Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creation Speaks In Praise

Today we look at another hymn that is generally used at the opening of a service. It comes from Jewish origins, but has appeared (in one form or another) in many Christian hymnals as well over the last century.

Praise to the living God!
All praisèd be the Name,
Which was, and is, and is to be,
And still the same!
The one eternal God,
Ere aught that now appears;
The first, the last: beyond all thought,
God's timeless years!

Formless, all lovely forms
Declare this loveliness;
Holy, no holiness of earth
Can God express.
Lo, God is over all,
Creation speaks in praise,
And everywhere, above, below,
God's will obeys.

God's spirit floweth free,
High surging where it will;
In prophet’s word God spoke of old;
And speaketh still.
Established is God's law,
And changeless it shall stand,
Deep writ upon the human heart,
On sea or land.

Eternal life hath God
Implanted in the soul;
This love shall be our strength and stay,
While ages roll.
Praise to the living God!
All praisèd be the Name,
Which was, and is, and is to be,
And still the same.

Daniel ben Judah, 14th cent.
tr. Newton Mann and Max Landsberg, c. 1885
adapt. William Channing Gannett, 1910; alt.
Tune: LEONI (
Synagogue melody; adapt, Meyer Leoni, c. 1770

Daniel ben Judah lived in Rome in the fourteenth century. He was a Jewish liturgical poet and a judge, and wrote the original text of this hymn, called the Yigdal, which summarized the thirteen basic articles of the Jewish faith as established by Maimonides. It was originally sung in alternating verses by the cantor and synagogue congregation.

Around 1770, Thomas Olivers, a follower of John Wesley, heard the Yigdal at the Duke's Place Synagogue in London, sung by the congregation's cantor, Meyer Leoni (or Lyon), and was so impressed that he wrote a hymn, The God of Abraham praise, partially taken from the Yigdal but with several Christian references added, and written for the tune that Leoni sang. Olivers's version has appeared in many hymnals, though generally not including all twelve stanzas.

A century later, Unitarian minister Newton Mann collaborated with his friend, the rabbi Max Landsberg, on a more faithful versified translation of the Yigdal, but it was not in the same meter as Leoni's tune. Some years later, William Channing Gannett adapted the Mann/Landsberg translation into this meter, to be used with this tune. Some hymnals use this version, some the earlier version by Olivers, and some have even used versions including stanzas from both.

1 comment:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

It's a fine tune, and two great hymns, but I'm afraid the Cyber Hymnal goes out on an unsupportable limb when it implies that

The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” they ever cry.

is based on Maimonides' 13 creedal articles. Reading Jesus back into Isaiah is one thing; reading Olivers back into Rambam is something else!

For some reason most hymnals I've seen it in have omitted the "formlessness" verse.