The final Advent hymn in this series is not only the oldest Advent hymn still being sung, it was written by one of the greatest saints and Doctors of the Church: St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. St Augustine (Ambrose's most outstanding convert) testified in his Confessions to the power that the music in Ambrose's church had in winning him to the Christian faith: “I remember the tears I shed at the psalmody of thy Church, in the beginning of my recovered faith.” Augustine may be referring to one of Ambrose's signature gifts to Church music: antiphonal singing, where a passage is sung in alternating choirs (the way the Liturgy of the Hours is chanted in monasteries to this day).
In Savior of the Nations, Come (Veni, Redemptor Gentium), Ambrose tackled one of the biggest problems faced by the Church of his day. Arianism was a widespread heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that we pray at Mass was written precisely to correct this serious error about Jesus. Taking a different approach in the very midst of the controversy, Ambrose wrote a hymn. As you read the lyrics (based on a translation by the musically gifted Martin Luther), see how Ambrose leads his people, and leads us today, to profess our faith in Jesus as true God and true Man.
The melody usually used for Ambrose's song, Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland, is (like so many other great hymns) based on chant. Most of us are familiar with the setting by Bach.
Sister Anne Flanagan is a singer with the Daughters of St Paul Choir.
From Wikipedia, the chant music for Ambrose's hymn. (IMG)
Savior of the Nations, Come
1. Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin's Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
2. Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh--
Woman's Offspring, pure and fresh.
3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.
4. From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell--
High the song of triumph swell!
5. Thou, the Father's only Son,
Hast o'er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?
6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o'ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.
7. Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.