The Morning Star

We don’t often refer to Christ as the morning star, although there’s good scriptural precedent for the metaphor, and several 16/17th century Lutheran hymns (my particular target of religious envy) make use of it. My favorite of these is “Der Morgenstern ist aufgedrungen” (D. Rumpius/M. Praetorius), for which I know of no English translation except my own. I’ve seen versions with as many as six verses, and knowing the habits of the time, there were probably something like 14 verses in the original edition. But the contemporary performances I know have at most three, so that’s all there is here. You can find a score as SATB here (PDF) and a MIDI file here. A pretty decent performance of two verses, including one not given below, is available on Youtube.

1.Der Morgenstern ist aufgedrungen,
er leucht’t daher zu dieser Stunde
hoch über Berg und tiefem Tal,
vor Freud’ singt uns der lieben Englein Schar.

2.Christus im Himmel wohl bedachte,
wie er uns reich und selig machte,
und wieder brächt’ ins Paradies,
darum er Gottes Himmel gar verließ.

3.O heilger Morgenstern, wir preisen
dich heute hoch mit frohen Weisen;
du leuchtest vielen nah und fern,
so leucht’ auch uns, Herr Christ, du Morgenstern!

1. The morning star has risen before us,
and shines upon our rising chorus
high over hill and verdant plain;
angelic voices swell the joyful strain.

2. Our Lord in heaven long considered
how he would bless and save his children,
and lead us back to Paradise,
and so was born in humble infant’s guise.

3. O holy Morning Star, we bring thee
our praise, and joyful song we sing thee;
thy light shines forth both near and far,
so shine on us Lord Christ, thou Morning Star.

9 comments for “The Morning Star

  1. October 21, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    The Mormon reference that first comes to mind is the early newspaper, Evening and Morning Star. The M&A published a sacrament hymn that Emma included in her hymnbook:

    He is the Stone and Shepherd
    Of Israel — scatter’d far;
    The glorious Branch from Jesse;
    The bright and Morning Star.
    (Anonymous, “Sacrament Hymn,” Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, 1 (July, 1835): 160)

    See Times and Seasons, (May, 1840): 111, for another hymn. Orson Pratt published some of his speculative theology in the Seer (vol. 1, February, 1853, pg. 19):

    The oldest spirits or the First Begotten hold the keys of Salvation towards all the rest of the family of spirits. “The First Born” Spirit is called “The Morning Star,” because He was born in the morning of Creation, or in other words, because He was “The Beginning of the Creation of God.” His younger brethren were called “morning stars,” because they were also born in the morning of creation, being the next in succession in the order of the spiritual creation.

    I found a reference to a paper that looks interesting: “The Morning Star, A Study of the Symbolism and Design Inherent in the Holy Priesthood as Administered in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” unpublished manuscript, LDS Church Historical Department, 1972.

    It appears that latter authorities tended to use it differently. Orson F. Whitney took an approach that you don’t see too often:

    It is Lucifer, on the other hand who seeks the overthrow of free institutions, free churches, free government, and who saps wherever he can the foundation of the rights of man. That same fallen being, once called the Morning Star, presented himself before the Father, at the beginning, and offered himself as a candidate for the saviorship of this world. (Conference Report, October 1906, p. 71)

    More frequently, in the 20th century, authorities would quote from a hymn that I am not familiar with:

    We are the true born sons of Ephraim,
    Who with us that can compare?
    We are of the royal house of Joseph,
    That bright and glorious morning star.

  2. Ronan
    October 21, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Speaking of Lucifer, that’s what “morning star” means (light bearer=Venus). Ruminations here.

  3. Bill
    October 21, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    The name Lucifer means morning star (literally, light-bringer).

    The most famous of the Morgenstern chorale tunes is Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern, which Bach used in his cantata #1. Check out the chorale prelude on this tune for organ by Helmut Walcha.

  4. Kevin Barney
    October 21, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    A beautiful hymn, Jonathan. (And I share your sacred envy.)

    Ironically, perhaps, the name lucifer means “light bearer” and was a Roman term for Venus, the morning star, also known as noctifer (bringer of night; the evening star).

  5. Kevin Barney
    October 21, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Oops, I posted without seeing 2 and 3 above…

  6. October 21, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    In Cundick’s oratorio, The Redeemer, he sets to music this verse from Revelations (the existence of which suggests that Orson F. Whitney’s interpretation of the epithet, above, is non-scriptural or mistaken):

    Rev. 22: 16
    16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

  7. Richard O.
    October 22, 2007 at 8:34 am

    The so-call downward pointing stars on early temples (Nauvoo, Logan, and Salt Lake for example) refer to the morning star. There is even a reference in the Deseret News to this when the star stone was placed in the arch above the window in the Logan Temple.

  8. Eric Boysen
    October 22, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I think there is a connection between the Morning Star image and Prometheus (fore-thought /Evening Star and Epimethius (after-thought), the consort of Pandora (all gifts).

    The gift of fire is a terrible thing (not evil!) which might be compared to our agency, our freedom to choose good or evil. Prometheus suffers as Christ suffers so that this gift can be ours. OR you can put Lucifer in as Prometheus (ala Milton) “nobly” convincing Eve to give up innocence at the price of being thrust out of God’s presence for the second (final?) time. Of the two, I prefer the former interpretation, but the name Lucifer does fit Prometheus in his office of giving the gift of fire.

    The ambiguity is similar in my mind to the image of a serpent representing either Christ or Satan in different contexts. Fragments of earlier dispensations taken out of their original context can be very confusing.

  9. Mark B.
    October 22, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    On a literalist note: I was up at 4:00 a.m. today and decided I’d better take out the garbage before New York City’s strongest passed us by. At that hour Venus, the morning star, was clearly visible in the eastern sky, about 20 to 30 degrees above the horizon. It appeared brighter than I had ever remembered.

    If it’s clear tomorrow morning, and you don’t live where mountains would block your view of the eastern sky, plan to get up early to see it. And then return to your musings about the Morning Star with a clearer sense of the earthly reality behind the symbolism.

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