Monday, May 31, 2010

The Feast of the Visitation

Today marks the commemoration of the Visitation, the story told in Luke 1:39-56 of Mary's visit to Elizabeth that ends with the famous song we know as the Magnificat.

The Magnificat has been sung throughout history, though mostly in basic prose translations. It is a part of the Matins liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Vespers (sometimes called Evening Prayer or Evensong) in the Western Church. Hundreds of musical settings (if not more) have been composed, a fraction of which you can see at the ChoralWiki, and it has also been sung to simpler Anglican chant.

Most modern commentary on the Magnificat emphasizes the revolutionary theme of the text, how God will turn things upside down, raising up the fallen and casting down the oppressive powers of the world. This has inspired contemporary hymnwriters such as Timothy Dudley-Smith, in his hymn Tell out, my soul, which appears in many newer hymnals, and Miriam Therese Winter, in My soul gives glory to my God.

The earliest metrical version which was sung as a hymn may be this one from the Scottish Psalter of 1650 (slightly adapted).

My soul and spirit, filled with joy,
My God and Savior praise,
Whose goodness did from poor estate
This humble servant raise.

Me blessed of God, the God of might,
All ages shall proclaim;
From age to age God's mercy lasts,
And holy is God's name.

A pow'rful arm th'Almighty showed;
The proud God's looks abased;
God cast the mighty to the ground,
The meek to honor raised.

The hungry with good things were filled,
the rich with hunger pined;
God sent to blessed Israel help,
And mercy called to mind.

Which to our forebears' ancient race
God's promise did ensure,
To Abraham and Sarah's line,
Forever to endure.

Scottish Psalter, 1650; alt.
Calvin W. Laufer, 20th cent.

This tune by Calvin Laufer (with a rather appropriate name) was not actually written for this text, but for one he wrote, O magnify the Lord with me.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday

We are now entering the longest “season” in the church year, the Sundays after Pentecost (33 or 34 of them), which are in some churches numbered until we get back again to the First Sunday in Advent next fall. But today, the First Sunday after Pentecost, is also known as Trinity Sunday, a particular celebration of the Holy Trinity, the “foundational doctrine of God in the Christian faith” (though many churches will say that they celebrate the Trinity every Sunday).

Today's hymn below will be sung in many places today, though I believe it's now mostly confined to Episcopal and Anglican churches, as well as the Church of Ireland, where this English translation was first used.

The hymn has been attributed to Saint Patrick (and is sometimes sung on his feast day, March 17, as well), though modern scholarship believes it originated after his lifetime, perhaps in the eighth century. The original text is known as St. Patrick's Breastplate, or Lorica; or, to the Irish, Faeth Fiada (The Deer's Cry). The lorica, literally, refers to body armor, but in the Christian monastic tradition the word is also used to describe a kind of prayer, or even incantation, to be recited for protection from enemies and evil forces. From the preface of one of the earliest manuscripts to print this text:

Patrick made this hymn (...) and the cause of its composition was for the protection of himself and his monks against the deadly enemies that lay in ambush for the clerics. And it is a lorica of faith for the protection of body and soul against demons and men and vices...

Hundreds of years later Cecil Frances Alexander was asked to produce a metrical translation for the hymnal of the Church of Ireland, but her hymn was first published in a pamphlet so that it could be sung throughout the denomination on St. Patrick's Day in 1889, This is almost certainly related to the fact that Alexander's husband was William Alexander, the Archbishop of Armagh and head of the Irish Church (and thus a direct successor of Patrick himself).

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
The service of the seraphim;
Confessors' faith, apostles' word,
The patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of faithful souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
God's eye to watch, God's might to stay,
God's ear to hearken, to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,
God's hand to guide, God's shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
God's heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
And restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
All that love me,
Christ in mouth of
Friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the God of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

attrib. Saint Patrick, 5th cent.
tr. Cecil Frances Alexander, 1889; alt.
Tune (st. 6): DIERDRE
arr. Charles V. Stanford, 1902

The hymn is unusual for a few different reasons (not its length). The first stanza is only four lines long, followed by several eight-line stanzas. Then, when you get into singing those, suddenly there's a stanza that's sung to a completely different tune (because it wouldn't fit to the other one). Then back to the main tune for one more stanza. I believe I've seen it printed somewhere without that different stanza, where the hymnal editors probably believed it was just too confusing. However, I've sung it in various places where it went just fine, most recently at the consecration of our new bishop last month.

Unfortunately, we are singing only the first two and last two stanzas today at my church, which makes the hymn a little too Christ-centered (sts. 2 & 6) for Trinity Sunday IMHO. If you think the hymn as printed here is too long, there are actually two additional stanzas (originally the sixth and seventh) from Mrs. Alexander's translation that aren't generally included in hymnals these days. These stanzas are particularly relevant to the text as lorica.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Charles Villiers Stanford first arranged the main tune (now known as ST. PATRICK'S BREASTPLATE) for inclusion in the Complete Collection of Irish Music (1902) which he edited. His tune and the sixth-stanza tune were matched with Alexander's text in the English Hymnal (1906), where DIERDRE claims to be “Adapted from an Ancient Irish Melody.”

Yes, it's a long hymn, even without those extra two stanzas. But it's certainly memorable, if you ever get the chance to sing it all the way through.

P.S. - this is Post #400 for the blog, not so bad, I think, for (nearly) two and a half years.

Two Years Ago: Trinity Sunday

One Year Ago: Trinity Sunday

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sir Henry Williams Baker

The full title of Sir Henry Williams Baker (May 27, 1821 - February 12, 1877) was actually Third Baronet Baker, of Dunstable House, in Richmond, Surrey. Some sources say he was born in the county of Surrey, some say in London. A few years after his 1844 ordination in the Church of England he became the vicar of Monkland Priory church in Herefordshire, a county not particularly near the seat of his baronetcy, which seems not to have been a problem. He remained in the Herefordshire position until his death.

In addition to being a vicar and a baronet, of course, he was the prime mover behind the immensely successful and influential Hymns Ancient and Modern, first published in 1861, as discussed last year. This hymn by Baker, short and to the point, first appeared in that initial edition.

O praise our God today,
God's constant mercy bless,
Whose love has helped us on our way,
And granted us success.

God's arm the strength imparts
Our daily toil to bear;
God's grace alone inspires our hearts
Each other’s load to share.

O happiest work below,
Mirror of joy above,
To sweeten many a cup of woe
By deeds of holy love!

God, may it be our choice
This blessèd rule to keep,
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice,
And weep with them that weep.”

Henry Williams Baker, 1861; alt.
Johann B. Konig, 1738
harm. William Henry Havergal, 1847

One Year Ago: Sir Henry Williams Baker

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Feast of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost is the third great day in the church calendar, after Christmas and Easter, celebrating the arrival of the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus ten days after his ascension. The story is told in the second chapter of Acts, of the sound of a great wind, the tongues of flame descending on the gathered disciples, and the miracle of understanding that was granted so that everyone suddenly knew the many languages of those around them.

The reason that people from so many different lands were in Jerusalem on that day is that it was already a Jewish holiday, the Festival of Weeks, or Shavu'ot, which occurs fifty days after the Passover. Similarly, Pentecost is generally considered to be fifty days after Easter, if you count Easter Sunday itself. If you don't, then it's forty-nine days, or "seven times seven," as in this Latin hymn (Jam Christus astra ascenderat) by Ambrose of Milan, Bishop of Rome during the fourth century.

Above the starry spheres,
To where he was before,
Christ had gone up, a promised gift
Upon the earth to pour.
At length had fully come,
On mystic circle borne
Of sev'n times sev'n revolving days,
The Pentecostal morn.

When, as the apostles knelt
At the third hour in prayer,
A sudden rushing sound proclaimed
The Holy Spirit there.
Forthwith a tongue of fire
Is seen on every brow,
Each heart receives the Spirit’s light,
The Word’s enkindling glow.

This gracious gift on all
Is mightily outpoured,
Who straight in diverse tongues declare
The wonders of the Lord.
While strangers of all climes
Flock round from far and near,
And their own tongue, wherever born,
All with amazement hear.

But some are faithless still --
Deny the hand divine;
And, mocking, jeer the saints of Christ
As full of new-made wine.
Till Peter, in their midst,
By Joel’s ancient word,
Rebukes their unbelief, and wins
The souls of all who heard.

So may that pow'r as then,
Descend to us today
That rushing wind, that fire of God,
Enflame our souls, we pray;
Creator and the Christ
And Spirit we adore,
O may the Spirit’s gifts be poured
On us forevermore.

Ambrose of Milan, 4th cent.
tr. Edward Caswall, 1849; alt.
Peter LaTrobe, 19th cent.

The Pentecost painting above is by Josef Ignaz Mildorfer, an eighteenth century artist from Germany. Some artistic depictions of the scene are rather staid, showing the disciples calmly sitting around a table, but it seems to me that things would have been rather more chaotic, as this painting suggests.

Two Years Ago: The Feast of Pentecost

One Year Ago: The Feast of Pentecost

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hymn(al)s in the News

This news story is a few weeks old now, but you might not have heard it yet. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open in Washington DC in five years. They have been collecting historical artifacts for some time (the regular Smithsonian holdings already contain many). One acquisition of interest here was recently spotlighted in a piece on National Public Radio: a hymn book that belonged to Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman (1820? - 1913) is known primarily for her frequent trips to the south to rescue people from slavery through the Underground Railroad. Following her own escape from Maryland in 1849, she returned and brought back several members of her family, then numerous others, a few at a time. In all she may have released as many as three hundred former slaves (sources vary as to the number of her trips and the number of slaves freed), and was popularly known as the "Moses" of her people. During the Civil War she was a scout and a spy for the Union Army, and in her later years she also became an advocate for women's rights.

According to the NPR article, Tubman and the other Underground Railroad workers sometimes used African-American spirituals as signals (though other sources dispute this). These songs were part of a long-standing oral tradition, not written down until later in the nineteenth century, thanks to the efforts of people like James W. Work and Harry Burleigh. Though Steal away to Jesus and Swing low, sweet chariot do not appear in the book that belonged to Tubman (Gospel Hymns No. 2, edited by Ira Sankey), she certainly didn't need the book to sing them.

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
Coming for to carry me home,
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

If you get there before I do,
Coming for to carry me home,
Tell all my friends I’m coming, too.
Coming for to carry me home.

I’m sometimes up and sometimes down,
Coming for to carry me home,
But still my soul feels heavenly bound,
Coming for to carry me home.

African-American spiritual, 19th cent.
Tune: SWING LOW (Irregular with refrain)

The chariot mentioned would seem to be the one that took the prophet Elijah to heaven in 2 Kings 2:11. This spiritual was part of the repertory of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and appeared in one of their collections as early as 1873.

Harriet Tubman is the woman on the left in the photograph below which appeared in the New York Times in the 1880s, though it was probably taken about twenty years earlier. Members of her family and others in the photo who she brought back from the south: (left to right) Gertie Davis {Watson} (adopted daughter of Tubman} behind Tubman; Nelson Davis (husband and veteran); Lee Cheney (great-great-niece); "Pop" {John} Alexander; Walter Green; Blind "Aunty" Sarah Parker; Dora Stewart (great-niece and granddaughter of Tubman's brother Robert Ross aka John Stewart). [Note: Dora Stewart is sometimes cropped out of other versions of this photograph]

Thanks to the Hymn Society's Facebook page for pointing me to this article. I'm debating whether to join the blog to Facebook, which might bring more readers here, but haven't made a decision yet.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

By a Road Before Untrod

For a Sunday celebration of the Ascension (probably larger than a Thursday one) a somewhat grander hymn might be in order. This eighth century text by scholar and historian the Venerable Bede, Hymn­um can­a­mus Dom­i­no, is matched with a familiar tune from eight centuries later. Somewhere today I'm sure it's being sung.

A hymn of glory let us sing
New songs throughout the world shall ring
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Christ, by a road before untrod
Ascends unto the throne of God.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand
Alleluia, Alleluia!
With all Christ's followers they see
Jesus’ resplendent majesty
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

To whom the angels drawing nigh,
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?”
Alleluia, Alleluia!
“This is the Savior,” thus they say.
“This is his noble triumph day.”
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

“Again you shall behold him so,
As you have this day seen him go.”
Alleluia, Alleluia!
“In glorious pomp ascending high
Up to the portals of the sky.”
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Jesus, our Joy and strong Defense,
Grant us our future recompense,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
So shall your grace and mercy be
Ours throughout all eternity,
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Venerable Bede, 8th cent.
tr. Benjamin Webb, 1852; alt.
Geistlische Kirchengesang, 1623
harm. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Austin C. Lovelace

A memorial service will be held this afternoon in Denver for Austin Lovelace, organist, composer, and lover of hymns, who died on April 25 at the age of 91. He was active in the American Guild of Organists and was one of the organizers and first president of the National Fellowship of Methodist Musicians (now called the Fellowship of United Methodists in Worship and Music Arts). He taught hymnology and church music courses at various seminaries and colleges. Though he had retired from his last full-time director of music position at Denver's Wellshire Presbyterian Church in 1986, he continued to lecture, concertize, and serve as a substitute organist in many places until just a few years ago.

He is probably most widely known for his many choral anthems and arrangements, but he was involved in all aspects of church music and also composing for organ and solo voice. He chaired the committee that chose the tunes for the 1964 Methodist Hymnal, which included 34 from his own pen, both original and arrangements. His tunes migrated to the hymnals of other denominations over the next several years. He also wrote books, including the short but very useful The Anatomy of Hymnody (1965) which may be sampled on Google Books.

Lovelace was also a past president of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. The Society sponsors a scholarship fund in his name; each year several students of hymnody are chosen as recipients, allowing them to attend (and sometimes present their research at) the Society's annual conference. He will definitely be missed at their conference this summer.

One Year Ago: Samuel Webbe

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension

Today is the “official” day in the church calendar that marks the Ascension, forty days (that number again!) after Easter, though not many churches will hold services today. The story is told in different passages, including Luke 24: 44-53, of Jesus' miraculous departure from our world. Some sources claim that the celebration of the Ascension began about forty years after tha life of Jesus, but it was not formalized until the third century. Given the varying days of Easter, Ascension can fall anywhere between April 30 and June 3, so we're fairly close of the mid-range this year.

Today;s hymn by
Cecil Frances Alexander did not first appear in one of her collections for children, but in an 1852 hymnal published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

The eternal gates are lifted up,
The doors are opened wide;
Our Savior Jesus is gone in,
Now reigning at God's side.

Thou art gone up before us, Christ.
To make for us a place,
That we may be where now thou art,
And look upon God’s face.

Lift up our thoughts, lift up our songs:
And let thy grace be giv’n;
That, while we wander here below,
Our hearts may look toward heav’n.

That where thou art, at God’s right hand,
Our hope, our love, may be:
Dwell in us here, that we may dwell
Forevermore in thee.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1852; alt.
Phyllis Skene, c. 1902

Composer Phyllis Skene is another Voice Found, though unfortunately I have not yet discovered very much about her. This tune, with four others by her, appears in Hymns of Consecration and Faith (1902?), a hymnal compiled by Mrs. Evan Hughes. On the actual pages where her tunes appear, she is credited only as P. Skene, but “Miss Phyllis Skene” is thanked in the foreword of the book along with other composers, for “abundant help in contributing to the musical part of the collection, many of the Tunes being written expressly for this book.” I've sent this meager information to the Cyber Hymnal, where they were apparently unaware of even her first name or gender. (UPDATE: They have revised Skene's listing now with my submitted info.)

In prior years, I have marked the birthday of Sir Arthur Sullivan on this date. As it happens, he wrote the tune for an Ascension text seen here in 2008. While I was not terribly impressed by his tune ST. PATRICK at that time, another version can be heard here, at the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive, which gives a better sense of it. It's still no ST. GERTRUDE, though.

P.S. The picture above is a small portion of The Ascension of Christ by Tintoretto; you can see the full painting here.

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: The Feast of the Ascension

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Sir Arthur Sullivan

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Earth Feels the Season's Joyance

As discussed last year, the last Sunday in Eastertide, the Sunday before Ascension, is also celebrated as Rogation Sunday in some churches. This dates from an earlier time and an agrarian society that no longer exists in most places, but anecdotal evidence suggests that interest in observing the occasion again is increasing. I found several more links this year than last, including these about Rogation-related customs such as "beating the bounds" and "rammelation biscuits."

This hymn combines the Easter theme with thanks for the arrival of spring, as we've discussed before, which makes it especially suitable for the Rogation observance (though, admittedly, many churches have given up on Easter hymns by this point in the season). The text and tune are by two of my favorites, Frederick Lucian Hosmer and Henry Smart.

O day of light and gladness,
Of prophecy and song,
What thoughts within us waken,
What hallowed memories throng!
The soul’s horizon widens,
Past, present, future blend;
And rises on our vision
The life that hath no end.

Earth feels the season’s joyance,
From mountain range to sea
The tides of life are flowing
Fresh, manifold and free.
In valley and on upland,
By forest pathways dim,
All nature lifts in chorus
The resurrection hymn.

O Source of life eternal,
To thee our hearts upraise
The Easter song of gladness,
The Passover of praise.
Thine are the many mansions,
The dead die not to thee,
Who fillest from thy fullness
Time and eternity.

Frederick L. Hosmer, 1903; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1836

Last Sunday in Eastertide: Prophets, Psalmists, Seers and Sages

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Phebe Hanaford

Phebe Hanaford, the fourth woman minister ordained in this country, was born today in 1829. Though raised in a Quaker household, and converting to the Baptist faith upon her marriage in 1849, she later became intrigued with Universalism, and preached her first sermon to a group of family and friends at a private function.

Family financial troubles had already forced her to turn to writing for additional income, and after her Baptist minister made his objections to her Universalist leanings plain, she left his church and took a job as the editor of The Ladies' Repository and The Myrtle, two Universalist magazines, for an annual salary of $600. This brought her into contact with leading Universalists, including
Olympia Brown, the first ordained woman in the US, which probably contributed to her own desire to enter the ministry.

This hymn by Phebe dates from 1852, the early days of her writing career and well before her ordination in 1868. It did appear in several nineteenth- and early twentieth-century hymnals, though often anonymously for some reason.

Cast your bread upon the waters,
Do not think it thrown away;
God has said that you shall gather
It again some future day.

Cast your bread upon the waters.
Wildly though the billows roll,
They will help your work to prosper,
Truth to spread from pole to pole.

Cast your bread upon the waters;
Why do you still doubting stand?
Bounteous God will send the harvest
If you sow with liberal hand.

Give then freely of your substance,
O'er this purpose God shall reign;
Cast your bread and work with patience.
You will labor not in vain.

Phebe A. Hanaford, 1852; alt.
Thomas Whittemore, 1841

Hanaford's lifelong commitment to women's rights brought her into contact with the leading suffragists of her day. She was one of twenty-six collaborators with Elizabeth Cady Stanton who published The Women's Bible in 1895. This book was a commentary on the various passages of the Bible that had been used over centuries against women 's equality, particularly in the church, and Hanaford certainly knew those arguments firsthand. The suffragist movement was divided with regard to this book; many believed that it would damage their cause. Some do say that women's right to vote was delayed in part because The Women's Bible was used by religious leaders to denounce the movement; the title alone was considered shocking to many and only the title needed to be brought up to suggest the things that might happen if women were actually allowed to participate in the political process. No familiarity with the work itself was required (I can think of similar bugaboos today).

Phebe Hanaford officiated at the burial of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1902; this is part of the prayer she offered:

O Thou Infinite and Eternal Power whom so many of thy children love to call Our Father and Our Mother, into thy hands we commit the spirit of our beloved one, assured that all is right where thy rule extends.

Hanaford is, not surprisingly, remembered most in the Unitarian Universalist church, but many feel that she should be more widely known. I plan to keep looking for more information and more of her hymns (as well as those of her companion of more than forty years, Ellen Miles).

One Year Ago: Phebe Hanaford

Sunday, May 2, 2010

We Are Builders of That City

One of the lectionary readings appointed for today in many churches is from Revelation 21: 1-6, John's vision of the Holy City. The theme of the City of God, where sorrow and suffering will no longer exist and where peace and justice will prevail recurs throughout scripture, from Old Testament prophecy all the way to the last book of the New Testament. One of the basic tenets of the more modern concept of social justice is that we should do what we can to bring about those conditions on earth today.

The writer of today's hymn, Felix Adler, was raised in the Jewish faith, the son of a rabbi. As an adult he taught at Cornell and Columbia Universities. In 1876 he founded the New York Society of Ethical Culture, which started a worldwide movement. The concepts of Ethical Culture drew from many traditions and attracted people from a wide spectrum of beliefs, including Christianity, Judaism, and even atheism (naturally, this diversity led to various disagreements in several local chapters).

Hymns were sung at the meetings of the Ethical Culture societies and they compiled their own hymnals, such as Ethical Hymns (1899), from London, which included texts by Ethical Culture members as well as by names more familiar to us, such as Sarah Flower Adams and John Bowring. Adler wrote this hymn in 1878, and it was first published for Christian worship in the 1904 Pilgrim Hymnal.

Hail the glorious golden city,
Pictured by the seers of old!
Everlasting light shines o’er it,
Wondrous things of it are told:
Wise and righteous men and women
Dwell within its gleaming wall;
Wrong is banished from its borders,
Justice reigns supreme o'er all.

We are builders of that city,
All our joys and all our groans
Help to raise its shining ramparts;
All our lives are building stones:
Whether humble or exalted,
All are called to task divine;
All must aid alike to carry
Forward one sublime design.

And the work that we have builded,
Oft with bleeding hands and tears,
Oft in error, oft in anguish,
Will not perish with our years:
It will live, and shine transfigured,
In the final reign of Right;
It will pass into the splendors
Of the City of the Light.

Felix Adler, 1878; alt.
Rowland Hugh Prichard, c. 1830

Adler's concept of the "golden city" was probably not quite the same as ours, but Christian hymns do sometimes adapt others' ideas into a new interpretation. His original text was in twelve four-line stanzas (beginning Have you heard the Golden City /Mentioned in the legends old?), though most hymnals only use three eight-line stanzas (half of the original). The 1904 Pilgrim Hymnal text began Sing we of the golden city / Pictured in the legends old. This version, which went on to appear in several more hymnals (Congregational, Unitarian, and others) contains alterations made by J. Hutton Hynd, another Ethical Culture leader. This text of Adler's is the most widely known outside Ethical Culture circles, though I've also found several others by him in the Union Hymnal (1932), which was published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

We have seen another hymn on this same theme (though more clearly derived from the passage in the book of Revelation) nearly two years ago, O holy city, seen of John, which we sang this morning at my church. It's a favorite of a friend of mine whose birthday is today, though his church seems to be on a different lectionary cycle so he may not have sung it today.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison, born today in 1672, was better known as a playwright, journalist, and politician, but he also wrote some religious poetry that was later sung as hymns, a few lasting until the present day.

His father, Lancelot, a member of the clergy, became Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, and Joseph grew up there. Apparently with no intention of following his father into the clergy, he became a classics scholar at Oxford, studying and translating Latin poets, and writing about earlier English poets. His own poetic efforts also began in college.

In 1704 he was commissioned to write a poem about the Battle of Blenheim; the resulting poem was sufficiently well-regarded as to lead to his appointment to a government post. He continued to advance in government, and was a member of the Irish House of Commons from 1708 until his death in 1719.

During his time in government he continued to write poetry and contribute to journals of the day. He was interested in the theatre, first writing the libretto to Rosamund, an opera which was not produced in his lifetime, and then other more successful plays. His play Cato, a Tragedy (1712) is interesting in that it was also popular in the American colonies for many years, and appears to have been known to several important figures in the American Revolution.

Addison and his friend Richard Steele founded a newspaper called The Spectator in 1711. Amid his various articles for this paper, much of his religious poetry also appeared, including the verses we now know as hymns. One of my own Top Ten hymns is by Addison; The spacious firmament on high was first published in The Spectator on August 23, 1712. We were just talking about the many paraphrases of Psalm 23; Addison's Spectator version appeared a month earlier on July 26: The Lord my pasture shall prepare. In between these two we find today's hymn, from The Spectator of August 9, 1712, the one by Addison that has probably appeared in the most hymnals, even up to the present.

When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported by the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love and praise.

Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those comforts flowed.

When worn with sickness, oft hast thou
With health renewed my face;
And, when in sins and sorrows sunk,
Revived my soul with grace.

Thy bounteous hand with worldly bliss
Hath made my cup run o’er;
And, in a kind and faithful Friend,
Hath doubled all my store.

O how shall words with equal warmth
The gratitude declare,
That glows within my ravished heart?
But thou canst read it there.

When nature fails, and day and night
Divide thy works no more,
My ever grateful heart, O God,
Thy mercy shall adore.

Through all eternity to thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
For, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter all thy praise!

Joseph Addison, 1712; alt.
Alexander Reinagle, 1836

Addison wrote thirteen stanzas in all, though most modern hymnals only print four or so, so many would consider even these seven here to be excessive. I'd guess that the first and last stanzas are the most familiar, and different editors choose different ones in between from the eleven remaining. Several different tunes have also been used, including TALLIS' ORDINAL, CONTEMPLATION, and BANGOR (which I also like).

Addison's first stanza concludes with “lost, in wonder, love and praise.” I think it's no accident that Charles Wesley's great hymn Love divine, all loves excelling (also one of my Top Ten), written in 1747, concludes its final stanza with that exact phrase. Wesley was assuming his audience was familiar with John Dryden's ode to England Fairest isle, all isles excelling, and probably with Addison's poem as well.

P.S. The portrait of Addison is by Sir Godfrey Kneller, a German artist (originally Gottfried Kniller) who moved to England in 1674 and eventually became Principal Painter to the Crown, preserving the likenesses of many notable Britons of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.