Imagine the scene — a man deep in the throes of despair weeps in prayer to God, asking for forgiveness of his many sins.
But he is not a man one would think to be burdened down by the guilt of wrong doing. He was a monk.
But life was not going well for Henrich Suso and like many people of faith he blamed himself for his misfortunes. After his prayer was finished, he climbed into bed, sure to have another fitful night of tossing and turning over his worries.
Somewhere in the dark of night as he slumbered a vision was opened to his mind. In this vision he met an angel, whose brightness spoke nothing but hope and love to Henrich.
As angels of old had once told the shepherds, he was told to “fear not, and be of good cheer”. Then the angel took him by the hand, invited him to cast off his many sorrows, and with the angel rejoice in a heavenly dance of worship and praise.
The song to which they danced is now known as “In Ducli Jubilo” – and it is performed year after year at Christmas.
Suso penned these words, as instructed by the angel:
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart, and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ was born to-day.
Ox and ass before Him bow,
And He is in the manger now.
Christ is born today!
In sweet rejoicing, now sing and glad!
Our hearts joy lies in the manger
And it shines like the sun
In the mother’s lap,
You are the alpha and omega!
Now sing we, now rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
He from whom joy streameth
Poor in a manger lies;
Not so brightly beameth
The sun in yonder skies.
Thou my Savior art!
Thou my Savior art!
By far the best modern version of the song was performed in the original Latin by Sissel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from their Grammy-winning album, Spirit of the Season.
While Suso wrote the words he did not write the music. The author of the tune is unknown and it was familiar to Suso before he had the vision.
In fact, so prevalent was this tune it was in part used in other works of the master composers of music of the 15th through the 17th centuries. This tune is most famously reflected in several works of Johan Sebastian Bach, though there isn’t a scholar anywhere who believes he actually came up with the melody because it pre-dates his life by centuries.
You can nevertheless hear parts of this in other works of Bach. That likely tells us less about Bach and more about the influence of this tune not only on him but also on society.
The song is most famous these days from a recording made first by Manneheim Steamroller in 1988.
It was also featured in London during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in a rather jolly arrangement by Mike Oldfield. Typically the song is performed by chamber choirs, groups like the King Singers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.