The Nunc dimittis (/ /; also Song of Simeon or Canticle of Simeon) is a canticle from the opening words from the Vulgate translation of the New Testament in the second chapter of Luke named after its incipit in Latin, meaning "Now you dismiss". (Luke 2:29–32). Since the 4th century it has been used in such evening worship services as Compline, Vespers, and Evensong.
According to the narrative in Luke, Simeon was a devout Jew who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ceremony of consecration of the firstborn son (not of circumcision, but rather after the time of Mary's purification: at least 40 days after the birth), Simeon was there, and he took Jesus into his arms and uttered words rendered variously as follows.
- Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
- Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
- Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
- Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.
English (Book of Common Prayer, 1662):
- Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
- For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
- Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
- To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
The King James Version (1611) contains the same text as the Book of Common Prayer, except for the last line (Luke 2:32), which simply reads "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."
The first written variant of the Nunc dimittis was in Koine Greek
- νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ·
- ὅτι εἶδον οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου τὸ σωτήριόν σου,
- ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν,
- φῶς εἰς αποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν καὶ δόξαν λαοῦ σου Ἰσραήλ.
Church Slavonic (in Slavonic)
- Nyne otpushchayeshi raba Tvoego, Vladyko, po glagolu Tvoyemu s mirom
- yako videsta ochi moi spaseniye Tvoye,
- ezhe esi ugotoval pred litsem vsekh lyudei,
- svet vo otkrovenie yazykov,
- i slavu lyudei Tvoikh Izrailya.
Liturgy and musical settings
The Nunc Dimittis is the traditional 'Gospel Canticle' of Night Prayer (Compline), just as Benedictus and Magnificat are the traditional Gospel Canticles of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer respectively. Hence the Nunc Dimittis is found in the liturgical night office of many western denominations, including Evening Prayer (or Evensong) in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662, Compline (A Late Evening Service) in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1928, and the Night Prayer service in the Anglican Common Worship, as well as both the Roman Catholic and Lutheran service of Compline. In eastern tradition the canticle is found in Eastern Orthodox Vespers. One of the most well-known settings in England is a plainchant theme of Thomas Tallis.
The feast day, Mariae Reinigung, was observed in the Lutheran Church at J. S. Bach's time. He composed several cantatas for the occasion, including Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BWV 125, a chorale cantata on Martin Luther's paraphrase of the canticle, and Ich habe genug, BWV 82.
Many composers have set the text to music, usually coupled in the Anglican church with the Magnificat, as both the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are sung (or said) during the Anglican service of Evening Prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer, 1662, in which the older offices of Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer) were deliberately merged into one service, with both Gospel Canticles employed. In Common Worship, it is listed among "Canticles for Use at Funeral and Memorial Services" and a setting of it by Charles Villiers Stanford was sung at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher as the recessional. Stanford wrote many settings of both the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. Arvo Pärt composed a setting Nunc dimittis in 2001.
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Marquis de Lafayette (17 May 1816), Joseph Cabell (31 January 1821), and General Andrew Jackson (18 December 1823)
- T. H. White novel The Once and Future King – recitation by Merlyn
- T. S. Eliot poem A Song for Simeon (1928)
- Joseph Brodsky poem "Nunc Dimittis" (1972)
- Ezra Pound poem "Cantico del Sole" (1918)
- Karel Čapek play R.U.R.
- Roald Dahl short story "Nunc Dimittis" (1953–1979)
- Tanith Lee story "Nunc Dimittis" (1984–1986)
- Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
- John le Carre novel A Murder of Quality
- John le Carre novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – closing theme of TV adaptation
- John le Carre novel The Constant Gardener – sung at the funeral of Tessa Quayle
- H. W. Brands novel The Strange Death of American Liberalism
- David Mitchell novel Cloud Atlas – "Pacific journal of Adam Ewing, part 1"
- Edith Pargeter novel, writing as Ellis Peters in the 6th and 15th volumes of "The Cadfael Chronicles", The Virgin in the Ice and The Confession of Brother Haluin
- Nunc dimittis servum tuum: now lettest thou thy servant depart; Minnie Gresham Machen, "The Bible in Browning" The Macmillan Company, 1903
- "Nunc Dimittis". Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Sluzhebnik, Moscow Synodal Press 1896
- The Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, 2005) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2006) are two of the current hymnals.
- "The Church of England - Common Worship - Canticles for Use at Funeral and Memorial Services".
- "Margaret Thatcher: the funeral Order of Service". Telegraph. 17 April 2013.
- Nunc dimittis, sung by the choir of King's College, Cambridge (1 Nov 2014)
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