Translator's note: The Western Church historically observed the Feast of the Visitation on July 2. In 1544, the reformer and humanist Philip Melanchthon wrote a poem about the event. For the translation below, I have relied on the text in the 1579 edition of Melanchthon’s poems edited by his friend Petrus Vincentius. The title in this edition references the theotokos—the Marian appellation famously defended by Cyril of Alexandria. This suggests that the poem speaks in the grammar of ancient, ecumenical Christianity.
Melanchthon’s use of the present tense tells us something important about the Visitation: between Christ’s first and second advents, the truths of redemption are always now. The poem seamlessly connects the past events of biblical history to Melanchthon’s own day (and ours) in a kind of eternal redemptive present. It is poetry in the mode of prayer. Melanchthon’s Latin original is in iambic dimeters, and I have used that meter below. For brief commentary on the poem, see the accompanying essay at Mere Orthodoxy. — E. J. Hutchinson
The Visit of Mary, the Mother of God, to Elizabeth
by Philip Melanchthon
translated by E. J. Hutchinson
Now let us all give thanks to You,
The world’s eternal Architect,
Because, though thronged by multitudes
Of enemies, You keep Your church—
Just as amidst the gentile arms
And Herod’s fearsome retinue
And thronging foul insanity
Of passionate dogmatic rage
You keep the Virgin Mary and
The house of chaste Elizabeth.
And these announce Your blessed gift:
They tell the world that Christ has come.
Yet neither prince nor pontiff knew,
Although they know the oracles
Of prophets, that He now had come:
The Author of salvation new.
But sweet this conference of the pair,
The Virgin and Elizabeth,
Which brings the secret things to light
For those who worship God in truth.
The baby hidden in the womb
Acknowledges his Head, unknown
To that long line of priests before;
And with his leap John worships Him.
This synod was the first to bear
Its witness to the Christ, our Head,
After, at the appointed time,
The Father’s Word became our flesh.
Candescent with such testaments
Enkindled deep within our heart,
Let faith adore and call upon
This Christ, the Virgin Mary’s Son;
And with firm hope, let faith seek help
And trust the Son the Father sent,
That He may aid those calling out,
And free us from all wickedness.
E. J. Hutchinson is associate professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?