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E05214: A hymn (Victor Nabor Felix pii), almost certainly by Ambrose of Milan, is written in Latin in Milan (northern Italy) most likely after 386, for *Nabor and Felix (soldiers and martyrs, buried in Milan, S00609) and *Victor ('Maurus'/the Moor, soldier and martyr of Milan, S00312).

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posted on 19.03.2018, 00:00 by frances
Ambrose of Milan, Victor Nabor Felix pii

Victor Nabor Felix pii
Mediolani martyres,
solo hospites, Mauri genus
terrisque nostris aduenae

torrens harena quos dedit [5]
anhela solis aestibus,
extrema terrae finium
exulque nostri nominis.

Suscepit hospites Padus
mercede magna sanguinis, [10]
sancto repleuit spiritu
almae fides ecclesiae.

et se coronauit trium
cruore sacro martyrum
castrisque raptos impiis [15]
Christo sacrauit milites.

Profecit ad fidem labor
armisque docti bellicis
pro rege uitam ponere,
decere pro Christo pati, [20]

non tela quaerunt ferrea,
non arma Christi milites;
munitus armis ambulat
ueram fidem qui possidet.

Scutum uiro sua est fides [25]
et mors triumphus, quem inuidens
nobis tyrannus ad oppidum
Laudense misit martyres.

Sed reddiderunt hostias;
rapti quadrigis corpora, [30]
reuecti in ora principum
plaustri triumphalis modo.


‘Devoted Victor, Nabor, Felix
the martyrs of Milan,
guests on our soil, Moorish born,
and foreigners in our lands,

The scorching sand surrendered them, [5]
sand that pants from the heat of the sun,
an exile of our name
from outside the boundaries of our land.

The Po received them as guests,
Through the high price of their blood, [10]
The faith of the mother church
Filled them with the holy spirit.

And she crowned herself
by three martyrs’ holy blood,
she snatched them from the camps of the godless [15]
and consecrated them as soldiers for Christ.

Suffering brought them to faith,
They were trained in the art of war
And to give their life for a king,
Yet it suited them to suffer for Christ. [20]

Not spears nor weapons of iron
Did these soldiers of Christ seek;
He who possesses true faith
Walks protected by arms.

For man, their faith is a shield, [25]
And death a triumph,
whom a tyrant, envious of us,
sent to the town of Lodi as martyrs.

But they returned the victims,
Which were carried off on chariots, [30]
Returned in gold in a princely manner
On a triumphal chariot.’

Text: Fontaine 1992. Translation: Dunkle 2016, adapted.

History

Evidence ID

E05214

Saint Name

Nabor and Felix, martyrs in Lodi, ob. c. 303-305 : S00609 Victor 'Maurus'/the Moor, soldier and martyr of Milan : S00312

Saint Name in Source

Nabor, Felix Victor

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

380

Evidence not after

397

Activity not before

380

Activity not after

397

Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Milan

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Milan Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Ambrose of Milan

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Other lay individuals/ people Torturers/Executioners

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Source

This hymn is one of several which is attributed to Ambrose and dedicated to saints. The majority of these saints are martyrs with a special connection with Rome or, in this case, Milan. They are associated with the conflict with the Homoian/Arian Christians in Milan in the 380s, which came to a head with the conflict over the basilicas in 385 and 386 (for a full account of this conflict see the discussion on E05211). In Confessions 9.7, Augustine referred to the way Ambrose encouraged the congregation to sing together ‘in the eastern manner’ (more orientalium) during this period. Scholars have identified many motivations which led to the composition of these hymns, and it is likely they served multiple purposes. The hymns promoted a specifically Nicene form of Christianity and were likely composed by Ambrose to respond to doctrinal rivals. This is a view promoted by Brian Dunkle and Daniel Williams. The hymns on the martyrs in particular should be seen in the context of Ambrose’s use of the cult of the martyrs to bolster his own authority in a conflicted Milanese church. He also sought to connect his Nicene followers with the Roman church, in contrast to the ‘foreign’ Homoian church. Additionally, they promoted a sense of unity and group identity amongst the singers, particularly in the face of a hostile Homoian sect. Michael Williams refers to this motivation as he draws parallels between the hymns and late Roman acclamations. The attribution of the hymns on the martyrs to Ambrose has been questioned over the years. Yet more recent work, especially by Cécile Lanéry has argued that the manuscript witness for the hymns supports the argument that they were composed by Ambrose. Ambrose also refers to the martyrdom of these three saints in his homilies on Luke, which he preached around 386. At 7.1952, he likened the martyrs to a ‘mustard seed (granum sinapis)’, willingly laying down their lives for their faith and, as a result, spreading their fame across the earth.

Discussion

It is plausible that this hymn was composed to be sung on the feast day of Felix, Nabor and Victor, possibly May 14, as Brian Dunkle suggests (see the record indicating this in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, E04814). The saints were also apparently celebrated separately in Milan: Victor on 8 May (E04807), and Nabor and Felix on 12 July (E04879). The absence of any reference within the hymn to a feast day might indicate that this was not the only occasion on which Ambrose expected his congregation to sing this hymn. The account of the martyrdom here contains few specific details, but it is one of the earliest surviving accounts of the martyrdoms of these three saints. It predates the Martyrdoms of Nabor and Felix (E01987) and of Victor (E02060), both of which were composed in the fifth century at the earliest.

Bibliography

Edition: Fontaine, J., Ambroise de Milan: Hymnes (Paris: Cerf, 1992). Translation: Dunkle, B., "Appendix," in: Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Further Reading: Dunkle, B., Enchantment and Creed in the Hymns of Ambrose of Milan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris: Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 2008). McLynn, N., Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). Williams, D., Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Arian-Nicene Conflicts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). Williams, M., The Politics of Heresy in Ambrose of Milan: Community and Consensus in Late Antique Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

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