Tag Archives: John Mason Neale

Handwashing to the O Antiphons: King of Nations

stained glass by transguyjayOk, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” doesn’t even mention today’s messianic title, “King of Nations,” in its paraphrase of the verse. That’s kind of egregious. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, nineteenth-century Anglican cleric and hymn writer John Mason Neale!

According to that random Catholic website I have not fact checked, the original O Antiphon is:

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Whereas “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is:

O come, Desire of Nations, bind,
In one the hearts of [humankind];
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
And be thyself our prince of peace. [Protestants rinse]
Rejoice! Rejoice! [plainsong users rinse]
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The “desire of nations” part is actually heisted from tomorrow’s O Antiphon, and the “king” part is gone. While I love me some Biblical references to the prince of peace, I think “desire of nations” is a bit iffy to begin with. I’ve seen lots of people desire God, but most nations’, or at least national governments’, desire for God seems either entirely absent, or a thinly disguised desire for God to be on their side, which is not at all the same thing. I do want to emphasize that my enthusiasm for viewing God as King sure doesn’t mean that I think political rulers should be required to be of my religion, or to answer to it rather than to their rule-ees. I just mean that God > nations, and that, though I love my country, my primary loyalty is to God. Same reason why I don’t think national flags belong in churches.

[Yes, while I’m critiquing paraphrases, I’ll cop to doing my own paraphrase, above, of Neale’s “all mankind” to “humankind,” but that’s just updating to modern English–today “man” means “male,” i.e. I’m not invited to walk into the men’s bathroom. Also, I used brackets.]

Happy Advent!

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