We are all familiar (I trust) with the English-language version of "O Holy Night." Maybe you, like me, have shifted a bit uncomfortably as you sang some of the words, such as: "Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth." Huh? Or again, this:
Truly He taught us to love one another;Okay, that isn't exactly damnable heresy... but is it Gospel? Or social Gospel?
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease
Turns out there is good reason for unease. The carol we sing is not true to the original wording of the French song Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle, written as a poem in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure (1808-1877). Cappeau said he wrote it during a coach ride. Adolphe Adam, who wrote the music to Cappeau's poem, was Jewish, which led to the song being rejected by French clergy. However, Minuit, chrétiens was embraced by laity, and continued to be sung.
In America the Minuit, chrétiens fell into the hands of John Sullivan Dwight, who was an abolitionist and a Unitarian (among other things). That is to say, Dwight advocated the abolition of slavery, and he rejected the Biblical truths of the Trinity, of the deity of Christ, of the Gospel — that is, the lost hopelessness of man in sin, and of Christ's penal, substitutionary atoning death as the sole path to reconciliation with God through faith alone. In other words, Dwight would not have affirmed Christmas, the historical Christmas, as narrated and interpreted in the Bible alone.
So Dwight took the Minuit, chrétiens and imposed his own interests on the lyrics, "massaging" its contents (as you will see) almost to the point of rendering it well-nigh unrecongizable.
Good luck finding those lyrics, if you're not a French-speaker.
Or if you don't have a dear and only daughter with a Master's in French... or if you don't read the blog of someone who does! Were that the case, you would learn that these are the real lyrics, lyrics (at any rate) with Luke's Gospel at the center — and you'd be pretty unhappy at being stuck with a Christ-rejecting heretic's mangling of them:
Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle,
Où l'Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Midnight, Christians, it's the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.
Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur !
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!
Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave :
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert..
Il voit un frère où n'était qu'un esclave,
The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaînait le fer.
Qui Lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu'Il naît,
Qu'Il souffre et meurt.
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
It's for all of us that He is born,
That He suffers and dies.
Peuple debout ! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur !
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!
(See also here)
Here is a beautiful version, sung by French operatic tenor Roberto Alagna.
You can also hear versions by Nana Mouskouri, Placido Domingo, French tenor Georges Thill, Enrico Caruso from 1916.
And now you know... well, you know.