Two days ago, I made some introductory remarks about the famous hymn of Ambrose known to many speakers of English as “Savior of the Nations, Come,” and focused specifically on its authenticity and ancient witness. Today we will look at the first stanza of the hymn, which is omitted from our modern version.
This, then, is how the hymn begins:
Text and Translation
Intende, qui regis Israel,
super Cherubin qui sedes,
adpare Ephrem coram, excita
potentiam tuam et veni.
Give ear, o Ruler of Israel,
you who sit upon the cherubim,
show yourself before Ephraim, stir up
your might and come.1
- The first stanza, as Walpole notes, is take more or less directly from Psalm 80(79).1(2)ff. The verses read: qui regis Israhel intende qui deducis tamquam oves Ioseph qui sedes super cherubin manifestare 3 coram Effraim et Beniamin et Manasse excita potentiam tuam et veni ut salvos facias nos.
- Indeed, this Psalm forms an important part of many Advent liturgies. For instance, it features in Anglican services a couple of times, particularly in Week 3 in the Introit and Gradual.
- Ambrose uses the Psalm Christologically: Christ is the shepherd of Israel whose presence Ambrose invokes, as the next stanza makes clear. Thus, though this stanza is omitted in modern versions, it is nevertheless “an integral part of the hymn” (Walpole) and sets up a connection between Old Testament and New Testament for what follows.
- One reason the first stanza may have been omitted is due to the elisions required in the last two lines to make the words work metrically: adparEphrem corexcita/ potentiam tuetveni. Walpole again: “When elision was disused the lines would become hard to sing, and may thus have fallen out of use.”
- From its opening, then, the hymn presents itself as a synthetic gloss on the central story of the whole of Scripture: the coming of the Messiah.