Hymns & Songs

The indwelling of the Spirit, expressed

Jun 2014    

Come Down, O Love Divine

Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing; O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming; And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong, With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling; For none can guess its grace,
Till Love create a place
Whereivn the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Words: Bianco da Siena, d. 1434; Trans. Richard Frederick Littledale, Jr., 1867
Music: DOWN AMPNEY, North Petherton

There are quite a number of unfamiliar but beautiful hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal. We may want to add them to our congregation’s repertoire.

Consider UMH 475 – “Come Down O Love Divine”. It is a Latin hymn written by Bianco da Siena in the early 1400s. In 1867, it was translated to English by Dr Richard Frederick Littledale, an English priest who discovered the hymns of Bianco da Siena. The hymn was popularised when it was placed to the tune DOWN AMPNEY – composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, it was named after his birthplace, a small village in Gloucestershire, England.

The hymn begins with an invocation, calling the Holy Spirit to descend and kindle upon the singer’s heart a sense of devotion.

The flame, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, is used here to create an image that expresses the singer’s deep desire to be united with God. Bianco, the author, enlightens the singer with medieval church teaching on spirituality. This is the “threefold way” – purification, illumination and union. This is the journey that one experiences before he or she is united with God.1

One can be led through such a journey by singing the hymn.

First, the singer expresses an ardent wish to be purified.
O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn To dust
and ashes in its heat consuming

When our earthly wants are “burned” and rid from our souls, we are purified.

The singer continues:
And let thy glorious light Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming

The singer entreats the Holy Spirit to keep the light shining so that his or her path may be illumined in this journey on earth.

The singer goes on to sing of a deeper yearning – a yearning to be united with God.
And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling

Believing in the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, the singer is overwhelmed and is beyond words to describe this experience. And as the singer waits…
For none can guess its grace,
Till Love create a place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

By the Holy Spirit’s indwelling the singer is united with God the Father. But this happens only by God’s grace and love.

May this hymn breathe in us a new perspective to reflect on our journey in life.

 

Visit www.hymnary.org/text/come_ down_o_love_divine for scores and sound clips.

1 See Bruce Hindmarsh, “Come Down, O Love Divine”: Christian Spiritual Formation Through a Medieval Hymn, in Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, 2010, Vol. 3, No. 1, 79-87. Available from: ATLASerials, Religion Collection, Ipsich, MA. Accessed April 29, 2014.

Judith Mosomos is Acting Director of Worship and Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

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