Johann Spangenberg, “Triumphus Christi heroicus.” In: Evangelia Dominicalia, In Versiculos extemporaliter versa

Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1539.



Introduction and text submitted by Harry Vredeveld (10 January 2010; updated 1 April 2013). I have retained the orthography and punctuation of the original, silently corrected obvious printing errors, expanded the abbreviations, normalized the use of i/j and u/v, and added paragraphing where appropriate. For a critical edition, with translation and commentary, see: The Poetic Works of Helius Eobanus Hessus, vol. 3, King of Poets, 1514-1517 = The Renaissance Society of America Texts and Studies Series 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 498-507, 686-692.

Spangenberg’s Biography

There is no modern full-length biography of Johann Spangenberg (1484–1550), a teacher and evangelical pastor at Nordhausen, superintendent of the churches in Mansfeld County, and father of Cyriakus Spangenberg. For his life see:

     (1) Hieronymus Mencel, epicedion for Spangenberg, first published in Reverendo viro D. Iohanni Spangenbergo … Epicedion … Cum praefatione Philip. Melanth. (Wittenberg, 1551), repr. at the end of Johann Spangenberg's Explicationes Evangeliorum et Epistolarum (Basel, 1564), 39–44. See: Link
     (2) Melchior Adam, Vitae Germanorum theologorum (Frankfurt/Main, 1620), 202–04. See: Link
     (3) Johann Georg Leuckfeld, Verbesserte historische Nachricht von dem Leben und Schrifften M. Johann Spangenbergs (n. pl., 1720); facsimile in: Carsten Berndt, ed., Historia Leuckfeldi, oder, Ausführliche Beschreibung von Leben und Werk des Johann Georg Leuckfeld (Auleben, 2003).
     (4) Paul Tschackert, "Spangenberg: Johann S.," Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, 35:43–46, at: Link
     (5) Gustav Kawerau, "Spangenberg, Vater und Sohn," Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 18 (1906):563–67 (accessible in Google books).
     (6) Dieter Fauth, in Bautz, Biographisch-bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, 2nd edition.
     (7) Thomas Kaufmann, Neue Deutsche Biographie, 24 (2010): 622–23.

Reprints within the Context of Spangenberg’s Works

Johann Spangenberg wrote this collection of sacred verse as a textbook for the Lutheran schools. That is why he dedicated it to Justus Jonas, Jr. (1525–67), the 13-year-old son of his good friend Justus Jonas. The work consists of three main sections: the versified Sunday Gospels (announced on the title page); a set of versified Sunday prayers ("Collects"); and a poem in heroic hexameters, entitled Triumphus Christi heroicus.
     The schoolbook enjoyed considerable popularity. During the author’s lifetime alone it was reprinted some five times: at Breslau in 1541, at Wittenberg in 1544, at Nuremberg in 1545, at Leipzig in 1546, at Ingolstadt in 1546. The collection was also attached to Epistolae, per totum annum dominicis diebus in ecclesia legi solitae, per quaestiones explicatae (Frankfurt/Main, 1545); and to Postilla. Evangelia et epistolae, quae in ecclesia, toto anno, dominicis et festis diebus proponuntur, per quaestiones explicata (Frankfurt/Main, 1547). The Triumphus Christi heroicus itself was twice reprinted in 1550, the year of Spangenberg's death: first with Martin Luther's Catechismus et institutio Christianae religionis and Spangenberg's Precationes ecclesiasticae ad Deum (Frankfurt am Main, 1550); and then in Epitaphia reverendi viri, D. Stephani Agricolae … anno salutis, M.D.XLVII, feriis Paschalibus defuncti. De lapsu et reconciliatione hominis carmen. Triumphus Christi heroicus. Autoribus D. Ioanne Spangbergo et Hieronymo Mencelio Schuidnicense Sylesio (Erfurt, 1550).

Spangenberg as Pseudo-Juvencus: A Persistent Legend

Soon after Spangenberg published the Evangelia Dominicalia in 1539, the book attracted the attention of the Basel deacon and humanist editor Johann Gast (d. 1552), an indefatigable editor who was just then putting together a commonplace book on the same topic: In evangelia Dominicalia per totius anni circulum, loci communes (Basel: Westheimer, 1540). As this book was being printed in the early autumn of 1540, it so happened that several pages were left blank at the end. Gast filled them by reprinting as much of Spangenberg's poem as would fit (up to l. 85). However, he neglected to supply the author's name. He followed the same pattern in 1541 when editing Sedulius and Juvencus: Coelii Sedulii presbyteri ... Paschale opus .... Adiunximus etiam Iuvenci Hispani presbyteri Evangelicam historiam eiusdem argumenti, additis et in eandem commentariis (Basel, 1541; reissued under the title Opera poetarum Christianorum quorundam utilissima ac adolescentibus in religione vera educatis accommodatissima in 1545). Here too, Gast appended Triumphus Christi heroicus on some blank pages, this time immediately after Juvencus. With more space available, he was able to print the entire poem. Unfortunately, he again failed to attribute it to Johann Spangenberg.
     The lack of an explicit statement of authorship in Gast's Juvencus edition proved to be an irritating source of confusion. Was the Triumphus Christi heroicus a hitherto unknown poem by Juvencus that Gast had found in some manuscript? After all, the title page of the 1541 edition insists : "Omnia ad vetustissima exemplaria collata et castigata."      The first to reprint the Triumphus as possibly by Juvencus was Theodor Poelman (1510–81?). When he came upon the poem in the Basel edition (1541/45), Poelman naturally assumed that the editor must have had good reason for appending the poem to Juvencus. Cautiously, however, he warns his readers about the lack of attribution in the copy he had consulted: "In exemplari autoris nomen non erat adscriptum." See: Iuvenci Hispani Evangelicae historiae libri IIII. Caelii Sedulii mirabilium divinorum, sive Paschalis carminis, lib. IIII. una cum hymnis aliquot. Aratoris in Acta apostolica libri duo, Venantii Honorii Fortunati hymni duo, per G.Cassandrum integritati suae restituti. Omnia per Theodorum Poelmannum Cranenburgensem recognita (Basel: [Oporinus?, ca. 1550]), 122–26.
     Several centuries later, the great Jesuit patrologist Faustino Arévalo (1747–1824) adopted Poelman's example. Under the impression that Poelman’s undated edition was printed in 1537 and was hence the editio princeps of our poem, he too attached the Triumphus Christi heroicus to his Juvencus edition, albeit under the cautious heading, "Iuvenci sive auctoris incerti carmen. " He compounded the error by imagining that Poelman's caveat referred to some medieval manuscript, rather than a printed book. See: C. Vetti Aquilini Iuvenci presbyteri Hispani Historiae evangelicae libri IV, ed. Faustino Arévalo (Rome, 1792), 11–12, prolegomena, no. 19:

"In editione Basileensi Iuvenci, Sedulii, et Aratoris per Theod. Poelmannum statim post Iuvencum additur aliud poemation inscriptum: Triumphus Christi heroicus; ad cuius marginem haec est nota: In exemplari auctoris nomen non erat ascriptum. Idem carmen eodem titulo reperitur post Iuvencum in editione Basileensi Sedulii, et Iuvenci per Bartholomaeum Westhemerum anno 1541. Videntur ergo hi versus in veteri aliquo exemplari eadem forma, ac Iuvencus, exarati: qui tamen in collectione poetarum Christianorum Fabriciana, aliisque praetermissi sunt. Ratio metri, ac Latinitatis non male constat in hoc carmine: sed subvereor, ne opus recentioris alicuius sit, qui seculo XIV. vixerit, et hanc appendicem Historiae evangelicae Iuvenci subnectere voluerit. Non enim satis mihi liquet de antiquitate codicis, ex quo huiusmodi carmen cum Iuvenco extractum est."
     Later editors have copied Arévalo's text, but not his admirable caution. In Q.S. Florentis Tertulliani, Cypriani, M. Victoris, Juvenci, Hilarii, Victorini, Typherni, Damasi … opera (Cambrai, 1825), 340-44, Juvencus' authorship is an unquestioned fact. At mid-century, J.-P. Migne reprints Arévalo's edition of the Triumphus without further comment in Patrologia Latina, vol. 19 (Paris, 1846), cols. 385–88. The poem has turned into just another appendix to Juvencus. As reprint followed reprint, the legend of Pseudo-Juvencus became entrenched. Few challenged the received knowledge, and then only in footnotes or endnotes: John Mason Neale, "The Ecclesiastical Latin Poetry of the Middle Ages, " in History of Roman Literature; with an Introductory Dissertation on the Sources and Formation of the Latin Language, ed. Henry Thompson (2nd edition, London, 1852), 219, n. 1 (placing the work in the 14th or 15th centuries); Max Manitius, Geschichte der christlich-lateinischen Poesie bis zur Mitte des 8. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart, 1891), 518; and Josef Martin, 'Ein frühchristliches Kreuzigungsbild?', in Würzburger Festgabe Heinrich Bulle dargebracht (Stuttgart, 1938), 156, n. 16.
     Pseudo-Juvencus has continued his triumphal march right up to our own time. Hermann Mengwasser reprints the poem from Migne as a schoolbook in: C. Vettii Aquilini Juvenci Hispani presbyteri Triumphus Christi heroicus, in usum scholarum, libera interpretatione et adnotationibus adornatus (Atchison, [ca. 1922]). Aniello Salzano includes it in his recent anthology of early Christian poetry: Agli inizi della poesia cristiana latina: Autori anonimi dei secc. IV-V (Salerno, 2007), 127-51. Again, the text is taken from Patrologia Latina.
     Reviewing Salzano’s book in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2008.03.12, Vincent Hunink commends the poem as follows (Link):
"Finally, there is the Triumphus Christi heroicus, a fascinating and highly readable fourth century poem of 108 hexameters. Here the biblical story of Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection is amplified in a surprising manner with an account of his descent into the underworld. This is obviously based on non-biblical texts such as the apocryphal Descensus ad inferos. Not only does the poet easily fuse biblical and non-biblical elements into a harmonious composition, he also inserts pagan elements. For in the underworld, once called Phlegethontis regna (in 7), king Pluto fears the approach of Christ, and when Christ actually enters hell, Charon hides, Cerberus no longer barks, and the Gorgones and Harpyes are trembling. The list of names continues with Megaera, Tisiphone, Allecto, the Dirae, the Furiae, and the Parcae. Only a few lines later there follows a series of famous names from the Old Testament, of persons who will be saved by Christ: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Judas Maccabeus. The text thus also combines Christian and pagan elements. The climax of the poem is a final section where Christ erects a cross, as a sort of trophy to celebrate his victory. The cross becomes a symbol of salvation: all kinds of evil are described as 'hanging from it' (e.g. Pluto, death, the gates of hell, bad conscience, the world), and the poem ends on proud, triumphant notes."

"This is a fine poem, obviously intended for didactic use by fourth century Christians and attempting to harmonize and fuse elements from all major traditions in late antiquity. In fact, it seems impossible to distinguish between pagan and Christian elements, as these have become a united whole. The absence of quotation marks is less troublesome here, and so the text will make good reading. It may prove useful even in teaching undergraduate students of classics."

Johann Spangenberg and Eobanus Hessus

Spangenberg's Triumphus Christi heroicus is, for the most part, an epitome of Eobanus Hessus' Victoria Christi ab inferis (Erfurt, 1517; Link). Upon this stock Spangenberg then grafts the coda, "Tropheum Christi."








CUm faber astrorum mortis pateretur acerbum
In cruce supplicium, sese non posse dolores
Ferre creatoris, mundus clamabat et astra
Ignivomi solis, lumen nox abstulit atra
Contremuit tellus, scopuli, rupesque dehiscunt
Et quid opus multis, lugebant cuncta creata,
    Rex coeli ut Christus Phlegetontis regna subivit
Princeps regali Pluto prospexit ab aula
Ad sua dum sensit concurrere limina Christum
O socii exclamat, Iam tempus sumere tela
Quandoquidem hic sanie perfusus membra propinquat
Praedaturus opes nostras umbrasque animasque
Scandite tecta alacres, hostemque a limine telis
Arcete obiectis, multa et compage serarum
Regalem interea nos hic tutabimur armis
Obicibus crebris et duris vectibus aulam
    Agmine facto illi summa ad fastigia currunt
Vocibus horrisonis et tecta et moenia complent
Ecce autem Christus per taetra silentia rupit
Lumine sidereo, claraque in luce refulsit
Heus agite umbrarum proceres, attollite portas
Portarumque [Arévalo; Portarum 1539] seras, et magnos demite vectes
Quid miseri audetis contra capere arma tonantem?








Hic ego rex vester, frustra est obsistere regi
    Haec ubi dixisset subitus pavor occupat omnes
Turmatim effugiunt, ululatibus aera complent
Nec mora cum sonitu postes cecidere solutis
Cardinibus, magnamque dedit collapsa ruinam
Ianua, et admittunt concussa palatia Christum
Obstupuit prior ipse Charon, seque abdit in ulva
Et canis obstupuit claudens tria Cerberus ora
Gorgones Harpiaeque tremunt[,] pavet ipsa Megera
Tisiphone, Alecto, perculsae luce molesta
Ultrices Dirae [Poelman; Ultrices, dirae 1539], furiae, Parcaeque sorores
Et quid multa[?] silent, gemitus, tormenta, dolores
    Quo simul ingreditur, Christus tremere omnia circum
Sed gaudent animae sanctae, manesque piorum
Primus Adam ante alios palmas ad sidera laetus
Extulit, et dominum devota est voce precatus,
Expectate venis miseris o sancte redemptor
Da requiem finemque malis[,] fer ad astra redemptos
Sic pater Habramus, puer Isacus atque Iacobus
Procedunt alacres, iuxta formosus Ioseph
Et Moses sanctus et vitta [1544; vita 1539] insignis Aaron
Et Iosue invictus, reliqui regesque ducesque
Et patriae vindex Machabeus origine Iudas
Inde alii patres fama super ethera noti
    Candidus ille chorus Christum reverenter adorat
Regius ante alios vates notissima proles









Stirpis Iesseae cytharam tangebat eburno
Pectine, et ad numeros una omnes voce precati
Dulce melos pangunt concordi carmine vates
Ante alios iuvenis qui Christum nuper ad undas
Tinxerat, hic letis concentibus agnifer ibat
Salve herebi victor, domitor salve inclite mortis
Destructor scelerum, salve o fortissime vindex
Amissae vitae, Salve o spes una salutis
Aspice plasma tuum Sancte et venerande creator
Et post tot gemitus nos duc ad regna polorum
    Tum Christus verbis animas adfatur amicis
Ponite corde metum[,] tristes secludite curas
Ipse ubi tempus erit vos ad mea regna reducam
Haec dicens fractis portarum molibus intrat
Horrendi ditis regnum, quem protinus inde
Extractum vinclis et carcere frenat opaco
Horrendum ille tonans nequicquam palpitat artus
Inmordetque seras indignaturque teneri
    At Deus ille Stigis domitor phlegetonte relicto
Intulit Elisio raptos de carcere patres
Hinc redit a tumulo redivivus pervigil ipsum
Miles ubi clausum studio servabat inani
Quos tremor attonitos sic fecerat, ut neque dictis
Auderent contra aut sumptis insurgere telis
Sed Solimam ingressi magnis terroribus urbem
Surrexisse aiunt magno cum robore Christum







    Interea sese vitae reparator amicis
Discipulisque suis redivivum praebuit, et post
Quadraginta dies coelestia regna revisit
Quem mox venturum rursum expectamus ab alto,
Arbiter ut iusta cunctis det praemia lance

Rex ergo noster Christus super omnia regnat
Et veluti quondam belli statuere Trophaea
Magnanimi Graium proceres, regesque Latini,
Sic Christus statuit celebris victricia pugnae
Signa suae, signa aeternos mansura sub annos.

Arboris ipse crucem posuit venerabile lignum,
De cuius ramis fractis cervicibus huius
Vincti dependent oculis turgentibus hostes.

Ante alios Stigius pluto de stipite pendet
Arcubus attritis, taelis, laqueis, pedicisque.

Hinc alia mortis de stipite pendet imago
Pallida, caeca, ferox, elinguis, frigore torpens
Dentibus excussis et truncis naribus ora
Horrida commonstrans et hyantia guttura late

Fronde alia inferni dirupti ianua pendet
Postibus attritis, cum cardinibusque serisque.




Ira Dei.

Fronde alia Ira Dei, et sibi mens male conscia pendent
Omnia quae Christi roseo sunt tersa cruore.

Fronde alia patris primaevi Syngrapha pendet [Poelman; pendent 1539]
Dilaniata modis miseris extinctaque prorsus.

Tandem sordifluus valido de stipite mundus
Plenus dissidiis et multo crimine pendet
Et variae pompae, et crudelia facta tyrannum.

Hos hominum Christus saevos absorbuit hostes
Ut neque iam possint ultra damnare fideles
His equidem tentare datum, sed vincere nostrum est
Id quoque per Christum, cuius victoria nostra est
Cum patre, qui aeternum sancto cum flamine regnat.


Last modified: April 18, 2013