Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences/Vexilla Regis prodeunt
Vexilla Regis prodeunt
This world-famous hymn, one of the grandest in the treasury of the Latin Church, was composed by Fortunatus, on occasion of the reception of certain relics by S. Gregory of Tours and S. Radegund, previously to the consecration of a church at Poitiers. It is therefore strictly and primarily a processional hymn, though very naturally afterwards adapted to Passiontide.
The Royal Banners forward go;
The Cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where He in flesh, our flesh Who made,
Our sentence bore, our ransom paid.
Where deep for us the spear was dy'd,
Life's torrent rushing from His side,
To wash us in that precious flood
Where mingled Water flow'd, and Blood.
Fulfill'd is all that David told
In true Prophetic song of old;
Amidst the nations God, saith he,
Hath reign'd and triumph'd from the Tree.
O Tree of Beauty! Tree of Light!
O Tree with royal purple dight!
Elect on whose triumphal breast
Those holy limbs should find their rest!
On whose dear arms, so widely flung,
The weight of this world's ransom hung:
The price of human kind to pay,
And spoil the Spoiler of his prey.
[O Cross, our one reliance, hail!
This holy Passiontide, avail
To give fresh merit to the Saint,
And pardon to the penitent.
To Thee, Eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost restore,
Preserve and govern evermore.]
- In the Italic Version the tenth verse of the 96th Psalm is—"Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord reigneth from the Tree." S. Justin Martyr accuses the Jews of corrupting the text; and Tertullian, in at least three places, quotes the older reading.
- These verses were added when the Hymn was appropriated to Passiontide. The ending of Fortunatus is this:
With fragrance dropping from each bough
Sweeter than sweetest nectar thou:
Decked with the fruit of peace and praise,
And glorious with Triumphal lays:—
Hail, Altar! Hail, O Victim! Thee
Decks now Thy Passion's Victory;
Where Life for sinners death endured,
And life by death for man procured.
Vita beata necem miseris avertere venit:
Pertulit a miseris Vita beata necem.
[This translation was also adopted in the Hymnal Noted, from whence it was copied into Hymns Ancient and Modern, with some alterations which, I think, are not improvements: e.g. in ver. 3, we have the colloquialism of—"Fulfilled is now what David told."]