Posted by: rcottrill | December 22, 2014

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

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Words: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (A rose has sprung up), author unknown; the English version comes from various translators, including Theodore Baker (b. June 3, 1851; d. Oct. 13, 1934) and Harriet Reynolds Krauth Spaeth (b. Sept. 21, 1845; d. May 5, 1925)
Music: Es Ist Ein Ros, from Alte Catholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng, 1599; harmonization in 1609, by Michael Praetorius (b. Feb. 15, 1571; d. Feb. 15, 1621)

Wordwise Hymns (Theodore Baker)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The earliest source of this early and unusual Christmas carol, with its tune that resembles a Renaissance madrigal, is a manuscript dating between 1582 and 1588. Some believe it is much older than that. The song had nearly two dozen verses originally. The original German version begins:

Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, aus einer Wurzel zart,
Wie uns die Alten sungen, von Jesse kam die Art,
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht mitten im kalten Winter
Wohl zu der halben Nacht.

The carol uses the blooming of a rose to represent the coming of Christ. In the Song of Solomon 2:1, the king’s bride refers to herself as “the rose of Sharon.” Only there, and in Isaiah 35:7 is the flower spoken of. Neither is a reference to Christ, but the imagery is sometimes applied to Him. For centuries before the song appeared, the rose had been used as a symbol for Christ (and sometimes for Mary).

Though this hymn is of Roman Catholic origin, there is little in it to which Protestants will object. The possible exception is the third line of CH-2, “To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Saviour.” The initiative for the incarnation was, of course, not Mary’s but God’s (Matt. 1:20; Lk. 1:35; cf. Jn. 3:16). Mary’s most direct motivation was willing obedience to God (Lk. 1:38). Better to say, “God showed His love aright, when Mary bore the Saviour.”

The first line of CH-5, “O Saviour, Child of Mary,” is not meant to glorify her so much as it is to emphasize the humanity of Christ, contrasting His deity in line two, with “O Saviour, King of glory” (cf. CH-4, “True Man, yet Very God;” and see Ps. 24:9-10).

For the most part, the song is rooted in Scripture, and the Christmas story in Luke 2:1-20. Through His human birth, Christ is connected to the family of King David, “a Rod from the stem of Jesse,” David’s father (Isa. 11:1; cf. Matt. 1:1).

CH-1) Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

CH-2) Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Saviour,
When half spent was the night.

The hymn then reflects upon the joy of the shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem, as they heard the angelic message that first Christmas night. “They came with haste” (Lk. 2:16) to see for themselves what the angels had announced.

CH-3) The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

There are a couple of things about roses that we all enjoy. First is the incredible beauty of the flower, and second the lovely fragrance they give off. The rose, therefore, is a fitting picture of the beauty of character revealed in our Saviour. And of the latter, the Bible says, “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2)

CH-4) This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendour the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Christ is declared to be the one (and only) Mediator we need (I Tim. 2:5). In that He is God the Son, He can perfectly represent God and His purposes. In that He is also perfect Man, He fully understands the weakness of His creatures and our struggles (cf. Heb. 4:15-15), and by His saving work He can bring us safely to heaven in the end.

CH-5) O Saviour, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Saviour, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of heaven,
And to the endless day!

1) What are some things about our Saviour to which this song calls our attention?

2) Is this a carol you would use in your church? (Why? Or why not?)



  1. Hi, Robert,

    This is one of my favorite hymns for the Christmas season. I was unaware that it originally had two dozen verses! Do you know where I can find all of the verses translated into English? The Cyber Hymnal and Hymnary both have far fewer verses than that.

    Robert Woodman

    • Did a quick check of some resources I have, but couldn’t come up with much. The Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (p. 469) says, “As first published [in] 1599 the text consisted of twenty-two stanzas and related the events of Luke 1 and 2, and Matthew 2.” Maybe no one has seen enough merit in most of them to translate, but we can keep our eyes open for more. God bless, and Merry Christmas!

  2. At two recent Christmas carol sings that I attended (and played the piano for both), I requested this carol, as it was in both hymnbooks. Most in attendance had never heard of it. I commented briefly that it is a poetic exposition on the metaphorical name of Christ – the Rose of Sharon – and that it is the only hymn of any kind that I am aware of that names a Bible book. It’s challenging to play and sing, but well worth the effort.
    I have also had several opportunities to play random carols as preludes or background music (and will have more before Christmas Day – including in the lobby of the hospital where I work), and I always include “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”


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