Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Rector Potens, Verax Deus

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
Rector Potens, Verax Deus

by Hugh Thomas Henry


The daily hymn for Sext in the Roman Breviary finds its theme in the great heat and light of the noonday (hora sexta, or sixth hour of the day) sun, and prays the Almighty Ruler to take from the heart the heat of passion. Baudot ("The Roman Breviary", London, 1909, 34) thinks the hymn "probably" by St. Ambrose: "We know, moreover, that the hymns for Vespers, Terce, and None (probably also the hymn for Sext) are his." Perhaps, however, Baudot refers to other hymns ascribed to the saint by Bäumer ("Gesch. des Breviers", 1895, 135). Whatever probability attaches to the hymns for Terce and None affects equally that for Sext, none of the three being found in the oldest Benedictine cycle, while all three are found in the later Celtic cycle. (For discussion of authorship, see RERUM DEUS TENAX VIGOR.) It is interesting to note that the second stanza is in rhyme throughout:


Extingue flammas litium,

Aufer calorem noxium,

Confer salutem corporum

Veramque pacem cordium.

Biraghi thinks the rhyme merely a matter of chance; Piedmont thinks it deliberate, but finds no sufficient reason in this fact for denying it to St. Ambrose. Johner ("A New School of Gregorian Chant", tr. New York, 1906, 55) selects the first line to illustrate his contention that whilst in ordinary speech anyone would pronounce the line thus:

Réctor pótens vérax Deús,

a singer commits no fault in stressing as follows:

Rectór poténs veráx Déus.

"In German (or English), this kind of thing is impossible. But that does not give us a right to forbid the composer of Gregorian melodies to make use of this and similar licenses. We Germans (and English-speaking people) frequently pronounce Latin with such an exaggerated accent that the words fall too heavily on the ear. Other nations, the French, for example, pronounce the words more smoothly, with a lighter accent." (For the full argument, see pp. 55, 56.) JULIAN, Dict. of Hymnology, s.v., for MSS., references, authors, first lines of trs., etc. To his list should be added the Catholic trs. of BAGSHAWE, Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences (London, 1900), 19; DONAHOE, Early Christian Hymns (New York, 1908), 47; RUSSELL, Hymni Horarum in Irish Eccl. Record (1905), 231; HENRY, Hymns of the Little Hours in Eccl. Review (Sept., 1890), 204-09, with Latin text and commentary; PIMONT, Les hymnes du breviaire romain, I (Paris, 1874), 106-10, for text and comment. For hamonized plain-song, modern musical setting, Latin text and Eng. tr., see Hymns Ancient and Modern (historical edition, London, 1909), no. 10. For additional bibliography, see RERUM DEUS TENAX VIGOR.

H.T. HENRY