Te lucis ante terminum
The authorship of Ambrose of Milan, for which Pimont contends, is not admitted by the Benedictine editors or by Luigi Biraghi. The hymn is found in a hymnary in Irish script (described by Clemens Blume in his Cursus, etc.) of the eighth or early ninth century; but the classical prosody of its two stanzas (solita in the third line of the original text is the only exception) suggests a much earlier origin. In this hymnary it is assigned, together with the hymn Christe qui splendor et dies (also known as Christe qui lux es et dies), to Compline.
An earlier arrangement (as shown by the Rule of Caesarius of Arles, c. 502) coupled with the Christe qui lux the hymn Christe precamur adnue, and assigned both to the "twelfth hour" of the day for alternate recitation throughout the year. The later introduction of the Te lucis suggests a later origin.
The two hymns Te lucis and Christe qui lux did not maintain everywhere the same relative position; the latter was used in winter, the former in summer and on festivals; while many cathedrals and monasteries replaced the Te lucis by the Christe qui lux from the first Sunday of Lent to Passion Sunday or Holy Thursday - a custom followed by the Dominicans. The old Breviary of the Carthusians used the Christe qui lux throughout the year. The Roman Breviary assigns the Te lucis daily throughout the year, except from Holy Thursday to the Friday after Easter, inclusively. Merati, in his notes on Galvanus's Thesaurus, says that it has always held without variation, this place in the Roman Church. As it is sung daily, the Vatican Antiphonary gives it many plainsong settings for the varieties of season and rite (e.g. the nine melodies, pp. 117–121, 131, 174, 356, 366).
The text given below is the original version of the hymn. It was altered by Pope Urban VIII. The 1974 Breviary of Pope Paul VI restores the earlier form of the first and last verse, but replaces the second verse with two additional verses. Pope Urban's version is still used by some, especially since the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum authorized continued use of the Roman Breviary in its 1962 form. Most monasteries adopted Pope Paul's form in the 1970s, meaning the original version is seldom sung in monasteries. The following translation is by J. M. Neale (1818–1866).
|Original Latin text||English translation|
Te lucis ante terminum,
Procul recedant somnia,
Praesta, Pater omnipotens,
To Thee before the close of day,
From all ill dreams defend our sight,
O Father, that we ask be done,
The 1974 revision replaces the second strophe with the text, Te corda nostra somnient,/ te per soporem sentiant,/ tuamque semper gloriam/ vicina luce concinant. Vitam salubrem tribue,/ nostrum calorem refice,/ taetram noctis caliginem/ tua collustret claritas.
This text has frequently been set to music. The earliest is the plainsong version found in the Liber Usualis (used as the opening of Benjamin Britten's Curlew River); another, from the Sarum Rite, is much used in England. Thomas Tallis and Henry Balfour Gardiner both composed memorable settings of the text, among many others.
- Mearns and Julian in Dictionary of Hymnography (2nd ed., London, 1907), 1135, 1710.
- Bagshawe, Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences (London, s. d.), no. 30;
- Donahoe, Early Christian Hymns (New York, 1908), 41;
- Henry, Hymns of the Little Hours in Ecclesiastical Review (Sept., 1890), 204-09;
- Kent in Shipley, Annus Sanctus, part II, 88;
- Pimont Les hymnes du breviaire romain, I (Paris, 1874), 124-30, defends (128-9) the simple directness of the language of the second stanza.
- Hymns Ancient and Modern, (historical edition, London, 1909), no. 34, gives Latin text and tr., harmonized plain-song and a modern setting credited to the Katholische Geistliche Gesangbuch (Andernach, 1608), no. 163;
- Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, I,
- Blume, Der Cursus S. Benedicti Nursini, etc. (Leipzig, 1908), 65, 68, 75.