Puer natus in Bethlehem

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General information

This Christmas hymn was especially popular during the ancient period. Its author is unknown. The oldest Latin text found so far is contained in a Benedictine book dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century. The Latin text, which is found in many different redactions ranging from six to twelve stanzas, has, very likely, been composed by several authors. Consequently, it has undergone many changes due to omissions, revisions, and additions. “Puer natus” was translated into German in 1439 by Heinrich von Laufenberg. Later on a number of German versions appeared. In the old German, Danish, and Swedish hymnals a translation in the vernacular was inserted immediately after each Latin stanza. It has been surmised that the choir sang the Latin and the congregation sang translations of the same. The German rendering most extensively used was that found in Valentin Babst’s Geystliche Lieder, 1545: “Ein Kind geboren zu Bethlehem.” This contains ten stanzas with the German translation inserted after each stanza except the second. The English version included in The Lutheran Hymnary was made by Philip Schaff and was printed in his Christ in Song, 1869. There are at least eleven other English translations.

In regard to the third stanza, Skaar quotes from the hymnological works of Daniel: “On many early medieval paintings representing the nativity of Christ, as well as in Christmas hymns, are found an ox and an ass. This practice has been ascribed to a faulty rendering of the passage, Hab. 3:2: ‘In the midst of beasts make known’; for ‘In the midst of the years make it known.’ They concluded from Is. 1:3 that the two ‘beasts’ referred to were the ox and the ass: ‘The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.’ These passages are taken to be the Biblical basis for the old Christmas stanza: ‘Cognovit bos et asinus, quod puer erat Dominus, Halleluja’ (The ox and the ass knew that the Child was the Lord).” Nutzhorn claims that the expression is rather. an “innocent desire for free poetic representation of the circumstances surrounding the nativity of Christ.” [Dahle, Library of Christians Hymns]

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in English

In German

Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem

See also

Text and translations

Latin.png Latin text

Puer natus in Bethlehem,
Unde gaudet Jerusalem,

In cordis jubilo,
Christum natum adoremus
Cum novo cantico.

Assumpsit carnem Filius,
Dei Patris altissimus,

Per Gabrielem nuntium,
Virgo concepit Filium,

Tamquam sponsus de thalamo,
Processit Matris utero,

Hic iacet in praesepio,
Qui regnat sine termino,

Cognovit bos et asinus,
Quod puer erat Dominus.

Et Angelus pastoribus,
Revelat quod sit Dominus,

Reges de Saba Veniunt,
Aurum thus myrrham offerunt,

Intrantes domum invicem,
Novum salutant Principem,

De Matre natus Virgine,
Sine virili semine,

Sine serpentis vulnere,
De nostro venit sanguine,

In carne nobis similis,
Peccato sed dissimilis,

Ut redderet nos homines,
Deo et sibi similes,

In hoc natali gaudio,
Benedicamus Domino,

Laudetur sancta Trinitas,
Deo dicamus gratias,

English.png English translation

A child is born in Bethlehem,
Exult for joy, Jerusalem!

Refrain (literal translation):
With an exultant heart,
let us adore the new-born Christ,
with a new song.

The Son of God the Father,
In the highest has taken flesh,

By angel Gabriel announced,
The virgin has conceived the Son.

Like a bridegroom from the chamber,
He proceeds from the womb of the mother.

Lo he who reigns above the skies,
There in a manger lowly, lies.

The ox and ass in neighb'ring stall,
See in that child the Lord of all.

And kingly pilgrims, long foretold,
From East bring incense, myrrh and gold,

And enter with their offerings,
To hail the newborn King of Kings.

He comes, a maiden mother's Son,
Yet earthly father has He none;

And from the serpent's poison free,
He owned our blood and pedigree,

Our feeble flesh and His the same,
Our sinless kinsman He became,

That we, from deadly thrall set free,
Like Him, and so like God, should be.

Come then, and on his natal day,
Rejoice before the Lord and pray.

And to the holy One in Three.
Give praise and thanks eternally.

Translation by Hamilton M. MacGill , 1876
German.png German text

Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem
Des freuet sich Jerusalem,

Hie leit es in dem Krippelein
Ohn Ende ist die Herrschaft sein.

Das Öchslein und das Eselein
Erkannten Gott den Herren Sein.

Die König aus Saba kamen dar Gold
Weihrauch Myrrhen brachten sie dar.

Sie gingen in das Haus hinein,
und grüßten das Kind und die Mutter sein.

Seyn Mutter ist die reine Magd,
die ohn ein Mann geboren hat,

Die Schlang ihn nicht vergifften kundt,
ist worden unser Blut ohn Sünd,

Er ist uns gar gleich nach dem Fleisch,
der Sünden nach ist er uns nicht gleich,

Damit er uns ihm machet gleich,
von widerbrecht zu Gottes Reich,

Zu dieser weihnachtlichen Zeit
Sei Gott gelobt in Ewigkeit.

Wir lobn die heilg Dreifaltigkeit
Von nun an bis in Ewigkeit.

Alternative version of last two stanzas from Praetorius, Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica:


Für solche gnadenreiche Zeit,
sey Gott gelobet in Ewigkeit, Alleluja.

Lob sey der heylgen Dreyfaltigkeit,
nun und in alle Ewigkeit, Alleluja.

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