Christmas Meditation: Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Birth of ChristIn the church’s engagement with Islam, a major point of contention is the idea that Christ is the Son of God. Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, rejected any sort of notion that there could be a “son” of God. In my study of Islam, this appears to be both because of his rejection of pagan myths that told of gods having sex with human women to produce god-man offspring, and because of his insistence on monotheism (belief in one God). Christians would agree with both of these points. There is no hint of Mary having a sexual encounter with a deity. And we are monotheists, too.

But Christians believe that God has revealed himself to us in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the mystery of trinitarian faith. It defies logic despite many learned treatises written to explain it. The core paradox may be expressed in what might be called trinitarian arithmetic:

1 + 1 + 1 = 1

But how can we understand this?

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius was a Spaniard, trained as a lawyer. He rose through the ranks of the empire as a judge and became one of the chief officials at the court of the Christian Emperor Theodosius in Constantinople. At age 57, in AD 405, at the pinnacle of his career as one of the most powerful men in the Empire, he retired from civic life to write religious poetry. At this time he wrote:

Now, then, at last, close on the very end of life,
May yet my sinful soul put off her foolishness;
And if by deeds it cannot,
yet, at least, by words give praise to God,

His greatest work was the Liber Cathermerion. It is a collection of 12 long poems, one for each hour of the day. The ninth of these has these words:

Corde natus ex parentis, ante mundi exordium

In 1854, the Englishman John Mason Neal translated this as “Of the Father Sole Begotten.” Neal used a beautiful medieval plainsong as the setting for his translation of Prudentius’s words, creating a Christmas song for his time. In 1861 this was revised by another Englishman, Henry Williams Baker, as “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

Of the Father’s love begotten, Ere the world’s began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessed, When the Virgin full of grace,
By the Holy Spirit conceiving, Bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heav’n adore Him; Angel host, His praises sing,
Pow’rs dominions, bow before Him, And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent, Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ to Thee with God the Father, And O Holy Spirit to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, And unwearied praises be;
Honor, glory, and dominion, And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Prudentius’s works were appreciated by that great 20th Century scholar, C.S. Lewis. I, too, love the words of this song, one of the most profound of the Christmas collection. It give clear, simple answers to some of the dilemmas of trinitarian theology. Consider:

  • How was Christ conceived? By the Father’s love.
  • What is the proper response? Unwearied praises.
  • Where do we direct praise? To Christ with God the Father.
  • What is the end of all things? Eternal victory.
  • How long should we celebrate? Evermore and evermore!

Let no tongueCelebration of the birth of Christ should be done with great joy, but also with an appreciation of the mystery of the incarnation. But never forget the center of it all: the Father’s Love!

So merry, blessed Christmas to you, all my friends.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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