Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Mercy Save Thine Israel

For the third Sunday in Advent we take a look back to last week's familiar hymn and find a much lesser known text based on the same material.  The O Antiphons of the eighth century have been set to music in varying ways over the years, but the one we know best, of course,  is O come, O come Emmanuel.

Today's text is also based on the O Antiphons, adapted from the prose version that had appeared in John Mason Neale's Hymnal Noted (1854).  Primary translator Horatio Bolton (Earl Nelson), grand-nephew of the renowned British admiral Lord Nelson, included this hymn in the Sarum Hymnal (1868) which was largely compiled by him.

O Wisdom, spreading mightily,
From out the mouth of God most high,
All nature sweetly ordering,
Within thy paths thy people bring:

Draw near, O Christ, with us to dwell,
In mercy save thine Israel.

Ruler of Israel, God of might!
Who gav'st the law from Sinai's height;
Once in the burning bush revealed.
With outstretched arm thy people shield:

O Root of Jesse! Ensign thou!
To whom the nations' kings shall bow,
From ev'ry foe thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave:

O Israel's Sceptre! David's Key!
Come thou and set all people free;
Unlock the gate that bars the road
And lead them to the house of God:

O Dayspring and Eternal Light!
Pierce through the gloom of sorrow's might;
The promised Sun of Righteousness,
Haste with thy rising beams to bless:

O dear Desire of nations! come,
Lead us from earth to heav'n's high home;
Thou chief and precious Cornerstone,
Binding the scattered into one:

O Comforter! Emmanuel! King!
Thy praises we would ever sing;
The nations' hope, the Savior blest,
Take us to thine eternal rest:

Latin; tr. Horatio Bolton and others, 1868; alt.
Tune: MELITA (
John Bacchus Dykes, 1861

This hymn was included in the 1871 hymnal of the Episcopal Church (which is where I found it), on the page opposite O come, O come Emmanuel, with similar instructions for singing one stanza each day between December 17 and 23.  It has not appeared in any later Episcopal hymnals, presumably because it was considered redundant.  No, it will never supplant the hymn we all know, but I thought it worth a look.

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