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Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest

May 28, 2009

veni_creatorSince Pentecost is this Sunday I thought I’d reflect on an ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit.  In Lutheran Service Book (#498 and 499) the hymn is called “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest,” but in the original Latin it was called Veni, Creator Spiritus.  This hymn text has been attributed to many different authors; the LSB attributes it to Rabanus Maurus (776-856), but it has also been attributed to Charlemagne, Gregory the Great, and Ambrose of Milan.  So we do not know for sure who wrote it, but that it is at least 1000 years old.  The tune is (according to LSB) a Sarum plainsong in the 8th mode, from the 9th century.  Just consider it Gregorian Chant (or plainchant, if you want to be picky).  The image on the left is a scan of the plainchant version of the tune (if you click on the image you can see it full size) from the Liber Usualis.  The versions we have in the Lutheran Service Book are both based on that plainchant melody.  LSB 499 is an attempt to convert plainchant into modern musical notation.  I believe all the notes are there, although much of the textual nuances are lost without the chant.  LSB 498 is  more of a standard hymn-tune version of the same plainchant melody.

Anyway, enough about plainchant (for now).  The text of this hymn is a wonderful prayer to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, imploring Him to dwell within us “And fill the hearts which You have made.”  What first strikes me in this hymn is how passive the speaker is, until the final stanza where he bursts forth in a joyous doxology to the Trinity, which is done in response to what God has done and is merely repeating back to God what he was told.  The first stanza sets the stage well and shows how the Holy Spirit must fill our hearts, for we cannot do it on our own, and indeed even our hearts had to be formed by that same Spirit: Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, And make our hearts Your place of rest; Come with Your grace and heav’nly aid, And fill the hearts which You have made.

Stanza three has perplexed me for awhile, especially the first line, but after some digging, I think I have a partial answer: In You, with graces sevenfold, We God’s almighty hand behold While You with tongues of fire proclaim To all the world His holy name. What is perplexing to me are the “graces sevenfold.”  Just what are they?  At first I thought of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, but that is nine, not seven.  So as I was googling, a Roman Catholic website, commenting on “Veni Creator” pointed me to Isaiah 11:2-3.  I think the immediate context for the passage is Isaiah 11:1-5, which you can read here.  Go ahead, I’ll wait for you…

Glad you’re back.  Ok, so as I read that passage, and then also looked it up in the Kretzmann Popular Commentary, it does seem to be talking about the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.  Now, six are easy to see: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord.  After that I’m not really sure, but righteousness seems to be the theme of the next couple verses, so I’m guessing that’s number seven.  I’m not really sure (and if someone reading this knows better than I do, please help me out.)  Anyway, what struck me is that this is a clear Messianic passage, referring to Christ, which leads me to believe that the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit are not, at least in this passage, primarily for Christians, although I am not denying that the Spirit does give us these gifts, but instead are referring to the Messiah, that is, Christ Jesus.  How interesting that even in a hymn to the Spirit, where Jesus’ name is not mentioned outright (although He is definitely referred to in the Trinitarian final stanza), we still have references to Christ.  But that is not really that unusual, is it, because the Spirit of God will always testify to Christ and always point to Christ.  That is the point of this hymn and that is shown in a later verse which says “Teach us to know the Father, Son, and You, from both, as Three in One.”

The final stanza ends with “And may the Son on us bestow The gifts that from the Spirit flow!  Amen.”  As I said before, we certainly do pray that the Spirit would bestow on us the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit (as well as the fruits of the Spirit), which is given as God sees fit.  These are not to be a checklist for Christians, so that once you’ve done your checklist of the seven gifts of the Spirit, you are a true Christian.  Anyway, I hope you get to sing this wonderful hymn this Pentecost, and do try to listen to the original plainchant (it is a very popular chant tune and it should not be hard to find a recording of it).

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest – Lutheran Service Book 498 & 499

1            Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And make our hearts Your place of rest;
Come with Your grace and heav’nly aid,
And fill the hearts which You have made.

2            To You, the Counselor, we cry,
To You, the gift of God Most High;
The fount of life, the fire of love,
The soul’s anointing from above.

3            In You, with graces sevenfold,
We God’s almighty hand behold
While You with tongues of fire proclaim
To all the world His holy name.

4            Your light to ev’ry thought impart,
And shed Your love in ev’ry heart;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

5            Drive far away our wily foe,
And Your abiding peace bestow;
With You as our protecting guide,
No evil can with us abide.

6            Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And You, from both, as Three in One
That we Your name may ever bless
And in our lives the truth confess.

7            Praise we the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit, with them One,
And may the Son on us bestow
The gifts that from the Spirit flow! Amen.

Public domain

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From → Church Music, Hymns

2 Comments
  1. This is one of two hymns that I’m considering for Time Out #16.

  2. jim permalink

    Thank you very much, Nathan, for sharing your prayerful reflection with the whole world.

    ” Now, six are easy to see: wisdom, . . ., so I’m guessing that’s number seven. I’m not really sure (and if someone reading this knows better than I do, please help me out.) ”

    i’m no biblical scholar, but i believe i can steer you in the right direction.

    In order to understand how seven gifts or charisms are derived from Isaiah xi, 2-3, consider the fact that English biblical texts are derived from Latin texts, which in turn are derived from Greek & Hebrew texts. When Martin Luther translated Sacred Scripture from Latin into the vernacular ( German ) his source text was more than likely a hand-rendered copy ( with all the writing errors of the copyist included ) of a Bible, one of many copies, whose earlier source was prepared by Saint Jerome among others, many centuries previous, in the vernacular of their day, i.e., vulgar Latin, hence, The Biblia Vulgata, or Vulgate Bible ( Common Bible ), & promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church as her authorized or official translation. If you go to the a Vulgate Latin text, with which Martin Luther would have been wholly familiar, you will find seven charisms of the Holy Spirit listed in Is. xi, 2-3. The text in Latin reads :

    2 et requiescet super eum spiritus Domini spiritus sapientiae et intellectus spiritus consilii et fortitudinis spiritus scientiae et pietatis
    3 et replebit eum spiritus timoris Domini

    My humble translation :

    2 And the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, a ( the ) Spirit of wisdom & intellect ( intellectual grasp, or understanding ), a ( the ) Spirit of counsel & fortitude ( moral strength, power ), a ( the ) Spirit of science ( knowledge ) & piety ( This word is understood to express many other words, such as love, holiness, godliness, devotion to God, parents, spouse, offspring, etc., religion, being bound to God, being God-fearing, etc. )
    3 And the Spirit of the fear of the Lord will fill him.

    The seven charisms ( gifts ) of the Holy Spirit = wisdom, intellect ( intellectual grasp, or understanding ) counsel, fortitude, knowledge, [ piety, & fear of the Lord. ]

    The currently authorized version of Sacred Scripture in Latin, as used by the Roman Catholic Church, is called the ” Nova Vulgata, ” or New Vulgate. i believe its use began in 1979. You can read the text referring to Is. xi, 2-3 directly at : http://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_vt_isaiae_lt.html#11

    Here, there are only six charisms listed. i believe the reason is that the New Vulgate enjoys the advantage of modern scholarship.

    Piety = fear of the Lord.
    Some modern biblical scholars, having many Latin text sources accessible to them, believe that ” timoris Domini ” ( of the fear of the Lord ) is an obvious repetitive text gloss for ” pietatis ” ( piety ).

    2 et requiescet super eum spiritus Domini : spiritus sapientiae et intellectus, spiritus consilii et fortitudinis, spiritus scientiae et timoris Domini;
    3 et deliciae eius in timore Domini.

    2 And the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him : a ( the ) Spirit of wisdom & intellect ( intellectual grasp, or understanding ), a ( the ) Spirit of counsel & fortitude ( moral strength, power ), a ( the ) Spirit of science ( knowledge ) & of the fear of the Lord;
    3 And his delights ( will be ) in the fear of the Lord.

    N.B. :
    Six charisms ( gifts ) = wisdom, intellect ( intellectual grasp, or understanding ), counsel, fortitude, knowledge, & fear of the Lord.

    Verse 3 translates : & his delights ( will be ) in fear of the Lord.

    ” Timoris Domini, ” ( of the fear of the Lord ) & ” in timore Domini, ” ( in the fear of the Lord ) repeat the same charism.

    The beautiful ” Veni, Creator ” was written using theology rooted in the text of the ” Biblia Vulgata, ” not the ” Nova Vulgata ” of our day.

    For the most literal translation of the authorized version of the ” Biblia Vulgata ” into English, consider the Douay-Rheims Bible.

    There is no current authorized translation of the ” Nova Vulgata ” in English. Consider the Revised Standard Version as a ” coming-closest ” translation.

    i hope this helps you. May the Holy Spirit bestow all His many, many, gifts upon you & your loving family.

    You can reply to me at ~miscellaneouscommunications~at~yahoo~dot~com. Please let me know if there are future responses to this post. i am anxious to be corrected & constructively criticized.

    Peace.

    jim

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