veni, Sancte Spiritus.
Source: Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New #948
Veni Sancte Spiritus, Et emitte coelitus. Innocent III. (?). [Whitsuntide.] In annotating this beautiful Sequence we shall deal i. with its Merits, ii. with the manuscript in which it is contained, iii. with its Authorship, and iv. with the Variations in its Use.
i. Merits. The opinion of critics is unanimous in regarding this Sequence as one of the masterpieces of Latin sacred poetry. Olichtovaeus (Elucidatorium, Paris, 1516, f. 171), says of it:—
"Nor indeed, in my opinion, can this piece be sufficiently praised; for it is above all praise, whether by reason of its wonderful sweetness along with a most clear and flowing style, or by reason of its agreeable brevity along with wealth and profusion of ideas, especially as almost every line expresses one idea, or finally by reason of the elegant grace of its structure, in which things contrasted are set over against each other, and most aptly linked together. And I well believe that the author (whoever he was), when he composed this piece, had his soul transfused by a certain heavenly sweetness, by which, the Holy Spirit being its author, he uttered so much sweetness in so few words."
And Archbishop Trench, in his Sacred Latin Poetry (ed. 1864, p. 195) speaks of it as:—
"The loveliest... of all the hymns in the whole circle of Latin sacred poetry," adding that it "could only have been composed by one who had been acquainted with many sorrows, an t also with many consolations."
In Mediaeval times it was often called the Golden Sequence. It is not indeed distinguished by great and absolute originality of idea, for in its leading thoughts it was clearly influenced by earlier pieces. But it combines a stately grace, a perfect rhythmic melody, and a faculty of saying just the right thing in just the fitting words, in such a measure as to disarm criticism, and at once to defy comparison with any other hymn in any other language, and to make it almost impossible to present an adequate translation. It is in five stanzas, each consisting of six lines of seven-syllable trochaic verse (trochaic dimeter catalectic).
ii. MSS. The manuscripts also show that this Sequence does not date from the earliest period of Sequence-writing. It is indeed found in four manuscripts at St. Gall, which, for the most part, date from the 11th century; but Herr Idtensohn, the librarian, having kindly examined these manuscripts, informs me that in no case is this Sequence in a hand earlier than the 13th century. He adds that it is "everywhere a piece inserted by another, later, hand than that of the ms. volume in general." This agrees with what we have otherwise observed. Up to the present time this sequence has not been found in any manuscript earlier than 1200.
iii. Authorship. Here critics are very far from being at one. The French tradition as a rule has not attempted to affix any author's name to the sequence. It has, however, by others been ascribed to a variety of authors, e. g. (1) to Robert II. of France, (2) to Hermannus Contractus, (3) to Archbishop Stephen Langton, and (4) to Pope Innocent III. The whole evidence as to authorship may be summed up thus. The Sequence is clearly not earlier than about the beginning of the 13th century. It is certainly neither by Robert II. nor by Hermannus Contractus. The most probable author is Innocent III.
iv. Use. As already stated the "Veni Sancte Spiritus" is not found in any of the very early Missals or Sequentiaries. When it began to come into use it did not at once displace the older Whitsuntide sequence, i.e. the "Sancti Spiritus adsit," for that continued, as a rule, to be used on Whitsunday up till the revision of the Roman Missal in 1568-70. Consequently the "Veni Sancte," though occasionally used on Whitsunday (as in the Breslau Missal of 1483), was almost universally appointed for use on one or more of the immediately succeeding week days.
Finally it had the honour of being chosen as one of the four sequences which were alone retained in the Roman Missal of 1570, and is there appointed for use on Whitsunday and also throughout the week, the text happily being left unaltered both at that time and at the subsequent revision under Urban VIII. (1634).
The Veni Sancte Spiritus, Et, has frequently been translated into German. Through two of these versions it has passed into English as follows:—
i. Heilger Geist, du Tröster mein. This is a full and good translation by Martin Moller, in his Meditationes sanctorum pat rum, Görlitz, 1584, where it is entitled "A very beautiful prayer to God the Holy Ghost;” and thence in Wackernagel, v. p. 55. Translated as:—
1. Holy Ghost! my Comforter. This is a full and very good translation from Bunsen by Miss Winkworth, in her Lyra Germanica, 1st Ser., 2nd ed., 1856, p. 103, and her Chorale Book for England, 1863 (with st. v. rewritten
2. Holy Comforter Divine. By Miss Borthwick, omitting st. ii., iv., vi., ix., as No. 97 in Dr. Pagenstecher's Collection, 1864.
Another translation is: "O Holy Ghost! Thou fire Divine." By Miss Winkworth, 1855, p. 103.
ii. Komm, o heil'ger Geist, und wehe. By Cardinal Melchior von Diepenbrock. Translated as "Come, O Holy Ghost, and breathe." By J. Kelly, in his Hymns of the Present Century from the German, 1885, p. 69. [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]
The Veni Santus Spiritus Et has also been traslated direct from the Latin into English as follows:—
1. Come, Holy Spirit, send down those beams Which gently flow in silent streams. By J. Austin, in his Devotions in the Antient Way of Offices, &c, 1668, p. 410.
2. Holy Spirit, from on high, Come, and from the opening sky. By W. J. Copeland, in his Hymns for the Week, &c, 1848, p. 105. It was repeated in the Salisbury Hymn Book, 1857, and others.
3. Come, O promised Comforter. By A.T. Russell, in the Dalston German Hospital Hymn Book, 1848, and his Psalms & Hymns, 1851, No. 126, in 3 stanzas of 6 lines.
4. Holy Spirit, Lord of Light. By E. Caswall, in his Lyra Catholica, 1849, p. 234, and his Hymns and Poems, 1873, p. 123. It is found in several hymnbooks in its full and unaltered form, and also altered and abridged as:—
(1) Come, Thou Holy Spirit, come. This arrangement was given in the trial edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1859, and again in the 1st ed., 1861.
(2) Holy Spirit, Lord of Life.
(3) Holy Spirit, come in might. This is given in the S. P. C. K. Church Hymns, 1871, with the omission of Caswall's st. iii., iv., to the great injury of the hymn. There are also several uncalled for alterations.
(4) Come, Thou Spirit of all light.
5. Come, Holy Spirit, from the height. By F. W. Faber, in his Jesus and Mary, 1849, and his Hymns, 1862. It is given in a few Roman Catholic hymnals for Missions and Schools.
6. Come, 0 Spirit, Lord of grace. By R. Campbell, in his Hys. and Anthems, 1850, p. 80, in 7 stanzas of 3 lines. This is in one or two hymnals only.
7. Holy Spirit, from on high, On our deep obscurity. By G. Rorison in his Hymns and Anthems, 1851, No. 95, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines.
8. Come, Thou Holy Paraclete. By J. M. Neale, in the Hymnal Noted, 2nd ed., 1854, in 10 stanzas of 3 lines. This translation has passed into a large number of hymnals, and ranks next in popularity to that by E. Caswall noted above.
9. Come, Holy Ghost! in love, Shed on us from above. By Ray Palmer.
10. Holy Spirit, come, we pray. By W. Mercer, in the 1864 ed. of his Church Psalm and Hymn BookNo. 222, in 10 stanzas of 3 lines.
11. Come, Thou Holy Spirit, nigh; Leave Thy blissful throne on high. By R. C. Singleton, in his Anglican Hymn Book, 1868, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines.
12. Holy Spirit, God of light! Come, and on our inner sight. By H. M. Macgill, in The Juvenile Mission Magazine of the United Presbyterian Church, Jan., 1868.
13. Holy Spirit, Fire divine. By F. H. Hedge, in the Unitarian Hymn [and Tune] Book, Boston, 1868, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines.
14. Come, Holy Spirit, from above, And from the realms of light and love. By A. P. Stanley, in Macmillan’s Magazine, June, 1873.
15. Holy Spirit, come and shine Sweetly in this heart of mine. By S. W. Duffield, contributed to Laudes Domini, N. Y., 1884. Another rendering by the same translator is given in his Latin Hymn-Writers, &c, N. Y., 1889, as "Come, Holy Spirit, And send forth the heavenly, &c."
16. Holy Spirit, on us rest. This in T. Darling's Hymns for the Church of England, revised edition, 1889, is a cento from Copeland and Caswall.
Other translations are:—
1. Come unto us holy Goste, Send us frō the heavēly coste. Primer (Antwerp), 1599 and 1615.
2. Shine heav'nly Dove, descend, and dwell. Primer (London ?), 1706.
3. Come, Holy Ghost, and send forth the Beams. Prose tr. in the Evening Office, 1760.
4. Come, 0 Holy Spirit, down, Send from heaven, &c. A. D. Wackerbath, 1843.
5. Come, Holy Ghost, to us send down, Like rays of light, &c. J. R. Beste, 1849.
6. Come, Holy Spirit, from above, In fulness of the Father's love. Jane E. Leeson, 1853.
7. What is impure, rectify. By W. Graham. A partial translation in his The Jordan and the Rhine, 1854.
8. Come, 0 Holy Ghost! inspire Hallowed thought and pure desire. J. D. Chambers, 1851 and 1857.
9. Holy Spirit, come, we pray, Come from heaven and shed the ray. Elizabeth Charles, 1858.
10. Come, O Spirit! Fount of grace. E. A. Washburn. Written in 1860, and published in his Voices of a Busy Life, 1883. Also in Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, 1886.
11. Come, O Holy Spirit, come; Earthward from, &c. P. S. Worsley, in his Poems and Translations, 1863.
12. Dwelling high in endless day. F. Trappes, 1865.
13. Holy Spirit from above, Shine upon us, &c. E. C. Benedict, in his Hymns of Hildebert, N. Y., 1867.
14. Come, O Holy Ghost, inspire Hallowed thought. C. B. Pearson, 1868.
15. Come, Holy Spirit, nigh, And from the heaven on high. D. T. Morgan, 1871 and 1880.
16. O Holy Spirit! deign to come. J. Wallace, 1874.
17. Come, Holy Spirit, come, Down from Thy radiant home. In W. Cowan's Poems, Chiefly Sacred, 1879.
18. Holy Spirit, come and shine On our souls with beams divine. J. D. Aylward, in O. Shipley's Annus Sanctus, 1884.
Although these translations do not equal those of the Veni Creator Spiritus in number, yet they indicate a long and profound interest in this magnificent hymn.
--Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)