Monday 29 June 2015

Two Ancient Hymns of the Irish Church on St. Peter

Below are the texts and translations of two hymns in honour of Saint Peter, discovered among the manuscripts at the German monastery of Reichenau and republished by Patrick Francis, Cardinal Moran, in one of his essays on the early Irish Church. The status of Reichenau, an island monastery on Lake Constance, as one of the 'Schottenklöster' or Irish monasteries is not as clearly-defined as some of the more famous Irish foundations like Ratisbon, associated with the Blessed Marianus Scottus (Muiredach MacRobertaigh). Reichenau's founder was a Saint Pirmin, and scholars are still unable to say with certainty where this saint was from. In an earlier post here I reprinted a nineteenth-century paper which argued for a tradition that he was an Irishman. In a sense though, the birthplace of the founder is not the defining factor here, for this monastery clearly had links to the Irish cultural world. One of its most famous sons, Walafrid Strabo, who was not an Irishman, wrote the only surviving account of the martyrdom of Saint Blaitmac of Iona, killed by the Vikings as he defended the relics of Saint Columba. A version of Adamnan's Life of Saint Columba found at Reichenau's Library was of such quality and completeness that it was used by Colgan in his Trias Thaumaturga. A ninth-century abbot of Reichenau, Ermenrich, wrote glowingly of Ireland's contribution to Christian mission and learning: 'How can we forget Ireland, the island where the sun of faith arose for us, and whence the brilliant rays of so great a light have reached us? Bestowing philosophy on small and great, she fills the Church with her science and her teaching. ' What a wonderful testimony to the spiritual legacy of the Irish on the continent!

Two Ancient Hymns of the Irish Church on St. Peter, published by Mone.

We are indebted to the eminent German antiquarian, Mone, for two very ancient hymns of the Irish Church, which he discovered amongst the papers of the old Irish monastery of Reichenau, and which he published, from Irish manuscripts of the 8th and 9th centuries, in his invaluable work entitled " Hymni Latini Medii Aevi”. [Friburg, 1855. Vol. iii. pag. 68.]

The first and most ancient poem is an alphabetical hymn on the apostle Peter, the initials of each strophe presenting successively the whole series of the letters of the alphabet. We now give it to the reader, as printed by Mone, and we unite with it a literal translation, for which we are indebted to the kindness of the Rev. Mr. Potter, Professor of All-Hallows College, Dublin:

1 "Audite fratres fama
Petri pastoris plurima
Baptismatis libamina
Fundit veluti flumina.
Adsiut nobis sublimia
Sancti Petri suffragia.

2 “Bis refulsit ut fulmina
Sana sanctorum agmina
Flentes duxit ex ordine
Gentes divino carmine.

3 "Celebravit egregia
Evangelii praeconia,
Facta prostrata legia
De Satana victoria.

4 “Dudum elegit dominus
Petrum ut optimum oleum,
Ut obitaret dominum
Essetque pastor ovium.

5 “Elaboravit ubique,
Curae datus historiae,
Fundamentum dominicae
Ecclesiae Catholicae.

6 "Facta crucis martyria
Fecit magna prodigia
Sequutus per aetheria
Christiana vestigia.

7 "Gloriosum apostolum
Deus ornavit gloria
Romse urbis qua in
Vivit cum victoria.

8 "Habundabat justitia,
Plenus divina gratia
Expandit retia sparsa
Per mundi spatia.

9 "Judaeorum malivolas
Vitae formavit animas
Missusque capsit plurimas
Evangelii per sagias.

10 "Kasta librorum legimus,
Petri plenos virtutibus,
Moestas divinis fletibus,
Pastoris summi nutibus.

11 "Luxit ut Phoebus saecula,
Christi secutus opera
Binae legis oracula
(A line wanting).

12 "Mirum pastorem piissimum
Flagitare non desino,
Ne demergar cum pessima,
Intercedas pro misero.

13 "Nunc dignare, apostole,
Aperire cum clavibus
Regnum quod olim quaerimus
Nos instantes prae foribus.

14 "Opus delator sublimis,
Te rogamus assidue,
Recordare martyriae
Et auxilium tribue.

15 "Petri precamur veniam,
Si qua mala peregimus,
Resistentes daemonibus
Nunc evalere legimus.

16 "Qui nostri spiritus aerias
Praesta salutis galeas,
Simon Johannis, audias
Nostras preces, ut audias.

17 "Regis regnum apostolorum,
Precor precamine,
Me morantem in limine
Mortis desolve valide.

18 "Salvat horis in munere,
Mundi ferebat famina,
Cui concessa numina,
Relaxare peccamina.

19 "Turbae sanctorum magister,
Ovem errantem eruat,
Negligenter ne pereat,
Adjutorium tribuat.

20 "Uisitando cum trophaeo,
Fidei tectus clipeo,
Cujus vires ut sapio
Fari omnino nequeo.

21 "Xristi martyrum lucifer,
Legis lator altissimi,
Cui daemones pessimi
Obediebant impiissimi.

22 "Ymno dicto de laudibus
Petri, utcunque fecimus,
Nostris virtutum opibus
Propitiatur precibus.

23 "Zona praecincti placidis
Totis vivamus debitis,
Ut fruamur infinitis,
In angelorum editis."

1 "List, Brothers, whilst our hymn of praise,
To Peter's name we humbly raise;
From whose blest hand the waters ran,
Which life restored to fallen man.
May Peter's love our path attend,
And guide us to our happy end.

2 "Bright as the lightning's glowing sheen,
He, twice, 'mid ranks of saints, was seen;
Whilst nations lost in fear and love,
Hear chants divine from realms above.

3 " With fearless tongue he pleads the cause
Of Christ's divine and holy laws;
And all the baffled hosts of hell
His Master's glowing triumph tell.

4 "In years long past, in by-gone time,
As highest prince, to post sublime
Was Peter chosen to succeed,
And Christ's ne'er-failing flock to feed.

5 "Nor clime, nor space, might bound his zeal,
And pages writ his deeds reveal;
On him, the rock so strong, so sure,
Christ's Church shall ever firm endure.

6 "Fixed to the cross, he closed his days,
And wonders dread proclaimed his praise:
To realms above, to die no more,
He soar'd, as Christ had soar'd before.

7 "And, now, in deathless glory crowned,
The earth doth with his praise resound;
And thou, the first, sweet mother Rome,
His see, his battle-field, his home.

8 "Hence, in God's grace, in justice bright,
And led and guided by their light,
Through all the world, from end to end,
Did Peter's care his nets extend.

9 "E'en cruel Jews, from vice and strife,
Were led to walk the path of life;
And, soon, the Gospel's seine might tell
Of countless souls redeemed from hell.

10 "Historic lore proclaims his fame,
And all the glory of his name;
"Whilst at his nod, from sinful eyes
Tears rise, as incense, to the skies.

11 "Like Phoebus shining o'er the world,
Christ's saving standard he unfurl'd,
And, walking in his Master's ways,
Proclaim'd God's laws through all his days.

12 "That I may be this pastor's care,
Shall surely be my constant prayer;
Oh, Peter, pray, lest I be tost
By angry waves, and, wretched, lost.

13 "Oh deign, apostle, pure and meek,
To guide us to the realm we seek;
We stand, we pray, we faint outside,
Oh, ope to us those portals wide.

14 "With never-failing lips we pray,
Thy aid and help, our hope, our stay;
And, mindful of thy own sad throes,
Grant help and comfort in our woes.

15 "Thy pardon, Peter, we implore,
With hearts resolved to sin no more;
With Satan's hosts fierce war to wage,
And, trusting, all our foes engage.

16 "Then, Simon John, oh, list our cry,
And bear us succour from on high;
And on our brows bind helmets bright,
To keep us harmless in the fight.

17 " With humble cry, with humble prayer,
Apostles' Lord, I crave thy care;
That, trembling on death's awful shore,
Nor sin, nor hell, may claim me more.

18 "As every hour the sinner's cry,
Doth rise in sadness to the sky;
His chains unbound—behold him free,
For God's right hand doth work with thee.

19 "Oh, master of the sainted band,
O'er erring sinners keep thy hand;
And, lest our feet should sadly stray,
Oh, guide us in the narrow way.

20 "With faith's bright shield thy flock enshroud,
And glad them with thy trophies proud;
But mortal tongue may never tell
The saving strength we know so well.

21 "Of martyrs bright the brightest name,
God's people, all, thy praise proclaim;
Whilst demons dread thy awful sway,
And trembling fiends thy power obey.

22 "As best we may, to Peter's praise
This humble song we humbly raise;
May he our cry benign attend,
And guide us to our happy end.

23 "With girded loins, with duty done,
With cheerful hearts, till all be won;
May we, when life's stern fight is o'er,
Be crown'd with bliss for evermore.

We could not desire a fuller exposition of the prerogatives of St. Peter than is contained in this poem; he is the apostle divinely chosen "to hold the place of Christ and feed his sacred fold;" he is "the foundation of the Christian universal church" (fundamentum Dominica Ecclesiae Catholicae); he is "the master of the choir of saints;" " the prince of the martyrs of Christ; "the legislator of the Most High," and moreover, he is adorned "with the aureola of Rome, in which city he is destined to reign with an ever-enduring triumph."

The second poem is equally explicit; it styles the apostle the key-bearer of the heavenly kingdom, not for a while only, but throughout all time; he is the pontiff of souls, the prince of apostles, the shepherd of all the fold of Christ. We now give it in full, with a literal translation:

1. "Sanctus Petrus, apostolus,
Quondam piscator optimus,
Altum mare cum navibus,
Temptabat remis, retibus.

2. "Qui de profundo gurgitum
Magnam raptor fluctivagam
Jactis nave reticulis
Praedam captabat piscium.

3. “Christum vocantem sequitur
Sponte relictis omnibus
Dignus erat apostolus
Factus piscator hominum

4. "Sancto Petro pro merito
Christus regni coelestium
Claves simul cum gratia
Tradidit in perpetuum.

5. "Animarum pontificem,
Apostolorum principem
Petrum rogamus omnium
Christi pastorem ovium.

6. "Ne mens gravata crimine
Nostra torpescat pectore
Reddamus Christo gloriae
Cantemus in perpetuum.


1. "Great Peter, saint, apostle blest,
In fisher's lowly garb once drest,
With ship and oar did brave the deep,
Whilst searching nets the billows sweep.

2. "Full oft where surges wildly play,
Where, heedless, sport the finny prey;
His fish he takes, in seine or weel
Wide spread beneath his trusty keel.

3. "But, lo, he hears the Master's call,
With joyful heart abandons all;
And, office dread, unheard till then,
Is fisher made of ransomed men.

4. "The keys which open the portals blest,
That lead the way to endless rest,
To him Christ gives, with grace to tend
And guide his flock safe to the end.

5. "Great Pontiff of Christ's chosen band,
Apostles round thee humbly stand!
O'er Christ's true flock strict watch still keep,
Still guard His lambs still guard His sheep.

6. "Ne'er may our souls, with crime opprest,
Find rest or peace within our breast;
May we to Christ, glad songs of praise,
In realms of bliss, for ever raise. Amen.

Essays on the The Origin of the Irish Church by the Rev. Dr. Moran (Dublin, 1864), 81-87.

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