Songs of Christmas…O Come All Ye Faithful

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This is part 14 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

Jesus was born into controversy when King Herod learned of the birth of the King of the Jews from the Magi who traveled to find the new baby. The controversy happened when Herod ordered male children executed.

So, why should a song about Jesus’ birth not have some level of controversy surrounding it? Such is the case for “Adeste Fideles,” the original name of the popular carol, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

The lyrics were first believed to have come from a group of Cistercian monks, but even that theory was surrounded in controversy. During different historical periods, monks in Germany, Portugal and Spain have received credit. Another who received credit was St. Bonaventure in the 13th century. Yet another theory gave credit to King John IV of Portugal, known as the Musician King.

Just as with the lyrics there has been controversy around the music too. Men such as John Reading, Frederick Handel and Christoph Willibald Gluck have received credit. Others who received credit for the music are Thomas Arne, Marcos Portugal and King John IV of Portugal.

Probably the most common assertion for both the music and lyrics was they were that of an unknown cleric of the Middle Ages. Many theories all proven wrong by English scholar, Maurice Frost who discovered seven handwritten and signed manuscripts from an English Catholic Priest named John Francis Wade.

Wade was a holy man caught in a great conflict within England. The conflict was so great, Wade along with many other English-Catholics were risking their lives to live and worship in England. It resulted in Roman Catholic worship moving underground. Many priests, including Wade were forced from the country. Wade immigrated to France.

During this period of history, many in the English government attempted to rid the country of all its Catholic records, including the music of the Church. Wade, a calligrapher by training as well as being a notable musician, was given the task of finding as much of the music and to log and preserve it for future generations. Wade took the job very seriously. He searched everywhere to find the music and make record of it.

During this period Wade not only logged and preserved music, he was also inspired to write music as well. Because he was a Catholic priest it is completely reasonable that he would write in Latin. Around 1750 Wade finished writing his most well-known tune, “Adeste Fideles” and the next year published the work in his own book, Cantus Diversi. It would take Wade another ten years to put lyrics with his melody.

It is entirely possible that Wade’s work on “O Come All Ye Faithful” was influenced by someone like St. Bonaventure or some other cleric of his era. The legends giving St. Bonaventure or others still persist. In light of evidence of the manuscripts discovered by Frost and other published writings, Wade should be given credit for the work.

In 1841, some sixty years after Wade’s death, Frederick Oakley translated the Latin to English. For some reason, however, Oakley neglected to give Wade his credit and thus started the many legends about the hymn’s authorship.

In the United States and other English speaking countries the hymn really became known in the early 1900s. It was at that time many churches began using the carol, it was included in many hymnals and it became a caroling standard.

The first group known to have recorded the carol was the premier musical group of the era, the Peerless Quartet in 1905. At a time when radio was not yet playing music to the masses,  thousands of singles were sold and the release went to number seven on the National Hit Parade. In 1915 Irish tenor John McCormack took the carol to number two. Ten years later the carol made it back onto the charts with a recording by the American Glee Club.

In a period of history when the Church was quite literally at war with itself, a time period when Christians were killing Christians over being Christians, we have the voice of a lone Catholic priest who quietly sings, “O Come all ye faithful.”

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Sources

Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Come,_All_Ye_Faithful

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Francis_Wade

Author:

"The Pastor Ponders" is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. Bishop and I live in Sweeny, Texas where I am the pastor of First United Methodist Church. I have served here for the past two years. For the past 27 years I have served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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