Thursday, 22 March 2012

Christe qui lux es et dies

English and Latin versions of this hymn in an Anglo-Saxon hymnal (BL Cotton Vespasian D XII, f. 13)

'O Christ who art the light and day' is a hymn for Compline often sung during Lent, so it seems appropriate to post some medieval English versions of it in this season. You can read some information about the history of the hymn here; it was already in existence, and prescribed for use at Compline, by the end of the fifth century. As the manuscript above shows, it was known in Anglo-Saxon England; it's mentioned in St Æthelwold's rule for his reformed monastery at Winchester in the tenth century, to be sung at Compline, the service Anglo-Saxon monks called nihtsang (night song).

Here's the Latin, a beautiful plea for peace and protection through the dark watches of the night:

1. Christe qui lux es et dies,
Noctis tenebras detegis,
Lucisque lumen crederis,
Lumen beatum praedicans.

2. Precamur sancte Domine,
Defende nos in hac nocte,
Sit nobis in te requies,
Quietam noctem tribue.

3. Ne gravis somnus irruat,
Nec hostis nos surripiat,
Nec caro illi consentiens,
Nos tibi reos statuat.

4. Oculi somnum capiant,
Cor ad te semper vigilet,
Dextera tua protegat
Famulos qui te diligunt.

5. Defensor noster aspice,
Insidiantes reprime,
Guberna tuos famulos,
Quos sanguine mercatus es.

6. Memento nostri Domine
In gravi isto corpore,
Qui es defensor animae,
Adesto nobis Domine.

7. Deo Patri sit gloria,
Eiusque soli Filio,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Et nunc et in perpetuum. Amen.

You can see a literal Modern English translation side-by-side with the Latin here, and hear the chant in William Byrd's setting of the hymn (sung in English):

The translation sung here, probably the one most used today, is based on a version by W. J. Copeland ("always known as one of the best Latin scholars at Oxford", according to his wikipedia article. Well, all right then.):

1. O Christ, who art the Light and Day,
Thou drivest darksome night away;
We know thee as the Light of light
Illuminating mortal sight.

2. All holy Lord, we pray to thee,
Keep us tonight from danger free;
Grant us, dear Lord, in thee to rest,
So be our sleep in quiet blessed.

3. Let not the tempter round us creep
With thoughts of evil while we sleep,
Nor with his wiles the flesh allure
And make us in thy sight impure.

4. And while the eyes soft slumber take,
Still be the heart to thee awake,
Be thy right hand upheld above
Thy servants resting in thy love.

5. Yea, our Defender, be thou nigh,
To bid the powers of darkness fly;
Keep us from sin, and guide for good
Thy servants purchased by thy blood.

6. Remember us, dear Lord, we pray,
While in this mortal flesh we stay:
'Tis thou who dost the soul defend
Be present with us to the end.

7. Blest Three in One and One in Three,
Almighty God, we pray to thee,
That thou wouldst now vouchsafe to bless
Our fast with fruits of righteousness.

There are, however, numerous medieval translations of the hymn into English which predate this by many centuries. It was evidently a popular hymn, though most likely none of the following translations were intended to be sung - they're for personal, not liturgical use.

There's actually sort of an Old English translation of this hymn, in that glossed interlinear versions of the Latin text exist in eleventh-century manuscripts; you can see one above, and another is online here. They're interesting to read and would be a good way to learn Old English if you already knew Latin (which, vice versa, is partly the point!). Theoretically you could extract the Latin and be left with a very literal Old English paraphrase - nothing like what an Anglo-Saxon poet would actually have come up with in setting out to translate this hymn into verse, but a useful experiment nonetheless:

Eala O þu Crist, þu þe leoht eart & dæg,
neahte þeostru þu ofer helast
& leohtes leoht þu eart gelyfed
leoht eadig bodiende.

We biddaþ, O eala, þu halga drihten,
bewere us on þissere nyhte
sy us on þe rest
gedyfe nihte forgyf.

þæt ne hefi slæp onhreose
þæt ne feond us undercreope
þæt ne flæsc him giðafigende
us þe scyldige gesette.

Eagan slæp underfon
heorte to ðe æfre wacige
swiðra þin gescilde
þeowan þa ðe þe lufigað

Bewerigend ure beseoh
þa serwiendan ofþrice
begem þine þenas
þa ðe mid blode þa gebohtest

Gemun þu ure, O eala ðu Domine
on swarran þisum lichoman
þa ðe eart bewerigend sawle
ætbeo þu us drihten.

Gode fæder sy wuldor.

There are phrases here which might be recognisable even if you know no Old English: þu þe leoht eart & dæg 'thou who light art and day'; leohtes leoht þu eart gelyfed 'light's light thou art believed'; heorte to ðe æfre wacige '[be our] hearts to thee ever waking'; þa ðe mid blode þa gebohtest 'to those whom you bought with blood'. It doesn't require much of a leap to guess what the petition þæt ne feond us undercreope means, either...

To move into the more comprehensible sphere of late Middle English verse, jumping forward about three hundred years, I learned from an article by R. H. Robbins ('Middle English Versions of "Christe qui lux es et dies" in The Harvard Theological Review 47 (1954), 55-63), that this hymn was a very popular one. Robbins observes that there are more Middle English translations of this hymn than of any other - eight different versions of it survive (in case the statistics interest you as they do me, the next most popular hymn is 'Ave Maris Stella' with six surviving versions; then there are three each of 'Alma redemptoris mater', 'Hostis Herodes impie', and 'Vexilla regis prodeunt'. I've previously posted some translations of 'Ave Maris Stella', 'Hostis Herodis' and 'Vexilla Regis'.)

Robbins includes two versions of 'Christe qui lux es' in his article. Here's the one I liked best, from British Library, Harley 665:

Cryst, that art bothe lyght and day,
Derkenesse of nyght thou doyst away,
Lyght of lyght men may thee say,
A blysfull lyght prechyng us ay.

We pray thee, holy Lord of myght,
Kepe us thys nyght from wycked wyght;
Oure rest in thee be rewlyd with ryght,
And grawnt us all an esy nyght.

No grevous sclepe ayens us be;
The fynd thou make fro us fle,
That neuer the flesch asseutyd be
To make us gilty, Lord, to thee.

Oure eyen take sclepe unto thy pay, [as may please thee]
Our hert wake to thee alleway,
Thy ryght hand defende hem ay,
Thy servantys that thee love and pray.

Behold to us, defender god,
Put down oure enmys wyld and wood, [mad, frenzied]
Thou governe hem that bawghtyst on rood,
Lord Jesu, with thy swete blode.

Have mynd on us, thou Lord so dere,
In thys heavy body here,
Thou that savest mannys sowle fro where, [danger, peril]
When we haue nede thou be us nere.

Lovyng unto that fader be,
And to his commely soon so fre,
Wyth the holy gost, one god the three
Now and ay, Amen say we.

I like 'Amen say we'! And also 'grant us an easy night', where 'easy' means 'restful, comfortable'. The reference to our 'heavy body' evokes not just the weightiness of solid mortal flesh, but also the sleepiness anyone praying this hymn might be feeling as bedtime approaches. Compline hymns and prayers do tend to have a beautiful lullaby-like quality, calming and soothing the restless heart in preparation for sleep. 

With only a few tweaks, this is actually singable to the chant, should one be so inclined:

O Christ, who art both light and day,
Darkness of night thou dost away,
The light of light men may thee say,
A blissful light preaching us ay.

We pray thee, holy Lord of might,
Keep us this night from wicked wight;
Our rest in thee be ruled with right,
And grant us all an easy night.

No grievous sleep against us be;
The fiend thou make from us to flee,
That never flesh assailed be
To make us guilty, Lord, to thee.

Our eyes take sleep until the day,
Our heart awake to thee alway,
With thy right hand defend them ay,
Thy servants that thee love and pray.

Behold us now, defender good,
Put down our enemies wild and wood,
Govern them that thou bought'st on rood,
Lord Jesu, with thy sweet blood.

Have mind on us, Lord so dear,
In this heavy body here,
Thou that savest man’s soul from fear,
When we have need be to us near.

All laud unto the Father be,
And to his comely Son so free,
The Holy Ghost, one God the Three
Now and ay, Amen say we.

The other Middle English version I liked is not exactly a translation, but a looser poetic rendering of the text with Latin lines mixed in. It's by the Bury St Edmunds monk John Lydgate, whose work has featured on this blog just once before. The following poem is a modernised version of the text which can be found here:

Christ, that art both day and light,
And soothfast sun of all gladness,
Who dost away darkness of night,
And sovereign light of all brightness
Believed art in soothfastness,
Preaching this blissful light of peace,
Be our succour in all distress,
Criste qui lux es & dies.

O holy Lord, to thee we pray,
In this night thou us defend,
Against all foes that us werraye, [attack]
Be thou quiet, our life tamende, [calming]
And thy grace to us thou send
With night's rest in unity,
In thy service our life to spend
Precamur sancte domine.

That us no grievous sleep oppress,
Nor that our foe us undermine,
Nor that our flesh to frowardness
Assent, the spirit to incline,
For to bring it to ruin,
Thee to guilt through their debate,
But let thy grace on us shine
Ne grauis sompnis irruat.

Let our eyes rest take,
Only through thy benigne grace,
That the spirit ever awake
Thee for to serve each hour and space,
And when our foemen us menace
Let thy right hand, as thou art wont,
Defend thy servants in every place,
Dum oculi sompnum capiunt.

Our champion, see and behold,
Our waiting enemies thou repress,
Govern thy servants young and old,
Of thy mercy and thy goodness,
Whom thou boughtest in great distress
With thy holy blood most free,
And that the fiend us nought oppress
Defensor noster aspice.

Thou benigne Lord, on us remember
In this grievous body here,
Keep and preserve us, every member,
Since thou boughtest us so dear,
Who art defence, as books leere, [teach]
Of the soul through thy pity,
For which in mischief both far and near
Memento nostri domine.

To God the Father honour and glory,
And to his only Son also;
Worship, with heart and whole memory,
Also to the Holy Ghost be done,
Equal with the first two,
Both three and one per secula,
For which we sing in joy and woe
Deo patri sit gloria.

To close with another setting of the text, this is by Robert White (c. 1538-1574):

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