Of the Father’s Love Begotten

This week we turn to another ancient and beautiful Christmas Carol, Of The Father’s Love Begotten. By ancient I mean roughly 1600 years old. The website, oldest.org, list it as the second oldest, with St. Hilary of Poitiers’, “Jesus, Light of All the Nations,” being the only older preserved Christmas hymn.

“Of the Father’s Love,” or as originally titled in the Latin, Corde Natus Ex Parentis, was written by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, who lived from 348-413, in the Roman territory of Tarraconensis, which would be modern day Northern Spain. Prudentius was lawyer and judge, serving under the Christian Emperor Theodosius. But for the last 10 years of his life, seeing that a life in court had left him empty, he turned to writing poetry and hymns foe the church.

Kevin DeYoung, on the Gospel Coalition website writes, Prudentius’ “poetry was treasured throughout the Middle Ages. His collection of twelve long poems (Cathemerinon), one for each hour of the day, became the foundation for several of the office hymns of the church. But without a doubt, Prudentius’ best known hymn today is Corde Natus Ex Parentis–Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

The hymn as we have it today was adapted by John Mason Neale and Henry Baker in the 1850s. It is set to a plainsong tune called Divinum Mysterium, which our Church hymnal says is from the 13th century, though some sources say it could date as far back as the 10th century. As such an old hymn, it gives us a glimpse of the style of church music of the day. The hymn has the feel and tone of the melodic chanting of the church, gently moving up and down the scale, almost musically conveying the message of the incarnation that they words of the hymn teach.

And it is in the words that we find the strength of the hymn. Written at a time when the church was working to dispute the Arian Controversy, a teaching that denied the deity of Jesus, this hymn lays the mystery of the incarnation out before us, and calls us to the joy of faith in Christ the Lord.

Originally containing nine verses, the hymn tells the story of the creation, fall and redemption of mankind through the incarnate Christ. Though the hymn we sing of the eternal Son of God, His coming in the flesh for our salvation, His coming judgment against the wicked, culminating in praise to the triune God. Sadly, most hymnals and recordings only give us three of the nine verses. I have listed the full poem below.

Because of the plainsong-chanting style, it is difficult for congregations to sing. Still, I encourage you to read through the verses and listen to the recording below. May we all be reminded of the wonder and mystery of Christ’s coming for our salvation, given from the love of our Heavenly Father.

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

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