Corde natus ex parentis

Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Christmas Day

The four gospels begin at different points in the life of Our Lord. St Mark does not include an infancy narrative at all; his gospel begins with the proclamation of the adult Forerunner, leading to the Baptism of Our Lord. St Matthew begins with a genealogy grafting Our Lord into David’s line, reaching back to Abraham, then continues with the annunciation to St Joseph and a brief account of the Nativity itself. St Luke begins a bit further back, with the annunciation to Zechariah of the forthcoming birth of the Forerunner before giving us the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin, the Visitation, the Nativity of the Forerunner, and the Nativity of Our Lord. He also includes a genealogy in connection with the Baptism of Our Lord, different from that given by St Matthew, and reaching back all the way to Adam.

St John’s Gospel, however, takes a different approach: instead of a narrative account of the nativity, we are taken back to ‘in the beginning’, the prologue to this gospel obviously intended to echo the first creation account given in Genesis as well as passages concerning Wisdom’s, and then Christ’s role in creation found in Proverbs, Wisdom, and Colossians.

The Sunday and festal Masses of Advent, in a way, follow the lead of the four Evangelists by focusing on St John the Forerunner on the II. and III. Sundays, one of the Annunciations or the Visitation on the IV. Sunday, the Lucan nativity account at the I. (Midnight) and II. (Dawn) Masses of the Nativity, and finally the Prologue to St John’s Gospel at the III. (Morning) Mass of the Nativity and on the I. Sunday after Christmas.

One hymn that beautifully connects the cosmic Christ and the human Jesus is ‘Corde natus ex parentis’ (‘Of the Father’s love begotten’ [82]). This, part of a longer text, was written around the turn of the fifth century by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, a Spanish lawyer and governor who became a Christian ascetic and influential poet; this and his Epiphany hymn ‘O sola magnarum urbium’ (‘Earth has many a noble city’ [127]) are still widely sung. The English translation by John Mason Neale was paired in his Hymnal Noted (1851) with a very popular medieval tune found in Piae Cantiones, a collection of late medieval Latin songs made by the headmaster of the cathedral school at Turku (Swedish-occupied Finland) and published in 1582, from which we get several other tunes (and some texts), including ‘Personent hodie’ [92], ‘Dies est laetitiae’ [97], and ‘Puer nobis nascitur’ [98]. For Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861, Neale’s partial translation was revised and extended to cover the full text:

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!

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!

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