Agnus Dei

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The Lamb of God defeats the lindworm , the dragon Babylon
Rest of a tympanum in St. Alexandri's Church in Eldagsen , around 796
Adoration of the Lamb ( Jan van Eyck , Ghent Altarpiece , 15th century)

Agnus Dei ( Latin for Lamb of God , or ancient Greek Ἀμνὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ Amnòs toû Theoû ) is a symbol for Jesus Christ that has been widespread in Christianity since ancient times . As an Easter lamb, marked with the victory flag, it is a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ . It is a common part of Christian art and a Christian symbol in heraldry .

Agnus Dei are also the first words of a prayer or chant in the Eucharistic liturgy . It belongs to the ordinarium , the fixed parts of the holy mass , the final part of which it forms, and is therefore usually also part of mass settings . Also litanies close to the Agnus Dei .


Old testament

This idea of ​​the Agnus Dei refers to the lamb as a sacrificial animal in the Old Testament , especially to the Passover lambs, whose blood was painted on the door post on the night of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt ( Exodus ) at the command of God as a protective symbol before the Angel of Death was ( Ex 12  EU ). Following the exodus of Israel as God's saving act, besides the baking of unleavened bread, the slaughter of a lamb became the central practice of the Passover festival.

The fourth servant song in Isaiah ( Isa 52,13ff  EU ) is also connected with the symbolism of the lamb. There it says of the Servant of God: “He was mistreated and depressed, but he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb brought to the slaughter and like a sheep in the face of its clippers, so he did not open his mouth either ”( Isa 53,7  EU ). For Jeremiah , the image of the lamb stands for the prophet's ignorance and trust in the intentions of his adversaries: “I myself was like a trusting lamb who was led to the slaughter, and had no idea that they were planning evil against me: We want the tree in Juice spoil; we want to exterminate him from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be mentioned ”( Jer 11:19  EU ).

New Testament

The lamb and the book with seven seals. Excerpt from the second figure of the Apocalypse cycle by Albrecht Dürer

In the Johannine writings of the New Testament in particular, the symbol of the Lamb of God plays a special role. In two places in the Gospel of John , John the Baptist refers to Jesus Christ with the words: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” ( Joh 1,29  EU , Joh 1,36  EU ). According to the Gospel of John , the crucifixion of Jesus took place at the time when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. According to the report of the three synoptic Gospels , the Lord's Supper took place on the night of the Feast of Passover, from which the close connection between the Eucharist and the symbolism of the Lamb comes.

In the context of a congregational discipline , in Paul's first letter to the congregation in Corinth, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Passover lamb who has already been sacrificed ( 1 Cor 5,7  EU ). That the blood of the lamb serves to redeem people becomes clear in 1 Petr 1,19  EU . Peter assures the addressees that they were not redeemed (redeemed) with perishable materials such as silver or gold, "but with the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without blemish or blemish" .

In the Revelation of John the idea of ​​the Lamb, who is here identical with Jesus Christ, occupies a large space in the apocalyptic vision of the seer. In John's great vision of the throne room, the appearance of the lamb is described as “as if slain” ( Rev. 5,6  EU ). It is the center of worship ( Rev 5,8f  EU ). Only the Lamb can open the book with the seven seals, which sets the individual end-time events of the book in motion ( Rev 5.5  EU ). In the same biblical book reference is made to the “wedding of the Lamb”, which will take place at the end of time, when Christ will bring redeemed humanity home to God as his “happy bride” (cf. Rev 19 :EU ). In the end it is the Lamb who, together with God, is the center of the New Jerusalem (cf. Rev 14  EU ).

The lamb on the book with seven seals, Johann Heinrich Rohr, around 1775.

Just as the lamb is traditionally understood as a sign of life and innocence and its white fur symbolizes inner purity and piety, the Easter lamb points out that Jesus Christ died innocently for people according to the Christian faith. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the pure and sinless Lamb of God who was sacrificed by God for the sins of man. According to Christian theology, Jesus Christ is the mediator who, through his sacrificial death, established reconciliation between God and the fallen creation ( GenEU ) and thus achieved victory over sin and death. This reconciliation is transmitted to man through faith in Jesus as Savior and at baptism and is made present in the celebration of the Lord's Supper .

Church history

By order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II , the representation of Christ as Agnus Dei in canon 82 of the Trullan Synod was prohibited in 691 . However, this council decision was not recognized in the West. This was justified with the provisional representation of Christ as Agnus Dei and the necessary representation of Christ in his human form as a representation of the perfect.

This is what it says in the relevant section of the synodal resolution:

“In certain sacred images the forerunner is depicted pointing his finger at the lamb. This representation was interpreted as a symbol of grace. She was a hidden symbol of the true Lamb who is Christ, our God, who is revealed to us according to the law. Since we have now adopted these symbols and shadows as symbols of the truth conveyed to us by the Church, today we prefer grace and truth itself as the fulfillment of this law. Therefore, in order to show the perfect with the help of the pictures, we stipulate that from now on Christ, our God, will be represented in his human form and no longer in that of the Lamb. "

- Trullan Synod, Can. 82.

The interdenominational Unitas Fratrum (Moravian Church) , in German-speaking countries better known as the Moravian Church (Engl. Moravian Church ), uses the Agnus Dei as a logo. The logo is framed internationally by the words "VICIT AGNUS NOSTER - EUM SEQUAMUR", in Germany often by the words "UNSER LAMM HAT GESIEGT - LET US FOLLOW HIM".

The fortified church in Herschdorf in Thuringia was called " Zum Lamme Gottes ".


The Lord's Supper makes reference to the Passover lamb , since Jesus and his disciples held the Passover meal with his disciples the night before his execution. After that, according to tradition, he served the disciples unleavened bread and wine. Following the command of Jesus, the Church celebrates the Passover mystery , preferably in the Eucharist. “ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. "( 1 Cor 11,23-26  EU )

“The leaping lamb of God with the seven eyes, surrounded by two angels”, section of a fresco by Herbert Boeckl , north wall of the angel chapel, Seckau basilica

In the liturgy , the Agnus Dei is a litany-like prayer addressed to Jesus Christ , which has been sung or said since the 7th century in Roman Catholic and all liturgies derived from it during the Eucharist when the bread is broken after the greeting of peace . In the Lord's Supper liturgy in the Lutheran Church , the Agnus Dei is sung by the congregation after the words of institution.

Outside of Holy Mass , the Agnus Dei also occurs at the end of litanies such as the All Saints Litany or the Lauretan Litany , followed by an oration .

Latin text:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Before the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, the following modification was sung in the funeral mass :

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona ice requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona ice requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Since today the Agnus Dei is not understood as an intercession but again as an accompanying text to the fractio (breaking bread), the usual text is also used in the Requiem .

German text in Holy Mass :

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, give us your peace.

Former German text in the funeral mass:

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, give them (eternal) rest

German text in the version of the Lutheran mass:

Christ, you Lamb of God, bearing the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, you Lamb of God, bearing the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, you Lamb of God, bearing the sin of the world, give us your peace, amen.

While the German translation is based on Joh 1.29  EU in the singular "Sin of the World", the Latin version of Agnus Dei uses the plural peccata (contrary to the Vulgate Joh 1.29  VUL ); the liturgy in some languages ​​(such as English or Italian) also adopts the plural.

The Agnus Dei as a sacramental

Agnus Dei by Pope Pius XI. , 1938, depicting Andreas Bobola, who was canonized that year .
Fragment of a papal Agnus Dei (center) in a reliquary for the Holy Year 1933

In the city of Rome it was customary since the 9th century to bless wax tablets with the embossed relief of the Lamb of God during the cartage and to hand them out to the believers on the Saturday after Easter , who took them home for private devotion. Since the 15th century the Pope himself blessed these wax tablets, in the first and then every seventh year of his reign. They were shaped like oval wax medallions and are considered sacramental . On the front they bore the depiction of Agnus Dei , as well as the year of consecration with the name of the consecrating Pope, on the back an image of a saint. Metal capsules or monstrance-like containers (eastern sensoria) , which were usually artistically designed, were used to store the Agnus Deis, which is also popular north of the Alps . Often the tablets were also cut up and incorporated as small particles into reliquary containers. After Easter in 1964, the custom was abandoned by the Popes.

Iconography / heraldry

In Christian iconography , the Lamb of God is often used as a symbol for Christ. It is often represented with the victory flag (red cross on a white background) as an attribute to symbolize Christ's victory over death and thus his resurrection. In this representation it is also referred to as the Easter lamb. Another variant shows the lamb lying down with the legs tied with a rope. A representation of the Agnus Dei is in some cases connected with the inscription Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi or the related biblical passages. The official badge of the pallium contains references to the complex biblical symbolism of the lamb and shepherd. The holder of the shepherd's office puts the pallium, woven from lambswool, over his shoulders like the shepherd the recovered sheep.

Due to the great symbolic importance of the Lamb of God for the Eucharist , the motif was often depicted in churches , for example directly on the altar or as a ceiling design. Images of the Lamb of God can also be found on church portals. As an expression of the fact that Jesus was destined to be the Lamb of God from his birth, the baby Jesus is shown as a lamb in the arms of his mother on a modern Christmas crib in the Jesuit Church in Heidelberg .

It can also be found in coats of arms , see: Christian symbols in heraldry # Agnus Dei .

The Lamb of God is also the guild mark of the butchers' guild .


Depiction of the baby Jesus as a lamb in a modern nativity scene in the Jesuit Church in Heidelberg

The “Agnus Dei” is one of the fixed components (“ Ordinarium ”) in settings of the mass and has been set to music by composers of all epochs and denominations.

Agnus Dei was set to music as a single work, for example in 1967 by Samuel Barber as Agnus Dei (a vocal arrangement of his Adagio for Strings ). In 1997, Puff Daddy took a sample of the beginning of barbers Agnus Dei as the intro of the album version of his cover song I'll Be Missing You .

The last words, Dona nobis pacem's request for peace , were often the motive for separate settings. These include:

  • Violeta Dinescu : Dona nobis pacem for mezzo-soprano, cello and percussion, 1987
  • Marie-Joseph Erb: Missa Dona nobis pacem (op.89)
  • Heinz Holliger : Dona nobis pacem , 1969
  • Ernst Pepping : Missa Dona Nobis Pacem (Peace Mass) for choir, 1948
  • Pēteris Vasks : Dona nobis pacem , 1996/97

As a hymn of the Lutheran singing is O Lamb of God, innocent of Nikolaus Decius handed (1485-1546).

Cultural reception

Easter lambs in Christian customs

Easter lamb as bread

In Christianity , the symbolism of the lamb for the resurrection of Christ led to the baking of Easter lambs as shaped bread , which are provided with the victory flag of the resurrection, are brought to the consecration of food or meat in the Easter celebration and then eaten along with other dishes for Easter breakfast.


  • Gerald Unterberger: Agnus Dei - the lamb of God with the cross staff. Iconography and Religious Imagination. In: PAX - magazine of the Admont Benedictine Abbey , No. I / 2001.
  • Franz Meinecke: The symbol of the apocalyptic Christ Lamb as the triumphal confession of the imperial church . Diss. Strasbourg 1908.
  • Wilhelm Molsdorf: Christian symbolism of medieval art . Leipzig 1926. [Reprint: Graz 1964, ISBN 3-201-00411-1 ].
  • Franz Nikolasch : The lamb as a symbol of Christ in the writings of the fathers ( Viennese contributions to theology , volume 3). Herder, Vienna 1963.
  • Gerhard Reichelt: The book with the seven seals in the Apocalypse of John . Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-451-19426-0 .
  • Christoph Markschies : "Here is the right Easter lamb". Christ lamb and lamb symbolism with Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach . In: Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte , 102, 1991, pp. 209–230.

Web links

Commons : Agnus Dei  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Lamb of God  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Songbook / Agnus Dei  - sheet music for Agnus Dei

Individual evidence

  1. In a German translation from Latin, quoted from Piero Marini: The Council Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea - the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Iconography and Liturgy. II. The picture controversy. Published by the Holy See , Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Pope. Published on February 5, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2018. Note: In the first sentence, the "forerunner" refers to John the Baptist .
  2. ^ Basilic choir Enns St. Laurenz: Agnus Dei. In: Texts of the Latin Mass with German translation. P. 2; (PDF; 103 kB); accessed on March 31, 2018.
  3. Text with melody ( Memento from December 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Josef Andreas Jungmann SJ: Missarum Sollemnia - a genetic explanation of the Roman mass , Volume 2, Herder Verlag, Vienna, Freiburg, Basel, 1952, p. 420. In this standard work it is noted without further explanation or evidence that it is the "factual The plural contained therein "and refers to ( Isa 53,5-7  EU ). But an influence of ( 1 Joh 3,5  EU ) (“that he appeared so that he would take away sins”, Luther 2017) is also possible.
  5. ^ Joseph Marzohl: Liturgia sacra: or the customs and antiquities of the Catholic Church , Part 5, First Half, pp. 168 to 179, Lucerne, 1843; (Digital scan)
  6. Josef Braun SJ: Agnus Dei . In: Real Lexicon on German Art History . Volume 1. Stuttgart 1933, Col. 212-216, . Agnus Dei . In: The large art dictionary by PW Hartmann
  7. ^ Website of an Agnus Dei by Pope Pius II and the associated Ostensorium in Basel
  9. ^ Wayne Wentzel: Samuel Barber: A Research and Information Guide. 2nd Edition. Routledge, New York / London 2010, ISBN 978-0-415-87558-5 , p. 186 ( limited preview in Google book search).