Puer Natus in Béthlehem

“Puer natus in Bethlehem” (A child is born in Bethlehem) is a medieval Latin Christmas hymn, composed by an anonymous author (or authors). This hymn is of a very beautiful simplicity, absorbing easily and naturally so much theology in its poetry, and in its brief compass.


Puer natus in Bethlehem,
Unde gaudet Jerusalem,

In cordis jubilo,
Christum natum adoremus
Cum novo cantico.

Assumpsit carnem Filius,
Dei Patris altissimus,

Per Gabrielem nuntium,
Virgo concepit Filium,

Tamquam sponsus de thalamo,
Processit Matris utero,

Hic iacet in praesepio,
Qui regnat sine termino,

Cognovit bos et asinus,
Quod puer erat Dominus.

Et Angelus pastoribus,
Revelat quod sit Dominus,

Reges de Saba Veniunt,
Aurum thus myrrham offerunt,

Intrantes domum invicem,
Novum salutant Principem,

De Matre natus Virgine,
Sine virili semine,

Sine serpentis vulnere,
De nostro venit sanguine,

In carne nobis similis,
Peccato sed dissimilis,

Ut redderet nos homines,
Deo et sibi similes,

In hoc natali gaudio,
Benedicamus Domino,

Laudetur sancta Trinitas,
Deo dicamus gratias,

English translation by Hamilton M. MacGill (1876)

A child is born in Bethlehem,
Exult for joy, Jerusalem!

Refrain (literal translation):
With an exultant heart,
let us adore the new-born Christ,
with a new song.

The Son of God the Father,
In the highest has taken flesh,

By angel Gabriel announced,
The virgin has conceived the Son.

Like a bridegroom from the chamber,
He proceeds from the womb of the mother.

Lo he who reigns above the skies,
There in a manger lowly, lies.

The ox and ass in neighb’ring stall,
See in that child the Lord of all.

And the angel to the shepherds,                                                                                                        The Lord reveals that He is risen,                                                                                                           Allelujah.

And kingly pilgrims, long foretold,
From East bring incense, myrrh and gold,

And enter with their offerings,
To hail the newborn King of Kings.

He comes, a maiden mother’s Son,
Yet earthly father has He none;

And from the serpent’s poison free,
He owned our blood and pedigree,

Our feeble flesh and His the same,
Our sinless kinsman He became,

That we, from deadly thrall set free,
Like Him, and so like God, should be.

Come then, and on his natal day,
Rejoice before the Lord and pray.

And to the holy One in Three.
Give praise and thanks eternally.


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3 Responses to Puer Natus in Béthlehem

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    The last three stanzas from John Betjeman’s Christmas poem, which our auxiliary bishop read to our parish this morning:

    “And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
    Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
    A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
    The Maker of the stars and sea
    Become a Child on earth for me ?

    And is it true ? For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
    Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
    Bath salts and inexpensive scent
    And hideous tie so kindly meant,

    No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
    Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare –
    That God was man in Palestine
    And lives today in Bread and Wine.”

    A mere Anglican (Betjeman, not our auxiliary) got things exactly right at the last line of his poem.
    p.s. Led our bidding prayers this morning, including one for MMVC’s mother, and one for my wife’s longtime friend (both said in pectore) who was taken off life support and died on the 23rd after a severe brain injury. I hope that both of these women will pray for me in Heaven.
    Sorry for going on: the most mystical thing about my wife’s friend is that she was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer about 20 years ago, but was told by an angel that she would not die for a long time. Her cancer completely disappeared. It was ice on a sidewalk that killed her, not cancer.


  2. Brother Burrito says:

    Hi JH, I earlier blogged that same poem at https://burritosstable.wordpress.com/

    I have recently become enamoured with the Jesuit idea of complete indifference to health and ill-health. It is quite liberating to realise that both come from God and fulfil His purposes in the great scheme of things.

    Also, dismissing such fripperies empowers one to better spread the Gospel without fear.

    Merry Christmas to all. Our decorations and festive moods are staying up until Candlemas February 2nd, in true old Christian fashion.


  3. mmvc says:

    JH (@22.41), I’m really touched by your kindness!

    Although my mother continues to be seriously ill, we’ve experienced many graces and blessings by her side over the last few days. She appreciated the Finnish hymn I played her from you today. It was a moving and serene moment which I shall treasure. She also told me that Finland was one of the countries she visited in her youth whilst on tour with a Polish puppet theatre group. Despite being quite muddled in other ways, my Mum is still amazingly sharp when reminiscing and praying.

    God rest the soul of your wife’s friend. It must have been especially sad for her friends and family so close to Christmas…


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