Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was born in what is now northern Spain around the middle of the 4th century. He was an influential Roman citizen of noble birth, providing him the opportunity to receive an excellent education. This allowed him to enter public life first as a lawyer and then a governor before being called to court by Emperor Theodosius I. Despite his achievement of position on the Roman court, it is his poetry for which Clemens is best remembered.
At the very end of his life, near the age of fifty-seven, Clemens withdrew to a monastery, where he would live out the rest of his days as an ascetic. It was here that he wrote his sizable body of poetry. He is considered by most scholars to have been one of the best early Christian poets, especially of the Western Empire. Though his writing was not perfect, he has been compared to several Greek and Roman poets of antiquity. And as he was influenced highly by Ambrose, as many of the great hymnists and poets of the past were, so too did he influence hymnists after him.
His poetry and hymns fall mainly into three categories: “lyrical, didactic, and polemical.” Much of what he wrote dealt with the struggle of the Christian living in a pagan world. Some of these hymns we still sing today, including “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” originally called “Corde Natus Ex Parentis.” This hymn was written to be sung at multiple points of the church year, but most especially for Christmas. Even during his life, some of his hymns were included in the Breviary. Unsurprisingly, much of his poetry and hymns, including this one, dealt with certain heresies, not the least of which was Arianism. It is clear from the text that the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds were strong in Clemens’ mind as he wrote the Latin text for this hymn.
Clemens’ stay at the monastery was short-lived, however, and he went to be with the Lord in the year 410 while still living in what is now Spain. Though his life was brief, he wrote a significant body of literature that we can still enjoy and learn from today. But his hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” continued to be well-loved throughout the centuries, though it was adapted in the 11th century. The tune we associate with it today, called DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, is a plainsong chant, also known as a “Sanctus Trope.” This type of music was used specifically to intensify and emphasize texts within the liturgy. By the 16th century, the tune was typically used during the service of the Lord’s Supper, which clarifies the name. While there was an original text associated with the tune, it was replaced by Clemens’ hymn in the mid-1800s, and the tune was modified to fit the text.
Around this same time, John Mason Neale, a popular hymnist and translator of Latin texts, translated this hymn into English for his Hymnal Noted. But not only did he translate the text, of which we use four of his stanzas in our LSB, he also shorted the once nine-stanza hymn into six. Another English hymnist and translator, Henry Baker, also translated the hymn around this time, and we can thank him for the fifth stanza found in our hymnbook today. Various others have translated the text, both in completion and in part, and some of those variations are included in the represented text below.
As mentioned before, this hymn emphasizes what we find in the Creeds. We focus on the Trinitarian nature of God, of Christ and His coming in the flesh as spoken by the prophets through the Holy Spirit, and of His coming again. But this is also a liturgically Christmas hymn, and in it, we celebrate Christ’s nativity, where He came to earth in the form of an innocent child that He might live and die for our Redemption. As Christians, it is good for us to have Good Friday and Easter in mind as we celebrate Christmas; it is good for us to look back on this holy day as we await the Day when He shall come again.
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!
Like with many hymns of Christmas and Advent, so too does this hymn bring us back to the Beginning, to Creation (Gen. 1:1, Jhn. 1:1-18, Heb. 11:1-3). The verse does not specifically speak of promises but instead talks of our eternal God. This is a song of the begotten Love of God, His Son, as we confess in the Creed (Psa. 2:7, 33:9, Matt. 17:5, Luk. 3:21-22, Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:5, 4:14). This song reminds us of the Christocentricity of the Bible, God’s hand over all creation, His control of the future (Psa. 8, 90:2). This is He who was, who is, and who is to come. From Creation to the Consummation, He is God (Rev. 1:8, 22:13). Without saying it explicitly, this verse brings us comfort in trusting God. He is the one who made us; He promised to save us; we trust in His omniscience and promise to be with us “evermore”!
O that birth forever blessed,
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!
While a few verses were cut between this one and the last, I think this verse encapsulates their message. Why was the birth blessed? Why do we focus on the Virgin? Because this was the way n which God sent His Son to earth so that He could pay for our sins. We doomed ourselves to die in the Rebellion (Gen. 3:19). All of the sons of Adam inherited his sinful nature (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Yet we were not left helpless! As we confess in the Creed, our Savior was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit so that He might suffer, die, and be raised again (Isa. 7:14, 9, Matt. 1:18-21, Luk. 1:26-2:20, Jhn. 1:1-18, 3:16. Eph. 1:3-14).
We need this reminder on such a night as Christmas, where we think of our Lord as a tiny baby. When we think of babies, we think of innocence (though this is not true for our own children). But this was most true with the Son of God. This child was the spotless Lamb, this baby, born to redeem us from our sin, to be marred and die (Phil. 2:5-11, Col. 1:13-20, 1 Tim. 3:16). On this night, we are reminded of when God first showed His face to His creation – God with us – with the purpose to save His people. We celebrate Christ’s nativity, remembering the holiness of that first night where God’s precious, innocent child was sent for our redemption.
This is He whom seers in old time (heav’n-taught singers)
Chanted (sang of old) of with one accord,
Whom the voices (Scriptures) of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected;
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!
As mentioned above, there are a handful of different translations of this hymn. I happen to like both the version found in the LSB and another translation bracketed above. Like in other Christmas hymns, we are reminded that this birth was foretold since the Rebellion. God told His people by the prophets His commands and His promises, the greatest of which was the coming of the Messiah (Gen. 3:15, Isa. 7:14, Mic. 5:2, Heb. 1:1-12, Luk. 24:44, 1 Pet. 1:10-11). The Word was there from the beginning, and the Spirit spoke through the “voices of the prophets” in order that we might have the Scriptures (Jhn. 1:1-5, Luk. 1:54-55, 68-79, Acts 3:24-26). These promises were then fulfilled in the Nativity of our Lord. Now He has come! Though they knew Him not, He was and is our “long-expected Jesus.” So now that He is here, we join those first visitors to the manger, remembering His first resting place, in praising our Creator, Savior, and Lord forever!
O ye heights of heav’n, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing.
Pow’rs, (All) 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 verse is reminiscent of many parts of Scripture: Creation, the Psalms, the Nativity, and Christ’s second coming. At these points, the Angels and “heights of heaven” sang together in praise to God (Job 38:7, Psa. 103:20-22, 148:1-2). One day all authorities on earth bow before the majesty of God (Psa. 148:5-13). So too do we now join them in praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, who has come in the flesh to us and is with us even now! With such a fulfilled promise, with such a wonder before us, how could we keep silent? (Psa. 145:1, 150:6) As we are told to pray without ceasing, there will come a day when our praises will also continue forevermore!
Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending (unwearied) praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!
Finally, we end with a doxology. We praise the Holy Trinity, who was, and is, and is to come, with all our means of singing. I like the words used in both translations: unending and unwearied. For now, while we are on this earth, we do grow tired and weary, and we often fail to give full thanksgiving to our Lord. But on Christmas, we meditate on that first night when all the heavenly host shouted for joy, singing of the peace that had now come to dwell with men! What a cause for everlasting rejoicing! As we began with Creation, so we end with Revelation (Rev. 4:8-11, 5:13). We think of that day when He will come again. So on Christmas, we continue in praising our Lord and Savior, the incarnate Word of God, born of the Virgin to suffer, die, and be raised to life, until the Day of His return (Psa. 113:2)!
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig
“384. Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” The Lutheran Service Book. 2006.
Blume, Clemens. “Trope.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.
Lejay, Paul. “Aurelius Clemens Prudentius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
“Of the Father’s Love begotten.” Hymnary.
“PRUDENTIUS, AURELIUS CLEMENS.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1911. Vol. 22.