12 Days of Christmas Carols- Good Christian Men Rejoice

In dulci jubiloSpeaking of John Mason Neale, my favorite carol to sing is his “Good Christian Men Rejoice.”  As we said, Neale was predominately a translator, though he had no problem employing an aggresive sort of “dynamic equivalent” approach that often fell into paraphrase.  Such is the case with this song.  The original was a mash-up of German and Latin titled “In Dulci Jubilo,” written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse in 1328.  You can read about his story here, but my favorite part is that he received a heavenly vision instructing him to compose a song about the baby Jesus.  He constructed a masterpiece.  The tune is also very old, dating back at least to 1400, which makes it one of the most ancient of all hymns still in currency today, Christmas carols or otherwise.  Of course, most of us change it up considerably, but it’s still an impressive tradition.

Just as we saw with “Good King Wenceslas,” Neale has received a lot of criticism from “the experts.”  They hate his lyrics, far too homely and folksy for their tastes, and they even claim that he departed from the spirit of the original tune, which can actually be rather stately and high-ceilinged.  Well, it’s at just this point where I’m most happy to be an iconoclastic Protestant.  I love the fun bouncy version, and I often find myself speeding up Neale’s already playful version even further.  This does mean, of course, that all our stories about how this carol reflects some old Germanic drinking tune are made up, as those sorts of stories usually are.  The tune was originally composed to be lofty and cosmic, in keeping with the words (and the added Latin, of course).  Still, I like the newer fun version.  So there.  Just so long as we know that the tradition has been invented, I think we’re permitted to indulge ourselves.

There are even variations among Neale’s English version of “Good Christian Men Rejoice.”  While the gender-neutral “Good Christian Friends Rejoice” is annoying in its lack of subtltly, not to mention its apparent lack of understanding the masculine plural’s ability to include both sexes already (the difference between “sex” and “gender,” the latter of which is really a linguistic term rather than a biological one, but alas…), other variants are less obviously explained.  They were probably made to better fit someone’s rendition, though they may have been informed attempts to get back to the original formal sense, thus the changing of “ox and ass” to “heaven and earth.”  Perhaps one of you readers will know more.

I’ll conclude all of this with the lyrics of both the original “In Dulci Jubilo,” using Wedderburn’s translation, and then the newer and more familiar Neale version.  First Wedderburn:

In Dulci Jubilo

Now let us sing with mirth and joy,
Our heart’s consolation
Lies in praesepio,
And shines as the sun,
Matris in gremio.
Alpha is and O, Alpha is and O.
Jesu parvule,
I thirst sore after Thee,
Comfort my heart and mind,
I Puer optime!

God of all grace so king,
Et Princepts Gloriae,
Trabe me post Te,
Trabe me post Te.
Ubi sunt gaudia;
In any place but there
Where the angels sing,
Nova cantica,
But and the bells ring,
In regis curia.
God if I were there,
God if I were there!

Most of you have probably never seen that version.  It’s said to be the superior one.  And I suppose those experts out there are free to keep it, but I still love Neale’s, and so here it is:

Good Christian Men Rejoice
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: News! News! Jesus Christ is born today;
Ox and ass before Him bow; and He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened the heavenly door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

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