Good Carols: O Come All Ye Faithful

Last year, I described the best carols available to sing. This year, I consider those in my second league. Good, but not Division 1.

O Come all ye Faithful I like, mainly because it tackles the theological mystery of Christ’s divinity and relation to the Father. Echoing the Nicene Creed, it unashamedly proclaims Christ’s deity:

God of God, light of light,

Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;

True God, begotten, not created:

O come, let us adore Him, (3×)

Christ the Lord

The child born in Bethlehem was no mere prophet, but the incarnate Creator, the Word become flesh. As the final English verse confirms:

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

The carol has a rather complicated but consistently Roman Catholic set of origins. It was likely composed by the Portuguese King John IV (died 1656), a cultured and artistic man, but a brazen Mariolater (he proclaimed Christ’s mother as his nation’s patron). The carol was translated and adapted by several others, chief among whom was John Frances Wade. This Catholic layman was a Jacobite (a supporter of the Pretender James Stuart rather than the Protestant Hanoverians) and spent most of his time in French exile. Professor Bennet Zon, of Durham University, considers the carol a Jacobite text, more concerned with eighteenth-century politics than the incarnation. Nevertheless, the first verse explains our reasons for observing this feast of the nativity:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;

Come and behold him

Born the King of Angels:

O come, let us adore Him, (3×)

Christ the Lord.

Though we live far away and in a different epoch, Christmas invites us back to that stable in which eternity and earth met; the God of heaven previously invisible, could now be observed by all those who cared to look. Those faithful shepherds, magi and angels who gazed upon that scene saw more than the birth of another human, but the very King of Angels. And so, too, may we.