January 31, 2013

The Great Forerunner of the Morn / Praecursor Altus Luminis

The Great Forerunner of the Morn is a John Mason Neale (1818-1866) translation of the Latin hymn, Prae­cur­sor Al­tus Lum­i­nis by the St. Bede (b.673). From the age of 7 till his death in 735, he lived at the Northumbrian monasteries of St. Peter and St. Paul in Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. Quite likely the most learned man of his time, St. Bede is included among the Early Church Fathers and has been made a Doctor of the Church. He was a prolific writer of theology and ecclesiastical history, as well as poetry and hymns. The Great Forerunner of the Morn is set to the tune: Sedulius, first published in the Nürnbergisches Gesangbuch of 1676. A popular alternative is the tune: The Truth From Above, as shown in the following video. In the Liturgy of the Hours it is used on June 24, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Tune: The Truth From Above

THE GREAT FORERUNNER OF THE MORN by John Neale, 1854 (Public Domain)

1. The great forerunner of the morn,
The herald of the Word, is born:
And faithful hearts shall never fail
With thanks and praise his light to hail.

2. With heavenly message Gabriel came,
That John should be that herald’s name,
And with prophetic utterance told
His actions great and manifold.

3. John, still unborn, yet gave aright
His witness to the coming Light;
And Christ, the Sun of all the earth,
Fulfilled that witness at His birth.

4. Of woman born shall never be
A greater prophet than was he,
Whose mighty deeds exalt his fame
To greater than a prophet’s name.

5. But why should mortal accents raise
The hymn of John the Baptist’s praise?
Of whom, or e’er his course was run,
Thus spake the Father to the Son?

6. “Behold, My herald, who shall go
Before Thy face Thy way to show,
And shine, as with the day-star’s gleam,
Before Thine own eternal beam.”

7. All praise to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee,
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore.

* The 7th verse is not a translation, but a doxology by J.M. Neale.


1. Praecursor altus luminis
Et praeco verbi nascitur;
Laetare, cor fidelium,
Lucemque gaudens accipe. 

2. Sublime cui uocabulum
Iohannes ipse Gabriel
Imponit, et clarissima
Ipsius acta praecinit.

3. Necdumque natus iam dedit
De luce testimonium,
Quod natus admirabili
Compleuit ipse in gloria.

4. Quo feminarum in filiis
Propheta maior nullus est,
Quin ipse miris actibus
Plus quam propheta claruit.

5. Quid sermo noster amplius
Huius canat praeconia?
De quo Patris uox Filio
Olim locuta praecinit: 

6. En, mitto, dixit, angelum,
Tuam paret qui semitam
Vultuque praecurrat tuum
Solem rubens ut Lucifer.

* The full text of Praecursor Altus Luminis can be found here.

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