One of the great Christmas texts was written by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. Prudentius, one of the last writers of the Roman empire was also one of the first Christian poets. Born in northern Spain in 348, and trained as a lawyer, he rose through the ranks of the empire, finishing his work as an official in the court of the Emperor Theodosius. At the age of 57, weary of civic life and retired to write poetry. His poetry — especially his poem “Cathemerinon” – became some of the most treasured sources of hymnody through the Middle Ages. That collection of 12 long poems, one for each hour of the daily office, easily became the foundation of several of the greatest office hymns of the church. This hymn comes from Prudentius’ poem for the 9th hour, beginning “Da puer plectrum.”
It was translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851 for his collection of hymns called Hymnal Noted. Later revised by Henry Williams Baker, it became a popular hymn in the signal hymnal of its day, Hymns Ancient and Modern.
The plainsong melody Divinum Mysterium was first used for this text in Neale’s Hymnal Noted. Neale’s note in that collection indicates that the tune may have come from Wolfenbütel, Germany, in the 12th century. Most information available suggests that it comes from the Piae Cantiones Ecclesiasticae et Scholasticae, first published in Finland in 1582 by Theodoricis Petri who apparently wanted to preserve the medieval songs and carols being sung in Sweden. This book, when discovered by the Victorians, became the source of many of the melodies in Hymns Ancient and Modern.
About John Mason Neale, Pr. Stone of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) parish, St. John, Vacaville, CA writes:
“John Neale is one of my favorite translators/hymnists. He translated Hymn 96 in our hymnal, “Christian Worship” – “Oh, Wondrous Type!” – my favorite Transfiguration hymn. He died on Transfiguration Day.
I’ve written in the bulletin before concerning Neale:
“It is an ancient custom in the Christian church that a “farewell to Alleluia” is sung at the close of the liturgy on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally Christians do not sing “Alleluia” then until Easter morning; this symbolizes our voluntary restraint of praise during the penitential season of Lent. “Alleluia, Song of Sweetness” (sung to the tune of “Holy Spirit, Ever Dwelling”) – an 11th century hymn which we sing after the benediction – was translated by John Mason Neale. We also remember Neale for translating such hymns as “Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel” and “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” Neale died in 1866 on Transfiguration Sunday.”
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“Of The Father’s Love Begotten”
Sung by Kantorei of the Concordia (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) Theological Seminary Fort Wayne. Recorded in Kramer Chapel on the campus of CTS, Ft. Wayne. Setting: Kantor Richard Resch, Solo: Michael Kessler, from the album: “With Angels and Archangels”
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The Twelve Days of Christmas:
First Day of Christmas: Washington Crosses the Delaware River
Second Day of Christmas: General “Mad Dog” Mattis Gets Christmas Cookies
Third Day of Christmas: General Patton’s Christmas Card
Fourth Day of Christmas: Reagan’s 1986 Christmas Address Is More Relevant Than Ever
Fifth Day of Christmas: Two Musicians, A Broken Organ and “Silent Night”
Sixth Day of Christmas: The Back Story to “Come, O Come Emmanuel”
Seventh Day of Christmas: The Inspiring Story Behind “O Holy Night”
The Eighth Day of Christmas: The Powerful Story Behind “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
The Ninth Day of Christmas: What Child Is This?