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Pange Lingua Gloriosi

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The opening words of two hymns celebrating respectively the Passion and the Blessed Sacrament. The former, in unrhymed verse, is generally credited to St. Venantius Fortunatus (6 cent.), and the latter, in rhymed accentual rhythm, was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas (13 cent.).

The Hymn of Fortunatus

The hymn has been ascribed to Claudianus Mamertus (5 cent.) by Gerbert in his "Musica sacra", Bähr in his "Die christl. Dichter," and many others. Pimont, who cites many other authorities in his support, is especially urgent in his ascription of the hymn to Mamertus, answers at great length the critics of the ascription in his Note sur l'auteur du Pange … prœlium certaminis (Hymnes du brév. rom. III, 70-76), so that it seems hardly correct to say with Mearns (Dict. of Hymnol. 2nd ed., 880), that "it has been sometimes, apparently without reason, ascribed to Claudianus Mamertus." Excluding the closing stanza or doxology, the hymn comprises ten stanzas, which appear in the manuscripts and in some editions of the "Roman Missal" in the form:

Pange lingua gloriosi prœlium certaminis
Et super crucis tropæo dic triumphum nobilem,
Qualiter Redemptor orbis immolatus vicerit.

The stanza is thus seen to comprise three tetrameter trochaic catalectic verses. In the "Roman Breviary" the hymn is assigned to Passion Sunday and the ferial Offices following it down to and including Wednesday in Holy Week, and also to the feasts of the Finding of the Holy Cross, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Crown of Thorns, the Five Wounds. In this breviary use, the hymn is divided into two, the first five stanzas being said at Matins, the second five (beginning with the words "Lustra sex qui jam peregit") at Lauds; and each line is divided into two, forming a stanza of six lines, e.g.:

Pange lingua gloriosi
Lauream certaminis,
Et super crucis trophæo
Dic triumphum nobilem:
Qualiter Redemptor orbis
Immolatus vicerit.
The whole hymn is sung during the ceremony of the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, immediately after the Improperia or "Reproaches", but in a peculiar manner, the hymn being preceded by the eighth stanza (Crux fidelis) while the stanzas are followed alternately by the first four and the last two lines of the (divided) eighth stanza.

It will have been noticed that in the six-lined stanza quoted above, "lauream" has not commended itself to hymnologists, who declare that no pleonasm is involved, since "prœlium" refers to the battle and "certamen" to the occasion or cause of it; so that "prœlium certaminis" means the battle for the souls of men (see Kayser, "Beiträge zur Gesch. und Erklärung der ältesten Kirchenhym.", Paderborn, 1881, p. 417). He very aptly instances St. Cyprian (ep. ad Ant., 4): "Prælium gloriosi certaminis in persecutione ferveret", and adds that "certamen" reveals the importance and length of the strife and renders salient the master thought of the whole poem. In the hands of the correctors the hymn suffered many emendations in the interest of classical exactness of phrase and metre. The corrected form is that found today in the Roman Breviary. The older form, with various manuscript readings, will be found in March (Latin Hymns, 64; with grammatical and other notes, 252), Pimont (Les Hymnes etc., III, 47-70, with a note on the authorship, 70-76), etc. The Commission on Plain Chant established by order of Pius X in many cases restored older forms of the liturgical texts. In the Gradual (the Antiphonary has not appeared as yet) the older form of the "Pange lingua" is now given, so that it can be compared with the form still used in our Breviary. For the variant readings of manuscripts see "Analecta Hymnica" (Leipzig, 1907), 71-73. Dreves ascribes the hymn to Fortunatus. See also the "Hymnarium Sarisburiense" (London, 1851), 84.

It will be of interest to give here some specimens of Catholic translations of some stanzas of the hymn.

Sing loud the conflict, O my tongue,
   The victory that repaired our loss;
Exalt the triumph of thy song
   To the bright trophy of the cross;
Tell how the Lord laid down his life
   To conquer in the glorious strife.
(J. T. Aylward, O. P.)
Eating of the Tree forbidden,
   Man had sunk in Satan's snare,
When his pitying Creator
   Did this second Tree prepare;
Destined, many ages later,
   That first evil to repair.
(Father Caswall.)
Thus God made Man an Infant lies,
   And in the manger weeping cries;
His sacred limbs by Mary bound,
   The poorest tattered rags surround;
And God's incarnate feet and hands
   Are closely bound with swathing-bands.
(Divine Office, 1763.)
Soon the sweetest blossom wasting,
   Droops its head and withered lies;
Early thus to Calvary hasting,
   On the cross the Saviour dies;
Freely death for all men tasting,
   There behold our sacrifice.
(R. Campbell.)
ix Bend, O noble Tree, thy branches;
   Let thy fibres yielding be,
Let the rigid strength be softened
   Which in birth was given thee.
That the limbs of my dear Jesus
   May be stretched most tenderly.
Amer. Eccl. Rev., 1891.)

     The selected stanzas do not exhaust the examples of Catholic versions, but offer some variety in metre and in rhyming schemes. They represent neither the best nor the worst work of their authors in the translations of this hymn. In the preface to his "annus Sanctus" Orby Shipley declared that "the love of Catholics for their hymns is no recent … fancy … and that the results achieved are not less wide in extent, not less worthy in merit than attempts of Protestant translators, facts overlooked even by Catholic translators." His thought is worthy of much consideration in view of the fact that the English version in the Marquess of Bute's translation of the Roman Breviary (I, 409), in the (Baltimore) "Manual of Prayers" (614), and Tozer's "Catholic Church Hymnal" (p. 48), was the work of an Anglican, Dr. Neale.

It may well be doubted if any translator has expressed better in English verse the strength and nobility of the original Latin than did the unknown Catholic author of the version found in the Divine Office of 1763 (given in stanza v above). Daniel gives the following stanza (Thes. Hymnol., I, 168):

Quando judex orbis alto vectus ave veneris,
Et crucis tuæ tropæum inter astra fulserit,
O sis anxius asylum et salutis aurora.

which Neale translates (Medieval Hymns, 3rd ed., p. 5) and thinks ancient though not original; but Daniel's source is the "Corolla Hymnorum" (Cologne, 1806). The text reads "salutis anchora". Daniel also gives (IV, 68) four stanzas which Mone thought might be of the seventh century; but they would add nothing to the beauty or neat perfection of the hymn. For first lines, authors, dates of translation, etc., see Julian, "Dict. of Hymnol.", 880- 881, 1685. For Latin text and translation with comment, see "Amer. Eccles. Review", March, 1891, 187-194, and "H. A. and M., Historical Edition" (London, 1909, No. 107).

The Hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas

Composed by the saint (see LAUDA SION) for the Office of Corpus Christi (see CORPUS CHRISTI, FEAST OF). Including the last stanza (which borrows the words "Genitori Genitoque"—Procedenti ab utroque, Compar" from the first two strophes of the second sequence of Adam of St. Victor for Pentecost) the hymn comprises six stanzas appearing in the manuscripts

Pange, lingua, gloriosi corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi quem in mundi pretium
Fructus ventris generosi Rex effudit gentium.

Written in accentual rhythm, it imitates the triumphant march of the hymn of Fortunatus, and like it is divided in the Roman Breviary into stanzas of six lines whose alternating triple rhyming is declared by Pimont to be a new feature in medieval hymnody. In the Roman Breviary the hymn is assigned to both Vespers, but of old the Church of Salisbury placed it in Matins, that of Toulouse in First Vespers only, that of Saint-Germain- des-Prés at Second Vespers only, and that of Strasburg at Compline. It is sung in the procession to the repository on Holy Thursday and also in the procession of Corpus Christi and in that of the Forty Hours' Adoration.

With respect to the metre, M. de Marcellus, quoted in Migne's "Littérature", remarks that the hymn is composed in the long trochaic verses such as are found in Catullus, Seneca, Sophocles, and Euripides. In addition to the felicitous rhythm chosen by St. Thomas, critics recognize its poetical and hymnodal values (thus Neale: "This hymn contests the second place among those of the Western Church with the Vexilla Regis, the Stabat Mater, the Jesu dulcis memoria, the Ad Regias Agni Dapes, the Ad Supernam, and one or two others …") and "its peculiar qualities, its logical neatness, dogmatic precision, and force of almost argumentative statement" (Duffield, "Latin Hymns", 269), in which qualities "it excels all these mentioned" by Neale.

The translations have not been many nor felicitous. Generosi in the first stanza is not "generous" (as in Neale's version) but "noble" (as in Caswall's). But, as Neale truly says, "the great crux of the translator is the fourth verse" (i.e., "Verbum caro panem verum, etc."), so full is it of verbal and real antitheses. To illustrate the question of translation we select from the specimen versions the fourth stanza, since its very peculiar condensation of thought and phrase, dogmatic precision and illuminating antitheses, have made it "a bow of Ulysses to translators". Its text is:

Verbum caro panem verum
     Verbo carnem efficit;
Fitque sanguis Christi merum;
     Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
     Sola fides sufficit.

A literal translation would be: "The Word-(made)-Flesh makes by (His) word true bread into flesh; and wine becomes Christ's blood; and if the (unassisted) intellect fails (to recognize all this), faith alone suffices to assure the pure heart". Sensus (singular) is taken here to indicate the inner sense, as distinguished from sensuum (plural) of the following stanza, where the word directly refers to the external senses. Perhaps the word has the same implication in both stanzas. "Sincere" (in its modern meaning) may be a better word than "pure". Taking first the old versions found in books of Catholic devotion, we find in the "Primer" of 1604:

The word now being flesh become,
     So very bread flesh by the word,
And wine the blood of Christ is made,
     Though our sense it not afford,
But this in heart sincere to fix
     Faith sufficeth to accord.

It is not in the rhythm of the Latin, and contains but three monosyllabic rhymes instead of the six double rhymes of the Latin. The "Primer" of 1619 makes an advance to six monosyllabic rhymes; and the "Primer" of 1685 arranges the rhymes in couplets. The "Primer" of 1706 retains the rhythm and the rhymic scheme, but is somewhat more flowing and less heavy:

The Word made flesh for love of man,
With words of bread made flesh again;
Turned wine to blood unseen of sense,
By virtue of omnipotence;
And here the faithful rest secure,
Whilst God can vouch and faith ensure.

A distinct advance in rhythmic and rhymic correspondence was made in more recent times by Catholic writers like Wackerbarth, Father Caswall, and Judge D.J. Donahoe.

At the incarnate Word's high bidding
     Bread to very flesh doth turn.
Wine becometh Christ's blood-shedding
     And if sense cannot discern,
Guileless spirits never dreading
     May from faith sufficient learn.
(Wackerbarth, 1842)
Word made flesh, the bread of nature
     By his word to flesh he turns;
Wine into his blood he changes:—
     What though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
     Faith her lesson quickly learns.
(Caswall, 1849)

Neale criticizes the version of Wackerbarth: "Here the antithesis is utterly lost, by the substitution of Incarnate for made flesh, and bidding for word, to say nothing of Blood-shedding for Blood"; and declares that Caswall "has given, as from his freedom on rhyme might be expected, the best version". He remarks, however, that Caswall has not given the "panem verum" of St. Thomas.

By his word the bread he breaketh
     To his very flesh he turns;
In the chalice which he taketh,
     Man the cleansing blood discerns.–
Faith to loving bosoms maketh
     Clear the mystic truth she learns.
(D. J. Donahoe, 1908)

Some of the more recent translations take little account of the nice discriminations of antithesis pointed out by Dr. Neale, who when he attempted in his day a new version, modestly wrote that it "claims no other merit than an attempt to unite the best portions of the four best translations with which I am acquainted—Mr. Wackerbarth's, Dr. Pusey's, that of the Leeds book, and Mr. Caswall's". His version is:

Word made Flesh, by Word He maketh
     very bread his flesh to be;
Man in wine Christ's Blood partaketh,
     And if senses fail to see,
Faith alone the true heart waketh
     To behold the mystery.

The present writer rendered the stanza in the "Amer. Eccles. Review" (March, 1890), 208, as follows:

Into Flesh the true bread turneth
     By His word, the Word made Flesh;
Wine to Blood: while sense discerneth
     Nought beyond the sense's mesh,
Faith an awful mystery learneth,
     And must teach the soul afresh.

Neale's version is given in the Marquess of Bute's "Roman Breviary". The Anglican hymnal, "Hymns Ancient and Modern", declares its version "based on tr. from Latin by E. Caswall"; but, as Julian points out, most of it is based on Neale, four of whose stanzas it rewrites, while a fifth is rewritten from Caswall (i.e. the third stanza), and the fourth stanza is by the compilers. The arrangement found in the Anglican hymnal is taken bodily into the (Baltimore) "Manual of Prayers"—a rather infelicitous procedure, as the fourth stanza is not faithful to the original (Neale, "Medieval Hymns and Sequences," 181). The last stanza and the doxology form a special hymn (see TANTUM ERGO) prescribed for Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The Vatican edition of the Graduale gives its plain-song melody in two forms, both of great beauty.


JULIAN, Dict. of Hymnol., 2nd ed., s.v., 878 and 1085, for first lines of translations; HENRY in Amer. Cath. Quarterly Review (April, 1893), 288-292, for difficulties of translation; IDEM in Amer. Eccles. Review (March, 1890), 206-213, for text, verse-translation, comment, and notes; PIMONT, Hymnes du bréviare romain, III (Paris, 1884), 164-176. A list of hymns beginning with the words "Pange lingua" is given in the Analecta Hymnica, IV, 70; IV, 257; and indexes passim.

About this page

APA citation. Henry, H. (1911). Pange Lingua Gloriosi. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Henry, Hugh. "Pange Lingua Gloriosi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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