Vade retro satana

Vade retro satana

Vade retro satana ("Step back, Satan") is a Medieval Catholic formula for exorcism, recorded in a 1415 manuscript found in the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria and traditionally attributed to Saint Benedict (480–547).


The Latin text says:

Crux sancta sit mihi lux / Non draco sit mihi dux
Vade retro satana / Numquam suade mihi vana
Sunt mala quae libas / Ipse venena bibas

In approximate translation:

"May the Holy Cross be my light / Let not the demon lead me
Step back Satan / Never tempt me with vain things
What you offer me is evil / You drink the poison yourself."

Origins and history

The verse Vade retro satana was probably inspired by a phrase said by Jesus to Peter in the Vulgate New Testament, Mark 8:33: vade retro me, satana ("Step back from me, Satan!").

There is no evidence that the formula was composed by Saint Benedict, or even that it is older than the 14th century. It came to general attention in 1647, when certain women who were prosecuted for witchcraft declared that they had been unable to harm the Abbey of Metten because it was protected by the sign of the Holy Cross. A search in the monastery turned up painted crosses with the formula's initials. The meaning of those letters remained a mystery for some time, until the complete verses were found in a manuscript at the abbey's library , next to an image of St. Benedict.

That manuscript had been at Metten since 1414, and the same formula was later found in an Austrian manuscript from the 14th century . Following its 1647 rediscovery, the formula was for a time considered a superstition, but in 1742 it got the approval of Pope Benedict XIV, and is now part of the Roman Catholic ritual. The formula popularity grew considerably in the 19th century, mainy due to the efforts of Léon-Papin Dupont.

Current usage

In Catholic tradition, the formula (sometimes reduced to the vade retro verse) is used to repel any possible evil thing or happening, as a "spoken amulet". The initials of this formula (VRSNSMV SMQLIVB or VRS:NSMV:SMQL:IVB) were often engraved around crucifixes or Catholic religious medals featuring Saint Benedict.

The phrase vade retro satana is often used as a witty or scholarly prose device, dissociated from its religious implications, to express strong rejection of an unacceptable (but possibly tempting) proposal, or dread of some looming menace. Namely, in the sense of "do not tempt me!", "I will have nothing to do with that", "will someone deliver us from that", and so on.


See also

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