Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences/Zyma vetus expurgetur

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Mediæval Hymns and Sequences  (1867)  edited by John Mason Neale
Zyma vetus expurgetur by Adam of Saint Victor, translated by John Mason Neale

Zyma vetus expurgetur.

Another Easter Sequence of Adam of S. Victor.

Purge we out the ancient leaven,
That the feast of earth and Heaven,
We may celebrate aright:
On to-day our hope stands founded:
Moses teacheth how unbounded
Is its virtue and its might.

This day Egypt's treasure spoiled
And the Hebrews freed that toiled,
Pressed with bondage and in chains:
From the mortar, brick, and stubble
Heaviest toil and sorest trouble
Had they known in Zoan's plains.

Now the voice of exultation,
Now the triumph of salvation
Free and wide its tidings flings:
This is the day the LORD hath made: the day
That bids our sin and sorrow flee away,
Life and light and health that brings.

In the Law the types lay shaded:
In the promised End they faded,
Christ, Who all things consummates;
Christ, Whose Blood aside hath turned
That devouring sword which burned,
Waving wide, at Eden's gates.
Yea, that child,[1] our Mystic Laughter,
For whose sake the ram fell after,
Signifies the Joy of Life;
Joseph from the prison goeth:
Christ, by Resurrection, showeth
He hath conquered in the strife.

He the Dragon that, devouring
Pharaoh's dragons,[2] rose, o'erpowering
All their malice and their might;
He the Serpent set on high
That the people might not die
From the fiery serpents' bite.

He the Hook, that hid awhile,[3]
Pierced Leviathan with guile:
He the Child that laid His hand[4]
On the cockatrice's den:
That the ancient lord of men
Might avoid the ransomed land.

They, whose scorn the Seer offended[5]
As to Bethel He ascended,
Feel the Bald-head's wrath, and flee:
David, after madness feigned,[6]
Scapegoat, now no more detained,
Ritual sparrow, all go free.

Alien wedlock first despising,
With a jawbone Samson rising
Thousand Philistines hath slain:
Then in Gaza as he tarried,
Forth her brazen gates he carried
To the mountain from the plain.

Sleeping first the sleep of mortals
Judah's Lion thus the portals
Of the grave hath borne away:
While the Father's voice resounded,[7]
He, with majesty unbounded,
Sought our Mother's courts of day.

Jonah, by the tempest followed,
Whom the whale of old time swallowed,
Type of our True Jonah, giving,
Three days pass'd is rendered living
From that dark and narrow space.
Now the myrrh of Cyprus groweth,[8]
Widelier spreadeth, sweetlier bloweth;
Law its withered blossoms throweth
That the Church may take their place.

Death and life have striven newly;
Jesus Christ hath risen truly;
And with Christ ascended duly
Many a witness that He lives:
Dawn of newness, happy morrow
Wipes away our eve of sorrow:
Since from death our life we borrow,
Brightest joy the season gives.

Jesu, Victor, Life, and Head:
Jesu, Way Thy people tread;
By Thy death from death released
Call us to the Paschal Feast,
That with boldness we may come;
Living Water, Bread undying,
Vine, each branch with life supplying,
Thou must cleanse us, Thou must feed us,
From the Second death must lead us
Upward to our Heavenly Home!

  1. S. Hildebert, following the Fathers: "Isaac, whose name by interpretation is laughter, signifies Christ. For Christ is the joy of man and angels."
  2. So S. Hildebert again: "This rod, thrown down on the earth and become a serpent, devoured the rods of the Egyptian magicians, because the Son of God made flesh, after the dignity of His glory made obedient unto death, by the very means of the death of the flesh deprived the Serpent of his deadly venom, and destroyed death, and the sting of death, according to that saying, 'O death, I will be thy death! O Hell, I will be thy plagues!'"
  3. The reference is to the question, put by God to Job,—' "Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?"—But what man was unable to do, that Christ could and did effect on the true Leviathan, Satan.—Thus according to the Fathers, our Lord's humanity was the bait, His divinity the hook; Satan, unconsciously swallowing one, was destroyed by the other. Thus in an Ambrosian Hymn:
    What more sublime can be than this,
    That very sin should end in bliss!
    That perfect love should cast out fear,
    And better life from death appear?
    Death should the hook devour amain,
    And self in self-made knots enchain?
    The Life of all men should be slain,
    That all men's life might rise again?

    So S. Hildebert, in his Epigrams (if we may so call them) named the moral interpretation of Scripture:

    Fisher the Father is: this world, the sea;
    Christ's Flesh the bait, the Hook His Deity,
    The line His generation. Satan took
    The offered bait; and perished by the hook.

    And so Adam of S. Victor:

    Sic hamum divinitatis
    Occultat mortalitas:
    Sic voracis Leviathan
    Luditur voracitas;

    Qui dum capit glutiendum
    Nostri vermen generis,
    Ipse captus inescatur;
    Pax est data posteris;

    where, however, observe that the metaphor is not exactly the same. In the former passage the bait applies more immediately to our Lord's Human Nature, considered relatively to the Hypostatic Union: in the latter Adam would rather take the whole human race as the bait, the Hook of Divinity being the same in both.

  4. The poet refers to the mediæval interpretation of Isaiah's prophecy: "The weaned child shall lay his hand on the cockatrice's den."
  5. According to the mediæval explanation, Elisha, going up to Bethel, was a type of the pilgrimage of Christ on the Cross to the true House of God: and the bald head of the prophet typified the Saviour's Crown of Thorns. The mocking children represented the taunting Jews; and as there came two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of the former, so, after forty-two years, the two savage conquerors, Vespasian and Titus, destroyed Jerusalem.
  6. David's assumed madness in the court of Achish is here regarded as a symbol of the madness imputed by the Jews to our Lord. "Many of them said: He hath a devil and is mad; why hear ye Him?" S. Augustine, on Psalm xxxiv., dwells at great length on this type.
  7. A reference to the mediæval belief that the whelps of the lion are born dead, and continue so for three days, when their father arouses them by roaring: as we saw in the hymn of S. Fulbert of Chartres.
  8. Canticles i. 14. "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyard of Engedi;" or, as the Vulgate reads, "a cluster of Cyprus." In the preceding verse the Church says, "A bundle of myrrh is my Wellbeloved unto me." The myrrh is interpreted of our Lord's death: the wine of His Resurrection. Thus Marbodus, of Rennes, in his metrical explanation of the Song of Solomon;

    Who, dying, caused my heart one hour of deepest gloom,
    Is wine of royal cheer, arisen from the tomb.