The hymn “Come Down, O Love Divine” is a worthy one if you do not yet know it. I was first introduced to it several years ago by the masterful Kings College Choir recording Best Loved Hymns.
The hymn is a prayer to the Holy Spirit to come and pour out his divine grace in the hearts of his people. Truly, this is something every Christian should earnestly desire–that God through his Spirit would graciously work in his people for their sanctification. This is the best work of the Spirit, and the love Christians have for God and for others is properly the work of the Spirit, who is a Spirit of love. As Jonathan Edwards once observed, “[Christian love] is all from the same Spirit influencing the heart. It is from the breathings of the same Spirit that the Christian’s love arises, both towards God and men. The Spirit of God is a spirit of love. And therefore when the Spirit of God enters the soul, love enters.”1 This hymn asks the Holy Spirit to do just that.
COME down, O Love Divine,
Seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardour glowing,
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing,
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling,
For none can guess its grace,
Till he become the place
Wherein the Holt Spirit makes His dwelling.
The text is by Bianco of Siena (d. 1434), a medieval man of Venice who enrolled in the Order of Jesuates (not Jesuits), a group of men who had not taken holy orders but followed the rule of Augustine.2 The hymn was originally written in Italian–the vernacular–and was later republished in Bini’s Laudi Spirituali ((Laudi Spirituali (1851), 93.)) It was originally translated into English by Richard F. Littledale in an English 19th century publication called The People’s Hymnal, but it was not until Ralph Vaughan Williams set it to the hymn tune Down Ampney in The English Hymnal that the hymn began to be used and loved more widely.3
- Charity and Its Fruits, in Yale-Works 8:132. [↩]
- Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church (1869), 37. The Jesuates were evidently so named because of their habit of crying “Praised be Jesus Christ” through the streets. The group was dissolved by Pope Clement IX because of their involvement with distribution of alcohol and medicines (S.v., “Jesuates, The” in History for Ready Reference). [↩]
- Routley and Curtis, An English Speaking Hymnal Guide, 37. [↩]