Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday

Sometimes the most obvious choice for the hymn of the day is the best one. Reginald Heber wrote this hymn to be sung on Trinity Sunday, where he placed it in his own hymnal, Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year (published posthumously in 1827, you may recall). Much of the imagery comes from the beginning of the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity.

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the heavens hide thee,
Though the eyes of humankind thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity.

Reginald Heber, 1826; alt.
Tune: NICAEA (Irregular)
John Bacchus Dykes, 1861

NICAEA was composed for this text by John Bacchus Dykes when it appeared in the first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern in 1861, and has accompanied it in nearly every hymnal where it has appeared since (hundreds, at least). It's named for the First Council of Nicaea (now a city in Turkey), perhaps the first ecumenical church council, where Christian bishops gathered in the year 325 and formulated the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as the Nicene Creed still widely used today.

The hymn is no longer limited to Trinity Sunday but is used as a general hymn of praise, considered so significant that many hymnals place it first, at #1. One dissenting voice was the hymnologist W. Garrett Horder, who postulated in The Hymn Lover (1905) that hymns should not attempt to teach doctrine, and that Heber's hymn was the chief offender. No one else seems to have listened.

One Year Ago: Trinity Sunday


Dorothy said...

Definitely a favorite and one of only two that I still sing today and also remember singing in my childhood, growing up in the Roman Catholic Church. The other one is Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I went to Japanese Baptist this morning (they have their bilingual service on the first Sunday of even-numbered months, and I try to make it when I can) and the hymns were "Come, Thou Almighty King" and "Holy, Holy, Holy"; the latter was also sung at Fremont Baptist this morning (and we sang "Come, Thou Almighty King" this evening, along with a not too successful attempt at "O Trinity, O Trinity, the uncreated One"). I was intrigued to notice that my three Japanese hymnals have three quite different translations of Heber's text. And my new Karen hymnal has a 3-stanza version (as have 4 of the 37 hymnals I've indexed it in so far; two of those, Quaker and UU, are non-Trinitarian rewrites, though they still call the tune Nicæa!).