Aurelius Prudentius (348–413)
Now With Creation's Morning Song
Now with creation’s morning song
Let us, as children of the day,
With wakened heart and purpose strong,
The works of darkness cast away.
O may the morn so pure, so clear,
Its own sweet calm in us instill!
A guileless mind, a heart sincere,
Simplicity of word and will.
And ever, as the day glides by,
May we the busy senses rein;
Keep guard upon the hand and eye,
Nor let the conscience suffer stain.
Grant us, O God, in love to Thee,
Clear eyes to measure things below;
Faith, the invisible to see;
And wisdom, Thee in all to know.
Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (whose name is sometimes shown with a prefix of "Marcus") was a Roman Christian poet. He was born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain). The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta Saragossa, Tarraco Tarragona, or Calagurris Calahorra. He came of a distinguished Christian family and received an excellent education, studied law, became an office-holder and rose rapidly, was twice governor of a province, and finally received high office at the court of Theodosius. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food. He decided to devote himself to poetry in the service of religion and the Church. He collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.
Aurelius Prudentius' earliest poems are the twelve hymns contained in the Cathemerinon (for use in the morning, at meals, and at night, from which the collection took its name). The model of Prudentius in poetry was Ambrose, though there is a distinct independent development. He employs the events of the times, and is not restricted to the forms of verse used by Ambrose. While his verse is popular, the lyrical element often recedes in consequence of the introduction of the didactic and epic admixture. A second collection, the Peristephanon, shows still greater originality and variety of verse form. This celebrates Spanish and Roman martyrs, and may have been influenced by the inscriptions of Damasus, which celebrated the martyrs. The epic and dramatic elements here are quite pronounced. There are extant also two didactic-polemic poems: Apotheosis, in 1,408 hexameters, exalts the deity of Christ against Patripassians, Sabellians, Jews, and Eremites; Hamartigenia, in 966 hexameters, deals with the origin of evil in a polemic against Marcion's gnostic dualism. Both of these lean on Tertullian. He also left a purely polemic work in two books (657 and 1,132 hexameters) called Contra Symmachum, in which he combats the heathen state religion. It is under the influence of Ambrose's epistle against Symmachus. All three of these lastnamed contained passages of beauty, but the Hamartigenia is the noblest. A fourth work, of slight esthetic interest, but important from a literaryhistorical point of view (915 hexameters), is the Psychomachia, the first example in the West of allegorical poetry, setting forth the conflict of Christian virtues with heathen vices. It comes out of the times of the author and portrays the life of those times, and had a great influence during the Middle Ages. Finally, there is extant a collection of forty-nine quatrains in hexameter with the title Dittochtæon, which sets forth a Biblical picture in each quatrain. It has been supposed that these explain decorations in the basilica attended by the author, twenty-four Old-Testament pictures on one side, twenty-four from the New Testament on the other, and one in the apse.
The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His Christmas plainsong hymn Divinum Mysterium ("Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany O sola magnarum urbium ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today. The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work and became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature.