Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saint Bartholomew

Today is the feast day of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. If you ever had to memorize the names of the twelve disciples, he's among them. But do you remember anything else in particular about him?

Probably not.

As it happens, the only specific mentions of him in the New Testament occur when the twelve disciples are listed. Presumably he was at some of the important events recounted, but was never mentioned by name. Some scholarship claims that Bartholomew (meaning “son of Tolomai”) might be the person named Nathaniel who appears in John's Gospel. But maybe not. I guess it's appropriate that the picture here is a little blurry.

If you Google “St. Bartholomew” he doesn't even come up first -- you get St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on Park Avenue in New York City. They are marking this day today, you'll see.

So you'd think it would be hard to write a hymn about him. Noted hymnwriter John Ellerton (who wrote quite a number of saint's-day hymns) skillfully turns the very fact of his obscurity into a broader theme that brings us all into this hymn of praise.

Jesus Christ, to whom the number
Of thy starry host is known,
Many a name, by earth forgotten,
Lives forever round thy throne;
Lights, which earth-born mists have clouded,
There are shining full and clear,
Nobles in the court of heaven,
Nameless, unremembered here.

In the roll of thine apostles
One there stands, Bartholomew,
He for whom today we offer,
Year by year, our praises due;
How he toiled for thee and suffered
No one here can now recall;
All his saintly life is hidden,
All to him that did befall.

Was it he, beneath the fig tree
Seen of thee, and guileless found;
He who saw the good he longed for
Rise from Nazareth’s barren ground;
He who met his risen Savior
On the shore of Galilee;
He to whom the word was spoken,
“Greater things thou yet shall see”?

None can tell us; all is written
In the Lamb’s great book of life,
All the faith, and prayer, and patience,
All the toiling, and the strife;
There are told thy hidden treasures;
Number us, O Christ, with them,
When thou makest up the jewels
Of thy living diadem.

John Ellerton, 1871; alt.
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1897

This tune by C.H.H. Parry seems well-suited to the text, though if you've just sung it on August 15 for Sing we of the blessed Mother (and what other tune could you possibly use for that text?) it might be too soon to use it again. Other possibilities would be LUX EOI, or REX GLORIAE if you are allergic to overly-chromatic lines.

August 14 is also the anniversary of the beginning of the
St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, when over 5000 people died in and around Paris in mob violence against French Calvinist Protestants (the Huguenots). This historical event has been depicted in a wide variety of artistic forms, from plays, novels and paintings, to an episode of British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who, to the French grand opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer (who didn't write any hymn tunes as far as I know - though that opera uses Martin Luther's famous tune EIN FESTE BURG more than once).


Leland Bryant Ross said...

Just so this doesn't go wholly unreplied to (what can one say about so thoroughly underdocumented a Twelfth?) I would note that

1) Bartholomew is the last, the rhyming saint in the mnemonic song "There were twelve disciples", and

2) even more than those (like Bartholomew) whose names have come down to us without their stories, let us praise those who left us not even their names. To this end I specifically named the nameless in both of my "Ancestrices of Jesus" songs, Foremothers of Christ and Who'd have thought the Lord Almighty; I would also refer to the Tarrant hymn Now praise we great and famous men, where the fifth stanza addresses the nameless:

Praise we the glorious names we know,
And they whose names have perished,
Lost, in the haze of long ago,
In silent love be cherished.

(The uninclusivized original, which is in The Cyber Hymnal, is set to ACH GOTT UND HERR and obviously there are thousands of other possible tunes, but I like the pairing with ST. COLUMBA for this one.)

"Now praise we great..." also has the advantage of being based on the underutilized Deuterocanonicals, specifically Sirach aka Ecclesiasticus in this case.

There, now there's a comment!

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

The Tarrant hymn is interesting but overly "manly." Don't know if I'd consider it worthwhile to tinker with -- it would need a more complete renovation.

I do find this theme of the great unknown number in the communion of saints to be intriguing; one of my new favorite hymns is the one presented here on April 21. I keep coming back to it, and maybe that's why I liked this Bartholomew hymn so much.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Oh, dear, I see I linked the Tarrant original, which is indeed overly manly. There's a good inclusive rewrite (I am not sure by whom; my source was British Unitarian, which was Tarrant's denomination) in my online hymnal, which is what I meant to link to here:

Now praise we great and famous men
And women named in story;
And praise our God who now as then
Reveals, in all, true glory.

Praise we the wise and brave and strong,
Who graced their generation:
Who helped the right and fought the wrong,
And made our folk a nation.

Praise we the great of heart and mind,
The singers sweetly gifted,
Whose music, like a mighty wind,
The souls of all uplifted.

Praise we the peaceful hand of skill
Which builded homes of beauty,
And, rich in art, made richer still
The fellowship of duty.

Praise we the glorious names we know;
And they whose names are perished,
Lost in the haze of long ago,
In silent love be cherished.

In peace their sacred ashes rest;
Fulfilled their day's endeavour;
They blessed the earth, and they are blessed
Of God and us for ever.

Leland aka Haruo