A Christmas Hymn


I believe I first heard the advent hymn a solis ortus cardine in the 80s, when I was living just up the road from the Benedictine Abbey of S. Martin in Ligugé, France. The monks there were known for their chants, so I picked up their Chefs-d'oeuvre Grégoriens (on cassette tapes back then). It served well as a soundtrack for my quasi-total immersion in the middle ages.

Here's what Wikipedia offers about the song:

A solis ortus cardine … is a Latin poem by Coelius Sedulius (died circa 450), narrating Christ's life from His birth to His resurrection. Its 23 verses each begin with a consecutive letter of the alphabet, making the poem an Abecedarius…

The first seven verses, with a doxology verse by a different writer, were used from the early Middle Ages onwards as a Christmas hymn. They write of the striking contrast between the grandeur and omnipotence of the Word of God (the second person in the Holy Trinity) and the vulnerable humanity of the child in whom the Word became flesh.

Although I have a sentimental attachment to the version by the Choeur des Moines at L'Abbaye de Ligugé, I think this video by the Schola Gregoriana Monostorinensis in Transylvania presents the lovely melody at its best:

A solis ortus cardine
ad usque terrae limitem
Christum canamus principem,
natum Maria Virgine.

Beatus auctor saeculi
servile corpus induit,
ut carne carnem liberans
ne perderet quos condidit.

Caste parentis viscera
caelestis intrat gratia;
venter puellae baiulat
secreta quae non noverat.

Domus pudici pectoris
templum repente fit Dei;
intacta nesciens virum
verbo concepit Filium.

Enixa est puerpera
quem Gabriel praedixerat,
quem matris alvo gestiens
clausus Ioannes senserat.

Feno iacere pertulit,
praesepe non abhorruit,
parvoque lacte pastus est
per quem nec ales esurit.

Gaudet chorus caelestium
et angeli canunt Deum,
palamque fit pastoribus
Pastor, Creator omnium.

Gloria tibi, Domine
Qui natus est de virgine
cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula.



Last 5 posts by David



  1. Efemmeral  •  Dec 24, 2012 @12:20 am

    Indeed, beautiful. On a tangential note, I've often thought Popehat suffered from lack of a hymn. Clearly, a chant is too introspective for this group but a rousing battle hymn might be just the ticket.

  2. MisterFister  •  Dec 24, 2012 @3:07 am

    I like how you click the "translate" link at the bottom, and the error is generated "Failed to Connect with Database." Is this an existential pun?

  3. Laura K  •  Dec 24, 2012 @5:09 am

    Thank you for posting the translation but UNDER the hymn. I really only know enough Latin to swear and read the Bayeux tapestry but this way I can puzzle through it in both languages without the "how do I KNOW I KNOW that and didn't just read the English?" Geek insecurity I succumb to.

  4. Maggie McNeill  •  Dec 24, 2012 @9:18 am

    I have always loved "Veni, Veni" ("O Come, O Come, Emmanuel") in either Latin or English.

  5. Mike  •  Dec 24, 2012 @9:25 am

    Hipitus hopitus reus domine.