Christmas Carols: Oh Come, All Ye Faithful

The classic and beloved hymn titled Oh Come, All Ye Faithful in English has a mysterious origination and very deep roots in Catholic tradition. What is known for sure is the song was written in Latin and the title is taken from the first line of the text.

Adeste, fideles,
laeti triumphantes;
venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte
Regem angelorum.
Venite adoremus, Dominum.

Adeste Fideles translates to Oh Come, All ye Faithful, the latter the most common title in the English speaking world although the Latin title will often be used. The original text of the hymn is believed to be a collaboration with varied versions dating as far back as the 13th century. Possible contributors include St. Bonaventure in the 13th century, King John IV of Portugal in the 17th century, and Cistercian monks from German, Portuguese or Spanish provinces of that order having at various times been credited.

What is known for certain is that an English Catholic named John Francis Wade is credited with writing Adeste Fideles. Whether an original composition by Wade —or compiled from or inspired by verses in older hymns— is where the mystery lies. Yet even if not completely his own composition, the version Wade wrote is the carol beloved by all to this day.

Adeste Fideles, by John Francis Wade (earliest printed version 1745)

John Francis Wade was forced to flee England in 1745 due to his support of the Jacobite Uprising of Charles Edward Stuart’s failed attempt to regain the throne. He made a living as a copyist of ancient music in manuscripts found in libraries. He gained popularity due to the excellent quality of his artwork and calligraphy, many clients requesting he sign copies with his name, which could lead to the confusion over his authorship. In 1751, Wade published a compilation of his manuscript copies —Cantus Diversi pro Dominicis et Festis per annum— in which the song Adeste Fideles appears.

Historians are split, however, on the precise dating of the hymn. There are strong reasons, according to some, to trace lines in the song to the Jacobite cause, the speculation being Wade wrote the song as early as 1740 with “hidden” ciphers. If this is true, then the meaning would not attribute to Jesus’s birth or Bethlehem but rather to Bonnie Prince Charlie and Scotland. Seems like a stretch to me and it isn’t a widely held belief, nevertheless, it is fascinating.

Getting back to what is certain, Wade’s original printed version consisted of four Latin verses. The last three stanzas were added later in the 18th century, probably in 1794, by Abbe Etienne Jean Francois Borderies, a French Catholic priest. In the Latin, Adeste Fideles became a popular Catholic hymn for close to a century, particularly beloved by the Portuguese. King John IV of Portugal, called “The Musical King,” both collected and composed music, amassing a vast library in Lisbon.

During these last 18th century decades, Adeste Fideles was published in several liturgical music books for the Church. Slight variations in the text and tune are seen, although not too widely differing. Not until the 1840s was the song translated from the Latin into English, this done in the version most familiar to us by Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley, and first published in Murray’s Hymnal for use in the English Church in 1852.

Oh Come, All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of Angels
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

God of God, Light of Light
Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb
Very God
Begotten, not created
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
All glory in the highest
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning
Jesus, to Thee be glory given
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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I absolutely love Andrea Bocceli singing this! I might have enjoyed learning Latin at school a lot more if this had been included? 🙂 thank you.

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