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Hymns of the Faith: All Creatures of Our God and King


Hymns of the Faith

“All
Creatures of Our God and King”

Psalm 148

A Presentation of
First Presbyterian Church

Jackson,
Mississippi

With

Dr. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Derek Thomas, and Dr. Bill
Wymond

Dr. Wymond: Good morning! This is “Hymns of the
Faith” brought to you by Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church; and the minister
of the First Presbyterian Church is Dr. Ligon Duncan. Stay tuned for “Hymns of
the Faith.” And now, with “Hymns of the Faith” is Dr. Ligon Duncan.

Dr. Duncan: Thank you, Bill Wymond. This is Ligon
Duncan, and I’m delighted to be with you and with Derek Thomas this morning,
talking about hymns of the faith, the great songs of the Christian tradition
we’ve grown to know and love, and some that perhaps will be new to you today.

We’re going to be looking at one of the favorite
hymns of our congregation today, All Creatures of Our God and King. It’s
a big hymn; it has a wonderful German tune that we sing it to. We sing a couple
of different songs to this tune, but the text is a text that is based upon a
poem, loosely, that was written by Francis of Assisi.

Dr. Duncan: It’s good to be with you today, and good
to be with Bill, talking about hymns of the faith. Let’s talk a little bit about
All Creatures of Our God and King. Derek, it might be helpful to just
introduce the listening audience to Francis of Assisi — this interesting,
interesting character from the high Middle Ages.

Dr. Thomas: Yes, that’s one word for him! [Laughter]
Thirteenth century, of course, so we’re going back eight hundred years. I just
think Francis of Assisi brings out the good and the worst in religion. He brings
out all the crazies; one thinks of Francis and his love for animals, so you
think of all those crazy animal services…and I love animals, now, so
don’t misunderstand me! But you have these cats and dogs that come to services,
and they always have something to do with Francis of Assisi. And the writing of
this hymn, written in a sort of dialect, I think — something between Italian and
Latin… that’s early Renaissance, if that’s accurate

Dr. Duncan: Right, it’s even called it “transitional
language.”

Dr. Thomas: …At the high point, I suppose, of the
period of literary work in Italy with Dante. And Francis, the monkish monastic
figure that he was, given to a kind of mysticism, I suppose, even though the
writing of this hymn…one of his biographers speaks of his mystical…Oh, what did
I read about him?…and Clara, Sister Clara, in the nunnery, who had taken vows
of poverty, and that there was between Sister Clara and St. Francis “a deep
mystic love,” whatever that means. And he’s having lunch. He’s on his way back.
He’s about to die, apparently, and he’s on his way back, having lunch at this
nunnery and then goes into this trance-like state, and then announces that he
had composed this hymn which speaks of all of the elements — fire, water, earth,
sun. (And in the original giving each one a gender, as I understand.) And then
in verse 4 (at least in the original) to “Mother, dear Mother earth.”

Dr. Duncan: Yeah…let me just share the text. Matthew
Arnold gives a literal translation, the introduction of which starts:

“O most high, Almighty, good Lord
God,

To thee belong praise, glory,
honor, and all blessings.”

So far, so good! Orthodox Christian theology. Then,

“Praised be my Lord God, with all
His creatures,

And specially our brother the
Sun,

Who brings us the day and who
brings us the light;

Fair is he and shines with a very
great splendor;

O Lord, he signifies to us Thee.”

“Praised be my Lord for our
sister, the moon,

And for the stars, the which He
has set

Clear and lovely in heaven.

“Praised be my Lord for our
brother, the wind,

And for air and cloud, calms and
all weather

By which Thou holdest life in all
creatures.

“Praised be my Lord for our
sister, water,

Who is very serviceable unto us,

And humble and precious and
clean.

“Praised be my Lord for our
brother, fire,

Through whom thou givest us light
in the darkness;

And he is bright and pleasant,

And very mighty and strong.

“Praised be my Lord for our
mother, the earth,

The which doth sustain us and
keep us,

And bringeth forth diverse fruit

And flowers of many colors, and
grass.

“Praised be my Lord for all those
who pardon one another

For His love’s sake,

And who endure weakness and
tribulation.

Blessed are they who peaceably
shall endure,

For Thou, O Most Highest, shalt
give them a crown.

“Praise ye and bless the Lord!
And give thanks unto Him

And serve Him with great
humility.”

Now, all of that can be taken in a totally orthodox
way, and the language of it is simply the language of a mystic speaking in very,
very, effusive, flowery, evocative, suggestive language. But put that in the
hands of some sort of a modern sort of earth worshiper, and you can get all
sorts of goofy stuff out of it. So I would like to think that St. Francis is not
giving his blessing and imprimatur on some of the goofy things that are
done with him today by people! You can see the kind of language that’s being
used there; when you start pressing the brother and mother and father and sister
stuff, you get crazy stuff. But by and large, it’s a relatively tame poem.

Dr. Thomas: And Psalm 148, I think, lies
somewhere in the background
. But praise God for William Henry Draper who
translated this into a more orthodox expression, perhaps!

Dr. Duncan: Give them some of the lines from the
Draper translation. That is the most commonly used translation, I would think (I
think I’m right about that) of this particular poem, at least in the
English-speaking world.

Dr. Thomas: Oh, they are so familiar!

“All creatures of our God and
King,

Lift up your voice and with us
sing

Alleluia, alleluia!

Thou burning sun with golden
beam,

Thou silver moon with softer
gleam,

O praise Him, O praise Him,

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

Dr. Duncan: Now, Draper does this poem at the
beginning of the twentieth century, so it’s published by 1925, 1926, somewhere
in there. And almost immediately it’s a popular song in lots of different
hymnals.

Dr. Thomas: Interestingly…I mean, Draper was a vicar
in Leeds in the north of England, but he translated this for a children’s
Whitsuntide service. Interesting that this would be regarded originally as a
children’s hymn, although I don’t think we think of it that way now
. Perhaps
the associations with Francis and animals may be, but the text itself has
nothing to do with animals. We would see it as a hymn-like expression of some of
those closing Psalms in the Psalter.

Dr. Duncan: The text continues to speak of the wind
and the water, just as you had heard in Francis’ original poetry, and then you
also hear the echo of his comment about forgiving one another:

“And all ye men of tender heart,

Forgiving others, take your
part,

O sing ye, alleluia!”

This is probably my favorite line of the whole song:

“Ye who long pain and sorrow
bear,

Praise God and on Him cast your
care…”

That’s a very effective line for those who are bearing up
under trouble and sorrow, and calling on them to trust in God even in the midst
of those troubles and sorrows.

Dr. Thomas: Verging a little on the highly poetic…I
mean there’s a fine line between a hymn and poetry. I remember — oh, 25 years
ago — going through a copy of a friend of mine’s hymnbook. He was a
minister….was actually the Baptist hymnbook. But I remember going through it,
and he had crossed several of them out (you know, big red cross over it), saying
“too poetic.” Namely that the metaphors were so poetic that, in singing them,
most people didn’t understand what they were singing. And some of these lines
need a tad of an explanation because they’re verging on poetry. But once you’ve
got it, that phrase, “Ye who long pain and sorrow bear…” — and it’s not the way
we speak, for sure, but when you think about it — and all these hymns that we’re
talking about should be thought about and not just sung by rote.

Dr. Duncan: Sure. But you can see why, and Bill’s
going to tell us why. It’s a majestic tune that this is set to. You can see why
with this tune and the more vague text that folks who are even non-religious end
up liking this hymn when it’s sung in public services and things of that nature.
And it does remind us, doesn’t it, about our responsibility to know what it
is that we’re singing to God as we sing along, and to prepare ourselves for that
.

Which is one reason, by the way, that we spend time
writing descriptions of the hymns in our worship guide and trying to give people
some guidance as to what to look for, what the biblical themes are that we’re
going to be singing back to God, so that we’re singing knowledgeably.

The hymn tune, Bill, is a beautiful, big, majestic
tune. It bears up well with brass and timpani and other kinds of accompaniment.
It gets used in sort of festive services here and there by folks. Tell us a
little bit about LASST UNS ERFREUEN.

Dr. Wymond: Well, this tune dates to 1623,
and it comes from one of the German hymnals in Cologne
. And that’s sort of
an interesting phenomenon in itself to me, that most of the larger cities in
Germany had their own hymnals. There wasn’t a Baptist or Presbyterian,
Methodist, publishing house. Each church in the larger cities (like in this
instance this is from Cologne…Leipzig and Lohmar and various other cities)
published their own hymnals for use in the churches in those cities, and I think
that’s a good practice. So you got a lot of variation between them in original
tunes in each one of the hymnals. And this is a hymn that dates about a hundred
years after the Reformation, and that is when this publishing phenomenon was the
strongest — about a hundred years after the Reformation.

And I think that it’s interesting that this
hymn
was done for a children’s service in the 1920’s in England.
There
was a similar effort done in the United States to publish children’s hymnals. In
our own Presbyterian background there were children’s hymnals that were
published, but these hymnals were more like adult hymnals now. The hymns were
far more sophisticated, and what was given and expected of children was on a
higher level musically than we would do today. They weren’t just little simple
children’s hymns. They span a pretty large range.

On this particular tune, you have a refrain at the
end of each verse, and that was something that came out of the earlier liturgy
of the church where you would sing a stanza, and then you would have a refrain
at the end of each stanza.
And it would be oftentimes “Alleluia.” “Praise to
the Lord” was the commonest, I think. But anyway, you have this common refrain
that comes at the end of each one of these stanzas.

And by the way — I just have to say it! When we’re
talking about the various stanzas of a hymn, a lot of people will say “sing
verse so-and-so” but actually, a verse is a refrain
stanza
. So when we’re talking about the various “verses” of hymns, we really
ought to be talking about the stanzas of the hymns. And this one has five.

The tune itself is a really strong tune. It seems to
me there are a couple of classes of tunes that come out of this period of
time.
One of them is the very direct and straight-forward kind of
tune, such as A Mighty Fortress that is a didactic kind of hymn, and so
there is not much flowery-ness about the tune.

Then you have these tunes, which are in a
different classification in my mind. They are more flowery, more elaborate,
more artistic in a sense;
and oftentimes they will come in ѕ time,
which I think reflects a folk dance background to them
. So you get a lot of
joy in a tune like this one, and I’m going to play this tune for us now and just
see if we can pick that up. [Plays tune on piano.]

That is a great tune, and it is strong. I imagine
that it’s not easy for a congregation the first few times around to sing the
tune, but it’s one of those that is well worth teaching to the congregation
because it has such strength and beauty, creativity, to it. And it certainly
matches the text well. It’s a sweeping kind of tune that reflects both the
majesty and the splendor of the text, and the joy that I think is there, too.

Dr. Duncan: I think that’s a great description of
it — sweeping. I was thinking you’re just sort of flinging your arms and hands
wide open in terms of the praise direction of it. As you said, whereas A
Mighty Fortress
is more of a teaching kind of declaration, this is more
doxology. It’s much more exuberant, celebration and praise, and the music does
reflect that. I think that’s one reason I like to use this as an opening hymn
when we use it, because of the exuberance of it.

Dr. Wymond: And I think this is one of those tunes
that is timeless; that you don’t have a feeling that you’re singing something
very old. You do have a feeling that you’re doing a church kind of tune, you
know; it has that kind of feel to it, but it doesn’t come off “strange” to
people in this time. And so it transcends the age.

Dr. Thomas: I like the way it ascends. In a
simplistic sort of way, it’s sort of worshipful. When it’s an opening hymn,
people are standing up, they’re ascending in their praise to God. And the tune
is going up.

Dr. Wymond: Umhmm, and it just builds. It keeps
going on up the scale, and so you have this sense of increasing intensity,
devotion. And when you get to the chorus itself, you’ve reached a climax, I
think, of the tune in terms of some of the highest notes, and also the
accumulation of fervor.

Dr. Thomas: And there’s something about the English
word Alleluia or Hallelujah that musically must be wonderful to
try and put music to, because the way the notes go from

“allelu-ia” I just think that’s a beautiful word to try and
put music to.

Dr. Wymond: All the way through. Of course, isn’t it
a translation of a Hebrew word into Latin? So everybody knows what Alleluia
means, so they don’t have to put it into English — “Praise the Lord” — and so
they can actually sing it. And a lot of times when you hear some of our more
outspoken congregations, when the minister is speaking, they’ll say
“Hallelujah,” or the minister himself will say “Hallelujah,” interjected
in between phrases of whatever he’s teaching, and so on like that.

Dr. Duncan: Derek, I grew up singing this hymn in
the old Southern Presbyterian hymnal, and it’s been a part of every hymnal, I
think, that I’ve used in a church in the United States. I don’t remember
necessarily singing this while I was in Church of Scotland congregations in
Scotland, and I don’t know….I could check very quickly and see whether it’s in
The Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary. I suspect it is. But I wonder —
is this a song that was sung in Ireland amongst Presbyterians and other
evangelicals?

Dr. Thomas: Well….some Presbyterians….

Dr. Duncan: With the monastic connections of…?

Dr. Thomas: ….Francis of Assisi, you know, is on the
borderline for some, but Draper has marvelously rescued the piece.

Dr. Duncan: Yes, I was looking at Moffat and
Patrick, who of course are writing out of the Scottish tradition, and here’s
what they say:

“It’s a thrilling improvisation upon the theme of Psalm 145…and Draper’s rhymed
version or free paraphrase of the famous “sun song” or “song of the creatures”
of Assisi was written in Italian during the fierce heat of the summer of 1225.
He lay prostrate and depressed by blindness, unable to endure any light on his
weak eyes. And, incidentally…” [I thought this was interesting] “..plagued by a
swarm of field mice who probably had their home in the straw walls of his hut,
and who even probably eventually ran over his face so that he had no peace by
day or night. And yet it was precisely in this wretched sickness that he
composed this wonderful masterpiece.”

So that’s the description of Draper borrowing from Assisi’s
meditation on Psalm 145.

Dr. Wymond: OK, Derek, just a very naпve, basic
question: Today everybody talks about “Mother Earth.” Why do we get nervous when
people are addressing “Mother Earth”?

Dr. Thomas: Well, because it’s borderline…you know,
when one thinks in our own time of some current beliefs…

Dr. Duncan: You’re trying to figure out how to say
pantheism in a way everybody in the audience will understand what you’re
talking about!

Dr. Thomas: Yes! And recent worship services,
so-called worship services, where worship has been offered to Mother Earth. And
I think in the sort of Buddhist/semi-Buddhist culture that we live in these
days, that has some connotations that I would prefer to avoid.

Dr. Wymond: And what are those connotations? What
are your concerns?

Dr. Thomas: Well, of maintaining the
Creator-creature distinction.

Dr. Wymond: What do you mean by that?

Dr. Thomas: That God is God, and that we are
creatures. We are made by God. And that there is an absolute distinction between
God and the creature, and not a line of continuity.

Dr. Duncan: And let’s say forcefully, Francis of
Assisi believed that whole-heartedly.
There is no evidence whatsoever that
he is encouraging some kind of a pantheism or a penentheism in his kind of
language, whereas in Native American religion you sort of have God in the
streams and God in the trees, and God in the stars. That is not what
Francis is talking about. He clearly views these as creatures of his God, and as
an opportunity to praise his God.

But it is true, by the same token, that
because of the same poetic nature of his language, and this goes back to the
very concern that you were speaking about earlier that your friend had, that
people have been able to read sort of this kind of earth-worshiping theology
into the words of Francis, whereas that’s not a fair deduction.

Dr. Thomas: Right! And I think when Star Wars was at
vogue in the ‘70’s and ’80’s — you know, “May the force be with you” — I mean,
that’s part of the sub-culture for which this kind of hymn, at least in its
original would be popular. You know (bless his cotton socks!), Draper has a
strong Trinitarian statement to close it:

“Praise, praise the Father,
praise the Son,

And praise the Spirit, Three in
One.”

And one imagines, given what was going on in
Anglicanism in the late nineteenth century, the Arianism and the Oxford
movement, and so on, it is more than likely that that is a firm statement of
Trinitarianism.

Dr. Wymond: And in a word — “Arianism”…”Oxfordism”???
[Laughter]

Dr. Thomas: A denial that Jesus is God; that He’s
maybe semi-God, but not true God.

Dr. Duncan: There’s no better quick way to affirm
that you are talking about the God of the Bible than to affirm the praising of
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one eternal God in the course of the hymn,
as opposed to making some sort of vague God-in-nature kind of thing.

I do think that the question that you press on, Bill,
does bring us back to the fact that so often in the kind of earth-language in
spirituality we have people wanting to affirm that the world was somehow
“birthed” into being, as opposed to spoken into being by the one true God. It’s
interesting that even in the Old Testament that the religions around Israel had
creation stories where the world was sort of birthed into being, whereas Moses
makes it very clear that God speaks the world into being, and so the world is
distinct from them. This song actually affirms that great truth, so let’s listen
to this hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King.

Dr. Wymond: Singing All Creatures of Our God and
King
this morning is Victor Smith.

“All creatures of our God and
King,

Lift up your voice and with us
sing

Alleluia, alleluia!

Thou burning sun with golden
beam,

Thou silver moon with softer
gleam,

O praise Him, O praise Him,

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

“Thou rushing wind that art so
strong,

Ye clouds that sail in heav’n
along,

O praise him, alleluia!

Thou rising morn in praise
rejoice,

Ye lights of evening, find a
voice,

O praise Him, O praise Him,

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

“Thou flowing water, pure and
clear,

Make music for thy Lord to hear,

Alleluia, alleluia!

Thou fire so masterful and
bright,

That givest man both warmth and
light,

O praise Him, O praise Him,

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

“And all ye men of tender heart,

Forgiving others, take you part,

O sing ye, alleluia!

Ye who long pain and sorrow
bear,

Praise God and on Him cast your
care.

O praise Him, O praise Him,

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

“Let all things their Creator
bless,

And worship Him in humbleness,

O praise Him, alleluia!

Praise, praise the Father,
praise the Son,

And praise the Spirit, three in
one.

O praise Him, O praise Him,

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”