Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences/Quam dilecta tabernacula

Mediæval Hymns and Sequences  (1867)  edited by John Mason Neale
Quam dilecta tabernacula by Adam of Saint Victor, translated by John Mason Neale

Quam dilecta tabernacula.

A prose of Adam of S. Victor, for the dedication of a church.

How lovely and how loved, how full of grace,
The Lord the God of Hosts, His dwelling-place!
How elect your
How serene your walls remain:
Never moved by,
Rather proved by
Wind, and storm, and surge, and rain!

O how glorious those foundations
Which in ancient generations
Types and shadows half display!
From the side of Adam sleeping
Eve[1] proceeded, figure keeping
Of a hand to last for aye.

Framed of Wood, the Ark effected
Noah's salvation, while directed
Through the Deluge and upheld:[2]
Called the promise to inherit
Sarah laughs with joy of spirit
O'er the infant of her eld.

From her pitcher[3] Bethuel's daughter
Giveth Eliezer water,
And the camels slake their thirst:
For her Bridegroom she prepareth,
While the rings and chains she weareth
That Himself had sent her first.

Letter held by, spirit scanted,
Saw the Synagogue supplanted,[4]
Wandering wide, by Jacob's hand:
Leah's tender vision fleeth
Much that clear-eyed Rachel[5] seeth
Wedded thence in equal band.

By the wayside as she fareth
Tamar[6] twins to Judah beareth
After many a widowed day:
Here[7] the Royal Maid revealing
What the rush-ark was concealing,
Beareth Moses safe away.

Here the Lamb is immolated
Whereby Israel shall be sated,
Sprinkled with the atoning blood:
Here they pass the Red Sea surges,
While the rising billow urges
Egypt's host beneath the flood.

Here the urn of manna standeth,
Here the Tables God commandeth
In the Ark of Covenant rest.
Here the ornaments of beauty,
Here the robes of priestly duty,
Chief of all the fair long vest.[8]

Here his wife Urias[9] loses,—
Bathsheba, whom David chooses,
To a queen's estate to bring:
Than the royal maidens fairer,
She, of gold-wrought raiment wearer,
'Shall be brought unto the King.'

Hither Sheba's queen proceedeth
As to Solomon she speedeth,
Seeking Wisdom at his feet:
Black, but comely, she ascendeth,
As when myrrh with incense blendeth
In a vapour dark but sweet.

She whose glory
Ancient story
Shadowed faintly,
Bright and saintly
Opens here the Day of Grace.
To our dearest[10]
Lie we nearest,
Besting by Him,
Singing nigh Him,
For the Nuptial comes apace:

The feast at whose beginning blend
The louder notes that trumpets send,[11]
While gentler psalteries hail the end.
Ten thousand thousand choirs on high
The Bridegroom in one melody
Exalting, sing eternally
Alleluia: Amen.

  1. The poet here, after his manner, heaps together the Old Testament types of the Church. The first of these is Eve. As she was formed from the side of her husband while he slept, the Spotless Bride was formed from the Side of Christ while He slept in death on the Cross. For it was when the spear pierced His Side that the Sacraments of the Church first flowed forth.
  2. Hildebert, in one of his poems, thus expands the type:—the verses lose nothing by being put into prose. The ark of Noah was narrow at the top, broad at the bottom, and finished about in a cubit. The beasts were placed lowest; then the men; and the birds above them. The Ark figures the Church. Many there are in this who seem irrational as beasts;—and thence the width of the lower stage.—There are fewer in it who may properly be called men, as knowing the things that belong to their peace, and avoiding sin; hence the comparative narrowness of the upper stage. There are fewer still who, like birds, contemn earthly things; and rise to heaven: whence they are fitly represented as at the top. And they are finished about in a cubit: for Christ is set forth by the Cubit; and beyond Him the Church seeks and finds nothing.
  3. According to the mediæval allegory,—Isaac is Christ: Rebecca, the Gentile Church: Eliezer, the Apostles and Doctors, whom he sent to betroth that Church to Himself. The servant's thirst, their ardour for souls, satisfied by the obedience of the Gentile converts, as Eliezer by the pitcher of Rebecca.
  4. Esau going away to hunt, here represents the Jew, who while wandering in seeking for the letter of the Scriptures, and careless about the spirit, lost the blessing which Jacob obtained.
  5. Leah and Rachel, as we have already seen, are usually taken as types of the active and contemplative life. But they also stand for the Synagogue and the Church. Leah, tender-eyed, i.e. blear-eyed, represents the former, unable to see the Antitype in the type. Rachel, according to the strange etymology ot Hildebert, signifies, that sees the Beginning: i.e. Christ: hence she is called seeing Rachel by our poet, and therefore typifies the Church, who sees her Lord in the mysteries of the Old Testament.
  6. Tamar is the Gentile Church:—the garment in which she sat by the wayside, confession of sins; her becoming the mother of twins by Judah, while ignorant who she was, is explained of that text,—"a people whom I have not known shall serve Me."
  7. Here, that is, here in the Church, those things really take place, which, in Scripture history are allegorically set forth. The Nile is the world, because it flows through Egypt, the land of darkness. Moses is the natural state of man; the Ark, his vain endeavour to work out a righteousness of his own:—Pharaoh's daughter, the Grace of God: which finally makes him by adoption a son of the True King. The three next allusions are perfectly clear.
  8. Poderis. So Petrus de Rigâ:

    Poderis est vestis quæ terræ continet orbem,
    Et caput et corpus præsulis ilia tegit.
    Sic mens pontificis toti supereminet orbi,
    Moribus ac precibus se populumque regens.
    Non aliud splendet nisi veste hyacinthus in istâ,
    Signans quod totus præsul ad astra volet.
    Paulus erat totus indutus podere, dicens:
    "Dissolvi cupiens, opto videre Deum."

  9. Uriah sets forth the Jews: Bathsheba, the True Church: David represents Christ. Uriah would not go into his house,—nor the Jews enter into the House of Wisdom: Uriah, by too carefully keeping the letters with which he was entrusted, perished; the Jews, as we have just been reminded, by clinging too closely to the letter of Scripture, were also lost;—and Christ took the Church from them, and wedded her to Himself.

    The symbolical interpretation of the history is very well given by Hildebert, in verses which however are a little too outspoken to be translated.

    Bersabee Lex est; Rex David; Christus Urias;
    Judæo regi nuda puella placet.
    Nuda placet Christo Lex non vestita figuris;
    Aufert Judæis hanc, sociatque sibi.
    Vir non vult intrare domum, nec spiritualem
    Intellectum plebs Israel ingreditur.
    Scripta gerit, per scripta perit deceptus Urias;
    Sic et Judæus scripta sequendo perit.

  10. Jam in lecto cum Dilecto
    Quiescamus et psallamus,
    Adsunt enim nuptiæ.

    S. Melito. Nuptiæ sunt Christi et Ecclesiae; Dilectus est Christus; Lectus unitas Ecclesiæ.

  11. According to the usual mediæval allegory,—as for instance explained by Honorius of Autun on the eightieth Psalm,—the trumpets, so usually employed in the Jewish Feasts, are the harsher Law; the sweeter Psaltery is the gentler teaching of the Gospel.