By Dan Gibson
He is Alpha and Omega – He the source, the ending He
The line above is drawn from one of the oldest Christmas hymns of the Christian church, namely, Of the Father’s Love Begotten. The hymn was first written as a poem by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (c. 348 A.D. – c. 413 A.D.), likely in the early years of the fifth century. Aurelius C. Prudentiuswas a Roman born in northern Spain at roughly the same time Augustine was born in north Africa. Aurelius was trained as a lawyer and eventually served as a judge with governance responsibilities in two cities in northern Spain. In his early fifties, he withdrew from public life and retired to a monastery where he commenced to write poetic texts subsequently used in the liturgy of the church. His poetry, written in Latin, served as a bridge between the classical Latin of imperial Rome, and the medieval Latin that became the common language of the church.
Bear in mind that Aurelius wrote this particular text in the near aftermath of the Arian controversy that tore the church apart over the issue of the nature of Christ. The Council of Nicaea, held in 325 A.D., was the first of several church councils that restated clearly the classical, orthodox Christian position which is that Christ in his incarnation is both fully divine and fully human, with these two natures existing in the one person of Christ. The text of this ancient hymn affirms this doctrine that lies at the heart of Christian orthodoxy, noting that Christ is begotten of God the Father, and is himself the Alpha and Omega, the source and ending of all created things (Revelation 21:6). The text penned by Aurelius was eventually (about seven centuries later) married with a medieval plainsong tune known as Divinum Mysterium (Divine Mystery), and the Latin text of Aurelius was translated into English in the mid-19thcentury. That song is the one we sing today, still replete with its profound beauty and mystery.