Quid commisisti (Schütz)- Herzliebster Jesu

altus : Quid commisisit – Prima Pars

The text set to music by Heinrich Schütz in his Cantiones sacrae (SWV 56-60, 1625), nr. IV, is borrowed from a pious collection of prayers/mediations, attributed to Saint Augustine: Meditationes divi (of sancti) Augustini, chapter VII. In Lutheran circles often Musculus’ compilation called Precationes is used, where the sub section is numbered VIII). In this particular meditation the unknown author 1 addresses the ‘why’ of Jesus’ suffering (causa & finis). Schütz put to music a broad selection of chapter VII, leaving the original prose intact (only two minor additions [in the text below between square brackets […]). There is inhaerent sonority, and a metrical quality (rythm). Just read it, and you’ll feel it. Below you find the Latin text and an English and German translation.

By the way: this chapter from (pseudo-)Augustine’s meditations is exactly what inspired Johann Heermann a few years later (1630) to his famous hymn: ‘Herzliebster Jeus, was hast du verbrochen?’ This text follows the Latin original quite closely. Heermann mentions his source in the subtitle of the hymn: Ursache des bittern Leidens Jesu Christi, und Trost aus seiner Lieb und Gnade: Aus Augustino. When Crüger published the hymn in 1648, he compressed the title to Des Leidens Christi Ursach. Editions with the Latin original often have similar headings:, e.g.: Hic recognoscit homo se causam esse passionis.

Cantiones sacrae (Freiberg, 1625) – Opus Ecclesiasticum 2 (SWV 56-60: Latin-English-German

Erster Teil

Quid commisisti, o dulcissime puer, ut sic judicareris,
Quid commisisti, o amantissime juvenis, ut adeo tractareris?
Quod scelus tuum, quæ noxa tua,
quæ causa mortis, quæ occasio tuæ damnationis?

What wrong did you commit, o sweetest boy, that you were sentenced thus ?
What did you commit, o most beloved youngster, that you were treated so harshly?
What is your crime, what is your offense,
what is the reason for your death, what is the occasion for your condemnation?

Was hast du verbrochen, o holdseliges Kind, dass du so schwer verurteilt wurdest?
Was hast du verbrochen, o herzliebster Jüngling, dass du so misshandelt worden bist?
Was ist dein Verbrechen, was dein Vergehen,
was die Ursache deines Todes, was der Anlass deiner Verdammung?

Zweiter Teil

Ego sum tui plaga doloris, tuæ culpa occisionis,
ego tuæ mortis meritum, tuæ vindictæ flagitium,
ego tuæ passionis livor, cruciatus tui labor.

I am the blow causing you pain, the one responsible for your killing.
I deserve your death, the shame for your punishment.
I am the wound that made you suffer, the evil causing your crucifixion.

Ich bin der Anstoß für deine Schmerzen, der Schuldige für deine Ermordung.
Ich verdiene deinen Tod, die Schande für deine Bestrafung.
Ich bin die Wunde für deine Leiden, das Unheil für deine Kreuzigung.

Dritter Teil

[Ego:] Tu pœna mulctaris, ego enim inique egi,
ego facinus admisi, tu ultione plecteris,
ego superbivi, tu humiliaris,
ego tumui, tu attenuaris,
ego præsumpsi vetitum, tu [mortis] subiisti aculeum,
ego pomi dulcedinem, tu fellis gustasti amaritudinem.

[I], you are punished, for I have acted wickedly,
I have committed crimes, you are beaten in revenge.
I was haughty, you are humbled.
I have exalted myself, you have made yourself of no account.
I have taken what is forbidden, you have suffered the sting of death.
I [have tasted] the sweetness of the apple, you have tasted the bitterness of gall.

[Ich] Du büßt die Strafen, weil ich frevelhaft gehandelt habe,
Ich habe das Verbrechen begangen, du wirst mit Rache geschlagen.
Ich war hochmütig, du wirst erniedrigt.
Ich habe mich aufgeblasen, du hast dich klein gemacht.
Ich habe mir das Verbotene gegönnt, du hast den Stachel des Todes ertragen.
Ich habe die Süßigkeit des Apfels gekostet, du schmecktest die Bitterkeit der Galle.

Vierter Teil

Quo, nate dei, quo tua descendit humilitas,
quo tua flagravit charitas, quo tuus attigit amor,
quo pervenit compassio?
Quid tibi retribuam pro omnibus, quæ retribuisti mihi,
Rex meus et deus meus.

Whereto, Son of God, has your humility come down ?
Whereto has your charity shone forth, where is the end of your love?
How far does your compassion reach?
What can I give back to you in repayment, for all you have given me,
My Lord and My God.

Wie sehr, von Gott geborene, hat sich deine Demut erniedrigt?
Wie hat deine caritas geleuchtet? Wie hat sich deine amor erstreckt?
Wie weit hat dein compassio gereicht?
Was kann ich dir vergelten für alles, was du mir gegeben hast?
Mein König und mein Gott?

Fünfter und letzter Teil [Ps. 116/89]

Calicem salutaris accipiam, et nomen domini invocabo,
vota mea reddam tibi, domine, coram omni populo tuo,
et misericordias tuas in æternum cantabo.

I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows unto you, Lord, in the presence of all your people,
and I will sing of your mercies for ever.

Ich will den Kelch des Heils nehmen, und den Namen des Herrn anrufen.
Meine Gelübde will ich dir, Herr, bezahlen vor deinem ganzen Volk,
und von deiner Barmherzigkeit will ich in Ewigkeit singen.

Meditationes Divi Augustini (pseudo-augustine ‘prayer-book’)

The Meditationes of St. Augustine, though pseudo-Augustine (de facto, the kernel dates from the 11th Century, the compilation as a whole: 15th Century), were quite popular in the Late Middle-Ages and testify to a growing interest in personal mystical contemplation (prayer) with strong emotional, introspective overtones. Also noteworthy: they are often christocentric, i.e., focussing on Christ.[1] After the Western schism (aka The Reformation) these texts remained popular in both factions of the catholic Church, i.e. in the Roman-catholic faction, and in the Protestant-catholic faction: A proto-oecumenical spirituality, so to speak.

  • In 1553, the Lutheran theologian Andreas Musculus (Andreas Meusel, 1514-1581) edited the existing collection of Meditations, adding other prayers to it “taken from the ancient orthodox teachers”, concluding every chapter with Hymns and a Psalm of David. The title: Precationes ex veteribus orthodoxis doctoribusex Ecclesiae hymnis & canticis, ex Psalmis denique Davidis collectae, recognitae & auctae.[2]
  • Roman-catholic editions (with imprimatur) with differing titles, kept appearing always containing the same kernel. Especially the edition of the Dinant born Jesuit Henricus Sommalius (Henry de Sommal, 1533-1619, also the propagator/editor of Thomas à Kempis, De imitatione Christi) was quite a success. It was reprinted upto and including the 19th century. His title is descriptive, simply enumerating the three tracts he published:  Divi Augustini Meditationes, Soliloquia, Manuale.
  • The same texts were also translated into the vernacular. In Germany the most widespread translation was by Johann Schwayger, Drey Bettbüchlein des h. Augustini… [3] Often two other devotional tracts were added, attributed to Anselmus and Bernardus.

One chapter in particular of the pseudo-Augustine meditations deserves our attention. Its content has become epochal (Wirkungsgeschichte): chapter VII (Caput VII, De passione) beginning with a question: Quid commissisti‘ (What have you done wrong? What’s the crime you committed?). Does it ring a bell? It should: Johann Heermann metrically paraphrased this chapter in his beloved hymn: “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” (“Dearest Jesus, what hast thou done wrong”), one of the cantus firmi of Bach’s Matthäuspassion. By the way, Heermann indicated the source by adding below the title: Aus Augustino. Less well known, but preceding Heermann’s song by five years: in his Cantiones sacrae of 1625, Heinrich Schütz litterally puts to music a large part of chapter VII , delineting four sections, turning them into four short motets. The Latin text he leaves intact (he adds only one word). The selection and order is his. The same composer also put to music German fragments from the same chapter.

Referring to Jesus him as a boy (puer) or young man (iuvenis). This might seem odd to us, modern readers, but are in fact quite conventional. They emerge in patristic and mystic litterature as synonyms for “Son” (in relation to God the Father) and underline Jesus’ innocence, while heightening the emotional impact.


[1] Scholarship (Wilmart, Leclercq, but already in the introduction in Migne (= Mabillon?) demonstrated that the traditional attribution to Augustine is false. The meditations are in fact largely compiled from devotional theological works written (or compiled) by Jean de Fécamp (d. 1078) an Italian born Norman abbot (Abbaye de la Trinité in Fécamp), perusing existing texts, and later enriched with similar texts by or attributed to medieval theologians like Anselmus, and Alcuin. They were transmitted as ‘ensemble’ in many manuscripts often bearing the title ‘Supputationes (Sancti Augustini).When they were published (late 15th century), the title Meditationes prevailed, and they were definitely attributed to St. Augustine. First editions late 15th Century. They remained in use (according to the many reprints) far into the 19th Century. For this see USTC (first publication: ca. 1482 – Milan). On title pages one often reads Meditationes, Soliloquia and the Manuale are mentioned. Our text probably postdates Jean, for we find an almost identical prayer in the works of Anselmus (1033-1109): Oratio II. Ad Deum Patrem per merita Filii incarnati (MIgne, P.L. 158.0861B). However: this is also a pseudepigraphical text (not really Anselm): So ‘author unknown’.

[2] First edition: 1553. Musculus integrates Pseudo-Augustine’s ch. VII in his chapter VIII. In scholarship there is much ado about the fact that most editions read eculeum (from equuleum = a wooden torture-rack for criminals in the shape of a horse), but Schütz has aculeum, “sting.” (third motet). Imo this is much ado about nothing. I found at least one edition of Musculus, also using aculeum (1571), and an early Venetian edition of the Meditationes as well. Medieval dictionaries even suggest that many readers might simply understand eculeum as an ortographic variation of aculeum. However, important is an addiation: Schütz adds the genitive ‘mortis‘ to aculeum. (or another editor already did it for him?) significantly strengthening the reference to the mortis aculeum, “sting of death” of 1 Corinthians 15:55-56. Another caveat: the Latin text there reads stimulus mortis.

[3] Heinrich Schütz also put to music some texts from this edition (Kleine Geistliche Konzerte). For the Dutch: Already in 1548 Thomas van Hemert published a very readable Dutch translation of the Meditationes, entitled: Sinte Augustinus vierighe Meditatien oft aendachten. Ende die alleenspraken der zielen tot Godt. Ende dat Hantboecxken vander aenschouwinghe Christi. Latest reprint I know of: 1979….

  1. probably originating from Jean, abbot of Fécamp (ca. 990-1078), but elaborated in circles where Anselm of Canterbury was read (a younger colleague, countryman (Lombardy), and neighbour (Jean = Fécamp, Anselm = Bec d’Hellouin). This chapter sounds Anselmian