Have yourself a late antique Christmas

The Christmas carol originated in the Middle Ages, but the medieval carols that still get sung come from the fourteenth or fifteenth century and so are Not My Millennium. There are a few Christmas carols and hymns, however, which are translations of late antique and early medieval texts and here is one of them. Of the Father’s love begotten is a translation by the prolific Victorian hymn writer and translator John Mason Neale of parts of a Latin hymn (Liber Cathemerinon, Hymn 9, Da, puer, plectrum) by the fourth century poet Prudentius, best known to many medievalists as the writer of Psychomachia, an allegorical poem on the conflict of the virtues and vices.

Note: I’ve taken the texts from Hymns and Carols of Christmas: there are several variants of the translation. However the final verse quoted here doesn’t come from Prudentius and I don’t know its source. Neale’s translation is in six line verses (with a refrain), but I’ve combined pairs of lines to show more clearly how he’s translating Prudentius’ individual lines.

Of the Father’s love begotten, Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
Corde natus ex parentis ante mundi exordium
A et O cognominatus, ipse fons et clausula
Omnium quae sunt, fuerunt, quaeque post futura sunt.
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean / In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining / Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!
Ipse iussit et creata, dixit ipse et facta sunt,
Terra, caelum, fossa ponti, trina rerum machina,
Quaeque in his vigent sub alto solis et lunae globo.
He is found in human fashion, Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children / Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish / In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!
Corporis formam caduci, membra morti obnoxia
Induit, ne gens periret primoplasti ex germine,
Merserat quem lex profundo noxialis tartaro.
O that birth forever blessèd, When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, Bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!
O beatus ortus ille, virgo cum puerpera
Edidit nostram salutem, feta Sancto Spiritu,
Et puer redemptor orbis os sacratum protulit.
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, And extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent, Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!
Psallat altitudo caeli, psallite omnes angeli,
Quidquid est virtutis usquam psallat in laudem Dei,
Nulla linguarum silescat, vox et omnis consonet.
This is He Whom seers in old time / Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets / Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected, Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!
Ecce, quem vates vetustis concinebant saeculis,
Quem prophetarum fideles paginae spoponderant,
Emicat promissus olim; cuncta conlaudent eum.
Righteous judge of souls departed, Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted / None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming / Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!
Macte iudex mortuorum, macte rex viventium,
Dexter in Parentis arce qui cluis virtutibus,
Omnium venturus inde iustus ultor criminum.
Thee let old men, thee let young men, Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo, And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!
Te senes et te iuventus, parvulorum te chorus,
Turba matrum, virginumque, simplices puellulae,
Voce concordes pudicis perstrepant concentibus.
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion, And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!
Tibi, Christe, sit cum Patre hagioque Pneumate
Hymnus, decus, laus perennis, gratiarum actio,
Honor, virtus, victoria, regnum aeternaliter.

Happy Christmas to all my readers!


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