Christmas, Day 9: Begotten ere the worlds began

LOOK: The Word Made Flesh by Julius Shumpert

Shumpert, Julius_The Word Made Flesh
Julius Shumpert (American, 1997–), The Word Made Flesh, 2017. Digital artwork.

This digital artwork by Julius Shumpert shows a silhouette of Christ Pantocrator that’s filled in with stars and planets, emphasizing his eternal preexistence. This is the cosmic Christ. With his left hand he holds a Gospel-book, and with his right he gestures blessing. His halo bears the roman letters A and O for “Alpha” and “Omega” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), as well as the Greek letter X, chi, which is the first letter in ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos) and thus ancient shorthand for Jesus the Messiah.

Shumpert writes,

This icon means a lot to me. During Christmas 2016, I dove into the true meaning of Christmas. Past all of the traditional “baby Jesus” storytelling to the bare symbolism of what happened. God, who created everything, and is bigger than infinity, the expanding universe, and all that there is to be, saw us struggling along and squeezed down into the form of precious ordinary baby just to be with us. . . . This icon presents who Jesus is: simply the Word made flesh.

Follow the artist on Instagram @saintjuliusart.

LISTEN: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” | Original Latin words by Aurelius C. Prudentius, late 4th century; trans. John M. Neale, 1851, and Henry W. Baker, 1861 | Plainchant melody, 13th century | Arranged and performed by Sam P. Bush and Kathryn Caine on A Very Love and Mercy Christmas by Christ Episcopal Church, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2014

I’ve provided the full nine stanzas from the 1861 English version of the hymn by Henry Baker. Christ Episcopal Church sings his stanzas 1, 2, 5, and 9 (in boldface)—wise to omit 7 and 8, as these translations are icky (Roby Furley Davis’s are better), but I quite like the others!

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!

O that birth forever blessèd,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

At His word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heav’n 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 ye heights of heaven, adore Him,
Angel hosts, His praises sing,
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring
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!

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 and high thanksgiving
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore!

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Lat. Corde natus ex parentis) is one of the oldest Christmas hymns, and it has gone through many translations, additions, revisions, fusions, arrangements, and abridgements to reach the form that’s in our hymnals today.

Its source is a thirty-eight-stanza Latin poem by Prudentius titled “Hymnus Omnis Horae” (Hymn for All Hours), published around 405 CE in his Liber Cathemerinon (Book of Daily Hymns) but written earlier. The poem traces Christ’s ministry from birth to death to resurrection and ascension, with a heavy focus on his miracles. It’s a remarkable poem, and worthy of study, especially as an example of early Christian theology. You can read the original Latin, presented beside a fine English translation by Roby Furley Davis from 1905, here.

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (ca. 348–ca. 413) was a Roman Christian poet born in what is today northern Spain. After spending decades in law and government, he retired from public life to dedicate himself fully to God’s service, mainly through writing. He was the most significant hymn-writer of the early church.

Prudentius continued to be highly read throughout the Middle Ages, and “Hymnus Omnis Horae” circulated throughout Europe in multiple manuscripts. An eleventh-century manuscript added the refrain “saeculorum saeculi” (evermore and evermore) and a doxology, the Trinitarian final stanza.

The abbreviated form of the hymn (“Corde natus ex parentis,” etc.) entered English hymnody through the six-stanza translation by John Mason Neale, first published in the 1851 edition of Hymnal Noted; Neale renders the first line “Of the Father sole begotten.” Music editor Thomas Helmore presented Neale’s text with the thirteenth-century plainchant melody DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, which he sourced from the 1582 Finnish songbook Piae Cantiones. The pairing has since proven inseparable. Here’s Helmore’s arrangement from the 1852 edition of Hymnal Noted:

An extensive revision of Neale’s translation by Henry W. Baker, which includes three additional, newly translated stanzas, was published in the best-selling Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861 under the title “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” This is the version reproduced above, and that has had the most staying power.

The hymn is a praise-filled meditation on how Christ, the second person of the Godhead, who is before all things, entered human time in the person of Jesus. It’s a fairly difficult hymn to sing congregationally—the meter is a bear—but here’s a modern arrangement that I think works well: https://gracemusic.us/sheet_music/of-the-fathers-love-begotten/.

For more about the history, content, meter, transmission, and significance of “Hymnus Omnis Horae,” see the scholarly article by Chris Fenner from the Hymnology Archive: https://www.hymnologyarchive.com/hymnus-omnis-horae.

Namaste Sate (Artful Devotion)

Puccio, Pietro di_God Holding the Universe
Pietro di Puccio da Orvieto (Italian, active 14th century), “Universe Supported by God with the Signs of the Planets,” 1389–91. Fresco, north gallery, Camposanto Monumentale, Pisa, Italy.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

—Colossians 1:15–20

+++

SONG: “Namasté Saté” by Aradhna, on Namasté Saté (2011)

Namasté saté sarvalok-ashrayaya
Namasté chité vishwarup-atmakaya
Namo adwait tatwaya muktipradaya
Namo brahmane vyapiné shashwataya

Ultimate Reality, we greet You
In you the whole Universe is held together
Your life fills every nucleus that has ever been created
You dwell in our flesh and bones
Your Great Liberation is to bring us into loving oneness with you
So full, that we can no longer feel any separation between us
We greet you, O Supreme One, all-pervading, and eternal

Founded in 2000 by Chris Hale and Pete Hicks, Aradhna (Hindi for adoration) is a band that writes and performs Christ-centered bhajans, Indian devotional songs. (Bhajans, says Hale, have been welcomed by Indian Christians for centuries; every Indian hymnal has a section devoted to the genre.) Both men are American but have roots in South Asia—Hicks was born in India, and Hale was raised in Nepal, where his parents served as medical missionaries. He developed fluency in Hindi and Nepali and, while attending boarding school in India, began training in sitar. After graduating from Berklee College of Music in the US, he returned to Lucknow, India, for further training in sitar and voice. He now lives in Toronto’s Little India with his wife, Miranda Stone, with whom he leads a monthly gathering of Christ-followers called Yeshu Satsang Toronto.

Many of the lyrics of Aradhna’s songs are derived from the writings of Yeshu bhaktas, Hindu devotees of Jesus.

To learn more about Hale and his ministry through contextualized music, read this Comment interview or listen to his lecture from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—both from 2009.

+++

The Campo Santo, or Camposanto Monumentale (“monumental cemetery”), is an oblong Gothic cloister that, alongside Pisa’s cathedral, baptistry, and leaning tower, forms one of the finest architectural complexes in the world.

Camposanto Monumentale aerial view
Aerial view of the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) in Pisa. The Campo Santo is the rectangular edifice with the open courtyard at the bottom.

Camposanto Monumentale interior courtyard

Completed in 1464, it is filled with funerary monuments, many of which reuse ancient Roman sarcophagi, as well as a classical art collection. In addition, its long walls are covered with frescoes painted during the transitional period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These were badly damaged during World War II, but some have been restored.

Puccio, Pietro di_God Holding the Universe

The fresco that shows Christ holding the universe, sometimes referred to by the title Theological Cosmography, was painted by a minor artist named Pietro di Puccio. In the second volume of his History of Mediaeval Christianity and Sacred Art in Italy, published in 1872 (well before the Allied bombing), Charles Isidore Hemans writes that the fresco

mystically sets forth the origin of the universe and its dependence upon the Almighty Creator. A colossal figure of Deity, with the aspect proper to the Second Person, supports an immense disk containing numerous concentric circles, with figures, emblems, inscriptions: first in order, the nine Angelic Hierarchies; next, the three Heavens—the first (empyreal) without sign or symbol, the second (crystalline) with the signs of the Zodiac, the third (the firmament) with the starry host; internal to these, a succession of other circles enclosing at the centre a miniature view of the three known continents. At the angles below are the two illustrious Doctors, severally representatives of the theological mind of ages, S. Augustine and S. Thomas Aquinas.

This geocentric model of the universe, with several earthly and (further out) heavenly spheres circling around a motionless earth, was conceived by Ptolemy, who based it on Aristotle. It was the dominant model during the classical, medieval, and Renaissance eras and can be found in the work of other visual artists.

During an extensive restoration process, this and other frescoes were detached from the walls and placed on panels. This led to the discovery of sinopie, or preparatory drawings, underneath, which were also detached and are now kept on display in the Museo delle Sinopie, of special interest to art historians.

Theological Cosmography sinopia
Sinopia (red underdrawing in plaster) of the Theological Cosmography fresco from the Campo Santo, relocated to the Sinopia Museum, also in the cathedral square.

Puccio’s Theological Cosmography has since been returned to its original location in the north gallery of the Campo Santo—at the end of the left hallway in the panoramic shot below. The neoclassicist architect and painter Leon van Kleunze, on a visit to Italy in the mid-nineteenth century, painted a view of the Campo Santo’s north gallery in all its prewar glory.

Camposanto Monumentale

Camposanto, north gallery
Leo von Klenze (German, 1784–1864), The Camposanto in Pisa, 1858. Oil on canvas, 38 1/10 × 57 4/5 in. (97 × 147 cm). Neue Pinakothek, Munich.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 11, cycle C, click here.