The Translation of Faith. 1

St. Peter’s, January 6th, 1870.


High in the midst the pictured Pentecost1
Showed in a sign the coming of the Ghost,2
And round about were councils blazoned3
Called by the Fathers in a day long dead,4
Who once therein, as well the limner paints,5
Upbuilt the faith delivered to the saints.6
Without the council-hall, in dawning day,7
The mass of men had left a narrow way8
Where ever-burning lamps enlock the tomb9
In golden glamour and in golden gloom.10
There on the earth is peace, and in the air11
An aspiration of eternal prayer ;12
So many a man in immemorial years13
Has scarcely seen that image for his tears,14
So oft have women found themselves alone15
With Christ and Mary on the well-worn stone.16
Thereby the conclave of the bishops went,17
With grave brows cherishing a dim intent,18
As men who travelled on their eve of death19
From every shore that man inhabiteth,20
Not knowing wherefore, for the former things21
Fade from old eyes of bishops and of kings.22
With crimson raiment one from Bozrah came,23
On brow and breast the rubies flashed in flame ;24
And this from Tyre, from Tunis that, and he25
From Austral islands and the Austral sea ;—26
And many a swarthy face and stern was there,27
And many a man who knows deep things and rare,28
Knows the Chaldaic and the Coptic rite,29
The Melchian-Greek and Ebio-Maronite,30
Strange words of men who speak from long ago,31
Lived not our lives, but what we know not know.32
And some there were who never shall disdain33
The Orders of their poverty and pain ;34
1 Public Session of the (Ecumenical Council, in St. Peter’s, Rome,
January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany), 1870.
Amidst all pomp preferring for their need35
The simple cowl and customary weed,—36
Some white and Carmelite, and some alway37
In gentle habit of Franciscan grey.38
O Francis ! never may thy sainted name39
Be thought or written save with soul aflame,40
Nor spoken openly nor breathed apart41
Without a stir and swelling of the heart ;—42
O mate of Poverty ! O pearl unpriced !43
O co-espoused, co-transforate with Christ !44
And lo, the Sovereign Pontiff, Holy Sire,45
Fulfilled anew the Catholic desire ;—46
Beneath the scroll of Peter’s charge unfurled47
He sat him at the centre of the world,48
Attending till the deeds of God began,49
And the One Sacrifice was slain for man.50
But yet to me was granted to behold51
A greater glory than the Pontiff’s gold ;—52
To my purged eyes before the altar lay53
A figure dreamlike in the noon of day ;54
Nor changed the still face, nor the look thereon,55
At ending of the endless antiphon,56
Nor for the summoned saints and holy hymn57
Grew to my sight less delicate and dim :—58
How faint, how fair that immaterial wraith !59
But looking long I saw that she was Faith.60


Last in the midst of all a patriarch came,61
Whose nation none durst ask him, nor his name,62
Yet ’mid the Eastern sires he seemed as one63
Fire-nurtured at the springing of the sun,64
And in robe’s tint was likest-hued to them65
Who wear the Babylonian diadem.66
His brows black yet and white unfallen hair67
Set in strange frame the face of his despair,68
And I despised not, nor can God despise,69
The silent splendid anger of his eyes.70
A hundred years of search for flying Truth71
Had left them glowing with no gleam of youth72
A hundred years of vast and vain desire73
Had lit and filled them with consuming fire ;74
Therethrough I saw his fierce eternal soul75
Gaze from beneath that argent aureole ;76
I saw him bow his hoar majestic head,77
I heard him, and he murmured, “Faith is dead.”78
Through arch and avenue the rumour ran,79
Shed from the mighty presence of the man ;80
Through arch and avenue and vault and aisle81
He cast the terror of his glance awhile,82
Then rose at once and spake with hurrying breath,83
As one who races with a racing Death.84
How long ago our fathers followed far85
That false flame of the visionary star !86
Oh better, better had it been for them87
To have perished on the edge of Bethlehem,88
Or ere they saw the comet stoop and stay,89
And knew the shepherds, and became as they !90
Better for us to have been, as men may be,91
Sages and silent by the Eastern sea,92
Than thus in now delusion to have brought93
Myrrh of our prayer, frankincense of our thought,94
For One whom knowing not we held so dear,95
For One who sware it, but who is not here.96
Better for you, this shrine when ye began,97
An earthquake should have hidden it from man,98
Than thus through centuries of pomp and pain99
To have founded and have finished it in vain,—100
To have vainly arched the labyrinthine shade,101
And vainly vaulted it, and vainly made102
For saints and kings an everlasting home103
High in the dizzying glories of the dome.104
For not one minute over hall or Host105
Flutters the peerless presence of the Ghost,106
Nor falls at all, for art’ or man’s device,107
On mumbled charm and mumming sacrifice,—108
But either cares not, or forspent with care109
Has flown into the infinite of air.110
Apollo left you when the Christ was born,111
Jehovah when the temple’s veil was torn,112
And now, even now, this last time and again,113
The presence of a God has gone from men.114
Live in your dreams, if ye must live, but I115
Will find the light, and in the light will die.”116


At that strange speech the sons of men amazed117
Each on the other tremulously gazed,118
When lo, herself,—herself the age to close,—119
From where she lay the very Faith arose ;120
She stood as never she shall stand again,121
And for an instant manifest to men :—122
In figure like the Mother-maid who sees123
The deepest heart of hidden mysteries,124
On that strange night when from her eyes she shed125
A holy glory on the painter’s bed,126
And Agnes and the angels hushed awhile,127
Won by her sadness sweeter than a smile.128
Such form she wore, nor yet henceforth will care129
That form, or form at all, on earth to wear ;130
For those sweet eyes, which once, with flag unfurled,131
So many a prince would follow through the world,—132
That face, the light of dreams, the crown of day,133
Lo, while we looked on her, was rapt away ;134
O mystic end and O evanished queen !135
When shall we see thee as our sires have seen ?136
And yet, translated from the Pontiff’s side,137
She did not die, O say not that she died !138
She died not, died not, O the faint and fair !139
She could not die, but melted into air.140
And first the conclave and the choir, and then141
The immeasurable multitude of men,142
Bowed and fell down, bowed and fell down, as though143
A rushing mighty wind had laid them low ;144
Yea to all hearts a revelation came,145
As flying thunder and as flying flame ;146
A moment then the vault above him seemed147
To each man as the heaven that he had dreamed ;148
A moment then the floor whereon he trod149
Became the pavement of the courts of God ;150
And in the aisles was silence, in the dome151
Silence, and no man knew that it was Rome.152