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Sanctorum Meritis

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The hymn at First and Second Vespers in the Common of the Martyrs in the Roman Breviary. Its authorship is often attributed to Rabanus Maurus (d. 856), Archbishop of Mainz — e.g. by Blume (cf. HYMNODY, V, 2), who thinks his hymns show originality and "no small poetic power". Dreves also (Analecta hymnica, XL, 204) favours the ascription. The stanza, in classical prosody, comprises three Asclepiadic lines and one Glyconic. In Horace such a stanza indicates a grave and thoughtful frame of mind; but the breviary hymns using the stanza are usually suggestive of triumphant joy — e.g. the "Festivis resonent compita vocibus" (Most Precious Blood), the "Te Joseph celebrent agmina coelitum", and the "Sacris solemniis" in rhythmic imitation. Dom Johner ("A New School of Gregorian Chant", New York, 1906, p. 89) places hymns in this measure among those "in which the verbal accent preponderates and the metrical accent only makes itself noticeable in certain places (particularly in the fourth line and when a line closes with a word accentuated on the penultimate)". He illustrates the rhythmical stress by italics. Applying his scheme to the Asclepiadic lines we should have: Sa-ncto-rum me-ri-tis in-cly-ta gau-di-a. His illustration of the fourth line (Glyconic) is: Vi-cto-rum ge-nus o-pti-mum. The "Grammar of Plainsong" by the Benedictines of Stanbrook (London, 1905, p. 61) remarks that the long verses have the accents on the third, seventh, and tenth syllables; and the short verse, on the third and sixth syllables; and illustrates this scheme by the last two lines of the stanza (the acute accent marking the rhythmical stress):

Gliscens fért animus prómere cántibus
Victorúm genus óptimum.

In the following illustration (Holly, "Elementary Grammar of Gregorian Chant", New York, 1904, p. 44) the acute accent indicates the tonic accent of the word; the grave accent, the place where the rhythmical or metrical accent falls; the circumflex, the concurrence on a syllable of both metrical and tonic accents:

Sanctôrum mêritìs ínclyta gâudiâ
Pangâmus sôciì, gestâque fôrtiâ;
Glíscens fert ânimus prómere cântibus
Victôrum gênus ôptimùm.

Obviously, the metre is refractory for singing or public recitation. Dreves (loc. cit., pp. 180-1) notes that several references are made to the hymn by Hincmar of Reims, one of the most interesting being his objection to the theology of the last stanza ("Te trina Deitas", subsequently changed into the present form: "Te summa O Deitas"). Hincmar admits that he knew not the author of the hymn which "some people end with the chant or rather blasphemy [a quibusdam cantatur vel potius blasphematur] 'Te trina deitas'." The phrase objected to was nevertheless sung in the doxology of the hymn down to the revision of Urban VIII, and the Church still sings it in the doxology of the "Sacris solemniis" of the Angelic Doctor. The Paris Breviary kept the metre but entirely recast the hymn, writing the first stanza thus:

Christi martyribus debita nos decet,
Virtutis memores, promere cantica;
Quos nec blanditiis, nec potuit minis
Fallax vincere sæculum.

To the list of translators given by Julian ("Dict. of Hymnol.", 2nd ed., London, 1907, pp. 993, 1698) should be added Bagshawe ("Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences", London, 1900, p. 164: "Let us sing, dear companions, the joys of the saints"). The (Baltimore) "Manual of Prayers" gives the translation of the Anglican hymnologist, Dr. Neale. There are twelve translations in English. The text is found in many manuscripts of the tenth century (cf. Dreves, "Analecta hymnica", L, 204-5); Hincmar, "De una et non trina Deitate" in P.L., CXXV, 478, 498, 500). For Latin text (omitting second and third stanzas) and English translation, plainsong, and modern musical setting, see "Hymns Ancient and Modern, Historical Edition" (London, 1909, pp. 289-90), which notes that Dreves assigns the hymn to Rabanus Maurus in his "Hymnologische Studien zu Venantius Fortunatus und Rabanus Maurus" (Munich, 1908, p. 135), "in spite of the fact that Raban wrote to Hincmar disapproving of the phrase 'Te trina Deitas'." The approved plainsong will appear in the forthcoming Vatican Antiphonary. Pothier ("Mélodies Grégoriennes" Tournai, 1880) illustrates the Asclepiadic metre by the "Sanctorum meritis", places the accents on the third, seventh, and tenth syllables of the Asclepiads and on the third and sixth of the Glyconic, and remarks that "in singing the Asclepiad and the Glyconic, the first three syllables should be gone over slowly, and the accents should be well marked, especially the last" (p.199). Egerton ("A Handbook of Church Music", New York, 1909, p. 180) places the principal accent on the tenth syllable, and secondary accents on the third and seventh, with a "mora vocis" after the sixth. Delaporte (Les Hymnes du bréviaire romain" in the "Rassegna Gregoriana", Nov.-Dec., 1907, col. 501) remarks that, when the edition of 1602 of the Roman Breviary was in preparation, Cardinal Gesualdo in 1588 wrote to various nuncios to get suggestions for emendations. The nuncio at Paris consulted "alcuni principali della Sorbona", with some curious results, one of which was the criticism demanding a change in the doxology of the "Sacris solemniis" from "Te trina Deitas" to "Te summa Deitas", for the reason that "it is impious to call the Deity, or the essence of God, threefold". As noted above, the Church still sings "Te Deitas" in the "Sacris solemniis" of the "Angel of the Schools", although it has changed the phrase in the doxology of the "Sanctorum meritis".


About this page

APA citation. Henry, H. (1912). Sanctorum Meritis. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13429a.htm

MLA citation. Henry, Hugh. "Sanctorum Meritis." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13429a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Vivek Gilbert John Fernandez. Dedicated to composers of Catholic Hymns, past & present.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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