Latin: Jam lucis Orto Sidere
Text: St. Ambrose (340-397). Tune: Dale Wood (1934-2003)
1. Now that the daylight fills the sky, We lift our hearts to God on high That He, in all we do or say, Would keep us free from harm today,
2. Would guard our hearts and tongues from strife, From angry words would shield our life, From evil sights would turn our eyes, And close our ears to vanities.
3. So we, when this new day is gone, And night in turn is drawing on, With conscience by the world unstained, Shall praise His name for vict'ry gained.
4. "All praise to You, Creator Lord! All praise to You, eternal Word! All praise to You, O Spirit wise!" We sing as daylight fills the skies.
Tr. John Mason Neale
Here we have a classic morning hymn from the early church. St. Ambrose drew people to the faith, legend has it, like bees to a beehive. It was his preaching that brought Augustine to Milan to study his rhetorical skills. But in listening to him, Augustine writes, instead of marveling at Ambrose' eloquence, he began weeping for his sins and became a Christian. From that encounter, the church gained one of the greatest of all of its theologians. (See HYMN 260 --
Ambrose lived at a time when the theology of the church was still being established, especially the question of Christ’s nature. Was he only divine, or only human? The question had to do with the relationship of Father and Son. After Christianity was declared the state religion by Constantine, the question of the Trinity raged through the Roman Empire. It is said that the taverns and other gathering places would be filled with people arguing the question with great fervor.
The great opponent was Arius—whose movement threatened what was Nicene Christianity because he denied the Trinity, essentially the idea that Jesus was co-equal with God and had existed from eternity. The Arians believed Jesus was divine, but he was subordinate, not co-equal with God. The Council of Nicaea in 325 had affirmed the Trinity, and went against Arius on that issue.
The controversy raged. When the bishop of Milan died, there was controversy over which person should be bishop, an Arian or Nicene Christian. Ambrose, a government official whose family was Christian, represented the Nicene position. When he went to the city square to see about the uproar someone (the legend has it a child) cried out “Let Ambrose be bishop!”
The public agreed and Ambrose was baptized and installed bishop on the same day. After his eloquence, he was known for being the Father of Christian hymnody. Until his time, Christian song had been largely those of the Jewish faith: Psalms and canticles from the New Testament written in the style of the psalms, mostly from Luke.
Ambrose began writing hymns that were metrical—in stanzas that could be sung to the same tune—and fit the hours of the day. Almost all of them that we know about teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Arius had written popular ditties that taught his version of Christ’s divinity and they were popular especially with the soldiers of the Roman army. Ambrose’ songs, however, were more popular so he won the empire to the Nicene position on the Trinity.
His hymns were especially useful in what the church calls the Liturgy of the Hours. One of the most illuminating books I have ever read is S.J. Robert Taft‘s The Liturgy of the Hours In East and West. There he tells how early Christians would gather in the cathedral at certain hours during the day to pray. Those hours became the rule of the monastic traditions who, if they were strict, gathered every three hours for prayer. The liturgies were set early on to include a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and then a Canticle from the New Testament, for example, The Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah is always the New Testament Canticle for Matins; the Magnificat, the song of Mary for Vespers, and Simeon’s song, Nunc dimittis, the compline (bedtime) canticle. Luther, whose time in the monastery had imprinted on him the seven hours of prayer, maintained these three hours usually for family or school devotions.
Ambrose established the form of the hymn for the hours that has persisted. I have described it many times in my meditations on evening and morning hymns. Ambrose‘ chief contribution, however, is always including praise of the Trinity, usually at the end.
Jesus said, Pray without ceasing and the church took that seriously in its development of the liturgies of the hours, at first for families in the city, and then in the monastic communities. These can be our daily liturgy too as we begin the day with prayer and end it with prayer. But prayer need not be exclusively in our prayer time, but also throughout the day, when an issue comes into our minds, often with sighs too deep for words: We can call out, anytime, Lord, have mercy, as we are going about our daily lives. We are promised he will hear; he already dwells in us and, like the father whose sleep was interrupted by a supplicant, he is ready to help us at any time.
Neale spent his life recovering the jewels of the Greek church and Latin church that had not been translated into English. This hymn appeared in 1851 in his Medieval Hymns and Sequences. He said about that work, "It is a magnificent thing to pass along the far-stretching vista of hymns, from the sublime self-containedness of S. Ambrose to the more fervid inspiration of S. Gregory…” Neale's work and those of his compatriots, gave us great riches especially in regard to the hymns for the hours and the hymns for the liturgical year. Although sickly and unable to take up his vocation as priest, he still did a great amount of writing and translating. These hymn were eagerly taken up by Anglicans and Episcopalians, making their way to other liturgical traditions over time.
The tune used by the LBW by Dale Wood gives the hymn a contemporary sound. Wood, who was born to Polish immigrants, changed his name to Wood. He won recognition at a young age and became a significant composer of hymns and anthems during his life.
Daily Hymns/Dale Wood’s tune https://youtu.be/FBj96EnApUg
Concordia Publishing House/piano accompaniment of Wood’s tune
Collegiate Church of Warwick--another tune https://youtu.be/jLRGVo0wwfc
Septet on Now that the Daylight Fills the Sky/no text or tune