Pange, lingua, gloriosi, corporis mysterium

Author: Thomas Aquinas

Thomas of Aquino, confessor and doctor, commonly called The Angelical Doctor, “on account of," says Dom Gueranger, "the extraordinary gift of understanding wherewith God had blessed him," was born of noble parents, his father being Landulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother a rich Neapolitan lady, named Theodora. The exact date of his birth is not known, but most trustworthy authorities give it as 1227. At the age of five he was sent to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino to receive his first training, which in the hands of a large-hearted and God-fearing man, resulted in so filling his mind with knowledge and his soul with God, that it is said the monks themselves would often approach by stealth to hear the words of piety and wisdo… Go to person page >

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First Line: Pange, lingua, gloriosi, corporis mysterium
Author: Thomas Aquinas
Language: Latin


St. Thomas of Aquino. [Holy Communion.] One of the finest of the mediaeval Latin hymns, a wonderful union of sweetness of melody with clear-cut dogmatic teaching. It was written for the office of the Festival of Corpus Christi, which St. Thomas drew up in 1263, at the request of Pope Urban IV. The metre and the opening line are imitated from Fortunatus. It is found in the Roman (Venice, 1478; and again, untouched, in 1632); Mozarabic of 1502, Sarum, York, Aberdeen, Paris of 1736, and many other Breviaries. Whereever employed it was always primarily for use on Corpus Christi, either at Matins (Sarum), or at Vespers (Roman). It has also been used as a processional on Corpus Christi, in the Votive Office of the Blessed Sacrament, at the Forty Hours, and otherwise. Stanza v., "Tantum ergo sacramentum," with the magnificent doxology, is sung as a separate hymn in the office of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, or during Mass at the Elevation of the Host. The text, in 5 st. and a doxology, will be found in Daniel, i., No. 239, the Hymn. Sarisb, 1851, p. 121, and others. [Rev. W. A. Shoults, B.D.]

The hymn is found in a manuscript of the 13th century in the Bodleian (Ashmole 1525, f. 175); in a manuscript of the end of the 13th century (Add. 23935 f. 3), and a 14th century Sarum Breviary (Reg. 2, A. xiv. f. 94), both now in the British Museum; in the St. Gall manuscript 503 i. of the 13th century. Also in Wackernagel, i., No. 233; Bässler, No. 99; Königsfeld, i. p. 146; Cardinal Newman's Hymni Ecclesiae, 1838 and 1865, and others. [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]

Translations in common use:—
1. Speak, 0 tongue, the Body broken. By I. Williams, in his Hymns translated from the Parisian Breviary, 1839, p. 169. In Stretton's Church Hymns, 1850, st. i.-iii. of this tr. and st. iv.-vi. from another were given as one hymn. This arrangement, with the opening line changed to "Sing we that blest Body broken," was repeated in Dr. Oldknow's Hymns, &c, 1850.
2. Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory, Of His flesh the mystery sing. By E. Caswall, in his Lyra Catholica, 1849, p. 1ll, and again in his Hymns & Poems, 1873, p. 63. It is given unaltered in several Roman Catholic hymn-books, and a few other collections. In the Irvingite Hymns for the Use of the Churches, 1871, it begins with the same first line, but is considerably altered, especially in st. iv. The alterations in the New Congregation, 1859, No. 878, are also considerable, but in another direction, whilst the opening line remains unchanged. In Skinner's Daily Service Hymnal 1864, it is altered to "Of Christ's Body, ever glorious."
3. Hail the Body bright and glorious. By R. Campbell, in his Hymns and Anthems, 1850, p. 69. This is repeated in Hymns used in the Church of St. Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, 1861, and the St. Margaret's Hymnal (East Grinstead), 1875. In the St. Margaret's Hymnal it is attributed to "Fortescue" in error.
4. Of the glorious Body telling. By J. M. Neale, in his Medieval Hymns, 1851, p. 126 (ed. 1863, p. 178, with a valuable note). It was repeated in the 1860 Appendix to the Hymnal N.; the People's Hymnal, 1867; the Hymnary, 1872, and others, in most instances with slight variations from the original translation. In Dr. Schaff’s Christ in Song, N. Y., 1869, it begins "Sing, my tongue, the mystery telling." The alterations are by Dr. Schaff.
5. Sing the glorious Body broken, Ransom of the world to be. By J. A. Johnston, in his English Hymnal, 1852, No. 99. In the 2nd edition, 1856, he rewrote it as "Speak, my tongue, the Body glorious," and in the 3rd ed., 1861, as "Speak, my tongue, a mystery glorious."
6. Sing the glorious Body broken, Sing the precious Blood, &c. By W. J. Blew, in his Church Hymn. & Tune Book, 1852-5, and again in Rice's Selections from the same, 1870.
7. Hail, each tongue, with adoration. By W. J. Irons. Contributed to the Rev. R. T. Lowe's Hymns for the Christian Seasons, Gainsburgh, 1854, and repeated in Dr. Irons's Hymns, &c, 1866, and his Psalms & Hymns, 1875.
8. Now, my tongue, the mystery telling. No. 203 in Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1861, and No. 309, revised ed., 1875, is said in the Index to be by the Compilers, "based on translation from Latin by E. Caswall." This is, however, not strictly correct. An examination of the text shows that st. i., ii., and vi. are Dr. Neale's translation rewritten; st. v. Dr. Neale's tr. very slightly altered; st. iii. Caswall's tr. rewritten; and st. iv. a tr. by the Compilers. This translation is repeated in the Lyra Eucharistica, 1863, without alteration: and with a nearer approach to the original in the Altar Hymnal, 1884.
9. Of that glorious Body broken. This translation in the Sarum, 1868, No. 123, is Caswall's altered (except in st. ii. and iii.) almost beyond recognition. It is repeated in Thring's Collection, 1882, with slight changes, except in the crucial st. iv. This is materially changed in the wording, although it remains the same in doctrinal teaching.
10. Wake, my tongue, the mystery telling. By R. C. Singleton, in his Anglican Hymn Book, 1868 and 1871.

Translations not in common use:—
1. Of Christe his body glorious. Primer, 1604.
2. Sing thou my tongue with accent clear. Primer. 1615.
3. Sing, 0 my tongue, devoutly sing. Primer, 1685.
4. Sing, 0 my tongue, adore and praise. Primer, 1706.
5. Resound, my tongue, the mystery resound. D. French. 1839.
6. Tell, my tongue, the wondrous story. Bishop Coxe in his Christian Ballads, 1840 and 1848.
7. Of the glorious Body bleeding. A. D. Wackerbarth. 1842.
8. Of the Body bright and gracious. In Dr. Pusey's translation of Hoist's Paradise of the Christian Soul, 1847.
9. Loudly sing my tongue! proclaiming. J. R. Beste. 1849.
10. Speak, my tongue, the mystic glory. J. D. Chambers. 1852 and 1857.
11. Sing, O [my] tongue, the Body glorious. H. N. Oxenham. In The Ecclesiastic, Jan., 1853; his Manual of Devotions, 1854 ; and his Sentence of Kaires, 1854.
12. Break we forth in high thanksgiving. W. Bright in his Athanasius and other Poems, 1858.
13. My tongue, the mystic doctrine sing. J. W. Hewett. 1859.
14. Sing, and the mystery declare. Ray Palmer, in Schaff’s Christ in Song, 1869.
15. Let my tongue the mystery sing. J. Wallace. 1874.
16. Now, my tongue, the mystery singing. W. T. Brooke, in his Churchman's Manual of Private and Family Devotions, 1881.
17. Sing, my tongue, the joyful mystery. J. D. Aylward, in O. Shipley's Annus Sanctus, 1884.

Tantum ergo sacramentum. This portion of the "Pange lingua," consisting of st. v. and vi., and sung in the office of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, &c, as noted above, has been tr. by all the above-named translators, and each translation is given as the conclusion of the original hymn. In a few instances the stanzas (v.-vi.) are given as a separate hymn in English, as in Latin. These include (1) Caswall's "Down in adoration falling," which appears in some Roman Catholic hymn-books for missions and schools; (2) a cento in the Altar Hymnal 1884, in 2 st., the first being Caswall altered, and the second the doxology from Hymns Ancient & Modern as "Down in lowly worship bending;" and (3) Neale's translation, altered to "Bow we then in veneration," in the 1863 Appendix to the Hymnal N.

Dr. Neale's estimate of this hymn is well known. His words are so few and to the point that we may quote them here:—

"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 Begias Agni Dopes, the Ad Supernam, and one or two others, leaving the Dies Irse in its unapproachable glory." (Mediaeval Hymns 3rd ed., 1867, p. 179.)

Concerning translations, and of his own in particular, he says:—

"It [the hymn] has been a bow of Ulysses to translators. The translation above given [his own] 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.....The great crux of the translator is the fourth verse."

Before continuing Dr. Neale's remarks it will be well to give the original Latin of st. iv., which reads:—

"Verbum caro, panem verum verbo carnem efflcit,
Fitque sanguis Christi merum, etsi sensus deficit
Ad firmandum cor sincerum sola fides sufficit."

Dr. Neale continues, "I give all the translations:—

(1) ‘God the Word by one word maketh
Very Bread His Flesh to be:
And whoso that Cup partaketh,
Tastes the Fount of Calvary:
While the carnal mind forsaketh,
Faith receives the Mystery.' [Leeds Hymn Book]

"Here the incarnation of the Word, so necessary to the antithesis, is omitted: and so exact a writer as Saint Thomas would never have used the expression by one word.

(2) ‘At the Incarnate Word's high bidding,
Very Bread to Flesh doth turn :
Wine becometh Christ's Blood-shedding:
And, if sense cannot discern,
Guileless spirits, never dreading,
May from Faith sufficient learn.' [Wackerbarth. Mr. Wackerbarth's 1. 2 reads, “Bread to very flesh," &c]

"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.

(3) ‘Word made Flesh! The Bread of nature,
Thou by word to Flesh dost turn:
Wine, to Blood of our Creator:
If no sense the work discern,
Yet the true heart proves no traitor:
Faith unaided all shall learn.' [Pusey.]

"Here the antithesis is preserved, though at the expense of the vocative case. And surely Saint Thomas, in an exact dogmatical poem, would not have spoken of the Blood of our Creator. Mr. Caswall, following up the hint given by the last version, and substituting the apposite pronoun for the vocative, has given, as from his freedom of rhyme might be expected, the best version.

(4) ‘Word made Flesh, the Bread of nature
By a word to Flesh He turns:
Wine into His Blood He changes:
What though sense no change discerns,
Only be the heart in earnest,
Faith the lesson quickly learns.’

"In both these last translations [Pusey and Caswall], however, the panem verum, of Saint Thomas is not given; and Mr. Caswall brings in the worse than unnecessary article—-‘By a word.' [It must be noted that Dr. Neale must have quoted Caswall from memory or from some other source than Caswall's Lyra Catholica, 1849, p. 112, where 1. 2 reads, "By his word to Flesh He turns;" and 1. 6, "Faith her lesson quickly learns." These readings of 1849 are repeated in Caswall's Hymns & Poems, 1873, p. 63. Did Dr. Neale misread Caswall, or did Caswall publish a text distinct from that in his Lyra Catholica ?]
"Since the first edition of my book [1851], Hymns Ancient and Modern have produced a translation put together from former ones,-—but nearer my own version than to any other. Their fourth verse is their weakest:—

‘Word made Flesh, True Bread He maketh
By His word His Flesh to be:
Wine His blood; which whoso take
Faith alone, though sight forsaketh,
Shows true hearts the Mystery.'

“It is needless to observe that the Italicised line and a half is not in the original. ‘Forsaketh’ too, is scarcely English. I have substituted an alteration of Hymns Ancient and Modern for my original 5th verse, ‘Therefore we, before it bending.']"

After this exhaustive criticism by Dr. Neale we must give his rendering of the same passage. It reads:—

"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."

These examples of translations could be increased to the total number known. The result, however, would be to add materially to the length of this article without increasing its historical value.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)



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Catholic Book of Worship III #68
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