Sunday, June 19, 2016

O victoriosissimi triumphatores

Psalm antiphon for Martyrs (D 163r-v, R 470ra, Scivias III.13.4b) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
O victoriosissimi triumphatores,
qui in effusione sanguinis vestri salutantes
edificationem ecclesie,
intrastis sanguinem Agni,
epulantes cum vitulo occiso:

O quam magnam mercedem habetis,
quia corpora vestra viventes despexistis,
imitantes Agnum Dei,
ornantes penam eius,
in qua vos introduxit
in restaurationem hereditatis.
O victors in your triumph!
Your blood poured out, you hail
the building of the Church—
for you have entered in the Lamb’s own blood,
and now enjoy the feast with the slaughtered calf.

How great is your reward!
Your living bodies you’ve despised
in imitation of God’s Lamb—
his pain you take as glory,
for through it he has brought you
to your inheritance restored!
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Scivias III.13:
Heavenly Symphony.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 229r
This is one of two pieces addressed to the Choir of Martyrs in the final vision of Hildegard’s Scivias (III.13). In the illustration of this celestial symphony in the Rupertsberg manuscript, the roundel that contains the choir of martyrs appears in the lower left, beneath that of the patriarchs and prophets—as they had foretold the coming of the Lamb of God (cf. John the Baptist’s cry in John 1:29), so the martyrs followed that Lamb to the slaughter. As Barbara Newman notes (Symphonia, p. 208), the Tertullianic dictum, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” had become commonplace by the Middle Ages, and this antiphon joyously celebrates their role in building the Church with the shedding of their blood, whereafter they entered into the eternal feast of the Lamb as their reward.

Scivias III.13.5a
Riesenkodex, fol. 133ra.
The imagery in the first half of the antiphon is, in fact, quite fluid, because of the indefinite placement of the two participles, salutantes and epulantes, and the finite verb, intrastis. The textual phrasing given above, with edificationem ecclesie the object of salutantes and sanguinem Agni the object of intrastis, is based on the punctuation for this antiphon’s text in the Riesenkodex, as it appears in Scivias III.13.5a (fol. 133ra, shown at left), which marks a phrasal break after ecclesie. However, as Beverly Lomer notes below, the musical grammar does not in any way support this phrasal break. Instead, if we are guided by the musical structure, one striking image—of entering into the Lamb’s blood—gives way to another—of feasting upon that blood:
O victoriosissimi triumphatores,
qui in effusione sanguinis vestri salutantes,
edificationem ecclesie intrastis,
sanguinem Agni epulantes cum vitulo occiso.
O victors in your triumph!
Saluting with the shedding of your blood,
you've entered the building of the Church,
feasting upon the blood of the Lamb as with the slaughtered calf.
Both the “slaughtered calf” and the “restoration of the inheritance” recall the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)—the calf was prepared for the feast when the son returned home repentant, a sign of his restoration to his forgiving father. Indeed, Hildegard connects the two concepts musically by setting vitulo and restaurationem hereditatis to lengthy melismas that first reach the piece’s highest pitch before cascading down the scale. The connection becomes clearer in Hildegard’s exegesis of this parable in Scivias III.1.5, where she uses it to illustrate the journey of repentance:
As the Scripture says in the Gospel, the younger son said, “I will arise and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you, and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants’” [Luke 15:18]. This is to say: A person who, admonished by the Holy Spirit, comes to himself after a fall into sin says, “I want to rise up from the unendurable sins whose heavy guilt I can no longer bear. I will retrace my steps in memory, lamenting and sorrowing over my sins, until I come to my Father, Who is my Father because he created me. And I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven, wronging the celestial work that is myself; You formed me by Your will, and touched me in creating me, so that I should be only celestial in my deeds, but I have belittled myself by shameful actions. And I have sinned before You, because I have forsaken the humanity of my nature. (…)

“‘But now, let me be as Your servant, redeemed at the price of Your Son’s blood. You gave Him at a price so great that not even death can ever repay it; but that price allows penitence to arise from Your Son’s Passion, and so sets sinners free. I have lost my rightful inheritance as a child of Adam, for he, who was created a son in justice, was stripped of that joyful glory; but now the blood of Your Son and penitence have redeemed the sins of humanity.’”[1]
What is the connection between this desperate confession of repentance and the glories of the martyrs celebrated in today’s antiphon? In the vision whose explication contains this exegetical confession of the repentant sinner, Hildegard saw the human person clutched at God’s breast, “something like black and filthy muck [limum nigrum et lutulentum], as big as a human heart, surrounded with precious stones and pearls” (Scivias III.1). These “precious stones” represent the saints, whose beauty aids the penitent on their journey:
They are surrounded by ornaments [ornamentis], those great ones who rise up among them: martyrs and holy virgins like precious stones, and innocent and penitent children of redemption like pearls; so that by them the mire [of their sins] is surpassingly adorned, and the virtues, which so gloriously shine in God, shine also in the human body.
     —Scivias III.1.4
In the antiphon above, the shedding of the martyr’s blood joins with the punishment and pain (penam) endured by the Lamb as the glorious adornments of the City of God—the gems that form its foundation and walls, as described in Apocalypse 21. Moreover, Hildegard perceived the restoration of “the inheritance lost in Adam” as one especially of the restoration of music, the symphony that resounds in those jeweled walls, including this song of celebration for the martyr’s victory:
He poured out His beautiful blood and knew in His body the darkness of death. And thus conquering the Devil, he delivered from Hell his elect, who were held prostrate there, and by His redeeming touch brought them back to the inheritance they had lost in Adam [ad hereditatem…reduxit]. As they were returning to their inheritance, timbrels and harps and all kinds of music burst forth, because humankind, who had lain in perdition but now stood upright in blessedness, had been freed by heavenly power and escaped from death.
     —Scivias II.1.13
When the martyrs pour out their own blood in imitation of Christ, the two streams seem to commingle sacramentally in the heavenly feast shared at the altar. The martyr’s act of imitation makes him into an agent of divine grace, a conduit for the redeeming power of the blood into which he has now entered. What makes Hildegard’s treatment of this sacramental and liturgical act unique is its musicality, for the “new song” of the heavenly Jerusalem that rang out when Adam’s inheritance had been restored to the children of earth echoed the resounding cry of Christ’s own blood upon the Cross, as Hildegard evocatively described in the antiphon, O cruor sanguinis. Finally, this is the “new song” that she and her nuns offer in divine praise, for their virginal sacrifice of the desires of the flesh was the counterpart to the martyr’s sacrifice of his flesh (cf. Scivias II.5, discussed in the Commentary on the antiphon for St. John, O speculum columbe). This fundamental connection between martyr and virgin allows Hildegard to assimilate the martyr’s participation in the heavenly court to her own order of virgins, as she articulated for them a preeminent place in the Church’s hierarchy—in the Rupertsberg Scivias illustration above, the roundel of the Choir of Virgins appears in the middle of the other five human choirs.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: A below the final to G an octave and a third above final
Setting: syllabic, neumatic, and some melismas

The antiphon opens with the salutation, O victoriosissimi triumphatores, broken into two segments, each outlined by the final E. Each subsequent small phrase is grammatically demarcated by E. On the first page of the transcription, in the interest of readablility, long phrases have been continued across multiple lines in lines 5 and 6 (edificationem ecclesie intrastis) and 8-10 (epulantes cum vitulo occiso).

Although textual evidence places a break between ecclesie and intrastis (see comments by Nathaniel Campbell above), the melodic line contains no such break, as the pitch D is not used as a grammatical indicator in this piece. In addition, the melody on sanguinem agni is also quite clearly marked out as a sense unit by the modal final, making it impossible to group intrastis with it. It is possible that the musical grammar reflects Hildegard’s original sense of the textual units, but that by the time the Riesenkodex was produced in the 1170’s, the interpretation had shifted. Singers are free, of course, to group the units as they prefer.

The next segment, epulantes cum vitulo occiso, can also be regarded as a single lyrical and musical thought. The tick barline that appears after occiso should be regarded as the completion of the entire unit. If it is too long to sing, then the best break would be at the end of epulantes.

Readers will notice that B becomes a phrase marker in the second half of the antiphon. This is not unusual, as it is the fifth of the mode and hence can bear this function.

The doxology appears only in D and in the margin next to the staff. It is not possible to know for certain what pitches are intended. I opted to transcribe literally, but the pitches seem unlikely for the mode.

Further Resources for O victoriosissimi triumphatores


[1] All quotes from Scivias adapted from the translation of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Latin text ed. A. Führkötter and A. Carlevaris, CCCM 43-43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 


  1. impossible to watch in Poland :/

    1. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of YouTube's restrictions about which countries can view particular videos. We don't control that.