The other day I promised a post on English translations of the Advent hymn 'Veni redemptor gentium', and since this is a hymn of St Ambrose, his feast-day seems a good time to post it. The hymn is fairly securely attributed to him, at least according to the evidence adduced on this site. Here's the Latin:
1. Veni, redemptor gentium,
ostende partum Virginis;
miretur omne saeculum:
talis decet partus Deum.
2. Non ex virili semine,
sed mystico spiramine
Verbum Dei factum est caro
fructusque ventris floruit.
3. Alvus tumescit Virginis,
claustrum pudoris permanet,
vexilla virtutum micant,
versatur in templo Deus.
4. Procedat e thalamo suo,
pudoris aula regia,
geminae gigas substantiae
alacris ut currat viam.
5. Aequalis aeterno Patri,
carnis tropaeo cingere,
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.
6. Praesepe iam fulget tuum
lumenque nox spirat novum,
quod nulla nox interpolet
fideque iugi luceat.
7. Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.
This is my favourite form of this hymn:
The music has such a wonderful, elegant movement to it! But we're considering the words, which in this case are by J. M. Neale. As usual, he does a splendid job:
1. Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
And manifest Thy virgin birth:
Let every age adoring fall;
Such birth befits the God of all.
2. Begotten of no human will,
But of the Spirit, Thou art still
The Word of God in flesh arrayed,
The promised Fruit to man displayed.
3. The virgin womb that burden gained
With virgin honour all unstained;
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in His temple dwells below.
4. Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.
5. From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds;
His course He runs to death and hell,
Returning on God’s throne to dwell.
6. O equal to the Father, Thou!
Gird on Thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.
7. Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.
8. All laud to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To God the Holy Paraclete.
Rendering Ambrose's concise Latin into equally concise English is so difficult, and Neale does it so well. Isn't verse 7 beautiful? We may wonder whether a cradle really 'glitters', but even so, you can't fault it.
This American translation, by William M. Reynolds, is also excellent:
1. Savior of the nations, come;
Virgin’s Son, here make Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
2. Not by human flesh and blood;
By the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh,
Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.
3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.
4. From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell
High the song of triumph swell!
5. Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast over sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?
6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.
7. Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.
Catherine Winkworth Englished a German translation of the hymn, rather well:
1. Redeemer of the nations, come!
Ransom of earth, here make Thy home!
Bright Sun, oh dart Thy flame to earth,
For so shall God in Christ have birth!
2. Thou comest from Thy kingly throne,
O Son of God, the Virgin's Son!
Thou Hero of a twofold race,
Dost walk in might earth's darkest place.
3. Thou stoopest once to suffer here,
And risest o'er the starry sphere;
Hell's gates at Thy descent were riven,
Thy ascent is to highest Heaven.
4. One with the Father! Prince of might!
O'er nature's realm assert Thy right,
Our sickly bodies pine to know
Thy heavenly strength, Thy living glow.
5. How bright Thy lowly manger beams!
Down earth's dark vale its glory streams,
The splendour of Thy natal night
Shines through all Time in deathless light.
I love 'hero of a twofold race'!
And another from David Thomas Morgan (1809-1886), whose longer lines give him a bit more space to work with:
1. O come, Redeemer of mankind, appear,
Thee with full hearts the virgin born we greet;
Let every age with rapt amazement hear
That wondrous birth which for our God is meet.
2. Not by the will of man, or mortal seed,
But by the Spirit's breathed mysterious grace
The Word of God became our flesh indeed,
And grew a tender plant of human race.
3. Lo! Mary's virgin womb its burden bears;
Nor less abides her virgin purity;
In the King's glory see our nature shares;
Here in His temple God vouchsafes to be.
4. From His bright chamber, virtue's holy shrine
The royal Bridegroom cometh to the day;
Of twofold substance, human and divine,
As giant swift, rejoicing on His way.
5. Forth from His Father to the world He goes,
Back to the Father's face His way regains,
Far down to souls beneath His glory shows,
Again at God's right hand victorious reigns.
6. With the eternal Father equal, Thou,
Girt with our flesh dost triumph evermore,
Strengthening our feeble bodies here below
With endless grace from Thine own living store.
7. How doth Thy lowly manger radiant shine!
On the sweet breath of night new splendor grows;
So may our spirits glow with faith divine,
Where no dark cloud of sin shall interpose.
8. All praise and glory to the Father be,
All praise and glory to His only Son,
All praise and glory, Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Both now, and while eternal ages run.
And finally a fifteenth-century translation from the hymnal I mentioned the other day, British Library, MS. Additional 34193. This was the first hymn I encountered from that collection and it was the translation of the 'cradle' verse which most attracted me - 'no cloudes black, no darkness noctiall!' It's rather Dunbar-esque. There are some nice bits of alliteration, too: 'from the chosen chamber of chaste cleanness' and 'banners of bliss' and best of all, 'This is the feast of our felicity'.
Come now, gud lord, now come, owr savyowr,
Come, shew thy byrth of mary, modyr & mayde;
Discende, gude lord, ryght frome thy heyvenly towre;
Now lat all worldys merueyll & be dysmayde,
How in owr kynd lyst to be Areyde,
And os þe son bemes peryth in þe glace,
Thy modyr mayd permaynyng os sche was.
Partles of mannes knolege or mixture,
Thys holy byrth, thys blessyd natiuite,
Whan god to mane is ioynyd in nature,
The holy gost by grace did hyt so be;
Thys is the fest of owr felicite,
Yn wyche þe wombe of þe uirgyne
The frute of lyff tyll vs did sontyfie.
The sacred wombe and cloystyr virginale,
Evyr vnwemmed and inviolate,
Thowgh it be fore ful sklendyr and small
[line missing in the manuscript]
The baners of blys bene splaied & preparate,
Ther can no thynge thys reherce,
loo, god and mane in temple is convers!
ffrom þe chosyne chambyr of chast clennes
Procedyng, and pure paleys of plesance,
Thurgh hys grace owr myscheff to reydres,
A myghty Gyant off dowbyll substance,
ffor to reypresse þe feendis fowle pywssance,
ffrome heyvyne tyl Erth hys cowrs hath swetyly tak
To cause owr joye and owr fynaunce to make.
Of þe fadyr eternall, generate
By generacyone enarrable,
In owr nature be comene incarnate,
So passyng owte be manes mercyable,
In to thys world and eftsone reyturnable,
Whane he hath putte the feendes to silence,
Vnto þe fadyr by merveilows ascence.
O goddes sone, evyn and peregalle
Vnto the fadyr in hys deytee,
In mannes wed by trophe trivmphall,
We the beschen, arreaye þi maieste,
Support well wyth þat owr infirmite,
Ne cause us not to fallene in Rvyne;
Conseruf us, lord, by thy uertu dyvyne.
The bestys crybbe, the humble assys Stall,
As pure gold Burned most fayr And bryght
Noo clowdys Blak, noo darknes noctyall,
May defare þe beemes of þis light;
Most orient and most persaunt of myght
Owr feyth, owr hope, & all owr hole creaunce
Ys in thys dey and all owr Esperance.
Too owr lord god, fadyr omnipotent,
Be yeuone lawd with joy ond all honowr,
And to þe sone that in þis fest is sent,
To help vs and ben owr savyowr,
And to þe holy gost, owr cownfortowr,
As well in erth os in the heyvyns hye,
Now and euer, Amen incessauntly.
Come now, good Lord, now come, our Saviour,
Come, show thy birth of Mary, mother and maid;
Descend, good Lord, down from thy heavenly tower.
Now let all worlds marvel and be dismayed,
How in our kind he wills to be arrayed;
And as the sunbeam appeareth in the glass,
Thy mother a maid remained, as she was,
Without man's knowledge or mixture;
This holy birth, this blest nativity,
When God to man is joinèd in nature -
The Holy Ghost by grace caused it so to be.
This is the feast of our felicity,
In which the womb of the virgin
The fruit of life to us did sanctify.
The sacred womb and cloister virginal,
Ever unstainèd and inviolate,
Though it before slender was and small
The banners of bliss are displayed and prepared;
There can no thing this truth explain or tell,
Lo, God and man within this temple dwell!
From the chosen chamber of chaste cleanness
Proceeding, and pure palace of pleasance, [joy]
Through his grace our sorrows to redress,
A mighty giant of double substance,
For to repress the fiend's foul puissance,
From heaven to earth his course did sweetly take
To cause our joy, and our redemption make.
Of the Father eternal, generate
By generation inerrable,
In our nature become incarnate,
So passing forth by means merciful,
Into this world and soon again returning,
When he hath made the fiends silent,
Unto the Father by marvellous ascent.
O God's Son, equal and peregalle [fully equal]
Unto the Father in his deity,
In mankind's weeds, by victory triumphal,
We thee beseech, show forth thy majesty,
Support us well in our infirmity,
And cause us not to fall in ruin;
Preserve us, Lord, by thy virtue divine.
The beasts' crib, the humble asses' stall,
As pure gold burned most fair and bright;
No clouds black, no darkness noctial,
May impede the beams of this light;
Most orient and most piercing of might,
Our faith, our hope, and all our whole creance [belief]
Is in this day, and all our esperance. [hope]
To our Lord God, Father omnipotent,
Be given laud with joy and all honour,
And to the Son who in this feast is sent,
To help us and to be our Saviour,
And to the Holy Ghost, our comforter,
As well in earth as in the heavens high,
Now and ever, Amen incessantly.