Taxation & Christianity

When Justin Martyr wrote his appeal to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Roman Senate sometime between 138 and 161 A.D., it was illegal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. Justin’s First Apology was a plea that Christians be judged, not on the basis of their religious convictions, but by their actions. Among the many arguments he put forward for Christians not being an enemy to the Pax Romana was this paragraph:

And everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Cæsar; and He answered, “Tell me, whose image does this coin bear?” And they said, “Cæsar’s;” And again He answered them, “Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed, and will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, “To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required.”

Sources: Background and text from Justin Martyr’s First Apology, translated by Marcus Dods, retrieved from the open source Ante-Nicene Christian Library on Wikisource.org.
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Sticheron of the Ninth Hour – Epiphany

This Sticheron of the 9th hour is sung, here in Arabic in a Syrian Orthodox church, for the Nativity in churches which follow the Byzantine rite. Nevertheless, since the Eastern Orthodox Christmas celebration is on January 7 and since the text mentions the Magi and the Theophany, it seems appropriate for the celebration of Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. Epiphany is a dual celebration, remembering not only the coming of the Magi to worship the Christ Child but also the baptism of Jesus Christ, and is also called Theophany. The name conveys what is being celebrated, the manifestation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, both by the Magi worshipping Him and presenting gifts to Him, and by the heavens opening after His baptism with the Spirit of God descending in the form of a dove and the voice of God the Father saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The historical records of the observance of Epiphany in the Church go back even further than the observances of the Nativity, and new Christians were baptized on Epiphany, with Advent being a time of fasting and preparation for baptism.

Today is born of the Virgin Him Who holdeth all creation in the hollow of His hand.
He Whose essence is untouchable is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a babe.
The God Who from of old established the heavens lieth in a manger.
He Who showered the people with manna in the wilderness feedeth on milk from the breasts.
And the bridegroom of the Church calleth the Magi, and the Son of the Virgin accepteth gifts from them.
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ.
Show us also Thy divine Theophany!

Sources: Text translation from Antiochian.org. History from Christianity.com & Britannica.com. The author of the blog does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Christmas Day

When Charles Wesley’s beloved Christmas hymn was published in 1739 in Hymns and Sacred Poems, it was titled ‘Hymn for Christmas Day’. The opening lines read: “Hark, how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.” The word welkin is an Old English word for sky or heaven. It was evangelist George Whitefield who changed the opening line to the one we all know and sing, in his Collection in 1753.

Hark! the Herald Angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King;
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconciled.
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumphs of the Skies,
With th’ angelic Host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Christ by highest Heaven ador’d,
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in Time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb;
Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as Man with men t’ appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here.

Hail the Heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Son of Righteousness!
Light and Life to all he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in his Wings;
Mild he lays his Glory by,
Born, that Man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of Earth;
Born to give them second Birth.

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble Home;
Rise, the Woman’s conq’ring seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head;
Adam’s Likeness now efface,
Stamp thine Image in its Place;
Second Adam from above,
Re-instate us in thy Love.

Sources: Text & history from Hymnary.org. The author of the blog does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.

From Heav’n Above – Advent, Christmas Eve

The Protestant reformer Martin Luther had a great affection for Christmas celebrations. Being a writer of sacred verse and composer of music, Luther naturally wrote music for Christmas. Contrary to popular belief, he did not write ‘Away in Manger.’ What he did write was ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’, known in English as ‘From Heav’n Above to Earth I Come’, for his family’s Christmas Eve celebrations. Luther intended the first seven verses to be sung by a man, in angel costume, and the remaining verses to be sung by children. If the tune sounds slightly familiar, it was, after all, written by the author and composer of ‘A Mighty Fortress.’

“From heav’n above to earth I come
To bear good news to ev’ry home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

“To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen Virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

‘Tis Christ, our God who far on high
Hath heard your sad and bitter cry;
Himself will your salvation be
Himself from sin will make you free.

“He brings those blessing, long ago
Prepared by God for all below,
Henceforth His kingdom open stands
To you, as to the angel bands.

“These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling-clothes and manger dark.
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.”

Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Follow the shepherds and draw near
To see this wondrous gift of God,
Who hath His only Son bestowed.

Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ-child lieth there.

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What can we render, Lord, to Thee?

Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How weak art Thou, how poor and small,
That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed
Where ox and as but lately fed!

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,
As ’twere Thy heav’n, art throned in state.

Thus hath it pleased Thee to make plain
The truth to sinners poor and vain,
That all the world’s honor, wealth and might,
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

My heart for very joy doth leap;
My lips no more can silence keep.
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle-song:

Glory to God in highest heav’n,
Who unto us His Son hath giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.

Sources: Text translation by Catherine Winkworth & history from Hymnary.org. The author of the blog does not owned the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.

Saviour of the Nations Come – Advent, December 23

‘Saviour of the Nations Come’ was written by Ambrose, who was Bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, and the mentor of Augustine of Hippo.

Savior of the nations, come,
virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood,
but the Spirit of our God,
was the Word of God made flesh–
woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth He came
and returneth to the same,
captive leading death and hell–
high the song of triumph swell!

Thou the Father’s only Son,
hast over sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
when shall we its glories see?

Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
ever be our faith thus bright.

Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

Sources: Text & history from Hymary.org. The blog author does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.

O Come, Divine Messiah – Advent, December 22

The Advent carol, ‘Venez Divin Messie’, was written sometime in the late 1600s or early 1700s by the French poet Simon-Joseph Pellegrin.

O come, divine Messiah,
Hope grant to us and save us!
You are our life!
O come, o come, o come!

O Son of God, do not delay;
by your body give joy
to all our world in disarray.
Tell to us yet again
of what love you love for us;
many do not know you!
O come, o come, o come!

In Bethlehem, the heavens sang
that the greatest of your benefits
was the gift of your peace.
The world disdains it:
everywhere hearts are divided!
When will you reign!
O come, o come, o come!

You were born for all sinners.
By your grace, O Saviour God,
dissolve in us our night, our fear!
O Lord, may your birth
give us life in the light.
Be thou the deliverance!
O come, o come, o come!

Sources: Text & history from Hymnary.org. The author of the blog does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.

Creator of the Stars of Night – Advent, December 21

The ancient hymn ‘Conditor alme siderum’, Latin for ‘Creator of the stars of night’, dates from at least the 800s. The words are perfect for Advent, looking both backward to the Incarnation and forward to the Second Coming.

Creator of the stars of night
Thy people’s everlasting light,
O Christ, Redeemer, bow Thine ear;
In mercy our petitions hear.

Thou, who, for grief that all mankind
In death their hopeless doom should find,
Didst come to save a guilty race
By healing gifts of heavenly grace;

Who didst our very flesh assume,
Abhorring not the Virgin’s womb;
That so to God on high might rise
An all-atoning Sacrifice;

At whose great Name of glory now
All knees in lowly homage bow;
Whom things in heaven and earth adore,
Their mighty King for evermore:

To Thee, O Holy One! We pray,
Our Judge in that tremendous day;
Ward off, while yet we dwell below
The weapons of our crafty foe.

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. Amen.

Sources: Translation of Latin text by Francis Pott from HymnsandCarolsofChristmas.com. The blog author does not own the embedded video, using it under section 6.C of YouTube Terms of Service.