The Office of Readings: 6th Century
W&H: This hymn point(s) to the contrast between the heroism of martyrs of the past and the deficiencies of the confessors of the present, who acknowledge their sins and plead for pardon for them.
Rex glorióse mártyrum, (1)
qui respuéntes térrea
perdúcis ad cæléstia,
Aurem benígnam prótinus
appóne nostris vócibus;
tropæa sacra pángimus, (2)
ignósce quod delíquimus.
Tu vincis in martýribus
parcéndo confessóribus; (3)
tu vince nostra crímina
(1) martyrum . . . confitentium: In this stanza martyrs of the past are grouped with confessors of the present (both are witnesses to the faith), as the tense of perducis in line 4 indicates.
(2) tropaea sacra: The "sacred trophies" are the butchered bodies of the martyrs. Just as Christ's body was a trophy commemorating his victory over Satan and death so the bodies of those who died to witness to him are a further mark of that victory.
(3) parcendo confitentibus: This line is better taken with what follows than with what precedes. Those who sing this hymn emulate the martyrs by confessing Christ, but without manifesting a similar heroism.
O glorious King of martyrs, Crown of those who praise you, those who repudiate earthly things you lead to the things of heaven. Quickly in your generosity lend your ear to our voices; we sing of holy triumphs, forgive us the sins we have done. You are victorious in the martyrs by sparing those who confess you; triumph over our offenses by granting pardon.
Lauds: 10th Century: attributed to St. Ambrose
W&H: Citation by Maximus of Turin (Serm. 66) indicates that this hymn goes back to the time of Ambrose. Bede, De arte metrica 11, cautiously attributes it to "the Ambrosians." Thus the possible attribution to Ambrose himself must rest on correspondences with his prose works. Doubts have been raised against his authorship on the grounds of allegedly non-Ambrosian metrical features, but as Fontaine demonstrates, these are not decisive. However, the impersonal treatment, without mention of specific martyrs, is not characteristic of other hymns of Ambrose, and lends itself to easier imitation, so that the ascription must remain doubtful. The current version eliminates some of the more gruesome lines: e.g. armata . . . ungulis manus: 'The hand of the maddened torturer, armed with claws: “The ungula, a metal claw, tore the flesh”.
Ætérna Christi múnera (1)
et mártyrum victórias,
laudes feréntes débitas,
lætis canámus méntibus.
Ecclesiárum príncipes, (2)
belli triumpháles duces,
cæléstis aulæ mílites
et vera mundi lúmina.
Terróre victo sæculi
pœnísque spretis córporis,
mortis sacræ compéndio (3)
lucem beátam póssident.
Tortóris insáni manu
sanguis sacrátus fúnditur,
sed pérmanent immóbiles
vitæ perénnis grátia. (4)
Devóta sanctórum fides,
invícta spes credéntium,
perfécta Christi caritas (5)
mundi triúmphat príncipem. (6)
In his patérna glória,
in his volúntas Spíritus,
exsúltat in his Fílius,
cælum replétur gáudio.
Te nunc, Redémptor, quæsumus,
ut mártyrum consórtio
iungas precántes sérvulos
in sempitérna sæcula. Amen.
(1) Aeterna . , . munera: The gifts are the martyrs themselves. The phrase here means "gifts bestowed by Christ" in the spirit of Ephesians 4:8, 11
(2) Ecclesiarum Principes: Not necessarily bishops, but martyrs who led by example. communities.
(3) compendio: In the sense of "shortcut: martyrdom is the "shortcut" to salvation.
(4) gratia: "for the sake of" rather than (literally) "by the grace of".
(5) perfecta Christi caritas: "The perfect love of Christ for them";
(6) mundi . . . principem: Satan as lord of the world is a persistent theme in John's Gospel. See 12:31, 14:30, 16:11.
(7) paterna gloria . . . voluntas Spiritus: At Hbr 1:3, Christ is the splendor gloriae of the Father; here the martyrs are allotted this distinction. At 1 Cor 12:11 the Spirit bestows his gifts on individuals "prout vult" (as he will).
The eternal gifts of Christ and victories of the martyrs, bringing the praise we owe, let us sing with joyful minds. Princes of the churches, triumphant commanders in the war, soldiers of the court of heaven and true lights of the world. Conquering over the fear of the world, spurning the punishments of the body, profiting from a holy death, they possess the blessed light. By the hand of the mad executioner holy blood was spilled, but they remained unmoved through the grace of eternal life. The devoted faith of the saints, the invincible hope of those who believe, the charity of Christ perfected triumphs over the prince of this world. In them the Father’s glory, in them the will of the Spirit, in them the Son endlessly rejoices, and heaven is filled with joy. To you now, O Redeemer, we beseech you that the company of martyrs might be joined to your servants as we pray through eternal ages. Amen.
Vespers: Rabanus Maurus
Magentius Rabanus Maurus is the commanding figure among the ecclesiastics of his age, a great Churchman and the first German theologian….In a world of change, it appeared to him that the written word alone had a chance of survival, and that knowledge had an abiding value not subect to vanity….His pupil Rudolf at any rate was admirer of Raban’s verses for he describes him as ‘sui temporis poetarum nulli secundus’” F.J.E. Rabus; Milfull says the hymn is conceived along the lines of Aeterne Christi Munera: praise, victory of martyrs, bravery in punishment, hope.
Sanctórum méritis ínclita gáudia
pangámus, sócii, géstaque fórtia;
nam gliscit ánimus prómere cántibus
victórum genus óptimum.
Hi sunt quos rétinens mundus inhórruit,
ipsum nam stérili flore peráridum
sprevére pénitus teque secúti sunt,
rex, Christe, bone cælitum.
Hi pro te fúrias sævaque sústinent;
non murmur résonat, non querimónia,
sed corde tácito mens bene cónscia
Quæ vox, quæ póterit lingua retéxere
quæ tu martýribus múnera præparas?
Rubri nam flúido sánguine láureis
ditántur bene fúlgidis.
Te, trina Déitas únaque, póscimus,
ut culpas ábluas, nóxia súbtrahas,
des pacem fámulis, nos quoque glóriam
per cuncta tibi sæcula. Amen.
May we sing of the great happiness of the merits of the saints, O friends, and of their brave deeds; for the soul is raised up when we proclaim in song this model of the greatest victory. These are those whom the world rejected and abhorred, for they wholly despised the dry soil of the world with its sterile flower, and followed you, O Christ the good King of the citizens of heaven. These are those who for your sake endured anger and savage punishments but they did not grumble or sound a complaint, but with a quiet heart and a good conscience persevered in patience. What voice, what tongue can tell, Christ, the gifts you have prepared for the martyrs. for the flow of red blood is well enriched with glimmering laurels. We pray you, O Godhead three and one, that you wash away our faults, lead us away from all that is dangerous, grant peace to your servants, and also that we give glory to you through all ages. Amen.