[ by Charles Cameron — a carol for the faithful, a paean to the Bonnie Prince for the unbelievers — and a Happy Christmas to Zen, Scott and all our readers ]
First the carol, because I think it’s only fitting at Christmas, with Bonnie Prince Charlie to follow for those who’d like to enjoy the music without subscribing to the belief…
Okay, that was the Latin which, being something of a cultural snob, I prefer — the English version goes as follows:
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels; O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
And for disbelievers, agnostic and otherwise, here’s an alternative interpretation of the carol that doesn’t require a credal affirmation…
According to Professor Bennett Zon, Head of the Department of Music at Durham University:
Adeste Fideles, the song which became O Come All Ye Faithful, is recognised as being the work of the 18th century music scribe, John Francis Wade, but there’s far more to this beloved song than meets the eye. The lyrics written by John Wade have clear Jacobite references to the restoration to the British throne of Charles Edward Stuart – the exiled King also known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’.
In its earliest forms, from the 1740s to 70s, Adeste Fideles is often found in English Roman Catholic liturgical books next to, or physically very near, prayers for the exiled monarch. In John Francis Wade’s books it and other liturgical texts with ‘hidden’ Jacobite meaning are often strewn – even laden – with Jacobite floral imagery.
One important book including Adeste Fideles, to be shown on The Truth About Carols, reveals a wealth of Jacobite imagery. Amongst other things, it portrays a colourful image of Bonnie Prince Charlie, set over the image of a diagonal cross, imitating the text on the opposite page, the great Battle Hymn, Vexilla Regis Prodeunt – ‘Behold the Royal Ensigns Fly, Now Shines the Cross’s Mystery! The same book has a Jacobite cryptogram in Latin on its title page, which when deciphered gives a very clear sense of its Jacobite connections.
The meaning of the Christmas carol is clear: ‘Come and Behold Him, Born the King of Angels’ really means, Come and Behold Him, Born the King of the English – Bonnie Prince Charlie! “Fideles is Faithful Catholic Jacobites. Bethlehem is a common Jacobite cipher for England, and Regem Angelorum is a well-known pun on Angelorum (angels)/Anglorum (English).
Adeste Fideles seems to have lost its Jacobite meanings not long after Wade’s last published book in 1773, perhaps as Jacobitism ebbed in popular consciousness and as Roman Catholics neared religious freedom in the late 1770s. The real meaning of the Carol, remains, however, although whose birth we choose to celebrate in it remains a matter of personal decision.
As a Scotsman, I can raise a wee dram tae that.
Professor Zon’s reasoning can be viewed (by non-subscribers) in The Musical Quarterly, Volume XXIV, Issue 2 Pp. 279-289 for a mere $25 per day.
The choice is yours.
Happy Christmas, Season’s Greetings!