Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Tacky Hymns 84

We continue with the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy, 1996). I repeat:
I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.
(229) By faith we are divinely sure (Type 3) is another product of Danish bard Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764), set to one of two tunes I know of titled RUNG, both of which are by Henrik Rung (1807-71) and the other of which I've used with one of my original hymns. This RUNG is all right, though I think the ending is a little weak. In contrast, Brorson's hymn is better than OK and improves as it goes along. Stanza 1 recognizes that God creates faith in us; stanza 2 runs through the positive effects of faith, point by point; stanza 3 dwells on the forgiveness of sins that faith apprehends ("More than my sins His grace abounds"); stanza 4 founds faith on the Word of God; and stanza 5 does that which few Scandinavian hymns fail to do when it sings you into heaven.

(231) When Israel through the desert passed (Type 3) is a nice, economical little hymn (by a Baptist minister named Benjamin Beddome, misspelled as Beddone in ELHy) praising the word of God for its guidance, comfort, instruction and (at last) saving power. Maybe not a spectacular artifact, it's at least up to the caliber of stuff I try to write these days, and I think it deserves to be a little more utilized than it looks like, buried in a "bottom of the page text block" (BOTPTB) with only the suggestion of a tune (WINCHESTER NEW) pinned to it.

(232) How precious is the Book Divine (All three types) is an OK little hymn in praise of the Bible which I suppose some people might promote to "better than OK" because it's an old familiar chestnut. Less familiar, to me, is its pairing here with Georg F. Handel's tune SIROE, which besides reminding me of a tune from H.M.S. Pinafore is just another example of the sort of thing I've been lobbying against all throughout this long thread: bastardizing classical melodies into hymn tunes and yoking sacred poems to music that, to anyone who knows the literature, carries secular associations.

(238) Lord Jesus Christ, true Man and God (Types 2-3) is Paul Eber's hymn set, for once, to the tune named after it, HERR JESU CHRIST, WAHR MENSCH UND GOTT. (ELHy truncates the tune's title; LW preserves it when it sets the same tune to "The royal banners forward go.") My goodness, what a beautiful tune. And it really suits this emotionally stirring, Pre-Lenten hymn (earmarked for Quinquagesima Sunday, don'tcha know) that draws vast comfort for Christians out of Jesus' passion. The only potentially awkward thing about it is the fact that several of Eber's sentences run across the breaks between stanzas; but there's a certain quirky charm to that, if you're open to it. However, ministers who are in the habit of dividing up long hymns or omitting stanzas had better choose carefully when they come to this hymn.

(243) The power of sin no longer (Type 3) is a Thomas Kingo hymn, also relegated to a BOTPTB, that undoes the chilling effects of what Brorson wrote in Hymn 215 (shudder). For here Kingo confesses that baptism severed the bonds of sin and delivered me to live by grace for Jesus (stanza 1) and gives me the power to renounce the devil and embrace the cross (stanza 2). To be sure, it stresses the subjective aspect of justification pretty strongly ("It would bestow no treasure On me that Christ arose If I will not with pleasure The pow'r of death oppose," stanza 3). But it doesn't fail to mention that the Savior I embrace daily is the one who has redeemed me; otherwise I could do nothing. And in stanza 4 it returns to baptism, seeking Jesus' help "to drown my nature" and "daily die To sin and all offenses," through His cleansing blood. In my opinion, this hymn could give "God's own child, I gladly say it" a run for its money.

(245) At Jesus' feet our infant sweet (Type 3) is another BOTPTB, this time by Matthias Loy – and probably a fresh discovery for Lutherans just now turning the leaves of this book. Funny how so many of these serendipities are clothed in BOTPTBs! Loy, that American minister of whom I've previously mentioned a respected colleague's opinion that he's the greatest Lutheran hymn-writer in the English language, here gives us a two-stanza confession of the usefulness of infant baptism, complete with interchangeable pronouns to accommodate either boys or girls. Babies are sinners, too, needing forgiveness, it says. In Baptism, we are born again, it says. "Baptism doth now save," it says, in quotes, to make sure people who think the Bible doesn't say baptism saves get the point. And that's just stanza 1; stanza 2 locates the power of baptism not in the water but in God's Word, through which "Faith speaks, though reason may rebel: 'This flood is Jesus' blood!'"

(246) God's own child, I gladly say it (Types 2-3) is that hymn by Erdmann Neumeister that I was just talking about two paragraphs back. Despite Rev. Dr. David Scaer's criticism that this hymn is very "me-centered" (it is, admittedly, solidly in the first person), I'm with the many, many Lutherans who joyfully sing this hymn at any occasion connected with baptism because it so strongly confesses all the blessings and promises that come with baptism. However, participants in the LSB culture may consider this hymn inseparable from the tune BACHOFEN, while ELHy sets it to a tune by W. Weissnitzer called JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN – not to be confused with the more well-known Darmstadt tune by the same name, to which the TLH-LW-LSB hymnal culture knows the hymn "Christ, the Life of all the living." Weissnitzer's alternate tune to that hymn (used twice in a 1970s Australian Lutheran hymnal, including with that hymn) is a very fine melody and I fully understand why people of my acquaintance, who use ELHy rather than LSB, prefer this tune for "God's own child" – even if I'll never hear it in my mind's ear without BACHOFEN.

(247) To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ (Types 2-3) is ELHy's translation of Martin Luther's baptism hymn, given in LW and LSB as "To Jordan came the Christ, our Lord." I've probably already said all this before, but I think this is such an essential hymn that its omission from TLH is black mark against that book, in spite of all its other beauties. And in my opinion, learning the 1524 Wittenberg tune CHRIST UNSER HERR ZUM JORDAN KAM (sometimes attributed to Luther himself) is another essential building block for Lutheran identity in America. Not to mention the fact that its presentation of baptism is magnificent.

(248) Now Christ, the sinless Son of God (Type 2) is a baptism hymn by no less a Lutheran light than Nikolaus Selnecker, one of the authors of the Formula of Concord. Set to the attractive tune DEUS TUORUM MILITUM, it also confesses such articles of the doctrine of baptism as the saving power of water joined with God's Word (stanzas 1-2), Christ's institution (st. 3), the presence of the Triune God and cleansing from sin (st. 4), its connection with daily repentance (st. 5) and being born again as God's children (st. 6).

The "Baptism of Jesus" section, appended after the Gesima Sundays in this book's large collection of hymns for all times of the church year, gives way next to the season of Lent, among which you may be surprised (unless you've poured over lists of "hymns of the day" as I have) to find "A mighty Fortress is our God" pigeonholed with Lent 1. (Hymn 250 is the rhythmic version, 251 the isometric.)

(254) In vain would boasting reason find is a nice little BOTPTB by Anne Steele, comparing human reason to the word of Christ. It could be useful at least as a comforting bit of devotional reading for someone who has been discomfited by anti-Christian propaganda or the arguments of liberal theologians and Bible critics.

(255) Lord, hear the voice of my complaint (Types 2-3) is an important Reformation-era chorale (words by Johannes Agricola, tune from Klug's 1535 Wittenberg songbook) whose tune figures in the organ works of many great church music composers, such as Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Sweelinck and Walcha. Unfortunately, to my extensive but incomplete knowledge, ELHy is one of only three English-language hymnals that has it; the others are the old Ev. Luth. Hymn-Book (the predecessor to TLH) and LHy, the predecessor to ELHy. It's a good hymn for folks who are struggling in their faith.

(256) When afflictions sore oppress you (Type 3) is another fine hymn of comfort and encouragement that I think deserves to be more widely known. The words are by the same Johann Gottfried Olearius who wrote "Come, Thou precious Ransom, come" and "When all the world was cursed," both in TLH; not, however, the Johannes Olearius of whom TLH has five equally fine hymns.

(259) The kingdom Satan founded (Type 3), second line "Shall now be overthrown," is a terrific Kingo hymn about "triumph over Satan" (as the topic blurb at the bottom of the page puts it). It represents the different ways the evil foe tries to blind us, deafen us, silence us and cripple us with regard to the things of Christ, but unambiguously portrays Jesus as the victor.

(260) Now let triumphant faith dispel (Type 3) is a BOTPTB ascribed to "Scottish Translations and Paraphrases, 1745, alt." But basically, it's a nice paraphrase of Paul's encouraging words in Romans 8:31-34.

(263-264) Jesus, priceless Treasure (Type 2) is set, in 263, to the same tune JESU, MEINE FREUDE that J.S. Bach used in his great choral motet on this hymn, and to which TLH-LW-LSB Lutherans know it well. Or should. LHy, however, had a lovely alternate tune for it by Ludvig M. Lindeman, GUD SKAL ALTING MAGE, which ELHy retains as Hymn 264. I may have said this before, but Lindeman's tune is so tender and beautiful that I've loved it since the moment I met it, and despite the fact that I would never dream of singing this hymn without JESU, MEINE FREUDE, I am all for having the other option available.

(265) Wide open are Thy hands (Type 3) is a beautiful little BOTPTB by Bernard of Clairvaux, translated by Charles Porterfield Krauth, regarding Jesus' suffering to pay for our sins and the believer's response of hope and devotion.

(268) On Mary, Virgin undefiled (Types 2-3) is a hymn for the Annunciation (the angel announcing to Mary that she was going go give birth to Jesus) and even though it comes from such an exotic language as Danish, I can't understand why it hasn't penetrated the Scandinavian-German blood barrier within American Lutheranism. The tune MARIA HUN ER EN JOMFRU REN (or REEN?), written for it by a certain J.C. Gebauer, is so nice that I stole it for one of my original hymns.

(269) True God and yet a man (Type 3) is a 15th-century English ditty that muses on the "divine paradox" of Jesus' divine and human natures in one undivided Person. "What can thought well reply? What reason reason give?" It concludes, "Believe and leave to wonder!" The tune is adapted, I think, from a lute song by John Dowland, funnily enough titled DIVINE PARADOX. Again, not bad for Annunciation but perhaps even better as an encouraging devotion for folks struggling against rationalistic balderdash.

(272) O sinner, come thy sin to mourn (Types 2-3) is a great Lenten chorale, but I'm conflicted about the way it's presented here. ELHy sets it to a gorgeous, ornate harmonization by J.S. Bach which I would love to play on the organ or teach a choir to sing, but which I think will get in the way of the congregation learning this important but (in American hymnals) rare Lutheran hymn. I'm for teaching it with a very plain, straightforward, hymnal-style setting of the tune and letting the decorative version, like, decorate it once in a while.

(274) When our heads are bowed with woe (Type 3) is a kind of litany for the sympathetic presence of Jesus in our sorrows, at the time of our death, etc., based on His passion and redeeming work. The author, H.H. Milman, is also known for writing the passion hymn "Ride on, ride on in majesty." Alternating quatrains state the occasion on which we call on Jesus to hear us, then the aspects of His work that gives us reason to believe He will.

(286) Rock of Ages, cleft for me (Type 1) is sectioned under Passion week. I don't know about this, and there's more on why I don't here.

(288) Beneath the cross of Jesus kneeling (Type 3) is from a magnificent cycle of passion hymns by Icelandic poet Hallgrimur Petursson (1614-74), for two of which I wrote an original tune that (God willing) will be in Edifying Hymns. Not this particular hymn, though. "God wrought for man," Petursson says, first in the Old Testament exodus and more fully in the New Testament, "When Christ was pierced by Roman spear, And o'er the thirsty world down-streaming, Forth gushed a fountain ..." Am I allowing pious imagination to play the same trick on me that, in my opinion, a Lutheran hymnal's use of "There is a fountain filled with blood" (cf. ELHy 301) asks us to play on ourselves in order to believe that Cowper was thinking baptismally? Possibly, but I think it's less likely considering that Petursson was Lutheran. I urge anyone who has the means to get hold of a copy of Charles Venn Pilcher's translation of part of this cycle. I understand some Anglicans did a complete translation of it, but that it doesn't reflect Petursson's solid Lutheran theology quite as well as Pilcher's rendition. The Lutheran who completes what Pilcher left unfinished will do anglophone Lutheranism a great service.

(289) Join all the glorious names (Type 3) restores the original first stanza to Isaac Watts' hymn which, in such hymnals as TLH, is often trimmed down to a cento beginning with stanza 5, "Jesus, my great High Priest." The longer version touches on other names and titles for Jesus, such as Prophet, Counselor, Shepherd, etc.

(290) Thy soul, O Jesus, hallow me (Type 3) is another Matthias Loy translation of a Johann Scheffler/Angelus Silesius hymn, plumbing the depths of how Jesus' suffering on the cross can bring comfort to the believer. This time it would be very difficult to maintain that his line about the water from Jesus' side becoming a cleansing bath is about anything but baptism. A proud Christian must become more humble while reading this hymn with any sort of attention. An afflicted Christian, even at the extremity of despair, must take comfort from it.

(294) Near the cross was Mary weeping (Type 3), besides being a BOTPTB, is a remarkable thing to find in a Lutheran hymnal, even though it was also in this book's forerunner, LHy: a verse paraphrase of part of the Latin Stabat mater, a Roman Catholic sequence hymn that interprets the passion of Jesus through the sympathetic suffering of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross. I got to sing in the chorus of Rossini's Stabat during a St. Louis Symphony performance weekend in which the conductor mused, during a rehearsal, that this song is probably partly responsible for the Catholic Church taking emphasis off of blood atonement and leaning more into Marian virtues like empathy and compassion. Giving this adaptation credit where it's due, it takes its eyes off Mary fairly early and stresses what Jesus, on the cross, was doing for us.

(295) Over Kedron Jesus treadeth (Types 2-3) is a passion hymn by Kingo, set to a richly harmonized, pathos-filled melody by Lindeman. It brings in David as a type of Christ (stanza 2), calls Adam to witness Jesus' agony in the garden (stanza 3), and goes on to dramatize the scene very vividly for several more stanzas – but not without application: "World's redemption thus fulfilling" (stanza 5), Jesus' "blood, thus freely given, Makes my soul the heir of heaven" (stanza 6). If I'm a little dissatisfied with the way Kingo finally depicts the life of daily repentance as a mental trip to Gethsemane, it's only because I've never really liked the "pious flight of imagination" as a substitute for the means of grace.

(299) Nature with open volume stands (Type 3) is a little BOTPTB by Isaac Watts that I only mention because it may be new to folks of the TLH-etc. tradition. Watts, whatever his faults may be, at least has the nous to ascribe the "brightest form of glory" to Jesus' cross, on which His blood spells out "His whole name," where God's "grace and vengeance strangely join," and "where God the Savior loved and died."

(302) The tree of life with every good (Types 1-3) is Stephen Starke's hymn, of which I didn't become aware until the run-up to LSB in the Missouri Synod, so I had always thought it was written for that book. And here it is, in another hymnal published a decade earlier! I'm on board with Starke's wordplay on "tree" to connect the fall of Adam and Eve with the cross of Jesus. I've just never been a huge fan of Bruce Backer's tune written for it, which has always triggered associations with Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" in my mind. Also, I think its balladlike rhythm, with long notes in the middle as well as the end of each phrase, makes it a little awkward for congregational singing and maybe just an eensy bit wearing on the patience, during the course of four long stanzas.

(303) My song is love unknown (Type 3) is worthy of mention for two slight reasons: first, because people who are still using TLH are missing out on a really beautiful passion hymn by Samuel Crossman; and second, because by consigning it to a BOTPTB, this book denies the casual user the opportunity to directly experience John Ireland's beautiful tune LOVE UNKNOWN. Also, on a Type 2 note, the Ireland tune isn't the only one this hymn has had. SBH, for example, sets it to RHOSYMEDRE. How do you like them apples?

(306) What wondrous love is this (Type 1) is a topic I've covered before, so I won't belabor it again – other than to confess that, whenever one of my clergy/church musician friends "vaguebooks" complaining that not every hymn on the current hymnal's "hymn of the day" list is worthy of inclusion, this is the song my mind darts to.

(310) At the Lamb's high feast we sing (Type 3) is another red cape I'd like to wave in the snout of people still using TLH as if they're not missing anything in the world of hymnody. Since I got to know it, I've tended to think of this as an essential Easter hymn. Interestingly enough, ELHy casts it as a Maundy Thursday hymn. I guess I can see that, too – unless you're of the mindset that considers any date between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday closed to Alleluias.

(312) Bread of the world, in mercy broken (Types 2-3) is a three-stanza paraphrase from the third-century Didache translated piecemeal by Reginald Heber (st. 1) and F. Bland Tucker (sts. 2-3), set to the Strasbourg Psalter tune RENDEZ À DIEU, which I quite enjoy. Again, this is what you're missing, TLH-only folks! For what it's worth, LSB has Tucker's stanzas only ("Father, we thank Thee who hast planted"), and I think his lines are more faithful than Heber's to the teaching that we receive Christ to eat in the Sacrament.

(316-317) Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior (Types 2-3) joins LW in turning Jan Hus(s)'s communion hymn into a beautiful super-hymn that can be sung to its two 16th century chorale tunes, alternating stanza by stanza from one to the other. Sadly, for us Missouri sinners, LSB rolled back this option (which LW likes to call a "celebration") to just including the tune that's in TLH, i.e. ELHy 316. The footnote at the bottom of each hymn notes that if you prefer, you can sing all the stanzas to one tune or the other. I like having the choice – both "one or the other" and the celebration – because it really works, and both tunes are valuable pieces of Lutheran culture underscored by some great organ works.

(319) Just as I am (Type 1) – been there, done that. But really ... Maundy Thursday?

(321) Zion, to thy Savior singing (Types 2-3) is a BOTPTB translated from a hymn by Thomas Aquinas, which has a suggested tune (ALLES IST AN GOTTES SEGEN) that I like, in and of itself; but for some reason, my mind clings to the idea of this hymn being sung to PAA SIT KORS (cf. LHy 311). That must be where I first got to know it. Whatever faults you may find in the sententious Thomas (who gave his name to Thomist theology and is implicated in the medieval scholasticism that bore much criticism in the writings of Luther et al.), you've got to acknowledge that he had a high view of the Lord's Supper. Stanza 2: "What than this can greater be, That Himself to thee He giveth? He that eateth ever liveth, for the Bread of life is He." He goes on to state even more clearly that he's talking about the divine service when he mentions eating living bread. Then there's the "Christ our Passover" bit, stanza 4: "Shadows of the law are going, Light and life and truth inflowing." Stanza 5 equates Christ with the paschal lamb and manna from heaven, and even mentions Isaac as His type. This is a eucharistic hymn that bears deep meditation.

(323) My God, and is Thy table spread (Types 2-3) is a communion hymn by Philip Doddridge, who is represented by six hymns in TLH but not this one. Also not in TLH is the wonderful tune HERRNHUT by Bartholmäus Gesius. In three brief stanzas, Doddridge wastes hardly a moment getting to the point that this "sacred feast, which Jesus makes" is a "rich banquet of His flesh and blood" (stanza 2). Stanza 3 asks that we may be worthy partakers, to the salvation of "each soul ... that here its sacred pledges tastes." Not bad for an Anglican who went Methodist.

(324) O Jesus, at Your altar now is a Kingo hymn translated by the saintly Rev. Juul Madson, who was a professor at the ELS's Bethany Seminary when I attended the adjacent college. I actually remember when he rolled this translation out; I was so thrilled that I wrote an original tune for it (but HERRNHUT is much better, thank you ELHy). Here are some of his lines: "He bids you now to sit at meat With Him – and of Himself to eat" (st. 3). After stanza 4 describes it as eating and drinking Jesus' body and blood "in" the bread and wine, stanza 5 notes that the angels never had such food. Stanza 6 lays the ghost of the Loeschmann heresy with the lines "My Jesus here entire and whole Is food and drink for my poor soul." Succeeding stanzas explore the paradox of Jesus' presence in the elements of bread and wine even further, and admits that reason cannot grasp it. The seriousness of Christ's testament is put in stark terms in stanza 10: "God has cursed Himself for you." Stanza 13 has a punctuation mark that I don't like, in the line "Your body/blood once shed for me," which I think would be less ambiguous if the slash were a comma. (Jesus did not "shed" His body.) All in all, though, I'm proud to have known the man who made this translation.

I'm going to quit before Hymn 330, where the Good Friday section begins. Sorry, I was hoping to make it all the way to the Easter section, but I'm just pooped. Also (spoiler!) I'm discouraged at the sight of the next hymn in front of me. So, till next time, let the above prevalence of Type 3 over Type 1 serve as sufficient advertisement for you to call the Bethany College bookstore and order yourself a copy of this book. What, you expect me to make it easy for you? You're on the internet; look it up. Night-night!

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