Come down, O Love Divine

# 516  Come down, O Love Divine

Text:   Bianco di Siena; translated by Richard F. Littledale

Tune:  Down Ampney

Composer:  Ralph Vaughn Williams

Bianco da Siena entered the Order of Jesuates in 1367 consisting of unordained men who followed the rule of St. Augustine.  Richard Littledale was a 19th century scholar and curate who devoted the latter years of his life to literature, including the translating of hymns.

This hymn is the ideal pairing of text and tune, the inspiring verse sung to a simple, lovely melody.  The first verse addresses the Holy Spirit as “O Love divine” and “O Comforter,” asking for His presence in our lives. The middle verses (2nd in our Hymnal) ask the Holy Spirit to purge us of all pride and evil passion, and to purify our love and light our path. The final verse anticipates the greater love for God that will ensue from such purification, and recognizes that, as Paul wrote, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The original third verse is not included in our 1982 Hymnal – why?  It’s so lovely and moving I had to share:

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.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) the son of a vicar, was a celebrated English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many folk song arrangements set as hymn tunes, and also influenced several of his own original compositions.  How ironic that his second wife described him as "an atheist ... [who] later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism."      The tune name comes from his boyhood home, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire.

Here's a lovely rendition by the King's College Choir, Cambridge.  YOUTUBE