The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hymn For Christmas Day

Hymn XI

From Cathemerinon ("The Hymns of Prudentius"), Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-405)

Translated by R. Martin Pope

MDCCCCV Published by J. M. Dent and Co.,
Aldine House, London.

Source: Project Gutenberg
Accessed August 4, 2006

Why doth the sun re-orient take
A wider range, his limits break?
Lo! Christ is born, and o'er earth's night
Shineth from more to more the light!

Too swiftly did the radiant day
Her brief course run and pass away:
She scarce her kindly torch had fired
Ere slowly fading it expired.

Now let the sky more brightly beam,
The earth take up the joyous theme:
The orb a broadening pathway gains
And with its erstwhile splendour reigns.

Sweet babe, of chastity the flower,
A virgin's blest mysterious dower!
Rise in Thy twofold nature's might:
Rise, God and man to reunite!

Though by the Father's will above
Thou wert begot, the Son of Love,
Yet in His bosom Thou didst dwell,
Of Wisdom the eternal Well;

Wisdom, whereby the heavens were made
And light's foundations first were laid:
Creative Word! all flows from Thee!
The Word is God eternally.

For though with process of the suns
The ordered whole harmonious runs,
Still the Artificer Divine
Leaves not the Father's inmost shrine.

The rolling wheels of Time had passed
O'er their millennial journey vast,
Before in judgment clad He came
Unto the world long steeped in shame.

The purblind souls of mortals crass
Had trusted gods of stone and brass,
To things of nought their worship paid
And senseless blocks of wood obeyed.

And thus employed, they fell below
The sway of man's perfidious foe:
Plunged in the smoky sheer abyss
They sank bereft of their true bliss.

But that sore plight of ruined man
Christ's pity could not lightly scan:
Nor let God's building nobly wrought
Ingloriously be brought to nought.

He wrapped Him in our fleshly guise,
That from the tomb He might arise,
And man released from death's grim snare
Home to His Father's bosom bear.

This is the day of Thy dear birth,
The bridal of the heaven and earth,
When the Creator breathed on Thee
The breath of pure humanity.

Ah! glorious Maid, dost thou not guess
What guerdon thy chaste soul shall bless,
How by thy ripening pangs is bought
An honour greater than all thought?

O what a load of joy untold
Thy womb inviolate doth hold!
Of thee a golden age is born,
The brightness of the earth's new morn!

Hearken! doth not the infant's wail
The universal springtide hail?
For now the world re-born lays by
Its gloomy, frost-bound apathy.

Methinks in all her rustic bowers
The earth is spread with clustering flowers:
Odours of nard and nectar sweet
E'en o'er the sands of Syrtes fleet.

All places rough and deserts wild
Have felt from far Thy coming, Child:
Rocks to Thy gentle empire bow
And verdure clothes the mountain brow.

Sweet honey from the boulder leaps:
The sere and leafless oak-bough weeps
A strange rich attar: tamarisks too
Of balsam pure distil the dew.

Blessed for ever, cradle dear,
The lowly stall, the cavern drear!
Men to this shrine, Eternal King,
With dumb brutes adoration bring.

The ox and ass in homage low1
Obedient to their Maker bow:
Bows too the unlearn'd heartless crowd
Whose minds the sensual feast doth cloud.

Though, by the faithful Spirit impelled,
Shepherds and brutes, unreasoning held,
Yea, folk that did in darkness dwell
Discern their God in His poor cell:

Yet children of the sacred race
Blindly abhor the Incarnate grace:
By philtres you might deem them lulled
Or by some bacchic phrenzy dulled.

Why headlong thus to ruin stride?
If aught of soundness in you bide,
Behold in Him the Lord divine
Of all your patriarchal line.

Mark you the dim-lit cave, the Maid,
The humble nurse, the cradle laid,
The helpless infancy forlorn:
Yet thus the Gentiles' King was born!

Ah sinner, thou shalt one day see
This Child in dreadful majesty,
See Him in glorious clouds descend,
While thou thy guilty heart shalt rend.

Vain all thy tears, when loud shall sound
The trump, when flames shall scorch the ground,
When from its hinge the cloven world
Is loosed, in horrid tumult hurled.

Then throned on high, the Judge of all
Shall mortals to their reckoning call:
To these shall grant the prize of light,
To those Gehenna's gloomy night.

Then, Israel, shalt thou learn at length
The Cross hath, as the lightning, strength:
Doomed by thy wrath, He now is Lord,
Whom Death once grasped but soon restored.

Note from R. Martin Pope:

1. The legend of the ox and ass adoring our Lord arose from an allegorical interpretation of Isa. i. 3: "The ox knoweth his owner, the ass his master's crib." Origen (Homilies on St. Luke, xiii.) is the first to allegorise on the passage in Isaiah, where the word for "crib" in the Greek translation of the O. T. is identical with St. Luke's word for "manger" (phatne). After referring to the circumstances of the Nativity, Origen proceeds to say: "That was what the prophet foretold, saying, 'The ox knoweth,' etc. The Ox is a clean animal: the Ass an unclean one. The Ass knew his master's crib (praesepe domini sui): not the people of Israel, but the unclean animal out of pagan nations knew its master's crib. 'But Israel hath not known me: and my people hath not understood.'

Let us understand this and press forward to the crib, recognise the Master and be made worthy of his knowledge." The thought that the Ox = the Jews and the Ass = Pagans, reappears in Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose and Jerome. See an interesting article by Mr. Austin West ("Ox and Ass Legend of the Nativity". Cont. Review, Dec. 1903), who notes the further impetus given to the legend by the Latin rendering of Habb. iii. 2 (LXX.) which in the Vetus Itala version appears as "in medio duorum animalium in notesceris," "in the midst of two animals shalt thou be known" (R.V., "in the midst of the years make it known").

The legend does not appear in apocryphal Christian literature earlier than in the Pseudo-Matthew Gospel, which belongs to the later fifth century. It is interesting to note that with St. Francis and the Franciscans the ox and the ass are merely animals: the allegorical interpretation of Origen had vanished from Christendom: and in its place we find St. Francis (see "Life of St. Francis" by St. Bonaventura, "Temple Classics" edition, p. 111) making a presepio at Greccio, to which a living ox and ass are brought, in order that a visible representation of the manger-scene might kindle the devotion of the Brethren and the assembled townsfolk. This act of St. Francis inaugurated the custom, still observed in the Roman Church, of representing by means of waxen images the whole of the Nativity manger-scene, Mother and Child together with the adoring animals. Return


Quid est, quod artum circulum
sol iam recurrens deserit?
Christusne terris nascitur,
qui lucis auget tramitem?

Heu quam fugacem gratiam 5
festina volvebat dies,
quam pene subductam facem
sensim recisa extinxerat!

Caelum nitescat laetius,
gratetur et gaudens humus, 10
scandit gradatim denuo
iubar priores lineas.

Emerge dulcis pusio,
quem mater edit castitas,
parens et expers coniugis, 15
mediator et duplex genus.

Ex ore quamlibet Patris
sis ortus et verbo editus,
tamen paterno in pectore
sophia callebas prius. 20

Quae prompta caelum condidit,
caelum diemque et cetera,
virtute verbi effecta sunt
haec cuncta: nam verbum Deus.

Sed ordinatis seculis, 25
rerumque digesto statu
fundator ipse et artifex
permansit in Patris sinu,

donec rotata annalium
transvolverentur milia, 30
atque ipse peccantem diu
dignatus orbera viseret.

Nam caeca vis mortalium
venerans inanes nenias
vel aera vel saxa algida, 35
vel ligna credebat Deum.

Haec dum sequuntur, perfidi
praedonis in ius venerant,
et mancipatam fumido
vitam barathro inmerserant: 40

Stragem sed istam non tulit
Christus cadentum gentium
inpune ne forsan sui
Patris periret fabrica.

Mortale corpus induit, 45
ut excitato corpore
mortis catenam frangeret
hominemque portaret Patri.

Hic ille natalis dies,
quo te creator arduus 50
spiravit et limo indidit
sermone carnem glutinans.

Sentisne, virgo nobilis,
matura per fastidia
pudoris intactum decus 55
honore partus crescere?

O quanta rerum gaudia
alvus pudica continet,
ex qua novellum seculum
procedit et lux aurea! 60

Vagitus ille exordium
vernantis orbis prodidit,
nam tunc renatus sordidum
mundus veternum depulit.

Sparsisse tellurem reor 65
rus omne densis floribus,
ipsasque arenas syrtium
fragrasse nardo et nectare.

Te cuncta nascentem puer
sensere dura et barbara, 70
victusque saxorum rigor
obduxit herbam cotibus.

Iam mella de scopulis fluunt,
iam stillat ilex arido
sudans amomum stipite, 75
iam sunt myricis balsama.

O sancta praesepis tui,
aeterne rex, cunabula,
populisque per seclum sacra
mutis et ipsis credita. 80

Adorat haec brutum pecus
indocta turba scilicet,
adorat excors natio,
vis cuius in pastu sita est.

Sed cum fideli spiritu 85
concurrat ad praesepia
pagana gens et quadrupes,
sapiatque quod brutum fuit:

Negat patrum prosapia
perosa praesentem Deum: 90
credas venenis ebriam
furiisve lymphatam rapi.

Quid prona per scelus ruis?
agnosce, si quidquam tibi
mentis resedit integrae, 95
ducem tuorum principum.

Hunc, quem latebra et obstetrix,
et virgo feta, et cunulae
et inbecilla infantia
regem dederunt gentibus, 100

peccator intueberis
celsum coruscis nubibus,
deiectus ipse et inritus
plangens reatum fletibus:

Cum vasta signum bucina 105
terris cremandis miserit,
et scissus axis cardinem
mundi ruentis solverit:

Insignis ipse et praeminens
meritis rependet congrua, 110
his lucis usum perpetis,
illis gehennam et tartarum.

Iudaea tunc fulmen crucis
experta, qui sit, senties,
quem te furoris praesule 115
mors hausit et mox reddidit.

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.

Related Hymns and Carols