Prudentius, Cathermion, Hymn X — Ad Exequias Defuncti — Deus ignee fons animarum. 4th century.
Parts of this longer hymn are used in the Mozarabic Office of the Dead. The starred strophes are found in the popular hymn “Jam maesta quiesce”.
- God, fiery fountain of spirits,
Who, elements twofold combining,
Both living, each mortal createdst,
And tending towards dissolution.
- They are Thine, both the one and the other,
Their conjuncture is Thine, while united,
And Thee, while they dwell in coherence,
They serve both the soul and the body.
- For these, when divided in sunder,
Dissolve and dismember the mortal,
The earth giveth rest to the body,
The other receiveth the spirit.
- For dissonant elements sever,
At length, by the law of Creation:
The woven must haste to unweaving,
The compacted to disseveration.
- Thou, therefore, Creator! preparing
For Thy faithful ones death to abolish,
Hast shown the inviolate pathway,
That their members may see Resurrection.
- That though now to the frailer, the nobler
Be linked, as with fetters in prison,
That part may then rise in its glory
Which deriveth its seed from the Heaven.
- If the will has been chained to the senses
And grovelled in earthly fruition,
The soul, by earth’s weight overpowered,
With her co-mate sinks downward for ever.
- But, with heavenly source of rememb’ring,
She refuses the sluggish contagion;
With herself the lov’d frame shall she carry
To the mansions of glory celestial.
- For though for a season the body
Lie lifeless, and void of the spirit,
Brief space, and once more reunited,
It shall cherish its noble companion.
- The ages are hastening onward,
When those bones vital heat shall revisit;
And animate then, and for ever,
Shall assume its first lov’d habitation.
- The corpse that lay cold and untended,
That the grave had returned to corruption,
Shall be raised to the voluble aether
With its former companion associate.
- Hence tombs have their holy attendance,
Hence the frames that have seen dissolution
Receive the last honours of nature,
And are decked with the pomp of the burial.
- Hence the wont to enwrap them in linen,
A snow-white and beautiful vestment,
Hence the care for their long preservation,
And the myrrh and the spices of Saba.
- For what mean the tombs that we quarry,
What the art that our monuments boast in,
But that this which we trust to their keeping
Is not dead, but reposing in slumber?
- ‘Tis the love and the forethought of Christians
That cares for its charge, as believing
That the season shall come for their wakening,
Who now lie in darkness and chillness.
- Who pities a corpse, and commits it
To the heap’d earth’s security, showeth
A deed of compassionate mercy,
And doth it to CHRIST the Almighty.
- One law is appointed to all men,
One grief for one lot is before us,
We weep, when we weep for another,
A sorrow that we shall have share in.
- That father of holy Tobias,
The sacred and reverend hero,
When the table was spread for the banquet,
Left all to go forth and to bury.
- The slaves were arrayed for the festal,
The goblets were ranged, and the viands,
When girt for the grave and this office,
He wept o’er the sepulchre’s sadness.
- A guerdon celestial is sent him,
His deed is repaid in its fulness,
When his eyes, to the sun that were darkened,
By the gall God restoreth to brightness.
- Even then taught the Father of all things
How bitter and sharp is the medicine,
If the spiritual vision is clouded
When vexed by His illumination.
- He taught also this, that none other
Can enter the Heavenly Kingdom
But he that in sorrow and darkness
Hath endured tribulation and hardness.
- Very death thence becometh more blessed,
Because by the anguish of dying
The bright path is oped to the righteous,
And we go to the stars by endurance.
- Thus the body, resigned to corruption,
Shall return in a better existence:
Nor, renewed and revivified, thenceforth
Can the union again be divided.
- The cheek that was pale with diseases,
And withered and wan in its suffering,
Then lovelier than flowers of springtide
Shall put on the hue of its beauty.
- Thenceforward, old age and its weakness
Shall gather youth’s loveliness never,
Thenceforward, nor sickness nor anguish
Shall rifle its bloom and its vigour.
- The source of that pestilent sickness
That now hath its rule in the nation,
Shall then give account for his torments
And rue them in fire and in fetters.
- Then the flesh from his high exaltation
Victorious, and thenceforth immortal,
Shall behold, everlastingly ruing,
The woes that himself had occasioned.
- Why therefore, survivors, the clamour
Of sorrow and wild lamentation?
Why at statutes of wisdom and mercy
Such frenzied and bitter repining?
- *Each sorrowful mourner be silent!
Fond mothers give over your weeping!
None count those dear pledges as perished,
This death—it is life’s reparation.
- Thus arid and lifeless and buried,
Those seeds shall arise in their beauty,
Restored from the turf where we laid them,
Taking thought of a new growth for ever.
- *Now take him, O earth, to thy keeping
And give him soft rest in thy bosom;
I lend thee the frame of a Christian,
I entrust thee the generous fragments.
- This once was the home of a spirit
By the breath of its Maker created,
Here once was the wisdom, implanted
That leaneth on CHRIST as its Monarch.
- *Thou holily guard the deposit,
He will well, He will surely require it
Who forming it, made its creation
The type of His image and likeness.
- They are coming, those times of fulfillment,
When God every hope shall accomplish,
Then thou must give up the deposit
That now I entrust to thy keeping.
- For not though the flight of long ages
Those bones had resolved into ashes,
And the dust whereunto they had crumbled
One pitiful handful might measure:
- Not e’en though meandering rivers
Or breezes that sweep o’er the heaven
Each nerve have dissolved and each fibre,
May we say that the man can have perished.
- *But until the resolvable body
Thou recallest, God, and reformest,
What regions unknown to the mortal
Dost Thou will the pure soul to inhabit!
- *It shall rest upon Abraham’s bosom,
Ab the spirit of blest Eleazar,
Whom, afar in that Paradise, Dives
Beholds from the flame of his torments.
- *We follow Thy saying, Redeemer,
Whereby, as on death Thou wast trampling,
The thief, Thy companion, Thou willedst
To tread in Thy footsteps, and triumph.
- *To the faithful the bright way is open,
Henceforward to Paradise leading,
And to that blessed grove we have access,
Whereof man was bereaved by the serpent.
- *Thou Leader and Guide of Thy people,
Give command that the soul of Thy servant
May have holy repose in the country
Whence exile and erring he wandered.
Tr. J.M. Neale (d. 1866)
Collected hymns, sequences and carols of John Mason Neale, pp. 169-173