Sunday, December 28, 2014

Who's rejoicing? Good Christian Men or all of us?

Heinrich Suese
In dulci jubilo,
nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne
leit in præsepio
und leuchtet als die Sonne
matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O.

On his FaceBook page, Deacon Greg Kandra has a photo of a hymnal turned to a hymn titled "Good Christian Friends Rejoice" with the comment "Really?"  He found the substitution of "men" to "friends" awkward, but that is not where the discussion went.  One comment smugly noted "That's how it was in my old church's hymnal, and we sang it EVERY YEAR. I sang the real words, though." Mmm.  Unlikely. The 'real words' — or at least the original — are quoted above. Pretty sure no one was singing those today.

The discussion has gotten sad and ugly, many people want a return to "the original" or purport to sing "the real words."  And then there is the litmus test crowd, real Roman Catholics would not care about the use of the men to mean "all people": "any woman who would be offended by that isn't in my church anyway..."  Or "Our language does reflect that male is the general form of humanity and female a special form; the male is prior. To eliminate this would require much more dramatic changes in our language. There are woman who want to do that, but most of them see that they cannot be Christians. " Heavens, someone needs to take some Latin, and read all of Genesis, not just the one story where woman is created from man.

But the real irony of the whole thing is that "Good Christian men rejoice" is a far stretch from the original, which begins "In dulci jubilo, nun singet und seid froh!" In sweet jubilation, let us sing and rejoice!  No men, Christian or otherwise are referenced in this verse or either of the other two.

All this said, it's a hymn with historic significance. The text of the hymn is from the 14th century. It first appears in the life of Dominican mystic Heinrich Suese, and may be the oldest example of a vernacular Christmas carol.  It's a macaronic text (one that mixes Latin and vernacular rather indiscriminately).

While I'm not thrilled to know that my sense that men refers to the male of the species and is not an inclusive term makes me unwelcome to some of my faith, or less than truly Christian, I am pleased to thereby have discovered Suese, who defended Meister Eckhart against heresy, and recorded the words to the lovely hymn "In dulci jubilo..."  Let us rejoice!


  1. Thank you. You have touched on several issues that upset me - taking individual bible stories out of the broader context; insisting that any English translation is the "original" (no, Jesus did not speak in King James Bible English!). Thank you.

    1. You are welcome, Kate! I think it's important to keep those points on the table. The structure of the English language should not drive our theology or doctrine!

  2. "The structure of the English language should not drive our theology or doctrine" - I love how you have expressed that. Earlier in December I wrote an essay on Feminist Critique and Reconstruction of the Trinity, and my basic premise was that language is important, and yet we are limited by the limitations of human languages.

    1. I wonder if that's one reason litanies appeal, we are trying to wrap words around the ineffable.

  3. Anonymous11:42 AM

    The challenge presented to the Church by "literal" Catholics has come even more sharply into view because of the contrast provided by the inclusive approach of Pope Francis. I sometimes look at a bulletin board where my fellow deacons carry on several simultaneous conversations, and I am often dismayed by how much I read about "traditional Catholic doctrine" and how little I read about the really radical doctrine that we recognize in each other the dignity and value God freely gives to all people -- without exception.