Words: Theodulph of Orleans, c. 820; trans. John Mason Neale, 1851
Music: Melchior Teschner, 1615
Theodulph of Orleans (c.760-821) was a member of the court of Charlemagne, where he was second only to the famous Alcuin as a scholar. Charlemagne appointed him Bishop of Orleans, where he wrote a number of important treatises addressing doctrinal subjects that Charlemagne feared might disrupt the unity of the Western church, on which his empire so much depended. On Charlemagne's death, however, Theodulph's fortunes changed; he fell out of favor with the new authorities and was charged as an accessory to conspiracy. He died in prison in Angers, but his hymns (many, like this one, written in prison) lived on after him.(Catholic,"Theodulph")
This hymn was written for Palm Sunday, and was soon part of the Roman Mass for that day. In many places, the presiding priest came in a processional to the place of worship, then stopped outside as a boys' choir sang this hymn from within. At the conclusion, the priest led the procession inside, symbolizing the entry of Christ into Jerusalem.(Catholic,"Gloria")
The translator, clergyman John Mason Neale (1818-1866), was a significant figure in the Oxford Movement within the Church of England. The aim of this group (also called the Tractarians because of their series of publications Tracts for the Times) was to revitalize the Anglican church through a reconnection with pre-Reformation traditions. Reacting against what they saw as a dry formalism in worship, they sought to engage worshipers through the re-introduction of the mysticism and emotion of Medieval worship. Popular opinion considered these academics to be leading the Church of England back into Catholicism, which in fact many of them later embraced (most famously John Henry Newman, who became a Cardinal).
Neale's stance made him powerful enemies in the church hierarchy, and he had difficulty obtaining a position. He was given an appointment to oversee a poorhouse, in fact, which was probably intended to sidetrack his career. He took to the work well, however, and managed it admirably for a number years while continuing his theological writings and hymn translations.(Nelson)
Often his translations are rather loose, in keeping with the sensibilities of his era, but his own artistry and sensitivity to the cultures from which they came more than make up for that aspect. Neale provided our translations of "Art thou weary, art thou languid?"(PFTL#47), "Brief life is here our portion"(PFTL#81), "The day of resurrection"(PFTL#625), and "O come, O come, Emmanuel"(PFTL#489). All of these are from Medieval Greek and Latin sources.
The original arrangement of the text, followed in many hymnals, is in six stanzas, using the first (the first two lines in our arrangement) as a refrain. I am following the simpler three-stanza version used in Praise for the Lord.
All glory, laud and honor, to Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest, the King and Blessed One.
"Glory, laud and honor" is not as redundant as it might seem on the face of it. We give "glory" to that which is important; we give "laud" (or "praise") to that which is excellent; we give "honor" to that which deserves respect. In all of these things, of course, Christ is preeminent among all men who ever lived.
The gospel narratives of Christ's entry into Jerusalem were not given just to report facts; the event is rich with symbolism and thought-provoking irony. Here, at last, is the reception Christ deserved--the one we would like to think we would have given Him, had we been in that generation. Yet many in the same crowd, most likely, would clamor for His death just a few days later, because they--like we--were sinners.
The crowds of common people, whom the Pharisees dismissed as "knowing not the law" and "accursed",(John 7:49) showed at this time, though, a better understanding than their leaders: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"(Matthew 21:9) "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"(Mark 11:10) "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"(Luke 19:38) Many no doubt had misconceptions about the nature of that kingdom (as did the disciples themselves), but they knew from the "mighty works that they had seen"(Luke 19:37) that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the promised "Son of David". They also knew that His kingdom would bring a new era of peace and favor from heaven.
Psalm 147:1 says, "Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting." It is both pleasure and duty to give glory to God; worship is beneficial to us, but more than this, it is appropriate when we consider to Whom it is directed. In these outbursts of praise from the crowds, there is a touching honesty and genuineness that never characterized Jesus' interactions with the cagey religious leaders of His day. Here is honest, simple praise. Most memorable, of course, is the praise that the little children gave to Him:
But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, and they said to Him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise?'"(Matthew 21:15-16)
The children, whom He always loved, responded from genuine hearts to their true King; and if not for them, Jesus said, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."(Luke 19:40) It is impossible not to praise Him when we see Him as He is; it is when our eyes are blinded by ignorance, or selfishness, or sin, that we fail to do so. Someday, of course, the veil will be lifted--He will return in triumph when "every eye shall see Him"(Revelation 1:7), and "every knee shall bow, ... and every tongue shall confess."(Romans 14:11)
The company of angels are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things created make reply.
The people of the Hebrews with palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems before Thee we present.
It was not the most impressive procession the ancient world had seen. The "triumphs" given by the Romans to certain victorious leaders were day-long affairs that involved speeches, banquets, and a parade. The procession was arranged in a strict order, with the senators and magistrates in front, the honoree riding behind in a chariot, and the army following behind, interspersed with bands of musicians, animals being led to sacrifice, spoils of war displayed on carriages, and specimens of unusual animals from conquered lands (elephants being a favorite).(Ramsey)
By comparison, Jesus came riding on a donkey, and a borrowed one at that.(Matthew 21:2-3) This was appropriate, however, in a number of ways. Jesus came not as a conquering general, but as the rightful Prince of Peace; and God had forbidden the kings of Israel to indulge in the showboating that horses and chariots involve.(Deuteronomy 17:15-16) Christ was also fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, "Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey..." Above all, He was showing true humility. The Roman soldiers in Jerusalem no doubt laughed heartily at the sight of this donkey-riding King and His followers; but such abuse is the necessary price of humility. It is the praise of heaven we should seek, not the praise of men.
It is interesting to note, as well, that the people did what they could to honor Jesus. The disciples gave their cloaks to cover the donkey upon which Jesus sat.(Matthew 21:7) Some in the crowds threw their cloaks across the road, while others cut branches from nearby palm trees.(Matthew 21:8, John 12:13) They ran in front of Jesus and followed behind, from the Mount of Olives into the city.(Matthew 21:9) Again, it was not the glory Rome was used to giving its heroes; it was hastily cut palm branches instead of the banners of an army. But it followed the example of Jesus: the worship was not to glorify the worshipers, but the Worshiped.
To Thee, before Thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest, Thou good and gracious King.
The commoners of the region of Jerusalem had no idea that they would have such a privilege that day. Perhaps they might have dressed a little better, or prepared gifts. But every indication shows that Jesus was satisfied with their praises, because they were genuine. He had plenty to say about those who "do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues."(Matthew 23:5-6) Jesus was not impressed with their outward-only, self-glorifying worship; and as John Cotton said in the preface to the Bay Psalm Book, "God's altar needs not our polishing." This is never to say that the intent of the heart is all that matters, and that outward forms are optional. The simple forms of Christian worship delivered in the New Testament should be honored as God's will. Inward sincerity with outward disobedience (even from ignorance) can never be right; but outward worship, even if it is correct in form, must first proceed from a sincere and worshipful heart if it will ever be pleasing to God. May we always strive to bring God our best in worship--starting with an attitude of humility and gratitude, and a sincere desire to please Him.
About the music: Melchior Teschner (1584-1635) was a Lutheran cantor, a position then typically combining the roles of presiding singer for the solo portions of the service, choir director, composer and arranger of music for services, and often classroom responsibilities in the local church school. (Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, taught Latin as part of his duties at Leipzig.) Teschner composed this for "Valet will ich dir geben" ("Farewell I gladly bid you"), a funeral hymn written by one of his former pastors, Valerius Herberger, after an outbreak of plague.("Teschner") It is interesting that the music works well for such radically different topics!
Nelson, Dale J. "John Mason Neale and the Christian heritage." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/n/e/a/neale_jm.htm
"Theodulph of Orleans." Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14579b.htm
"Gloria, laus et honor." Catholic Encyclopedia.
"Melchior Teschner." Bach-Cantatas.com. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Teschner.htm
Ramsey, William. "Triumphus." A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, ed. William Smith. London: Murray, 1875, pp. 1163-1167. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Triumphus.html