Catholic Hymnody: The Jeopardy of "Sing of Mary"

Catholic Hymnody: The Jeopardy of “Sing of Mary”

“Messiahs” for $200.

Clue: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Response: “Who is Jesus Christ?”

“Natures” for $400.

Clue: “True God and true man.”

Response: “What is Jesus Christ?”

“Revelation” for $600.

Clue: “And behold , you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…”

Response: “What is the Annunciation?”

“Revelation” for $800.

Clue: “And the Word became flesh…”.

Response: “What is the Incarnation?”

“Heresies” for $1000.

Clue: “Word made flesh, our Very Brother, takes our nature by His birth.”

Response: “What is Adoptionism?”

“Sing of Mary” was composed in the early 1900’s by an Anglican minister, Roland F. Palmer. The hymn ultimately made its way into Catholic hymnals and into the Liturgy of the Hours (see Feast of the Holy Family, evening prayer). Chalcedon established “nature” as “essence” (see Sempiternus Rex Christus, 25). The eternal Word takes (assumes) human nature, His unchanging human essence, at no other moment other than the moment of overshadowing in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, i.e. at the human conception of the Son of God (CCC, 466).


I’m not sure what the question is here. It seems that you may be objecting to the phrase “takes our nature by his birth,” because the Divine Word assumes human nature at his conception, not at his birth. That is true. Of course, we generally allow hymns some latitude in respect to theological points, but I understand where the phrase could be misleading if we take it literally.

Yes, it is “takes our nature by his birth” that cannot be proclaimed as a truth concerning “how” (“by…” indicates a cause) the eternal Word assumes (takes) human nature. Literally it is certainly false (a prime example really of a heterodox/adoptionist proclamation). Given the poetic license extended to hymnody, by what principle of poetry would one regard that lyric within the bounds of orthodoxy? “…takes our nature” is the immediate incarnational act that took place in the womb of Mary, and “by his birth” certainly cannot be reasonably understood as “by human conception”. Would poetic license also allow, for example, “Holy Mary, our very mother, made immaculate by her birth”?

I certainly agree. I suppose a good lyricist might find better words to fit the music. In the meantime though, most people in the pews probably don’t give the matter a second thought–or a first.

Not in jeopardy in my neck of the words. I love this song and will continue to use it! That first post is weird. What’s with all the money amounts?

It’s a TV game - Jeopardy - phrase the answer in the form of a question to win a certain amount of money. :smiley:

That’s why it sounds weird - if you didn’t realize it was suppose to be like a tv game show.

I’ve seen lots of strange posts on this forum but this is very different. :confused:

Oh. Then let me link the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Adoptionism, in a broad sense, a christological theory according to which Christ, as man, is the adoptive Son of God;

Unless one is God, (I assume God is not posting here), then “takes **our **nature by His birth” is not this heresy.

I would never have given a second thought to this until you brought it up. Since Jesus was not conceived like we were, I would say that “takes our nature by his birth” could also be a poetic way of referring to Jesus coming into the world. I don’t think it should be necessary to discard this hymn just as it is not necessary to re-write the Bible because we now know that science has proven that the world is round not flat.
Regarding Holy Mary, the Church has always taught that Mary was conceived without sin and has declared Mary to be the Immaculate Conception, so no, there should be no poetic license to describe Mary as immaculate by birth.

What was the question?

As to Adoptionism, seems the Catholic Church rejects that as heresy. See below:

He seems to claim that the phrase “takes our nature by his birth” is Adoptionism. This is incorrect because the heresy claims that Christ became God’s Son at a later time for whatever reason, be it his sinlessness, virtue etc., as contrasted with the orthodox belief that Christ is God’s Son by nature.

As for the lyric itself, it should be recognized that poetry and hymnody aren’t meant to be technical journals and the conception and birth can be legitimately blurred, as is the case here.

Quite honestly though, I’m kinda wondering why there has been a bit of a heresy-hunting trend lately on the forums.

I agree with you there. If the lyrics said “take God’s nature by his birth” that would be different entirely.

But did Jesus take our nature by His birth or by His conception? If I am not mistaken, I think that is what the OP was getting at.

It was at his conception. Can you say it is also by his birth? In a sense. He was conceived so that he could be born. The word “heresy” is thrown around too freely. I would hate to try and hang that label because of preposition, especially one as versital as “by”.

Remember the Litany of the Saints? One of the phrases for “Lord save your people,” is “by your coming as man”. Are we saved “by” this? In the sense that the Incarnation was the vessel through which Jesus was able to be in a position to die for us, we are. This dative/instrumental prepostion-ey thing is not as exact enough to say something is right or wrong, especially enough to disparage a great Marian hymn.

I agree - see my post #9. But sometimes prepositions do matter such as in the question about when Mary was made immaculate. She was made immaculate at her conception not **by **her birth.

I’m not exactly sure what the OP was getting at but s/he seemed to be saying that the line in question implied adoptionism, which is the heresy that Jesus was the adopted son of God.

If the question is actually what you suggested, my response would be that since our anti-abortion argument is that we are human beings from the moment of conception, that would also apply to Jesus. I don’t believe he was just an amorphous blob of tissue until he was expelled from the birth canal. A little convoluted, but that’s as much sense as I can make at this time of night :shrug:.

But a song is just poetry set to music and as such is permitted poetic license.

“Sempiternus Rex” reminds us that the word “nature” has been given a very specific and certain meaning for the ages by the apostolic ministry in the context of conveying the very way God so loved the world. He sent His only begotten Son in a way that has been defined dogmatically, in a way that cannot change and that cannot in fidelity be communicated in the liturgy otherwise, for “lex orandi, lex credendi”. The phrase “Word made flesh…takes our nature” can only mean what was announced as the “in utero” Reality, that Word made fully incarnate by the overshadowing we call human conception. Therefore, precisely because of that meaning, it is necessarily false to follow such a phrase with “by his birth”, for “his birth” (the Nativity) has nothing at all to do with “what” He is, nothing at all to do with His Being, He who at conception and by conception is once and for all the fully and unchanging nature/essence of God and the fully and unchanging nature/essence of man.

If the Word made flesh took our nature/essence “by his birth” over a span of development encompassing conception through gestation and infancy, by a process of “coming” that encompasses birth and not by an immediate and complete act by the Son’s human conception in Mary’s womb, then in what sense would Mary be the spouse of the Holy Spirit? Such a view, such a “coming” would necessarily imply that the “in utero” Jesus was a human person not yet fully divine (only later to be so “by his birth”), and that the divine Person, the eternal Word, was yet to take on human flesh (only later to do so by the birth of “our very brother”) which would make Mary out to be the “stepmother of God” rather than what she truly is, the Mother of God. Neither “Holy Mary, our very mother, made immaculate by her birth”, nor “Word made flesh, our Very Brother, takes our nature by his birth” can be regarded as within the generous poetic bounds of Catholic hymnody. Regardless of the level of awareness in the pews, irrespective of an assessment of pastoral danger, it can never be fitting or just for Catholic liturgy to ever invite the faithful to proclaim a falsehood about our Lord, whether in word or in song, especially a falsehood concerning a reality so central to the Christian Mystery, a reality so high on the hierarchy of truths, as is the Mystery of His Incarnation.

My argument is based on the language, not the theology. No one doubts that Jesus became Man at conception. I just do not think the line from the song contradicts this. Instrumentality does not imply process. It does not set date of an event.

Sorry. I can’t agree with you. I still think you are straining gnats. I will keep using this hymn.

I wouldn’t say its Adoptionism. As I understand it, the adoptionist heresy claims that Jesus was a normal man who was “adopted” as the Son of God at his Baptism. The song very obviously states that “God’s own Son most holy…became her little child.” It is obvious that the song is not saying that Jesus the man became the adopted Son of God. And in the same verse we find “God the Lord who came to earth.” The heresy of Adoptionism does not hold that Jesus is equal to the Father or Holy Spirit since it holds that he is a creature who was elevated by adoption, and denies that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and an adoptionist probably would not refer to him as “God the Lord,” especially when referring to Jesus before he became man. In addition, the final verse of the song equates all three in referring to the Trinity.

The word “birth” was chosen because it rhymes with “earth.” It’s poetic license and nothing more. There’s nothing wrong with Sing of Mary.

God Bless!:slight_smile:

Diagraming the sentence out, the OP is appears to be correct. The ‘by’ in ‘by his birth’ indicates causality. According to the structure of that line, the means of the acquisition of nature come about via the birth process. We can all agree such a statement is a false one.

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