LSB 332: Savior of the Nations, Come – Advent

Advent 1, 29 November AD2020

Chief hymn for Advent 1, selected also as the Advent seasonal hymn this year. Since the 13th century, the Church has recognized Advent as the beginning of her year. During Advent, we prepare for Christmas as we remember Jesus’ coming in the flesh. We also anticipate His final coming with glory to judge both the living and the dead. The season is a “mini Lent,” a time of penitence and spiritual preparation, as we prepare for the coming of our Savior.

Original author: Ambrose of Milan (339/40-397)1 was born in Trier (now in Germany), where his father served as Praetorian Prefect (administrator) of Gaul, the westernmost portion of the Roman Empire. After his father died in 353, Ambrose moved with his mother and two siblings to Rome, where he studied Greek, and the liberal arts, and followed his brother into a career in law. He practiced in the court of the Pretorian Prefect of Italy, and in 370 was appointed Consular of Liguria and Aemilia, and moved to Milan. In 374, the Bishop of Milan died, and as Consular, Ambrose was called to mediate between the confessionally orthodox (Athanasian) and the heretical (Arian) factions, with regard to who would become the next Bishop. In his effort to keep the peace, he addressed the crowd that had assembled to elect the Bishop. During his address, someone cried out, “Ambrose is Bishop!” and all unanimously supported this move. At the time, Ambrose was still a catechumen and resisted the appointment (1 Timothy 3:6), but in the end humbly relented, was baptized and made Bishop on December 7.2 In office in both of God’s kingdoms, he resisted Arianism (the heresy that taught that Jesus was created by the Father and thus not coeternal and of one substance with the Father3) and paganism. In the Kingdom of the Left, Ambrose kept the pagan Altar of Victory from being restored to the Senate House in Rome, and resisted the Arian empress Justina and her imperial troops when they attempted to confiscate the basilicas in Milan. In the Kingdom of the Right, his preaching and writing emphasized theological orthodoxy and the condemnation of sin.4 God used Ambrose’s writings in part to convert Augustine, who was baptized by Ambrose in 386 and eventually became Bishop of Hippo, and one of the great theologians of the Church. Ambrose died on the eve of the Feast of the Resurrection, April 4, 397 and is commemorated on December 7. In 1298, along with Augustine, Jerome and Gregory I, Ambrose was named one of the four original Doctors of the Western Church.

Ambrose is considered the “father of Latin hymnody,” having brought congregational singing into the western Church from the east. His hymns typically consisted of eight 4 line stanzas, each line consisting of 8 syllables, an unstressed/short followed by stressed/long syllable (here veNI reDEMPtor GENtiUM), facilitating the singing by the laity.5 Ambrose initially wrote his hymns to counter the Arian heresy, and in time expanded his themes to include hymns for the Daily Office, the Church Year, the saints and martyrs and the communion of saints. Thus, like Dr. Luther some 1150 years later, Ambrose used the hymnody to teach and internalize The Faith and guide the proclamation of the Gospel. Ambrose’s hymn type remained standard until the 16th century. In addition to this hymn, LSB 874 and 890 have been attributed to Ambrose.6

Author and Composer: Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546), see the author/composer notes for LSB 655 at (last accessed 16 November, 2020).

Translators of Dr. Luther’s text:

Note the great care given to this Kernlied (core hymn) of the Church!

Stanzas 1-2: unidentified (per the Companion; incorrectly attributed in LSB to William Morton Reynolds [1812-1876], the text in LSB actually dates back to a composite translation in the 1889 Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book)7

Stanzas 3, 6: Editors of LSB

Stanzas 4-5, 8: F. Samuel Janzow (1913-2001),8 Pastor and Professor of English and Theology at Concordia University Chicago. Dr. Janzow translated all of Dr. Luther’s hymns as well as his Large Catechism, wrote hymns of his own, and published articles and other versifications and translations in a number of publications. He served on the LCMS Commission on Worship, and made important contributions to the 1982 hymnal Lutheran Worship. Dr. Janzow’s original texts appear at least in part in LSB 389 and 859, and his translations, apart from LSB 332, appear in eight additional hymns in LSB (LSB 382, 581, 585, 627, 754, 766 and 938).

Stanza 7: Gifford A. Grobien (b. 1973),9 Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne. Note that the first line of this stanza is the Janzow translation; the second line was altered slightly from the Janzow text, and the third and fourth lines were translated anew from Dr. Luther’s German, during Dr. Grobien’s academic seminary year at Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberusel, Germany.

Hymn history:10 Scholars are now certain that Ambrose is the author of the original Latin text of this hymn. As written by Ambrose, the hymn had 8 stanzas, the first beginning, Intende, qui regis Israel (Give ear, O Ruler of Israel).11 From the 9th century, hymnals dropped the first stanza and began with the second, Veni redemptor gentium (Come, redeemer of the gentiles). The doxological stanza (now the 8th) was added later, the date uncertain but before the 12th century. As early as the 14th century (possibly earlier), the hymn was being translated into various spoken languages. Dr. Luther first learned this hymn during his formative years in the Latin Schools. He likely translated it into German during Advent, 1523, considering it appropriate for the season (in the medieval church orders, the hymn had been used on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day). His text, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Come now, Savior of the heathen), in eight stanzas, is a very close translation of the original Latin stanzas 2-8 plus the doxology, though with 7 syllables per line, rather than the Ambrosian 8.12 The German hymn was first published in the 1524 Erfurt and Johann Walter (Wittenberg) hymnals, and by the time of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), was consistently listed as Chief Hymn for the First Sunday in Advent.13 Bach incorporated the hymn into three of his cantatas for that Sunday.14

The English translation of Dr. Luther’s German translation of the hymn dates back to the mid 19

th century and is attributed to William M. Reynolds (1812-1876). The text began, “Come thou Savior of our race,” and only 7 stanzas were included (the 4th stanza in Dr. Luther’s German text, corresponding to the 4th stanza in LSB, was omitted).15 A composite 7 stanza translation, including some of Reynolds’ work, was used in Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book, the text now beginning, “Saviour of the heathen, come.” The 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal version of the hymn (TLH 95) brought back more of the Reynolds translation, though did not completely revert. The TLH text began with the now familiar, “Savior of the nations, come.” For the 1982 Lutheran Worship (LW 13), the editors chose the Janzow translation for the entire hymn, and for the first time in the LCMS English hymnals, included translations of all eight of Dr. Luther’s stanzas.16 As noted above, the editors of LSB took a fresh look at the hymn for the current hymnal. All of the English translations preserve Dr. Luther’s 7 syllable lines. Savior of the Nations, Come remains the Chief Hymn for Advent 1.

Hymn tune: The tune originally used in Milan to accompany the Ambrose hymn is unknown. For his German translation, Dr. Luther reworked a 12th century plainsong chant that accompanied the Latin hymn, and that had originated in German-speaking parts of Europe.17 In his reworking, Dr. Luther made modifications to the melody to better fit the spoken German. Additionally, he matched the 4th line to the 1st, giving the tune the ABCA structure common to religious folk melodies of the time. Dr. Luther used the same chant to compose the tunes for Erhalt uns Herr (Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word, LSB 655) and Verleih uns Frieden (Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy, Lord LSB 778). For more detail, including links to performances of the tunes, see the notes on LSB 655 at (last accessed 16 November, 2020). In addition to LSB 332, the tune accompanies LSB 352.

Hymn text:

Stanzas 1, 2 and 3

Vocabulary: marvel – be filled with wonder or astonishment; offspring – a person’s child or children

In the Old Testament (OT), the term frequently used for, “nations” is goyim, namely, people who are outside of God’s Church. Dr. Luther translates this as Heiden, or, “heathen,” both in the OT and in this hymn. Read Matthew 28:19-20 (remember, the Greek begins, “As you go…”) and Revelation 7:9. Who did Jesus come to save? How do the nations learn about Jesus and His work of salvation?

Read John 1:1 and 14. Who was the actor? (We see this language also in the 5th stanza of the Te Deum)

Read Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:26-38. How was the Word of God made flesh?

Read John 10:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22 and 1 John 3:5. How is Jesus, “pure and fresh”?

Read Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22-25. What do these passages tell us about Mary? Was all of this planned?

Read Luke 1:39-45. How was the truth shown in Mary’s womb that, “God was there upon His throne”? How far along was Mary in her pregnancy?

How does the language in these stanzas address the Arian heresy?

Stanzas 4, 5 and 6

Vocabulary: course – route/direction/way/path (c.f. for example Psalm 119:1); source – a place, person or thing from which something comes; victory – triumph, win

Read Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Peter 3:18-20. Again, who was the actor? Where was Jesus before His incarnation? What was His heroic course? Where did Jesus’ glorification/exaltation begin? Where did He descend after His crucifixion, death and burial? To where did He ascend?

Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 21-26 and 50-56. What victory is being described? How did Jesus in the flesh win this victory? Is it appropriate to play the “Easter” portions of Haendel‘s Messiah during Advent and Christmas?

Read Matthew 9:1-8 (Gospel for Trinity 19); Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24. What is the root cause of illness (in general)? Who heals our ills of flesh and soul, and by what means?

How does the language in these stanzas address the Arian heresy?

Stanzas 7 and 8

Vocabulary: reside – Latin residere, remain; abide – live, dwell

Read Luke 2:29-32 (you should recognize this text); John 1:4-5, 9 and 8:12. How is Jesus described by Simeon, John and He Himself?

Read Isaiah 9:2 and 6 (and please pause between “Wonderful” and “Counselor” ), and 1 Peter 2:9. How do Isaiah’s text and the hymn describe the passage from unbelief to True Faith in Jesus?

How does the doxological language in the 8th stanza address the Arian Heresy?18

End notes

  1. Information from Carl F. Schalk, “Savior of the nations, come” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book, Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019), pp. 5-9; Gifford A. Grobien, “Ambrose of Milan” in Lutheran Service Book, Companion to the Hymns, Volume 2 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019) pp. 189-190, and the article “St. Ambrose,” compiling the work of several authors, at (accessed 13 November, 2020).
  2. Ambrose wrote, “I only desire to attain to that care and diligence in the sacred writings, which the apostle has placed last among the duties of the saints [1 Corinthians 12:10]. And this very thing I desire, so that, in the endeavor to teach, I may be able to learn. For one is the true Master, who alone has not learned what He taught to all; but men learn before they teach, and receive from Him what they may hand on to others. But not even this was the case with me. For I was carried off from the judgment seat, and the garb of office, to enter on the priesthood, and began to teach you what I myself had not yet learned. So it happened that I began to teach before I began to learn. Therefore I must learn and teach at the same time, since I had no leisure to learn before.” Quote from Scot A. Kinnaman, ed. Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: CPH, 2008) p. 992.
  3. Of note, the Feasts of Christmas and Epiphany became widely celebrated in the 4th century, in response to the Arian heresy. See Peter G. Cobb, “The History of the Christian Year” in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold SJ, and Paul Bradshaw, eds. The Study of Liturgy, Revised Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) p. 467.
  4. Ambrose is quoted nine times in the Lutheran Confessions. Most commonly he is quoted on Justification by Grace through Faith (AC VI 3; AC XX 14; Ap IV 103; Ap V 219, 268; Ap XIIB 96). Other topics on which he is quoted include Original Sin and loss of the Image of God (Ap II 19), celibacy (Ap XXIII 20), and the Lord’s Supper (Ap XXIV 75).
  5. Ambrose’s style is clearly demonstrated in the John Mason Neale (1818-1866) translation Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth, set to the tune Puer Nobis. For Neale’s text, see for example (accessed 13 November, 2020).
  6. The attribution of LSB 890 to Ambrose is not as solid as that of LSB 332 and 874, see the entries on these hymns in Companion, Volume 1. A medieval legend attributed the joint authorship of the Te Deum to Ambrose and Augustine on the occasion of the latter’s baptism, but this appears not to have been the case, see Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1947) p. 417. Dr. Luther’s comment on this is quoted in AE 53:171.
  7. “Savior of the nations, come,” Companion, Volume 1, p. 8
  8. Information from Carl F. Schalk, “Janzow, F. Samuel” in Companion, Volume 2, pp. 430-431.
  9. Information from D. Richard Stuckwisch, “Grobien, Gifford A.” in Companion, Volume 2, p. 367.
  10. Information from Schalk, “Savior of the nations, come”; Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) p. 200; AE 53:235.
  11. The Latin text can be found at (accessed 16 November, 2020).
  12. Dr. Luther’s text can be found at (accessed 16 November, 2020).
  13. Guenther Stiller, Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (St. Louis: CPH, 1984), p. 233.
  14. BWV 36, BWV 61 and BWV 62
  15. Hymn 776 in Hymns, Selected and Original for Public and Private Worship (Baltimore: T Newton Kurtz, 1851) pp. 483-484. Of note, in her 1863 Chorale Book for England, Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) included the hymn (#23) Redeemer of the Nations Come. This is a translation of the Johann Franck (1618-1677) hymn Komm, Heiden Heiland, Lösegeld (essentially, “Come Savior, Price of heathendom”), which in turn is a German translation of the Johann Campanus (1565-1622) Latin hymn Veni Redemptor Gentium, which he based on the Ambrose hymn. On Campanus, see (accessed 23 November, 2020). For the text of the Franck translation, see (accessed 23 November, 2020).
  16. An English translation of all 8 stanzas by George MacDonald (1824-1905) and revised by Ulrich Leopold (1909-1970) can be found in AE 53:236, beginning, “Come the heathen’s healing Light.”
  17. Information from Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music, pp. 199-203.
  18. During the 4th century, orthodox Christians began singing Trinitarian doxologies often, in response to the Arian heresy. See Companion, Volume 1, p. 7.


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