Home History of Hymns: International colleagues give us "Christ is Risen"

History of Hymns: International colleagues give us "Christ is Risen"

“Christ is Risen” (“Cristo Vive”)
Nicolás Martínez, trans. Fred Kaan
UM Hymnal, No. 313

Christ is risen, Christ is living,
dry your tears, be unafraid!
Death and darkness could not hold him,
nor the tomb in which he lay.

Do not look among the dead for
one who lives forevermore;
tell the world that Christ is risen,
make it known he goes before. *

Fred Kaan

This hymn is the result of collaboration between two Argentineans, a pastor and musician, and a Dutch ecumenist.

The author of the Spanish text was Nicolás Martínez (1917-1972), a native of Buenos Aires who experienced his conversion to Christianity at the age of 18, and some years later began his theological training at the ecumenical seminary presently called Instituto Universitario ISEDET, in Buenos Aires. Following additional postgraduate work in Puerto Rico and his ordination (1948), Martínez served as a Disciples of Christ pastor in Argentina and Paraguay. In addition to his participation in ecumenical activities, he served on the hymnal committee for the hymnal Cántico Nuevo (1960).

The composer of the music is Pablo Sosa (b. 1933), born in Chivilcoy, Argentina, but residing now in Buenos Aires. A Methodist pastor, Mr. Sosa studied theology at ISEDET and church music at Westminster Choir College (Princeton), the Hochschule für Musik (Berlin) and Union Theological Seminary’s School of Sacred Music (New York). He has served as a professor at ISEDET and at the National Conservatory of Music in Buenos Aires.

Mr. Sosa is known for his leadership in ecumenical activities worldwide, including assemblies of the World Council of Churches, ecumenical base communities, United Methodist Global Gatherings and Women’s Assemblies. His workshops have taken him to many corners of the earth and his compositions appear in a wide variety of hymnals and global song collections throughout the world. As the editor of Cántico Nuevo and Cancionero Abierto (“Open Songbook”), a project begun in 1974, he has done more than perhaps any other person to foster the composition of Spanish-language hymnody.

The translation into English is by Fred Kaan (1929-2009). Kaan served most of his ministry beyond his homeland of the Netherlands. Ordained in the United Reformed Church, he pastored congregations in Bristol, England and Barry, South Wales.

In 1968 Kaan went to Geneva to serve as minister-secretary of the International Congregational Council. His charge was to help unite it with the Presbyterian Alliance to form the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a body he served until 1978. During those years, Kaan visited 83 countries. As noted in his obituary, “The world was his parish.”

“Cristo vive” is a paraphrase of I Corinthians 15:12-23. It was prepared for the publication of Cántico Nuevo, and was one of only a limited number of hymns by Argentineans in this hymnal. Hymnologist Erik Routley included it in the fourth edition of Cantate Domino (1974), a hymnal for the World Council of Churches, and requested that Fred Kaan prepare an English translation for that publication.

Mr. Sosa recalls the origins of the hymn: “I was at that time searching for ‘my own voice’ as a Latin American Christian composer, a process which temporarily inhibited my creativity. Writing that tune meant an important step forward in that process, especially since it was warmly welcomed by the committee.

“Early morning the next day, when the committee gathered to proceed with its work, Nicolás Martínez approached me with an enticing smile and a small handwritten sheet of paper in his hand, showing a poem, evidently the fruit of a night’s work. ‘Since you’ve been able to do it once, why don’t you do it a second time?’ he said. Such was the invitation to write a tune for ‘Cristo vive.’”

The driving rhythm of the music matches the intensity of the text producing together a bold, unequivocal declaration that Christ is risen, beyond all doubt. Neither death nor the tomb (“Ni la muerte ni el sepulcro”) could contain Christ, in stanza one. Do not look for him among the dead (“no busquéis entre los muertos”), the Scripture asserts.

Stanza two moves from the excitement and declaration that Christ is risen to the importance of this news for the believer. If Christ had not lived then our faith would be in vain (“Que si Cristo no viviera vana fuera nuestra fe”). “You will live, because I live” (“Porque vivo, viviréis”) asserts the text in English and Spanish. The remainder of the stanza paraphrases I Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

The final stanza, echoing I Corinthians 15:55-56 in Spanish, asserts that indeed it is true that death and sin have lost their sting (“Si es verdad que de la muerte el pecado es aguijón”).

Mr. Sosa’s tune is named CENTRAL for Central Methodist Church in Buenos Aires, a congregation with which he had a long relationship as a pastor and musician.

Lutheran hymn scholar Paul Westermeyer notes, “Pablo Sosa gradually became more and more interested in the oral tradition of Hispanic music and poetry, especially in his country, Argentina, and he sought to give it expression in worship. CENTRAL . . . represents the composer’s native musical tongue with a driving rhythm allied to a typically 20th-century, slightly asymmetrical shape.”

The tune reflects Mr. Sosa’s study just previous to this at Westminster Choir College where he was exploring some of the compositional techniques of innovative hymn tune composers of the day. Since then, most of his compositions have drawn upon folk music styles from Latin America.

* © 1972 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.