Thoughts on “Silent Night”

By | December 24, 2018

Stille NachtDid you know that the beloved Christmas carol “Silent Night” originally had six stanzas and not three? We know this from an original manuscript submitted by the composer Franz Gruber (1787-1863) when an official investigation was held in 1854 on the origins of the carol. Other autographs have been discovered over the years, the most recent being by the author of the text, Father Joseph Mohr (1792-1848).1

Stille Nacht (Autograph - Piano)When comparing the English translation to the original German, it is interesting to note that what is sung in English as Stanza 2 is actually Stanza 6 of the original. Furthermore, what we sing as Stanza 3 was originally Stanza 2.2 So what are the rest of the stanzas and what is their original order?

Below you will find a literal translation of all six stanzas of “Silent Night.” I actually like the original order and prefer the fullness of the original text since it has much more theology and is more declamatory. I especially like Stanza 6 which says that the shepherds first proclaimed the Good News because of the angels’ “Alleluia!” and then, with the imperative “Tönt es,” tells us all to also proclaim, “Jesus, the Savior is here! Jesus, the Savior is here!”

Silent night! Holy night!
Everything is asleep; alone, awake
only are the faithful holy couple.
Beloved boy with curly hair,
sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God! O how love
shines forth from Your divine mouth
because for us strikes the hour of salvation,
Jesus, with Your birth!
Jesus, with Your birth!

Silent night! Holy night!
Who brought salvation to the world
from the golden heights of heaven
allowing us to see the fullness of grace,
Jesus, in the likeness of mankind!
Jesus, in the likeness of mankind!

Silent night! Holy night!
Where today all the power
of His fatherly love is outpoured
and as brothers full of grace we surround
Jesus, the people of the world!
Jesus, the people of the world!

Silent night! Holy night!
Long ago He was mindful of us,
when the Lord freed us from wrath,
and from the beginning of time
promised to save mankind!
Promised to save mankind!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds first proclaimed
with the angels’ “Alleluia!”,
sound it loudly both near and far:
“Jesus the Savior is here!”
“Jesus the Savior is here!”

Copyright © 2013 Martin P. Dicke. All rights reserved.

For a new metrical translation of “Silent Night” using the original melody, see A New Metrical Translation of “Silent Night”.

For versions that can be sung with various choir voicings, see The Original Silent Night (SATB/SSAA/TTBB) – English or German.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  1. For more on the history of this carol, click here.
  2. The standard English translation was made by the Rev. John F. Young (1820-85), an Episcopal priest who was born in Maine and spent much of his ministry in Florida. His translation of “Silent Night” appeared as #81 in his compilation of hymns entitled Great Hymns of the Church (New York: James Pott & Company, 1887) published two years after his death (to see Young’s version of “Silent Night” as published in that book, click here). In this version he provides only three stanzas.

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