AURELIUS PRUDENTIUS CLEMENS (to give his full title) was born, probably at Saragossa (Caesaraugusta), in Spain, in the year of our Lord 348. The fourth century exercised a profound influence alike on the destiny of the Roman Empire and of the Christian Church. After a long discipline, strangely alternating between fiery persecution and contemptuous toleration, the Church entered upon a new era, when in 323 Constantine, the first Christian emperor, became master of the Roman world. Two years later the Council of Nicaea met to utter its verdict on the Arian controversy and to establish the terms of the orthodox symbol. A generation later Julian took up the reins of empire and commenced his quixotic and fruitless attempt to revive the glories of Paganism. Athanasius died in 373: but fourteen years later Augustine, his successor in the championship of the faith, was baptized, and in 395, at the death of Theodosius, when the Empire was divided between Honorius and Arcadius, he became Bishop of Hippo, and was marked out by his saintliness and learning as the leader of the Western Church, which he shaped by his splendid ideal of the Civitas Dei into unity and stability, when the secular empire was falling into decay.
We know little more of the life of Prudentius than he himself has disclosed. The Preface, which stands as an introduction to his poems, is a miniature autobiography of great interest. M. Boissier in his Fin du Paganisme calls it mélancolique: though it is rather the retrospect of a serious and awakened, but not morbid, conscience. Prudentius views his past years in the light of that new spiritual truth to which he has opened his soul. We gather that he received a liberal education and was called to the bar. We need not misunderstand the allusion to the deceitfulness of the barrister life, seeing that the ordinary arts of rhetoric stand condemned by his recently adopted ethical standard. He held two important judicial posts and was promoted to a high position, probably in the civil service and not outside the limits of his native province, the provincia Tarraconensis.
He speaks of himself as having reached the age of fifty-seven, which brings us down to 405, and as intending to consecrate his remaining years to the poetic treatment of religious subjects. When and how he became a Christian we do not know, and it were vain to guess, although the suggestion that he may have owed his conversion to the influence of some Christian family of his acquaintance is at least interesting. It is unlikely that he took up poetry for the first time in his old age. His mastery of all kinds of metre--heroic and lyric--prove the practised hand. The probability is that in the years of repose after a busy career his desire to redeem an unspiritual past suggested for the exercise of his natural gifts a field hitherto unoccupied by any of the writers of his age. Why not consecrate his powers to the task of interesting the literary circles of the Empire in the evangel of Christ? Why not present the truths of Christianity in a poetic guise, wrought into forms of beauty and set forth in the classical metres of Roman literature? This became the passion of his life, and however we may view the results of his toil, the spirit in which he went to work, as described in the touching Epilogue, cannot but evoke our profound admiration. He is but a vessel of earth, but whatever the issue may be, it will be a lasting joy to have sounded forth the praise of Christ in song.
This then is how Prudentius becomes the first poet of the Christian Church, or, as Bentley called him, "the Virgil and Horace of the Christians." Doubtless there were other influences at work to determine the sphere to which he was naturally attract. Ambrose, who was Bishop of Milan when Prudentius was twenty-six years of age, had written the first Latin hymns to be sung in church. Augustine in a familiar passage of the Confessions (ix. 7.) describes how "the custom arose of singing hymns and psalms, after the use of the Eastern provinces, to save the people from being utterly worn out by their long and sorrowful vigils." "From that day to this," he adds, "it has been retained and, many might say, all Thy flocks throughout the rest of the world now follow our example." To Ambrose and Augustine the Church of Christ is for ever indebted: to the latter for a devotional treatise which is the most familiar of all the writings of the fourth century: to the former for the hymns of praise which he composed and the practice of singing which he thus inaugurated in the worship of the Western Church. But the Church owes something also to Prudentius, a much more gifted poet than Ambrose. The collection of hymns known as the Cathemerinon or Hymns for the day is as little adapted for ecclesiastical worship as Keble's Christian Year, although excerpts from these poems have passed into the hymnology of the Church, just as portions of Keble's work have passed into most hymn books. For example, seven of these excerpts in the form of hymns are to be found in the Roman Breviary, and thus for centuries the lyrics of Prudentius have been sung in the daily services of the Church.
Seeing that Prudentius must address himself to most English readers through the imperfect medium of a translation, it may be well to remind those who make their first acquaintance with him that a historical imagination is an indispensable condition of interest and sympathy. If Prudentius has a habit of leaving the main issue and making lengthy and tedious détours into the picturesque parables and miraculous incidents of the Old Testament, there is method in his digressiveness. He knows that one of the charms of Paganism lies in its rich and variegated mythology. Yet Christianity also can point to an even nobler inheritance of the supernatural and the wonderful in the mysterious evolutions of its history. Hence the stories of the early patriarchs, of the Israelites and Moses, of Daniel and Jonah, are imported by the poet as pictorial illustrations of his theme. If occasionally the details border on the grotesque, he certainly reveals a striking knowledge of the Old Testament.
The New Testament is also adequately represented. In one poem (ix.) the miracles of Christ in His earthly ministry and His descent into Hades are narrated with considerable spirit and eloquence. Besides being a student of the Bible, Prudentius is a theologian. His theology is that of the Nicene Creed. The Fall of man, the personality of the Tempter, the mystery of the Trinity and of the Incarnation, the Virgin-birth, the Death and Resurrection of Christ, the pains of the lost and the bliss of the saints, the resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting--these are the themes of his pen, the themes too of the theology of his age. If the poet's treatment of these truths occasionally appears antiquated and crude to modern ideas, it is at least dignified and intelligent. His mind has absorbed the Christian religion and the Christian theology, and he not unfrequently rises to noble heights in the interpretation of their mysteries. His didactic poems, the Hamartigenia or the Origin of Evil and the Apotheosis, a treatise on the Person of Christ, prove him to be a theologian of no mean calibre. He is also an allegorist, as is proved by the Psychomachia or the Battle of the Soul, a kind of Holy War which was very popular in the Middle Ages. He is a martyrologist: as witness the Peristephanon, a series of poems on Christian, principally Spanish, martyrs. Moreover, he is an undoubted patriot, and in the Contra Symmachum, which he wrote on the famous affair of the Altar of Victory, he proves that, while a Christian, he is also civis Romanus, loyal to the Empire and the powers that be. He is a skilful versifier, and in this connection the quatrains of the Dittochaeon, verses on themes of the Old and New Testaments, may be mentioned in order to complete the list of his works. His mastery of his very varied metres--hexameter, iambic, trochaic and sapphic--is undoubted: everywhere we note the influence of Virgil and Horace, even when these poets are not recalled by echoes of their diction which are constantly greeting the reader of his poems.
Reference has already been made to the influence of Ambrose of Milan upon the thought and style of Prudentius. But there is a second and even more powerful influence that deserves at least briefly to be noted--namely, the Christian art of the Catacombs. Apart from such definite statements as e.g. are found in Peristephanon xi., it is obvious that Prudentius had a first-hand knowledge of Rome and particularly of the Catacombs. Everywhere in his poems we find evidences of the deep impression made upon his imagination by the paintings and sculptures of subterranean Rome. The now familiar representations which decorate the remains of the Catacombs suggested to him many of the allusions, the picturesque vignettes and glowing descriptions to be found in his poetry. Thus, the story of Jonah--a common theme typifying the Resurrection--the story of Daniel with its obvious consolations for an age of martyrs, the Good Shepherd and the denial of Peter may be mentioned among the numerous subjects which were reproduced in early Christian art and transferred by the poet to his verse. The symbolism of the Cock, the Dove, and the Lamb borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd is a perpetually recurring feature in the lyrics and martyr-hymns of Prudentius, who thus becomes one of our most valuable authorities on the Christian art of the fourth century.
The poems, of which a new English rendering is presented in this volume, are acknowledged by most critics to illustrate some of his best qualities, his brightness and dignity, his touches of nature-painting and his capacity for sustained and well-wrought narrative. As we study these lyrics of the early Church, we feel anew the mighty change that Christianity wrought in Roman life by its doctrine of immortality, and we note the curious fascination which the circumstances of the Nativity and especially the Adoration of the Magi had for the Western world. Prudentius had a great vogue in the Middle Ages, and the modern renewal of interest in mediaevalism invests with fresh dignity a poet whose works at the Revival of learning provoked the admiration of Erasmus and the researches of numerous scholars and editors. But it is undoubtedly to the student of ecclesiastical history and dogma and to the lovers of Christian art and antiquities that Prudentius most truly appeals. He claims our interest, not merely because he reflects the Christian environment of his days, but because his poetry represents an attempt to preach Christ to a world still fascinated by Paganism, while conscious that the old order was changing and yielding place to new.
Prudentium, unum inter Christianos vere facundum poetam.
The word Cathemerinon is taken from the Greek and is the genitive of χαθημερινα "daily things": the whole title Liber Cathemerinon is equivalent to "Book of daily hymns," and may be rendered "Hymns for the Christian's day."
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.
|8||The reference is to the toga virilis, the ordinary white-coloured garb of a Roman citizen who at his sixteenth year laid aside the purple-edged toga praetexta, which was worn during the days of boyhood.|
|16 ff.||The cities referred to are unknown: but it is probable that they were two municipia in Northern Spain, and that the office held by Prudentius was that of duumvir or prefect. Provision was made by the twenty-fourth clause of the law of Salpensa (a town in the provincia Baetica of Spain) by which the emperor could be elected first magistrate of a municipium, and could thereupon appoint a prefect to take his place. This would explain the language of the text as to the semi-imperial nature of the post. The phrase militiae gradus need only be taken to indicate advancement in the civil service. But the words have been interpreted in accordance with the more familiar and definite meaning of militia, and understood to refer to a purely military post. Dressel thinks that Prudentius was a miles Palatinus, that is, a member of the best-paid and most highly-privileged imperial troops, who furnished officers for some of the most lucrative posts in the provinces. Though in the translation the usual meaning has been given to militia, it must be regarded as uncertain in the absence of more definite information regarding the office held by Prudentius.|
|24||The consulship of Salia (or Salias) belongs to the year 348, the date of
the birth of Prudentius. An inscription (quoted by Migne from Muratorius,
Nov. Thes. Inscrip., i. 379) has been found in the monastery of St.
Paul's outside the city bearing the words
|1||Of this poem lines 1-8, 81-84, 97-100, were included in the Roman Breviary as a hymn to be sung at Lauds, on Tuesday.|
|2||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:
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 morning.
|26||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).|
|44||Cf. Augustine, Serm. 103: "These evil spirits seek to seduce the soul: but when the sun has arisen, they take to flight."|
|59||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."|
|81 ff.||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."|
|1||This poem furnishes two hymns to the Roman Breviary, one to be sung on Wednesday at Lauds, and consisting of ll. 1-8, 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), 93-108.|
|17||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."|
|51||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."|
|63||The Jordan is a poetical figure for baptism, suggested doubtless by the baptism of our Lord in that river. Cf. vii. 73-75.|
|67||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."|
|105||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 Arch-critic (παντα μωμοσχοπειται) and subsequently (vii.) as παντεποπτην 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."|
|2||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.)|
|11||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:--
Also Herrick, A Thanksgiving to God:--
|28||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.|
|58||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 duty.|
|75||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
|86||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).|
|127||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).|
|157||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.).|
|199||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:--
For a modern treatment of the theme see Christ in Hades, by Stephen Phillips.
|202||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.|
|205||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:--
|15||Prudentius here, as again in v. 160, emphasises his belief in the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. The "filioque" clause was not actually added to the Nicene Creed till the Council of Toledo (589 A.D.), but the doctrine was expressly maintained by Augustine, and occurs in a Confession of Faith of an earlier Synod of Toledo (447 A.D.?), and in the words of Leo I. (Ep. ad Turib., c. 1), "de utroque processit." The addition was not embodied into the Creed as used at Rome as late as the beginning of the ninth century. (Vid. Harnack, Hist. of Dogma, iv. 132.) Prudentius probably followed, as regards the Trinity, the doctrine generally held by the Spanish Church of his day; in many points it is difficult (cf. note on iii. 2), but appears to be derived partly from Tertullian and partly from Marcellus.|
|59||The identification of the Habakkuk of this legend (vid. the Apocryphal "Bel and the Dragon") with the O. T. prophet is erroneous. This version of the story of Daniel is sometimes represented in the frescoes of the Catacombs, where the subject is a very favourite one, as is natural in an age when the cry "Christiani ad leones" so often rang through the streets of Rome.|
|1||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, 38-41.|
|7||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.|
|21||Cf. Vaughan, The Lampe:--
|119||The folium here is probably the ancient malobathrum, generally identified as the Indian cinnamon. The Arab traders who brought this valuable product into the Western markets, surrounded its origin with much mystery.|
|125||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."|
|140||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.|
|141||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."|
|153||Cf. Paradise Lost, iii. 51:--
|The last seven stanzas of this hymn are used in the Moz. Brev. at Compline on Passion Sunday, and daily until Maundy Thursday.|
|56||Cf. Job. vii. 14: "Then Thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions."|
|95||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.|
|105||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."|
|109||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."|
|127||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.|
|128||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.|
|1||This entire hymn is used in the Moz. Brev., divided into fifteen portions for use during Lent.|
|27||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.|
|69||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."|
|76||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."|
|100||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.|
|115||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:--
|194||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.
|9||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.|
|14||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.|
|33||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.|
|1||This hymn, which first introduced into sacred song the trochaic metre familiar in Greek Tragedy and the Latin adaptations of it, supplies the Moz. Brev. with some stanzas for use during Holy Week. The lines selected are 22-24, 1-21.|
|11||The use of the symbol Ω, (pronounced here as a single syllable), appears to indicate that the names Omega and Omikron came into use at a later date than Prudentius' time. In Rev. i. 8, the best MSS. read εγω ειμι το αλφα και το ω.|
|33||The words vulnerum piamina are generally supposed to refer to the "gifts which Moses commanded" to be offered by those healed of leprosy (Lev. xiv. 2). If so, Prudentius' language may imply that the cure was not actually complete until the offering of these gifts, and is at variance with St. Matthew, viii. 43, "and forthwith his leprosy was cleansed." Probably, however, his idea is rather that the gifts to the priest formally marked the leper as a clean man.|
|71||Cf. note on iii. 199.|
|1||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--
but later (cf. l. 171), they were engraved on small marble slabs.
|25||In both thought and language this stanza, as
vii. 16 et seq.,
is evidently reminiscent of Horace (Sat. 2, ii. 77): Quin corpus
|51||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."|
|57||Prudentius' firm faith in the resurrection of the body is also nobly
expressed in the Apotheosis (ll. 1063 et seq.):--
|61||The poet expresses as a duty owed to Christ Himself the heathen obligation of casting three handfuls of earth upon a body discovered dead.|
|69||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."|
|113||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."|
|171||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
or inscriptions like
See also note on iii. 205.
|1||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."|
|18||For the somewhat obscure phrase verbo editus, see note on iii. 2.|
|20||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.|
|59||Cf. for the conception of a golden age, Virg., Ecl., iv. 5 et seq.: Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo, etc.|
|65||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.
|81||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.|
|97||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.|
|100||Cf. Milton's Ode on the Nativity, ll. 157-164:--
|1||This poem has given four hymns to the Roman Breviary:--
|5||For a curious parallel to these opening lines see Henry Vaughan's Pious
Thoughts and Ejaculations (the Nativity):--
|12||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."|
|15||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.|
|49||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 valleys.'"|
|69||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.
|172||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).|
|193||The discomfiture of the heathen gods wrought by the Incarnation is
elaborated by Milton, whose lines recall this and similar passages in