Thursday, December 19, 2013

#371, in which, Lord, we greet thee

#6 "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" (music and lyrics: attributed to John F. Wade, trans. Frederick Oakley, based on Luke 2:8-20)

Although the English translation is enduring in the western world, the original Latin is nearly equally well-known. I'm no expert on Latin, but I've studied Romance languages enough to know that Oakley's translation is pretty close to the source text, although I have one minor quibble, which I'll come back to. We are directed to sing majestically, and I think the Latin lyrics provide a certain sense of majesty that is missing from the English. Judge for yourself:

Here's what they're singing:

Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum venite
Regem angelorum;
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus Dominum.

The hymn celebrates the arrival of the infant Jesus, but emphasizes his coming not as an infant, but as a King ("born the King of angels," as it says). And in reverence to the king, we sing His praise. We join with the choirs of angels, we sing in exultation, all of us citizens of heaven above.

The Latin makes a reference to His role as ruler that is lost in our English hymnals, though, and I want to point it out here. The third verse, in one of my favorite melodic passages in sacred verse, has us sing, "Son of the Father, now in flesh appearing." And yet the Latin reads, "Patris aeterni, Verbum caro factum." You don't have to hold a doctorate in Latin to recognize the word verbum instead of filium. In Latin, we sing of the coming of the Word of the Father, not His Son, and while scripture tells us that one is the other, the emphasis on one role over the other is no accident. In Latin, we offer praises to our ruler and king.

And yet, His more approachable role as Son feels more in keeping with the preceding lines, "Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning." We've been waiting for His coming, and now that He has come, we greet Him not as a ruler to be feared, but as a friend to be welcomed with open arms. His coming is met with reverence and majesty, yes, but since we, too, are sons and daughters of the Father, we rejoice to see the arrival of our Brother. He is come, and He is good, and surely that makes it a happy morning. Incidentally, this is the only hymn that refers to the time of day as "morning" rather than "night." I won't pretend to know what time of day the Savior was born, nor will I suggest that the contradiction implies some sort of doctrinal failing, but I might suggest that the morning is symbolic of the dawning of a new age in which God and sinners are reconciled.

But that, of course, is a story for another hymn.

Previously in this series

#7 Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains
#8 Once in Royal David's City
#9 Angels We Have Heard on High
#10 It Came upon the Midnight Clear
#11 O Little Town of Bethlehem
#12 With Wondering Awe
#13 Joy to the World
#14 While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

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