Aeterne Rex altissime, Redemptor. [Ascension.] The text of this hymn has been so altered at various times that the true original and the origin of its various forms are most difficult to determine. The researches of the best hymnologists, when summarized, give the following results:
1. Daniel, vol. i. No. 162, gives the text in 7 stanzas of 4 lines and a doxology, from a 13th century manuscript at Wurzburg; interpolating therewith 6 stanzas, which are only found in the Mozarabic Breviary He adds in parallel columns, the revised text of the Roman Breviary 1632.
2. The Roman Breviary form has continued down to and is in use at the present time, as the hymn at Matins for the Ascension-day, and from thence daily till Whitsun Day, unless the Festival of an Apostle or Evangelist interrupts the usual order. It is composed of stanzas i., iii., vi., vii., x., xi.,xii. and xiii., of the old form, somewhat altered. This text is in all modern editions of the Roman Breviary and Card. Newman's Hymni Eccl., 1838 and 1865.
3. We have next the Hymnarium Sarisburiense, Lond., 1851, pp. 101-2, where it is given as the Hymn at Vespers on the Vigil of the Ascension, and daily to Whitsuntide: also at Matins on the Feast of the Ascension itself. Variations are added from the York Breviary, which assigns it to the first and second Vespers of the Ascension,
And throughout the Octave.—-&. Alban's, "to the Ascension of the Lord at Vespers;"— Worcester, "the Ascension of the Lord at Matins," &c. Different readings are also given from a Canterbury manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon times.
4. Mone, No. 171, gives stanzas i.-iv. of the old text from manuscripts of the 14th and 15th century at Karlsruhe. This form he holds is by St. Ambrose. In addition he gives at No. 172, stanzas v.-vii. from manuscripts of the 14th and 15th cenuryt, at Karlsruhe, &c, and holds that they are not by St. Ambrose, and yet by a writer of the 5th cent. The Mozarabic Breviary stanzas he considers to be the work of a Spanish imitator of Prudentius of the 5th century
5. It is also in the Mozarabic Breviary 1502, f. 135; in an 11th cent. manuscript in the British Museum (Jul. A. vi. f. 51); and in another of the same cent. (Vesp. D. xii. f. 756). In the Latin Hymns of the Anglo-Saxon Church, 1851, p. 90, it is printed from a Durham manuscript of the 11th century.
In 1855, Daniel, iv. pp. 79-83, gave an extensive note on this hymn, dealing with its complex authorship, &c. He entered fully and with much feeling into the verbal and metrical questions which led him to oppose some of the opinions of Mone on the authorship, &c, of the hymn. The note is too long for quotation, but may be consulted with advantage. The hymn "Tu Christe nostrum gaudium" is a portion of this hymn. It begins with line 17. [Rev.W. A. Shoults, B. D.]
Translations in common use:—
1. Eternal King of heaven on high. By Bp. R. Mant, from the Roman Breviary, first published in his Ancient Hymns, 1837, p. 66, in 8 stanzas of 4 lines. This is sometimes given in an abbreviated form, as in the Gainsburgh Collection, &c, 2nd edition 1854.
2. 0 Thou Eternal King most high. By E. Caswall, from the Roman Breviary, given in his Lyra Catholica, 1849, p. 101, and again in his Hymns & Poems, 1873, p. 57, in 8 stanzas of 4 lines. (see orig. translation) In 1858, 6 stanzas were included in the Scottish Episcopal Collection, No. 81, in Chope's Hymnal, 1864, and others, and in full with alterations in the Hymnary, 1872. Another altered form is, "0 Thou most high! Eternal King," in the Irvingite Hymns for the use of the Churches, 1864. Some of these alterations are borrowed from Johnston's translation of 1852. Caswall's translation is extensivelv used in Roman Catholic hymnals for Schools and Missions.
3. King Eternal, power unbound. By W. J. Copeland, from the Roman Breviaryin his Hymns for the Week, &c, 1848, in 8 stanzas of 4 lines. This was included in Stretton's Church Hymns, 1850, unaltered. In an altered form, "King Supreme! of power unbounded," it appeared in Rorison's Hymns & Anthems, 1851, and later editions.
4. 0 King eternal, Lord most High. By J. A. Johnston, in his English Hymnal, 1852, No. 118. It is also in later editions.
5. Eternal Monarch, King most High. By J. M. Neale, from the Sarum Breviary, published in the Hymnal Noted 1852, No. 31. It is included in the Hymner, 1882, No. 67. After undergoing considerable alterations by the compilers of Hymns Ancient & Modern, it came forth in the first edition 1861, as "0 Lord
most High, eternal King." This is repeated in the revised edition, 1875, and other collections.
6. Christ above all glory seated. By Bp. J. R. Woodford, made for and first published in his Hymns arranged for the Sundays, &c, 1852, in 6 stanzas of 4 lines. (2nd edition 1855.) In 1857 it was repeated in Chope's Hymnal; in 1863 and 1875, in the Parish Hymn Book, and also in Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Psalms & Hymns; Sarum; Church Hymns; Thring's Collection and others. It is somewhat indebted to Copeland's translation, two or three lines being verbatim therefrom. It is the most popular of all the versions of this hymn.
In Murray's Hymnal, 1852, an attempt was made to represent all the 8 stanzas of the Roman Breviary by compiling a cento thus: stanzas i., ii., iii., Bp. Woodford; stanzas iv., v., vi., Copeland, slightly altered: stanzas vii., viii., Bp. Woodford; but it has gone almost, if not altogether, out of common use.
7. Most High and Everlasting King. By R. F. Littledale, from the Sarum Breviary, made for and first published in the People's Hymnal, 1867, No. 140, and signed, in the Index "P. C. E."
8. 0 King eternal, King most high. By S. Eugene Tolet, from the Roman Breviary in the Wellington College Hymn Book, 1860, and later editions.
Translations not in common use:—
1. 0 Saviour Christ, 0 God most high. Primer, 1706.
2. 0 King eternal, God most High. Blew, 1852.
3. Eternal Monarch! Lord Supreme. Chambers. 1857, i. 192.
4. Most high and everlasting Lord. F. Trappes, 1865.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)