This Advent season, the children, faculty, and families of Redeemer Classical have frequently sung the hymn “Savior of the Nations, Come” in our daily morning matins services. Many of the children have nearly memorized it. In singing and memorizing, they are participating in nearly 2,000 years of Christian faith: The famous Ambrose, bishop of Milan, is the hymn’s author. These children are singing the same song that Christians 1,600 years ago did! How cool is that? Talk about church universal! Talk about the riches of our Christian heritage!
In the fourth century AD, when Ambrose lived, this hymn was sung in Ambrosian chant. In the video below, as Pastor Brian Hamer explains here, you can both hear the original chant and then the “contemporary” tune sung in Latin. Both together and individually, they are glorious. This version blends the two in a sort of call and response, a timeless musical form.
Since it is literally thousands of years old, this hymn has been through many, many iterations, versions, and variations. Here, for example, are selected verses as they appear in today’s Lutheran Service Book, the current Lutheran hymnal:
Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here your home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth. (verse 1)
From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides. (verse 7)
And here’s Martin Luther’s 1537 translation of “Savior of the Nations, Come,” verse 3:
Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.
As a highly educated doctor of the church, Luther could read, write, and speak the hymn’s original Latin, so he did his own translation. Majestic accomplishments like this are one reason Redeemer students also learn Latin: It unlocks to them boundless treasures of the Western and Christian inheritance.
You can learn more about the history, music, language, and theology of this hymn in Pastor Hamer’s article here.