Friday 8 December 2017

The Hymn of Saint Cuchumneus in Praise of the Blessed Virgin

Below is a hymn in honour of the Mother of God attributed to Saint Cuchumneus (Cú Chuimne), whose death is recorded in the Irish Annals in the 740s. Hymns like this gave a certain measure of discomfort to the 19th-century Protestant scholars who translated the Irish Liber Hymnorum, as they were convinced that the 'Celtic Church' shared their own 'reformed' outlook. It was to counter such views that Catholic writers of the period presented the early Irish church as entirely Catholic, a viewpoint with no more doughty a champion than the then Vice-Rector of the Irish College at Rome and future Cardinal,  Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911). In an 1864 essay on Devotion to the Blessed Virgin he published the text of this hymn and a translation by Father Thomas Potter (1828-1873,) an English hymn writer and convert to Catholicism who taught at All Hallows' College in Dublin. There have been more literal translations of the hymn in recent years, but below is both the Latin original and Father Potter's translation of the hymn Cantemus in omni die:
St. Cuchumneus, a contemporary of Adamnan, towards the close of the sixth century, composed a Latin hymn in honour of the Mother of God, which soon became celebrated, and had a place assigned to it amongst the liturgical hymns of our Church. The German hymnologist, Mone, discovered three MSS. of this hymn, one belonging to the ninth, the others to the eighth century. Colgan, too, had an ancient copy of it in his possession, and it is also contained in the celebrated Liber Hymnorum, from which we now present it to the reader:

Hymnus S. Cuchumnei in laudem B. Virginis.

1. "Cantemus in omni die concinentes varie,
Conclamantes Deo dignum hymnum sanctae Mariae.

2. “Bis per chorum hinc et inde collaudamus Mariam,
Ut vox pulset omnem aurem per laudem vicariam.

3. "Maria de tribu Juda, summi mater Domini,
Opportunam dedit curam aegrotanti homini.

4. "Gabriel advexit verbum sinu Patris paterno,
Quod conceptum et susceptum in utero materno.

5. "Haec est summa, haec est sancta, virgo venerabilis,
Quae ex fide non lecessit sed extitit stabilis.

6. "Huic matri nec inventa ante nec post similis
Nec de prole fuit plane humanae originis.

7. "Per mulierem et lignum mundus prius periit,
Per mulieris virtutem, ad salutem rediit.

8. "Maria mater miranda patrem suum edidit,
Per quem aqua late lotus totus mundus credidit.

9. "Haec concepit margaritam, non sunt vana somnia, 
Pro qua sane Christiani vendunt sua omnia.

10. "Tunicam per totum textam Christo mater fecerat,
Quae peracta Christi morte, sorte statim steterat.

11. "Induamus arma lucis loricam et galeam,
Ut simus Deo perfecti, suscepti per Mariana.

12. "Amen, amen, adjuramus merita puerperae,
Ut non possit flamma pyrae nos dirae decerpere.

13. "Christi nomen invocemus angelis sub testibus,
Ut fruamur et scribamur litteris coelestibus.

"Cantemus in omni", etc.


Hymn of Saint Cuchumneus
1. "In alternate measure chanting, daily sing we Mary's praise,
And, in strains of glad rejoicing, to the Lord our voices raise.

2. "With a two-fold choir repeating Mary's never dying fame,
Let each ear the praises gather, which our grateful tongues proclaim.

3. "Judah's ever-glorious daughter chosen mother of the Lord-
Who, to weak and fallen manhood all its ancient worth restored.

4. "From the everlasting Father, Gabriel brought the glad decree,
That, the Word Divine conceiving, she should set poor sinners free.

5. "Of all virgins pure, the purest ever stainless, ever bright
Still from grace to grace advancing fairest daughter of the light.

6. "Wondrous title who shall tell it? whilst the Word divine she bore,
Though in mother's name rejoicing, virgin purer than before!

7. "By a woman's disobedience, eating the forbidden tree,
Was the world betray 'd and ruin'd was by woman's aid set free.

8. "In mysterious mode a mother, Mary did her God conceive,
By whose grace, through saving waters, man did heav'nly truth receive.

9. "By no empty dreams deluded, for the pearl which Mary bore,
Men, all earthly wealth resigning, still are rich for evermore.

10. " For her Son a seamless tunic Mary's careful hand did weave;
O'er that tunic fiercely gambling, sinners Mary's heart did grieve.

11. "Clad in helmet of salvation clad in breast-plate shining bright
May the hand of Mary guide us to the realms of endless light.

12. "Amen, amen, loudly cry we may she, when the fight is won,
O'er avenging fires triumphing, lead us safely to her Son.

13. " Holy angels gathering round us, lo, His saving name we greet,
Writ in books of life eternal, may we still that name repeat!

" In alternate measure chanting", etc.
[We are indebted for this translation to the kindness of Rev. Mr. Potter, All Hallows' College.]
…. Each strophe of the above hymn of St. Cuchumneus proclaims some prerogative of the holy Virgin. She is "the Mother of the great Lord," "the greatest, the holy venerable Virgin;" "none, throughout all time, is found like unto her," … She it is that gives a healing remedy for the wounds of man; and as the world was once ruined by Eve and the forbidden tree, so through the virtue of this new Eve is it restored to the blessings of Heaven. Hers it was to weave the seamless garment of Christ, emblem of the Church's unity;  and hers is it now to present us to God, and protect us from all the attacks of the evil one.
Rev. Dr. P. F. Moran, Essays on the Origin, Doctrines and Discipline of the Early Irish Church, (Dublin, 1864), 225-228.
Note: This post, first published in 2017, was revised in 2023.


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