Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Fold, One Faith, One Hope Restore

Today's hymn of unity, one of this year's ordinary time themes, was adapted from a longer poem by the Quaker activist John Greenleaf Whittier, which was written for a somewhat different purpose.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thy grace impart! in time to be
Shall one great temple rise to thee
Thy Church our broad humanity.

Sweet flow'rs of love its walls shall climb,
Soft bells of peace shall ring its chime
Its days shall all be holy time

A sweeter song shall then be heard,
The music of the world's accord
Proclaiming Christ, the living Word!

That song shall swell from shore to shore,
One fold, one faith, one hope restore
The seamless robe that Jesus wore.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1864; adapt.
Tune: VICTORY (8.8.8. with Alleluias)
Giovanni da Palestrina, 1591
adapt. William H. Monk, 1861

This four-stanza text may have been first adapted for congregational singing in the Unitarian New Hymn and Tune Book (1914) but the Whittier poem dates back to the Civil War. It was written for the dedication of "Thomas Starr King's house of worship," which was the second church building of the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco (pictured here), which was at 133 Geary Street (now the site of the Neiman-Marcus department store).

Thomas Starr King was a prominent Unitarian minister and respected orator of his day, who came to California in 1860 and used his political influence to ensure that California remained part of the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War. In addition, he helped organize the West Coast division of the United States Sanitary Commission (predecessor to the Red Cross) and raised a great deal of money for that organization. Whittier's original theme of unity in his fifteen-stanza poem for Starr King was more about the divisions of the war and its causes, as seen in these two stanzas:

But through the war-cloud, pray to thee
For union, but a union free,
With peace that comes of purity!

That thou wilt bare thy arm to save,
And, smiting through this Red Sea wave,
Make broad a pathway for the slave!

The familiar tune used for this hymn was arranged by William H. Monk from a choral piece by Palestrina, and is most often sung at Easter, with The strife is o'er, the battle done.

Two Years Ago: Amy Beach

One Year Ago: Amy Beach


Dorothy said...

Another new one for me but I love the theme of our Christian unity and think its too often forgotten. These lines are the ones that I especially appreciate:
One fold, one faith, one hope restore
The seamless robe that Jesus wore.

C.W.S. said...

Yes, those closing lines are the ones that stay with you.

I suspect that they inspired some editor to try and ensure that some of Whittier's text received wider use as a hymn (even though, in the context of the original, they referred to the Union and not to the church).