Earth Has Many a Noble City

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348–c. 413)
Translated by Edward Caswall (1814–1878)

AURELIUS Clemens Prudentius grew up in Spain, becoming a lawyer and judge. In 379 he was invited to Rome to become part of the emperor’s staff. He was fascinated by Rome with its new Christian churches and the tombs of martyrs. Christianity had been legalized earlier that century and was now the official religion of the empire. Perhaps Rome was the “noble city” on which he began this meditation.
Despite his early enthusiasm, Prudentius soon grew weary of public life. He felt he had become too self-centered, so in 395 he forsook his worldly position and entered a monastery. There he wrote several devotional and practical works. A few fragments like this have been translated and set to music.

Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Lord from heaven
Came to rule His Israel.

Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

Eastern sages at His cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose;
Gold the King of kings proclaimeth;
Myrrh His sepulcher foreshows.

Jesus, whom the Gentiles worshiped
At Thy glad epiphany,
Unto Thee, with God the Father
And the Spirit, glory be.

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