The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Who Then That Is Mortal Man

For Christmas

Hymn 16 of
Nineteen Hymns of the Nativity by Saint Ephraem the Syrian

Words: Saint Ephream of Syria
Born at Nisibis, then under Roman rule, early in the fourth century; died June, 373.
Translated into Prose by Rev.
A. Edward Johnston

Music: Not Stated

Source: John Gwynn, ed., Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim The Syrian, Trans. A. Edward Johnston, from Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Series, Volume 13, Part 2. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), pp. 255-257.

The Rhythms of Saint Ephrem the Syrian on the Nativity

Rhythm The Sixteen

Resp.—Glory to all of Thee from all of us! (bis.)

1. Who then that is mortal man, can declare concerning the All-Life giver,—Who quitted the height of His Majesty, and abased Himself to humility?—Thou Who exaltest all in Thy Birth, exalt my weak mind,—to declare of Thy Birth; not that I should search out Thy Majesty,—but that I should proclaim Thy grace.
    R., Blessed be He Who conceals and reveals in His discourses!

2. It is a great marvel that the Son, dwelt wholly in a body;—abode therein wholly and it sufficed for Him; dwelt therein though not bounded thereby.—His Will was wholly therein; His bounds reached wholly to His Father.—Who is sufficient to tell, how though He dwelt wholly in a body.—He likewise dwelt wholly in all?
    R., Blessed is He Who though without bounds was bounded!

3. Thy Majesty is concealed from us; Thy Grace is revealed before us.—I will be silent, O Lord of Thy Majesty; and I will tell of Thy grace.—Thy grace clove to Thee, and bowed Thee down to our vileness:—Thy grace made Thee a babe; Thy grace made Thee man:—it straitened, it enlarged, Thy Majesty.
    R., Blessed be the might that became little and became great!

4. Glory to Him Who became lowly, though lofty He was by His nature!—He became in His love the firstborn of Mary, Firstborn though He be of Godhead.—He became in name the offspring of Joseph, offspring though He be of the Most High.—He became by His own Will man, God though He be by His Nature.—Glorified be Thy Will and Thy Nature!
    R., Blessed be Thy Glory which put on our image!

5. Yea, O Lord, Thy Birth, has become mother of all creatures; for it travailed anew and gave birth, to mankind which gave birth to Thee. Thou wast born of it bodily; it was born of Thee spiritually.—All that Thou camest for to birth, was that man might be born in Thy likeness.—Thy Birth became the author of birth to all.
    R., Blessed be He Who became a youth and to all gave youth!

6. When man’s hope had broken down, hope was increased by Thy Birth.—Good tidings of hope they bore, the Heavenly Ones to men.—Satan who cut off our hope, his own hope by his own hands had cut off.—when he saw that hope was increased: Thy Birth became to the hopeless,—a fountain teaming with hope.
    R., Blessed be He Who bore the tidings of hope!

7. The day of Thy Birth is like Thee, for it is desired and loved as Thou.—We who saw not Thy Birth, and its flame as in its own time,—in this Thy day we see Thee, even as Thou wast a babe;—beloved by all men, lo! in Thee the Churches rejoice;—Thy day adorns and is adorned.
    R., Blessed be Thy day which was ordained for us!

8. Thy day has given us a gift, to which the Father has none other like;—It was not Seraphim He sent us, nor yet did Cherubim come down among us;—there came not Watchers or Ministers, but the Firstborn to Whom they minister.—Who can suffice to give thanks, that the Majesty which is beyond measure—is laid in the lowly manger!
    R., Blessed be He Who gave us what He had won!

9. That generation Thy Birth made glad, and our generation Thy day makes glad: twofold was the happiness of that generation, for they saw Thy Birth and also Thy day:—less is the happiness of them that come after, for the day of Thy Birth they see only.—Yet because they that then were, doubted, greater is the happiness of them that come after,—who though they have not seen Thee have believed in Thee.
    R., Blessed be Thy happiness that is added to us!

10. The Magi exalted from afar; the Scribes murmured near at hand;—the prophet showed his message, and Herod his wrath;—the scribes showed their doctrine, the Magi showed their offerings. It is a marvel that to Him, the Babe, they of His own house hasted with their swords, and they that were strangers with their offerings.
    R., Blessed be Thy Birth which has stirred up all!

11. The bosom of Mary amazes me, that it sufficed for Thee, Lord, and embraced Thee.—All creation were too small, to conceal Thy Majesty;—Heaven and earth too narrow, to be in the likeness of wings,506 to cover Thy Godhead.—Too small for Thee was the bosom of earth; great enough for Thee was the bosom of Mary.—He dwelt in the bosom and healed in her bosom.
    R., [Editor: See note below]

12. He was wrapped meanly in swaddling clothes, and offerings were offered Him.—He put on garments in youth, and from them there came forth helps: He put on the waters of baptism, and from them there shone forth beams:—He put on linen cloths in death, and in them were shown forth triumphs; with His humiliations, His exaltations.
    R., Blessed be He Who joined His Glory to His Passion!

13. All these are the changes of raiment, which Mercy put off and put on,—when He strove to put on Adam, the glory which he had put off.—He was wrapped in swaddling-clothes as Adam with leaves; and clad in garments instead of skins.—He was baptized for Adam’s sin, and buried for Adam’s death:—He rose and raised Adam into Glory.
    R., Blessed be He Who came down and clothed him and went up!

14. Though Thy Birth had sufficed, for Adam’s sons as for Adam;—O Mighty One Who didst become a babe, in Thy Birth anew hast Thou begotten me!—O pure One Who wast baptized, let Thy Washing wash away our filth—O Living One who wast buried, may we gain life in Thy death!—I will praise all of Thee in Him that fills all.
    R., Glory to all of Thee from all of us!

Editor's Notes:

There was no Response for verse 11 in Gwynn's Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim The Syrian. The source for this poem was Thomas J. Lamy, ed., Sancti Ephraem Syri hymni et sermones. Volume 2. (Mechliniae: H. Dessain, 1886), pp. 429-516 (Languages: Syrian and Latin). Hymn 16 corresponds with Hymn 3 in that text; verse 11 can be seen on pp. 467-468. In all other verses except 14, the response (in Latin) begins with "Benedicta" or "Benedictus." There is no such concluding sentence for verse 11 in the Latin; I am not familiar with Syrian.

St. Ephraem of Syria was also the author of Fifteen Hymns of the Epiphany, as well as other hymns of the Christmas-tide, hymns against heresies, hymns for the faith, etc.

See generally Christmas-tide Hymns from the Eastern Churches.

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