Author: Bianco de Siena
Translator: Richard Frederick Littledale
Tune: Down Ampney
The first stanza of this text addresses the Holy Spirit as “O Love divine” and “O Comforter,” asking for His presence in our lives. The middle stanzas ask the Holy Spirit to purge us of all pride and evil passion, and to purify our love and light our path. The final stanza anticipates the greater love for God that will ensue from such purification, and recognizes that, as Paul wrote, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV).
Bianco da Siena was an Italian monk who wrote poems called laudi spirituali in the fourteenth century. A collection of his poems was published in 1851 at Lucca. One of these, “Discendi, amor santo,” is the basis for this English translation by Richard F. Littledale in The People's Hymnal in 1867. Littledale translated four of the original eight stanzas, but most hymnals omit his third (beginning “Let holy charity”) for a consistent three-stanza text.
This hymn is addressed to the Holy Spirit. Though the third Person of the Trinity is not specifically named until the very last line of the hymn, it is clear through the terms “O Love divine” and “O Comforter” that He is the one to whom this prayer is addressed.
Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the tune DOWN AMPNEY for this text in the English Hymnal in 1906. It was named after his birthplace, and has been praised as one of the most beautiful hymn tunes ever written. DOWN AMPNEY works well when sung in harmony. Try a brisk tempo, especially for congregational singing, to avoid losing momentum on the longer notes.
This hymn is useful as a song of illumination, as a choral anthem or congregational hymn.“Come Down, O Love Divine” is a choral setting of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s harmonization, with an a capella stanza. “Five Hymn Accompaniments for Brass Quartet and Organ, Set 2”contains a setting of DOWN AMPNEY. “Come Down, O Love Divine” is also suitable for Pentecost or another service focusing on the Holy Spirit or the Trinity. An ostinato accompaniment repeats throughout the handbell arrangement “Come, Creator Spirit,” which combines DOWN AMPNEY with the plainchant tune VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS to create a meditative mood. A quiet setting of "Come Down, O Love Divine” for organ is one of “Three Hymns of Praise, Set 5.”