The Nunc dimittis1 /nʊŋk dɪˈmɪtɪs/ (also Song of Simeon or Canticle of Simeon) is a canticle from a text in the second chapter of Luke named after its first words in Latin, meaning 'Now you dismiss...'.2 (Luke 2:29–32), often used as the final song in a religious service.
According to the narrative in Luke, Simeon was a devout Jew who had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would not die until he had seen the Saviour. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ceremony of consecration of the firstborn son (not the circumcision, but rather after the time of Mary's purification: at least 40 days after the birth), Simeon was there, and he took Jesus into his arms and uttered words rendered variously as follows.
Original Greek (Novum Testamentum Graece):
- νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ·
- ὅτι εἶδον οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου τὸ σωτήριόν σου,
- ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν,
- φῶς εἰς αποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν καὶ δόξαν λαοῦ σου Ἰσραήλ.
- Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
- Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
- Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
- Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.
- Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace;
- Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
- Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
- A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
English (Book of Common Prayer, 1662):
- Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
- For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
- Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;
- To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
English (The Divine Office (Grail Version), 1974)
- At last, all-powerful Master, +
- you give leave to your servant *
- to go in peace, according to your promise.
- For my eyes have seen your salvation *
- which you have prepared for all nations,
- the light to enlighten the Gentiles *
- and give glory to Israel, your people.
English (Liturgy of the Hours, 1975)
- Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
- Your word has been fulfilled.
- My eyes have seen the salvation
- You have prepared in the sight of every people,
- A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.
English (New Revised Standard Version, 1989):
- Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
- for my eyes have seen your salvation,
- which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
- a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
The Nunc Dimittis is the traditional 'Gospel Canticle' of Night Prayer (Compline), just as Benedictus and Magnificat are the traditional Gospel Canticles of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer respectively. Hence the Nunc Dimittis is found in the liturgical night office of many western denominations, including Evening Prayer (or Evensong) in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662, Compline (A Late Evening Service) in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1928, and the Night Prayer service in the Anglican Common Worship, as well as both the Roman Catholic and Lutheran service of Compline. In eastern tradition the canticle is found in Eastern Orthodox Vespers. One of the most well-known settings in England is a plainchant theme of Thomas Tallis.
Many composers have set the text to music, usually coupled in the Anglican church with the Magnificat, as both the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are sung (or said) during the Anglican service of Evening Prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer, 1662, in which the older offices of Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer) were deliberately merged into one service, with both Gospel Canticles employed. In Common Worship, it is listed among "Canticles for Use at Funeral and Memorial Services"4 and a setting of it by Charles Villiers Stanford was sung at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher as the recessional.5
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Marquis de Lafayette (17 May 1816), Joseph Cabell (31 January 1821), and General Andrew Jackson (18 December 1823)
- T. H. White novel The Once and Future King – recitation by Merlyn
- T. S. Eliot poem A Song for Simeon (1928)
- Joseph Brodsky poem "Nunc Dimittis" (1972)
- Ezra Pound poem "Cantico del Sole" (1918)
- Karel Capek play R.U.R.
- Roald Dahl short story "Nunc Dimittis" (1953-1979)
- Tanith Lee story "Nunc Dimittis" (1984-1986)
- Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
- John le Carre novel A Murder of Quality
- John le Carre novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – closing theme of TV adaptation
- John le Carre novel The Constant Gardener – sung at the funeral of Tessa Quayle
- H. W. Brands novel The Strange Death of American Liberalism
- David Mitchell novel Cloud Atlas - Pacific journal of Adam Ewing, part 1
- Nunc dimittis servum tuum: now lettest thou thy servant depart; Minnie Gresham Machen, "The Bible in Browning" The Macmillan Company, 1903
- "Nunc Dimittis". Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House, 2005.
- The Church of England - Common Worship - Canticles for Use at Funeral and Memorial Services
- "Margaret Thatcher: the funeral Order of Service". Telegraph. 17 April 2013.