O Come and Behold Who?

I originally picked this up at the beginning of the year, but Christmas had been and gone by that stage, and with it the season of carolling (to which most ministers generally respond with a collective sigh of relief). But it has now swung round again and anything that gives us a new angle on overly-familiar songs sung repeatedly over a few weeks is worth thinking about. In this case the word "angle" is particularly apposite.
Now I have repeatedly pointed out some of the political dimensions of the nativity story as we find it in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, but Esther Addley, on Comment is Free, suggested that some of our favourite carols had political origins too (though perhaps not always quite in tune with the original gospel story). Her account of 'O come all ye faithful' is particularly interesting. I don't know if there is any truth in it, but she suggests that Adeste Fideles, the Latin hymn from which the carol was translated, was not composed by a medieval mystic as was once thought, but by John Francis Wade, a Jacobite loyalist who may have written it as a coded call to arms for those loyal (the "faithful") to the exiled Bonnie Prince Charlie on the eve of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. In those terms, the Bethlehem to which loyalists are summoned can be read as England, while the line translated as "Come and behold him, born the king of angels" may in fact contain a pun on "regem anglorum", the king of the English.
So in this province of ours where many revere a king who was regarded as the Dutch usurper by those Jacobites, there may be a certain irony in the lusty singing of this rebel song...
But then the song the original angels sang outside Bethlehem was an act of open rebellion against the usurping earthly empires...
(My original link to this story was via Burke's Corner, but the original post seems to have disappeared.)


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