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One Weird Lyric

December 10, 2008

The persons who frequent this site will know that I am not afraid to give an opinion; in fact, there have been several instances where I should have thought a bit more before I typed. In any event I just want to say from the beginning I don’t think this is “bad” or the “worst,” it’s just alien really.

So it’s that time of year when many worship pastors start to incorporate Christmas carols into their sets (an issue deserving a post) and pastors start to preach tired sermon series on Christmas that we have heard for the last twenty-five years (also deserving a post in itself, but briefly: seriously mix it up a bit, we’re bored).

This past Sunday at my church we sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” one of the few carols I don’t despise, however, a line from the song (that I do not ever remember hearing before) distracted me, and used up the few mental capacities that I have available during some worship concerts as I am led into a catatonic state drooling on myself while mumbling the words to I Could Sing of Your Love Forever for the millionth time.

The line? “Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb.” Now the line is odd enough on its own, but what’s even odder is its placement in the verse in which it is found:

God of God, Light of Light,
Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, Begotten not created.

The first and third lines above are from the Nicene Creed which is a really good place to plagiarize lyrics from if you want to stay on target theologically, but the second line? I’m not quite sure where that comes from, and I just can’t help creating a conversation in my mind between the author of this song and some other imaginary person during the writing process:

Critic: Hmmm… yeah I like it.
Author: Great, thanks
Critic: I like how you used the Creed here in the second verse but there’s something missing…
Author: Do you think I should add something about being begotten of the father, being the same substance as the father, or by whom all things were made?
Critic: no, that’s not it…
Author: Savior?
Critic: Nope
Author: Prince of Peace?
Critic: No.. how about something with his birth
Author: Immaculate Conception?
Critic: No, to positive
Author: How about, “He does not abhor the Virgin’s womb”?
Critic: Yeah, that might work. Throw a “Lo” in front of that line and it’s perfect
Author: “Lo! he does not abhor the Virgin’s womb.” I like it. It says I didn’t really want to be in a person for ten months ’cause I’m like God and everything, but I didn’t hate it either. Yeah, the more I think about it the more I like it. Thanks man.

A very strange periphrastic phrase articulated in a manner in which no one speaks anymore… and that may be a good thing! Can you imagine talking to a non-Christian: They say “Tell me about Jesus”  and you reply, “Lo. He does not abhor the virgin’s womb.”

*Cricket. Cricket.*

Awkward!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2008 7:25 pm

    My favorite hymn is “Come thou font of every blessing”. But I swear I giggle when I sing the line “Here, raise my Ebenezer”. Symbolically it’s a powerful line (Samuel, Philistines, Victory of Israel, etc.). However, you can take the dude out of junior high; but Lo!, junior high stays with the dude forever.

  2. December 10, 2008 8:52 pm

    Maybe it was the “Your week in three words” bit on Leno tonight with Terry Bradshaw holding a sign that read “Mye Name Tery” that got me rolling as I swung through this, but you guys seem to be exceptionally on today.

    Scott, my wife is still laughing at that close.

    “Cricket.Cricket” indeed! Good stuff.

  3. Jake permalink
    December 10, 2008 10:01 pm

    There’s a part of me that really really really really really wants to say: “I sure don’t abhor virgin womb either.”

    But I won’t.

    *cue those crickets again*

    And I still giggle like a 5th grade schoolgirl when I hear the “Ebenezer” line.

  4. Jake permalink
    December 10, 2008 10:08 pm

    By the by, I absolutely LOVE how you tiptoed into the topic of lyrics this time. You weren’t scared someone was going to go on some sort of lunatic rant were you??? ;)

  5. Jonathan permalink
    December 11, 2008 4:58 am

    The original Latin is:

    “Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
    Parturit virgo mater,
    Deum verum, genitum, non factum.”

    My Latin is quite rusty, but I think the second line means, “the virgin mother gives birth”. Not nearly as cricket-worthy.

    The blame for this atrocity therefore seems to rest with the translator, one Frederick Oakeley. A pox on his house!

  6. Christine permalink
    December 11, 2008 7:00 am

    I didn’t really laugh out loud until that bit.

    LOL indeed!

  7. Timothy permalink
    December 25, 2008 7:04 am

    I’ve been googling those lyrics about abhorring the virgin’s womb. I’d never heard that verse before and we’ve sung “O Come All Ye Faithful” many times over the years at Christmas in church.

    So last night (Christmas Eve) we had the annual Christmas eve service and when the audience sings hymns they project them via slide show. So when it comes to that verse the entire audience just looks at it and starts mumbling along to the tune. Yaaa-da-da-daa-da. Hmmm-hm-hm-hm-hmmm-hm

    I’m still not sure how those words go to the tune, it was the funniest thing. We always sing “Oh come all ye faithful”, “Sing choirs of angels” and finish it with “Yea Lord we greet thee”.

    After checking around I found a 2nd verse sometimes used “Sing, Alleluia, all ye choirs of angels” that is considered an alternate. Donna Summer and Toby Keith have used it in their recordings.
    http://www.metrolyrics.com/o-come-all-ye-faithful-lyrics-donna-summer.html

    Still just stunned me, reading “Abhors not the Virgin’s Womb” I was like what? How do you even sing that?

  8. Sheryl permalink
    January 1, 2009 9:14 pm

    I just was stumped by “womb” as the answer in the phrase “God of God, light of light, He abhors not the virgin’s__”
    Never heard it before either and was shocked to discover it was the original version of the song.

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