Whoever you are who approach,
And are entering the threshold of the inner temple,
Stop a little and
Look upon me,
Who, though innocent,
Suffered for your crime;
Lay me up in your mind,
Keep me in your breast.
I am He who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men,
Came hither as a mediator of offered peace,
And as a full atonement for the fault of men.
Here the brightest light from above is restored to the earth;
Here is the merciful image of salvation;
Here I am a rest to you,
The right way,
The true redemption,
The banner of God,
And the memorable sign of fate.
For your sake and your life
I entered the Virgin’s womb,
I was made man,
I suffered a dreadful death;
I found no rest anywhere in the regions of the earth,
But everywhere threats,
First of all a wretched dwelling in the land of Judea
Was a shelter for me at my birth,
And for my mother with me:
Dry grass spread
In a narrow manger
Among slumbering cattle,
Gave me my first bed.
I passed my earliest years in the land of Pharaohs,
Being an exile from the realm of Herod;
And the remaining years
After my return to Judea
I spent always engaged
The extremity of poverty itself,
The lowest circumstances;
Always by healthful admonitions
Applying the minds of men to the pursuit of loving goodness,
Uniting with wholesome teaching many evident miracles:
On which account impious Jerusalem,
By the raging cares of envy
And cruel hatred,
And blinded by madness,
Dared to seek for me,
A bloody death
By deadly torments
On the terrible cross.
If you yourself wish to discriminate these things more fully,
If it delights you
To go through all my groanings,
To experience griefs with me,
Put together the designs and plots,
And the impious price of my innocent blood;
The pretended kisses of a disciple,
And the insults and strivings of the cruel multitude;
Moreover, the blows,
And tongues prepared for accusations.
Picture to your mind the witnesses,
And the accursed judgment of the blinded Pilate,
And the immense cross
Pressing my shoulders and wearied back,
And my heavy steps to a dreadful death.
Now behold me,
Deserted as I am,
Gone through the extremes of punishment
Lifted up afar from my beloved mother.
Survey me from head to foot.
Behold and see my locks
Clotted with blood,
My blood-stained neck
Under my very hair,
My head drained
By cruel thorns,
And pouring down like rain
From all sides
A stream of blood
Over my divine face.
Survey my compressed and sightless eyes,
My afflicted cheeks;
See my parched tongue
Poisoned with gall,
Pale with death.
Behold my hands
Pierced with nails,
The great wound in my side;
See the blood streaming from it,
My punctured feet,
My blood-stained limbs.
Bend your knee,
And with lamentation
Adore the venerable wood of the cross,
And with lowly countenance
Stooping to the earth, which is wet
With innocent blood,
Pour out upon it tears,
And bear me
And my admonitions always
In your devoted heart.
Follow the footsteps of my life,
And while you look upon my torments and cruel death,
Remembering my innumerable pangs
Learn to endure hardships,
and to be vigilant for your own salvation.
If at any time you find pleasure in thinking over them,
(If in your mind there is any confidence to bear anything like my sufferings),
If the piety due, and gratitude worthy of my labors shall arise,
Will be incitements to true virtue,
And they will be shields
Against the snares of an enemy,
Aroused by which you will be safe,
And as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest.
If these memorials shall turn away your senses
Devoted to a perishable world,
From the fleeting shadow
Of earthly beauty,
The result will be, that you will not venture,
Enticed by empty hope,
To trust the frail enjoyments of fickle fortune,
Or to place your hope in the fleeting years of life.
But, truly, if you thus regard
This perishable world,
And through your love of a better country deprive yourself
Of earthly riches and
The enjoyment of present things,
The prayers of the pious will bring you up
In sacred habits, and
In the hope of a happy life, amidst severe punishments,
Will cherish you with heavenly dew,
And feed you with the sweetness of
The promised good.
Until the great favor of God
Shall recall your happy soul to the heavenly regions,
Your body being left after the fates of death.
Then freed from all labor,
Then joyfully beholding
The angelic choirs,
The blessed companies of saints in perpetual bliss,
You shall reign with me
In the happy abode of perpetual peace.
At one time, this poem was attributed to the Ante-Nicene father, Lactantius (A.D. 260-330). Most scholars, however, have come to see it as a much later composition. The text of this translation is essentially that of William Fletcher found in the Roberts & Donaldson Ante-Nicene Fathers Series. I have altered the text somewhat of my own accord while also using Mary Francis McDonald’s translation from CUA Press’ “The Fathers of the Church” series. I am entirely to blame for the versification.