Maffeo Barberini was born in Florence in April, 1568, elected Pope Urban VIII on 6 August, 1623, and died at Rome, 29 July, 1644. He has a number of calls to fame, one being that he was involved with the Galileo affair. He also was an active pope who carried out a number of reforms of the Church, some good, some not so good. One of his less successful reforms was his reform of the Roman Breviary.
Pope Urban VIII was an excellent classical Latinist and felt that the hymns of the Roman Breviary needed to be reshaped into classical models. He was by no means the first to feel this way, but he has the distinction of being the Pope who actually carried out such an extensive revision of the hymns of the Roman Breviary into classical models. While a committee was appointed for the task, it is clear that the Pope personally oversaw the revision. Urban VIII was not content to leave alone the works of such great Latin Hymnists such as Prudentius, Fortunatus, or even Ambrose, but instead molded their works and the works of others into classical forms. The revision of the hymn texts was approved by the Congregation of Rites on March 29, 1629 and on January 25, 1631, the revised Roman Breviary was authorized for publication.
History and scholars have generally held that these revisions were very ill-advised. Indeed, those orders who were able to resist the revisions did so. Claiming the privilege of exemption granted by Pope Pius V because of the antiquity of their own Breviaries, the Dominicans, Benedictines, Cistercians, and Carthusians refused to adopt the revisions. Moreover, the revisions were never accepted at St. Peter's or the Lateran in Rome itself! This produced two distinct versions of the Latin hymnal that were to coexist for more than three hundred years. It was only until the recently that the mess was straightened out.
Due to the widespread use and familiarity many have with Urban's revised hymns, I have tried to indicate his revisions as footnotes to the original text and thereby hopefully clear up some of the confusion that lingers today.
Some related articles on the web:
Article on Pope Urban VIII (New Advent)
Article on Pope Urban VIII's reform of the Roman Breviary (EWTN)
©copyright, 1998 by Michael Martin