Every year during December I have been posting the surprising abolitionist history behind some of our most beloved Christmas hymns. Pro-lifers identify closely with those 150 years ago who fought to free another oppressed class of people.

This Sunday, Wk 2 of 4, we examine…

O Holy Night

In 1847, his parish priest asked French poet Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure to compose a Christmas poem. He wrote “Cantique de Noel” while contemplating what it would have been like to be present at Christ’s birth and asked his friend Adolphe-Charles Adam to set it to music.

The song became an instant classic in France but was later denounced by the Church after Placide himself denounced the Church and became a Socialist Communist, and it was also learned Adam was a Jew.

A decade later American abolitionist and pastor John Sullivan Dwight learned of the beautiful song and saw something more when translating it into English.

According to Ace Collins in his book, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Verse 3 “supported Dwight’s own view of slavery in the South…. Dwight’s English translation of ‘O Holy Night’ quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.”

Here is the literal English translation of Verse 3:

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

And here was Dwight’s translation of Verse 3:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

In conjunction with this post, here is a a link to the most memorable rendition of this classic I’ve ever seen, by David Phelps, which includes Dwight’s Verse 3.

Also read the abolitionist history behind “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

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