The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Child Is Born In Bethlehem

For Christmas

Words and Music: Puer natus in Bethlehem, a 14th Century Latin Hymn
See Puer natus in Bethlehem from Dreves, with notes.

Source: John William Hewett, "Verses. By A Country Curate." (London: Joseph Masters, 1859), Pages 26-27.

Music: "Puer Natus in Bethlehem"
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Meter: 8,8



1. A Child is born in Bethlehem ;
Rejoice, rejoice, Jerusalem !

2. Here in a manger Him adore,
Whose reign shall last for evermore.

3. The ox and ass the SAVIOUR know,1
And own our Monarch, kneeling low.

4. From Saba come the duteous kings ;—
One gold, one myrrh, one incense brings.

5. Of human seed He is not born,
Though Mary’s womb He doth not scorn.

6. To take our mortal flesh He deigns,
But free from Adam’s guilty stains.

7. Like us in form, He yet within
No power feels of tainting sin.

8. In fallen man He would renew
GOD’s ancient Image bright and true.

9. This Festal time in songs of joy
To JESUS CHRIST let all employ.

10. High glory, Lord, to Thee be done,
Now seen in flesh the Virgin’s Son.

11. The Hour TRINITY be prais’d,
Glad thanks to GOD ALMIGHTY rais’d. Amen.

Sheet Music for a similarly titled carol, "A Child Is Born In Bethlehem," The New Office Hymn Book, #336, p. 36.

a_child_is_born-new_office_hm_bk-336-p36-96.jpg (107234 bytes)

Footnote from Hewett:

1. Reference is made to Isaiah i. 3, compared with Habakkuk iii. 2, έν μέσφ δύο ζώων γνωσθήση, LXX., in medio duorum animalium innotesceris.

Editor's Footnote:

Isaiah 1:3

3 The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.

The reference to Habakkuk 3:2 is to the Septuagint (LXX), not the contemporary version, which is:

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.

In the Septuagint, there was an additional phrase, “in medio duorum animalium innotesceris,” which was, approximately, “You will be known between two living creatures” or “between two living things the Lord will be known.” This is erroneously interpreted to be a reference to being between two living things in the Manger, as, for example, in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew / the Proto-Evangelium of Pseudo-James, Chapter 14.

And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib. The very animals, therefore, the ox and the ass, having Him in their midst, incessantly adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Abacuc [Habakkuk] the prophet, saying: Between two animals thou art made manifest. [emphasis added] In the same place Joseph remained with Mary three days. [Source: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 8, at]

The better interpretations take it to be a prophesy of Jesus between Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration or between the two crucified thieves. There are a large number of other speculative interpretations of this phrase.

End Note from Hewett:

Daniel, i. 334; iv. 258. Trench, vii. Daniel tells us: “In Lutheranorum ecclesiis canticum Puer natus pæne ad hodiernum usque diem permansit, ita tamen ut versus Latinè et Germanicè canerentur.”

Editor's Note:

The content in Daniel, iv. 258, is a quotation from Trench, p. 93, not the version on this site:

This hymn, of a beautiful simplicity, and absorbing easily and naturally so much theology in its poetry, and in many ways containing so much in a brief compass, continued long a great favourite in the Lutheran Churches of Germany. It's use indeed survived among them till wellnigh the present day. It sometimes appears at nearly twice the length at which I have given it: but all which is more than this looks like filling up, and injures rather than promotes the effect of the whole.

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