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Quicumque Christum Quæritis

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The opening line of the twelfth (in honour of the Epiphany) and last poem in the "Cathemerinon" of Prudentius. This twelfth poem or hymn contains 52 iambic dimeter strophes, and an irregular selection from its 208 lines has furnished four hymns to the Roman Breviary, all of which conclude with the usual Marian doxology ("Jesu tibi sit gloria" etc., not composed by Prudentius), slightly varied to make the doxology appropriate for the several feasts employing the hymns. The four centos are:

Quicumque Christum quæritis

(Matins and first and second Vespers of the feast of the Transfiguration), comprising sixteen lines (1-4, 37-44, 85-88) and the doxology (which changes its second line):

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui te revelas parvulis, etc.

Although written for the Epiphany, the lines forming the cento apply well to the Transfiguration, as Daniel notes (Thes. Hymnol., I, p. 136). Of the 18 translations in English verse, twelve are by Catholics.

O sola magnarum urbium

(Introduced by Pius V into the office of the Epiphany and assigned to Lauds), comprises sixteen lines (77-80, 5-8, 61-4, 69-72) with the doxology (which changes its second line):

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui apparuisti gentibus, etc.

The Roman Breviary changes the opening words of the second strophe, "Hæc stella" into "Quem stella". The hymn has never been adopted by the Carthusians, Cistercians, Dominicans (these last using at Lauds the hymn "A patre unigenitus"). Of the seventeen translations into English verse, six are by Catholics.

Audit tyrannus anxius

(Matins of the Holy Innocents and of the octave day), comprising twelve lines (93-100, 133-6) and the (unchanged) doxology, "Jesu tibi sit gloria" etc. The Roman Breviary changes the opening word of the third strophe "Quo proficit" into "Quid proficit".

Salvete flores martyrum

(Lauds and Vespers of feast of the Holy Innocents and of the octave day), comprising (in the Roman Breviary cento) 8 lines (125-132) and the (unchanged) doxology, "Jesu, tibi sit gloria" etc. The third line of the second strophe is, in the Roman Breviary, "Aram sub ipsam . . .", instead of the original "Aram ante ipsam . . ." (or the other variants of this much-disputed line) — a change which not only consults the interests of classical prosody but happily suggests the words of the Apocalypse (6:9): "Vidi subtus altare animas interfectorum . . .". Until the middle of the sixteenth century the Roman Breviary had no special hymns for this feast, but in 1568 hymns (3) and (4) were assigned by Pius V. The two hymns have never been adopted by the Carthusians, the Cistercians, the Dominicans, these last chanting at Lauds only the strophe from the abecedary of Sedulius (lines 37-40):

Caterva matrum personat
Collisa deflens pignora,
Quorum tyrannus millia
Christo sacravit victimas.

Clicthoue, Cassandre, Tommasi, favour the doxology:

Sit trinitati gloria,
Virtus, honor, victoria,
Quae dat coronam testibus
Per sæculorum sæcula --

But the Roman Breviary retains the usual doxology, which better connects the feast with its true background of the Christmas cycle. In selections of various length and arrangement, the "Salvete flores martyrum" was in ancient liturgical use, and substantially comprised both hymns (3) and (4) (Daniel, I, p. 124; IV, p. 120; Dreves, Anal. Hymn., L., p. 27, giving many manuscripts references, some dating back to the tenth century), and other strophes not now in use. The older breviaries inverted the order of Prudentius, placing the "Salvete flores" etc., before the "Audit tyrannus" etc.; but the Roman Breviary follows the original order, showing us at Matins the bloody spectacle, and at Lauds saluting the victors, the "flores martyrum". The Marquess of Bute's Roman Breviary (1879) gives Neale's translation

All hail! ye infant Martyr flowers!
Cut off in life's first dawning hours,
As rose-buds snapped in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Saviour's life.

The version has the value of retaining the similarity of rhythm with the original; but if ever a departure from this course is justifiable, Father Caswall has vindicated his action in changing the rhythm:

Flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Smitten by the tyrant foe
On life's threshold — as the gale
Strews the roses ere they blow.

Not to speak of the beauty and fidelity of the rendering, the trochaic rhythm vividly conveys the sense of suddenness of the onslaught, the ruthlessness and swiftness of the destruction, Caswall's version has been adopted by the (Baltimore) Manual of Prayers (with the first line changed into "Lovely flowers of Martyrs, hail!"). The Paris Breviary text had five strophes (exclusive of doxology), but altered the first strophe as follows (in order to avoid unpleasant elisions):

Salvete flores martyrum,
In lucis ipso limine
Quos sævus ensis messuit,
Ceu turbo nascentes rosas.

There are in all about twenty-five versions into English, of which about half are by Catholics.


JULIAN, Dict. of Hymnology (2nd ed.), 946, 1690, for first lines of translations, etc. To his list should be added the trans. of all four hymns in BAGSHAWE, Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences (London, 1900), and in DONAHOE, Early Christian Hymns (New York, 1908); also, HENRY, Hymns of the Holy Innocents in Ecclesiastical Review (Dec., 1896), 557-65, for Latin text and English versions and comment; KAYSER, Beiträge zur Geschichte u. Erklärung der ältesten Kirchenhymnen (Paderborn, 1881), 294-317, for texts of four hymns and extensive comment; PIMONT, Hymnes du bréviaire romain, II (Paris, 1878), 65-77, for texts and much comment on the hymns of the Holy Innocents; TRENCH, Sacred Latin Poetry (3rd ed., London, 1874), gives Latin text (in 36 lines) of no. (4); Hymns Ancient and Modern, historical ed. (London, 1909), nos. 72, 82, for Latin and English texts, musical settings, and comment on (2) and (4). The official or "typical" melodies for the four hymns will be found in the Antiphonary now passing through the Vatican press. No. 2 (p. 213) and no. 4 (p. 192) have appeared in proof sheets (1911).

Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Quicumque Christum Quæritis'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​q/quicumque-christum-quaeligritis.html. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.
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