Thirty-five years prior to his birth, Christianity had been granted full toleration under the Edict of Milan. With Constantine’s conversion, Christianity became the favored religion of the Empire, a change that is oft maligned by younger evangelicals suspicious of “Christendom,” but must have been a welcome relief and answer to prayer for the beleagured saints in the fourth century.
Prudentius was trained to be a lawyer and rose to high office, serving as a powerful judge. He rose through the ranks of the state and finished his civil career as a court official for the Christian Emperor Theodosius.
At the age of fifty-seven, at the height of his power and prestige, Prudentius grew weary of civic life and considered his life thus far to have been a waste. He was having a midlife crisis (or, given the age span at the time, more like an almost-at-the-end-of-my-life crisis). So the successful lawyer, judge, and civil servant retired to write hymns and poetry. For the last decade of his life, before his death around 413, Prudentius wrote some of the most beautiful hymns of his day.
His poetry was treasured throughout the Middle Ages. His collection of twelve long poems (Cathemerinon), one for each hour of the day, became the foundation for several of the office hymns of the church. But without a doubt, Prudentius’ best known hymn today is Corde Natus Ex Parentis–Of the Father’s Love Begotten.
It was translated into English by John Mason Neale and Henry Baker in the 1850s. It was included in the book Hymns Ancient and Modern and given the plainsong chant-like melody Divinum Mysterium (Divine Mystery), which may date back as far as the twelfth century.
The hymn/poem originally contained nine verses. The song tells the story of redemption. Verse one speaks of the Son’s eternal nature. Verse two is about creation. Verse three chronicles the fall. Verse four moves into redemption with the virgin birth. Verse five links the Christ child to ancient prophecies. Verse six is a chorus of praise to the Messiah. Verse seven warns of final judgment for the wicked. Verse eight tells of men, women, and children singing their songs of praise. And verse nine concludes the hymn with a song of victory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Most Christians will recognize many of the verses, but sadly not all.
Of the Father’s love begotten, Ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He, Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see, Evermore and evermore!
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done: Heaven and earth and depths of ocean In their threefold order one; All that grows beneath the shining Of the moon and burning sun, Evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, Death and sorrow here to know, That the race of Adam’s children Doomed by law to endless woe, May not henceforth die and perish In the dreadful gulf below, Evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessed, When the virgin, full of grace, By the Holy Ghost conceiving, Bare the Saviour of our race; And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time Chanted of with one accord; Whom the voices of the prophets Promised in their faithful word; Now He shines, the long expected, Let creation praise its Lord, Evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; Angel hosts, His praises sing; Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King! Let no tongue on earth be silent, Every voice in concert sing, Evermore and evermore!
Righteous judge of souls departed, Righteous King of them that live, On the Father’s throne exalted None in might with Thee may strive; Who at last in vengeance coming Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, Evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men, Thee let boys in chorus sing; Matrons, virgins, little maidens, With glad voices answering: Let their guileless songs re-echo, And the heart its music bring, Evermore and evermore!
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee, Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, And unwearied praises be: Honour, glory, and dominion, And eternal victory, Evermore and evermore!
I couldn’t find a real good rendition of the song online. The clip below is not much to look at (ok, there’s really nothing to look at), but the sound is lovely.