Friday, December 10, 2010

O Come

As we move toward the final days -- of Advent, and who knows what else? -- many Egg readers may find themselves singing a certain familiar song, perhaps even once too often. Yet here it is again, because Father A. simply can't help himself.

It is arguable, but O Come, O Come Emmanuel may be the best of all the Advent hymns available to English-speakers. Others may rival its eschatological tone and its easy singability, but few draw on such a variety of Scriptural imagery. It is, as hurried pastors have long since discovered, a Bible study in a box, ready to teach.

As you know, it is based on the antiphons of the Magnificat appointed for Vespers on December 17-23. As you probably also know, the hymn was composed by the heroic John Mason Neale, in the mid-19th century. Neale's base text was apparently not the breviary antiphons but a Latin hymn based upon them. (Or perhaps the Latin hymn was a translation of the English version? We truly do not know, and would be grateful for clarification by one who does.)

But like many beloved hymns, it has a confusing number of variations. The English words have been altered by many hands over the years, beginning with Neale's own. (His first version was called Draw Nigh rather than O Come.) Furthermore, Neale gave us only five stanzas rather than the full seven. Most confusing of all is the fact that neither Neale nor most modern hymnals put the stanzas appointed by the breviary. All this makes is a bit difficult to use for parish work, much less one's private devotion.

Here, then, in compact form, are the original Latin antiphons with literal English translations, alongside the Latin hymn of dubious provenance and a composite version of the English hymn. They are offered in the breviary order. These have all been culled from the Internet; nothing is original to the Egg.

First, the antiphons:

Latin Antiphons

English Antiphons

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,

qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,

et ei in Sina legem dedisti:

veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,

who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush

and gave him the law on Sinai:

Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,

super quem continebunt reges os suum,

quem Gentes deprecabuntur:

veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

before you kings will shut their mouths,

to you the nations will make their prayer:

Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;

qui aperis, et nemo claudit;

claudis, et nemo aperit:

veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,

sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

you open and no one can shut;

you shut and no one can open:

Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,

those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens,

splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:

veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Rising Sun,

splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:

Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,

lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:

veni, et salva hominem,

quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,

the cornerstone making both one:

Come and save the human race,

which you fashioned from clay.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,

exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:

veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Next, the hymn versions:

Latin Hymn

English hymn

Veni, O Sapientia,

Quae hic disponis omnia,

Veni, viam prudentiae

Ut doceas et gloriae.


Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel

Nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,

Who ord'rest all things mightily;

To us the path of knowledge show,

And teach us in her ways to go.


Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,

Shall ransom thee, o captive Israel

Veni, Veni Adonai!

Qui populo in Sinai

Legem dedisti vertice,

In Majestate gloriae.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,

Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height

In ancient times didst give the law

In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Veni, O Jesse virgula,

Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari

Educ et antro barathri.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free \

Thine own from Satan's tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save,

And give them victory o'er the grave.

Veni, Clavis Davidica,

Regna reclude caelica,

Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.

Veni, Veni O Oriens!

Solare nos adveniens,

Noctis depelle nebulas,

Dirasque noctis tenebras.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death's dark shadows put to flight!

Veni, Veni, Rex gentium,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
Ut salvas tuos famulos

Peccati sibi conscios.

O come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

O Bid our sad divisions cease,

And be for us our king of peace.

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!

Captivum solve Israel!

Qui gemit in exsilio,

Privatus Dei Filio.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

Of course, there is one more verse. Both the Church of England and the Premonstratensian Order preserve an antiphon addressed to Mary. By custom, this one is said last -- so, if one intends to use it, one begins the series of antiphons on Dec. 16. We could not find a version compatible with the hymn, so we have paraphrased it ourselves:

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?

Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.

Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?

Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?

For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.

Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?

The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

O Virgin blest, like thee is none

In ancient days or days to come.

Jerusalem shall sing of thee,

That bears th'eternal Mystery

Of course, this changes the famous reverse acrostic from ero cras to vero cras, meaning "I will surely come."


Pastor Joelle said...

I love the Os!

Anonymous said...

I wish our choir would sing the Latin hymns in Latin...I did mass at St. Peter's in Latin this past summer, and I can attest to the fact that there is something mystical to worshiping in Latin. And furthermore, the choir sees fit to sing Stille Nacht in Deutsch because that's its original would only seem right that they would do the same for Veni, Veni Emmanuel. Sadly, I think their reluctance to do so goes back the Luther abhorrence of omnia Latinorum. Didn't M. Luther want to maintain the Latin mass for high-church festivals? I wish I could find hard and fast proof of that, but I'm sure he didn't want to throw it out completely for the Landessprache.

Father Anonymous said...

Now, Dan, remember that the Latin version of the hymn isn't "original," really. It is at most a stopping-place between the antiphons and the English hymn. I'm inclined to suspect that it isn't even that, and that it was actually translated *from Neale's English* into a form that would fit the tune.

Still, there's no reason not to use some Latin in a Lutheran service. Luther recommended it for the Daily Office, as an educational tool. And even With One Voice offered a Latin kyrie.

mark said...

Probably the 12th century is when a (ahem) true "Father Anonymous" collected the antiphons as Latin verse, based on sources going back to the 9th century - although there may be a reference to them already in Boethius. According to the good old LBW Companion it was a 1710 edition where Neale found the "Draw nigh" version. Our Companion further notes that the wonderful tune we associate with the hymn was discovered (1966) to be from a 15th century "Processional" belonging to a community of French Franciscan nuns.