In one or two of the MSS. this introductory poem is stated to be a preface
of the Cathemerinon only: but the great majority of the codices support
the view which is undoubtedly suggested by internal evidence, that the poem
is a general introduction to the whole of Prudentius' works. It is inserted
together with the Epilogus in this volume, because of the intrinsic
interest of both poems.
||Of this poem lines
97-100, were included in the Roman Breviary
as a hymn to be sung at Lauds, on Tuesday.
||The allusions to the cock in this and the following poem (ii. 37-55) were
doubtless inspired by the lines of Ambrose in his morning hymn beginning
Aeterne rerum conditor. Cf. ll. 5-8 and 16-24:
"praeco diei iam sonat
noctis profundae pervigil,
nocturna lux viantibus
a nocte noctem segregans.
* * *
surgamus ergo strenue:
gallus iacentes excitat,
et somnolentos increpat:
gallus negantes arguit.
gallo canente spes redit,
aegris salus refunditur,
mucro latronis conditur,
lapsis fides revertitur."
"Dawn's herald now begins to cry,
Lone watcher of the nightly sky:
Light of the dark to pilgrims dear,
Speeding successive midnights drear.
* * *
Brisk from our couch let us arise!
Hark to the cock's arousing cries!
He chides the sluggard's slumbrous ease,
And shames his unconvincing pleas.
At cock-crow Hope revives again,
Health banishes the stress of pain,
Sheathed is the nightly robber's sword,
And Faith to fallen hearts restored."
See also Ambrose, Hexaem., v. 24, for an eloquent passage in the same
strain. The cock was the familiar Christian symbol of early rising or
vigilance, and numerous representations of it are found in the Catacombs.
Cf. the painting from the Catacomb of St. Priscilla reproduced in
Bottari's folio of 1754, where the Good Shepherd is depicted as feeding
the lambs, with a crowing cock on His right and left hand. It is also a
symbol of the Resurrection, our Lord being supposed to have risen from the
grave at the early cockcrowing: see l. 65 et seq.
In l. 16 the first
bird-notes are interpreted by the poet as a summons to the general
judgment. Cf. Mark xiii. 35: "Ye know not when the lord of the house
cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the
morning." This passage serves as a kind of text for Prudentius' first two
hymns, and perhaps explains why he has one for cockcrowing and another for
||A common idea in all literatures. Cf. Virg., Aen., vi. 278 (taken from
Homer), tum consanguineus Leti Sopor, and Tennyson's "Sleep, Death's
twin-brother" (In Memoriam, 68).
||Cf. Augustine, Serm. 103: "These evil spirits seek to seduce the
soul: but when the sun has arisen, they take to flight."
||The denial of Peter forms a subject of Christian casuistry in patristic
literature, and this passage recalls the famous classical parallel in
Euripides (Hipp. 612), "the tongue hath sworn: yet unsworn is the
heart." Cf. Augustine, cont. mendacium: "In that denial he held fast
the truth in his heart, while with his lips he uttered falsehood." For a
striking representation of Peter and the cock, on a sarcophagus discovered
in the Catacombs and now deposited in the Vatican library, see Maitland's
Church in the Catacombs, p. 347. The closing words of the passage in
Ambrose's Hexaemeron, already referred to under l. 2,
may here be quoted: "As the cock peals forth his notes, the robber leaves his plots:
Lucifer himself awakes and lights up the sky: the distressful sailor lays
aside his gloom, and all the storms and tempests that have risen in fury
under the winds of the evening begin to die down: the soul of the saint
leaps to prayer and renews the study of the written word: and finally, the
very Rock of the Church is cleansed of the stain he had contracted by his
denials before the cock crew."
||The best commentary on these words is to be found in the following passage
from the second epistle of Basil to Gregory Nazianzen: "What can be more
blessed than to imitate on earth the angelic host by giving oneself at the
peep of dawn to prayer and by turning at sunrise to work with hymns and
songs: yea, all the day through to make prayer the accompaniment of our
toils and to season them with praise as with salt? For the solace of hymns
changes the soul's sadness into mirth."
||This poem furnishes two hymns to the Roman Breviary, one to be sung on
Wednesday at Lauds, and consisting of ll.
48-53 (omitting l. 50),
57, 59, 60,
67 (tu vera lux caelestium) and 68: the other for Thursday
at Lauds, consisting of ll. 25 (lux ecce surgit aurea),
||Cf. Ambrose, ii. 8, de Cain et Abel: "The thief shuns the day as
the witness of his crime: the adulterer is abashed by the dawn as the
accomplice of his adultery."
||The practice of praying on bended knees is frequently
referred to in early
Christian writers. Cf. Clem., 1 Ad. Cor. cc. xlviii.: "Let us fall down
before the Lord," and Shepherd of Hermas, vis. 1. i.: "After I had crossed
that river I came unto the banks and there knelt down and began to pray."
Dressel quotes from Juvencus (iv. 648), a Spanish poet and Christian
contemporary of Prudentius, genibus nixi regem dominumque salutant, "on
bended knees they make obeisance unto their King and Lord."
||The Jordan is a poetical figure for baptism, suggested
doubtless by the
baptism of our Lord in that river. Cf. vii. 73-75.
||Cf. Milton, Paradise Regained, i. 293:
"So spake our Morning Star, then
in his rise." The figure is suggested by Rev. xxii. 16: "I am ... the
bright, the morning star."
||The conception of God as speculator may be paralleled by a passage in
the epistle of Polycarp ad Philipp. iv., where God is described as the
and subsequently (vii.) as
θεον, "the All-witnessing God." The last verse
contains a distinct echo of the closing words of the fourth chapter of
Polycarp: "None of the reasonings or thoughts, nor any of the hidden
things of the heart escape His notice."
||Word-begot. The original verbigena, on the analogy of such words (cf.
terrigena, Martigena, etc.), can only mean "begotten of the Word." It
is evident, therefore, the "Word" in this connection is not the Johannine
Logos or Second Person in the Trinity. Prudentius cannot be guilty of the
error which he expressly condemns (Apoth. 249) as perquam ridiculum
and regard the Logos as begetting Himself. Consequently, both in this
passage and in xi. 18 (verbo editus) the "Word" must be taken as
approximating rather to the Alexandrian conception of the Logos as the
Divine Reason. In this way Christ is expressly described as the offspring
of the Intellectus Dei, the immanent Intelligence of the Deity. If this
conception is considered to be beyond Prudentius, we can only suppose
that both here and in xi. 18, his language is theologically loose. Some
excuse may be offered for this on the ground that the Latin language is
ill-adapted for expressing metaphysical truths. The late Bishop Westcott
remarked on the inadequacy of the Latin original of "the Word was made
flesh" (verbum caro factum est), both substantive and verb falling
short of the richness of their Greek equivalents. (Vid. also
note on iv. 15.)
||Cf. Ambrose, Hymn vii.:--
The idea is familiar to readers of Herbert and Herrick, though it is
elaborated by them with quaint conceits somewhat foreign to the Latin
poet. Cf. Herbert, The Banquet:--
"Christusque nobis sit cibus
Potusque noster sit fides;
Laeti bibamus sobriam
"May Christ be now the Bread we eat,
Be simple Faith our potion sweet:
Let our intoxication be
The Spirit's calm sobriety."
Also Herrick, A Thanksgiving to God:--
"O what sweetnesse from the bowl
Fills my soul!
* * *
Is some starre (fled from the sphere)
As we sugar melt in wine?
* * *
Doubtless neither starre nor flower
Hath the power
Such a sweetnesse to impart:
Only God, Who gives perfumes,
And with it perfumed my heart."
"Lord, I confess too, when I dine,
The pulse is thine.
* * *
'Tis thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
With guiltless mirth,
And giv'st me wassail bowls to drink,
Spiced to the brink."
||The original dactylico refers to the metre of the Latin of this
poem. For a rendering of ll. 1-65 in the metre of the original see Glover,
Life and Letters in the Fourth Century, pp. 267-269.
||This and the following lines should satisfy the most ardent vegetarian
who seeks to uphold his abstinence from animal food by the customs of the
early Church. In Christian circles, however, the abstinence was practised
on personal and spiritual grounds, e.g., Jerome (de Regul. Monach.,
xi.) says, "The eating of flesh is the seed-plot of lust" (seminarium
libidinis): so also Augustine (de moribus Ecc. Cath., i. 33), who
supports what doubtless was the view of Prudentius, namely that the
avoidance of animal flesh was a safe-guard but not a binding Christian
||Unwed. Prudentius thus adopts the view of the ancient world on the
question of the generation of bees. Cf. Virgil, Geo. iv. 198, and Pliny,
Nat. Hist., xi. 16. Dryden's translation of Virgil (l.c.) is as
"But (what's more strange) their modest appetites,
Averse from Venus, fly the nuptial rights;
No lust enervates their heroic mind,
Nor wastes their strength on wanton womankind,
But in their mouths reside their genial powers,
They gather children from the leaves and flowers."
||Cf. Ps. liv. 18, 19 (Vulg.): Vespere et mane et meridie narrabo et
annuntiabo et exaudiet vocem meam. "In the evening and morning and at noonday
will I pray, and that instantly and he shall hear my voice" (P. B. Version).
||This is, strictly speaking, an error: it is the woman's seed which is to
bruise the serpent's head. The error was perpetuated in the Latin Church
by the Vulgate of Gen. iii. 15, ipsa conteret caput tuum, where ipsa
refers to the woman (= she herself).
||The epithet "white-robed" refers to the newly-baptized converts who
received the white robe as a symbol of their new nature. Cf. Perist.
i. 67: Christus illic candidatis praesidet cohortibus, and Ambrose
(de Mysteriis, vii.): "Thou didst receive (that is, after baptism)
white garments as a sign that thou hast doffed the covering of thy sins
and put on the chaste raiment (velamina) of innocence, whereof the
prophet spake (Ps. li. 7), 'Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall
be clean: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow'" (Vulg.).
||Phlegethon (rendered "Hell"), one of the rivers of the Virgilian Hades, is
used to express the abode of the lost. Cf.Milton, P. L., ii. 580:--
The subject of the descensus ad inferos was evidently a favourite
one with Prudentius and his contemporaries. It has been suggested that
apart from the scriptural basis of this conception Prudentius was
influenced by the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus, which embodies two
books, the Acts of Pilate and the Descent into Hell. The latter is
assigned by several critics to 400 or thereabouts, and gives a graphic
account of Christ's doings in Hades. Synesius deals with the subject in
one of his hymns (ix.), and Mrs Browning's translation (see the essay on
The Greek Christian Poets) of a passage in that poem may be quoted:--
"... fierce Phlegethon,
Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage."
For a modern treatment of the theme see Christ in Hades, by Stephen
"Down Thou earnest, low as earth,
Bound to those of mortal birth;
Down Thou earnest, low as hell,
Where Shepherd-Death did tend and keep
A thousand nations like to sheep,
While weak with age old Hades fell
Shivering through his dark to view Thee.
* * *
So, redeeming from their pain
Chains of disembodied ones,
Thou didst lead whom thou didst gather
Upward in ascent again,
With a great hymn to the Father,
Upward to the pure white thrones!"
||The words suggest the Catacombs, and perhaps refer to the custom of placing
in the tomb a small cup or vase containing spices, of which myrrh (a symbol
of death, according to Gregory of Nyssa, cf. xii. 71) was most usually
employed. Or the allusion may be to the practice of embalming. (See
note on x. 51.)
The body was placed not only in an actual sarcophagus or stone
coffin, as expressly mentioned in the text, but in hollow places cut out
of rock or earth (loculus). The sarcophagus method seems to have
been the earlier, but was superseded by that of the loculus, except
in the case of the very wealthy.
||The concluding line is beautifully illustrated by the epitaph on the
martyr Alexander, found over one of the graves in the cemetery of Callixtus
in the Catacombs:--
ALEXANDER MORTVVS NON EST SED VIVIT
SVPER ASTRA ET CORPVS IN HOC TVMVLO
"Alexander is not dead, but lives above the stars
and his body rests in this tomb."
||There has been much doubt as to the title and scope of this hymn. Some
early editors (e.g., Fabricius and Arevalus) adopt the title "ad
incensum cerei Paschalis," or "de novo lumine Paschalis Sabbati," and
confine its object to the ceremonial of Easter Eve, which is specially
alluded to in ll. 125 et seq. Others, following the best MSS., give the
simpler title used in this text, and regard it as a hymn for daily use.
This view is supported by the weight of evidence: the position of the
hymn among the first six (none of which are for special days), and the
fact that the Benediction of the Paschal Candle was not in use, at any
rate in Rome, in the pontificate of Zacharias (ob. 752 A.D.) point in
this direction. In the Spanish Church particularly the very ancient custom
of praying at the hour when the evening lamps were lighted had developed
into the regular office of the lucernarium, as distinct from Vespers.
The Mozarabic Breviary (seventh century) contains the prayers and
responses for this service, and the Rule of St. Isidore runs: "In the
evening offices, first the lucernarium, then two psalms, one responsory
and lauds, a hymn and prayer are to be said." St. Basil also writes: "It
seemed good to our fathers not to receive in silence the gift of the
evening light, but to give thanks as soon as it appeared." It is probable,
therefore, that Prudentius intended the hymn for daily use, and that after
speaking of God as the source of light, and His manifestations in the form
of fire to Moses and the Israelites, his thoughts pass naturally, though
somewhat abruptly, to the special festival--Easter Eve--on which the
sanctuaries were most brilliantly illuminated. The question is fully
discussed by Brockhaus (A. Prudentius Clemens in seiner Bedeutung für
die Kirche seiner Zeit), and Roesler (Der catholische Dichter A.
Prudentius). Part of this hymn is used in the Mozarabic Breviary for the
First Sunday after Epiphany, at Vespers, being stanzas
1, 7, 35,
||The words incussu silicis are perhaps reminiscent of the Spanish
ceremonial of Easter Eve, when the bishop struck the flint, lighting from
it first a candle, then a lamp, from which the deacons lighted their
candles; these were blessed by the bishop, and the procession from the
processus into the church followed.
||Cf. Vaughan, The Lampe:--
"Then thou dost weepe
Still as thou burn'st, and the warm droppings creepe
To measure out thy length."
||The folium here is probably the ancient
identified as the Indian cinnamon. The Arab traders who brought this
valuable product into the Western markets, surrounded its origin with
||The following stanzas, in which Prudentius elaborates the beautiful fancy
that the sufferings of lost spirits are alleviated at Eastertide, have
incurred the severe censure of some of the earlier editors. Fabricius
calls it "a Spanish fabrication," while others, as Cardinal Bellarmine,
declare that the author is speaking "poetically and not dogmatically."
That such a belief, however, was actually held by some section of the
ancient Church is evident from the words of St. Augustine (Encheiridion,
c. 112): Paenas damnatorum certis temporum intervallis existiment, si
hoc eis placet, aliquatenus mitigari, dummodo intelligatur in eis manere
ira Dei, hoc est ipsa damnatio. "Let men believe, if it so please them,
that at certain intervals the pains of the damned are somewhat alleviated,
provided that it be understood that the wrath of God, that is damnation
itself, abides upon them."
||It is somewhat startling to find Prudentius speaking of the Holy Eucharist
in terms which would recall to his contemporary readers Virgilian
phraseology and the honeyed cake (liba) used in pagan sacrifice. It
must be remembered, however, that in the early days of the Church paganism
and Christianity flourished side by side for a considerable period; and we
find various pagan practices allowed to continue, where they were innocent.
Thus the bride-cake and the bridal-veil are of heathen origin; the mirth
of the Saturnalia survives, in a modified form, in some of the rejoicings
of Christmas; and the flowers, which had filled the pagan temples during
the Floralia, were employed to adorn God's House at the Easter festival.
||The brilliant illumination of churches on Easter Eve is very ancient.
According to Eusebius, Constantine "turned the mystical vigil into the
light of day by means of lamps suspended in every part, setting up also
great waxen tapers, as large as columns, throughout the city." Gregory
of Nyssa also speaks of "the cloud of fire mingling with the rays of the
rising sun, and making the eve and the festival one continuous day without
interval of darkness."
||Cf. Paradise Lost, iii. 51:--
"So much the rather thou, Celestial Light,
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
last seven stanzas of this hymn are used in the Moz. Brev. at Compline
on Passion Sunday, and daily until Maundy Thursday.
||Cf. Job. vii. 14: "Then Thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me
||In the translation of this stanza the explanation of Nebrissensis is
adopted, an early editor of Prudentius (1512) and one of the leaders of the
Renaissance in Spain. He considers that "the few of the impious who are
condemned to eternal death" are the incurable sinners, immedicabiles.
Others attempt to reconcile these words with the general belief of
the early Church by maintaining that non pii is not equivalent to
impii, but rather refers to the class that is neither decidedly
good nor definitely bad, and that the mercy of God is extended to the
majority of these. A third view is that the poet is speaking relatively,
and means that few are condemned in proportion to the number that deserve
condemnation. In whatever way the words are explained, it is interesting
to find an advocate of "the larger hope" in the fourth century.
||Cf. Rev. xvii. 8: "The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is
about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition."
||Cf. 2 Thess. ii. 4: "The son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth
himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that
he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."
||The phrase rorem subisse sacrum would suggest baptism by sprinkling,
except that Prudentius uses the word loosely elsewhere. Immersion was
undoubtedly the general practice of the early Church, "clinical" baptism
being allowed only in cases of necessity.
||The anointing with oil showed that the catechumen was enrolled among the
spiritual priesthood, and with the unction was joined the sign of the
Cross on the forehead.
||This entire hymn is used in the Moz. Brev., divided into fifteen portions
for use during Lent.
||The word sacerdos here, as in ix. 4,
is used in the sense of "prophet";
but in both passages there is some idea of the exercise of priestly
functions. Elijah may be called "priest" from his having offered sacrifice
on Mount Carmel, and David from his wearing the priestly ephod as he
danced before the Ark.
||The old editors discuss these lines with much gravity, and mostly come to
the conclusion that "locusts" were "a kind of bird, of the length of a
finger, with quick, short flight"; while the "wild honey" was not actual
honey at all, but "the tender leaves of certain trees, which, when crushed
by the fingers, had the pleasant savour of honey."
||A gloss on one of the Vat. MSS. adds: "This is not authorised; for John
merely baptized with water, and not in the name of the Father, Son and
Holy Ghost; therefore his baptism was of no avail, save that it prepared
the way for Christ to baptize." Many of the Fathers, however, while
expressly affirming that John's baptism differed from that of Christ,
allowed that the stains of sin were washed away by the former. St.
Chrysostom draws this distinction: "There was in John's baptism pardon,
but not without repentance; remission of sins, but only attained by grief."
||The story of Jonah, as a type of the Resurrection, is one of the most
frequent subjects of the frescoes of the Catacombs. In one very ancient
picture, a man in a small boat is depicted in the act of placing the
prophet in the very jaws of the whale.
||Two stanzas are omitted in the text, which depict the sufferings of Jonah
with a wealth of detail not in accordance with modern taste. For the
sake of giving a complete text, we append them here:--
"Transmissa raptim praeda cassos dentium
eludit ictus incruentam transvolans
inpune linguam, ne retentam mordicus
offam molares dissecarent uvidi,
os omne transit et palatum praeterit.
Ternis dierum ac noctium processibus
mansit ferino devoratus gutture,
errabat illic per latebras viscerum,
ventris recessus circumibat tortiles
anhelus extis intus aestuantibus."
||Prudentius appears to have believed that the mystery of the Incarnation
was concealed from Satan, and that the Temptation was an endeavour to
ascertain whether Jesus was the Son of God or no. Cf. Milton, Par.
"Who this is we must learn, for Man he seems
In all his lineaments, though in his face
The glimpses of his Father's glory shine."
||The day of twelve hours appears to have been adopted by the Romans about
B.C. 291. Ambrose (de virginibus, iii. 4), commenting on Ps. cxix. and
the words "Seven times a day do I praise thee," declares that prayers are
to be offered up with thanksgiving when we rise from sleep, when we go
forth, when we prepare to take food, when we have taken it, at the hour
of incense, and lastly, when we retire to rest. He probably alludes to
private prayer. The stanza here indicates that the second hour after
midday has arrived, when the fasting ended and the midday meal was taken.
||The word festum, as in vii. 4,
indicates a special fast day. Until the
sixth century, fasting was simply a penitential discipline and was not
used as a particular mode of penance. In the fourth century it was a
fairly common practice as a preparation for Holy Communion. Fasting
before Baptism was a much earlier practice. The stated fasts of the
Western Church were (1) annual, that is, ante-paschal or Lent; (2)
monthly, or the fasts of the four seasons in the 1st, 4th, 7th and
10th months; (3) weekly, on Wednesday and Friday. There was also the
fast of the Rogations and the Vigils or Eves of holy days. It is doubtful
whether all these were in vogue as early as Prudentius.
||This passage on the Shepherd reminds us of one of the most common pictorial
representations of the Catacombs. Christian art owed something to paganism
in this matter; ancient sculptures represent the god Pan with a goat
thrown across his shoulders and a Pan's pipe in his hand; while the poets
Calpurnius and Tibullus both refer to the custom of carrying a stray or
neglected lamb on the shoulders of the shepherd. Going further back, the
figure is common in the O. T. to express God's care over His people. Our
Lord therefore used for His own purpose and transfigured with new meaning
a familiar figure. The gradual transition from paganism to Christianity
is curiously illustrated by the fact that in several of the Catacomb
bas-reliefs and paintings the Good Shepherd holds in His outstretched
hand a Pan's pipe. See Maitland's Church in the Catacombs, p. 315,
for a woodcut of the Good Shepherd with a lamb over His shoulders, two
sheep at His feet, a palm tree (or poplar) on either side, and a Pan's
pipe in His right hand; and also the frontispiece for a reproduction from
the Cemetery of St. Peter and St. Marcellinus.
||Parts of this hymn are used in the Moz. Brev. in the Office of the Dead,
being ll. 1-16, 45-48,
The burial rites of the primitive Church were simple, and marked by an
absence of the ostentatious expression of grief which the pagan peoples
displayed. The general practice of cremation was rejected, partly owing
to the new belief in the resurrection of the body, and partly from a
desire to imitate the burial of the Lord. At Rome, during the first
three centuries, the dead were laid in the Catacombs, in which Prudentius
took conspicuous interest (see Translator's Note), but after 338 A.D.
this practice became less frequent, and was completely abandoned after
410 A.D. Elsewhere, from the earliest times, the Christians purchased
special enclosures (areae), which were often attacked and rifled by
angry mobs in the days of persecution. The body was frequently embalmed
(cf. ll. 51, 52), swathed in white linen
(l. 49), and placed in
a coffin; vigils and hymns continued for three or four days, but hired
mourners were forbidden (l. 113), and instead of the dirges of the
heathens, chants expressive of triumphant faith were sung as the body was
carried to the grave, where a simple service was held, and evergreens
and flowers were strewn about the tomb (ll. 169, 170). The earliest
inscriptions are often roughly scratched on plaster, and consist merely
of a name and age, or simple words like--
GEMELLA DORMIT IN PACE
but later (cf. l. 171), they were engraved on small marble slabs.
||In both thought and language this stanza, as
vii. 16 et seq.,
is evidently reminiscent of Horace (Sat. 2, ii. 77): Quin corpus
"The Body, too, with Yesterday's excess
Burthened and tired, shall the pure Soul depress,
Weigh down this Portion of celestial Birth,
This Breath of God, and fix it to the Earth."
||Boldetti, in his work on the Catacombs (lib. i. cap. 59), says that on
many occasions, when he was present at the opening of a grave, the
assembled company were conscious of a spicy odour diffusing itself from
the tomb. Cf. Tertullian (Apol. 42): "The Arabs and Sabaeans knew well
that we consume more of their precious merchandise for our dead than do
the heathen for their gods."
||Prudentius' firm faith in the resurrection of the body is also nobly
expressed in the Apotheosis (ll. 1063 et seq.):--
"Nosco meum in Christo corpus resurgere; quid me
Desperare iubes? veniam, quibus ille revenit
Calcata de morte viis: quod credimus hoc est.
* * *
Pellite corde metum, mea membra, et credite vosmet
Cum Christo reditura Deo; nam vos gerit ille
Et secum revocat: morbos ridete minaces:
Inflictos casus contemnite; tetra sepulcra
Despuite; exsurgens quo Christus provocat, ite."
"I know in Christ my body shall arise;
Why bid me, then, despair? for I shall go
By that same path whereby my Lord returned,
Death trodden 'neath His feet: this is my creed.
Banish, my limbs, all terror; and believe
That ye with Christ our God shall yet return;
He beareth you and with Himself recalls.
Laugh at the threats of sickness; scorn the blows
Of fate; despise the horrors of the tomb;
And fare ye where the risen Christ doth call."
||The poet expresses as a duty owed to Christ Himself the heathen obligation
of casting three handfuls of earth upon a body discovered dead.
||For the incident referred to in these lines, see the Apocryphal book of
Tobias, cc. ii. and xi. Tobit, a pious Israelite captive in Nineveh, was
reduced to beggary as the result of his zeal in burying those of his
countrymen who had been killed and exposed by royal command. He also
lost his sight, which was eventually restored by the application of the
gall of a fish which attacked his son Tobias, and was killed by him. The
"fish" of the legend is probably the crocodile, whose gall was credited
with medicinal properties by various Greek and Latin writers. Cf. Pliny,
N. H. xxviii. 8: "They say that nothing avails more against cataract
than to anoint the eyes with its gall mixed with honey."
||Cf. Cyprian (De Mortal. 20): "We must not lament our brethren whom the
Lord's summons has freed from the world, for we know that they are not
lost, but gone before. We may not wear the black robes of mourning while
they have put on the white raiment of joy. Nor may we grieve for those as
lost whom we know to be living with God."
||Cf. Perist. vii.:--
The early Christian epitaphs, of which many thousands exist, are instinct
with a faith which is in striking contrast to the unrelieved gloom or
sullen resignation of paganism. We may compare with the common
"Nos pio fletu, date, perluamus
AVE ATQVE VALE
or inscriptions like
"Hail and farewell"
INFANTI DVLCISSIMO QVEM DI IRATI AETERNO SOMNO DEDERUNT
"To a very sweet babe, whom the angry gods gave to unending sleep."
DVLCIS ET INNOCENS HIC DORMIT SEVERIANVS SOMNO PACIS CVIVS
SPIRITVS IN LVCE DOMINI SVSCEPTVS EST (A.D. 393)
"Here slumbers in the sleep of peace the sweet and innocent
Severianus, whose spirit is received in the light of the Lord"
NATVS EST LAVRENTIVS IN ETERNVM ANN. XX. DORMIT IN PACE (A.D. 329)
See also note on iii. 205.
"Laurentius was born into eternity in his twentieth year. He
sleeps in peace."
||Virgil's Fourth Eclogue known as the "Pollio" has undoubtedly influenced
the thought and style of this poem: the more noticeable parallels will be
pointed out as they occur. In Milton's ode On the Morning of Christ's
Nativity there are several passages which recall Prudentius' treatment
of the theme in this and the succeeding hymn; but curiously enough,
the Puritan poet in alluding to the season of the Nativity takes an
opposite line of thought, and regards the diminished sunshine of winter
as a veiling of an inferior flame before the light of "a greater Sun."
Prudentius proclaims the increase of the sun's light, which begins after
the winter solstice, as symbolic of the ever-widening influence of the
True Light. The idea is given in a terse form by St. Peter Chrysologus,
Serm. 159: Crescere dies coepit, quia verus dies illuxit. "The day
begins to lengthen out, inasmuch as the true Day hath shone forth."
||For the somewhat obscure phrase verbo editus, see note on iii. 2.
||For "Sophia" or the Divine Creative Wisdom, see Prov. iii. 19, 20, and
especially viii. 27-31, where the language "has been of signal importance
in the history of thought, helping, as it does, to make a bridge between
Eastern and Greek ideas, and to prepare the way for the Incarnation"
(Davison, Wisdom-Literature of the O. T., pp. 5, 6). In Alexandrian
theology the conception of God's transcendence gave rise to the doctrine
of an intermediate power or logos, by which creation was effected. In
the Prologue of the fourth Gospel the idea was set forth in its purely
Christian form. See 1, 3, where the Logos or the pre-incarnate Christ is
described as the maker of all things--an idea which is also illustrated
by the language of St. Paul in such passages as Col. i. 6.
||Cf. for the conception of a golden age, Virg., Ecl., iv. 5 et seq.:
Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo, etc.
||Reminiscences of ancient prophecy appear to be embodied in this and
following lines. Cf. Joel iii. 18: "And it shall come to pass in that
day that the mountains shall drop down sweet wine and the hills shall
flow with milk." Amos ix. 13: "The mountains shall drop sweet wine and
all the hills shall melt." But cf. especially Virg., Ecl., iv. 18-30:
At tibi prima, puer, nullo munuscula cultu, etc.
"Unbidden earth shall wreathing ivy bring,
And fragrant herbs (the promises of spring)
As her first off'rings to her infant king.
* * *
Unlaboured harvest shall the fields adorn,
And clustered grapes shall blush on every thorn;
The knotted oaks shall showers of honey weep,
And through the matted grass the liquid gold shall creep."
||The legend of the ox and ass adoring our Lord arose from an allegorical
interpretation of Isa. i. 3: "The ox knoweth his owner, the ass his
master's crib." Origen (Homilies on St. Luke xiii.) is the first to
allegorise on the passage in Isaiah, where the word for "crib" in the
Greek translation of the O. T. is identical with St. Luke's word for
"manger" (φατνη). After referring to the circumstances of the
Nativity, Origen proceeds to say: "That was what the prophet foretold,
saying, 'The ox knoweth,' etc. The Ox is a clean animal: the Ass an unclean one.
The Ass knew his master's crib (praesepe domini sui): not the people
of Israel, but the unclean animal out of pagan nations knew its master's
crib. 'But Israel hath not known me: and my people hath not understood.'
Let us understand this and press forward to the crib, recognise the Master
and be made worthy of his knowledge." The thought that the Ox = the Jews
and the Ass = Pagans, reappears in Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose and Jerome.
See an interesting article by Mr. Austin West (Ox and Ass Legend of the
Nativity. Cont. Review, Dec. 1903), who notes the further impetus
given to the legend by the Latin rendering of Habb. iii. 2 (LXX.) which
in the Vetus Itala version appears as "in medio duorum animalium in
notesceris," "in the midst of two animals shalt thou be known" (R.V., in
the midst of the years make it known). The legend does not appear
in apocryphal Christian literature earlier than in the Pseudo-Matthew
Gospel, which belongs to the later fifth century. It is interesting
to note that with St. Francis and the Franciscans the ox and the ass are
merely animals: the allegorical interpretation of Origen had vanished
from Christendom: and in its place we find St. Francis (see Life of St.
Francis by St. Bonaventura, "Temple Classics" edition, p. 111) making
a presepio at Greccio, to which a living ox and ass are brought, in
order that a visible representation of the manger-scene might kindle the
devotion of the Brethren and the assembled townsfolk. This act of St.
Francis inaugurated the custom, still observed in the Roman Church,
of representing by means of waxen images the whole of the Nativity
manger-scene, Mother and Child together with the adoring animals.
||For the obstetrix, cf. Proto-Evangelium of the Pseudo-James (a
Greek romance of the fourth century), § 18 et seq., where Joseph is
represented as seeking and finding a Hebrew midwife.
||Cf. Milton's Ode on the Nativity, ll. 157-164:--
"With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang
While the red fire and smould'ring clouds outbrake:
The aged earth aghast
With terror of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the centre shake;
When at the world's last session
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne."
||This poem has given four hymns to the Roman Breviary:--
- (1) For the Feast of the Transfiguration, Vespers and Matins consisting
of ll. 1-4, 37-40, 41-44, 85-88.
- (2) For the Epiphany at Lauds, beginning O sola magnarum urbium,
ll. 77-80, 5-8, 61-72.
- (3) For the Feast of Holy Innocents at Matins, beginning Audit tyrannus
anxius, ll. 93-100, 133-136.
- (4) Also the Feast of Holy Innocents at Lauds, beginning Salvete
flores martyrum, ll. 125-132.
||For a curious parallel to these opening lines see Henry Vaughan's Pious
Thoughts and Ejaculations (the Nativity):--
"But stay! what light is that doth stream
And drop here in a gilded beam?
It is Thy star runs Page and brings
Thy tributary Eastern kings.
Lord! grant some light to us that we
May find with them the way to Thee!"
||Cf. Ignatius, Ep. ad Ephes. xix.: "All the other stars, together
with the Sun and Moon, became a chorus to the Star, which in its light
excelled them all."
||Prudentius mentions the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (to
which latter the Pole Star belongs) as examples of stars in constant
apparition. All the Little Bear stars are within about 24° from the Pole;
hence, if viewed from Saragossa, the birthplace of Prudentius, the lowest
altitude of any of them would be 18° above the north horizon. The same
applies to the majority of the stars in the Great Bear. Some few would
sink below the horizon for a brief time in each twenty-four hours; but
the greater number, especially the seven principal stars known as the
"Plough," would be sufficiently high up at their lowest northern altitudes
to be in perpetual apparition. [My friend, Rev. R. Killip, F.R.A.S., has
kindly furnished me with these particulars.] Allusions to the Bears are
constantly recurring in the classical poets (cf. e.g. Ovid., Met.
xiii. 293, immunemque aequoris Arcton, "the Bear that never touches
the sea"). The idea that these stars are mostly hidden by clouds, though
perpetually in view, is a poetic hyperbole intended to enhance the
uniqueness of the Star of Bethlehem.
||Jerome (ad Eustoch. Ep. 22) commenting on the passage in Isa. xi. 1,
"And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower
shall rise up out of his root" (Vulg.), remarks: "The rod (virga) is
the mother of the Lord, simple, pure, sincere ... the flower of the rod is
Christ, who saith, 'I am the flower of the field and the lily of the
||This symbolism of the gifts of the Magi is also found in Juvencus (I.
250): "Frankincense, gold and myrrh they bring as gifts to a King, a Man
and a God," and is again alluded to by Prudentius in Apoth. 631 et
seq. The idea is expressed in the hymn of Jacopone da Todi, beginning
Verbum caro factum est (Mone, Hymni Latini, Vol. 2):
and it has passed into the Office for Epiphany in the Roman Breviary:
"There are three precious gifts which the Magi offered to their Lord that
day, and they contain in themselves sacred mysteries: in the gold, that
the power of a king may be displayed: in the frankincense, consider the
great high priest: in the myrrh, the burial of the Lord" et passim.
"Gold to the kingly,
Incense to the priestly,
Myrrh to the mortal:"
||The idea that Moses defeated the Amalekites because his arms were
outstretched in the form of a cross is found also in one of the hymns
(lxi.) of Gregory Nazianzen. The symbol of the Christian religion, the
cross, "was fancifully traced by the Fathers throughout the universe: the
four points of the compass, the 'height, breadth, length and depth' of
the Apostle expressed, or were expressed by, the cross.... The cross
explained everything" (Maitland, Church in the Catacombs, p. 202).
||The discomfiture of the heathen gods wrought by the Incarnation is
elaborated by Milton, whose lines recall this and similar passages in
"Peor, and Baälim
Forsake their temples dim
* * *
And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dread,
His burning idol all of blackest hue.
Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew."