Repost: Hymns – Creator of the Stars of Night

Photo Credit: Saint Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church and Shrine

“Creator of the Stars of Night” is a hymn of supplication to our God – Creator, Redeemer, Judge, and Savior.

Rose: Hymns – Creator of the Stars of Night

“Creator of the Stars of Night” holds much history for me. It reminds me of my alma mater and one of the better semesters of college. It reminds me of friends I used to sing with. It reminds me of the Gospel message found from the Beginning. Likewise, “Creator of the Stars of Night” is a hymn with much history in and of itself, going all the way back to at least the 7th century.

While historians debate who first wrote the hymn, it is thought to have possibly been written by St. Ambrose. This is likely because of Ambrose’s influence of the “antiphonal chant,” as this hymn was originally composed, and perhaps even due to another hymn he wrote, “Veni redemptor gentium.” However, Ambrose lived a couple of hundred years before most historians believe the Latin text was written, so more than likely, this is a wrong attribution.

Regardless of authorship, this hymn remained in popular circulation, known in Latin as the Advent hymn “Conditor alme siderum” for hundreds of years. The tune appears to be nearly as old as the hymn itself. “Sarum plainsong, Mode IV” is the original tune and known from around the 800’s, from which we get CONDITOR ALME SIDERUM, the name found in our hymnals. Though the composer is uncertain, it appears that St. Osmond, a Norman appointed by William the Conqueror to Sarum (Salisbury), put together a missal (service book/breviary) that took on the traditions as old as Augustine himself and combined them with the Norman traditions. The plainsong was a type of Gregorian chant brought over by St. Augustine to the Isles. But was the “Sarum plainsong” one such chant or a new composition? We do not know, but the tune has remained essentially the same since that time.

While the text had remained relatively consistent for several hundred years and could be found in dozens of hymn books from Rome to England, that changed in the 17th century. Pope Urban VIII modified this and other hymns in the 1632 edition of the Roman Breviary. This book is a book of hours, the daily Divine Office recitation of the canonical hours. Again, this book was highly influenced by Ambrose, and in this Breviary, he was the attributed author to this hymn. This book is very similar to our Lutheran Service Book. This hymn was typically used in the Vespers service.

Urban VIII changed much with this hymn and many others. Essentially, the Pope modified the text so that it would fit a new way of singing. This is not the same as what translators do. Instead of translating the text into one’s own language and modifying our language to fit the old meter, Urban VIII rewrote the entire hymn to fit a new meter. Instead of retaining the old style of Latin chanting, now the hymn modeled Latin poetry. As a result, only twelve words of the original text remained in his Breviary. There are now multiple different versions of the Latin text. I encourage you to look at those provided below and see if you can find the differences between them! Some date from before Urban’s modification, some from after. There is also now doxology at the end of the hymn that was not part of the original. Even so, the Vatican has since restored the ancient text in its most current Breviary. All these things, in part, help explain why there are now many different English translations of this hymn today.

Finally, John Neale arranged the translation found in our LSB. He was born in 1818 to an Anglican family and became an ordained Anglican minister, but he also loved the Catholic Church. Neale was an author, historian, hymnist, and translator. He did much in the way of bringing many hymns to English hymnody. In addition to writing his own hymns, he also translated a great number of Latin and Greek hymns, including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” His English translation of “Creator alme siderum” first appeared in his Hymnal Noted of 1852. Most other English adaptations are from Neale’s translation. Because of his dedication to serving the church, which we can still thank him for today, he was much missed when he died in 1866.

The history of the hymn is long, and some parts uncertain, but the message is clear. “Creator of the Stars of Night” is a hymn of supplication to our God – Creator, Redeemer, Judge, and Savior.

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting Light,
O Christ (Jesu), Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

We start this hymn calling on God by what He is to us: Creator, Light, Redeemer, and Lord. We contrast the created stars that shine in the darkness for us with Christ, the uncreated Light of life sent to the world to save us (Jhn. 1:9, Gen. 1:16-18, Amos 5:8, Jer. 31:35). The initial symmetry of this passage is simply beautiful. Christ is our Redeemer who has bought us back from sin and darkness. He is our Lord, our King, our Master who listens to us crying in darkness (Matt. 4:16, Luk. 2:29-32, Jhn. 1:1-5, Isa. 49:5-6, Col. 1:13-17). We cry to Him, acknowledging His presence and power from creation to now, knowing that even though He is so much greater than we are, He cares for us.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the healing, full of grace  
To cure and save our ruined race. 

And why does He care for us? Because it was not His intent that we should live in darkness. In the beginning, God made lights in the heavens to govern our days and nights. So too, He designed that He was to be our Light and Guide from the beginning, with us in harmony with Him. But, we rebelled against that love to love the darkness, dooming ourselves and this great universe God created to the curse of death in the Garden (Gen. 2:16-17, 3). God grieved over our fallen state, and then did something about it (Jhn. 3:16-17).

Though we were dead in our sin, though we had just rebelled, God made a promise to save us: He would send a Savior (Rom. 5:6-8, 6:23, 8:18-25, Gen. 3:15). He knew from the beginning what He would do for us. We inherited this sin from our father Adam, but God held the cure in His Son Jesus, a Physician full of grace (Rom. 8:18-25, Matt. 9:12-13, Mar. 2:17, Rev. 22:1-3). He fulfilled His promise from the Beginning in Christ (Gal. 4:3-7, 1 Cor. 1:20-22, 1 Pet. 1:20). So now we can add Savior and Healer to our names for Christ.

Thou Cam'st the Bridegroom of the bride
As drew the world to eventide 
The spotless Victim all divine   
Proceeding from a virgin shrine 

This verse has many layers of imagery in its messaging. First, we refer to Christ as the Bridegroom to us, the Church. And when does the Bridegroom come in the parable? At night (Jhn. 3:29, Matt. 25:5-7). Christ came into the world as promised to speak to us directly, not through a mediator, as the world drew near its end (1 Tim. 2:1-6, Heb. 1:1-2, Gal. 4:4, 1 Pet. 1:20). We are in these last days. And why else did Christ come into the world? In order to make His bride, the Church, pure. He as the unblemished Lamb had to lower Himself to the form of a servant, the form of man as a humble baby, born of a virgin, in order to die for us to make us pure for God (Isa. 7:14, Jhn. 1:29, Eph. 1:4, 5:25-27, Phil. 2:14-16, Heb. 9:13-15, 1 Pet. 1:17-19). This was the grace given to the fallen race that we might be redeemed from the rebellion against our Creator.

At Whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;             
all things celestial Thee shall own,                         
And things terrestrial, Lord Alone.                     

While we typically think of the above phrases as those describing Christ’s second coming, we must remember the kingdom of God is at hand. God is with us. Christ has come into the world. As we are in His presence, we can only be in awe and reverence to Him. This is our Creator, Redeemer, Savior. He is trustworthy and true. He humbled Himself to the form of a servant and death on a cross; now He has been exalted above all things (Phil. 2:5-11, Rom. 14:11, Isa. 45:23). Our flesh and our spirit must be subject to Him. And why not? Why shouldn’t our response to our Faithful Father be to give Him glory and honor? Though all creation is already the Lord’s, as it was in the beginning, there is a day coming when all creation – both in the heavens and on earth – shall be in harmony with Him. And as we wait for that day to come, we continue in our praise of the One who saved us.

O Thou, whose coming is with dread                  
To judge the living and the dead,
Preserve us from the ancient foe  
While we still dwell on earth below.

Though we are in these last days, we are not at the Last Day. We have been made pure for the Bridegroom by His death and resurrection, and now we wait for His return. And there is fear in this. This is He who holds power over our souls. The day of judgment will come for all we have done and left undone (Zeph. 1:14, Rev. 1:4-7, Mal. 3:2, Psa. 96:13). Yet we have one who stands before God on our behalf, who has washed us to stand before God’s throne (Heb. 9:24-28, 10:19-23). We have asked our Creator and Defender to hear us when we call to Him for His aid. Now we ask for help to preserve us to life everlasting, to defend us against our enemy, the devil, while we remain on this earth until His coming as He promised (Psa. 64:1, Eph. 6:11, Jam. 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:8, Heb. 2:14-18, 1 Thes. 5:16-19).

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Praise, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.

Finally, we end with a doxology. This is a brief hymn of praise to God. Here we have been asking God for help in many different forms and by many different names, but we end in glorifying Him with our lips. We praise our Triune God now as we also will on that last Day, echoing words from Revelation. We will continue to echo those words until that Day of promise when our Redeemer, Lord, Savior, and Creator comes to bring us home.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

Works Referenced

“351. Creator of the Stars of Night.” The Lutheran Service Book. 2006.

“Breviary.” Ed. Erwin Lueker, Luther Poellot, and Paul Jackson. The Cristian Encyclopedia. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. 2000.

“Breviary.” Ed. Fernand Cabrol. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: RObert Appleton Company. 1907.

Brevarium romanum: Pars hiemalis.  Netherlands, Moretus. 1698. p. 141.

“Conditor alme siderum.” The Hymns And Carols of Christmas.”

“Conditor alme siderum – Creator of the Stars of Night.” Ed. Michael Martin. Thesarus Precum Latinarum. 1998.

F. Procter & C. Wordsworth. Brevarium ad usum insignis ecclesiae Sarum. Almae Matris Aademiae. 1882. pp. v-vi.

Hebdomada I psalterii. DOMINICA I ADVENTUS. I Vesperæ.Liturgia Horarum.

Hermann Daniel. Thesaurus Hymnologicus. Lipsiae: Thomus Primus. 1855). No 72. p. 74.

“J. M. Neale.” Hymnary.

John Julian. A Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons. 1892. pp. 257-58.

“Plainsong.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B., Hymns from the Breviary and Missal. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd. 1922. pp. 95-96. And here.

“Sarum chant.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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