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

1 comment:

AuntE said...

I do like this hymn! It is in our current Book of Praise (1997) and we may have been brave enough to try it once in my 12+ years at St. Andrew's. The different tune for that verse in the middle is a little off-putting (or just plain challenging/weird?) and is one reason I think the hymn is not well-suited to congregational singing.

I think one reason I like this hymn so much is the whole reinforcement of the Trinity which I find is somewhat lacking in the church in general today. We're quite happy praising God, and loving Jesus, but the Spirit is not included often enough, IMO. This leads to a lack of emphasis on the Trinity as a whole and holy entity.

We sang the more predictable "Holy, holy, holy" (NICEA) today. With a smaller congregation (due to lots of rain over the last 3 days - some people have had basement flooding) and no choir to lead (they're done for the season) I would not attempt such a challenging hymn as St. Patrick's Breastplate - much as I love it!