Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thrice Holy Fount, Thrice Holy Fire

One of the oldest hymns of the Holy Spirit, Veni Creator Spiritus, comes down to us from the ninth century. It's a prayer that begins:

Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.

The Latin text is now generally attributed to the German monk Rhabanus Maurus, a scholar and author, and later the bishop of Mainz, though in earlier times it was sometimes credited to the Emperor Charlemagne. Rhabanus wrote a fair amount of poetry, though one source claimed that he was "a skillful versifier, but a mediocre poet." Still, this text has survived to the present day, often sung at ordinations, confirmations, and of course at Pentecost.

Martin Luther translated it into German in 1524 as Komm, Gott Schopfer, heiliger Geist. It was first translated into English in 1549, when it was added to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, where it began:

Come Holy Ghost, eternal God,
Proceeding from above,
Both with the Father and the Son,
The God of peace and love.

Since then there have been more than sixty English translations. Among the best-known are:

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, (1627) by John Cosin

Creator Spirit by whose aid, (1693) by
John Dryden

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, (1877) by
Edward Caswall (and others)

Today's hymn is a later adaptation of the Dryden text, in four-line rather than six-line stanzas.

Creator Spirit, by whose aid
The world’s foundations first were laid,
Come, visit every pious mind;
Come, pour thy joys on humankind;

Plenteous of grace, descend from high,
Rich in thy sev'nfold energy,
From sin, and sorrow set us free;
And make us temples worthy thee.

Heal and refine our earthly parts;
But, oh, inflame and fire our hearts!
O'er all may we victorious be
That stands between ourselves and thee.

Thrice holy Fount, thrice holy Fire,
Our hearts with heav’nly love inspire;
Make us eternal truths receive,
And practice all that we believe.

Rhabanus Maurus, 9th cent.;
tr. John Dryden, 1693; adapt.
William B. Bradbury, 19th cent.

Of course, for most of its existence, Veni Creator Spiritus was sung to plainsong chant (even up to the present), and some of the English translations have also used that melody, partially pictured here.

But plainsong was not always in fashion in many places over the last thousand years, so other tunes have been used too. This particular tune I discovered this week, in preparation for the birthday of William B. Bradbury (which was October 6, and I never finished writing it). I like it because it would seem to have great potential in the hands of a skillful musician; it builds in intensity and reaches its peak in the cascading notes of the last line. It seems made for a text like this one, which is a prayer of supplication.

Two Years Ago: Samuel Johnson

No comments: