Adeste Fideles laeti triumphantes,
Veníte, veníte in Bethlehem.
Natum vidéte, Regem Angelorum:
Veníte adoremus Dóminum
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine,
gestant puellae viscera
Deum verum, genitum non factum:
Cantet nunc io chorus Angelórum
cantet nunc aula caelestium:
Gloria in excelsis Deo:
Ergo qui natus, die hodierna
Jesu, tibi sit glória
Patris aeterni Verbum caro factum:
New traditions accumulate at Christmas like lichen on an old log (a Yule log in this instance). I was watching a television program about the elements of a modern ‘traditional’ Christmas. Among the top ten experiences were Slade, Wizard, the Pogues and Band Aid, all singing their Christmas hits together with various television ‘Christmas specials’. Television recordings make it possible to talk about the ‘immortal’ Morecambe and Wise’ even though they have been dead for years.
It was ever thus. One of the ways to make a document seem old (apart from singeing it over an open fire) is to write it in Latin. At various times, the lyrics of Adeste Fideles were attributed to St. Bonaventura, the 13th century Italian scholar and others, including the Portuguese, the Germans, the Spanish, and the Cistercian order of monks, but it is now clear that the author was an eighteenth Century Englishman, John Frances Wade. To discover how he came to write them, we have to delve into history.
It starts with John Wycliffe (1320-84) a English churchman and protégée of John of Gaunt, the head of the House of Lancaster and the son, uncle and father of kings. Wycliffe believed that all Christians should have access to the Bible in the vernacular. He also believed that in temporal things the King is above the Pope. His fundamental belief was that the Church should be poor, as in the days of the apostles. He felt that Latin was one of the means by which the Pope exerted his power over the people. Wycliffe is called “the Morning Star of the reformation” and he certainly heraded the centuries of strife that followed.
In England the Reformation seems all tied up with a King who had a fancy for young women. Perhaps, on a human level, that’s part of it, but it is all tied up with the need to produce a male heir and the struggle for independence from the yoke of Rome. A succession of fiercely partisan Catholic and Protestant rulers was interrupted by Elizabeth who wanted “no window into men’s souls” but nevertheless accrued enemies like Phillip II of Spain who were powerfully Catholic. Domestically, her greatest threat was her cousin Mary Stuart who lost her head to plotting.
The childless Queen eventually made way for Mary’s son, James who was famous for the Authorized version of the Bible, a plot by Catholics to blow up Parliament and him with it and an inordinate hatred of tobacco. He was called the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’ and was a very nasty man.
James’s son Charles I was a closet Catholic and it got him decapitated. Though his enemies were extreme Protestants, they would have winked at his religion were it not for his arrogant assumption that he was divinely appointed and could do no wrong. He believed that the King’s word was law; they believed that the Law was King.. The Restoration of the monarchy after Cromwell’s death illustrated the people’s taste for wine women and song, and the second Charles gave them the ‘bread and circuses’ they demanded. His brother, the second James, was every bit his father’s child, and once again this brand of arrogance deposed a king. The politicians put his daughter, Mary, on the throne, but power lay in the hands of her Dutch Protestant husband, William III. James raised a Catholic army that was defeated in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne and then retreated to France where he sat and sulked at the expense of a French king, who couldn’t give a fig whether England was Catholic or Protestant, as long as it was weak and divided.
But James had produced a male heir (the story that he was a ringer brought into the bedchamber in a warming pan is a fun piece of fiction). In 1715, James Edward Stuart, soon to be called the Old Pretender, attempted to supplant the protestant and very German, King George I (hitherto, Elector of Hanover) on the throne, again with the aid of the French. This Jacobite Rebellion failed miserably.
A second rebellion took place in 1745 led by his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart – the young Pretender). Again, the rising was a disaster and he and was routed at the battle of Culloden by the Duke of Cumberland in 1746. Later that year Prince Charlie left for France aboard a French frigate and ended his life, a querulous drunk, in Rome in 1789.
It is in France that we meet John Francis Wade. Wade was born around 1711 in England the son of a cloth merchant, John Wade, who had numerous connections to Leeds and the wool trade. A Catholic layman, he found life in England unpalatable and by 1731 he was copying plainchant at the Dominical College at Bornhem, Flanders.
Following the 1745 Stuart rebellion, Wade settled in Douai (or Douay), France, the location of a major Catholic college established by Phillip II of Spain in 1559 where many of the English Catholics found refuge. He made his living "by copying and selling plain chant and other music," and the teaching of Latin and Church song. Wade was also well connected with prominent English Catholic musicians of the time, including Thomas Arne (1720-1778), and Samuel Webbe (1740-1816). He was also an instrumental force in the English revival of plainchant.
In 1751, Wade was back in Lancashire for a while as a 'pensioner' in the house of Nicholas King, but he appears to have lived primarily in Douai. He died there on August 16, 1786. His obituary read:
"Mr. John Francis Wade, a Layman, aged 75, with whose beautiful Manuscript Books our Chapels as well as private Families abound, in writing which, and teaching the Latin and Church Song he chiefly spent his Time."
The most informed opinion holds that Wade wrote both the words and the music. Both the words and the music appear in five existing manuscripts (four of which were signed by Wade).
There is a remarkable similarity to a tune from a comic opera, Acajou by Charles Simon Favart (1710-1792) (Paris, March 18, 1744). The tune was called Air Angolis, but the evidence is that wade had written the hymn by 1743 at the latest, and possibly as early as 1740.
The lyrics were printed in France in 1760 in the Evening Offices of the Church. In England, the hymn and tune first appeared in the Essay or Instruction for Learning the Church Plain Chant in 1782 in London (the author was Samuel Webbe). Ten years later, in 1792, the hymn and tune were repeated in a four-part setting of the tune in Samuel Webbe's Collection of Motetts or Antiphons. Regrettably, Webbe did not give any attribution of the composer of the tune.
The hymn has often been called "The Portuguese Hymn." This is because an 1795 performance of the hymn by Samuel Webbe was first heard by the Duke of Leeds at the chapel of the Portuguese embassy, in South Street, Grosvenor Square in London, one of the few strongholds of Catholic culture in the country at that time. The Duke was so impressed that he commissioned a fuller arrangement by Thomas Greatorex. This arrangement was performed at a "Concert of Ancient Music" on May 10, 1797. According to Vincent Novello, the hymn was identified as "The Portuguese Hymn" since the Duke erroneously assumed that Portugal was source.
The erstwhile chapel of the Portuguese Embassy associated with the hymn is still there on Warwick Street between Regent Street and Golden Square, but it is now simply a Roman Catholic church unconnected with any Embassy.
The music has also been attributed to many composers, including the English organist John Reading, Sr. (d. 1692) who was organist at Winchester Cathedral, John Reading, Jr. (1677-1764) his son who was a pupil of Dr John Blow, Handel, and Marcos Antonio da Fonesca (1762-1830), a Portuguese musician (who, it was later determined, was born 19 or 20 years after the first publication).
Originally, Wade wrote a four-verse lyric, but later additions increased the number to eight verses (although only 7 have any contemporary currency).
Three additional Latin verses were subsequently created by Abbé Étienne Jean François Borderies (1764-1832), and printed in the Office de St. Omer (1822).
En grege relicto, Humiles ad cunas
Vocati pastores approperant;
Et nos ovanti gradu festinemus.
Aeterni Parentis splendorem aeternum
Velatum sub carne videbimus,
Deum infantem, pannis involutum
Pro nobis egenum Et foeno cubantem,
Piis foveamus amplexibus;
Sic nos anamtem quis non redamaret?
A eighth verse was added in the mid 19th century to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany; its authorship is unknown:
Stella duce, Magi, Christum adorantes,
Aurum, thus, et myrrham dant munera;
Jesu infanti corda praebeamus.
It has been suggested that Abbé Borderies heard the hymn sung while exiled in England in 1793 and wrote the three additional stanzas after he returned to France in 1794. The eighth Latin verse was written by an unknown author but of possibly Gallic origins and printed in Belgium circa 1850 and in Paris circa 1868.
The Abbé Etienne Jean Francois Borderies, had been exiled during the French Revolution. The Revolution targeted not only the nobility, but also the Church. It is ironic that France, which gave shelter to English Catholics during the early part of the Eighteenth Century should exile its own Catholics to England in the latter part of the Century.
The Counter-Revolution began on July 27, 1794, which the French Republican Calendar dates as 9 Thermidor, Year II. Robespierre and Saint-Just came under a concerted and organized attack from other members of the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre gambled and appealed to the deputies of the Right to support him. However, the deputies of the Right rejected his appeal and the Committee almost unanimously voted against him and his close allies. Robespierre and his allies had alienated even their traditional supporters by indiscriminate violence, and could offer no resistance when the National Convention ordered their arrest.
The following day, 10 Thermidor (July 28), the new authorities guillotined (without trial, nor even the light formality of a Revolutionary Tribunal) Robespierre, Saint-Just, Georges Couthon, and several other supporters, including members of the Paris Commune (the city government of Paris).
On his return to France after the 9th Thermidor Abbé Borderies became curate at St. Thomas d’Aquin church in Paris, and acquired for himself great fame as a Catechist: “ Il fut le premier catéchiste de France,” wrote Mgr. Dupanloup. After some years he was promoted Vicar General of Paris (1819), and later (in 1829) was raised to the See of Versailles, where he died in 1832.
Tomorrow I shall write about the English translation, "O Come All Ye Faithful."