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Augustine, Latin Literature

The Harrowing of Hell and the Hope in Despair

The days leading up to and including Easter have varied in since their very first observance. One part of the medieval Easter liturgy and a fixture in medieval passion plays that has since disappeared from Roman observance is the Cum Rex Gloriae. An Easter processional antiphon, it has been variously attributed to Augustine of Hippo and St Jerome.

Cum rex gloriae Christus infernum debellaturus intraret, et chorus angelicus ante faciem ejus protas principum tolli praeciperet, sanctorum populus, qui tenebatur in morte captivus, voce lacrimabili clamabat dicens: Advenisti desiderabilis, quem expectabamus in tenebris, ut educered hac nocte vinculatos de claustris. Te nostra vocabant suspiria, te large requirebant lamenta, tu factus est spes desperatis, magna consolatio in tormentis. Alleluja.

When Christ, the King of glory entered the underworld to subdue it ,

the choir of angels commanded that the gates be lifted before him, and
the saintly people who were held in deadly captivity cried in tearful voice:

Come thou, we have long waited in darkness, so that you would guide us this night out of the dungeon in which we are bound.

You called forth our sighs, you implored our lamentations, you became the hope in our despair , a great consolation in our torment. Hallelujah.   (my not extraordinarily poetic translation)

I like the articulation (albeit in a Christian setting which some may find inaccessible by definition) of what is a commonplace, what we can see by just opening the paper or watching the news on this very day: those living in despair but not without hope.

Another, more modern view of this day’s events:

Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry
his universe has shaken.
It went up single, echoless, “My God,
I am forsaken!”
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid
his lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use
those words of desolation.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)





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