Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
DESCRIPTION: Latin: "Veni veni Emmanuel, Captivum solve Israel...." English: "O come, o come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel." The advent of Emmanuel the savior, descendant of David, is requested, and people are told to celebrate his coming
AUTHOR: English words: J. M. Neale (1818-1866)
EARLIEST DATE: English words by J. M. Neale, 1851; Latin words and tune 15th century or earlier
KEYWORDS: religious Jesus nonballad rescue
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (2 citations):
ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), p. 13, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Robert J. Morgan, _Then Sings My Soul, Book 2: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories_, Nelson, 2004, pp. 80-81, "O Come, O come, Emmanuel" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: Although I know of no field collections which include this song, it seems to me that it is now widely enough sung that it belongs in the Ballad Index.
Certainly it is *old* enough. Johnson claims the words come from the seventh century and Morgan offers the period of the 800s. These dates, especially the former, are probably too early (my guess is that that's based on theories about the history of Latin hymnwriting). But the whole is found in the French National Library manuscript (Bibliotheque Nationale) fonds latin MS 10581 (however, Reynolds, p. 155, reports this as the source of the tune, not the text; I cannot clarify this matter, but I suspect Reynolds is right, since he lists the text as "Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis").
Manuscripts of this era are very difficult to date; book hands hardly changed from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. The New Oxford Book of Carols proposes a thirteenth century date for the manuscript. We can at least say that it is from the fifteenth century or earlier, with the text very likely older. The Latin was in print by no later than 1710, in the Psalterium Cantionum Catholicarum (Reynolds, p. 155)
Stulken, p. 134, gives a hint as to how the earlier dates may have arisen. Much of it seems to have been based on a series of Latin antiphons (the "O antiphons") which were sung in December and which date back to the ninth century. Reflections of several of them can be found in the hymn:
"O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster" ("O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver").
"O Sapientia, que ex ore altissimi" ("O wisdom, who comes from on high").
"O Adonay et dux domus Israel" ("O Adonai [Hebrew for Lord] and leader of the house of Israel")
"O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum" (O root of Jesse who stood as a sign for/standard of the people").
"O Clavis David et sceptrum domun" ("O key of David and scepter of home")
"O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae" ("O eastern light, splendor of eternal light")
"O Rex gentium et desideratur" ("O king of the nations also longed-for")
The standard translation of the Latin text is by J. M. Neale (1818-1866), who also gave us the much weaker "Good King Wenceslas." He originally translated the first line as "Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel," but changed the text by 1861 (Reynolds, p. 155). The New Oxford Book of Carols gives an alternate translation (termed a revision) by T. A. Lacey, which according to Julian, p. 1721, appeared in the 1906 "English Hymnal." It appears, at first glance, a more accurate translation -- but distinctly worse as poetry (e.g. the last line of the first Latin stanza is "privatus Dei Filio," loosely, "deprived of the Son of God." Neale butchers this as "until the Son of God appear," but at least gets an easy-to-sing line. Lacey produced "far from the face of God's dear son").
Julian, p. 74, gives a full history of all this:
1. An early metrical rendering of the separate Antiphons was made by Canon William Cooke, and appeared in the Cooke and Denton Hymnal of 1863. Canon Cooke's account of the same is: "Where it is possible, the translator and arranger (who was William Cooke), took the words of Mr. A. J. Beresford Hope's tr[anslation] of the hymn 'Veni, Veni Emmanuel,' in the Hymnal N.; retaining the prayer of the Prose Anthem for the Advent of Christ." The opening line of each Antiphon is: i. "O Wisdom, who o'er earth below;" ii. "Ruler and Lord, draw nigh, draw nigh;" iii. "O Rod of Jesse's stem, arise;" iv. "Key of the House of David, come;" v. "O Morning Star, arise;" vi. "O Thou on Whom the Gentiles wait;" vii. "Draw nigh, draw nigh, Immanuel."
2. A second tr[anslation] by Earl Nelson appeared in the Sarum Hymnal, 1868, as "The Advent Anthems...."
3. These Antiphons were also tr[anslated] by W. J. Blew, and included in his Church H[ymnal] & Tune B[ook], 1852.
4. Some time, Dr. Neale supposes about the 12th century [McKim, p. 9, notes that other prefer the thirteenth century], an unknown author took five of these Antiphons, and wove them into a hymn in the following order:-- st. i. O Emmanuel; ii. O Radix Jesse; iii. O Oriens; iv. O Clavis David; v. O Adonai. This hymn begins with the line:--
"Veni, veni, Emmanuel,"
and adding to each verse the refrain, which is not found in the original prose:--
"Gaude, gaude, Emmaunuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel." [McKim, p. 9, suggests a similarity to Zechariah 9:9, but the words are not parallel; they simply share the concept of a coming Messiah]
Daniel has given the full text in his Thes. Hymn. ii.336 (1844). From Daniel's text, Dr. Neale translated his:--
5. Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel, and pub[lished] it in the 1st ed. of his Mediaeval Hymns, 1851, p. 119, in 5 st[anzas] of 6 l[ines]. [This text went though various minor changes.] In the trial copy of [Hymns Ancient and Modern] in 1859, an altered version of Neale's translation was given beginning
6. O come, O come, Emmanuel.
And it was this version which took off, although it didn't stop the production of new translations; Julian already knew of three more in English and one in German. Reynolds, pp. 284-285, says in addition that Henry Sloane Coffin added translations of two more stanzas to Neale's version.
"Emmanuel" ("God With Us") refers back to Isaiah 7:14, where Isaiah prophecies that the threat to Judah from Israel and Damascus shall ease before the new-born child Immanuel (as it is properly transliterated from the Hebrew) reaches the age of having moral sense.
This prophecy is picked up in Matthew 1:23, which uses the Greek spelling "Emmanuel" (which worked its way into Latin and hence into the song). There is rather a curiosity here, in that Matthew normally translates the Hebrew himself, but in this particular version cites the previous Septuagint translation, which has in fact a mistranslation (Septuagint and Matthew read "a virgin shall bear a son," but the Hebrew reads "a young woman shall bear a son"). Clearly this ties in somehow with the Matthean doctrine of the Virgin Birth (which is found in full form only in Matthew; while Luke calls Mary a virgin at the time of her betrothal, he doesn't say that Joseph didn't touch her after that).
Several verses of the song refer to Emmanuel as a descendent of David. This does not come from Isaiah; again, it's Matthew who provides the link, giving a genealogy of Jesus going back to David (Matt. 1:2-16, though Matthew's genealogy omits several names known from the Book of Kings, plus it is at least six or seven generations too short to bring us from the Exile to the time of Jesus).
All of this is somewhat reinforced by Luke. Luke never mentions Emmanuel, but he does have a genealogy linking Jesus to David (Luke 3:23-38), though it differs from Matthew's in irreconcilable ways. (Not that it matters. It was a thousand years from David to Jesus. By the time Jesus was born, everyone in Judea was descended from David, though not necessarily in the male line). Luke also provides much of the imagery of celebration at the arrival of the Messiah (see chapter 2).
John Mason Neale, whose translation made this song famous in English, is regarded as one of the great producers of hymns. His biography in Julian occupies more than five pages of small type (pp. 785-790). Some highlights:
"[He] was b[orn] in Conduit Street, London, on Jan. 24, 1818. He inherited intellectual power on both sides: his father, the Rev. Cornelius Nele, having been Senior Wrangler, Second Chancellor's Medalist, and Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, and his mother being the daughter of John Mason Good, a man of considerable learning. Both father and mother are said to have been 'very pronounced Evangelicals.' The father died in 1823, and the boy's early teaching was entirely under the direction of his mother.... He was educated at Sherborne Grammar School, and was afterward a private pupil, first of the Rev. William Russell, Rector of Shepperton, and then of Professor Challis.
"In 1836 he went up to Cambridge, where he gained a scholarship at Trinity College, and was considered the best man of his year. But he did not inherit his mathematical tastes, and had, in fact, the greatest antipathy of the study; and as the strange rule then prevailed that no one might aspire to Classical Honours unless his name has appeared in the Mathematical Tripos, he was forced to be contend with an ordinary degree. This he took in 1840....
"He gained, however, what distinctions he could, winning the Members' Prize, and being elected Fellow and Tutor of Downing College; while, as a graduate, he won the Seatonian Prize no fewer than eleven times. At Cambridge, he identified himself with the Church movement, which was spreader there in a quieter, but not less real, way than in the sister University.
"In 1842, he married Miss Sarah Norman Webster, the daughter of an evangelical clergyman, and in 1843 he was presented to the small incumbency of Crawley in Sussex. Ill-health, however, prevented him from being instituted to the living. His lungs were found to be badly affected; an, as the only chance of saving his life, he was obliged to go to Madeira, where he stayed until the summer of 1844. In 1846 he was presented by Lord Delawarr to the Wardenship of Sackvile College, East Grinstead.
"[Being offered a church post in Perth, he] was obliged to decline it as the climate was thought to be too cold for his delicate health. In the quiet retreat of East Grinstead, therefore, Dr. Neale spent the remainder of his comparatively short life, dividing his time between literary work, which all tended, directly or indirectly to the advancement of that Church revival of which he was so able and courageous a champion, and the unremitting care of that sisterhood of which he was the founder. He commenced a sisterhood at Rotherfield on a very small sale... but in 1856 he translated it to East Grinstead, where, under the name of St. Margaret's, it has attained its present proportions.
The blessing which the East Grinstead sisters have been to thousands of the sick and suffering cannot here be told. But it must be mentioned that Dr. Neale met with many difficulties, and great opposition from the outside, which, on one occasion, culminated in actual violence.... He also found opponents in higher quarters; he was inhibited by the Bishop of the Diocese for fourteen years.... Dr. Neale's character, however, was a happy mixture of gentleness and firmness; he had in the highest degree the courage of his conviction.... while at the same time he maintained the greatest charity towards, and forbearance with, others who did not agree with him.
"His last public act was to lay the foundation of a new convent for the Sisters on St. Margaret's Day (July 20), 1865. He lived long enough to see the building progres, but not to see it completed. In the following spring his health, which had always been delicate, completely broke down, and after five months of acute suffering he passed away on the Feast of the Transfiguration (Aug. 6), 1866...."
Neale wrote several volumes of original hymns (listed on pp. 786-787 of Julian), as well as volumes on church figures and a commentary on the Psalms that was finished by his friend Littledate, but his most important work was as a translator: "It is in this species of composition that Dr. Neale's success was pre-eminent, one might almost say unique." (Julian, p. 787). When there were no doctrinal issues involved, his translations are said to have been both highly accurate and highly skilled. The one issue came when there were theological issues in the sources "The Roman Catholics accused him of deliberate deception because he took no pains to point out that he had either softened down or entirely ignored the Roman doctrines" in certain of his sources (ibid.).
Julian, pp. 789-790, lists 66 commonly used hymns by Neale, and Julian's list does not represent his full output. None is familiar to me, although his "Jerusalem the Golden" is widely known.
Reynolds, p. 155, reports that the tune "Veni Emmanuel" was first printed in 1856, in Thomas Helmore's Hymnal Noted; it was Helmore (1811-1890) who fitted the tune to this piece. He took it from a French manuscript that was not identified until 1967, - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- McKim: LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993
- Reynolds: William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.