good-christian-men

Reflections on “Good Christian Men Rejoice”

“What Child” is a compilation of traditional Christmas hymns and carols that we have arranged over the years around our synth rock sound. In fact , the first time By the Mane played together, we performed some of these arrangements. In the process of researching and arranging the hymns, we came to realize that they have a much deeper and richer history than we realized, and we wanted to share some of what we found.

History

The track with the oldest and strangest history by far, is “Good Christian Men”.  The lyrics as we recorded them were adapted from those written in the 19th century by John Mason Neale (lyricist of “Good King Wenceslas” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel”).  Neale, an Anglican Protestant with an affinity for Roman Catholic traditions (see Oxford Movement), was presented with a copy of the Piae Cantiones, a 16th collection of century carols and religious songs, by the British ambassador to Sweden, and used the 14th century carol In Dulci Jubilo (“In Sweet Rejoicing”) for the melody and the basis of his translation.  In Dulci Jubilo is itself notable in that it is sung partially in Latin, and partially in the vernacular (German, in some instances, and Swedish in the source that J. M. Neale used).

In Dulci Jubilo from the Piae Cantiones
In Dulci Jubilo from the Piae Cantiones

Musical Mistakes

The hymn appears in many hymnals as Neale translated it, with a proclamation of “Joy, Joy” or “News, News” right in the middle of the verse that interrupts the verse’s rhythmic flow and feel.  It turns out that Neale misinterpreted the notation, transcribing two minims (half notes) as two breves (double whole notes).  When you listen to our version, you can hear why we chose not to record these lyrics.

Our Take

Lyrically speaking, the song can sound antiquated to our ears. “Good Christian Men” appears biased, even sexist.  Our understanding of the text as we recorded it is that it encourages all Christians, both women and men, to rejoice in the significance of Christmas.  The song specifies Christians, not to exclude others, but because they are the ones who would most likely rejoice in the news of the birth of the Savior.  As Christians believe that Jesus came to offer himself as a living sacrifice for the sins of all who believe, it was necessary that he became flesh and blood first.  Christmas, therefore, is the celebration of the incarnation, the flesh-becoming of God’s Son, Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi (“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”).  John 1:29 As the song says, “Now you hear of endless bliss/Jesus Christ was born for this/He has opened Heaven’s door/And man is blessed forevermore.”

Musically speaking, the band came up with a rather gritty and cacophonous take on the song, framing the good news of Jesus’ birth against a world that sometimes gives us anything but a reason to rejoice.  Check out the song below to hear what we mean (and listen for the synth at the end called the “MicroBrute” to hear the knob-tweaked feral cries that earn it its name).

Lyrics

Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Listen now to what we say
Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now you hear of endless bliss
Jesus Christ was born for this
He has opened the Heaven’s door
And man is blessed evermore
Christ was born for this
Christ was born for this

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
You don’t need to fear the grave:
Jesus Christ was born to save
Calls you one and calls you all
To gain His everlasting hall
Christ was born to save
Christ was born to save

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