Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene

Intende, qui regis Israel: A Hymn of Ambrose (3)

On to the next verse of the Advent/Christmas hymn Intende, qui regis Israel.

Text and Translation

Veni, redemptor gentium,

ostende partum virginis,

miretur omne saeculum,

talis decet partus Deo.

Come, redeemer of the nations,

show forth the virgin’s parturition;

let all the world stand in awe:

such a birth is fit for God.1


  1. Walpole notes that the repetition veni, veni at the end of one stanza and the beginning of the next is characteristic of Ambrose’s hymns. Here it serves to connect the first stanza, which is about Christ’s redemption of Israel, with the second, which is about the redemption of the nations (see Walpole’s note to l.1), and thus reinforces the universality of the Christian gospel.
  2. Line 6 points up the startling way in which the Savior chose to come: through the Virgin Birth. This is not, however, done in secret, but is meant to be displayed to all (ostende).
  3. The proper response is awe. All the world (the meaning of saeculum here, as often) should be amazed.
  4. Ambrose states that this type of birth is “fitting” for God. Why? We might suggest any number of reasons: for instance, it was fitting that Christ be born of a woman, but not by ordinary human generation from the seed of a man. But we might, with Leo I (in a sermon briefly excerpted by Walpole), suggest something further: it is a miraculous display of divine power, which is appropriate for Christ, who is the power of God; it is also an appropriate display of Christ as God’s wisdom, making foolish the wisdom of the world by coming in this way. Leo writes in Serm. 21.2: talis nativitas decuit Dei virtutem et Dei sapientam Christum (“such a Nativity was fitting for Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God”).
  1. I’ve attempted to make the translation slightly more poetic–though that is an insult to the word “poetic”–this time.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.