Vol. 4, Chapter X (Cont’d) – Latin Hymns and Hymnists


The Latin church poetry of the middle ages is much better known than the Greek, and remains to this day a rich source of devotion in the Roman church and as far as poetic genius and religious fervor are appreciated. The best Latin hymns have passed into the Breviary and Missal (some with misimprovements), and have been often reproduced in modern languages. The number of truly classical hymns, however, which were inspired by pure love to Christ and can be used with profit by Christians of every name, is comparatively small. The poetry of the Latin church is as full of Mariolatry and hagiolatry as the poetry of the Greek church. It is astonishing what an amount of chivalrous and enthusiastic devotion the blessed Mother of our Lord absorbed in the middle ages. In Mone’s collection the hymns to the Virgin fill a whole volume of 457 pages, the hymns to saints another volume of 579 pages, while the first volume of only 461 pages is divided between hymns to God and to the angels. The poets intended to glorify Christ through his mother, but the mother overshadows the child, as in the pictures of the Madonna. She was made the mediatrix of all divine grace, and was almost substituted for Christ, who was thought to occupy a throne of majesty too high for sinful man to reach without the aid of his mother and her tender human sympathies. She is addressed with every epithet of praise, as Mater Dei, Dei Genitrix, Mater summi Domini, Mater misericordiae, Mater bonitatis, Mater dolorosa, Mater jucundosa, Mater speciosa, Maris Stella, Mundi domina, Mundi spes, Porta paradisi, Regina coeli, Radix gratiae, Virgo virginum, Virgo regia Dei. Even the Te Deum was adapted to her by the distinguished St. Bonaventura so as to read “Te Matrem laudamus, Te Virginem confitemur.”

The Latin, as the Greek, hymnists were nearly all monks; but an emperor (Charlemagne?) and a king (Robert of France) claim a place of honor among them.

The sacred poetry of the Latin church may be divided into three periods: 1, The patristic period from Hilary (d. 368) and Ambrose (d. 397) to Venantius Fortunatus (d. about 609) and Gregory I. (d. 604); 2, the early medieval period to Peter Damiani (d. 1072); 3, the classical period to the thirteenth century. The first period we have considered in a previous volume. Its most precious legacy to the church universal is the Te Deum laudamus. It is popularly ascribed to Ambrose of Milan (or Ambrose and Augustin jointly), but in its present completed form does not appear before the first half of the sixth century, although portions of it may be traced to earlier Greek origin; it is, like the Apostles’ Creed, and the Greek Gloria in Excelsis, a gradual growth of the church rather than the production of any individual. The third period embraces the greatest Latin hymnists, as Bernard of Morlaix (monk of Cluny about 1150), Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), Adam of St. Victor (d. 1192), Bonaventura (d. 1274), Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), Thomas a Celano (about 1250), Jacopone (d. 1306), and produced the last and the best Catholic hymns which can never die, as Hora Novisasima; Jesu dulcis memoria; Salve caput cruentatum; Stabat Mater; and Dies Irae. In this volume we are concerned with the second period.

Venantius Fortunatus, of Poitiers, and his cotemporary, Pope Gregory I., form the transition from the patristic poetry of Sedulius and Prudentius to the classic poetry of the middle ages.

Fortunatus (about 600) was the fashionable poet of his day. A native Italian, he emigrated to Gaul, travelled extensively, became intimate with St. Gregory of Tours, and the widowed queen Radegund when she lived in ascetic retirement, and died as bishop of Poitiers. He was the first master of the trochaic tetrameter, and author of three hundred poems, chief among which are the two famous passion hymns:

“Vexilla regis prodeunt,”

“The Royal Banners forward go;”


“Pange, lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis,”

“Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle.”

Both have a place in the Roman Breviary.

Gregory I. (d. 604), though far inferior to Fortunatus in poetic genius, occupies a prominent rank both in church poetry and church music. He followed Ambrose in the metrical form, the prayer-like tone, and the churchly spirit, and wrote for practical use. He composed about a dozen hymns, several of which have found a place in the Roman Breviary. The best is his Sunday hymn:

“Primo dierum omnium,”

“On this first day when heaven on earth,”

or, as it has been changed in the Breviary,

“Primo die quo Trinitas,”

“To-day the Blessed Three in One

Began the earth and skies;

To-day a Conqueror, God the Son,

Did from the grave arise;

We too will wake, and, in despite

Of sloth and languor, all unite,

As Psalmists bid, through the dim night

Waiting with wistful eyes.”

The Venerable Bede (d. 735) wrote a beautiful ascension hymn

“Hymnum canamus gloriae,”

“A hymn of glory let us sing;”

and a hymn for the Holy innocents,

“Hymnum canentes Martyrum,”

“The hymn of conquering martyrs raise.”

Rabanus Maurus, a native of Mainz (Mayence) on the Rhine, a pupil of Alcuin, monk and abbot in the convent of Fulda, archbishop of Mainz from 847 to 856, was the chief Poet of the Carolingian age, and the first German who wrote Latin hymns. Some of them have passed into the Breviary.

He is probably the author of the pentecostal Veni, Creator Spiritus. It outweighs all his other poems. It is one of the classical Latin hymns, and still used in the Catholic church on the most solemn occasions, as the opening of Synods, the creating of popes and the crowning of kings. It was invested with a superstitious charm. It is the only Breviary hymn which passed into the Anglican liturgy as part of the office for ordaining priests and consecrating bishops. The authorship has been variously ascribed to Charlemagne, to Gregory the Great, also to Alcuin, and even to Ambrose, without any good reason. It appears first in 898, is found in the MS. containing the Poems of Rabanus Maurus, and in all the old German Breviaries; it was early and repeatedly translated into German and agrees very well in thought and expression with his treatise on the Holy Spirit.

We give the original with two translations.




Veni, Creator Spiritus, Mentes tuorum visita. Imple superna gratia Quo tu creasti pectora. Creator, Spirit, Lord of Grace, O make our hearts Thy dwelling-place, And with Thy might celestial aid The souls of those whom Thou hast made.   

Qui Paracletus diceris, Donum Dei altissimi, Fons vivus, ignis, charitas, Et spiritalis unctio. Come from the throne of God above, O Paraclete, O Holy Dove, Come, Oil of gladness, cleansing Fire, And Living Spring of pure desire.   

Tu septiformis munere, Dextrae Dei tu digitus, Tu rite Promissum Patris, Sermone ditans guttura. O Finger of the Hand Divine, The sevenfold gifts of Grace are Thine, And touched by Thee the lips proclaim All praise to God’s most holy Name.   

Accende lumen sensibus, Infunde amorem cordibus; Infirma nostri corporis, Virtute firmans perpetim. Then to our souls Thy light impart, And give Thy Love to every heart Turn all our weakness into might, O Thou, the Source of Life and Light.   

Hostem repellas longius, Pacemque dones protinus. Ductore sic te praevio, Vitemus omne noxium. Protect us from the assailing foe, And Peace, the fruit of Love, bestow; Upheld by Thee, our Strength and Guide, No evil can our steps betide.   

Per te sciamus, da Patrem, Noscamus atque Filium, Te utriusque Spiritum, Credamus omni tempore. Spirit of Faith, on us bestow The Father and the Son to know; And, of the Twain, the Spirit, Thee; Eternal One, Eternal Three.   

[Sit laus Patri cum Filio, Sancto simul Paracleto, Nobisque mittat Filius Charisma Sancti Spiritus.] To God the Father let us sing; To God the Son, our risen King; And equally with These adore The Spirit, God for evermore.   

[Praesta hoc Pater piissime, Patrique compar unice, Cum Spiritu Paracleto, Regnans per omne saeculum.] See note above.  


O Holy Ghost, Creator, come!

Thy people’s minds pervade;

And fill, with Thy supernal grace,

The souls which Thou hast made.

Thou who art called the Paraclete,

The gift of God most high — 

Thou living fount, and fire and love,

Our spirit’s pure ally;

Thou sevenfold giver of all good;

Finger of God’s right hand;

Thou promise of the Father, rich

In words for every land;

Kindle our senses to a flame,

And fill our hearts with love,

And, through our bodies’ weakness, still

Pour valor from above!

Drive further off our enemy,

And straightway give us peace;

That with Thyself as such a guide,

We may from evil cease.

Through Thee may we the Father know,

And thus confess the Son;

For Thee, from both the Holy Ghost,

We praise while time shall run.

In this connection we mention the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, the other great pentecostal hymn of the middle ages. It is generally ascribed to King Robert of France (970-1031), the son and success or of Hugh Capet. He was distinguished for piety and charity, like his more famous successor, St. Louis IX., and better fitted for the cloister than the throne. He was disciplined by the pope (998) for marrying a distant cousin, and obeyed by effecting a divorce. He loved music and poetry, founded convents and churches, and supported three hundred paupers. His hymn reveals in terse and musical language an experimental knowledge of the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. It is superior to the companion hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus. Trench calls it “the loveliest” of all the Latin hymns, but we would give this praise rather to St. Bernard’s Jesu dulcis memoria (“Jesus, the very thought of Thee”). The hymn contains ten half-stanzas of three lines each with a refrain in ium. Each line has seven syllables, and ends with a double or triple rhyme; the third line rhymes with the third line of the following half-stanza. Neale has reproduced the double ending of each third line (as “brilliancy” — “radiancy”).




Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Et emittee coelitus Lucis tuae radium. Holy Spirit, God of light! Come, and on our inner sight Pour Thy bright and heavenly ray!   

Veni, Pater pauperum, Veni, dator munerum, Veni, lumen cordium. Father of the lowly! come; Here, Great Giver! be Thy home, Sunshine of our hearts, for aye!   

Consolator optime, Dulcis hospes animae, Dulce refrigerium: Inmost Comforter and best! Of our souls the dearest Guest, Sweetly all their thirst allay;   

In labore requies, In aestu temperies, In fletu solatium. In our toils be our retreat, Be our shadow in the heat, Come and wipe our tears away.   

O lux beatissima, Reple cordis intima, Tuorum fidelium. O Thou Light, all pure and blest! Fill with joy this weary breast, Turning darkness into day.   

Sine tuo numine Nihil est in homine Nihil est innoxium, For without Thee nought we find, Pure or strong in human kind, Nought that has not gone astray.   

Lava quod est sordidum, Riga quod est aridum, Sana quod est saucium. Wash us from the stains of sin, Gently soften all within, Wounded spirits heal and stay.   

Flecte quod est rigidum, Fove quod est languidum, Rege quod est devium. What is hard and stubborn bend, What is feeble soothe and tend, What is erring gently sway.   

Da tuis fidelibus, In te confitentibus, Sacrum septenarium; To Thy faithful servants give, Taught by Thee to trust and live, Sevenfold blessing from this day;   

Da virtutis meritum, Da salutis exitum, Da perenne gaudium. Make our title clear, we pray, When we drop this mortal clay; Then, — O give us joy for aye.  


The following is a felicitous version by an American divine.

Come, O Spirit! Fount of grace!

From thy heavenly dwelling-place

One bright morning beam impart:

Come, O Father of the poor;

Come, O Source of bounties sure;

Come, O Sunshine of the heart!

Comforter of man the best!

Making the sad soul thy guest;

Sweet refreshing in our fears,

In our labor a retreat,

Cooling shadow in the heat,

Solace in our falling tears.

O! thrice blessed light divine!

Come, the spirit’s inmost shrine

With Thy holy presence fill;

Of Thy brooding love bereft,

Naught to hopeless man is left;

Naught is his but evil still.

Wash away each earthly stain,

Flow o’er this parched waste again,

Heal the wounds of conscience sore,

Bind the stubborn will within,

Thaw the icy chains of sin,

Guide us, that we stray no more.

Give to Thy believers, give,

In Thy holy hope who live,

All Thy sevenfold dower of love;

Give the sure reward of faith,

Give the love that conquers death,

Give unfailing joy above.

Notker, surnamed the Older, or Balbulus (“the little Stammerer,” from a slight lisp in his speech), was born about 850 of a noble family in Switzerland, educated in the convent of St. Gall, founded by Irish missionaries, and lived there as an humble monk. He died about 912, and was canonized in 1512.

He is famous as the reputed author of the Sequences (Sequentiae), a class of hymns in rythmical prose, hence also called Proses (Prosae). They arose from the custom of prolonging the last syllable in singing the Allelu-ia of the Gradual, between the Epistle and the Gospel, while the deacon was ascending from the altar to the rood-loft (organ-loft), that he might thence sing the Gospel. This prolongation was called jubilatio or jubilus, or laudes, on account of its jubilant tone, and sometimes sequentia (Greek ἁκολουθία), because it followed the reading of the Epistle or the Alleluia. Mystical interpreters made this unmeaning prolongation of a mere sound the echo of the jubilant music of heaven. A further development was to set words to these notes in rythmical prose for chanting. The name sequence was then applied to the text and in a wider sense also to regular metrical and rhymed hymns. The book in which Sequences were collected was called Sequentiale.

Notker marks the transition from the unmeaning musical sequence to the literary or poetic sequence. Over thirty poems bear his name. His first attempt begins with the line

“Laudes Deo concinat orbis ubique totus.”


More widely circulated is his Sequence of the Holy Spirit:

“Sancti Spiritus adsit nobis gratia.”

“The grace of the Holy Spirit be present with us.”

The best of all his compositions, which is said to have been inspired by the sight of the builders of a bridge over an abyss in the Martinstobe, is a meditation on death (Antiphona de morte):

“Media vita in morte sumus:

Quem quaerimus adiutorem nisi te, Domine,

Qui pro peccatis nostris juste irasceris?

Sancte Deus, sancte fortis,

Sancte et misericors Salvator:

Amarae morti ne tradas nos.”

This solemn prayer is incorporated in many burial services. In the Book of Common Prayer it is thus enlarged:

“In the midst of life we be in death:

Of whom may we seek for succour, but of Thee,

O Lord, which for our sins justly art moved?

Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty,

O holy and most merciful Saviour,

Deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts.

Shut not up thy merciful eyes to our prayers:

But spare us, Lord most holy,

O God most mighty,

O holy and merciful Saviour,

Thou most worthy Judge eternal,

Suffer us not, at our last hour,

For any pains of death,

To fall from Thee.”

Peter Damiani (d. 1072), a friend of Hildebrand and promoter of his hierarchical reforms, wrote a solemn hymn on the day of death:

“Gravi me terrore pulsas vitae dies ultima,”

“With what heavy fear thou smitest.”

He is perhaps also the author of the better known descriptive poem on the Glory and Delights of Paradise, which is usually assigned to St. Augustin:

“Ad perennis vitae fontem mens sitivit arida,

Claustra carnis praesto frangi clausa quaerit anima:

Gliscit, ambit, eluctatur exsul frui patria.”

The subordinate hymn-writers of our period are the following:

Isidor of Seville (Isidoris Hispalensis, 560-636). A hymn on St. Agatha: “Festum insigne prodiit.”

Cyxilla of Spain. Hymnus de S. Thurso et sociis: Exulta nimium turba fidelium.”

Eugenius of Toledo. Oratio S. Eugenii Toletani Episcopi: “Rex Deus.”

Paulus Diaconus (720-800), of Monte Casino, chaplain of Charlemagne, historian of the Lombards, and author of a famous collection of homilies. On John the Baptist (“Ut queant laxis), and on the Miracles of St. Benedict (Fratres alacri pectore).

Odo of Cluny (d. 941). A hymn on St. Mary Magdalene day, “Lauda, Mater Ecclesiae,” translated by Neale: “Exalt, O mother Church, to-day, The clemency of Christ, thy Lord.” It found its way into the York Breviary.

Godescalcus (Gottschalk, d. about 950, not to be confounded with his predestinarian namesake, who lived in the ninth century), is next to Notker, the best writer of sequences or proses, as “Laus Tibi, Christe” (“Praise be to Thee, O Christ”), and Coeli enarrant (“The heavens declare the glory”), both translated by Neale.

Fulbert Of Chartres (died about 1029) wrote a paschal hymn adopted in several Breviaries: “Chorus novae Jerusalem” (“Ye choirs of New Jerusalem”), translated by Neale.

A few of the choicest hymns of our period, from the sixth to the twelfth century are anonymous. To these belong:

“Hymnum dicat turba fratrum.” A morning hymn mentioned by Bede as a fine specimen of the trochaic tetrameter.

“Sancti venite.” A communion hymn.

“Urbs beata Jerusalem.” It is from the eighth century, and one of those touching New Jerusalem hymns which take their inspiration from the last chapter of St. John’s Apocalypse, and express the Christian’s home-sickness after heaven. The following is the first stanza (with Neale’s translation):




“Urbs beata Jerusalem, Dicta pacis visio, Quae construitur in coelo Vivis ex lapidibus, Et angelis coronata Ut sponsata comite.” Blessed City, Heavenly Salem, Vision dear of Peace and Love, Who, of living stones upbuilded, Art the joy of Heav’n above, And, with angel cohorts circled, As a Bride to earth dost move!  


“Apparebit repentina.” An alphabetic and acrostic poem on the Day of Judgment, based on Mat_25:31-36; from the seventh century; first mentioned by Bede, then long lost sight of; the forerunner of the Dies Irae, more narrative than lyrical, less sublime and terrific, but equally solemn. The following are the first lines in Neale’s admirable translation:

“That great Day of wrath and terror,

That last Day of woe and doom,

Like a thief that comes at midnight,

On the sons of men shall come;

When the pride and pomp of ages

All shall utterly have passed,

And they stand in anguish, owning

That the end is here at last;

And the trumpet’s pealing clangor,

Through the earth’s four quarters spread,

Waxing loud and ever louder,

Shall convoke the quick and dead:

And the King of heavenly glory

Shall assume His throne on high,

And the cohorts of His angels

Shall be near Him in the sky:

And the sun shall turn to sackcloth,

And the moon be red as blood,

And the stars shall fall from heaven,

Whelm’d beneath destruction’s flood.

Flame and fire, and desolation

At the Judge’s feet shall go:

Earth and sea, and all abysses

Shall His mighty sentence know.”

“Ave, Maris Stella.” This is the favorite medieval Mary hymn, and perhaps the very best of the large number devoted to the worship of the “Queen of heaven,” which entered so deeply into the piety and devotion of the Catholic church both in the East and the West. It is therefore given here in full with the version of Edward Caswall.




“Ave, Maris Stella, Dei Mater alma Atque semper Virgo, Felix coeli porta. Hail, thou Star-of-Ocean, Portal of the sky, Ever-Virgin Mother Of the Lord Most High!   

Sumens illud Ave Gabrielis ore, Funda nos in pace, Mutans nomen Evae. Oh, by Gabriel’s Ave Uttered long ago Eva’s name reversing, ‘Stablish peace below!   

Solve vincla reis Profer lumen coecis, Mala nostra pelle, Bona cuncta posce. Break the captive’s fetters, Light on blindness pour, All our ills expelling, Every bliss implore.   

Monstra te esse matrem, Sumat per te precem, Qui pro nobis natus Tulit esse tuus. Show thyself a mother, Offer Him our sighs, Who, for us Incarnate, Did not thee despise.   

Virgo singularis, Inter omnes mitis, Nos culpis solutos Mites facet castos. Virgin of all virgins! To thy shelter take us —  Gentlest of the gentle! Chaste and gentle make us.   

Vitam praesta puram Iter para tutum, Ut videntes Iesum Semper collaetemur. Still as on we journey, Help our weak endeavor, Till with thee and Jesus, We rejoice for ever.   

Sit laus Deo Patri, Summo Christo decus, Spiritui Sancto Honor trinus et unus. Through the highest heaven To the Almighty Three, Father, Son, and Spirit, One same glory be.  


The Latin hymnody was only for priests and monks, and those few who understood the Latin language. The people listened to it as they do to the mass, and responded with the Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, which passed from the Greek church into the Western litanies. As the modern languages of Europe developed themselves out of the Latin, and out of the Teutonic, a popular poetry arose during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and afterwards received a powerful impulse from the Reformation. Since that time the Protestant churches, especially in Germany and England, have produced the richest hymnody, which speaks to the heart of the people in their own familiar tongue, and is, next to the Psalter, the chief feeder of public and private devotion. In this body of evangelical hymns the choicest Greek and Latin hymns in various translations, reproductions, and transformations occupy an honored place and serve as connecting links between past and modern times in the worship of the same God and Saviour.


97. The Seven Sacraments

Medieval Christianity was intensely sacramental, sacerdotal and hierarchical. The ideas of priest, sacrifice, and altar are closely connected. The sacraments were regarded as the channels of all grace and the chief food of the soul. They accompanied human life from the cradle to the grave. The child was saluted into this world by the sacrament of baptism; the old man was provided with the viaticum on his journey to the other world.

The chief sacraments were baptism and the eucharist. Baptism was regarded as the sacrament of the new birth which opens the door to the kingdom of heaven the eucharist as the sacrament of sanctification which maintains and nourishes the new life.

Beyond these two sacraments several other rites were dignified with that name, but there was no agreement as to the number before the scholastic period. The Latin sacramentum, like the Greek mystery (of which it is the translation in the Vulgate), was long used in a loose and indefinite way for sacred and mysterious doctrines and rites. Rabanus Maurus and Paschasius Radbertus count four sacraments, Dionysius Areopagita, six; Damiani, as many as twelve. By the authority chiefly of Peter the Lombard and Thomas Aquinas the sacred number seven was at last determined upon, and justified by various analogies with the number of virtues, and the number of sins, and the necessities of human life.

But seven sacraments existed as sacred rites long before the church was agreed on the number. We find them with only slight variations independently among the Greeks under the name of “mysteries” as well as among the Latins. They are, besides baptism and the eucharist (which is a sacrifice as well as a sacrament): confirmation, penance (confession and absolution), marriage, ordination, and extreme unction.

Confirmation was closely connected with baptism as a sort of supplement. It assumed a more independent character in the case of baptized infants and took place later. It may be performed in the Greek church by any priest, in the Latin only by the bishop.

Penance was deemed necessary for sins after baptism.

Ordination is the sacrament of the hierarchy and indispensable for the government of the church.

Marriage lies at the basis of the family and society in church and state, and was most closely and jealously guarded by the church against facility of divorce, against mixed marriages, and marriages between near relatives.

Extreme unction with prayer (first mentioned among the sacraments by a synod of Pavia in 850, and by Damiani) was the viaticum for the departure into the other world, and based on the direction of St. Jam_5:14, Jam_5:15 (Comp. Mar_6:13; Mar_16:18). At first it was applied in every sickness, by layman as well as priest, as a medical cure and as a substitute for amulets and forms of incantation; but the Latin church afterwards confined it to cases of extreme danger.

The efficacy of the sacrament was defined by the scholastic term ex opere operato, that is, the sacrament has its intended effect by virtue of its institution and inherent power, independently of the moral character of the priest and of the recipient, provided only that it be performed in the prescribed manner and with the proper intention and provided that the recipient throw no obstacle in the way.

Three of the Sacraments, namely baptism, confirmation, and ordination, have in addition the effect of conferring an indelible character. Once baptized always baptized, though the benefit may be forfeited for ever; once ordained always ordained, though a priest may be deposed and excommunicated.


98. The Organ and the Bell

To the external auxiliaries of worship were added the organ and the bell.

The Organ, in the sense of a particular instrument (which dates from the time of St. Augustin), is a development of the Syrinx or Pandean pipe, and in its earliest form consisted of a small box with a row of pipes in the top, which were inflated by the performer with the mouth through means of a tube at one end. It has in the course of time undergone considerable improvements. The use of organs in churches is ascribed to Pope Vitalian (657-672). Constantine Copronymos sent an organ with other presents to King Pepin of France in 767. Charlemagne received one as a present from the Caliph Haroun al Rashid, and had it put up in the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. The art of organ-building was cultivated chiefly in Germany. Pope John VIII. (872-882) requested Bishop Anno of Freising to send him an organ and an organist.

The attitude of the churches towards the organ varies. It shared to some extent the fate of images, except that it never was an object of worship. The poetic legend which Raphael has immortalized by one of his master-pieces, ascribes its invention to St. Cecilia, the patron of sacred music. The Greek church disapproves the use of organs. The Latin church introduced it pretty generally, but not without the protest of eminent men, so that even in the Council of Trent a motion was made, though not carried, to prohibit the organ at least in the mass. The Lutheran church retained, the Calvinistic churches rejected it, especially in Switzerland and Scotland; but in recent times the opposition has largely ceased.

The Bell is said to have been invented by Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) in Campania; but he never mentions it in his description of churches. Various sonorous instruments were used since the time of Constantine the Great for announcing the commencement of public worship. Gregory of Tours mentions a “signum” for calling monks to prayer. The Irish used chiefly hand-bells from the time of St. Patrick, who himself distributed them freely. St. Columba is reported to have gone to church when the bell rang (pulsante campana) at midnight. Bede mentions the bell for prayer at funerals. St. Sturm of Fulda ordered in his dying hours all the bells of the convent to be rung (779). In the reign of Charlemagne the use of bells was common in the empire. He encouraged the art of bel-founding, and entertained bell-founders at his court. Tancho, a monk of St. Gall, cast a fine bell, weighing from four hundred to five hundred pounds, for the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle. In the East, church bells are not mentioned before the end of the ninth century.

Bells, like other church-furniture, were consecrated for sacred use by liturgical forms of benediction. They were sometimes even baptized; but Charlemagne, in a capitulary of 789, forbids this abuse. The office of bell-ringers was so highly esteemed in that age that even abbots and bishops coveted it. Popular superstition ascribed to bells a magical effect in quieting storms and expelling pestilence. Special towers were built for them. The use of church bells is expressed in the old lines which are inscribed in many of them:

“Lauda Deum verum, plebem voco, congrego clerum,

Defunctos ploro, pestem fugo, festaque honoro.”


99. The Worship of Saints

Comp. vol. III. §§ 81-87.

The Worship of Saints, handed down from the Nicene age, was a Christian substitute for heathen idolatry and hero-worship, and well suited to the taste and antecedents of the barbarian races, but was equally popular among the cultivated Greeks. The scholastics made a distinction between three grades of worship: 1) adoration (λατρεία), which belongs to God alone; 2) veneration (δουλεία), which is due to the saints as those whom God himself has honored, and who reign with him in heaven; 3) special veneration (ὑπερδουλεία), which is due to the Virgin Mary as the mother of the Saviour and the queen of all saints. But the people did not always mind this distinction, and the priests rather encouraged the excesses of saint-worship. Prayers were freely addressed to the saints, though not as the givers of the blessings desired, but as intercessors and advocates. Hence the form “Pray for us” (Ora pro nobis).

The number of saints and their festivals multiplied very rapidly. Each nation, country, province or city chose its patron saint, as Peter and Paul in Rome, St. Ambrose in Milan, St. Martin, St. Denys (Dionysius) and St. Germain in France, St. George in England, St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Boniface in Germany, and especially the Virgin Mary, who has innumerable localities and churches under her care and protection. The fact of saintship was at first decided by the voice of the people, which was obeyed as the voice of God. Great and good men and women who lived in the odor of sanctity and did eminent service to the cause of religion as missionaries or martyrs or bishops or monks or nuns, were gratefully remembered after their death; they became patron saints of the country or province of their labors and sufferings, and their worship spread gradually over the entire church. Their relics were held sacred; their tombs were visited by pilgrims. The metropolitans usually decided on the claims of saintship for their province down to a.d. 1153. But to check the increase and to prevent mistakes, the popes, since Alexander III. a.d. 1170, claimed the exclusive right of declaring the fact, and prescribing the worship of a saint throughout the whole (Latin) Catholic church. This was done by a solemn act called canonization. From this was afterwards distinguished the act of beatification, which simply declares that a departed Catholic Christian is blessed (beatus) in heaven, and which within certain limits permits (but does not prescribe) his veneration.

The first known example of a papal canonization is the canonization of Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg (d. 973), by John XV. who, at a Lateran synod composed of nineteen dignitaries, in 993, declared him a saint at the request of Luitolph (Leuthold), his successor in the see of Augsburg, after hearing his report in person on the life and miracles of Ulrich. His chief merit was the deliverance of Southern Germany from the invasion of the barbarous Magyars, and his devotion to the interests of his large diocese. He used to make tours of visitation on an ox-cart, surrounded by a crowd of beggars and cripples. He made two pilgrimages to Rome, the second in his eighty-first year, and died as an humble penitent on the bare floor. The bull puts the worship of the saints on the ground that it redounds to the glory of Christ who identifies himself with his saints, but it makes no clear distinction between the different degrees of worship. It threatens all who disregard this decree with the anathema of the apostolic see.

A mild interpretation of the papal prerogative of canonization reduces it to a mere declaration of a fact preceded by a careful examination of the merits of a case before the Congregation of Rites. But nothing short of a divine revelation can make such a fact known to mortal man. The examination is conducted by a regular process of law in which one acts as Advocatus Diaboli or accuser of the candidate for canonization, and another as Advocatus Dei. Success depends on the proof that the candidate must have possessed the highest sanctity and the power of working miracles either during his life, or through his dead bones, or through invocation of his aid. A proverb says that it requires a miracle to prove a miracle. Nevertheless it is done by papal decree on such evidence as is satisfactory to Roman Catholic believers.

The question, how the saints and the Virgin Mary can hear so many thousands of prayers addressed to them simultaneously in so many different places, without being clothed with the divine attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, did not disturb the faith of the people. The scholastic divines usually tried to solve it by the assumption that the saints read those prayers in the omniscient mind of God. Then why not address God directly?

In addition to the commemoration days of particular saints, two festivals were instituted for the commemoration of all the departed.

The Festival of All Saints was introduced in the West by Pope Boniface IV. on occasion of the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome, which was originally built by Agrippa in honor of the victory of Augustus at Actium, and dedicated to Jupiter Vindex; it survived the old heathen temples, and was presented to the pope by the Emperor Phocas, a.d. 607; whereupon it was cleansed, restored and dedicated to the service of God in the name of the ever-Virgin Mary and all martyrs. Baronius tells us that at the time of dedication on May 13 the bones of martyrs from the various cemeteries were in solemn procession transferred to the church in twenty-eight carriages. From Rome the festival spread during the ninth century over the West, and Gregory IV. induced Lewis the Pious in 835 to make it general in the Empire. The celebration was fixed on the first of November for the convenience of the people who after harvest had a time of leisure, and were disposed to give thanks to God for all his mercies.

The Festival of All Souls is a kind of supplement to that of All Saints, and is celebrated on the day following (Nov. 2). Its introduction is traced to Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, in the tenth century. It spread very soon without a special order, and appealed to the sympathies of that age for the sufferings of the souls in purgatory. The worshippers appear in mourning; the mass for the dead is celebrated with the “Dies irae, Dies illa,” and the oft-repeated “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.” In some places (e.g. in Munich) the custom prevails of covering the graves on that day with the last flowers of the season.

The festival of Michael the Archangel, the leader of the angelic host, was dedicated to the worship of angels, on the 29th of September. It rests on no doctrine and no fact, but on the sandy foundation of miraculous legends. We find it first in the East. Several churches in and near Constantinople were dedicated to St. Michael, and Justinian rebuilt two which had become dilapidated. In the West it is first mentioned by a Council of Mentz in 813, as the “dedicatio S. Michaelis,” among the festivals to be observed; and from that time it spread throughout the Church in spite of the apostolic warning against angelolatry (Col_2:18; Rev_19:10; Rev_22:8, Rev_22:9).