LITURGICAL SEQUENCES of ADAM of ST. VICTOR



VOLUME I : VOLUME II : VOLUME III



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Adam of St. Victor was, according to Dom Prosper Gueranger, the greatest poet of the Middle Ages. John Mason Neale called him the greatest Latin poet of any age - greater, in his estimation, than Virgil, Horace or Ovid. He wrote:
All culminate in the full blase of glory which surrounds Adam of St. Victor, the greatest of all. And although Thomas of Celano in one unapproachable Sequence distanced him, and the author, whoever he were, of the Verbum Dei Deo Natum once equalled him, what are we to think of the genius that could pour forth one hundred Sequences, of which fifty at least are unequalled save by the Dies Irae?
Working at the Augustinian Abbey of St. Victor in France during the 12th century, Adam composed liturgical sequences perfect in their versification, orthodox in their theology and profound in their symbolism. Although many undoubtedly were lost in the revolutionary depredations of monastic libraries, the 100 or so surviving sequences reveal a broad, varied and consistently excellent body of work.

Scandalously, Adam, one of history's greatest poets, is nearly forgotten today. This is in part due to a decision made by liturgical reformers after the Council of Trent to remove almost all sequences from the Roman Catholic liturgy. Only four (the Victimae Paschali Laudes, the Veni Creator Spiritus, the Dies Irae and the Lauda Sion Salvatorum) remained in the Gradual; the Stabat Mater survived as a hymn; a few were retained in the liturgies of the religious orders. But tens of thousands of sequences, a large portion of the Roman Catholic musical tradition, were simply discarded and forgotten. To grasp the enormity of the proscribed repertory, please look over this list of extant sequences compiled by John Julian in 1892 - bearing in mind that wars, reformations and revolutions likely destroyed far more sequences than survived.

I have sometimes encountered the claim that the liturgical reformers were right to proscribe the sequences, as the sequences were rife with heretical content. This is simply untrue. Whenever I encounter it, I always demand the same thing: an example. To date, nobody has shown me one.

The sequences were sung at Mass across Western Christendom for hundreds of years; to call them by and large heretical is to impugn the orthodoxy of the clergy who composed and sang them, and the faithful who listened; it is to impugn the orthodoxy of the entire mediaeval church. That is a serious and dangerous accusation, one that ought not be made without a mountain of supporting evidence.

Now some well-studied scholar might know of a few sequences in the vast repertory that contain clumsy theological expressions. But I have read more mediaeval sequences than the average Catholic laymen, and I have never found heresy, which proves to me that enough excellent, impeccably orthodox sequences existed at the time of the Council of Trent to cover the entire liturgical year; with a little effort, they could have been edited and codified into the Missal. The decision to ban them was rash and deleterious.

The sequences reflected the mediaeval religion in which they were created, a religion whose magnificent hagiographies and symbolic exegesis were attacked with ever-increasing vehemence during the Protestant Reformation. Thus the sequences suffered the same fate as the mystery plays, and the iconographic traditions inherited from the Church Fathers and brought to the fullest expression of their genius in the Gothic art of the High Middle Ages: they were abolished by short-sighted churchmen who never really understood their meaning or importance, and whose only concern was to deprive Protestants of cause to attack the Catholic Church. Thus so much treasure was lost, so quickly and so needlessly.



The content of this web page was taken from several books, especially the following:
Digby Strangeways Wrangham ~ The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of St. Victor: Volume I
Digby Strangeways Wrangham ~ The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of St. Victor: Volume II
Digby Strangeways Wrangham ~ The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of St. Victor: Volume III
Eugene Missel & Pierre Aubry ~ Les Proses d'Adam de Saint-Victor: Texte et Musique
It includes the Latin text of all of Adam's surviving sequences as compiled by the French scholar Léon Gautier, English translations (retaining the original rhyme and meter - no easy task!) by Digby S. Wrangham, and (where I could find it) their chant notation. Please note any typographical errors and e-mail them to danmitsui [at] hotmail [dot] com, with the subject line ADAM of ST. VICTOR - ERRORS.

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