Saturday, December 26, 2020

Friday, December 25, 2020


Mediaeval Baebes, "Gaudete". Nobody knows the origin of this Christmas carol, but it was probably composed in the sixteenth century; the first physical version is in the Piae Cantiones, published in 1582 by Jacobus Finno. Given the latter, it is also probably Finnish/Swedish in origin (Finland at that time being part of the Kingdom of Sweden), although this is not absolutely certain -- the Latin songs in that collection are from all over Eastern Europe. (The Piae Cantiones gives us a number of important religious songs in English; probably the most famous Christmas one is John Mason Neale's translation of one of the songs into "Good Christian Men, Rejoice".) The most famous version of "Gaudete" in recent times is that of Steeleye Span, which did very well on the charts in 1973 and is (I think) still the most successful all-Latin song ever to chart in the English-speaking world.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Music on My Mind

Peter Hollens, with The Hound + The Fox, "Away in a Manger". This song has an interesting history. It shows up suddenly in the 1880s, attributed to Martin Luther, and sometimes given the title, "Luther's Cradle Song". There is, however, no such song in Luther's corpus; there's not even an extant German version of the song before well into the twentieth century. Probably what happened was an imaginative attribution -- i.e., the poet wrote a lullaby perhaps in the persona of Luther, or, having written it, thought it sounded well read as if from Luther, but the attribution in the title was taken literally by others -- but nobody knows. It's almost certainly American in origin, though, making it perhaps the most popular carol of American origin in the world.

La Terre Est Libre, et le Ciel Est Ouvert

In 1843, the little parish church in Roquemaure, France, installed a new organ, and the priest wanted to do something special to celebrate. So he asked Roquemare's most famous literary figure, Placide Cappeau, to write up something Christmas-y to mark the occasion. Cappeau was probably even then an anti-clerical socialist and almost certainly an atheist, but he agreed to write something appropriate. And since he was an excellent poet, we got "Cantique de Noël". Cappeau himself liked it so much that he eventually got a friend of his, Adolphe Charles Adam, to set it to music.

Andrea Bocelli, "Minuit, chrétiens".

Cantique de Noël
by Placide Cappeau

Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle,
Où l'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.

Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur!

De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l'Enfant,
Comme autrefois une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les chefs de l'Orient.
Le Roi des rois naît dans une humble crèche:
Puissants du jour, fiers de votre grandeur,

A votre orgueil, c'est de là que Dieu prêche.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n'était qu'un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaînait le fer.
Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu'il naît, qu'il souffre et meurt.

Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!

Perhaps the most sung version, however, is the English translation by John Sullivan Dwight, published in 1855 and increasingly popular during the American Civil War. Given that Dwight was a Unitarian minister, it's perhaps not an accident of translation that Dwight uses 'Saviour' for Capeau's 'l'Homme Dieu'.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Jonathan Antoine, "O Holy Night".

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

And All the Stars Looked Down

A Christmas Carol
by G. K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Second Apostle to Germany

December 21 is the commemoration of St. Pieter Kanis, better known as Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church. A re-post from 2017:


Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church. From a seventeenth-century translation of one of his catechisms (as slightly modernized by myself to make it easier to read):

What is the name and nature of the Cardinal Virtues?

Certain virtues are thus called Cardinal because they are as it were the fountains and hinges of all the rest, and as the door turns upon the hinges, so the whole course of honest life consists of them, and the whole frame of good works seems after a fashion to depend upon them. And they are accounted four in number: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. Whereof it is thus written: She teaches Sobriety and Prudence and Justice and Virtue, than which things there is nothing in this life more profitable to men, where by Sobriety, Temperance, and Virtue, Fortitude, are not obscurely signified. And all of them are so commended unto us, that we may assuredly understand that by the eternal wisdom which is God they are properly bestowed, and are received and exercised with very great fruit of man's salvation. Which virtues are also called Officials, that is, appertaining to offices or duties, because from them, as Saint Ambrose has noted, spring the diverse kinds of offices; and are derived all manner of duties appertaining to the ordinary life of man, according to every man's vocation.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Wrapped in Silence

God, on the other hand, is absolutely and infinitely beyond all beings, including those that contain others and those that are themselves contained, and He is beyond their nature, apart from which they could not exist, by which I mean to say apart from time and the age beyond time, as well as place, by which the universe is limited, for God is absolutely unconditioned by any relation to anything whatsoever. It follows, then, that the one who has wisely understood how he ought to love God, seeing that God is beyond all reason, knowledge, and any kind of relation whatsoever (because He is beyond nature), will pass by all sensible and intelligible objects, as well as all time, age, and place without establishing any relation to them; and finally, after having, in a manner beyond nature, stripped himself of every activity conforming to sensation, reason, and intellect, he will attain, ineffably and unknowably, the divine delight, which is beyond reason and intellect, and he shall attain this in a mode and principle known to God who gives such grace, and to those who are worthy to receive it. Thus he no longer bears about with him anything natural or written, since all that he could possibly say or know has been completely transcended and wrapped in silence.

[St. Maximus the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volum I, Constas, ed. and tr. Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA: 2014) pp. 244-245.]