Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Victory Song For Christ

"On January 1, 1541, during his stay in Worms [Germany], [John] Calvin wrote the poem Epinicion Christo cantatum 'just for fun.' This 'Victory Song for Christ' was a poem with clear allusions to the events in Worms." -- Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, p. 140

This 124-line epic poem is Calvin's only known poetic work, originally written in Latin, and thus far, only translated in full into German and French. Written in 1541, and circulated amongst friends in manuscript form. It was finally published for the first time in Geneva in 1544, after it had already been added to a Catholic index of prohibited works by the inquisitor Vidal de B

Calvin later, in a letter to Conrad Hubert, on May 19, 1557, stated: "By nature I was inclined to poetry, but I have bid it farewell, and for twenty-five years I have composed nothing, except at Worms, following the example of Philipp and Sturm, I was led to write for diversion that poem that you read." (Calvini Opera 16, no. 2632, col. 488) 

Jean-Henri Merle d'Aubigné later translated a portion of this poem from the French version into English, from History of the Reformation in the Times of John Calvin, Vol. 7, Chap. 19, which is here reproduced for our readers. "It is the only poem of his that we possess, and it contains some fine lines." It concludes with an eloquent cry of exultation in the victory of Jesus Christ over his enemies at the last day. 

Yes, the victory will be Christ’s, and the year which announces to us the day of triumph is now beginning. Let pious tongues break the thankless silence and cause their joy to burst forth. His enemies will say, What madness is this? Are they triumphing over a nation which is not yet subdued, are they seizing the crown before they have routed the enemy? True, impiety sits haughtily on a lofty throne. There still exists one who by a nod bends to his will the most powerful monarchs, his mouth vomiting a deadly poison and his hands stands with innocent blood. But for Christ death is life and the cross a victory. The breath of his mouth is the weapon with which he fights, and already for five lustra he has brandished his sword with a vigorous hand, not without smiting. The pope, leader of the sacrilegious army, wounded at last, groans under the unlooked for plagues which have just fallen upon him, and the profane multitude is trembling for terror. If it be a great thing to conquer one’s enemies by force, what must it be to overthrow them by a mere sign? Christ casts them down without breaking his own repose: he scatters them while he keeps silence. We are a pitiful band, low in number, without apparel, without arms, sheep in the presence of ravening wolves. But the victory of Christ our king is for that very reason all the more marvelous. Let his head then be crowned with the laurel of victory, let him be seated on the chariot drawn by four coursers abreast, that his glory may shine forth before all.
 Que tous ses ennemis qui lui ont fait la guerre 
Aillent après, captifs, baissant le front en terre:
Eck still flushed with his Bacchic orgies, the incontempent Cochlaeus, Nausea with his wordy productions, Pelargus with his mouth teeming with insolence, -- these are not the chief men, but the shameless multitude have set them for standard-bearers in the fight. Let them learn then to bow their necks under an unaccustomed yoke. And you, O sacred poets, celebrate in magnificent song the glorious Victory of Jesus Christ, and let all the multitude around him shout ‘Io Paean!’

1 comment:

  1. The best thing about reading this post is remembering meeting Wulfert de Greef outside the Berliner Hof hotel in Emden, and hearing him pronounce his own name. He burned serious calories saying it. I was completely charmed. Later he helped me figure out some tricky 17th century Dutch, for which I was very grateful.