Dies Irae

Dies Irae the famous Latin judgment hymn of the 13th or 14th century, which, in its received form reads as follows:

1. Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet sseclum in favilla, Teste David cum Sibylla.

2. Quantus tremor est futurus, Quando judex est venturus, Cuncta stricte discussurus?

3. Tuba, mirum spargens sonum Per sepulcra regionum, Coget omnes ante thronum.

4. Mors stupebit et nature, Quum resurget creatura, Judicanti responsura.

5. Liber scriptus proferetur, In quo totum continetur, Unde mundus judicetur.

6. Judex ergo quum sedebit, Quidqulid latet, apparebit, Nil inultum remanebit.

7. Quid sum miser tune dicturu, Quem patronumn rogatrus, Quum vix justus sit securus?

8. Rex tremendme majestatis, Qui salvandos ralvas gratis, Salva me, fons pietatis.

9. Recordare, Jesu pie, Quod sum causa tue vise, Ne me perdas illa die.

10. Quserens me sedisti lassus, Redemisti cruce passus: Tantus labor non sit cassus.

11. Juste judex ultionis, Donumr fac remissionis Ante diem rationis.

12. Ingemisco tanquam reus, Culpa rubet vultus meus: Supplicanti parce, Deus.

13. Qui Mariam absolvisti, Et latronem exaudisti, Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

14. Preces mean non sunt dignas, Sed tu, bone, fac benigne, Ne perenni cremer igne.

15. Inter oves locum preasta, Et ab hoedis me sequestra, Statuens in parte dextra.

16. Confutatis maledictis, Flammis acribus addictis, Voca me cum benedictis.

17. Oro supplex et acclinis, Cor contritum quasi cinis, Gere curam mei finis.

18. [Lacrimosa dies illa, Qua resurget ex favilla Judicandus homo reus; Huic ergo parce, Deus. Pie Jesu Domine Dona eis requiem. Amen.]

This is the text of the Roman Missal. The last six lines we consider as an addition by another hand from older hymns in public use. Daniel (Thesaurus hymnol. 2:103) gives two other forms; one considerably longer, from a marble slab in the Franciscan church at Mantua (first published by Mohnike, who, without good reason, considers it the original form), and commencing,

Cogita (Quseso) anima fidelis Ad quid respondere velis Christo venturo de coelis.

I. Contents. — The hymn is variously called Prosa de mortuis, De die judicii, In commemoratione defunctorunm, and is used in the Latin Church on the day of All Souls (Nov. 2), in masses for the dead, and on funeral solemnities. It is a judgment hymn, based upon the prophetic description of the great day of the Lord in Zep 1:15, according to the translation of the Vulgate: "DIES IRAE, DIES ILLA, dies tribulationis et angustie, dies calamitatis et miseriae, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulae et turbinis, dies tubae et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos." The first words of this passage furnished the beginning and the theme of the poem. The other Scripture passages which the author had in view are Ps 102:26; Ps 96:13; Ps 97:3, etc. (hence David is introduced in the third line of the first stanza as the Scripture prophet of that day); 2Pe 3:7-11 ("The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," etc. — hence in some versions Peter is substituted for David), and the descriptions which Christ himself gives of the general judgment (Mt 24; Mt 25). But the Sibyl is also mentioned, as the representative of the unconscious prophecies of heathenism, with allusion to the Sibylline oracle of the destruction of the world, commencing "Vae quas illa dies deprendit." This apocryphal feature, though somewhat repugnant to Protestant taste, and hence omitted or altered in many Protestant versions of the poem, is in perfect keeping with the patristic and scholastic use of the Sibylline oracles, the 4th Eclogue of Virgil, and other heathen testimonies of the same kind, for apologetic purposes. It is intended to give the idea of the judgment of the world a universal character, founded in the expectations of Gentiles, Jews, and Christians, and indicated by the light of reason as well as the voice of revelation. The medieval painters likewise place the Sibyl alongside of the prophets of Israel. The poem first describes the judgment as a certain fact, with its accompanying terrors then gives expression to the sense of guilt and dismay, and ends with a prayer for mercy, which prompted Christ to die for poor sinners, and to forgive the penitent thief.

II. Character and Value. — The Dies Irae is universally acknowledged to be the sublimest production of sacred Latin poetry, and the grandest judgment hymn of all times and tongues. Daniel (Thes. hymnol. ii, p. 112) justly styles it "uno omnium consensu sacrce poeseos summum decus et ecclesic Latinoe κειμήλιον pretiosissimum." "It would be difficult," says Coles, "to find, in the whole range of literature, a production to which a profounder interest attaches than to that magnificent canticle of the Middle Ages, the Dies Irae.... Of Latin hymns it is the best known, and the acknowledged masterpiece." The Germans call it the hymn of giants (Gigantenhymnus). In simplicity and faith it fully equals an older anonymous Latin judgment hymn of the seventh or eighth century, commencing Apparebit repentina magna dies Domini, while in lyric fervor and effect, as well as in majesty and terror, it far surpasses it and all the numerous imitations of later times. It stands solitary and alone in its glory, and will probably never be surpassed. It is truly "a thing of beauty that is a joy forever." Among poetic gems it is the diamond. It breathes, indeed, the mediaeval spirit of legalistic rather than of joyous evangelical piety, but otherwise it is quite free from every objectionable feature of Romanism, which cannot be said of the two famous Stabat Maters (the Mater doloroso and the recently discovered Mater speciosa), tinctured as these are with Mariolatry. It represents salvation as an act of the free grace of Christ, qui salvandos salvat gratis. Hence it is as much admired by Protestants as by Roman Catholics. The secret of its beauty and power lies first in the intensity of Christian feeling with which its great theme is handled. The poet feels, as an awful and overpowering reality, the coming judgment of the quick and the dead; he hears the trumpet of the archangel sounding through the open sepulchres; he sees the tumult and terror, the devouring flames and final wreck of the universe, the Judge seated in terrific majesty on the throne, with the open book of the deeds of ages, dividing the good from the bad, and pronouncing the irrevocable sentence of eternal weal and woe; and with the spirit of an humble penitent he pleads for mercy, mercy, mercy, at the hands of Him who pardoned the penitent thief in his dying hour. The poem is in the highest degree pathetic, a cry from the depth of personal experience, and irresistibly draws every reader into sympathetic excitement. That man is indeed to be pitied who can read it without shaking and quivering with emotion. It is pregnant with life, and brings us face to face with the awful scenes of the judgment day. "It is electrically charged, and contact is instantly followed by a shock and shuddering." The second element of its power lies in the inimitable form, which commands the admiration of every man of taste. Whatever there is of dignity, majesty, and melody in the old Roman tongue is here brought out and concentrated as in no other poem, heathen or Christian, and made subservient to the one grand idea of the poem. It is onomatopoetic, and echoes, as well as human language can do, the storm, and wrath, and wailing of the judgment day. Every word sounds like the solemn peal of an organ, or like the trumpet of the archangel summoning the dead to everlasting bliss or to everlasting woe. The stately meter the triple rhyme, the selection of the vowels in striking adaptation to the sense and feeling, heighten and complete the effect upon the ear and the heart of the hearer. The music of the vowel assonances and consonances, e.g. the double u in the 2d and 7th stanzas (futurus, venturus, discussurus; dicturus, rogaturus, securus); the o and u in the 3d stanza (sonum, regionum, thronum); and the i and e in the 9th stanza, defy the skill of the best translators in any language. We quote the judgments of eminent writers. "Quot sunt verba tot pondera, immo tonitrua," says Daniel. "Combining somewhat of the rhythm of classical Latin with the rhymes of the mediaeval Latin, treating of a theme full of awful sublimity, and grouping together the most startling imagery of Scripture as to the last judgment, and throwing this into yet stronger relief by the barbaric simplicity of the style in which it is set, and adding to all these its full and trumpet-like cadences, and uniting with the impassioned feelings of the south, whence it emanated, the gravity of the north, whose severer style it adopted, it is well fitted to arouse the hearer" (Dr. W. R. Williams). "The metre so grandly devised, of which I remember no other example, fitted though it has here shown itself for bringing out some of the noblest powers of the Latin language — the solemn effect of the triple rhyme, which has been likened to blow following blow of the hammer on the anvil the confidence of the poet in the universal interest of his theme, a confidence which has made him set: out his matter with so majestic and unadorned a plainness as at once to be intelligible to all-these merits, with many more, have combined to give the Dies Irae a high place, indeed one of the highest, among the masterpieces of sacred song" (Archbishop Trench). (Dr. Trench is mistaken when he says that there is no other example of this meter. There are some verses of striking resemblance attributed by some to St. Bernard, but pxobably of much later date:

"Cum recordor moriturus Quid post mortem sim futurus, Terror terret me venturus, Quem expecto non securus.

Terret dies me terroris, Dies irae ac furoris, Dies luctils ac mceroris, Dies ultrix peccatoris, Dies irae, dies illa.")

"Every line weeps. Under every word and syllable a living heart throbs and pulsates. The very rhythm, or that alternate elevation and depression of the voice which prosodists call the arsis and the thesis, one might almost fancy were synchronous with the contraction and the dilatation of the heart. It is more than dramatic. The horror and the dread are real; are actual, not acted" (A. Coles). "Diess schauerliche Gedicht," says Fred. von Meyer, "arm an Bildern, ganz Gefihl, schldgt wie sein Hammer mit drei geheimmnissvollen Reimkldngen an die Brust" ("This awful poem, poor in images, all feeling, beats the breast like a hammer with three mysterious rhyme-strokes"). "The Dies Irae," to quote from V. Cousin (Lectures on the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, p. 177), "recited only, produces the most terrible effect. In those fearful words every blow tells, so to speak; each word contains a distinct sentiment, an idea at once profound and determinate. The intellect advances at each step, and the heart rushes on in its turn." No wonder that literary men and secular poets have been captivated by the Dies Irae, as well as men in full religious sympathy with its solemn thoughts and feelings. Gothe introduces it with thrilling effect in the cathedral scene of Faust to stir up the conscience of poor Margaret, who is seized with horror at the thought of the sounding trump, the trembling graves, and the fiery torment. Dr. Johnson could never repeat the stanza ending, Tantus labor non sit cassus, without bursting into a flood of tears. The earl of Roscommon, "not more learned than good," in the moment in which he expired, uttered with the most fervent devotion two lines of his own version:

"My God, my Father, and my Friend, Do not forsake me in my end!"

Sir Walter Scott also happily reproduced some stanzas of the Dies Irae for his "Lay of the Last Minstrel," and was heard repeating them on his dying bed, when the strength of his body and mind was failing. The Dies Irae has also given rise to some of the greatest musical compositions of Palestrina, Durante, Pergolese, Haydn, Vogler, Winter, Cherubini, Gottfried Weber, Neukomm, and especially of Mozart, in his famous Requiem, during the composition of which he died (1791).

III. The Authorship of the Dies Irae cannot be certainly fixed. The writer evidently was unconcerned about his own fame. It is now, however, pretty generally assigned to the Franciscan monk Thomas a Celano (a little town in Abruzzo ulteriore, in Italy), the biographer of his intimate friend St. Francis of Assisi (see Acta Sanctorumi Oct., tom. ii). He was superior of the Franciscan convents of Cologne, Mayence, Worms, and Speyer, and died after A.D. 1255. The oldest testimony in favor of this view is taken from Bartholomaeus Albizzi of Pisa († 1401), in his Liber conformitatum of 1385, where he says: "Frater Thomas qui mandato apostolico scripsit sermone polito legendam primam beati Francisci, et PROSAM DE MORTUIS, QUAE CANTATUR IN MISSA, 'DIES IRAE,' ETC. DICITUR fecisse." This proves only that at that time the Dies Irae was part of the Missal, and was believed by some to be the work of Thomas. Lucas Wadding, in his Annals of the Franciscan order (1650), defends this tradition, and Mohnike, Rambach, Daniel, Koch, Palmer, Mone, Wackernagel, Coles, and other modern writers on the subject, adopt it as the most probable opinion. The rivalry of monastic orders has interfered with the question of authorship, and Dominicans and Benedictines have disputed the claims of the Franciscans. But there is no more or much less evidence for any of the other names which have been suggested, as Gregory the Great, St. Bernard, Bonaventura, Matthaeus a Aquasparta, Latinus Frangipani, Felix Hammerlin (Malleolus, of Zurich, 1389-1450), etc. It is certainly not older than 'Thomas a Celano, but rather of a later date; The extraordinary religious fervor which characterized the early history of the Franciscan order may be considered an argument of internal probability for the authorship of Thomas a Celano. If this be true, and if Jacopone is the author of the Stabat Mater (as asserted by L. Wadding), then we are indebted to the Franciscan order for the most sublime as well as for the most pathetic hymn of the Latin Church. Mone (Lateinische Hymnen des Mittelalters, 1853, 1:408) has suggested the idea that the Dies Irae arose, not, as heretofore supposed, simply from the individual contemplation of a monk in his lonely cell, but was inspired by older judgment hymns in public use, and was composed with an original view to the public service in missa Defunctorum. In one of them, which he found in a MS. at Reichenau from the 12th or 13th century, the passage occurs:

"Lacrimosa dies illa, Qua resurgens en favilla Homo reus judicandus, Jtistus autem coronandus."

The closing suspirium:

"Pie Jesu, Domine, Dona eis requiem,"

is likewise found in older hymns and Missals. Mone conjectures that the author of Dies Irae himself appended these lines from older sources to his poem, since they did not fit in his triple rhyme. Daniel (tom. 1:131, and v. 110) and Wackernagel (Das deutsche Kirchenlied von der dltesten Zeit, etc. 1:138) are disposed to adopt this view. But it seems much more probable that the original poem closed with Gere curam mei Jinis, and that the remaining six lines, with their different versification, and the change from the first to the third person (huic and eis), were added from an older funeral service already in use by the compilers of mediaeval Missals, and not by the author. Then we have a perfectly uniform production, which probably emanated from a subjective state of mind without regard to public use, but which soon found its way, on account of its intrinsic excellency, into the Church service, since the deepest subjectivity in lyric poetry is the best kind of objectivity. It certainly was in public use already in the 14th century in Italy, and gradually passed into the Church service of other countries, scattering along its track "the luminous footprints of its victorious progress as the subduer of hearts."

IV. Translations. — No poem has so often challenged and defied the skill of the best translators and imitators. The unusually large number of translations proves that none comes up to the original. Its music, majesty, and grandeur can only be imperfectly reproducad in modern languages. Its apparent artlessness and simplicity indicate that it can be turned readily into another language, but its secret power refuses to be thus transferred." The Germans have generally succeeded better than the English, owing to the larger number of double rhymes in the German language. But some English translations are admirable. Dr. Lisco, in a monograph on the Dies Irae, A.D. 1840, counted forty-four versions, mostly German, to which, three years afterwards, he added seventeen more. There must be at least thirty English versions which Dr. Lisco did not know. There is a Greek version by Hildner, a missionary of the Church of England (-ργῆς ἐκειν᾿ ἡμέρα, given by Daniel, 2:105). Of German versions we may mention those of A. W. von Schlegel (Ienen Tag, den Tag des Zoren), Bunsen (Tag des Zorns, o Tag voll Grauen), Knapp (two: An dem Zorntag, an dem hohen, and lenen Tag, den Tag der Wehen), Seld (Zorz und Zittern bange Klag ist), Daniel (two: Tag des Zorns, du Tag der Falle, and David und Sibylla spnicht), Toestrup (Zorntag, schrecklichster der Tage), Konigsfeld (An den Zorntag, jecnem hehren), J. P. Lange (lener Tag des Zorns, der Tage), Schaff (two in his Deutsche Kirchenfreund for 1858, p. 388 sq.: An dem Tag der Zornesfammen, and An dem Tag der Zornesfülle); also Herder, Fr. von Meyer, A. L. Follen, Wessenberg, Iarms, Doring, Stier. One German, Lecke, wrote twelve versions. The best English translators of the hymn are Richard Crashaw (his version is the oldest, made 1646, remarkable for strength, but differing from the measure of the original, "Heard'st thou, my soul, what serious things Both the Psalm and Sibyl sings"); the Earl of Roscommon ('The Day of wrath, that dreadful day"); Sir Walter Scott (only a part of it, but admirably done: "That day of wrath, that dreadful day"); Macaulay (1826, "On that great, that awful day"); archbishop Trench ('O that day, that day of ire" — a very close translation, though not in the double rhyme of the original); Dean Henry Alford (1845, "Day of anger, that dread day"'); Mrs. Charles (in 'The Voice of Christian Life in Song," 1864, "Lo, the day of wrath, the day"); Henry Mills ("Day of wrath-the sinner dooming"); Epes Sargent ("Day of ire, that day impending"); E. Caswall ("Nigher still, and stillmore nigh"); Isaiah Williams; Robert Davidson ("Day of wrath! that day is hasting"); W. G. Dix ("That day of wrath-upon that day"); Charles Rockwell ("Day of wrath! oh direful day"); J. H. Abrahall ("Day of wrath and tribulation,"' in the Christian Remembrancer for Jan. 1868, p. 159); W. J. Irons ("Day of wrath! O day of mourning," adopted in the "Hymnal Noted"); W. R. Williams ("Day of wrath! that day dismaying."); Edward Slosson ("Day of wrath! of days that day"); Erastus C. Benedict (two, "Day of wrath! that final day," and "Day of threatened wrathfrom heaven"); Gen. John A. Dix (1862, "Day of vengeance, without morrow" — an eclectic translation, the rhymes being selected from other versions, especially those of Coles and Irons). Among these translators, America is well represented by W. R.

Williams, Slosson, Davidson, Rockwell, Mills, Sargent, W. G. and John A. Dix, Benedict. But the palm among translators belongs to an American layman, Abraham Coles, a physician at Newark, New Jersey, who prepared no less than thirteen distinct versions, all good in their way, six of which are in the trochaic measure and double rhyme of the original; five like in rhythm, but in single rhyme; one in iambic triplets, like Roscommon's; the last in quatrains, like Crashaw's version. The first two appeared anonymously in the Newark Daily Advertiser, 1847, and a part of one found its way into Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the other into H. W. Beecher's "Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes." They are now all published together with an Introduction, and a photograph picture of Michael Angelo's famous Last Judgment. Of the many translations, we select in conclusion one which is less known than it deserves to be, from the pen of the Rev. Dr. W. R. Williams, a Baptist clergyman of New York, which appeared, with a valuable note on Dies Irae, in his Miscellanies, 2d edit. N. Y. 1850, p. 8890. The author kindly consents to its use here, with a few changes, and the modest remark: "Its imperfections are excusable only from its having preceded the more finished rendering of my friend, Dr. Abraham Coles, of Newark, N. J."

1. Day of wrath! that day dismaying; As the seers of old were saying, All the world in ashes laying.

2. What the fear! and what the quaking! When the Judge his way is taking, Strictest search in all things making.

3. When the trump, with blast astounding, Through the tombs of earth resounding, Bids all stand, the throne surrounding.

4. Death and Nature all aghast are, While the dead rise fast and faster, Answering to their Judge and Master.

5 Forth is brought the record solemn; See, o'erwrit in each dread column, With man's deeds, the Doomsday volume.

6. Now the Sovereign Judge is seated; All, long hid, is loud repeated; Naught escapes the judgment meted.

7. Ah! what plea shall I be pleading? Who for me be interceding, When the just man help is needing?

8. Oh, thou King of awful splendor, Of salvation free the Sender, Grace to me, all gracious, render.

9. Jesus, Lord, my plea let this be, Mine the woe that brought from bliss Thee, On that day, Lord, wilt Thou miss me?

10. Wearily for me Thou soughtest; On the cross my soul Thou boughtest; Lose not all for which Thou wroughtest!

11. Vengeance, Lord, then be Thy mission: Now, of sin grant free remission Ere that day of inquisition.

12. Low in shame before Thee groaning; Blushes deep my sin are owning: Hear, O Lord, my suppliant moaning!

13. Her of old that sinned forgiving, And the dying thief receiving, Thou, to me too, hope art giving.

14. In my prayer though sin discerning, Yet, good Lord, in goodness turning, Save me from the endless burning!

15. 'Mid Thy sheep be my place given; Far the goats from me be driven: Lift, at Thy right hand, to heaven.

16. When the cursed are confounded, With devouring flame surrounded, With the blest be my name sounded.

17. Low, I beg, as suppliant bending; With crushed heart, my life forth spending; Lord, be nigh me in my ending!

18. Ah that day! that day of weeping! When in dust no longer sleeping, Man to God in guilt is going — Lord, be then Thy mercy showing!

V. Literature. — G. C. F. Mohnike, Kirchen-und literarhistorische Studien und Mittheilungen, Bd. i, Heft. i (Beitrage zur alten kirchlichen Hymnologie, Stralsund, 1824, p. 1-100); G.W. Fink, Thomas von Celano in Ersch und Gruber's Encyclop. sec. i, Bd. xvi, p. 7-10; F. G. Lisco, Dies Irae, Hymnus avf das Weltgericht, Berlin, 1840 (to this must be added an appendix to the same author's monograph on the Stabat Mater, Berlin, 1843, where he notices 17 additional translations of the Dies Irae); W. R. Williams, Miscellanies (N.Y. 1850, p. 78 -90); H. A. Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus (Lips. 1855, 2:103-131; v. 1856, 110-116); C. E. Koch, ant. Dies Irae in Herzog's Theol. Encyklop. (1855), 3, 387, 388 (brief); Abraham Coles, Dies Irae in thirteen original Versions, with Photographic Illustrations (N. Y. 4th ed. 1866). Compare also the anonymous publication, The seven great Hymns of the Medioeval Church (N. Y. 3d ed. 1867, p. 44-97), where seven English translations of the Dies Irae are given, viz. those of Gen. Dix, two of Coles, Roscommon, Crashaw, Irons, and Slosson.

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