I came across this catholic hymn, whose text can be found in various versions online, and I found the following:

Jesu, rex admirabilis,
Et triumphator nobilis,
Dulcedo ineffabilis,
Totus desiderabilis.

Jesu, dulcedo cordium,
Fons vivus, lumen mentium,
Excedens omne gaudium
Et omne desiderium.

Mane nobiscum, Domine,
Et nos illustra lumine.
Pulsa mentis caligine,
Mundum reple dulcedine.

Now, I found two translations of the last stanza, and in particular of the final couplet. One was on the score I was given to learn this hymn in the 4-voice arrangement of Palestrina (it's his right?), and the final couplet was translated approximately as:

Scaccia la tenebra della mente
E riempi me, puro, di dolcezza.

Which in Italian means:

Dispel the darkness of the mind
And fill me, pure, with sweetness.

So they translated the line pulsa mentis caligine a little freely (it's an ablative absolute but it's translated with an imperative), and analyzed mundum in the last line as acc. sing. masc. of mundus, munda, mundum, referred to an implied me. When I saw that, I was like «Wait, that can't be right», so I looked online, and found another translation online which I cannot find right now, but which was close to this one, which ends the stanza with:

manda via il buio dalla mente,
riempi il mondo di dolcezza.

That is:

Send away the darkness from the mind,
Fill the world with sweetness.

Now I remember the one I found translated the ablative absolute as an a.a. and not as an imperative, but the point here is the last line, where the one I found, and this one too, interpret mundum as acc. sing. of mundus, world. This agreed with my instinct.

I came here to ask for arguments for (and possibly against) my gut instinct being right. What I can see here is that the first half of the stanza is all in the plural, nobiscum (with us), and nos illustra (enlighten us), and so abruptly switching from we to I with an implied pronoun seems a bit far-fetched, and imagining a plurale maiestatis to make the transition less abrupt is weird, because in a religious hymn sung by basically anyone a plurale maiestatis is definitely out of place, and besides it is not the choice of the score's translation.

Can any of you guys come up with any other argument supporting either of these two options as the most likely "correct" one, i.e. most likely the intention of the author of this hymn?


As you say, the ablative absolute is translated freely, as an imperative. But that is completely normal, because, in a liberal/literary translation, any participial construction can be translated as a paratactic (parallel) clause to the main clause, so you'd get two parallel imperatives. So all those translations you posted of the abl. abs. are perfectly fine.

Translating pulsa as an imperative is really not possible syntactically, because mentis caligine really wouldn't fit semanto-syntactically.

Now, to mundum. It must be the (mostly post-classical) world; for it could only be "fill me, pure as I am / fill me to be pure" if there were a me in the Latin. It would have to be in that very clause as me (which it is not); or it would have to be in a parallel clause, also as me, and serving as an object in that clause, too. There is no me anywhere.

I do not believe the poetic/modest plural nos (if that's what it is here) is ever combined with a singular number. It would have to be mundos. Besides, I feel that nos would be too far back, in a different sentence and with a different semi-clause in between.

So it must really be "world", which fits perfectly, both syntactically and semantically, whereas "pure" does not fit syntactically and would be difficult semantically. "Fill me, pure one, with sweetness" is not great semantically: why am I pure for or before or after being filled with sweetness? By contrast, the rest of the hymn is very tight and conventional with its semantic combinations.

[ Update: ]

Evidence of the plural agreement of nomina with the 'pluralis modestiaez' nos:

imperatores appellati sumus
— Cicero, Letter to Atticus, 5.20.3

The Loeb edition translates this as "I received the title of general from the army".

Now, occasionally the singular and plural first person are mixed; for some examples, see the scans from Kühner—Stegmann here. But never in a way such as would be required in the text in question, where no hint of the singular is present in the entire hymn.

  • Why could the me not be implied? That's what happens e.g. in the prayer "Angele Dei, qui custos es mei, tibi commissum pietate superna illumina custodi rege et guberna", where commissum is referres to an implied me. Could this hymn not be similarly implying the pronoun? Or perhaps implying it is possible in the prayer because of the mei but not in the hymn because there is no form of ego anywhere? – MickG Aug 8 '17 at 7:29
  • @MickG: Hmm good example, it makes me slightly uncomfortable... But I think I would (literally) translate that as enlighten him who is committed to thee, not me who is...? As you suggest, the person committed is obviously the same person as mei, namely, the singer; but I would say this person is presented first in the first person, and then in the third person, in the absence of me. But in a liberal translation, that distinction will disappear. So is this the same as the example in question? As you say, there is no mei there, which I think matters, while there is nos. Hmm... – Cerberus Aug 8 '17 at 15:13

My impression is that both translations got the third line wrong and the fourth line right.

Pulsa mentis caligine
1. Dispel the darkness of the mind
2. Send away the darkness from the mind

The two translations are essentially identical.

The other three lines of the last stanza each contain a clear imperative, so both translators have treated pulsa as an imperative of pulsare. Parsing the rest requires a little stretch. If mentis a plural accusative, you get "beat/remove minds with fog", which is weird. If the last word is supposed to be caliginem, you get "beat/remove the fog of the mind", which appears to be what the two translators have both done.

I believe you are right with reading pulsa as a perfect participle of pellere, making pulsa caligine an absolute ablative. The only problem I have with this is that the other three lines around have an imperative each, and the analogy is very tempting. In this reading the line reads "after expelling the fog of the mind", which makes perfect sense in the context. Of course, ablativus absolutus can be translated in several different ways.

Mundum reple dulcedine.
1. And fill me, pure, with sweetness.
2. Fill the world with sweetness.

As you observed, you can parse mundum as "pure" (me mundum) or as "the world". Both are grammatical, and both make sense. The first translation chose to read mundum as adjective, the second one as noun. Both are grammatically valid, so the text is genuinely ambiguous.

The first half of the third stanza indeed speaks of "us", and the adjective version of the last line turns it suddenly into "me". It would make sense to me to make "a personal wish" (which may be more credible in a Lutheran context, thus biasing my experience), but I can't judge whether such a turn of perspective is to be expected.

The only way to resolve the desired meaning is to look at broader context, including the origin of the text and other similar texts in the Christian tradition. I am no expert in this field, so I will restrict my attention to the language itself — and that is indecisive here. Looking at the big picture, I find the second option more fitting, but the first one doesn't seem impossible either.


I'll offer another translation that is fact not mine at all, but a translation of someone else (whose abilities I respect) on the Usenet group alt.language.latin where this same question came up about a year ago:

Stay with us O Lord
shine [your] light on us,
with darkness of mind dispelled,
fill the world with sweetness.

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