Come down O love divine
This hymn is associated with the Feast of Pentecost (Whitsun) fifty days after Easter. On this day Christians remember the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the early Christians, giving them courage to spread the message Jesus had entrusted to them.
The hymn is a translation of a medieval Italian poem by mystical poet, Bianco da Siena (c.1350-1434). Originally a wool carder from Siena, he joined an order of friars called the Jesuates. Rather like the Fransiscans they were committed to living a life of poverty, and were known for their mystical and ecstatic practices of prayer. The poem, Discendi amor santo was translated by Dr Richard Littledale (1833-90) and first appeared in print in 1867. Littledale was another member of the Oxford Movement, like John Mason Neale (see Day 30), and, like him, translated many hymns from Latin and Greek. He was a curate in Norfolk and then at St Mary the Virgin, Soho, but retired through ill health in 1861 and devoted himself to literature and theology after that.
The hymn wasn’t widely sung until it was chosen by Percy Dearmer in 1906 for his new collection of hymns “The English Hymnal”. He commissioned a tune from the then almost unknown composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. His tune, “Down Ampney” was written specially for this hymn, and named after his birthplace in Gloucestershire.
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 Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.
- · Have you ever had a strong sense of God’s presence with you? What happened and what difference did it make to you?