The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christ by Cynewulf

Notes Concerning
Part 1: Advent Lyrics

For Advent

Words: Veni, Veni, Emanuel (the "O" Antiphons),
Authorship Unknown, 8th Century Latin;
Published As A Hymn in Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, 7th Edition, Köln, 1710.

Music: "Veni Emmanuel," Based on a 15th Century French Processional,
Arranged by Rev. Thomas Helmore  and harmonized by Rev. S. S. Greatheed in
Hymnal Noted, Part II (London: 1856)

Accompanying Harmonies to the Hymnal Noted-Part II
(London: 1858)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Melody Only: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Meter: 88 88 88

See: Notes on Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

This portion of the longer poem is comprised of 439 lines, in twelve sections. All sections but one have, as their source, a Christmas-tide antiphon, although not necessarily the Greater Antiphons (See generally: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Version 1).

Based on the notes by Robert Boenig in Anglo-Saxon Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), we can note the beginnings of each of these sections in the Charles Huntington Whitman translation of Advent. See: Cynewulf, Christ. (; translation by Charles Huntington Whitman (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900.)

The original poem is not complete; it is believed that the first part of the folio became separated from the rest of the manuscript (three of the original seven Greater Antiphons are not included in the resulting poem). Note that the translation by Boenig is under copyright, and is therefore not reproduced here.


Section Opening Line Source


Thou art the corner-stone which the builders once rejected in their work O Rex gentium


O Ruler and righteous King, Thou who holdests the key and openest life O Clavis David


O vision of peace, holy Jerusalem, best of royal thrones Added antiphon:
O Hierusalem, civitas Dei


O thou joy of women in heavenly glory Added antiphon:
O Virgo virginum


Lo! Thou Splendor of the dayspring, fairest of angels O Oriens


O God of spirits, how wisely and how rightly wast O Emmanuel


"Alas my Joseph, son of Jacob," The dialog between Joseph & Mary; this is the only section that is not based on an antiphon.


O Thou King of kings, righteous and peaceful, Christmas antiphon:
O Rex pacifice


O renowned throughout the world, purest of women upon earth of those who ever were born, Added antiphon:
O mundi Domina


O holy Lord of heaven, No known antiphonal source


O Thou glorious heavenly Trinity, Source is two Trinitarian antiphons:
1. Te jure laudant
2. O beata et ...


Lo! how wondrous is the change in the life of men, Antiphon from the Octave of Christmas:
O admirabile commerciam

As it exists, we can make the following observations (with great debts to Boenig and Cook; errors are my own):

a. Four sections are based on the Great O Antiphons.

1. O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unem: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti; December 22. (Section 1)

2. O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis; December 20. (Section 2)

3. O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentis in tenebris, et umbra mortis; December 21. (Section 5)

4. O Emmanuel, Rex et legisfer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator erum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster; December 23. (Section 6)

The three missing of the seven Greater Antiphons are:

  • December 17: "O Sapientia..." (O Wisdom)

  • December 18: "O Adonai..." (O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel)

  • December 19: "O Radix Jesse..." (O Root of Jesse)

For prose translations and other information, see The O Antiphons and The Great Advent Antiphons. Amalarius gives the following order of the Antiphons: 1, O Sapienia; 2, O clavis; 3, O Emmanuel; 4, O radix; 5, O oriens; 6, O Adonai; 7, O rex; 8, O Virgo.

b. Three sections are based on “added antiphons.”

1. O Hierusalem, civitas Dei summi: leva in circuitu oculos tuos, et vide Dominum tuum, quia jam veniet solvere te a vinculis. (Section 3)

Translation by Cook: "O Jerusalem, city of the great God: lift up thine eyes round about, and see thy Lord, for he is coming to loose thee from thy chains." An antiphon to the city of the people of God, among other explanations. See Cook, p. 81.

2. O Virgo virginum, quomode fiet istud, quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem? Filiae Hierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis. (Section 4)

Cook gives: O Virgo Virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem.

Translation by Dom Guéranger: "O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? for never was there one like thee, nor will there ever be." An antiphon to Mary, the mother of Jesus, added, according to Julian, by the liturgiologist Amalarius in the Ninth Century, and found in the Sarum, York, and Hereford Breviaries. According to Cook, it is included for the feast of the Expectation of the Virgin, Dec. 18.

3. O mundi Domina, regio ex semine orta, ex tuo jam Christus processit alvo, tanquam sponsus de thalamo; hic jacet in presepio qui et sidera regit. (Section 9)

Translation by Cook: "O mistress of the world, sprung of royal seed: from thy womb did Christ go forth as a bridegroom from his chamber; here he who ruleth the stars lieth in the manger." An antiphon to Mary, the mother of Jesus. See Psalms 19:5.

    In some traditions, these are three of the "Twelve Antiphons," which could signify the twelve prophets, the apostles, or the tribes, according to Cook. He also states that the seven antiphons correspond to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

c. One section (#7), the dialogue between Joseph & Mary, is not based on any known antiphon or other source, and therefore is the subject of considerable, unsubstantiated speculation.

d. One section (#8) is based on a Christmas antiphon: O Rex pacifice, Tu ante saecula nate: per auream egrede portam, redemptos tuos visita, et eso illuc revoca unde ruerunt per culpam.

Translation by Dom Guéranger: "O King of peace, that was born before all ages: come by the golden gate, visit them whom thou hast redeemed, and lead them back to the place whence they fell by sin."

According to Cook, this is the First Antiphon for the Vespers of Christmas Eve. In some sources, this is one of the "Twelve Antiphons."

e. One section (#10) is based on an unknown antiphon.

f. One section (#11) is based on two Trinitarian antiphons.

1. O beata et benedicta et gloriosa Trinitas, Pater et Filius et Spiritus sanctus.

2. Te jure laudant, te adorant, te glorifcant omnes creaturae tuae, O beautu Trinitas

Translation by Cook, treating them as a single verse: "O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Thee do all thy creatures rightly praise, adore, and glorify, O blessed Trinity." Used in the service of Trinity Sunday.

g. One section (#12) is based on an antiphon occurring during the Octave of Christmas: O admirabile commercium, Creator generis humani animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est: et procedens home sine semine, largitus est nobis suam deitatem.

The first antiphon during Lauds in the Feast of the Circumcision (January 1).

"O admirable exchange, the Creator of the human race, taking upon Himself a body and a soul, has vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, and, appearing here below as man, has made us partakers of His Divinity." (Translator Unknown). See: O ADMIRABILE COMMERCIUM ! (

"O wonderful exchange, wonderful trade:
The Creator of human kind, assuming an inspirited body,
Deigned to be born of a Virgin;
And coming forth as a man without admixture of seed,
He bestowed upon us his godhead."
    (Translator Unknown). See: The Antiphon "O Admirabile Commercium" (

Not in this list is the twelfth of the "Twelve Antiphons": O Gabriel, nuntius caelorum, qui clausis ianuis ad me introisti, et verbum annuntiasti: concipies et paries Emmanuel vocabitur. This is an antiphon to the angel Gabriel, and previously recited on December 21, the feast of St. Thomas. According to Cook, the best authorities believe that these added antiphons are likely of monastic origin, most probably from the Benedictines.

And there is a 13th antiphon found in the St. Gallen MS: Qui venturus est veniet, et non tardabit; jam non erit timor in finibus nostris.

In his notes concerning the antiphonal sources of the sections, Boenig frequently quotes Robert B. Burlin, The Old English Advent (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968). In his notes, Whitman frequently refers to The Christ of Cynewulf by Prof. Albert S. Cook (1853-1927; see below). Whitman dedicated his volume to Cook.

Quotations by Dom Guéranger are from Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf.

Concerning this text, see:

Albert S. Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf. Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900.

Version 1 at the Internet Archive:

Version 2 at the Internet Archive:

Israel Gollancz, ed., Cynewulf's Christ: An Eighth Century English Epic. London: David Nutt, 1892.

Version 1 (1892) at IA:

Version 2 (1892) at IA:

Cynewulf, The Christ of Cynewulf: A Poem In Three Parts. Translation by Charles Huntington Whitman. Boston: Ginn & Co., 1900. (

Cynewulf, Christ, translation by Charles W. Kennedy. Cambridge, Ontario: In parenthesis Publications, 2000. (

All sites accessed March 28, 2007.

About Cynewulf

Cynewulf is one of our Old English Anglo-Saxon poets whose works survive, but nothing about the man can be documented, although, of course, there is considerable conjecture and speculation, both about the person and about his home of origin. The poems are written in the West-Saxon dialect which had led some to believe that he was of Northumbrian or West Mercian heritage. Based on his writings, it can be deduced that he was an educated man, and one with considerable knowledge of religion. There are four signed works (an epilogue to each poem contains the runic characters corresponding to the letters of his name), and a number of others that are ascribed to him, with varying degrees of evidence. The four works were preserved in the Exeter Book (Juliana and Christ) and the Vercelli codex (Elene and Fates of the Apostles), both volumes named for the places where they were found. Christ II was signed with the runic letters of Cynewulf's name, but there is doubt about the authorship of Christ I and Christ III.

Additional details concerning Cynewulf can be found at:

Cynewulf, Wikipedia. This is a well written and researched article, with citation of references. ( )

Cynewulf, New Catholic Encyclopedia at (

Cynewulf, Humanities Web ( )

Cynewulf: His Personality,” The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Volume 1. New York: Putnam, 1907-21. Bartleby:

Google Search for “cynewulf biographical notes” (,GGGL:2006-39,GGGL:en&pwst=1&start=10&sa=N )

All sites accessed March 30, 2007.

Additional sources:

Christmas Novenas based on the O Antiphons:

In Advent, Abbott Prosper Louis Guéranger O.S.B. (1805-1875) explored numerous topics relative to that season, including the seven Great Antiphons (plus translation four "added" antiphons). Advent is volume 1 of the 15-volume The Liturgical Year, begun circa 1841. Translation by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., circa 1867. Guéranger's Preface: The Commencement of the Great Antiphons. His commentaries on the Great Antiphons:

Not on point, but of interest are two other selections from Advent by Dom Guéranger:

    Both pages accessed April 2, 2007. Links open in a new window at an exterior site.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Dom Guéranger gives the Latin text of most of the antiphons on this page, with vernacular prose translation, plus much devotional and some historical comment in "Liturgical Year", Vol. 1, Advent, Dublin, 1870, 508-531.

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