The seven great hymns of the mediaeval church/Veni Creator Spiritus

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THE VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS.

 

 

"CHARLEMAGNE, réclamé par l'Eglise comme un saint, par les Francais comme leur plus grand roi, par les Allemands comme leur compatriote, par les Italiens comme leur empereur," is the reputed author of this Latin hymn. Men naturally prefer to trace a venerable and renowned composition to an unexpected authorship, and to find the refinement of letters in those otherwise distinguished; still more, to discover in a great soldier and a great king the doubly refined gift of sacred poetry. It is not impossible. "The eloquence of Charlemagne," says his Secretary, "was abundant. He was able to express with facility all he wished; and, not content with his mother-tongue, he bestowed great pains upon foreign languages. He had taken so well to the Latin, that he was able to speak publicly in that language almost as easily as in his own. He understood Greek, and studied Hebrew."

There remains of his muse an epitaph on Adrian I., in thirty-eight verses; the Song of Roland, an ode to the scholar Warnefride, and an epigram in hexameter verse. This epigram was found in a manuscript containing a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, attributed to Origen, and corrected in the hand of Charlemagne. The subject of the hymn seems also to have engaged the attention of the Emperor, for there is a letter by him addressed to his bishops, entitled De gratia septiformis Spiritus. He died at Aix-la-Chapelle, his crown upon his head, and his copy of the Gospels upon his knees, January 28, 814.

The English version of the hymn is the paraphrase of Dryden, of which Warton says: "This is a most elegant and beautiful little morsel, and one of his most correct compositions." There is a translation in the Prayer Book (Ordering of Priests) which is noteworthy, as being the only Breviary hymn retained by the Episcopal Church.