Media vita in morte sumus

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Media vita in morte sumus is the title and first line of a Latin antiphon, which translates as In the midst of life we are in death. It was erroneously attributed to Notker the Stammerer late in the Middle Ages, but was more probably written around 750 in France.[citation needed]

Text[edit]

Media vita in morte sumus
quem quaerimus adjutorem
nisi te, Domine,
qui pro peccatis nostris
juste irasceris?

Sancte Deus,
sancte fortis,
sancte et misericors Salvator:
amarae morti ne tradas nos.

In the midst of life we are in death
of whom may we seek for succour,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins
art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Saviour,
deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

Latin liturgical use[edit]

In the York Breviary Media vita was sung as an antiphon at Compline on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.[1] In the Sarum Breviary it was the antiphon from the Third to the Fifth Sundays of Lent.[2]

In addition to its uses in the ordinary liturgy, Media vita was sung as a hymn to ask God for aid in times of public need,[3] and sometimes even as a sort of curse. In 1455 a group of nuns in Wennigsen, resisting the attempt of the Augustinian canon Johannes Busch and Duke William of Brunswick to reform their house, "lay down on their bellies in the choir with the arms and legs stretched out in the form of a cross, and bawled all through, at the top of their voices, the anthem In the midst of life we are in death... Wherefore the Duke was afraid, and feared lest his whole land should go to ruin." Busch assured the Duke that no harm could come from the chant, so he responded to the nuns: "How were ye not afraid to sing the anthem Media Vita over me? I stretch my fingers to God's holy gospels, and swear that ye must reform yourselves, or I will not suffer you in my land."[4]

Adaptations[edit]

Popular in the Baroque period, the Latin phrase was translated into the vernacular early and has continued to circulate especially widely in German and English, in literature and in song.

German[edit]

Media vita appears in Hartmann von Aue's Middle High German narrative poem Der arme Heinrich (V.93f.).

In 1524, Martin Luther translated it as Mytten wir ym leben synd and consequently it is now in the Evangelischen Gesangbuch hymnbook as number 518, or 654 in the Gotteslob hymnbook.[5]

Later, the Bavarian 'Guglmänner' secret society used the phrase as its motto.

It is echoed in Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Schlußstück": "Der Tod ist groß [...] Wenn wir uns mitten im Leben meinen/ wagt er zu weinen/ mitten in uns," as well as in the poem titled "Media in Vita" by Hermann Hesse.

English[edit]

The Latin phrase was translated by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, whose English-language version became part of the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer's contemporary and fellow Anglican bishop Miles Coverdale wrote a poetic rendering of Luther's Mytten wir ym leben synd, beginning "In the myddest of our lyvynge."[6] Catherine Winkworth made another English version of Mytten wir ym leben synd in her Lyra Germanica: Hymns for the Sundays and Chief Festivals of the Christian Year, beginning "In the midst of life, behold."[7]

Music[edit]

The Book of Common Prayer text of 'In the Midst of Life we are in Death' has been set to music in the Booke of Common praier noted by John Merbecke[8] and in Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary by Henry Purcell

The Latin text was popularised anew by the Irish choir Anúna in a four-part harmony version, with the line of text "Juste irasceris" left out because, according to Michael McGlynn, "The particular piece of parchment I was working from was missing those lines".

"In the midst of life we are in debt etc." The Smiths – "Sweet and Tender Hooligan".

In Morte Sumus (2005) by Ignacio Segura is loosely based on the text of the antiphon, published in the album Signals & Noises by the group Delta Zero.[9][10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Breviarium ad usum insignis Ecclesie Eboracensis. Vol. I. Surtees Society. 1880. p. 328. 
  2. ^ Procter, Francis; Wordsworth, Christopher (1879). Breviarium Ad Usum Insignis Ecclesiae Sarum. Fasciculus II.. pp. 229–230. Retrieved 30 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Digby, Kenelm Henry (1847). Mores Catholici: or, Ages of Faith. Volume 3. London: C. Dolman. p. 41. Retrieved 30 September 2016. 
  4. ^ Coulton, G. G. (1950). Five Centuries of Religion, Volume IV: The Last Days of Medieval Monachism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 123–124. 
  5. ^ German text of Mytten wir ym leben synd on Wikisource
  6. ^ Pearson, George (1846). Remains of Miles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 554–555. 
  7. ^ Winkworth, Catherine (1864). Lyra Germanica: Hymns for the Sundays and Chief Festivals of the Christian Year. Boston: E. P. Dutton and Company. pp. 236–237. 
  8. ^ "The Book of Common Prayer Noted (1550)". Society of Archbishop Justus. Retrieved 30 September 2016. 
  9. ^ "In Morte Sumus". Inspired by System Shock (1) game. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  10. ^ "In Morte Sumus". Signals & Noises album. Archived from the original on 2012-07-08. Retrieved 2009.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]