Hora novissima, tempora pessima

Hora novissima, tempora pessima

Author: Bernard of Cluny
Published in 1 hymnal

Author: Bernard of Cluny

Bernard of Morlaix, or of Cluny, for he is equally well known by both titles, was an Englishman by extraction, both his parents being natives of this country. He was b., however, in France very early in the 12th cent, at Morlaix, Bretagne. Little or nothing is known of his life, beyond the fact that he entered the Abbey of Cluny, of which at that time Peter the Venerable, who filled the post from 1122 to 1156, was the head. There, so far as we know, he spent his whole after-life, and there he probably died, though the exact date of his death, as well as of his birth is unrecorded. The Abbey of Cluny was at that period at the zenith of its wealth and fame. Its buildings, especially its church (which was unequalled by any in France); the serv… Go to person page >

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First Line: Hora novissima, tempora pessima
Author: Bernard of Cluny


Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemu. Bernard of Cluny. [The Heavenly Jerusalem.] This magnificent poem, evidently inspired by the last two chapters of the Revelation of St. John, was composed in the Abbey of Cluny, about 1145, and extends to about 3000 lines. It is found in a 13th century manuscript in the Bodleian (Digby 65, f. 42).
i. Publication. It was included by Flacius Illyriciis, in his Varia poemata de corrupto Ecclesiae statu, Basel, 1556. Illyricus was an ardent and enthusiastic Reformer; and as the greater part of the poem "is a bitter satire on the fearful corruptions of the age," it answered his purpose to use it in this manner. It was subsequently reprinted at Bremen, 1597; at Rostock, 1610; at Leipzig, 1626; at Lüneburg, 1640; in Wachler's New Theological Annals, December, 1820; and in Mohnike's Studien, 1824. In Trench's Sacred Latin Poetry, 1849, 96 lines were given, beginning with "Hie breve vivitur" (from which Dr. Neale's first translation was made); and in Dr. Neale's Rhythm of Bernard de Morlaix, Monk of Cluny, on the Celestial Country, 1858, there are 218 lines. In Daniel, ii. 380; Bässler, No. 139; Königsfeld, ii. 262; Simrock, p. 286, there are also extracts from the poem. The original is dedicated to Peter the Venerable, the General of the Order to which St. Bernard belonged, and is entitled, "De contemptu mundi." (Dr. Schaff, in his Library of Religious Poetry, 1883, p. 981, says this poem was printed in Paris in 1483. We have not seen this edition.)
ii. Design and Execution. Bernard states his argument thus:—

"The subject of the author is the Advent of Christ to Judgment: the joys of the Saints, the pains of the reprobate. His intention, to persuade to the contempt of the world. The use, to despise the things of the world: to seek the things which be God's. He fortifies his exordium with the authority of the Apostle John, saying, 'Little children, it is the last time'; where he endeavours to secure aforehand the favour of his readers, by setting the words of the Apostle before his own. At the commencement he treats of the Advent of the Judge, to render them in earnest, and by the description of celestial Joy, he makes them docile.' (Neale's Rhythm, &c, Preface.)

The execution of the poem, written as it was in "a rhythm of intense difficulty," was attained, as the author believed, through special divine grace and inspiration. His words in his dedicatory epistle are;—

"Often and of long time I had heard the Bridegroom, but had not listened to Him, saying—‘Thy voice is pleasant in Mine ears.' And again the Beloved cried out, ‘Open to Me, My sister.' What then? 1 arose, that I might open to my Beloved. And I said, 'Lord, to the end that my heart may think, that my pen may write, and that my mouth may set forth Thy praise, pour both into my heart and pen and mouth Thy grace.' And the Lord said, 'Open thy mouth.' Which Ho straightway filled with the spirit of wisdom and understanding; that by one I might speak truly, by the other perspicuously. And I say it in nowise arrogantly, but with all humility, and therefore boldly: that unless that Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding had been with me, and flowed in upon so difficult a metre, I could not have composed so long a work. For that kind of metre, continuous dactylic (except the final trochee or spondee), preserving also, as it does, the Leonine sonorousness, had almost, not to say altogether, grown obsolete through its difficulty. For Hildebert of Laverdin, who from his immense learning was first raised to the Episcopate and to the Metropolitan dignity; and Vuichard, Canon of Lyons, excellent versifiers, how little they wrote in this metre, is manifest to all." (Neale's Rhythm, &c, Preface.)

The poem is written in dactylic hexameters, with the leonine (sometimes a trisyllable or dactylic), and tailed rhyme, each line being broken up into three parts thus:—

“Hora novissima || tempora pessima || sunt: vigilemus I Eccc min&citer || imminet Arbiter || ille snpremus! Imminet, imminet || ut mala terminet || aequa coronet Recta reuaxneret || anxia liberet || aethera donet."

iii. Merit. The two great authorities on this matter are Archbishop Trench and Dr. Neale. Referring to the numerous editions of the poem, the former says:—

"This is not wonderful; for no one with a sense for the true passion of poetry, even when it manifests itself in forms the least to his liking, will deny the breath of a real inspiration to the author of these dactylic hexameters." (Sacred Latin Poetry, edition 1814, p. 310.)

Archbishop Trench, whilst thus highly commending the poems, condemns the metre, and points out “its want of progress":—

"The poet, instead of advancing, eddies round and round his subject, recurring again and again to that which he seemed to have thoroughly treated and dismissed." (Ibid. p. 311.)

In a note on his lines 45-58, he also says:—

”In these lines [‘Urbs Syon aurea'] the reader will recognise the original of that lovely hymn, which within the last few years has been added to those already possessed by the Church. A new hymn which has won such a place in the affections of Christian people as has “Jerusalem the golden is so priceless an acquisition that I must needs rejoice to have been the first to recall from oblivion the poem which yielded it." (Ibid. p. 314.)

Dr. Neale says concerning the poem as a whole, and specially of that portion which he has translated:—

“The greater part is a bitter satire on the fearful corruptions of the age. But as a contrast to the misery and pollution of earth, the poem opens with a description of the peace and glory of heaven, of such rare beauty, as not easily to be matched by any mediaeval composition on the same subject." (Mediaeval Hymns, 3rd edition, p. 68.)

iv. Translations. The first to translate any portion of the poem into English was Dr. Neale, and no translation but his is in common use at the present time. His first translation was of the 96 lines in Trench's Sacred Latin Poetry, beginning with "Hie breve vivitur " ("Brief life is here our portion"). This was published in his Mediaeval Hymns, 1851, p. 53. In 1858 he published The Rhythm of Bernard de Morlaix, Monk of Cluny, on the Celestial Country, in which he gave 218 lines from the original, beginning with the first ("Hora novissuna"), a translation of the same, and an interesting Preface. The translation and the Preface (slightly altered) were re¬peated in the 2nd edition of his Mediaeval Hymns, 1863. From one or the other of these two works the centos following have been taken:—
i. Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemus = The world is very evil. This is the opening of several centos, all compiled from the first portion of the Rhythm, but composed of varying stanzas. Taken together they are in extensive use,
ii. Hie breve vivitur, hio breve plaugitur, hie breve flotur = Brief life is here our portion. This cento varies from five stanzas in the Hymns and Introits, 1853, to twelve stanzas in the 1869 Appendix to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Psalms & Hymns. No common rule is adhered to as to the number of stanzas or the order in which they are arranged: but in its various forms it is found in upwards of an hundred collections in Great Britain and America.
iii. 0 bona Patria, lumina sobria te speculantur = (1) For thee, 0 dear, dear country. (2) For thee, sweet, heavenly country. (3) For thee, 0 heavenly country. In common with the foregoing, these centos vary both in length and arrangement of stauzas. These centos are in more extensive use than those under No. ii.
iv. 0 sacra potio = 0 happy, holy portion, In the 1862 Appendix to the Hymnal Noted.
V. Urba Syon aurea, Patria lactea, cive decora = Jerusalem the golden. The centos beginning with this stanza are not so numerous as those in Nos. ii. and iii., but their use in all English-speaking countries exceed every other portion of the poem.
vi. Urba Syon inclyta, gloria debita glorificandis = Jerusalem the glorious. In comparison with the foregoing the centos which begin with this stanza are not in extensive use.
vii. Urba Syon unica, mansio mystica, condita coelo= Jerusalem the onely. This is given in the Appendix to the Hymnal Noted, 1862.
viii. Urba Syon inclyta, turns et edita littore tuto = Jerusalem exulting. This is given in a few collections only.
Taken together these centos, compiled from one translation of 218 Latin lines, present a result unique in hymnody. Without doubt the ballad measure adopted by Dr. Neale has had much to do with this popularity; but the translation possesses features of excellence which have won the approval of those for whom the ballad measure has no attractions.
The changes made in the text by various compilers are somewhat numerous. The best are those in Thring's Collection, 1882, including the re-translation by Prebendary Taring of the concluding eight lines of the original, as in Dr. Neale's Rhythm; and the worst, in Dr. Neale's judgment, those in the Sarum Hymnal, 1868.
The translations not in common use are:—
1. The last of the hours iniquity towers. By Dr. A. Coles, Newark, New Jersey, 1866.
2. These are the latter times, these are not better times: Let us stand waiting. By S.A.W. Duffield, 1867.
3. Here we have many fears, this is the vale of tears, the land of sorrow. G. Moultrie, in the Church Times; and Lyra Mystica, 1865.
4. Earth very evil is; time through the last of his journeys is hasting. Translation of the whole poem. Jackson Mason, 1880.
5. Hail Zion, city of our God, &c. ("Urba Syon Inclyta.") D. T. Morgan, 1880.
Although these translations are very much nearer the original than Dr. Neale's, and, in the case of Duffield and Moultrie, follow the metro of Bernard, yet there is little if any prospect of any of these being adopted for use in public worship.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)


Hora novissima, tempora pessima, p. 533, i. It is also in the British Museum mss. Cleopatra, A. viii., f. 5 (circa 1100), and Harl. 4092 f. 4u b (12th cent.); the Bibl. Nat. Paris manuscript Lat. 14866 of the 12th century, and others of later date. The complete text is also in T. Wright's Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets, Lond. 1872, ii. pp. S-102. Centos from Dr. Neale's translation of the poem, additional to those given on p. 534, include:—
1. To thee, O better country. In the Salisbury H. Book, 1857.
2. O sweet and blessed country. In Hymns & Songs of Praise, N. Y., 1874.
3. Jerusalem the holy. In T. Darling's Hymns, 1889.
4. The world is old and sinful. In the Baptist Hymnal 1879.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907)

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