Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire;
thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy seven-fold gifts impart.

The Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, Mentes tuorum visita dates back to a 10th century manuscript, but has been variously attributed to Emperor Charles the Fat, grandson of Charlemagne, Gregory the Great, St Ambrose, and Rhabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz (c.776 - c.856). It was used as an office hymn for Tierce or Vespers at Whitsuntide by the 10th century, Tierce being the hour when the Spirit of God descended upon the disciples according to the account in Acts. At these services it would be accompanied by much ceremonial: ringing of bells, lighting of candles, and use of incense. From the 11th century it was used in ordinations, and from 1307 (the date of the coronation of Edward II) at coronations in England.

The hymn was included in the 1549 Prayer Book in a now-defunct common metre translation of sixteen verses. John Cosin (1594-1672) made a translation for his Collection of Private Devotions in the Practice of the Ancient Church (1627). He was subsequently exiled to France by the Puritans during the Long Parliament of the Commonwealth. Upon his return at the Reformation, Cosin became Bishop of Durham, and was responsible for the 1662 Prayer Book, in which he included this hymn. It is unique in being the only hymn specifically prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. Scriptural references begin with Acts 2:3. The seven-fold gifts (verse 1, line 4) of the Holy Spirit are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2) (see also Revelation 4 and 5). Seven was a sacred number among the Jews, and indicated perfection or completion.

Tune - Veni Creator

The plainsong Veni Creator is from the Vesperale Romanum cum cantu emendato (1848). This collection of tunes, published in Mechlin (Malines), Belgium, was designed to bring the plainsong idiom back into the Roman Catholic Churches at a time when plainsong had long been neglected. The plainsong melody in its original form is older than the hymn. It was first associated with the Ambrosian Easter hymn Hic est dies verus Dei but became established as the proper melody for the words of Veni, Creator Spiritus from the time of their first use in Church services.

Nigel Day
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 12th August 1997