“Sold for Silver, Sacking Hell”: A Fifth-Century Hymn (8)

At long last, we bring to a close a translation begun in the first week of December. Below you will find the final two verses of Sedulius’s A solis ortus cardine (Y, Z), on Christ’s triumph over hell and the Devil and his journey back to heaven. Hope you’ve enjoyed it even half as much as I have. The image attached to this post, from the Archbishop’s Chapel in Ravenna and copyright José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, is nearly contemporary with Sedulius (it is from later in the same century) and illustrates, with rare perfection, the text–almost as the one were modeled on the other.

As in the past, I’ve included all the previous verses as well.

A solis ortus cardine

ad usque terrae limitem

Christum canamus principem

natum Maria virgine.

Beatus auctor saeculi

servile corpus induit,

ut carne carnem liberans

non perderet quod condidit.

Clausae puellae viscera

caelestis intrat gratia;

venter puellae baiulat

secreta quae non noverat.

Domus pudici pectoris

templum repente fit Dei;

intacta nesciens virum

verbo creavit filium.

Enixa est puerpera,

quem Gabrihel praedixerat,

quem matris alvo gestiens

clausus Iohannes senserat.

Faeno iacere pertulit,

praesepe non abhorruit,

parvoque lacte pastus est,

per quem nec ales esurit.

Gaudet chorus caelestium

et angeli canunt Deum,

palamque fit pastoribus

pastor, creator omnium.

Hostis Herodis impie,

Christum venire quid times?

non eripit mortalia,

qui regna dat caelestia.

Ibant magi qua venerant

stellam sequentes praeviam;

lumen requirunt lumine,

Deum fatentur munere.

Katerva matrum personat

conlisa deflens pignora

quorum tyrannus milia

Christo sacravit victimam.

Lavacra puri gurgitis

caelestis agnus attigit;

peccata qui mundi tulit

nos abluendo sustulit.

Miraculis dedit fidem

habere se Deum patrem,

infirma sanans corpora

et suscitans cadavera.

Novum genus potentiae!

aquae rubescunt hydriae,

vinumque iussa fundere

mutavit unda originem.

Orat salutem servulo

nixus genu centurio;

credentis ardor plurimus

exstinxit ignes febrium.

Petrus per undas ambulat

Christi levatus dextera;

natura quam negaverat,

fides paravit semitam.

Quarta die iam fetidus

vitam recepit Lazarus,

mortisque liber vinculis

factus superstes est sibi.

Rivos cruoris torridi

contacta vestis obstruit;

fletu rigante supplicis

arent fluenta sanguinis.

Solutus omni corpore,

iussus repente surgere,

suis vicissim gressibus

aeger vehebat lectulum.

Tunc ille Iudas carnifex

ausus magistrum tradere

pacem ferebat osculo,

quam non habebat pectore.

Verax datur fallacibus,

pium flagellat impius,

crucique fixus innocens

coniunctus est latronibus.

Xeromyrram post sabbatum

quaedam ferebant compares,

quas adlocutus angelus

vivum sepulchro non tegi.

Ymnis venite dulcibus,

omnes canamus subditum

Christi triumpho tartarum,

qui nos redemit venditus.

Zelum draconis invidi

et os leonis pessimi

calcavit unicus Dei,

seseque caelis reddidit.

Afar from rising of the sun

Unto the limit of the earth,

The Christ, our prince, now let us sing–

His holy Mary-virgined birth.

Behold: the author of the world,

Though blessed, is clothed in slave’s attire,

In order flesh by flesh to free

And save his creatures from the mire.

Concealed within the maiden’s womb,

The grace of heaven enters in;

Her belly does not know it bears

The secret saving us from sin.

Domained in Mary’s modesty,

God makes a temple of her breast.

How strange! Untouched, the girl brought forth

Her Son, the Word-created guest.

Ere long her labor bore the King

Whom Gabriel had once foretold,

Whom John’s prenatal preaching had

Before proclaimed with leaping bold.

For, sleeping, he did not despise

To take the prickling straw as bed;

A mother’s milk sustained the babe

By whom the birds of heav’n are fed.

Good tidings!” chant celestial choirs

Of angels as God’s praises ring.

To shepherds now is manifest

The Shepherd who made everything.

How, Herod, can your hostile mind

Greet his arrival with dismay?

He gives eternal realms and does

Not grasp at kingdoms of a day.

Incensed conversely Magi came,

Judea’s star their mystic guide.

By light they seek the light; their gift

Declares that God with man abides.

Knave tyrant, do you hear the sound

Of mothers weeping for their dead,

The battered brood of baby boys

Whose sacrificial blood you shed?

Let down into the Jordan’s flood,

The Lamb of heaven made it pure–

The Lamb who took away our sins

With Worded water as the cure.

Miraculous deeds fathered faith

His Father was not man but God,

As sickly bodies found their strength

And corpses rose up at his nod.

New kind of power! Water jars

Suddenly blush and change their hue.

At Christ’s command, metamorphosed,

Unwatered wine the servants drew.

On bended knee, the captain begged

The Lord to grant health to his slave;

The ardent burning of belief

Snuffed out the fire the fever craved.

Pretending water was like rock

Stout Peter walked upon the sea;

Upheld by Christ’s right hand, his faith

Made paths denied naturally.

Quartered four days now, Lazarus,

A rotting corpse, recovered life,

And, freed from fetters moribund,

Survived his death and graveyard strife.

Red rivulets of ceaseless blood

Mere contact with Christ’s clothing dammed,

The sanguine flow made desiccate

By tearful faith’s extended hand.

Sold out by slack recusant limbs,

Commanded suddenly to rise,

The paralytic stood and walked,

His dormant bed borne off as prize.

Then hangman Judas, by design,

Unfeeling, with a kiss betrayed

His master, simulating peace–

“Disciple” just a part he played.

Veracity Itself by lies

Was given to ungodly men

And fastened, guiltless, to a cross

With scoundrels from a robbers’ den.

Xenian in their pious care,

The women brought myrrh to his tomb.

The angel told them he was gone;

He’d burst forth living from death’s womb.

Ye faithful, come, and let us sing

With sweetest hymns Christ’s victory,

Who, sold for silver, sacking hell,

Bought us back from sin’s penalty.

Zealous for blood, the serpent’s head

and lion’s mouth, devouring, God’s

Only-Begotten under foot

Has crushed and back to heaven trod.

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