery of sin and its eternal consequences.
This is the third of the three Great Evangelical Canticles of the New Testament, with the first being the The Magnificat (The Canticle of Mary) (Luke 1:46-55; recited at Vespers) and the second being the The Benedictus (The Canticle of Zachary) (Luke 1:68-79; recited at Lauds). Simeon's prayer of praise alludes to several passages in the Old Testament including Isaiah 40:5, Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 52:10 and Psalm 98:2 (NIV). See: Old Testament Fulfillment in the Canticle of Simeon. For all three Canticles, the rubric in some traditions requires the singers and congregations to stand while they are being sung (in honor of the mystery of the Incarnation, to which they refer).
This passage has often been set to poems, prayers and songs. Traditionally, it is a part of the Evensong or Compline worship devotions in the Christian Church, including the Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics since the 4th century. Compline is the final prayer of day; it is the last of the canonical hours in a monastic community. "Compline" is taken from the Latin word "completorium" meaning "completion of the day." Compline is also known as "Night Prayer" or "Prayer at the Close of Day."
The text of the Nunc Dimittis is given in full in the Evening Prayer found in the Fourth Century collection, Apostolic Constitutions (Book VII, no. 48). In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the canticle is found in Vespers.
The first three words of the last line of the Nunc Dimittis, “Lumen ad revelationem,” serve as an antiphon for the Canticle used in the Roman Catholic Mass during the Blessing of the Candles (Mass of the Presentation, February 2), and formerly for the Gloria Patri and Sicut erat. The Communion antiphon for that day is "With my own eyes I have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all the nations." In addition, the Nunc Dimittis is frequently found after the Sacrament of Holy Communion in some denominations.
This Latin chant comes from the St. Gregory Hymnal and Catholic Choir Book (1920):
This English-language version is from the 1815 Book of Common Prayer:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
Which thou has prepared : before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.
This traditional version was also sung during the evening service of other denominations, including the Lutheran's "Evening Service or Vespers" as found in The Book of Worship (1899), The Wartburg Hymnal (1918), and The Concordia Hymnal (1932).
Many denominations have updated the words of the Canticle (replacing "thee" and "thou", for example). There is this version from Lutheran Worship (1982) that is sung during the "Prayer At The Close Of Day":
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace:
your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of ev'ry people:
A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping
that awake we may watch with Christ
and asleep we may rest in peace.
Another updated version is found in The New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal and Hymnal (1966, pp. 517-8) ("Now you dismiss Your servant, O Lord....").
Finally there is this version of the Canticle of Simeon that is chanted at the St. Benedict Monastery in Oxford, Michigan:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people.
A light to reveal you to the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Three Presentation carols based on this Canticle are
Simeon is also mentioned in several others, including
See also: Candlemas.
The melody with a four-part setting by Johann Walter was first published in the Geistliches Gesangbuchlein, Wittenberg, 1524. Another important early melody source was one that appeared in the Gotha Hymnal, 1715.
In England, one of the most well-known settings is the plainchant theme of Thomas Tallis. The Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) has 35 musical settings listed for the Nunc Dimittis, including settings by William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Michael Praetorius, Thomas Ravenscroft, Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Tallis, and Samuel Sebastian Wesley. See Nunc_Dimittis <http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Nunc_dimittis>, accessed June 30, 2009.
The settings by Bach ("Mit Fried' und Freud'ich fahr dahin," BWV616, 1713) and Brahms are not included in the CPDL listing, but can be found elsewhere. The setting by Brahms is said to be part of a larger work, the Motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben, Op. 74, No. 1 (1877).
Many composers have coupled this text with the Magnificat, as both the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis are sung (or said) during Compline. The Short Evening Service arrangement by Tallis (see above) is one example.
Two contemporary songs based on the Canticle of Simeon are:
Dr. George Park Fisher relates that the Canticle of Simeon was recited during a very dark period in the past. In his History of The Christian Church, he related that King Henry II of France embarked on a horrific persecution of Calvinistic Protestants, burning both them and their books. But notwithstanding these martyrdoms, he was unable to halt the spread of Protestantism:
For one martyr who disappeared in the flames, there presented themselves a hundred more ; men, women, and children marched to their punishment singing the psalms of Marot or the canticle of Simeon:
'Rappelez votre serviteur,
Seigneur ! j'ai vu votre Sauveur.'
Most of the victims died with the eye turned towards that New Jerusalem, that holy city of the Alps [Geneva], where some had been to seek, whence others had received, the word of God.
"Apostolic Constitutions. Book VII." Translated by James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/07157.htm>.
The Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1815).
The Book of Worship (Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1899).
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The Concordia Hymnal (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932)
Daniels, Harold M., To God alone be glory: the story and sources of the Book of common worship (Westminster: John Knox Press, 2003).
"Evangelium secundum Lucam," Novum Testamentum, Nova Vulgata, Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio <http://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_nt_evang-lucam_lt.html>, accessed June 30, 2008.
"Feast of the Presentation of our Lord." <http://www.liturgies.net/Epiphany/Candlemas/eucharist_rc.htm>, from The Liturgy Archive <http://www.liturgies.net/index.htm>, accessed July 11, 2009.
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“John Cennick.” The Cyberhymnal at Hymntime. <http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/c/e/n/cennick_j.htm>, accessed June 30, 2009. A few of his hymns can be found at this location. Rev. Cennick edited four hymnals in his short lifetime.
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Julian, John, Dictionary of Hymnology. Second Edition. (1892, 1907). Julian described Rev. Cennick as a prolific and successful hymn-writer, and outlined his movement from the Methodist Church to the Moravian Church. In addition to his four hymnals, his son-in-law. Rev. J. Swertner, published additional hymns in the Moravian Hymn Book of 1789, of which he was the editor. Additional hymns from Rev. Cennick are found in his Sermons, 2 Volumes, 1753-1754. Dr. Julian noted that many of Cennick's stanzas were excellent, but that his output was, overall, “most unequal,” but added that “some excellent centos might be compiled from his various works.”
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