Shepherd of Tender Youth


Clement of Alexandria

(Died about A. D. 217)

This poem, which is found at the close of Clement’s “Pædagogue,” is a sublime but somewhat turgid song of praise to the Logos, as the divine educator and leader of the “human race.” The title of the hymn is Ὕμνος τοῦ σωτῆρος Χριστοῦ, that is, “Hymn of the Saviour Christ,” and it addresses Christ as the leader of the youth, that he himself may gather them to praise him (verses 1–8); then as the Shepherd and King of the saints, that he may guide his sheep and rule over them (verses 9–22); and, finally, as the Eternal Word, whose footsteps lead to heaven (verses 23–53). It was not intended for public worship, nor is it adapted for it—being written in dimeter anapestics; but it is remarkable for its spirit and antiquity.
We subjoin from Schaff (“History of the Christian Church,” ii, p. 230) the following literal translation of this poem, commencing, Στόμιον πώλων:

Bridle of untamed colts,
Wing of unwandering birds,
Sure Helm of babes,
Shepherd of royal lambs!
Assemble thy simple children,
To praise holily,
To hymn guilelessly
With innocent mouths
Christ, the guide of children.

O King of saints,
All-subduing Word
Of the most high Father,
Prince of wisdom,
Support of sorrows,
That rejoicest in the ages,
Jesus, Saviour
Of the human race,
Shepherd, husbandman,
Helm, Bridle,
Heavenly wing
Of the all holy flock,
Fisher of men
Who are saved,
Catching the chaste fishes
With sweet life
From the hateful wave
Of a sea of vices.

Guide [us], Shepherd
Of rational sheep;
Guide harmless children,
O holy King.
O footsteps of Christ,
O heavenly way,
Perennial Word,
Endless age,
Eternal Light,
Fount of mercy,
Performer of virtue,
Noble [is the] life of those
Who praise God,
O Christ Jesus,
Heavenly milk
Of the sweet breasts
Of the graces of the Bride,
Pressed out of thy wisdom.

Babes, nourished
With tender mouths,
Filled with the dewy spirit
Of the spiritual breast,
Let us sing together
Simple praises,
True hymns
To Christ [the] King,
Holy reward
For the doctrine of life.
Let us sing together,
Sing in simplicity
To the mighty Child,
O choir of peace,
The Christ begotten,
O chaste people
Let us praise together
The God of peace.

Clement of Alexandria (Died about A. D. 217)

“This poem,” says Schaff (l. c.), “was for sixteen centuries merely a hymnological curiosity, until an American Congregational minister, Dr. Henry Dexter, of Boston, by a happy reproduction, in 1846, secured it a place in modern hymn books. While preparing a sermon (as he informs me) on ‘some prominent characteristics of the early Christians’ (text, Deut. 32:7, ‘Remember the days of old’), he first wrote down an exact translation of the Greek hymn of Clement, and then reproduced and modernized it for the use of his congregation in connection with the sermon. It is well known that many psalms of Israel have inspired some of the noblest Christian hymns. The forty-sixth psalm gave the keynote of Luther’s triumphant war-hymn of the Reformation, ‘Ein’ feste Burg.’ John Mason Neale dug from the dust of ages many a Greek and Latin hymn, to the edification of English churches, notably some portions of Bernard of Cluny’s ‘De Contemptu Mundi,’ which runs through nearly three thousand dactylic hexameters, and furnished the material for ‘Brief life is here our portion,’ ‘For thee, O dear, dear country,’ and ‘Jerusalem the golden.’
“We add Dexter’s hymn as a fair specimen of a useful transfusion and rejuvenation of an old poem:

“Shepherd of tender youth,
Guiding in love and truth
Through devious ways;
Christ, our triumphant King,
We come thy name to sing;
Hither our children bring
To shout thy praise!

“Thou art our holy Lord,
The all-subduing Word,
Healer of strife;
Thou did’st thyself abase,
That from sin’s deep disgrace
Thou mightest save our race,
And give us life.

“Thou art the great High Priest;
Thou hast prepared the feast
Of heavenly love;
While in our mortal pain
None calls on thee in vain;
Help thou dost not disdain—
Help from above.

“Ever be thou our Guide,
Our Shepherd and our Pride,
Our Staff and Song!
Jesus, thou Christ of God,
By thy perennial Word
Lead us where thou hast trod,
Make our faith strong.

“So now, and till we die,
Sound we thy praises high,
And joyful sing;
Infants, and the glad throng
Who to thy Church belong,
Unite to swell the song
To Christ our King!”

Bernhard Pick, Hymns and Poetry of the Eastern Church, (New York; Cincinnati: Eaton & Mains; Jennings & Graham, 1908), 20–25.

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