Text: St. Ambrose of Milan (?) (c. 339–397)
Music: Traditional plainchant
Tune name: AETERNA CHRISTI MUNERA
This hymn was traditionally sung at Matins on Feasts of Martyrs, Apostles, and Evangelists. It has been traced back to the time of St. Ambrose, but may not be one of his own compositions. The English version we sing is based on a translation by John Mason Neale (1818–1866). Our Hymnal includes six of the original eight stanzas.
1. The eternal gifts of Christ the King,
the martyrs’ glorious deeds, we sing;
and all, with hearts of gladness, raise
due hymns of thankful love and praise.
2. The princes of the Church are they,
triumphant leaders in the fray;
in heaven’s hall a victor band,
true lights that lighten every land.
3. They braved the terrors of the time,
no torment shook their faith sublime;
soon, holy death bro’t peace and rest
and light eternal with the blest.
4. Theirs is the steadfast faith of saints,
the hope that never yields or faints;
the perfect love of Christ they know:
these lay the prince of this world low.
5. In them the Father’s glory shone;
in them the Spirit’s will was done,
the Son himself exults in them;
joy fills the new Jerusalem.
6. Redeemer, hear us of thy love,
That, with thy martyr host above,
thy servants, too, may find a place,
and reign forever through thy grace.
The plainchant melody to which these words are set takes its name from the first few words of the original Latin text, AETERNA CHRISTI MUNERA.
The Latin stanzas of the original chant are sung here by the Renaissance Singers, directed by Michael Howard.
This melody was used as the cantus firmus in a setting of the Mass composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594). Missa Aeterna Christi Munera is sung here by the Oxford Camerata, directed by Jeremy Summerly.