Aeterna Pax Iesu (Poem)

The Lord His saints will ever bless, / As He has always done, and make me know / And with the cloud of witnesses confess, / “Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

This poem imitates the style of the Middle Scots Poets William Dunbar (c. 1459-1530) and Robert Henryson (c. 1460-1500). Both wrote poems that are eight lines of iambic pentameter following the rhyme scheme ABABBCBC, for example, Henryson’s Against Hasty Credence and The Want of Wyse Men and Dunbar’s Of the Passion of Christ and The Table of Confession. This particular poetic form is called the Ballade Stanza or the Monk’s Tale Stanza, so called because Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) used the form for the stanzas of the Monk’s Tale in the Canterbury Tales. Dunbar puts an interesting twist on the form in several of his poems by making the final line of each stanza a Latin refrain, for example, in Of Man’s Mortality (quod tu in cinerem reverteris; “that you will return to ash”) and (my personal favorite) On the Resurrection of Christ (surrexit Dominus de sepulchro; “the Lord has risen from the tomb”).

Aeterna Pax Iesu is an imitation specifically of Dunbar’s Latin twist on the Ballade Stanza, each stanza concluding Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo, “I have the eternal peace of Jesus.” I should also note that in the eleventh stanza there is a Greek phrase, τὸ  ὄνομά σου ἁγιασθήτω, which are the words of the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy name” (albeit in a slightly different order than in Matthew 6:9). The phrase is pronounced “taw ah-nuh-mah soo hah-gih-ahs-thay-toh.”

In a time of cultural turmoil, it is a great comfort to reflect on the saints who have gone before us. They had the peace of Jesus, not because the outward circumstances were conducive to feeling a sense of peace, but because the peace that Jesus gives is not the least bit dependent on the external circumstances. The peace that Jesus gives is the peace that let him sleep during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The peace of Jesus is the peace that turned the disciples’ sorrow into joy on Easter evening. This is peace that surpasses all understanding, and it is ours in Jesus, come what may. – Rev. Andrew Richard


1. Our father Adam had to step across
   The garden’s threshold onto weedy earth,
And as he went, reflecting on his loss,
   On sin’s corruption and on worldly dearth,
   Yet thought he also on the coming birth
Of One who would defeat the evil foe.
   He touched his holy clothes and said in mirth,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

2. Within the finished doorway Noah stood
   And saw God’s Word rejected all around
By men in love with sin and hating good,
   Who wished his death, though he did but expound
   The Word of Life that they might not be drowned.
The skies grew dark; the winds began to blow.
   Behind the closing door did this resound:
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

3. Away from home and kindred Abram went,
   Not knowing where he next would lay his head.
At night in foreign lands he pitched his tent;
   When morning dawned he ate his daily bread,
   Uncertain in what path his feet would tread;
But certain in the end God would bestow
   Foundations, he an altar built and said,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

4. Betrayed by brothers, Joseph as a slave
   Was sold to Egypt. Faithfully he served;
But then his master’s wife temptation gave.
   When faithful Joseph wouldn’t be unnerved,
   She leveled accusations undeserved.
Through treachery and slander did he go
   To prison; yet from this he never swerved:
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

5. Between the raging sea and hardened heart
   Of Pharaoh Moses stood with staff in hand:
The staff of God that ate th’ enchanters art
   And decimated all of Egypt’s land.
   Then Moses pondered, waiting on the sand,
That God an even greater staff would show,
   And on the ancient promise took his stand,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

6. “A king!” the people cried, and Samuel warned:
   The king would be the sort of man who brings
Them grief and takes their freedom. This they scorned,
   And thus the first of many christenings
   Of man to public office brought its stings.
As Samuel mourned for Saul with tears of woe,
   He set his hope upon the King of Kings,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

7. And David likewise suffered at the hands
   Of Saul, who sought his life, though he had saved
The people. Far and wide through many lands
   Was David persecuted as Saul raved.
   Yet all this senseless hatred David braved,
For one day Christ himself would dwell below,
   And thus, as in the psalms he has engraved,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

8. Unto the mount of God Elijah fled,
   Where in the bygone days had stood a crowd.
“Alas! Now I alone am left,” he said.
   “The empty pews of Sinai echo loud.”
   But then he was with other words endowed;
The still small voice of Jesus let him know,
   “To Baal still seven thousand have not bowed.”
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

9. “Surrender! You have no hope anyhow!”
   Thus Hezekiah heard the Assyrians cry,
Who had besieged Jerusalem. What now,
   But starve or fight, or in the end comply?
   He prayed and knew that Christ would not deny
To help his Israel, but overthrow
   The enemy; the answer would be nigh.
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

10. An exile far from Judah, Daniel sat
   Within the dark and deadly lions’ den
For no fault of his own, but simply that
   His Christian life offended jealous men.
   No matter; for the Lord had always been
His shield and always would be, even though
   All hell break loose, and so he said, “Amen.
Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

11. “Peace, peace!” false prophets said. There was no peace;
   Their pleasant words but scratched the people’s ears,
While steadfast Jeremiah wouldn’t cease
   To preach the truth, though he was met with sneers.
   The mockers blasphemed Christ. He prayed through tears,
“τὸ  ὄνομά σου ἁγιασθήτω,”
   And played the man and said with all the seers,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

12. “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John had proclaimed
   And to repentance called both small and great.
King Herod, who was not at all ashamed
   To take his brother’s wife, became irate
   And tried to make the Word of God abate
By jailing John, who said with faith aglow,
   “You can’t stop Christ. Bring out your silver plate!
Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

13. Before the cross stood Mary, and she saw
   Her Son transfixed with nails in hands and feet.
She wept to see His body torn and raw,
   Yet knew she looked upon the mercy seat
   Of God, and thus the bitter death was sweet.
The seed of woman came, and at the flow
   Of lifeblood she knew sin had met defeat.
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

14. The third day Mary Magdalene was by
   The tomb and cried, “They took my Lord away!
He’s dead; now I and everyone will die!”
   She hung her mortal head in deep dismay;
   But then the Lord appeared that Easter Day,
And Mary’s tears of mourning ceased to flow.
   When Jesus said her name then did she say,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

15. Th’ Apostles locked the doors and hid in fear,
   And would have been there still, but Jesus came.
Their terror fled away when He drew near;
   He “Peace be with you” said and spoke no blame.
   Then forth they went to spread abroad His fame;
And when the thankless world would hostile grow,
   They thought it joy to suffer for His name,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

16. And now that Jesus dominated death,
   The martyr Stephen mocked it to its face.
He gladly yielded up his dying breath
   And counted it a gain and no disgrace
   To die for Christ and go to His embrace.
“The stones may fly, but He to whom I owe
   My life thus sets me free from this dread place.
Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo.”

17. And I, I see the world around me rage,
   The devil rear his head and truth suppress;
And in this dark, perverse, and evil age,
   I feel a pull toward utter hopelessness.
   But no! the Lord His saints will ever bless,
As He has always done, and make me know
   And with the cloud of witnesses confess,
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

18. Our Father in the heavens at the end
   Of days will mercy have upon our sore
And weary souls and from His side will send
   His Son to bring us home and end our war.
   So come, Lord Jesus, come, just as You swore
And raise us up to heaven’s courts where, lo!
   Your Church will bless Your name forevermore:
“Aeternam pacem Iesu habeo!”

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Andrew Richard

Rev. Andrew Richard is Assistant Pastor, Headmaster, and Upper Level Teacher at Mount Hope Lutheran Church and School in Casper, WY.

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