Sechnall, “Audite Omnes Amantes” (1)
Hearken, all you lovers of God, to the holy merits
of a man blessed in Christ, the bishop Patrick:
how through his good deeds he is like the angels,
and on account of his perfect life is mad equal to the apostles.
He keeps Christ’s blessed commandments in all things,
his bright deeds shine forth among men;
and they follow his holy miraculous example,
so that they [too] magnify God the Father in heaven.
Translation: John Carey, King of Mysteries
So begins the first hymn written in Ireland, appropriately celebrating the work of God as manifested in the man Patrick and his ministry.
“Audite Omnes Amantes” (“Listen, All You Lovers [of God]”) was written in the late fifth century by Sechnall, known in his Latin name as Secundus. Sechnall was a disciple of Patrick and his successor as bishop in Armagh. The hymn is composed in twenty-three stanzas of four lines each, each stanza beginning with the next letter in the Latin alphabet and each line consisting of fifteen syllables in the original Latin. As an ancient introduction puts it concerning the strict syllabic structure, “if anyone finds more in it, or less, it is an error.” If nothing else, this introduction suggests that Sechnall’s hymn was so popular that copies of it were being made for study, recitation, and singing very early after its composition.
An envoy appears to serve as a kind of exclamation point to the whole poem and a means of encouraging readers to take up the praises of God for Patrick and his ministry. This may or may not have been composed by Sechnall, since its form is rather different from the rest of the poem.
The hymn is written in the present tense, either for effect (the “historical present”) or because Patrick may still have been alive and ministering when the first draft was composed. John Carey reports that one tradition has it that Sechnall presented the poem to Patrick before he revealed that he himself was the subject of the work. Whereas Patrick, in his own work, is self-effacing and reticent with respect to the particulars of his ministry, Sechnall lavishes us with details about his character and work. “Audite Omnes Amantes” is the first of the hagiographical (“lives of saints”) literature to arise from the period of the Celtic Revival. As such it lacks the strangeness and dubiousness of many of the later works, since it focuses strictly on the actual character and work of Patrick and eschews extraordinary or miraculous embellishments. Patrick’s person and work, Sechnall seems to have believed, speak for themselves.
It is fitting that he begins his hymn by extolling the character of his subject. Patrick is an example for all to follow, and, since a pastor’s personal example is one of the three tools available to him for the work of ministry (with prayer and the Word), this is a logical place to begin. The song is addressed to those who love God, so that they may be induced to praise and love Him more because of Patrick.
I find it interesting that Sechnall should compare Patrick’s “good deeds” to those of the angels, as if the experience of angels doing good among them was not unfamiliar among Irish Christians. Did Patrick instruct his followers more carefully and consistently than we do today about the world of unseen things? The reference to his “perfect life” – like the lives of the apostles – both elevates Patrick’s authority and confirms the authority of the apostolic writings in the New Testament, and, by implication, the whole of Scripture.
Patrick, Sechnall seems to be saying, is a man of Scripture, a true follower of the apostles and of Jesus Christ.
Patrick’s “bright deeds shine forth among men”, the fruit of his obedience to the commandments of Christ. In Patrick people find a beacon to follow, as Patrick followed Paul and the apostles, who followed our Lord Jesus in the path of God’s commandments (1 Cor. 11.1; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). The result is that those who follow Patrick do not put him on a pedestal; rather, like Patrick, they too “magnify God the Father in heaven.” The goal of all Christian instruction being love (1 Tim. 1.5), Patrick seems to have taught his followers quite well.
John Carey’s translation is excellent, even though it doesn’t reproduce the strict dactyls of the original verse (doing so and ending up with as good a translation as John Carey’s is next to impossible). Nevertheless, as in all translations, some of the original intent may be obscured. For example, in the second line, Sechnall refers to Patrick as “uiri in Christo, beati Patricii episcopi” – literally, “a man in Christ, blessed Patrick, bishop.” Sechnall thus outlines Patrick’s journey from being a mere man, to coming to know Christ, to being blessed in Him in many ways, and finally becoming Bishop of the Irish. In the first line of the second stanza Patrick is described as “custodit” – custodian of – the commandments of Christ. The idea of “custodian” is stronger than “keeps”, as John Carey has it. Custodians are caretakers who treasure and employ their trust as true stewards of God. They do not merely “keep” the commandments because of some sense of obligation or duty. Men are said to “follow” Patrick’s example, but the Latin, “mirificum” implies following or “mirroring” with wonder and admiration.
The Celtic Revival began not by means of coercion or contrivance, but because a man of wonderful, admirable life lighted the way to God by his example and words. What would become a legacy of bright deeds and powerful, converting words was already beginning to take deep root in Patrick’s own day.
Want to learn more about Patrick and the impact of his ministry? Order T. M.’s book, The Legacy of Patrick, from our online store.