CHRISTMAS POETRY (I) * •
Ancient Latin Hymns, their Dogmatic, Theological Character—Humanizing Influence of Franciscanism—Jacopone da Todi's Vernacular Verse—German Catholic Poetry—Mediaeval English Carols.
Christmas, as we have seen, had its beginning at the middle of the fourth century in Rome. The new feast was not long in finding a hymn-writer to embody in immortal Latin the emotions called forth by the memory of the Nativity. " Veni, redemptor gentium " is one of the earliest of Latin hymns—one of the few that have come down to us from the father of Church song, Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan (d. 397). Great as theologian and statesman, Ambrose was great also as a poet and systematizer of Church music. " Veni, redemptor gentium " is above all things stately and severe, in harmony with the austere character of the zealous foe of the Arian heretics, the champion of monas-ticism. It is the theological aspect alone of Christmas, the redemption of sinful man by the mystery of the Incarnation and the miracle of the Virgin Birth, that we find in St. Ambrose's terse and pregnant Latin ; there is no feeling for the human pathos and poetry of the scene at Bethlehem—
" Veni, redemptor gentium, Ostende partum virginis ; Miretur orane saeculum : Talis decet partus Deum.
* Cf. chap, xviii. of Dr. Yrj'6 Hirn's "The Sacred Shrine" (London, 1912). Dr. Him finds a solitary anticipation of the Franciscan treatment of the Nativity in the Christmas hymns of the fourth-century eastern poet, Ephraem Syrus.