St. Ambrose of Milan was one of the first hymnographers of the Western church, and remains one of the greatest. A number of his hymns survive. Below is a new English verse translation of one of his most popular compositions, which takes the Incarnation of the Son of God as its theme. St. Ambrose weaves together the Gospel narrative with Old Testament texts and Nicene Christology to turn the singer to the song’s subject in personal faith. There are numerous ancient testimonia for the hymn, including from St. Augustine and from Celestine, Bishop of Rome, who used some of its lines against the Nestorians in 430. It is still sung today—under the title “Savior of the Nations, Come”—in William Reynolds’s English translation of Martin Luther’s German translation of the original Latin.
“And the Word Became Flesh”
by St. Ambrose of Milan
translated by E. J. Hutchinson
Give ear, O Shepherd, Israel’s King,
Enthroned above the angel band.
Appear before us as we sing;
Come with your strong and saving hand.
Come, Savior of the nations, come,
Divulged by Mary’s virgin birth.
Let all the world be rendered dumb
By such descent of God to earth.
Begotten not of mortal seed
But by God’s own mystical breath,
God’s Word became true flesh indeed,
The fruit enwombed that conquers death.
The belly of the Virgin swells,
Her maidenhood remains secure:
Under the banner of “Noel”
Tents God within her temple pure.
The God-Man goes forth from his room,
The great hall, yet the Maiden’s keep;
The double-natured mythic groom
Runs quickened on while sinners sleep.
First from the Father went he out
Then to the Father went he back
His course went down; he broke hell’s clout
His course went up; he, finished, sat.
You, equal to the Father, wear
The trophy of our flesh and blood,
Imparting strength to what you bear
By vivifying mortal mud.
Your manger is now luminous;
Its glow suffuses night’s dim air,
The barren night now numinous:
May faith direct our footsteps there.
E. J. Hutchinson is associate professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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