Puer natus in Bethlehem

Representative Text

1 Puer natus in Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
unde gaudet Jerusalem.

2 Hie jacet in praesepio, praesepio,
que fegnat sine termino.

3 Cognovit bos et asinus, asinus,
quod puer erat Dominus.

4 Reges de Saba veniunt, veniunt,
auram, thus, myrrhum oferunt.

5 De matre natus virgine, virgine,
sine virili semine.

6 Sine serpentis vulnere, vulnere,
de nostro venit sanguime.

7 In carne nobis similis, similis,
peccato sed dissimilis.

8 Ut redderet nos homines, homines,
Deo et sibi similes.

9 In hoc natali gaudio, gaudio,
benedicamus Domin.

10 Laudetur sancta Trinitas, Trinitas,
Deo dicamus gratias,

Source: Evangelisch-Lutherisches Gesang-Buch: worin die gebräuchlichsten alten Kirchen-Lieder Dr. M. Lutheri und anderer reinen lehrer und zeugen Gottes, zur Befoerderung der wahren ... (2. verm. Aus.) #31


Puer natus in Bethlehem. [Christmas.] A beautiful and simple Christmas carol on the adoration of the Child by the ox and ass, and the visit to Him by the Magi—-so equally appropriate for the Epiphany. It became a great favourite in Germany, and is found in many varying forms. The oldest text known is given by G. M. Dreves, in his Cantiones Bohemica, 1886, No. 178, from a Benedictine Processional of the beginning of the 14th century, formerly belonging to the monastery of St. Georg at Hradisch, near Olmütz, and now in the University Library at Prag. Here it has 9 stanzas viz.:—

ii. Assumpsit carnem filius; iii. Per Gabrielem nuntium; iv. Tanquam sponsus de thalamo; v. Ponitur in praesepio; vi. Cognovit bos et asinus; vii. Reges de Saba veniunt; viii. Intrantes domum invicem; ix. Trino uni sempiterno. From the Cantional of Jistebnicz, c. 1420, he adds, x. Sit benedicta Trinitas.

This text, in 10 stanzas is also found in the Hereford, i., Nos. 309-318, gives 10 forms of varying length, the oldest being from a Munich manuscript of the 15th century. This has 6 stanzas, viz., 1, 5 (reading "Hic jacet"), 6, 7, 8 of the above text, and a 6th stanza, “Ergo nostra concio."

The text, which passed into the German Lutheran hymn-books and survives, e.g. in Burg's Gesang-Buch, Breslau, 1746, No. 393 (each stanza being followed by a German translation), appeared in V. Babst's Gesang-Buch, Leipzig, 1545, and is Wackernagel’s No. 310. It has 10 st., viz. 1, 5 (reading "Hic jacet"), 6, 7,10 (reading "Laudetur sancta"), and

v. De matre natus virgine; vi. Sine serpentis vulnere; vii. In carne nobis similis; viii. Ut redderet nos ho¬mines; ix. In hoc natali gaudio.

These intercalated stanzas seem to be of later origin (if not Post-Reformation), and to have been added to give the hymn a more theological ring. The text of 1545 is in Daniel, i., No. 480; and also in Trench ed. 1864, with the stanza" Intrantes domum invicem " added. Translated as:—

1. The Child is born in Bethlehem. By Elizabeth Charles, in her Voice of Christian Life in Song, 1858, p. 173, in 11 stanzas of 2 lines. When repeated in thePeople's Hymnal, 1867, it was slightly altered, and the refrain “Alleluia" was added to each stanza.
2. Infant born in Bethlehem, Born to save Jerusalem. Anonymous in Mrs. Carey Brock's Children's Hymn Book, 1881.

Other translations are :—
1. A Babe in Bethlehem is born. W.J.Blew. 1852-55.
2. A Child is born in Bethlehem, Rejoice, rejoice, Jerusalem. J. W. Hewett. 1859.
3. A Child is born in Bethlehem, And joyful is Jerusalem. R. F. Littledale, in Lyra Messianica, 1864, p. 69.
4. A Child is born in Bethlehem, Rejoice and sing, &c. P. Schaff, in his Christ in Song, N.Y. 1869.
5. A Child is born in Bethlehem; Exult for joy, &c. (together with the Latin). H. M. Macgill. 1876.
6. A Boy is born in Bethlehem. H. J. D. Ryder, in O. Shipley's Annus Sanctus. 1884.
7. A Child is born in Bethlehem, And joy is in Jerusalem. P. S. Worsley, in his Poems, &. 1875.

This hymn has been very frequently translated into German, the versions ranging from that by Heinrich of Laufenberg in 1439 down to recent times. The version in German Protestant hymnbooks is generally that in V. Babst's Gesang-Buch, 1545, which begins, "Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem," and is in 10 st. of Latin, with interlaced German versions of all save ii. (thence in Wackernagel, ii. p. 701). In later books, e.g. Burg's Gesang-Buch, Breslau, 1746, trs. of st. ii., x., are added, from the text of V. Schumann's Gesang-Buch, Leipzig, 1539. In the Roman Catholic hymnbooks it is found in a great variety of forms, but all, or almost all, beginning "Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem."

The text used by Miss Huppus is that in the St. Gall Katholisches Gesang-Buch, 1863. The translations from the German are (1) "A Child is born in Bethlehem, There's joy in all Jerusalem." By Dr. H. Harbaugh in the German Reformed Guardian, Dec. 1866, p. 310. (2) “A Child is born in Bethlehem, Therefore is glad Jerusalem." By Miss Huppus, as No. 304 in E. Paxton Hood's Children's Choir, 1870.
[Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)



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