O Come - Emmanuel

We are most familiar with this antiphon as the opening verse of John Mason Neale’s stirring advent hymn:
O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)

The interesting thing is that the original Latin makes no reference to Israel, but returns again to the coming King as ruler of the (gentile) nations:

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

Which Maggi Dawn translates:

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

I can’t even begin to speculate why Neale changed the emphasis. Was he a British Israelite? I find suspicions about him being a closet papist in his internet biographies but no reference to such a British Israelite philosophy, although it wouldn’t have been unusual in 19th century Anglicanism…

But the original, medieval version carries no such ideology… It is simply a reiteration of much of what has been said before…

But perhaps nothing new needs to be said after addressing Christ in the initial title of Emmanuel… God with us… Look up Emmanuel on the internet, and you need to be careful what you click on thanks to a certain series of movies in the 1970s.

But Emmanuel… God with us is one of the most powerful Hebrew/Aramaic words in scripture… It has survived translation from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English… And even today it continues to have resonance… It is the title with which I have addressed God in prayer in many circumstances in recent days… with the mother of a terminally ill child, with the parents of a new born baby, with a woman struck dumb by a stroke, with another frustrated at having her life curtailed to her small care-home room by another room, with a man facing a major operation, another facing imminent death… and with numerous lonely people for whom this season brings little by way of comfort and joy…

Jesus is Emmanuel – not just for high days and holidays, but for the dark and difficult days too… The days when the stench of the stable is stuck in your nostrils…


Freedom Bound said…
To be fair on Neale - he is faithfully translating the Latin versification (13th century?)

Veni, veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio,
privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

So the importing of Israel into the antiphon has very little to do with 19th century Anglicanism or its political agenda......
Thank you for the correction. Hadn't come across that particular versification before, but, as you say, it seems to be a 13th century invention. So, I retract my questioning of Neale's motivation, but it does then raise the issue of the change in emphasis of the 13th century paraphrase at a time when identification with Israel was not likely to be generally popular. Or perhaps this was a function of collapsing the 7 antiphons into 5 verses. Thanks for your intervention...

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