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E05249: A hymn, almost certainly by Ambrose of Milan, is written in Latin in Milan (northern Italy) most likely after 386 (Aeterna Christi munera). It is dedicated to all the martyrs (S00060).

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posted on 23.03.2018, 00:00 by robert
Ambrose of Milan, Aeterna Christi munera

Aeterna Christi munera
et martyrum uictorias
laudes ferentes debitas
laetis canamus mentibus.

Ecclesiarum principes, [5]
belli triumphales duces,
caelestis aulae milites
et uera mundi lumina,

terrore uicto saeculi
poenisque spretis corporis, [10]
mortis sacrae compendio
lucem beatam possident.

Traduntur igni martyres
et bestiarum dentibus;
armata saeuit ungulis [15]
tortoris insani manus.

Nudata pendent uiscera,
sanguis sacratus funditur
sed permanent immobiles
uitae perennis gratia. [20]

Deuota sanctorum fides,
inuicta spes credentium,
perfecta Christi caritas
mundi triumphat principem.

In his paterna gloria, [25]
in his uoluntas spiritus,
exultat in his filius,
caelum repletur gaudio.

Te nunc, Redemptor, quaesumus,
ut martyrum consortia [30]
iungas precantes seruulos
in sempiterna saecula.

‘Let us sing with joyful hearts
And bearing the praise which we owe
Of eternal gifts of Christ
And the victories of the martyrs

Princes of the churches, [5]
triumphal leaders of the war,
soldiers of the heavenly court,
and true lights of the world,

After the terrors of the world are conquered,
And the punishment of the body scorned, [10]
They take hold of the blessed light
Through a direct path: holy death.

Martyrs are handed over to the flames,
and to the teeth of beasts;
the frenzied executioner’s hand [15]
armed with claws rages at them.

Their exposed entrails hang,
their holy blood pours out,
but they remain unmoving
by the grace of eternal life. [20]

The devoted faith of the saints,
the unconquered hope of believers,
the perfect charity of Christ
conquers the prince of the world.

In them is the Father’s glory, [25]
in them is the desire of the Spirit,
in them the Son exults,
heaven is filled with joy.

Now we beg you, Redeemer,
that you join your praying servants [30]
in a fellowship of martyrdom,
Forever and ever.’

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


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people


It is possible that this hymn was composed to be sung in a liturgical context, possibly on a feast day dedicated to all the martyrs. It is one of several, which are attributed to Ambrose and dedicated to saints. The majority of these saints are martyrs with a special connection with Milan or, in this case, Rome. 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 promote a sense of unity and group identity amongst the sinners, 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.


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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