Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In 315 AD a proclamation called the Edict of Milan established religious toleration for Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Shortly thereafter, the church thrived and grew in size. Her doctrines were studied more closely. Her deeds were practiced more faithfully. Theological works were written, explaining the truths of Scripture. And the overall moral climate of the empire changed, to some degree. The church’s brief period of flourishing during the 4th century also impacted hymnology. One example of this is from the life of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. In 348 AD, thirty-five years after the Edict of Milan, Prudentius was born in modern day Spain. Nothing is known of Prudentius’ younger years, but as an adult, he was a successful lawyer who eventually became an influential judge.
At the culmination of his civil career, he served as a court official for Emperor Theodosius. While serving in this capacity, at age 57, he had something of an end-of-life crisis. Prudentius began to question whether his many years of civil service had been of any lasting value. He concluded that his secular career had not contributed to the kingdom of God. As a result, he decided to retire from public life and become an ascetic. Regarding vocation, his doctrine may have been inaccurate (One does not have to quit a secular job to be faithful to God and be useful in his hands). However, it was during this time that he wrote many poems and hymns, which have served the church for generations.
During the Middle Ages Prudentius’ poetry was treasured, and his hymns played an important role in the liturgies of the medieval church. Without a doubt, Prudentius’ best-known hymn is *Corde Natus Ex Parentis—*Of the Father’s Love Begotten. The song was originally made up of nine verses, tracing redemption from the plan of salvation, promised in eternity past, all the way to the culmination of those promises in Christ. At the heart of the hymn is the love of the Father to send the Son to redeem a people and remake creation.
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
that the race of Adam’s children, doomed by law to endless woe,
may not henceforth die and perish, in the dreadful gulf below.
O that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
and the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face.
In these verses, Prudentius emphasized the incarnation of Christ. He stressed how God entered time and space and assumed flesh and bone to rescue a people from endless woe and the dreadful gulf below. At the same time, Prudentius sought to elicit a right response from the redeemed—one filled with praise and thanksgiving to God. As we move throughout the Christmas season this year, let us receive some Christmas reminders. Christ condescended to save. He assumed our likeness to assume our curse. And let us respond with growing faith, growing humility, and growing gratitude. Say with Prudentius—This is He Whom seers in old time; chanted with one accord; Whom the voices of the prophets; promised in their faithful word; now He shines, the long expected, let creation praise its Lord.