Aurelius Prudentius (348–413)
Of the Father's Love Begotten
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!
Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (whose name is sometimes shown with a prefix of "Marcus") was a Roman Christian poet. He was born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain). The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta Saragossa, Tarraco Tarragona, or Calagurris Calahorra. He came of a distinguished Christian family and received an excellent education, studied law, became an office-holder and rose rapidly, was twice governor of a province, and finally received high office at the court of Theodosius. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food. He decided to devote himself to poetry in the service of religion and the Church. He collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.
Aurelius Prudentius' earliest poems are the twelve hymns contained in the Cathemerinon (for use in the morning, at meals, and at night, from which the collection took its name). The model of Prudentius in poetry was Ambrose, though there is a distinct independent development. He employs the events of the times, and is not restricted to the forms of verse used by Ambrose. While his verse is popular, the lyrical element often recedes in consequence of the introduction of the didactic and epic admixture. A second collection, the Peristephanon, shows still greater originality and variety of verse form. This celebrates Spanish and Roman martyrs, and may have been influenced by the inscriptions of Damasus, which celebrated the martyrs. The epic and dramatic elements here are quite pronounced. There are extant also two didactic-polemic poems: Apotheosis, in 1,408 hexameters, exalts the deity of Christ against Patripassians, Sabellians, Jews, and Eremites; Hamartigenia, in 966 hexameters, deals with the origin of evil in a polemic against Marcion's gnostic dualism. Both of these lean on Tertullian. He also left a purely polemic work in two books (657 and 1,132 hexameters) called Contra Symmachum, in which he combats the heathen state religion. It is under the influence of Ambrose's epistle against Symmachus. All three of these lastnamed contained passages of beauty, but the Hamartigenia is the noblest. A fourth work, of slight esthetic interest, but important from a literaryhistorical point of view (915 hexameters), is the Psychomachia, the first example in the West of allegorical poetry, setting forth the conflict of Christian virtues with heathen vices. It comes out of the times of the author and portrays the life of those times, and had a great influence during the Middle Ages. Finally, there is extant a collection of forty-nine quatrains in hexameter with the title Dittochtæon, which sets forth a Biblical picture in each quatrain. It has been supposed that these explain decorations in the basilica attended by the author, twenty-four Old-Testament pictures on one side, twenty-four from the New Testament on the other, and one in the apse.
The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His Christmas plainsong hymn Divinum Mysterium ("Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany O sola magnarum urbium ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today. The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work and became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature.