The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Bright Builder of the Heavenly Poles

Vespers, During Advent and a Hymn for the Circumcision

Words: Anonymous 7th Century Latin Hymn, “Ambrosian.”
See Conditor alme siderum, the main page for this family of hymns.

Translation: a cento from the Primer, 1685, and the Evening Office, 1710

Compare: Bright Builder of the Heavenly Poles (Shipley)

Source: Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B., ed., The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1922), No. 35, pp. 95-97.

Bright Builder of the heavenly poles,
Eternal light of faithful souls,
Jesus, Redeemer of mankind,
Our humble prayers vouchsafe to mind.

Who, lest the fraud of hell's black king
Should all men to destruction bring,
Didst, by an act of generous love,
The fainting world's physician prove.

Who, that Thou mightst our ransom pay
And wash the stains of sin away,
Wouldst from a Virgin's womb proceed
And on the Cross a Victim bleed.

Whose glorious power, whose saving name
No sooner any voice can frame,
But heaven and earth and hell agree
To honor them with trembling knee.

Thee, Christ, who at the latter day
Shalt be our Judge, we humbly pray
Such arms of heavenly grace to send
As may Thy Church from foes defend.

Be glory given and honor done
To God the Father and the Son
And to the Holy Ghost on high,
From age to age eternally.


Also found in The Roman Breviary (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1964), p. 1.

Notes from Rev. Matthew Britt:

Author: Ambrosian, 7th cent. Meter: Iambic dimeter. Translation: a cento from the Primer, 1685, and the Evening Office, 1710. First line of Original Text: Conditor alme siderum. The Advent hymns were greatly altered by the revisers under Pope Urban VIII (1632). Only one line of this hymn was left unaltered, and only twelve words of the original were retained. Including both texts there are about thirty translations, nine of which are in Mr. Shipley's Annus Sanctus, both texts being represented. Liturgical Use: Vespers hymn for Sundays and week-days during Advent.

The hymns and antiphons of Advent present in a concise and admirable manner the leading ideas of that holy season.

1. "O Jesus, kind Creator of the stars, eternal light of the faithful, Redeemer of all, give ear to the prayers of Thy suppliants.'' Creator: Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est (John 1, 3). Lux: Erat lux vera, quć illuminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum (John 1, 9).

2. "Thou wast impelled by the power of love to become a remedy for the languid world, lest mankind should perish through the cunning of the devil." Constr. Qui actus impetu amoris, factus es medela mundi languidi, ne orbis fraudibus dćmonis periret. Actus=commotus.

3. "To expiate the common guilt of mankind, Thou, a spotless Victim, didst go forth to the Cross from the sacred womb of a Virgin."

4. "The might of Thy glory is such that as soon as Thy name is uttered, the blessed and the damned alike bend with trembling knee." Cujus (est). Nomen: Ut in nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur cślestium, terrestrium et infernorum (Philip. 2, 10).

5. "We beseech Thee, great Judge of the last day, defend us from our enemies with weapons of heavenly grace."

Authorship information from Rev. Britt, pp 355-356:

Ambrosian. A great many hymns, mostly of the fifth or sixth century, are styled Ambrosiani — Ambrosian hymns. They are so styled either because they were formerly supposed to have been written by St Ambrose, or because they imitate the stanzaic form, the style, meter and austere objectiveness of the genuine hymns of the Saint. It is now known for certain that many hymns formerly thought to be his are the compositions of unknown writers. These hymns are uniformly written in Iambic dimeter. The term Ambrosian implies no ascription of authorship, but merely a poetical form. Hymns: 1, 5, 20, 21, 22, 29, 35, 36, 37, 38, 50, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 69, 71, 155, 157, 161, 162. Source: Britt, p. 355-356.

Translation from The Primer, or Office of the B. V. Mary in English, a book of devotion which was very popular with our forefathers. Several editions appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Appendix to Mr. Shipley's Annus Sanctus, contains many beautiful translations from different editions of the Primer. Hymns: 3, 35, 50, 71. Source: Britt, p. 370.

The following information is from Dr. John Julian, The Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 257:

A cento composed partly from the Roman Breviary version of this hymn is given for first and second Vespers on the feast of the Most Holy Redeemer (3rd Sunday in July) in the Appendix to the Roman Breviary. It consists of lines 1-4, 9-16; then a special stanza of 4 1. followed by lines 17-20 and a doxology. The Office in which this cento is found was first authorized for use in the Venetian territories. The origin of the Festival for which it was compiled is as follows:—The people of the city of Venice, when suffering from the effects of a plague which swept off a great number of the inhabitants and caused great terror, made a vow that if God would grant relief a church should be built by public subscription, dedicated to the Most Holy Redeemer, and a yearly visit paid to it in state by the magistracy of the city. In 1576 the plague ceased, and the church of Il Santissimo Redemptore was built; the annual act of homage being fixed for the third Sunday in July. The Government of the Venetian Republic obtained permission (when the devotion had greatly extended itself after many years of perseverance), on the 25th of April, 1722, from the Sacred Congregation of Rites, at Rome, that the Office of the Most Holy Re­deemer should be said by all the clergy of the city of Venice with the rank of a Lesser Double; in 1724 this license was extended to the whole Venetian territory; in 1729 the Feast was made a Greater Double; in 1731 a Double of the Second Class; finally, in 1737, an Octave was added. [W. A. S.]

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