The seven great hymns of the mediaeval church/Veni Sancte Spiritus


IN the year 997, "whilst the priesthood struggled to regain through their anathemas the property that had been taken from them by violence, a young man, who knew neither to threaten nor to lie, nor to inspire others with fear, succeeded to the royal dignity which his father had usurped. It was Robert, only son of Hugh Capet."—Sismondi, Hist. Français.

This King, "there is no good reason to doubt" (Konigsfeld), was the author of the Veni Sancte Spiritus, a hymn that the best living authority regards as all the loveliest of all the hymns in the whole circle of Latin sacred poetry."—Trench.

The ability of Robert II. to have composed the hymn which ranks next to the Dies Iræ and Stabat Mater, is not improbable, for, according to the chronicle of Saint Bertin, he was a saint, a poet, and a musician:

"Robert etoit très-pieux, prudent, lettré, et suffisamment philosophe, mais surtout excellent musicien. Il composa la prose du Saint-Esprit, qui commence par ces mots, Adsit nobis gratia, les rhythmes, Judæ et Hierusalem, et Cornelius Centurio, qu'il offrit à Rome sur l'autel de Saint-Pierre, notés avec le chant qui leur étoit propre, de même que l'antiphone Eripe, et plusieurs autres beaux morceaux."

The translation which is here given is from the Lyra Germanica of Catherine Winkworth. That work professes to be translated from the German; but its version of the Veni Sancte Spiritus is a finer translation than any that professes to be from the Latin.

The only alteration which has been made in the text is the first word of the English version. As there was no reason for rendering the Latin verb by the English interjection "O," it is presumed that this was an unintended error of the usually faithful and scrupulous translator.