“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

Symphonic Meditation on "Of The Father's Love Begotten"      W. Zeitler [ORGAN]

"Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus"


One of the thing I like about the older hymns is that they tend to emphasize the Mystery of Advent/Christmas more than modern ones (in my humble opinion), and there's something wonder-full about a Christmas song that is millennia old — what other music from the 10th century do we still sing on a regular basis?

"Of the Father's Love Begotten" is translated from the Latin poem "Corde Natus" ("From the Father's Heart Begotten" would be another translation). We know the author: Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-c.410), a Roman Christian poet, born in what is now northern Spain. His parents, presumably Christian, had him educated in literature and rhetoric. Prudentius practiced law, and was twice provincial governor until Emperor Theodosius I summoned him to court for some now unknown high honor. Previous emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 and became a Christian himself. Christianity flourished — after all, what's the downside of adopting the same religion as the emperor? With Theodosius I (347–395) the turning of the tables of Christianity vs. the Roman Empire was brought full circle — whereas Christians had formerly been brutally persecuted, 'Christian' Theodosius implemented a severe persecution of the 'pagans'. There is even (disputed) evidence that Theodosius put a stop to the Greek Olympic Games because they were too 'heathen'. Theodosius was the last emperor before the Roman Empire split into East (Byzantium) and West: upon his death his two sons Arcadius and Honorius inherited the East and West halves respectively, and the Roman Empire was never again re-united.

Prudentius, though Christian, nevertheless admired the old pagan literature and art, especially the great Latin poets whose forms he used. He looked on the Roman achievement in history as a preparation for the coming of Christ and the triumph of a spiritual empire. In the latter part of his life — age 44? he died age 62? — Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food, while writing poems, hymns, and essays in defense of the Faith. In addition to "Corde natus" ("Of the Father's Heart Begotten") another of his poems is still in regular use: "O sola magnarum urbium" — better known to us as "Earth Has Many a Noble City".

The melody for "Of the Father" is also old: an early version of it appears in the 10th century as a Gregorian chant with different words: "Divinum mysterium semper declaratur…" ("the Divine Mystery forever proclaimed…"). By the 16th century the melody had evolved into its essentially current form. The original words speak of the transubstantiation of the elements at Communion (the bread and wine becoming the literal body and blood of Christ — a decidedly Catholic teaching) — so in 1851 Thomas Helmore, a Protestant, replaced the words with Prudentius' 4th century poem.

And so in this hymn we have text dating from the 4th century, and a tune originating in the 10th century, wedded in the 19th century into its current form. Yet one more tiny rivulet of the Mighty River flowing from Bethlehem to our own day — and beyond.

Here is the original text to Divinum Mysterium:

Divinum mysterium semper declaratur,

et mens infidelium timens excaecatur,

firma spes credentium fide roboratur.

The divine mystery is forever proclaimed

And the fearful mind of non-believers is blinded;

The firm hope of believers is strengthened by faith.

Panis prius cernitur, sed dum consecratur,

caro tunc efficitur, Christus sic mutatur,

quomodo convertitur, Deus operetur.

At first you see the bread, but when it is consecrated,

Then it becomes flesh: so is transformed into Christ.

The way of transformation is God at work.

De vino similiter si sit benedictum,

et tunc est veraciter sanguis Christi dictum,

credamus fideliter verum et non fictum.

The same happens to the wine: once it is consecrated,

Then you can truly say "the blood of Christ".

Believe with faith that this is truth, not falsehood.

Fides est summo opere credere in Deum,

panem sanctum edere et tractare eum.

Iubens dicit: Sumite, hoc est corpus meum.

Faith is believing in God with all your strength.

In the command to eat the holy bread and touch Him,

He said: Take this, this is My body.

Nobis celebrantibus istud sacramentum,

et cunctis fidelibus fiat incrementum,

omnibus negantibus sit in detrimentum.

We who celebrate this sacrament

And all believers benefit.

Those who deny this do so to their detriment.

Pater, Nate, Spiritus almum consolamen

Det nobis propitius nostrum restauramen,

Ut cum coeli ciuibus personemus, Amen.

Father, Son, Spirit of nurturing consolation,

Mercifully grant us an account of our restoration,

Which we may resound as citizens of Heaven. Amen.

Click here for the mp3 (5:32).

Click here for the pdf.