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prima incipit: Fregit victor virtualis. Secunda : Sanctitatis nova signa. Tertia: Dies iræ, dies illa. It is true, our sense of their loss is in part diminished by the extreme probability which the first line of at least one of the hymns, in connexion with the known circumstances of the writer's life, suggests, that these two were not, like the Dies Iræ, poems of a world-wide interest, but the glorifyings rather of his great patron and friend.
It is with no absolute certainty that the authorship of this grand hymn which follows, is ascribed to Thomas of Celano. Seeming to lie, as it has done, like a waif and stray, and yet at the same time so precious a one, it is not very wonderful that claims have been put in on behalf of many. Yet several of the names which have been proposed, are at once and evidently impossible. Thus we are quite sure that Gregory the Great could not have been the author; seeing that rhyme, although not unknown or unused in his day, was very far from having reached the perfection which in this poem it displays--add to which, that the poem would then have remained unknown for the first six hundred years of its existence. Again, St Bernard of Clairvaux has been sometimes named as the author. But not to say that the poem is of an austerer character, and of a more masculine texture, than any of those, beautiful as in their kind they are, which rightly belong to him, he also lived at too early a day. The hymn was not known till the thirteenth century; while he died in the middle of the twelfth, and enjoyed too high a reputation in life and after death to have rendered in possible that such a composition of his could have remained concealed for a hundred years. It would be long, and alien to the purposes of this volume, to consider all the names which have been suggested, or to give more than the
results of the enquiry. The question has been thoroughly discussed by Mohnike, Hymnologische Forschungen, v. 1,
He and others who have gone the fullest into the matter, are agreed that the preponderance of evidence is very much in favour of the friend and follower of St Francis, a notice of whose life I have in consequence given. Knowing as we do the bitter rivalry which reigned between the two mendicant orders, it something confirms the view that the hymn is the work of a Franciscan, that the Dominican Sixtus Senensis should speak slightingly of it, terming it, as he does, an uncouth poem (rhythmus inconditus ;) this he would scarcely have done, had there not been that in the authorship of the poem, which caused him to look at it with a jaundiced eye.
LXIII. Mohnike, Hymnol. Forschungen, p. 33, 39, 45; Lisco, Dies Ire, Hymnus auf das Weltgericht, Berlin, 1840; Daniel, Thes. Hymnol., v. 2, p. 103. Of all the Latin hymns of the Church this is the best known; for as Daniel has truly remarked : Etiam illi quibus Latini Ecclesiæ hymni prorsus ignoti sunt, hunc certè norunt, et si qui inveniuntur ab humanitate tam alieni ut carminum sacrorum suavitatem nihil omnino sentiant, ad hunc certè hymnum, cujus quot sunt verba tot tonitrua, animum adver:
tunt. Its introduction in Faust may have helped to bring it to the knowledge of some who would not otherwise have known it; or if they had, would not have believed its worth, but that the sage and seer of this world had thus stood sponsor to it, and set his seal of recognition upon it. The sublime use which Göthe has made of it in that drama will be remembered by all. To another illustrious man this hymn was eminently dear. How affecting is that incident recorded of Sir Walter Scott by his biographer,—how in the last days of his life, when all of his great mind had failed or was failing, he was yet heard to murmur to himself some lines of this hymn, which had been an especial favourite with him in other days. Nor is it hard to understand or explain the wide and general popularity which it has enjoyed. The metre so grandly devised, of which I remember no other example, fitted though it has here shewn itself for bringing out some of the noblest powers of the Latin language—the solemn effect of the triple rhyme, which has been likened to blow following blow of the hammer on the anvilthe confidence of the poet in the universal interest of his theme, a confidence which has made him set out his matter with so ma. jestic and unadorned a plainness, as at once to be intelligible to all,--these merits, with many more, have combined to give the Dies Iræ a high place, indeed one of the highest, among the masterpieces of sacred song.
3. cum Sibylla] An unwillingness to allow a Sibyl to appear in a Christian hymn, and bearing witness to Christian truth, has occasioned another reading here, and we sometimes meet Crucis expandens vexilla, as the last line of this first triplet. It rests on Matt. xxiv. 30, and on the notion that the apparition of a cross in the sky would be “the sign of the Son of man in heaven” there spoken of. There is no doubt, however, that it is a late alteration of the text; and the line as it stands above, is quite in the spirit of the early and medieval theology. In those ages the Sibylline verses were not seen to be that transparent forgery which indeed they are; but were continually appealed to as standing only second to the sacred Scriptures in prophetic authority. Thus see the use of them which, on this very matter of the destruction of the world, Lactantius makes, Inst. Div., 1. 7, c. 16–24. Cf. Piper's Mythol. d. Christl. Kunst, p. 472507. Nay, we may say that these Sibyl. [T. L. P.]
Quantus tremor est futurus,
line oracles, with other heathen testimonies of the same kind, were not so much subordinated to more legitimate prophecy, as co-ordinated with it. This and those were regarded as two parallel lines of prophecy, the Church's and the world's, bearing consenting witness to the same truths. Thus is it in a curious medieval Latin mystery, which M. Magnin has published in the Journal des Savans, 1846, p. 88. It is on the Nativity, and is of simplest construction. One after another, patriarchs and prophets and kings of the Old Covenant come forward and repeat their most remarkable word about Him that should come : but by their side come forward a series of heathen witnesses, Virgil, (Eclog. 4,) Nebuchadnezzar, (Dan. iii. 25,) and the Sibyl: and that it was the writer's intention to parallelize the two series, and to shew that Christ had the testimony both of these and those in his favour, is plain from some opening lines of the prologue :
O Judæi, Verbum Dei
Pellite caliginem. And such, no doubt, was the meaning of the author here_“That there shall be such a day as this has the witness of inspiration, David..and of mere natural religion, the Sibyl.--the Jew and Gentile alike bear testimony to the truths which we Christians believe." To look at the matter from this point of view, puts it out of all doubt that in the first part of the line we ought to read Teste David, and not Teste Petro. It is true that 2 Pet. iii. 7-11 is a more obvious prophecy of the destruction of the world by fire; but there are passages enough in the Psalms, as Ps. xcvi. 13; xcvii. 3; xi. 6; to which the poet may allude; and the very obviousness of the passage in St Peter is alone sufficient to make the reading, which introduces
his name, suspicious.