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E05217: A hymn, almost certainly by Ambrose of Milan, is written in Latin in Milan (northern Italy) most likely after 386 (Apostolorum passio), for the feast day of the Apostles *Peter and *Paul (S00036 and S00008).

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posted on 2018-03-19, 00:00 authored by frances
Ambrose of Milan, Apostolorum passio

Apostolorum passio
diem sacrauit saeculi
Petri triumphum nobilem
Pauli coronam praeferens.

Coniunxit aequales uiros [5]
cruor triumphalis necis;
deum secutos praesulem
Christi coronauit fides.

Primus Petrus apostolus,
nec Paulus impar gratia; [10]
electionis uas sacrae
Petri adaequauit fidem.

Verso crucis uestigio,
Simon honorem dans Deo
suspensus ascendit, dati [15]
non immemor oraculi:

praecinctus, ut dictum est, senex
et eleuatus ab altero,
quo nollet iuit, sed uolens
mortem subegit asperam. [20]

Hinc Roma celsum uerticem
deuotionis extulit,
fundata tali sanguine
et uate tanto nobilis.

Tantae per urbis ambitum [25]
stipata tendunt agmina;
trinis celebratur uiis
festum sacrorum martyrum.

Prodire quis mundum putet,
concurrere plebem poli: [30]
electa, gentium caput!
sedes magistri gentium!

‘The passion of the Apostles
consecrated this day of the world,
it presents Peter in noble triumph
and the crowning of Paul.

The gore of triumphal slaughter [5]
joined the men as equals;
the faith of Christ crowned
those who followed God as their general.

Peter is the first Apostle,
yet Paul is no less in grace; [10]
the vessel of holy election
rivals the faith of Peter.

With the bottom of his cross upturned,
Simon, giving honor to God,
goes up and hangs, not forgetting [15]
the prophecy which was given:

“The old man” so it said “is bound
And raised by another,
He goes where he does not wish,
But wishes to undergo a cruel death”. [20]

Thus Rome raises the high peak
Of his devotion,
founded by such blood
and ennobled by so great a seer.

The crowded ranks stream [25]
through the circuit of so great a city;
the feast of the holy martyrs
is celebrated on three roads.

One might think the whole world comes forth,
that the people of heaven converge: [30]
chosen city, the head of the nations!
the seat of the teacher of the nations!’

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


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source

Petrus Paulus

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns


  • Latin

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people


This hymn was composed to be sung on the feast day of Peter and Paul. It 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 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. Furthermore, Lanéry identifies echoes of the content of Ambrose's hymns on the Roman martyrs in several of Augustine's works (including Sermons 302, 203 and 305A, Letter 80,Treatise on John 27.12 and On Holy Virginity 44.45). She argues this is further evidence of Ambrose's authorship.


The three roads referred to in lines 27-28 are presumably the Via Aurelia, the Via Ostiensis and the Via Appia all with suburban cult sites closely associated with Peter and Paul. This is an interesting reference to the popular feast day celebrations at Rome, which Paulinus of Nola (ob. 431) regularly attended in the final years of the fourth century (see E05094).


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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