Aeterne Rex Altissime

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Opening words of three hymns written in iambic dimeters. The best known of the three is that which was historically prescribed for the Feast of the Ascension. This hymn celebrates Christ's victory over death, recalls the homage due to Him from those in heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth, and begs Him for forgiveness and the crown of eternal glory when He shall come again as Judge. Two forms of this hymn are extant. There is a shorter eight-strope form that was assigned in the Breviary for Matins in the ferial and Sunday Offices during Ascension time. The text in the 1632 revision of the Roman Breviary was heavily edited; only the third and sixth strophes follow the manuscript reading. The author of this hymn is unknown. F. J. Mone conjectured that originally it consisted of the present first four strophes written by St. ambrose and that an inferior fifth-century poet added four more strophes. The longer text of 14 strophes is the form of the hymn as found in the mozarabic rite.

The second hymn dates from the 13th century and was written for use at Vespers on the feast of Christ's crown of thorns, which was reputedly brought to France by King Louis IX and venerated in the Ste. Chapelle in Paris. The author is unknown. The hymn has five strophes, of which the first four have alternating rhyme. The composition expresses the great joy of Paris at being the repository of Christ's crown, which mystically signifies Christ Himself, the crown of men and women living in chastity and the reward of those living in the married state.

The third hymn also honors the crown of thorns. Similar in structure and content to the previous composition, it incorporates two complete strophes from yet another hymn in honor of the crown of thorns, Corona Christi capitis.

Bibliography: f. j. mone, ed., Lateinische Hymnen des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Freiburg 185355) 1:228229. Analecta Hymnica (Leipzig 18861922) 12: 2021; 27:9697; 51:9495; 52:15. g. m. dreves and c. blume, eds., Ein Jahrtausend lateinischer Hymnendichtung, 2 v. (Leipzig 1909) 2:136. j. julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology (New York 1957) 1:2627. a. s. walpole, ed., Early Latin Hymns (Cambridge, Eng. 1922) 361364. m. britt, ed., The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal (new ed. New York 1948). Connelly Hymns 102103. j. szÖvÉrffy, Die Annalen der lateinische Hymnendichtung (Berlin 196465) 202203; 254255; 258; 449.

[h. dressler]