Friday, December 7, 2012

The Hymns of the Saint of the Day

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and Saint of the Day, wrote and sang hymns with his Church, in imitation of the Eastern Churches, who transmitted doctrine through hymnody.

St. Ambrose wrote hymns in what we now call Long Meter, also known as Church Meter or Ambrosian Meter, which is to say, in verses of four iambic line, each with four metrical feet. 

We know that St. Ambrose is the author of four of the many hymns ascribed to him, because St. Augustine, whom St. Ambrose baptized, mentions them by name in his Confessions. One of them is Aeterne rerum Conditor:

Eternal maker of all things
Of day and night the sov'reign King,
Refreshing mortals, You arrange
The rhythm of the seasons' change

The rooster sounds his morning cry
--Throughout the night he watched the sky--
For travelers, a guiding light
To tell the watches of the night.

The morning star that hears the cry
Dispels the darkness from the sky.
The demons, hearing the alarm
Abandon all their paths of harm.

The sailor hears and he is brave;
The sea becomes a gentle wave.
The rooster's call reached Peter's ears:
He washed away his sins in tears.

Our wav'ring hearts, Lord Jesus, see.
O look upon us, make us free,
For in Your gaze no fault can stay,
And sins by tears are washed away.

O Light, upon our senses shine.
Dispel our sleepiness of mind,
That we may sing Your morning praise,
Then, vows fulfilling, live our days.

Many other hymns are ascribed to him, some quite possibly authentically, others in homage to his teaching authority. One of these is a hymn to St. Agnes, Agnes beatae virginis.  

My translation here was included in a recent book, Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim. I take this as a testimony to the enduring power of hymns to catechize, not only ancient saints like the blessed Bishop of Hippo, but the potential saints of our own and future years:

 The blessed virgin Agnes flies
back to her home above the skies.
With love she gave her blood on earth
to gain a new celestial birth.

Mature enough to give her life,
though still too young to be a wife,
what joy she shows when death appears
that one would think: her bridegroom nears!

Her captors lead her to the fire
but she refuses their desire,
"For it is not such smold'ring brands
Christ's virgins take into their hands."

"This flaming fire of pagan rite
extinguishes all faith and light.
Then stab me here, so that the flood
may overcome this hearth in blood."

Courageous underneath the blows,
her death a further witness shows,
for as she falls she bends her knee
and wraps her robes in modesty.

O Virgin-born, all praises be
to You throughout eternity.
and unto everlasting days
to Father and the Spirit, praise.
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