Friday, June 29, 2012

Consider the Lilies

Words: Matthew 6:28-29, arr. E. H. Packard, 1890
Music: E. H. Packard, 1890

N.B. There are two other better-known settings of this text with the same title: the southern gospel song written by Joel Hemphill, and the newer choral setting by Roger Hoffman (popularized by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). This is a choral/congregational anthem setting little known outside the Churches of Christ.

E. H. Packard was a composer of short choral anthems and gospel songs, whose works appeared chiefly during the 1890s in connection with the Chicago publishing house of Edwin O. Excell. Most of Packard's works that I have been able to discover are available through two online sources: Excell's Anthems (Chicago: Excell, 1886-1899) and Triumphant Songs no. 3 (Chicago: Excell, 1892). Two additional anthems are found in Winnowed Anthems: For Quartet and Chorus Choirs, ed. M. L. McPhail (Chicago: Hope Publishing, 1916).

Packard's anthems, like most of those in Excell's collections, are often resettings of familiar hymn lyrics with no reference to the commonly associated tunes. Little of the material in these collections is likely to have survived in current use; easy choral music has a very high turnover rate. Here is a list of Packard's works that I have found thus far:


Cast thy bread (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 100)
Christmas hymn
Consider the lilies (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 6)
Great is the Lord (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 156)
I was glad (listed in advertisement for Excell's Octavo Anthems)
I will lift up mine eyes (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 39)
In the cross of Christ (U.S. Copyright Office, Catalogue of Title Entries, 1899)
The Lord is my Shepherd (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 18)
O be joyful in the Lord (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 72)
One sweetly solemn thought (U.S. Copyright Office, Catalogue of Title Entries, 1899)
Praise the Lord (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 127)
Stand up, stand up for Jesus

Gospel Songs
(All from Triumphant Songs no. 3, and with lyrics by William H. Gardner)

#14 Mother's prayer
#64 Loyalty to Christ
#84 It is well
#92 Leave it all to Jesus
#99 Something for Thee
#105 In His name

Once again the 19th-century penchant for going by initials, instead of full given names, has driven me to despair; there are at least two "E. H. Packards" who were writing music around 1880-1910. I am fairly sure that the E. H. Packard who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1907, and who was much involved in musical productions and glee songs there, was too young in 1890 to be writing anthems at such a prodigious pace. A more likely candidate is Elmer H. Packard (1858-1918).(Bodine Genealogy) With his brother-in-law Lester Bodine writing lyrics, this E. H. Packard (as he always identified himself in print) published a number of parlor songs during the 1890s through S. Brainard's Sons in Chicago:

The deacon went astray
A home for two
Little Queen Irene
My first dance (Worldcat record)

Though these are far afield in subject matter and melodic style from the anthems, the harmonic vocabulary is fairly similar, and I could imagine the same composer writing both.

"Consider the lilies" is one of the relatively few anthems (through-composed works, not repeating music for successive stanzas) that have captured a consistent place in hymnals used by the Churches of Christ. (Others include "O Lord, our Lord" by Horatio Palmer and "The Lord bless you and keep you" by Peter Lutkin.) "Consider the lilies" owes its introduction to the Churches of Christ, so far as I know, to Elmer Jorgenson's original 1921 edition of Great Songs of the Church. If my identification of Elmer H. Packard as the composer is correct, Jorgenson and the composer might have even come into contact, as both lived in Nebraska during the 1910s.(Bodine Genealogy) I have only rarely heard this anthem sung by a congregation, though perhaps it was more popular in previous decades.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,
Consider the lilies off the field, how they grow;
They toil not, they toil not,
They toil not neither do they spin.
(Repeat last two lines)

And yet I say unto you:
And yet I say unto you,
That even Solomon in all his glory
Was not arrayed, was not arrayed,
Like one of these, like one of these.
(Repeat last four lines)

Commentators have argued for centuries about the identity of the "lily of the field" referenced by Jesus in Matthew 6:28, and it probably can only be guessed at to a reasonable degree. Though it is more than a century old, the article written by George E. Post for Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible gives as clear and thorough a discussion of the subject as I have seen.

File:Gladiolus atroviolaceus.jpg
Gladiolus atroviolaceus growing in a cultivated field in Jordan.
Used by permission from
Post, a pioneering botanist in the Bible lands, notes that the Greek krinon used by Matthew and Luke to record Jesus' words is the term commonly used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew shushan or shoshan. He suggests that this term is best understood as equivalent to the Persian and Arabic susan, a generic word descriptive of the lily, iris, gladiolus, and similar flowers. Post then asks which flowers of this general description, growing "in the field" or wild, would have been familiar to the audience or perhaps even presently in view when Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

Lilies as we define the term do not seem to fit the bill, but among several possible flowers in the larger definition, he notes the several varieties of Gladiolus native to Palestine which commonly grow among the grain fields. These are tall plants with reedy stalks and long leaves that might very well be bundled and "thrown into the oven."(Matthew 6:30) They are also unusually colorful, and some (such as pictured) have the luxurious purple color associated with wealth and royalty, inviting comparison to Solomon. But we can never be certain, of course; and the point made by Jesus would apply equally well to any of the many beautiful wildflowers with which God has graced our world!

The Scripture passage that is the basis of Packard's short anthem lies within Matthew 6:19-34, a section of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus addresses a number of aspects of the Christian's relationship to material wealth. He begins by extolling the permanent quality of heavenly treasures compared to earthly things:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Matthew 6:19-21)
The final sentence puts the focus, however, on the practical point of the passage: Where is your heart? Material things themselves, impermanent as they may be, are neither good nor bad in themselves. Our problem with them arises from how we choose to look at them:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!(Matthew 6:22-23)
Jesus brings up one of His favorite metaphors, spiritual blindness. The person who chooses to see only the material world is trapped within its mean, petty confines; the person who chooses to follow after perishable material things will give up the eternal spiritual treasures. Jesus could heal physical blindness, but He could not (against their will) change the hearts of the spiritually blind.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.(Matthew 6:24)
As the story goes, a little boy was asked to explain why we do not practice bigamy today as in the ancient times; his answer was the verse above, "No man can serve two masters!" Misapplied as it may be, the thought is correct. If we are part of Christ's church, we are part of the bride of Christ,(2 Corinthians 11:2) and He is as jealous as any other husband not to share her with another. We cannot be married to Christ and to the material world--we have to choose. We will choose to be filled either with light or with darkness; to pursue the perishable or the imperishable; to see or to remain blind.

Having pointed out the dilemma, Jesus then tells us how to live in the world without being "of the world."(John 17:14-15)
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life. 
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?"(Matthew 6:25-31)
Of course He is not forbidding making reasonable preparation for material needs. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for creating loopholes that tried to negate the responsibility to support elderly parents,(Mark 7:11) and 1 Timothy 5:8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Additionally, we can see in the book of Acts that Paul and others carried out a long-range plan to gather funds for famine relief.

We sometimes see very wealthy people who do a lot of good with their money. I have heard that A. M. Burton, founder of Life & Casualty Insurance in Nashville, Tennessee, expressed the wish to die with an empty bank account. He was one of the wealthiest men in the Southeast U.S. during the Great Depression, and gave liberally to help the poor and to further the cause of Christ; Lipscomb University, in particular, might not have survived that period at all without his deep pockets. But for every such example, what multitudes more could be cited who have sold their souls, grasping after the almighty dollar! Jesus concludes His lesson with this pithy thought:
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.(Matthew 6:32-34)
So what is the lesson of the lilies? Trust that God will care for you, and accept with gratitude His provision of simple needs. Now, we do not see the lilies at work, but we understand that they are always active, processing the sun's energy, the air around them, and the nutrients of the soil into the necessary food to continue their short lives. The birds of the air, too, are among the busiest of God's creatures. But God gave the lily its beauty, and the birds their songs. Life is about more than simple survival; and if God lavished such beauty on these simple things, how much more does He give to us--and expect from us--who are made in His image?

Remember, too, the fleeting life of the lily. It is here, it serves God's purpose, then it is gone. But even this simple creation that serves God's purpose as it is intended is more beautiful than "Solomon in all his glory." Solomon was fabulously wealthy, but in the end his was not a happy life, and there is much to fault in his legacy. Like the lilies of the field, an humble person whom the world considers unimportant may in fact serve God with more glory than Solomon, if that person puts God's kingdom first.

About the music:

Interestingly, the second volume of Excell's Anthems begins with a setting of "Consider the Lilies" by Excell himself rather than Packard, and it sounds slightly similar in the opening motif and some of the rhythms. Excell's anthem is copyrighted 1888, so if there is a connection it was appears to be Packard "borrowing" from Excell, though it is hardly an egregious case.

Comparing the two, I have to prefer Packard's setting, which if nothing else has the comparative virtue of brevity. It is very much in that vein of Victorian church music that might be described as overly "precious" in style. Writing the soprano and alto in parallel 3rds is a sound and easy-to-sing technique, but Packard takes it to an extreme and dresses it up in syrupy chromaticism.


The setting of the text "was not arrayed" is interesting, however. In the first instance of the phrase, the bass adds a D-flat on the last syllable, turning the E-flat major tonic chord to an E-flat 7th chord, which has a strong dominant pull to A-flat. But instead of that chord, the next phrase (repeating "was not arrayed") begins with a C minor chord; the D-flat in the bass (the 7th of the preceding chord) resolves down, but the overall harmony is not what we expected. At the end of this phrase, where the fermata occurs, the bass steps down chromatically again into a C-flat major chord.

At the beginning of the final phrase "like one of these," the soprano introduces an A-natural. (This note is often sung as a B-flat, however!) The chord Packard wrote here is thus A-natural / C-flat / E-flat / G-flat, an alternate spelling of a German augmented 6th chord (C-flat / E-flat / G-flat / B-double-flat). As is typical for this chord, the notes of the augmented 6th (C-flat and A-natural) move in opposite directions into B-flats and set up the final cadence. This respelling is common in American "barbershop" writing, and is called the "American" or "Western" augmented 6th in a few sources. Curiously, though Packard avoids the classic trap of writing parallel 5ths coming out of the German augmented 6th, he carelessly (and unnecessarily) writes parallel 5ths between bass and tenor going into it!

Looking at this musical passage overall, however, there is much to recommend it. The chromatic descent of the bass covers a multitude of evils--you can hold together far more outrageous harmonies than these, if the bass is moving in a predictable stepwise fashion. And the arpeggio in the soprano, building up to the high E-flat at the fermata, is a good touch--this is the highest note in the piece, occurring simultaneously with the most chromatically adventurous harmony.

I confess that my strongest association with this song is a very silly rendition of it that my sister and I used to sing, with the parts reversed. I would sing soprano in a warbling falsetto, and she would turn her lovely alto voice to a foggy bass. The entire thing was done with vibrato a mile wide. No recordings of that version are known to exist, and it is best that way.

"Elmer H. Packard." Dave's Bodine Genealogy Web Site.

Post, George E. "Lily." Plants of the Bible. Norfolk, Virginia: Old Dominion University. Reprinted from Hastings' Dictionary.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Crown Him with Many Crowns

Praise for the Lord #115

Words: Matthew Bridges, 1851; stanza 2, Godfrey Thring, 1874
Music: DIADEMATA, George Job Elvey, 1864

Matthew Bridges (1800-1894), the author of the original text of this hymn, was raised in the Anglican church; but like many Anglican scholars of his day, he was heavily influenced by his contemporary John Henry Newman and the Tractarian or Oxford Movement. Bridges was a prolific and gifted author from an early age, writing on topics of Biblical history as well as producing poetry.(Hatfield, 96) Some of his early historical writings had included pointed attacks on Catholicism, yet in 1848 he published a set of Hymns of the Heart, for the Use of Catholics, and said in the preface that he wished to "[express] his poignant and unmitigated regret, for having ever used his feeble pen against that holy and Apostolic church, which by divine grace he has lately been enabled to join."(p.3ff.)

A search of shows that Bridges's publishing fell off after 1865. He is known to have lived in Quebec, but I have had an unusually difficult time finding out when he may have emigrated. The Canadian 1881 Census shows him farming in the vicinity of Sherbrooke, east of Montreal. His son Henry, the only child still at home, was 16 years old and born in England, so the move could not have been prior to 1865. At some point Bridges returned to England, where he died in 1894.(Baptist Quarterly)

"Christ's thorn" jujube
(Zizyphus spina Christi)
A common fruit tree in Israel,
traditionally the source of
the crown of thorns.
Used by permission from
The text of this hymn is from The Passion of Jesus, a Collection of Original Pieces Corresponding with the Five Sorrowful Mysteries in the Rosary of Our Blessed Lady. This collection of devotional poetry was first published in London in 1852. For those of us (myself included) who are not familiar with the traditions of the rosary, there is a good concise explanation at The prayers are said in sets of tens, each focused on a "mystery" concerning the life of Christ; the mysteries themselves are in groups of five: the "Joyful Mysteries" concerning Christ's birth and childhood, the "Sorrowful Mysteries" concerning His death, and the "Glorious Mysteries" concerning the Resurrection and events following. (In the 20th century the "Luminous Mysteries" of Christ's earthly ministry were added.) Bridges's collection was dedicated to the five Sorrowful Mysteries: Christ's agony in Gethsemane, His scourging, the crown of thorns, Christ carrying His cross, and finally the Crucifixion itself. "Crown Him with many Crowns," therefore, was a reflection on the central mystery of the original 15 mysteries of the rosary. Bridges employs an unexpected approach to the topic, however, taking the cruel mockery intended by that original crown and turning it on its head.

Stanza 1:
Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne;
Hark how the heav'nly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
Awake my soul and sing
Of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity!

In contemplating the glorious coronation of Christ in heaven, each stanza of this hymn addresses a different aspect of His worthiness to receive these honors. The first stanza seems clearly to invoke Revelation 5:11-14, one of the most awe-inspiring passages in all Scripture:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.
A lamb, the picture of innocence and inoffensiveness, was the sacrifice on many of the earliest recorded altars in Genesis, and took on a special meaning under the Sinai Covenant as the Passover offering through which God spared His people from the terrible final plague.(Exodus 12) A lamb was later prescribed as an offering for personal sins.(Leviticus 5) John the Baptizer tied all these together when he said of his cousin Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!"(John 1:29) Christ is our "Passover Lamb,"(1 Corinthians 5:7) "without blemish or spot."(1 Peter 1:19)

It is altogether fitting, then, that John's first vision of Christ enthroned in heaven was in the form of a Lamb, and that this would be the most common designation for Christ throughout the Revelation: "And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth."(Revelation 5:6) The paradox of such a meek figure in the midst of such heavenly acclamation is another of those instances that Brother Johnny Ramsey once termed, "Truth standing on its head to get our attention." Jesus described himself as "meek and lowly in heart,"(Matthew 11:29) and now we see how truly the kingdom of heaven belongs to the One who was above all "poor in spirit."(Matthew 5:3)

Bridges's original poem has the following two stanzas next:

Crown Him the Virgin's Son
The God Incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won
Which now His Brow adorn!
Fruit of the Mystic Rose
As of that Rose the Stem:
The Root, whence Mercy ever flows,
The Babe of Bethlehem!

Crown Him the Lord of Love!
Behold His Hands and Side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright!

In the latter stanza Bridges begins to develop his theme along a consistent line from stanza to stanza, identifying Jesus' lordship over different aspects of existence. Of course His sovereignty is indicated foremost; but in applying the title "Lord of" to abstract concepts, Bridges ties into an old tradition of expressing the subject's preeminence in various qualities as well. Revelation 19:9 declares Jesus "Lord of Lords," and other passages in the New Testament identify Him as "Lord of the Sabbath,"(Matthew 12:8) "Lord of Glory,"(1 Corinthians 2:8) "Lord of Peace,"(2 Thessalonians 3:16--though this might refer to the Father) and "Lord of All."(Acts 10:36) Bridges begins stanzas in this hymn by calling Jesus "Lord of Love," "Lord of Peace," "Lord of Years," and "Lord of Heaven."

The "Mystic Rose" line would raise some eyebrows outside of Catholic circles--in some interpretations, that expression has a particular theological interpretation having to do with Mary's relationship to the Trinity. The stanza referring to the wounds of Jesus as "mysteries" might also have called to mind the tradition dating from the Middle Ages of venerating the wounds of Christ. But it was too good a hymn to pass up entirely; a search of shows that it began to appear in Protestant collections during the 1860s, sometimes with these stanzas deleted.

At some point, however, Henry Wollaston Hutton, Priest-Vicar of Lincoln Cathedral and an important editor of hymnals himself, encouraged hymnwriter Godfrey Thring to write a few stanzas on Bridges's theme to serve as replacements. The Church of England Hymn Book gives an example of another hybridization of Bridges and Thring stanzas. Thring was a prolific writer and popular in his day, though most of his hymns, like David, "served the purpose of God in his own generation."(Acts 13:36) (His most remembered hymn by far is "Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing.") Yet no author in his own right, I suppose, likes to be thought of as a mere reviser of the works of others; Thring actually wrote an entirely new hymn as a substitute for that of Bridges, using the same meter and basic plan of successive stanzas extolling Jesus' lordship over various domains. The following stanza is the one most commonly plugged in to replace the deleted stanzas from Bridges's orginal.

Stanza 2:
Crown Him the Lord of Life,
Who triumphed o'er the grave,
Who rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save!
His glories now we sing,
Who died and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring,
And lives that death may die!

Looking again to those great scenes of the Revelation, we find "the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb."(Revelation 22:1) We cannot read of "water of life" without thinking back to a quiet scene by Jacob's Well, where the Son of God spoke to a lowly, sinful, but attentive listener: "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."(John 4:10) Christ as the source of eternal life is a consistent theme in John's writings; the prologue to his gospel account states, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men,"(John 1:4) and his first epistle opens with the statement that, "the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us."(1 John 1:2)

As the Lord of Life, Jesus came to overthrow the power of death, but He went about it in the most unexpected way imaginable--by undergoing it Himself. Godfrey Thring (our "guest author" for this stanza) emphasized this amazing juxtaposition in the final two lines, cleverly transposing the order of the key words: "Who died eternal life to bring, / And lives that death may die!" The Lord of Life died, "that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery."(Hebrews 2:14-15) In what should have been the hour of Satan's triumph, he was utterly crushed (as promised in Genesis 3:15!), as Jesus "disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame."(Colossians 2:15)

Christ's victory over death was also a victory for all those in His kingdom: "We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God."(Romans 6:9-10) This puts a responsibility on us, as we think of the prize He won at such awful cost: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."(Romans 6:11) We have the victory over spiritual death already in hand, if we have been baptized into Christ's death; and we have the promise of the victory over physical death as well:
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Stanza 3:
Crown Him the Lord of Peace!
Whose pow'r a sceptre sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease
Absorbed in prayer and praise:
His reign shall know no end,
And round His pierced feet
Fair flowers of Paradise extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.

One of the most beautiful titles of the Messiah is "Prince of Peace."(Isaiah 9:6) And lest we forget, this peace is shalom--not just an absence of conflict, but the presence of wholeness and soundness.(Strong's H7965) We can be in the midst of conflict on the outside, but have this peace on the inside; we see that quality often in the life of Jesus.

Peace was proclaimed by the angels at Jesus' birth,(Luke 2:14) and "Peace be with you" was His greeting after the Resurrection.(John 20:26) He "made peace by the blood of His cross," reconciling a sinful world to a holy God.(Colossians 1:20) This was the first and greatest of His works of peacemaking; but it was not the last.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.(Ephesians 2:13-14
By bringing about peace between the individual and God, Jesus also brought about peace between people who had formerly been irreconcilable enemies. It began with the preaching of the gospel to the Samaritans, and continued to the full acceptance of both Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ. Can we not do the same today, where race, language, or nationality divide us? Our God is He who "makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire."(Psalm 46:9) The balance of this stanza emphasizes the unity and harmony that comes about when we are "absorbed in prayer and praise." It is worthy and admirable work when people spend their efforts in resolving conflicts and seeking peaceful settlement of disputes--"blessed are the peacemakers," Matthew 5:9--but in the end it is only when the spirit of Christ prevails in our actions that "wars may cease." To the extent that this happens, we see the blessed fulfillment of Micah's vision:
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.(Micah 4:3)
And when the day comes that Jesus returns, "every knee shall bow"(Philippians 2:10, cf. Isaiah 45:23)--in that moment, we truly will see peace from "pole to pole."

Bridges pursues his theme in one more stanza before the conclusion, though omitted in many hymnals:

Crown Him the Lord of Years!
The Potentate of Time,
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Ineffably sublime!
Glass'd in a sea of light,
Whose everlasting waves
Reflect His Form, the Infinite!
Who lives, and loves, and saves.

I am a little sorry not to have this stanza available, though it may be best after all to avoid humorously quaint words such as "ineffably." But the theme is well considered; Jesus is the Son of Man, yet He was the Creator of this universe in which humanity exists, and He is therefore the Creator of the very concept of time. Psalm 90 grandly states the disconnect between our limited, finite understanding of time and God's absolute indifference to it:
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man!" For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.(Psalm 90:2-4)
One of the most awe-inspiring statements in the Bible is when God reveals His name to Moses: "I AM." We humans, of course, live under the tyranny of time. Our yesterday is past, and we cannot get it back; our future is out of reach and altogether uncertain; we have only the present, delivered to us moment by moment. To deal with this handicap we learn to speak of past, present, and future--"I was, I am, I will be." But for God, the "Ancient of Days,"(Daniel 7) there is no such limitation. He just is, at all times and places; "the same yesterday and today and forever."(Hebrews 13:8) Jesus knew exactly what He was saying (and so did His outraged opponents) when He said "before Abraham was, I AM!"(John 8:58)

Stanza 4:
Crown Him the Lord of Heav'n!
One with the Father known,
And the Blest Spirit through Him giv'n
From yonder glorious Throne!
All Hail! Redeemer, Hail!
For Thou hast died for me:
Thy praise and glory shall not fail
Throughout Eternity!

Here again is the ultimate irony to which Bridges points in this hymn: the Roman soldiers who mockingly placed a crown of thorns on Jesus' head were unwittingly foreshadowing the triumphal return of the King of Kings to His heavenly throne. For a little while He walked among His subjects as though one of them, not like Henry V who wanted to know the minds of his troops, but as the Servant of all and ultimately the One whom they cruelly mistreated and crucified.
Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:7-11)
"He was in the beginning with God,"(John 1:2) and made the Father known to us in His most perfect revelation,(John 1:18) saying, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."(John 14:7) He also made known to us the Holy Spirit or Comforter,(John 14:26, etc.) thus unfolding the mystery of the Trinity to a new and greater extent than in any prior era of revelation. Bridges's original 4th line in this stanza gave greater emphasis to this fact: "From yonder triune throne." It may be better to avoid that arcane expression, but we should not miss the point of Christ's revelation to us of the nature of the Trinity, only hinted at in earlier eras.

Once again I am struck by the contrast Bridges has drawn by juxtaposing the crown of thorns and the Crucifixion with the Christ's enthronement in heaven. Matthew tells us,
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him, they mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they spit on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head.(Matthew 27:27-30)
John adds what happened afterward:
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the Man!" When the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, "Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him."(John 19:5-6)
But in his hymn we are made to see the reality of the siuation:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever." And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give thanks to You, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for You have taken Your great power and begun to reign.(Revelation 11:15-17)
Perhaps some of those very soldiers who placed the crown of thorns on Christ's head later repented and became Christians; perhaps none did; we do not know, beyond legends. But at the beginning of the Revelation John reminds us, "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him."(Revelation 1:7) The truth will then be out; the King will be revealed to all the world, crowned in all His glory. Will we own Him as our King now, so that we can meet that day with joy?

File:Durer, apocalisse, 02 visione di san giovanni.jpg
John's vision of Christ, Revelation 1; woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1497-98
Image used by permission from Wikimedia Commons

Excursus: "Crowning" Jesus in Hymns

This hymn introduces a theme that I have not yet addressed in this blog: the poetic trope of "crowning Jesus King." It may be surprising to some readers that the appropriateness of such an image is ever questioned, but in my experience we spend far too little effort in thinking about what our hymns are really saying. I have seen versions of Perronet's "All hail the power of Jesus' name" that change "crown Him Lord of all" to "praise Him Lord of all." Some brethren whom I very much respect have objected to the use of such language in any of our hymns; but I believe there is a logical defense of this hymn trope, at least as it in many hymns.

The objections I have heard do not address this hymn but rather the praise song "We bow down" by Twila Paris, yet the argument would be largely the same. The argument runs thus: If we sing that we are going to crown Jesus King, and say that "King of all Kings you will be," we are necessarily implying that Jesus is not already King of Kings. We might even be lending credence to the false premillennial idea that Jesus will return to this earth to be crowned King and take up a literal physical reign in Jerusalem.

In respect to "Crown Him with Many Crowns, " Bridges clearly states that this is a poetic description of the scene of Revelation 19:12--"His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself." The author places this scripture at the head of his poem.(Bridges, 63)  He is also writing in the larger context of the Crucifixion, and at this particular point is contemplating the crown of thorns. Between the crown of thorns at Calvary and the many diadems of the Conquering King of the Revelation, lies the scene of Christ's coronation by the Father, described in the second chapter of Hebrews:
You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned Him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under His feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.(Hebrews 2:7-9)
It is correct that the Father crowned the Son long ago in heaven, and that in this august scene the Father delivers the honors to the Son; He receives nothing from us in this setting. But in this hymn, I suggest we are simply imagining that scene again, and offering up our praises and acclamations to the worthiness of Christ to receive these crowns. In this way we are like the angel chorus that shouted, "Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created."(Revelation 4:11) They were not declaring Him worthy by their authority; they were agreeing with the Father's judgment. In this hymn we are praising and acknowledging the coronation of Jesus in the same fashion as did the angels, as though we were witnessing that past event.

This involves a certain amount of poetic license, and I am reminded of a statement made by one good brother: "There may be such a thing as poetic license, but some poets ought to have their licenses revoked." (Whether you agree with his positions or not, you have to admit that is funny!) But the New Testament writers used figurative and imaginitive language as well; Jesus in the Revelation is not literally a lamb, or a lion. When Paul said, "Christ, our Passover Lamb, is sacrificed for us,"(1 Corinthians 5:7) we do not understand him to say that Christ is literally a lamb (nor, for that matter, does this teach that He is literally sacrificed again and again in the taking of the Lord's Supper). And though we do not literally see the scene of Christ's coronation by His Father, in this hymn we imagine it with the mind's eye, and celebrate that glorious and fitting consummation of His work.

This touches on another objection to the "coronation trope" that deserves mention as well: is it appropriate to sing as though we ourselves are crowning Jesus? It is generally true that the lesser must be crowned by the greater. The President of the United States, though not receiving a crown, is sworn into office by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as representative of the authority of the Constitution on which the President's powers depend. Western Kings and queens are typically crowned by a high-ranking church official who stands as representative of God's authority. Napoleon famously crowned himself to avoid such complications! But there is another way in which one may receive a crown--when it is surrendered by the lesser to the greater, as has happened throughout history when a vanquished king surrenders to his conqueror.
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who is seated on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created."(Revelation 4:9-11)
Many hymns use this image as a figure for humbling ourselves and submitting to Christ's rule. Perhaps the most direct example is in "Lead me to Calvary" by Jennie Hussey: "King of my life, I crown Thee now / Thine shall the glory be." There is no thought here of granting something to Christ as an earthly king might grant a donation to a subordinate; this is surrendering authority to Jesus, and the glory is all for Him.

In the passage quoted above from Hebrews chapter 2, there is this interesting statement at the end of verse 8: "At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him." No, this does not mean that His kingdom is yet in the future, or that some great coronation scene awaits Him at His Second Advent. It tells us that, though He is by rights King of all, there is one part of His creation that is holding out against His rule--us. When we sin and rebel against Him, we are insurgents against His reign, but He does not take back the rule of our lives by force. In His grace, love, and patience He has extended an offer of pardon if we will accept His rule again, willingly surrendering the crown of our souls back to Him to whom it belongs, and who alone can rightfully and wisely rule us.

About the music:

This is the other well-known hymn tune by George Job Elvey, the first of which reviewed was ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR ("Come, ye thankful people, come"). DIADEMATA appeared in the second edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, published in 1868.(Lightwood, 315) For those who want to look further into the career of Elvey, the Life and Reminiscences of George J. Elvey, written by his widow, is available online.

DIADEMATA is in the mold of that stately sort of British march that is so distinct from its American cousin; no dotted rhythms are necessary to stir excitement, just full, clear harmonies proceeding in measured, stately dignity. A brass choir could play this music, with no arranging at all, and make a marvelous ceremonial piece of it. The melody is not as simple and winsome as that of ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR ("Come, ye thankful people, come," being driven more by the progress of the harmony.

Several little techniques lend strength to this writing that are worth noting. First, the opening phrase, which sets the signature line of text from which the hymn develops, unfolds in contrary motion between the highest and lowest voice. At the same time, the harmony moves down a series of 3rds, from tonic (DO) to submediant (LA) to the subdominant (FA). The introduction of the minor submediant chord is a point of tension, logically resolved into the reassuring subdominant. ("Reassuring" may sound silly, but there is a degree of tension to certain chords within a key; the dominant chord (SOL-TI-RE) has a strong need to resolve, whereas the subdominant (FA-LA-DO), though it is not the home chord or tonic of the key, is much more restful. It is the subdominant to tonic progression that makes the standard "Amen" at the end of some hymns.)

Another interesting technique is the phrase sequence used at the beginning of the second half of the hymn (corresponding to the 5th and 6th lines of text). Just as he did in ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR, Elvey repeats an entire two-measure subphrase at a higher pitch; but in this case, it is sequenced up a step, increasing the harmonic tension. The melody is a little tricky at this spot: SOL-SOL-MI-RE-DO-LA / LA-LA-FI*-MI-RE-TI (*FA sharped, A# if the hymn is in E major as I have usually seen it). The raised 4th step of the scale, "FI," naturally wants to go up to SOL, but instead is left by stepwise descent to MI and RE. The principle of repetition with variation is so strong, however, that once the ear recognizes this as a sequence of the preceding two measures, it is much easier to hear. Finally, after all of this buildup, Elvey lets the melody hit the high "DO," the top of the scale, to begin the final two lines of text.


Hatfield, Edwin F. The Poets fo the Church: A Series of Biographical Sketches with Notes on their Hymns. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph, 1884.

Editorial, Baptist Quarterly [Baptist Historical Society, UK] 16:5 (January 1956), pp. 193-195.

Strong's H7965.

Lightwood, James T. Hymn-Tunes and their Story. London: Charles H. Kelly, 1905.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

Praise for the Lord #114

Words: Henry Alford, 1844
Music: George J. Elvey, 1858, ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR

Henry Alford (1810-1871) was a man of a strong literary bent, who found the best use of this talent in the service of Christ. Coming from a long line of Anglican vicars, it was virtually a given that he would follow the family calling; but during his studies at Cambridge he also cultivated the friendships of the leading literary men of the day. His very first publication, in fact, was a book of poetry, which earned favorable comment from Wordsworth. Later in life he published a blank verse translation of the Odyssey.(DNB 1:282ff.)

But Alford's gift with languages reached its peak in the sacred, not in the secular sphere--and not necessarily in his hymns. The masterwork of his career was his edition of the Greek New Testament, published in four volumes between 1849 and 1861. Its painstaking critical apparatus and copious notes reflected the best textual scholarship of the day, and Alford attempted to present the evidence on textual variants fairly, while leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.(DNB 1:283) Though it has been superseded in part by more recent works, reflecting the wonderful boom in manuscript discoveries of the 20th century, it is still a valuable resource.

This hymn first appeared in Alford's 1844 compilation Psalms and hymns, adapted to the Sundays and holydays throughout the year, to which are added some occasional hymns. Of the two dozen or so hymns that Alford wrote or adapted himself and introduced in this book, "Come, ye thankful people, come" is by far the most widely known. It is provided in the supplementary section at the end of the book, among the hymns for various occasions of life, under the heading, "After harvest."

The term "harvest-home" is likely to be familiar to us in the U.S. only through its use in this hymn; it refers in particular to getting the "harvest" safely "home," and the work completed. Probably every culture under the sun has had its harvest traditions, from the time that Adam was first ordered to earn his way "by the sweat of his brow."(Genesis 3:19) Exodus 23:16 established the "Feast of Ingathering" as a religious rite, and the book of Ruth as well shows the secular feasting and celebration connected with the completion of the harvest. Even the modern farmer still takes great pleasure at that season of being (hopefully!) caught up with the bills for another year.

The harvest-home celebrations that lie behind Alford's hymn, like many harvest celebrations around the world, included a community gathering for a harvest supper with singing and celebration. During the 1800s the Church of England increasingly adopted the observation of harvest festivals on an independent, local basis, which involved bringing produce to the church for distribution to the poor.(Wikipedia) Alford's hymn was among the first to be written specifically for such celebrations.

Stanza 1:
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home!
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin:
God, our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied:
Come to God's own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home!

In the first stanza, Alford emphasizes the gratitude we all should feel in receiving our "daily bread."(Matthew 6:11) I live in a land where we are so blessed with abundance of food, that far more of us are concerned about eating too much than are concerned about having enough. I have tried to emphasize to my children that if we have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table, we should rejoice at our blessings--because many people do not.

From the very beginning, God made us dependent on the produce of the earth. Even before sin entered the world, He planted a garden,(Genesis 2:8) and appointed Adam to "work it and keep it."(Genesis 2:15) Generation upon generation has done the same, or we would not be here to tell of it! But it is God's sustaining hand that provided this food, and provides those conditions necessary to its continuance. As the Lord told Noah after the flood, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."(Genesis 8:22) Are we just colossally lucky that nothing has happened to disrupt these cycles, so essential to our survival? Or is it because "He upholds the universe by the word of His power?"(Hebrews 1:3)

This thought was essential to the ancient Hebrews, and is often expressed in the Psalms in the phrase, "the LORD, who created heaven and earth." His creative power is not something that happened at one fixed point in the past, but continues every day as our needs are supplied. This was the assumption Jesus drew upon in Matthew 6, when He pointed to the birds and said, "Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them." In a similar fashion, God's discourse with Job in chapters 38-41 of that book reveals the Father's intimate knowledge of, and ongoing concern for, all of His creation. Jesus' conclusion, of course, was, "Are you not of much more value than they?" But we can equally say, Are we not just as dependent on God as they?

It is always appropriate to be mindful of the physical needs of others, but especially at times when we celebrate our own plenty. One of the traditions of the British "Harvest Festival" is bringing food to the church for distribution to the poor; the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving has increasingly focused on this need as well. Ancient Israel was commanded to make a provision for the poor at harvest, in the form of leaving the gleanings and the corners of the fields as a sort of "work-fare" program.(Leviticus 23:22, and the book of Ruth) But the poor are hungry more than once a year in the fall, and it does not speak well of us that we need a yearly occasion to remind us of it. Job, in his defense of his character, said,
If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it . . . let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.(Job 31:16-17,22)
How much more should the followers of Christ "remember the poor?"(Galatians 2:10)

Stanza 2:
We ourselves are God's own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield,
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown:
First the blade, and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear:
Lord of Harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be!

After the first stanza's joyous thanksgiving, Alford turns to Scripture's spiritual applications of the image of  the harvest, and the hymn becomes much more probing. The underlying text, of course, is Jesus' Parable of the Wheat and the Tares:
File:Lolium temulentum — Flora Batava — Volume v11.jpg
Lolium temulentum,
or Darnel. Photo from
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.'

So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'(Matthew 13:24-30)
It is laughable that some skeptics have questioned whether such an incident really happened. In the first place, they obviously do not know the lengths to which some people I have known would go for a simple prank--not to mention for revenge! In the second place, the great Digest of Roman law compiled under Justinian, in discussing the laws of property damage, cites just such an incident from the writings of the 2nd-century jurist Celsus.(Book 9, section 2, chapter 27, paragraph 14)

This parable has been subject to a certain amount of confusion, particularly over the relationship of the wheat and tares to the church and the world. Is the church the wheat, and the tares those outside the church? Or are both wheat and tares in the church? It shouldn't be so hard when we have Jesus' own explanation recorded just a few verses later:
The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.(Matthew 13:37-43)
To begin with, the statement, "The kingdom of heaven is like . . ." is not a mathematical argument, "KINGDOM = X," but rather is the beginning of a story that will explain something about the subject. Some parables (such as the parable of the mustard seed, or of the pearl of great price), do tell us attributes of the kingdom; but in this case, I believe Jesus is telling us about the situation in which the kingdom exists in this world rather than about its nature and character.

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man," He begins in Matthew 13:24, but "the man who sowed good seed in his field" is the "Son of Man."(Matthew 13:37) Neither is the field the kingdom in the sense of Christ's body, the church, because "the field is the world," in which "the good seed is the sons of the kingdom."(Matthew 13:38) But the one phrase that complicates this parable is Matthew 13:41, when Jesus says that the angels will "gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers."

This shift in definition from "kingdom=body/church" can be explained in one of two ways. First, as Jesus has "all authority . . . in heaven and on earth,"(Matthew 28:18) the field (this world) is His kingdom in the sense that it is under His ultimate rule. The "sons of the kingdom" in verse 38 are clearly the saved, those in His body, the church; but there is no reason Jesus could not use the word in a different sense. Another explanation, not necessarily contradictory to the foregoing, is this: When the events described unfold at the end of time, and the wicked are removed from the field, what remains will be the "sons of the kingdom;" the field will then be the kingdom, as it was originally intended to be. This fits as well with Revelation 11:15, "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever."

Misapplications of this parable have gone in at least two different directions. One line of thought is that verse 38 applies strictly to the "kingdom" in the sense of the church, and thus prohibits any human exercise of church discipline, leaving all such judgment to the end of time. Another argument tries to argue predestination from the concept of "good seed" and "bad seed." Both err by going far beyond the obvious thrust of the parable--that two domains, the "sons of the kingdom" and the "sons of the evil one," will continue mixed together in this world until the day the Lord has appointed for Judgment, when they will be forever separated to their respective rewards. Both theories likewise contradict other passages in Scripture; and if a doctrine built on an interpretation of a parable contradicts straightforward teaching elsewhere, it is obvious where the error has occurred. Marshaling this parable to the cause of religious freedom (as was done by William Rogers, the founder of Providence, Rhode Island) is also a stretch, though in this case there is no contradiction to the New Testament's teaching on the separate spheres of the spiritual kingdom of Christ and the civil governments of this world.

So how did Alford proceed in representing this parable? In saying, "We ourselves are God's own field," does he mean "we the residents of this earth," or "we the church?" Saying this in a hymn to be sung at a worship service might seem to indicate the latter; and in that case, the "Wheat and tares together sown / Unto joys or sorrows grown" takes on a Calvinist tone of predestination. But Alford, in the commentary in his Greek New Testament, is quite clearly opposed to such an interpretation of the parable:
We are not to suppose that the wheat can never become tares, or the tares wheat: this would be to contradict the purpose of Him who willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live . . . the line of demarcation between wheat and tares, so fixed and impassable at last, is during the probation time, the time of συναύξησις ["common growth"--DRH] not yet determined by Him who will have all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. . . . The parable is delivered by the Lord as knowing all things, and describing by the final result; and gives no countenance whatever to predestinarian error.(Alford, v. 1, Matthew, p. 142
So Dr. Alford is quite clear on the subject himself, but his hymn text might be open to misinterpretation. Some versions of this hymn read in the first line, "All the world is God's own field," which is certainly in keeping with Alford's expressed views, and more importantly, with the intent of Jesus in the first place.

Followers of Christ, of course, want to be counted among the wheat! In the second half of the stanza, Alford references one of Jesus' lesser-known agricultural parables recorded by Mark, which deals with the happier story of the growth of the good grain. It comes in the same position where Matthew records the Wheat and Tares, in between the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Mustard Seed, but it is a different (though related) story:
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.(Mark 4:26-29) [N.B. "Corn" in the KJV and in Alford's hymn is British usage as a generic term for grain.]
Some of my favorite memories of childhood involved working in our vegetable garden. Like the man in the parable, I have scattered seed on the ground. I have watched every day for signs of sprouting, and seen that magical morning when green shoots of life appear where before there was nothing. I have checked the plants day by day to see if they had fruit, and then to see if the fruit was ripe. I understood then as now that there were known biological processes at work, which have been studied out and explained to the satisfaction of the intellect. But I am still amazed at the fact that sunshine, water, dirt, and a seed can turn into turn into a plate of food!

In the same way, the good seed of the gospel brings out changes that are at first unseen, but end up making a remarkable difference by the power of the invisible God. Jesus tried to explain to Nicodemus that the new birth is spiritual and inward, not physical and outward,(John 3:8) and told the Pharisees that, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you."(Luke 17:20-21) In the first century a relatively small group of people with little education, money, or connections, "turned the world upside down."(Acts 17:6) What might a group of Christians today, equally committed to the cause and with the same faith in the power of God, be able to accomplish? "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness."(2 Corinthians 9:10)

Stanza 3:
For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall purge away
All that doth offend that day.
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store--
In His garner evermore.

We are not foreordained in our status as "wheat" or "tares" in this parable, but there is one element here to which we are certainly predestined: there will be a harvest, and we will be in one group or the other. The metaphor of a harvest had a long history in Scripture before Jesus spoke His parable, both as a promise of good and a warning of punishment. Hosea 6:11 says sweetly, "For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of My people." But Isaiah 17:5 describes the destruction about to be unleashed on the nation as a very different kind of harvest: "And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain and his arm harvests the ears, and as when one gleans the ears of grain in the Valley of Rephaim." The harvest to come at the end of time will be both, depending on one's relationship to God.

It is not pleasant to consider, but there it is; Alford pulls no punches, using Jesus' own words about casting the tares into the fire. It does cast a pall over what began as a very cheerful hymn, but it is a valid point to make--in fact, it would be dishonest to gloss over that aspect of the parable. The harvest of God's wrath is perhaps most bluntly expressed in the Revelation. Whether it refers to a temporal punishment of God's enemies at that time, or to the spiritual harvest at the end of time, it is a thing of profound dread:
And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, "Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe."
. . . So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.(Revelation 14:15,19)
Thankfully there is another harvest metaphor that is still in effect while that greatest and most dreadful of harvests is waiting. When Jesus saw the Samaritans coming out to Jacob's Well to see Him, He commented to the disciples, "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?' Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest."(John 4:35) There was a harvest of souls ready to be gathered into Christ's kingdom on this earth, and thankfully there is still time and opportunity to do so today. We ought still to keep in mind Jesus' words, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."(Luke 10:2)

Stanza 4:
Even so, Lord, quickly come
To Thy final harvest-home!
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin;
There, forever purified,
In Thy presence to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest-home!

Most of the text in Praise for the Lord is the same as Alford's original, with only minor alterations that do not affect the sense, but the original first line of this stanza was "Then, thou Church triumphant, come." I believe Alford meant to emphasize a contrast with the preceding stanza about the harvest of wrath reserved for the tares by turning to the joyful end awaiting the good grain. But following the original first line, the third line, "Gather Thou Thy people in," seems to say that the church, not the Lord, will gather its people in. The substitution of this new first line clarifies that the Lord is the subject of the third line, which is probably what Alford intended.

"Even so, Lord, quickly come" is a close quotation of Revelation 22:20, and it takes a faithful, mature Christian to say that sincerely. The sinner, of course, would really rather He never came at all. The lukewarm Christian, the Christian still too much caught up in sin, and the Christian too tied down to the affairs of this life, know He will come but wish He would wait a while. But whether He comes soon or late, we ought to remember that we will be seeing Him, one way or another, before many more years have passed! Proverbs 27:1 solemnly reminds us, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth." We need to be ready to meet the Lord at any time, and then we can share John's sentiment--"Even so, come, Lord Jesus." If God waits in His patience to give sinners more time to repent,(2 Peter 3:9) let us rejoice in His mercy; but we who are Christians should never presume upon that patience!

The rest of the stanza is devoted to a contemplation of the ingathering of Christians to their eternal home. We all have our conceptions of heaven, I suppose, and they all must be imperfect to varying degrees. We cannot even fully grasp the wonders of God's glory revealed to us in this existence! David said, "You have multiplied, O LORD my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us; none can compare with You! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told."(Psalm 40:5) Our songs about heaven emphasize various aspects that we understand and can grasp. Some songs, especially those coming from the cultural setting of the Great Depression, emphasize the riches of heaven described by John. Many songs talk about reunion with loved ones, and some speak particularly of the joy of knowing Christ face to face.

Henry Alford emphasizes an aspect of heaven in this final stanza that has come to mean more to me all the time: "Free from sorrow, free from sin; / There forever purified." It is so sweet to know God's forgiveness, and such a joy to walk in holiness before Him; but how often I stray from that path! How frustrating to find myself beginning over again, having to remind myself of the basics of spiritual living, recommitting to the way I know I should walk and never should have left. As Paul said, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"(Romans 7:24) We may not all express it with such high passion as the apostle, but we all probably recognize that dissatisfaction with where we are, that sense of reaching toward yet not quite grasping the goal. In heaven there is perfect holiness and purity; in heaven we will be, finally, all that God meant us to be.

File:Woman harvesting wheat, Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh, India.jpg
Gathering the wheat harvest by hand in Madhya Pradesh, India.
Photo by permission from

About the music:

George Job Elvey was born in Canterbury in 1816, and was appointed to the cathedral choir at a young age. His precocious talent won him the position of both organist and choir director at St. George's Chapel at Windsor at the age of 19, even in competition with far more experienced candidates such as Samuel Wesley. Elvey remained with St. George's Chapel until his retirement in 1882, though he was also appointed private organist to Queen Victoria as well. He composed a large number of works for royal ceremonies, including one for which he was knighted, and was noted for his choir's performances of Handel's oratorios.(Roe) A search of reveals that Elvey wrote a wide variety of works, including an oratorio on the Resurrection, a birthday cantata for Victoria, a large number or sacred and patriotic anthems, and miscellaneous keyboard works.

His attention was also given, however to more practical, small-scale church music, as seen in his harmonizations for A Collection of Psalm-Tunes (1843) and his Thirty Cathedral Chants (1883). Among his relatively small number of hymn tunes, the best known generally (besides the one at hand) is DIADEMATA, most associated with the text "Crown Him with many crowns." James T. Lightwood said, "Elvey did not write many hymn-tunes, but those that he has given to the Church are models of what a tune should be, combining dignity, strength, and melody."(Lightwood, 315)

ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR is named of course for the chapel where Elvey spent his career. It first appeared in A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, edited by Edward Henry Thorne (London: Gardner, 1858), with the text "Hark! The song of jubilee." Its pairing with Alford's harvest hymn occurred in the original 1861 edition of the venerable Hymns Ancient and Modern, the unofficial hymnal of the Church of England and one of the most influential hymnals in the English language.(Lightwood, 315)

The structure of the melody is remarkably simple; there is one basic motif, declared in the first two bars and repeated in the next two, making up the first of four phrases. This same motif, transposed, is the basis of the third phrase, and the second and final phrases each begin with a variation on the same idea. Only once is there a leap larger than a 3rd. But within this simplicity there is a good sense of forward progress; after the repetitious first phrase, the second phrase breaks away at the end and walks down the scale to a 4th (SOL) below the tonic (DO), the first indication that the melody will venture into this range. The third phrase is spent climbing back up, and ends on the 6th step of the scale (LA) above the tonic. The final phrase works its way back down from this peak, hinting at an inversion of the initial motif.

Elvey's harmony is interesting and occasionally surprising. The Phrygian cadence (half-step motion down in the bass) at the end of the 1st phrase does much to counter the repetitiveness and simplicity of the melody; we hardly expected to end up on a B major chord after such an innocuous G major beginning! After this indulgence in Romantic-era chromatic harmony, Elvey works back around the circle of 5ths to the tonic by the middle of the 2nd phrase (Bmaj > Emin > Amin > Dmaj > Gmaj). The 2nd phrase ends with a brief emphasis of the dominant chord (not really long enough to call a modulation), bringing us to the halfway point in the double-period structure of the tune.

The 3rd phrase works from the dominant (Dmaj) down to the tonic again, with the harmony controlled by a stepwise bass (basses love those walking lines!); then in the second half of the phrase, the whole idea is sequenced up a 4th, so that the bass walks down to the subdominant chord (Cmaj). From this unexpected yet logical turn of events, Elvey leaps into an E major chord, a chromatic third relationship that echoes the B major chord at the end of the 1st phrase. It's a neat trick, though the leap from C up to G-sharp in the bass is not my favorite moment when singing this hymn! After fetching us up in this remote region, Elvey works back around the circle of 5ths again (as in the beginning of the 2nd phrase) so that the second half of the final phrase can end nicely in G major.


"Alford, Henry." Dictionary of National Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1885, 1:282-284.

"Harvest Festival." Wikipedia.

Roe, Kelda. "Sir George Job Elvey." Chapel Archives & Chapter Library, College of St. George, Windsor Castle.

Lightwood, James T. Hymn-Tunes and their Story. London: Charles H. Kelly, 1905.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"The Fruit of Our Lips": A Cappella Praise through the Centuries (Part 2)

In the previous post on the history of a cappella singing in Christian worship, it was noted that instruments were never introduced in most of the Orthodox churches, and only became widespread in the Catholic church at a fairly late date (12th-13th centuries). For what this historical fact is worth, for the better part of the two millennia since Christ's first advent, the majority of Christian song has been a cappella.

Pope Benedict XIV and the Annus qui hunc (1749)

Even following the introduction of instruments in the West, their acceptance was hardly universal. One of the most detailed and telling accounts of this fact comes from Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Annus qui hunc, delivered in 1749--more than five centuries from the time that the organ had come into widespread use. Among other points about the proper conduct of services and the decorum of the places of worship, Benedict made these interesting comments on objections to instrumental music in worship:
3. The third thing we must advise you is that the musical chant [canto musicale, probably referring to polyphony?--DRH] which is brought into the churches today and commonly is accompanied by the harmony of the organ and other instruments, is to be performed so as not to appear profane, worldly, or theatrical. The use of the organ and other musical instruments is not yet accepted throughout the Christian world. In fact (not to mention the Ruthenians of the Greek Rite, who according to the testimony of Father Le Brun in Explication Miss. (Volume 2, p. 215 published in 1749) do not have the organ or other musical instruments in their churches), Our Pontifical Chapel, as everyone knows, while admitting the musical chant provided that it is sober, decent, and pious, has never admitted the organ; as noted by Father Mabillon [(1632-1707)--DRH], saying: "On Trinity Sunday we witnessed the Pontifical Chapel, as it is called, etc. . . . In these ceremonies no use is made of organ music, but only vocal music in a dignified rhythm is permitted with plainsong."(Mabillon, Museum Italico, Volume 1, p.47, §17).

Grancolas reports that even today there are distinguished churches in France that do not use either the organ or canto figurato in sacred services: "However, there are even today famous Churches of Gaul that do not know the use of organs and music."(Grancolas, Commentario storico del Breviario Romano, ch.17). [Jean Grancolas (1660-1732) was a professor at the Sorbonne and well known as a historian of the Roman liturgy.--DRH]
The famous Church of Lyons, also contrary to the innovations, and according to the present day example of the Pontifical Chapel, has never wanted to introduce the use of the organ: "From what has been said, one understands that musical instruments were not admitted from the beginning, or in all places. In fact, even now in Rome, in the Chapel of the Supreme Pontiff, the offices are still celebrated solemnly without instruments, and the Church of Lyons, which does not know the innovations, has always rejected the organ, and has not accepted it yet." These are the words of Cardinal Bona in his treatise De Divina Psalmodia (ch.17, §2, n.5). [Giovanni Bona (1609-1674), whose study on psalmody was published in 1669. Bona later argues, however, that instrumental music is acceptable in moderation.--DRH]

This being the case, anyone can easily imagine what opinion will be had of us by pilgrims from a region where there is no use of musical instruments, and who, coming to us in our cities, hear it sound in churches as is done in theaters and other profane places. Certainly there are also foreigners of regions where there is singing and the use of musical instruments in the churches, as happens in some of our regions, yet if these people are wise men and animated by true piety, they will certainly feel disappointed not to have found in the song and music of our churches the remedy they wished to apply to cure the evil that rages in their own homes. In fact, leaving aside the argument that sees opponents divided into two camps (those who condemn and detest the use of musical chant and musical instruments in the churches, and on the other hand, those who approve and praise it), there is certainly no one who does not want some differentiation between ecclesiastical and theatrical melodies, and who does not agree that the use of theatrical or profane song must not be tolerated in the churches.

4. We said that there are some who have disapproved and others who have denounced the use of harmonized chant [canto armonico] with musical instruments in churches. The foremost among them in a way could be considered Aelred the abbot, a contemporary and disciple of St. Bernard, who in book 2 of his work entitled Speculum Charitatis writes: "From whence, despite their being discontinued types and figures, whence are the many organs in the churches, the many cymbals? What, pray, is that breath coming out of the terrible bellows, and that expresses the sound of thunder rather than the sweetness of song? What is this contraction and breaking up of the voice? This one sings with accompaniment, the other one sings alone, a third one sings in the highest pitch, and finally a fourth divides some notes in the middle and cuts them off."(Chapter 23, Volume 23, Biblioteca dei Padri, p. 118). [This is Æthelred (1109-1166), head of the Cistercian order in England.--DRH]

We will not begin to affirm that there was not in any church, at the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, the use of the musical chant accompanied by musical instruments. It can be asserted that no such custom existed in the churches known by the holy Doctor, and for this reason it seems he was not favorable to this kind of singing. In fact, in treating the question in the Summa Theologica (2, 2, quest. 91, Art. 2), "whether one should use song in the praises of God," he says yes. But to the fourth objection that he formulated, that the church is not accustomed to use musical instruments in the divine praises, such as the lyre and the harp, that it may not seem to want to Judaize--according to what we read in the Psalm: "Confitemini Domino cythara, in psalterio decem chordarum Psallite illi, (Give thanks to the Lord with the kithara, sing Psalms unto Him with a harp of ten strings)"--he replies: "These musical instruments excite pleasure rather than having the inner piety; they were used in the Old Testament because the people were more coarse and carnal, and it was necessary to lure them by use of these instruments, as also with earthly promises." He adds that the instruments in the Old Testament had the qualities ​​of a type or foreshadowing of certain realities: "Also because these material instruments represent other things." [For more on Thomas Aquinas's comments, see the previous post in this series.--DRH]

Concerning Pope Marcellus II, it has been handed down from history that he had decided to abolish the music in the churches, reducing ecclesiastical song to plainchant. This can be seen from reading the biography of that pontiff written by Pietro Polidori, just now deceased, formerly a recipient of a benefice from the Basilica of St. Peter, and a man known among the literati. [Modern scholarship has downplayed the involvement of Marcellus in the church music debates of the Counter-Reformation, and has shown that a return to a uniform practice of a cappella Gregorian chant was never very likely in any case. But it is a fact that there were at least some Catholic leaders who favored such a reform, even in the 1500s.--DRH]

In our own day we saw that the Cardinal Tommasi, a man of great virtue and an eminent liturgist, did not want the sound of music in his titular church of San Martino ai Monti on the feast of this saint in whose honor the Church is dedicated. He did not want music at either the Mass or Vespers, but ordered that in the sacred services one was to use plainchant, as is customarily done by the monks. [Giuseppe Maria Tommasi (1649-1713)--DRH]
(A better translation of the entire document is available in Robert F. Hayburn's Papal Legislation on Sacred Music (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1979), but I did not want to take the liberty of quoting such an extended passage. Information in my supplementary comments is from the Catholic Encylopedia Online, 1913 ed.)

In all fairness, Benedict XIV goes on to take up the other side, and reviews the apologists for instrumental music in worship as well. He cites (among others) John of Salisbury (c. 1115-1180), the bishop of Chartres; Antoninus of Florence (1389-1459), a prominent theologian; Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), a noted Jesuit scholar of the Counter-Reformation; Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534); Cardinal Baronius (1538-1607), an eminent church historian; Silvio Antoniano (1540-1603), an early scholar of Christian education; and Antoine Bellotte (d. 1667), a liturgical historian.

Benedict himself, of course, came down on the side of retaining instrumental music in worship while attempting to reform the more egregious abuses of its usage in his day. But even in this section supporting his view, there are two striking facts against the instrument. In the first place, the only early source he cites that gives unqualified approval to instrumental music in worship is John of Salisbury in the 12th century, whose contemporary Æthelred is even more vociferously opposed to the practice. Almost all his supporting sources are from the Renaissance and later.

In the second place, even the authorities Benedict cites in favor of using instruments in worship, frequently qualify their statements as though excusing the practice rather than endorsing it. Bellarmine says that "as the organ should be retained in the churches for the sake of the weak, so other instruments should not be casually introduced." Cajetan admits that the organ is an "innovation," but likewise excuses it for the sake of those "who are still carnal and imperfect." Baronius airily claims that "no one can justly disapprove, after so many centuries, that the church has introduced the use of organs." Silvio Antoniano makes virtually the same statement. This is really no argument at all, and besides, it had been only a few centuries at that time, compared to the centuries during which a cappella singing was nearly universal. Finally, Bellotte introduces this familiar assertion: "One should see no impropriety in the musical instruments themselves, if the church has made ​​use of singers in the music, but of musical instruments only in recent centuries. The reason is only that the pagans [of the early Christian era--DRH] used such musical instruments for lewd and immoral purposes, specifically in the theaters, at feasts, and at sacrifices." The more well-informed research of the Catholic scholar Dr. James W. McKinnon (1932-1999) has given the lie to this assumption--see his Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1989).

Sistine Chapel Choir

Among other interesting holdouts against the use of instruments, the most notable institution mentioned in this document is the pope's own private singers, the Schola Cantorum Romana or Sistine Chapel Choir. This group dates back at least as far as 6th century, when Gregory the Great made arrangements for a permanent group of select singers attached to the Church of St. John Lateran; these singers accompanied all services conducted by the pope, and traveled with him when he went abroad. When the Sistine Chapel was completed in the 15th century, all papal services were conducted there, and the choir has been associated with that worship space ever since.(Otten, "Sistine")

Josquin's signature on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Graffiti from the Sistine choir loft
dating back to the Renaissance.
Josquin des Prez signature at center.
Though the choir has had its ups and downs over the centuries, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this instution to the history of music in the Renaissance and Baroque. In an era when the most steady work for musicians was with the church, the Sistine Choir frequently boasted the best singers and composers of a generation. (It continued to have great singers and composers in later centuries as well, but increasing opportunities in secular music meant that churches no longer had such a monopoly on talent.) And though there was by that time a tradition of using instruments to double voices in sacred music, it was still the practice--as Benedict XIV witnesses--to sing a cappella in the pope's own "cappella." Some of the most beautiful unaccompanied choral music ever written came from these composers. 

Josquin des Prez (c. 1450?-1521), a member of the Sistine Choir from 1489-1495, was one of the key figures in the transition to the mature Renaissance style. Standing on the shoulders early Renaissance giants such as Johannes Ockeghem, Josquin took the beautiful yet still somewhat medieval sounds of the 15th century and refined them, with his systematic approach to counterpoint, into something much more modern. At the risk of bland over-generalization, it is not too much to say that without Josquin, there would have been no Palestrina, and without Palestrina, no Bach, at least as we know them; the development of harmonic counterpoint, one of the crowning achievements of Western classical music, lies in a direct road back to Josquin.

The video below is the Agnus Dei from Josquin's Missa L'Homme arme (mass based on the secular tune "The man at arms"). It is one of his works that is fairly definitely dated from his time with the Sistine Choir. In a mass, the Agnus Dei is sung during the breaking of the communion bread by the priest. The text is an elaboration on John 1:29, repeated three times:
Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.

Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.

Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
grant us peace.

In the middle and late 1500s, the Sistine Choir was graced with the composer who more than anyone defined the classic a cappella style in Catholic church music--Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). His actual membership was rather short--a new pope, Paul IV, insisted on enforcing the rule that all papal singers be in holy orders, and Palestrina as a married man could not comply.(Otten, "Palestrina") But his compositions were sung by the choir, and held in such high esteem by the popes that his work became an examplar in the church music debates at the Council of Trent. In later generations his music was held up as the standard of Renaissance counterpoint, and became the foundation of the "species" method of counterpoint still taught today.

The legends of Palestrina's saving Western music from the hands of the extremists in the Council of Trent have been shown to be overstated. There were some on the council who wished to revert to the sole use of Gregorian chant throughout the Catholic church, avoiding the questions of modern musical styles. There were even a few who were opposed to any use of instruments. But these were always a minority, and the council's actual decisions reflected very little change. The overall spirit of the times, however, was in favor of Palestrina's approach--clear, careful setting of the text, smooth, flowing counterpoint, and a deliberate adherence to the old modal scales of Gregorian chant. The video below is one of Palestrina's most popular motets among a cappella choirs worldwide. The text is Psalm 42:1, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God."

One final highlight from this golden age of a cappella music in the Sistine Chapel must be mentioned--the lovely Miserere setting by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), written for the Sistine Chapel services on Good Friday. In an era when copyright laws were loose or nonexistent, and plagiarism was a high compliment, this music was closely guarded as the exclusive property of the Sistine Choir for use in that service once each year. Legend purports that it was forbidden to be written down, but was instead taught by rote from generation to generation. The earliest written copy was supposedly made by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who reportedly wrote it down from memory after attending the Good Friday service in Rome. (It is totally believable that Mozart could have done this, but the copy written in his hand has never turned up.) Not surprisingly, there are several conflicting versions of this work, and the most popular one today--with the soaring high C--is probably the result of modifications to Allegri's work by later composers and by the singers themselves.(Byram-Wigfield)

Though this was well into the early Baroque, Allegri wrote this work almost as a "throwback;" the verses of the Psalm alternate between unison chant and a simple, hymn-like style of harmonization that might have been heard in earlier centuries.  This setting of the 51st Psalm, one of King David's most heartfelt expressions of penitence, is a haunting and moving reminder of the reason Jesus went to the cross.

King's College Choir, Cambridge

The Anglican A Cappella Tradition

To say that positions relative to instrumental music in worship were diverse in the Church of England during the Reformation is to state the obvious; positions on practically everything were up in the air, as a divided nation tried to find a national religion. The Catholics and "high church" nobility wanted to retain instruments in worship; the rising Puritan party did not. The latter may have been influenced as much by anti-Romanism as by any doctrinal argument, but once John Calvin and others had raised the question of Scripturalness and of the restoration of primitive Christian practice, it was generally true that the more reform-minded a person was, the less likely to favor instrumental music in worship.

What is rather surprising is the degree to which the a cappella position took hold during the Elizabethan era. Jonathan P. Willis, in his excellent new work Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England, has done painstaking study of surviving documents on the use of organs in English churches, and concludes:
It is reasonably likely that in the 1560s and early 1570s, where churches ceased documenting expenditure on organs which had been regularly maintained up until that point, we are witnessing a de facto removal of the instrument, at least from regular use, as at Holy Trinity Coventry, Wandsworth, Banwell, and St Philip and St Jacob Bristol.(Willis, 93)
And it was not only in the parish churches that this trend took root. Willis notes the banning of the organ in services at Winchester College by Bishop Horn in 1571, and at York Minster by Archbishop Holgate in 1552. In 1570 the church authorities at Lincoln Cathedral ordered their choirmaster to use the organ only for giving the singers their pitches.(Willis, 140-141)

Neither was this just a hobby among reactionary Puritans, though it has often been portrayed as such. Percy Dearmer, in his Everyman's History of the Prayer Book, notes that in the 1562 Convocation of the Clergy which produced the 39 Articles, the lower House of Convocation came within one vote of passing a resolution abolishing instrumental music in worship. He calls this "the insanity of a wild reaction," a "madness which fastened upon England."(Dearmer, ch. 8) But Willis notes that this "madness" included Dean Nowell of St. Paul's Cathedral and Dean Sampson of Christ Church Cathedral, both of whom also voted for a cappella music in 1562.(Willis, 140)

The career of Thomas Tallis (whose famous canon appears in Praise for the Lord #21, "All praise to Thee, my God, this night") demonstrates the complexity of religious loyalties in English church music of this period. Though he remained a Roman Catholic throughout, he served the Chapel Royal under the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth I, adjusting his musical style to suit the prevailing mood. He composed many of the earliest musical settings for the reformed services under Archbishop Cranmer, and even contributed a set of tunes for use with Archbishop Matthew Parker's new metrical Psalter. Tallis's setting of the 2nd Psalm, "Why fum'th in fight the Gentiles spite" is a haunting use of the Phrygian mode (E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E), and was the basis of Ralph Vaughan Williams's famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

Though Tallis himself probably had no compunction about instruments in worship, he led the way in the development of the a cappella English anthem. Below is one of his most popular works in this genre, based on Christ's reassuring words in John 14:15-17a.

Aarhus Baroque Choir, Denmark

During the (relatively brief) a cappella period at Lincoln Cathedral, mentioned above, the choirmaster who used the organ merely to sound the singers' starting notes was no less than William Byrd (1540?-1623), Tallis's star pupil and the next great English composer of the Tudor era.(Willias, 141) Like his teacher, Byrd was a practicing Roman Catholic who nonetheless composed according to the dictates of his employers. Though he also wrote accompanied sacred works, and was also a major figure in secular music, he made a lasting contribution to the Anglican a cappella tradition.

One of Byrd's works written around the time of the a cappella restriction at Lincoln was "O Lord, make Thy servant Elizabeth our queen," an adaptation of Psalms 21, 2, and 4.(Bray, 62) This beautiful prayer for God's blessing on the monarch was not only patriotic, but personal; Byrd was no doubt eager to enter the Chapel Royal where his mentor Tallis had found haven for so many years. He did so just a few years later.

Russian Orthodox Choral Music

As mentioned in the previous post on this subject, the Orthodox churches with very few exceptions have retained the a cappella practice down through the centuries, developing unaccompanied music of various types according to the influences of their own native musical styles. The music of the Russian church, however, took a distinctive turn owing to its unique cultural position facing both to the West and to the East. In the middle part of the 16th century, the powerful Russian patriarch Nikon brought about sweeping changes in the liturgy, and encouraged the cultivation of church music written in contemporary European styles--though retaining the a cappella practice.

This period of reform in the church was followed by the Western-oriented and modernizing reign of Peter the Great, and the new style of choral church music became firmly established. In addition to those composers who devoted most of their work to church music, it was quite typical for more secular-oriented composers to write a cappella choral works for the church as well. Many of the most famous names in music history participated in this tradition.

The video below is a setting by Nikolai Diletsky (c.1630-c.1680) of the first of the canticles for Easter, a text dating back to John of Damascus (d. 749). The lyrics are as follows: "Resurrection day, let us be radiant, O peoples! Pascha, it is the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God has brought us from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song."

Kiev Chamber Choir

Diletsky was probably Ukrainian, educated in Poland, and worked in various countries; he was also prominent as a music theorist.("Diletsky") His work demonstrates a balance between the Slavic traditions of harmonized chant and a Western-oriented counterpoint and disposition of voices; this would be characteristic of the new choral tradition.

Dmitri Bortniansky (1751-1825) is representative of the next phase of the Russian Orthodox choral tradition, receiving his training in Italy and firmly entrenched in a Western style of composition. Though tastes would change after his time from Italian to German, a Westernized approach tended to prevail until late in the 19th century. Ironically, it was a setting of the Chrysostom Liturgy by Tchaikovsky--usually a rather Western-oriented composer himself--that signaled a move back toward the Slavic roots of the style.(Moody)

The following video is Bortniansky's setting of the "Cherubs' Hymn," which translates as follows:
We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.
(Translation from
Tchaikovsky's particular contribution to the tradition was to embrace the rich beauty of the thick harmonies of the old chant style, as seen in his setting of the Lord's Prayer.

Since that time, a more distinctly Slavic approach has been followed. Some major names in this beautiful a cappella tradition in the early 20th century (before the official suppression of the church in the USSR, but continuing abroad) were Gretchaninoff and Archangelsky, and also composers more well known for their secular music, such as Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky.


Otten, Joseph. "Sistine Choir." Catholic Encylopedia (1913) Online.

Otten, Joseph. "Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina." Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) Online.

Byram-Wigfield, Ben. "Allegri's Miserere." Ancient Groove Music, 2009.

Willis, Jonathan P. Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England: Discourses, Sites and Identities. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2010.

Dearmer, Percy. Everyman's History of the Prayer Book. London: A. R. Mowbray, 1912.

Bray, Roger. "William Byrd's English Psalms." Psalms in the E

"Nikolay Diletsky." Wikipedia.

Moody, Ivan. "An Outline History of Russian Sacred Music."