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290 Antiphon 13.3 (2009) Alexander Zerfaß Mysterium mirabile: Poesie, Theologie und Liturgie in den Hymnen des Ambrosius von Mailand zu den Christusfesten des Kirchenjahres (Pietas Liturgica Studia 19) Tübingen and Basel: A. Francke Verlag, 2008 xii + 360 pages. € 68 The development of the liturgy in the first Christian centuries also included the composition of poetic texts to be sung in the Church’s solemn worship. The use of non-scriptural hymns provoked opposition , and the Council of Laodicea, held in the second half of the fourth century, even forbade the singing of texts other than those taken from the Bible. Nonetheless, in the eastern traditions poetic texts became an integral part of the liturgy, among them the masterworks of St Ephrem the Syrian and St Romanos the Melodist. In the Latin west, hymnody began to flourish in the fourth century and reached a zenith in its last quarter with St Ambrose of Milan, who wrote hymns to be sung by the Catholic faithful along with the psalms in order to inculcate the orthodox faith against the current Arianism of the barbarian tribes. When poetic compositions were finally incorporated into the Divine Office of the western Church, Ambrose’s hymns acquired the place of honor they still enjoy. Moreover, the “Ambrosian” form became a normative model for later hymns, and for many centuries shaped both the Latin tradition and vernacular church singing. Zerfaß’s book, with its evocative title Mysterium mirabile, was originally submitted as a doctoral thesis at the University of Mainz and presents itself as a meticulously researched study of three hymns composed by St Ambrose for major feasts of the Lord in the liturgical year: Easter (Hic est dies verus Dei), Christmas (Intende qui regis Israel – the author makes a strong case for the Ambrosian authorship of the first verse of the hymn, which is often cited with the beginning of its second verse Veni redemptor gentium) and Epiphany (Inluminans altissimus). By way of introduction, Zerfaß looks at the disputed question whether the Roman feast of Christmas and and the Eastern feast of the Epiphany had been introduced in Milan in the time of Ambrose. The author argues convincingly that by then both feasts were common in the imperial city, Christmas celebrating the Incarnation and the twofold nature of Jesus Christ, and the Epiphany commemorating the tria miracula of the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the miracle at the wedding in Cana. The author provides a detailed commentary on the literary form and theological content of the three selected hymns, relating them not 291 Book Reviews only to Ambrose’s prose writings but also to a wide range of patristic exegesis and theology. The study shows the hymns of the Milanese bishop as masterpieces of Christian poetry with a profound theological and spiritual dimension. This reviewer has been particularly impressed by the author’s analysis of the Epiphany hymn Inluminans altissimus, which presents in a nutshell Ambrose’s rich eucharistic theology that has become normative for the Catholic tradition. The study also discusses the place of these hymns within the Milanese liturgy and their afterlife in general, up to vernacular versions composed in more recent times. The mixed history of the hymns in the Divine Office of the Roman Rite is mentioned as well. The revision of these hymns under Pope Urban VIII can only be described as unfortunate, since the “corrections” introduced in the Breviarium Romanum of 1632 displayed a lack of understanding for the characteristic use of Latin in Christian poetry, bringing about the loss of the original’s devout simplicity and boldness. This was obviously seen when the Antiphonale Romanum was published in 1912 with an appendix containing the “Hymni antiqui.” The reform of the Divine Office after the Second Vatican Council was a missed opportunity, insofar as the directive of Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 93, that “the hymns are to be restored to their original form” was not consistently followed. Zerfaß provides the example of Intende qui regis Israel, which the new Liturgia Horarum assigns to the Office of Readings in the week before Christmas. The first and the sixth verse of the Ambrosian hymn are...


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