Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fairest Lord Jesus

Praise for the Lord #137

Words: Münsterisch Gesangbuch, 1677; stanzas 1-3 translated in Richard S. Willis's Church Chorals & Choir Studies, 1850; stanza 4 translated by Joseph A. Seiss, 1873

Music: CRUSADERS' HYMN, Hoffman von Fallersleben's Schlesische Volkslieder, 1842; arranged by Richard S. Willis in Church Chorals & Choir Studies, 1850

Some hymns of great quality and distinguished history have come down to us almost as museum pieces, appreciated only when we have learned to understand their style and the context of their times. They fail to make the transition from high church to low church traditions, from liturgical to non-liturgical usage, or from a specific national or denominational origin to a broader global audience. Sometimes they can be reintroduced, but it is difficult for them to reach the status of core repertoire.

"Fairest Lord Jesus" is not one of those hymns. I have heard this in congregations large and small, urban and rural; and in every context it seems to be owned and loved by the people, not as an exotic transplant, but as one of "our hymns." In the various surveys I have seen of favorite hymns, it may not make the top 10 or top 50, but fares well in a top 100 list and is certain to make the cut of anything larger. (An inherent problem in such surveys is that this text exists under two different titles; "Beautiful Savior" is another translation of the same text.)

Hymnary.org features "Fairest Lord Jesus" on its page listing the 250 most common hymns in modern hymnals. Its overall number of instances in that database is 463 (with an additional 117 instances of "Beautiful Savior"), which does not approach the 1000+ mark held by "Amazing grace" or "Old rugged cross", but is greater than the frequency of "Dear Lord and Father of mankind" and "O Master let me walk with Thee". I believe its longevity is owed to 1) a compelling, yet easily grasped message, and 2) a simple but attractive tune that is easily learned.

Münsterisch Gesangbuch p. 576. Digital copy owned
by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster.
Used by permission.
The earliest known form of this hymn is "Schönster Herr Jesu," found in the Catholic hymnal titled Münsterisch Gesangbuch (Münster in Westphalen: Raesfeldt, 1677). It was introduced there without author attribution, as one of a set of three "beautiful and exceptional new songs," suggesting that it was of recent composition. It has sometimes been ascribed to the Jesuit scholar-poet Friedrich Spee (1591-1635), but without real evidence beyond its similarity in imagery to some of his devotional writing (M. Fischer "Liedkommentar" 2 n.2). Though the text has evolved considerably, the basic structure and many of the distinctive expressions we know from the English translation were present from the beginning. Following is the original text with my own rough translation:

Schönster Herr Jesu
Herrscher aller Herren
Gottes vnd Mariæ Sohn
Dich wil ich lieben
Dich wil ich ehren
Meiner Seelen Frewd vnd Wohn.        

Alle die Schönheit
Himmels vnd der Erde
Ist gefast in dir allein
Keiner sol jmmer
Lieber mir werden
Als du Jesu liebster mein.

Schame dich O sonne
Schame dich O Mone
Schämet euch jhr Sternen all
Jesus ist feiner
Jesus ist reiner
Dann die Engeln allzumahl.

Schön seindt die Blumen
Schöner seindt die Menschen
In der frischer Jugendt Zeit
Sie müssen sterben
Müssen verderben
Jesus lebt in Ewigkeit.

Er ist warhafftig
allhie gegenwertig
In dem heiligen Sacrament
Jesu dich bitt ich
Sey vns gnädig
Jetzo vnd an vnserm End.
Fairest Lord Jesus,
Lord of all Lords,
God's and Mary's Son;
You would I love,
You would I honor,
My soul's joy and home.

All of the beauty
Of heaven and the earth
Is bound up in You alone;
No other shall ever
Be better to me
Than you, my beloved Jesus.

Be ashamed, O sun!
Be ashamed, O moon!
Be ashamed, all you stars!
Jesus is finer,
Jesus is purer,
Than all the angels together.

Beautiful are the flowers,
More beautiful are the people,
In the fresh time of youth;
They must pass away,
They must perish;
Jesus lives to eternity.

He is truly
Present here
In the holy sacrament;
Jesus, I beg You,
Be to us gracious,
Now and unto our end.

The final stanza reveals a focus on the Lord's Supper that does not carry over into the modern English versions, no doubt because of its teaching of the "real presence" of Christ in the elements of the Communion. It was probably this factor that initially kept the hymn from spreading from Catholic into Protestant usage. A modernized and somewhat expanded version appeared in the Geistliches Psälterlein (1747), a Jesuit publication, but it was not until its publication in the 1842 Schleslische Volkslieder ("Silesian Folksongs") that it began its ascent into the front rank of Christian hymns (M. Fischer "Kurzkommentar").

Schönster Herr Jesu,
Herrscher aller Erden,
Gottes und Mariä Sohn!
Dich will ich lieben,
Dich will ich ehren,
meiner Seelen Freud’ und Kron’.

Schön sind die Wälder,
Noch schöner sind die Felder
In der schönen Frühlingszeit!
Jesus ist schöner,
Jesus ist reiner,
Der unser trauriges Herz erfreut!

Schön leucht der Monden,
Noch schöner leucht die Sonne
Als die Sternlein allzumal!
Jesus leucht schöner,
Jesus leucht reiner,
Als die Engel im Himmelssaal!

All’ die Schönheit
Himmels und der Erden
Ist nur gegen ihn als ein Schein!
Keiner auf Erden
Uns lieber kann werden,
Als der schönste Jesus mein!

Jesus ist wahrhaftig
Hoch von uns geliebet,
Jesus ist wahrhaftig hoch gebenedeit!
Jesus, wir bitten dich,
Sei uns gnädig
Bis an unsre letzte Zeit.       
Fairest lord Jesus,
Lord of all the earth,
God's and Mary's Son!
You would I love,
You would I honor,
My soul's joy and crown.

Fair are the woodlands,
Fairer still the meadows,
In the beautiful springtime!
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer,
Who cheers our woeful heart!

Fair shines the moon,
Fairer still shines the sun,
Than all the little stars together!
Jesus shines fairer,
Jesus shines purer,
Than all the angels in the heavens!

All the beauty
Of the heavens and the earth
Compared to Him is just a show!
No one on earth
Could be better to us
Than my fairest Jesus!

Jesus is truly
Highly beloved by us,
Jesus is truly highly blessed!
Jesus, we beg You,
Be gracious to us,
Now and unto our last days.

Here the references to the Lord's Supper are removed, but it is not this bit of editorial ecumenicizing alone that led to the booming popularity of the hymn. Michael Fischer points out that in this case, a hymn born of 17th-century Pietism was reinterpreted through the lens of 19th-century Romantic nature-mysticism ("Liedkommentar" 7). Both points of view share the deeply personal and breathlessly emotional approach to worship evident in this hymn; but where the original Pietist author meant to say, "Look at all the beauty of nature! Put it all together, and Jesus is even more wonderful!", I am afraid the 19th-century Romantics were all too literally lost in the woods. Still, the burgeoning interest in folk literature during the 19th century--also the era of the Grimm Brothers--helped to revive many such gems of vernacular devotional poetry.

August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben's Schleisische Volkslieder was just such an effort. Hoffman, best known as the author of Das Lied der Deutschen (from which both the past and present German anthems derive), was a language professor and librarian of the University of Breslau (modern Wrocław) during the 1830s. A liberal democrat (in the best sense of those words!), he was part of a new generation of scholars that saw value in preserving and studying the art and literature of the common people (Wikipedia). According to the preface of his Silesian collection, he began gathering folk songs of that region while visiting a friend in the country. Intrigued by the results, he mobilized students in a local seminary to collect songs from their home villages, and sought contributions via the newspapers (Schleisische Volkslieder iii-iv). Hoffman's version of "Schönster Herr Jesu" was sent to him by Chaplain Rupprecht of the village of Reyersdorf (Radochów) in the county of Glatz, today the Kłodzki district of Poland (M. Fischer "Liedkommentar" 8 n26).

The next stop in this text's meandering journey into the modern English repertoire was the translation included by Richard Storrs Willis in his Church Chorals and Choir Studies. Willis (1819-1900) was a composer, though better known as a music critic, who grew up in Boston during the ascent of Lowell Mason and the "better music" movement. Like his contemporary, William Bradbury, Willis studied music at the famed Leipzig Conservatory. And though the two men moved in very different circles (Willis became a respected classical music critic, and Bradbury a prominent writer and publisher of gospel songs), they shared the view that American church music would be improved through the adoption and imitation of the best European models (Pruett). In the preface to the Church Chorals collection, Willis held up the Lutheran tradition as ideal: art music for the choir, but simple and straightforward hymns for the congregation, and plenty of them (Willis 15-16). In the section of "Chorals" (to avoid confusion, we typically spell this "chorales" today), Willis mixed familiar tunes from the English hymn tradition with adaptations from classical composers and hymn tunes borrowed from other countries--one of which was "Fairest Lord Jesus."

Willis provided Hoffmann's text alongside his own translation, so his source is clear; aside from a few changes of order of lines (noted below in the discussion of the individual stanzas) the text is identical. What is not clear is Willis's source for the 12th century date which he ascribes to this hymn, as well as for this note printed below the hymn:  
This hymn, to which the harmony has been added, was lately discovered in Westphalia. According to the traditionary [sic, DRH] text by which it is accompanied, it was wont to be sung by the German knights on their way to Jerusalem. . . . (Willis 193)
Now, this hymn did appear so far as we know in Westphalia during the 17th century, in the aforementioned Münsterisch Gesangbuch; but its "late discovery" by Hoffmann was in Silesia, rather farther to the east. Willis seems either to have confused the facts or to have relied on a source that was itself confused.

But where did this idea originate, that "Schönster Herr Jesu" was connected with the Crusades? It was believed by no less an authority than Philip Schaff, author of the eight-volume History of the Christian Church. In 1852 he wrote a brief article on the hymn, in which he said in part:
It is an old German pilgrim- and pilgrimage-song, probably from the twelfth or thirteenth century, and is said to have been sung by the crusaders and pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. It perpetuated itself in Silesia through a living tradition, and appeared for the first time in print in the Schlesischen Volksliedern . . . compiled by Hoffmann von Fallersleben and Ernst Richter, Leipzig, 1842, but it first became generally known in Christian circles in 1849 through the Volksblatt of Nathusius. From that time on, because of its genuine folk-like simplicity, Christian earnestness, and wonderfully appealing melody, it has found an extraordinarily rapid acceptance into the German consciousness, and travels with a magical attraction from mouth to mouth (Schaff 229).
Philip Schaff was of course one of the most famous Christian scholars of modern times, whose works remain on the shelves of our libraries to this day; but in this instance he did not speak from the best evidence. He seems to have known it himself--note that he immediately hedges the statement with "probably" and "it is said to have been . . . ." It is also interesting that Schaff, like Willis before him, cites no source for his information. Hoffman's publication in 1842 gave no hint of the hymn's origins; if there were such a major discovery in the intervening 10 years, why not name the scholar involved? Instead Schaff points to the hymn's publication in 1849, in the Volksblatt (People's journal) of Quedlinburg, then edited by Philipp von Nathusius. Unfortunately I have been unable to access this journal, and cannot determine if Nathusius was the source (or one source) of the legend.

One cannot underestimate the power of Romantic symbolism during the heady years of the middle 19th century. The idealized Crusader knight represented strength and unity in pursuit of a higher purpose. For some, it was a political purpose, such as the reunification of Germany sought by the revolutionaries of 1848. For others it was a spiritual purpose, a desire to return to an era in which the Christian faith unified the Western nations, and was unified within itself. Schaff himself was heavily involved in ecumenical efforts, and to some extent shared the Oxford Movement's interest in the revival of pre-Reformation Christianity. The end of Schaff's article on "Schönster Herr Jesu" is rather revealing of his desire for this origins story to be true:
Many readers may be surprised to hear, from the time of the Crusades, such a lovely testimony of fervent love for Christ; and we recommend it especially to all those who still at the present day, despite all the progress of historical research, find nothing in the Middle Ages but papist antichristianity, darkness and superstition (Schaff 229).
But viewed in the cold light of investigative scholarship, the claims of a medieval origin simply do not hold up. There was significant skepticism among hymnologists and musicologists from a very early date. Albert Fischer noted in his Kirchenlieder-Lexicon (1878) that there was simply no evidence of "Schönster Herr Jesu" prior to the 17th century, despite the considerable scholarship that had been done (even by 1878) on the history of early German hymns (A. Fischer 240). His observation holds true today. In 1908 Friedrich Jehle, in his hymnology column for Philip Spitta's Monatsschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst, lamented the constant repetition of this unfounded provenance: "But even though the inaccuracy of the above information [on the origin of the hymn, DRH] is demonstrated, it will be disseminated all over again" (Jehle 251). If only Jehle could have anticipated the Internet! To these early objectors I add only the summary judgment of Julian: "For these statements there does not seem to be the shadow of foundation" (Julian 1016).

Besides the lack of positive evidence, there is an internal reason for questioning this hymn's origin as a Crusaders' pilgrimage song. The earliest documented sources of the text, from the 1600s through the 1700s, show it was used as a communion hymn; and though it is understandable that a communion hymn could be whittled down to a more generic and less denominationally specific praise hymn, it is hard to believe that it started out as a pilgrimage hymn, then became a communion hymn, then morphed back into its prior form.

Though Willis's 1850 publication of this hymn was its first introduction to the English-speaking public in the U.S., the original German version was also well known on these shores through the numerous hymnals published here by the wave of immigrants that arrived during the 19th century. The children and grandchildren of these German immigrants, however, began to publish English-language hymnals, often beginning with English-language Sunday School songbooks. In 1873 the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (later the United Lutheran Church in America) published the Sunday School Book, which introduced a new English version of "Schönster Herr Jesu," translated by Joseph A. Seiss as "Beautiful Savior" (Hymnary.org). Though this translation is less common than "Fairest Lord Jesus," it received a great deal of notoriety in the 20th century through the gorgeous a cappella arrangement by F. Melius Christiansen, the signature piece of his St. Olaf's Choir (St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota). The first stanza of "Beautiful Savior" is now found at the close of "Fairest Lord Jesus" in some hymnals, even though it is essentially a repetition of the first stanza in different words!

"Fair are the woodlands," indeed! Near Radochów (German: Reyersdorf), Poland,
the village from which Hoffman's version of "Fairest Lord Jesus" was collected.
 Photo by Bjoern Hoernitz, Wikimedia Commons, used by Creative Commons license. 

Stanza 1:
Fairest Lord Jesus! Ruler of all nature,
O Thou of God and man the Son!
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
Thou, my soul's Glory, Joy, and Crown!

What did Jesus look like? A man once proposed to me that Jesus must have had predominantly African physical traits; and though his Scriptural arguments did not strike me as convincing, I readily agreed that Jesus probably resembled an Ethiopian or Egyptian far more than He resembled my own Northern European ancestors! But if Scripture tells us anything about Jesus' physical appearance, it is that it was unremarkable and unimportant. The fact that Judas had to point Him out to the soldiers who came to arrest Him, seems to indicate that He was a rather average-looking Galilean Jew. In fact, His lack of any particular physical attractiveness was predicted in Isaiah 53:2, "He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him."

And yet He is our "fairest Lord Jesus," the most beautiful of all who ever lived. Peter gave us a clue to what kind of beauty this is, when he advised us not to pay so much attention to our own outward attractiveness, but rather to "let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:4)." When it came to the "hidden person of the heart," this average-looking Man of Galilee was like "light shining in the darkness" (John 1:5). His beauty shone in His words--the beatitudes, the parables, the simple but profound answers, the towering moral teachings that challenge and inspire even those who do not accept Him as Savior--so that even His bewildered opponents had to say, "No one ever spoke like this man!" (John 7:46). His beauty shone in His actions--the gentle touch for the outcasts of society, the respect shown to women, the countless acts of healing, the righteous fury that drove out the moneychangers--until John could only say, "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25).

The first stanza of this hymn, having introduced this wonderful subject, declares our intention to render all "glory and honor" to the One who is the fairest of all who ever lived. He is to be worshiped, as well, because He is "Ruler of all nature." The original text from 1677 was "Herrscher aller Herren," or "Lord of Lords." By the time of Hoffman's 1842 publication it had evolved to the similar-sounding "Herrscher aller Erden," "Lord of all the earth," which also prefigures the nature imagery in the following stanzas. Both expressions are eminently appropriate. Jesus is "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords" (Revelation 19:16), who holds "all authority . . . in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). He has an additional claim upon this physical creation:
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Col 1:16-17).
The second line of this stanza, "O Thou of God and man the Son," was originally, "Gottes und Mariae Sohn," literally, "God's and Mary's Son." Perhaps this expression was too "Catholic-sounding" for the translator's majority-Protestant readership, or perhaps he could not find a better way to fit it into English words, but it is certainly a true factual statement either way. The wonder of the Incarnation is starkly presented, in a fashion similar to John's understated, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). This Lord of Creation, the fairest of all, is the Son of God and yet is one of us.
Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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 2:6-11).
That is what this stanza tells us to do, giving voice to our desires: "Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor." There is a subtlety in the original German that does not come across as well in the English: "Dich will ich lieben, dich will ich ehren" means literally, "You I want to love, You I want to honor." The German "will" is a desire to do something in the present; the English "will" is a determination to do something in the future. In this case, however, the difference is immaterial; we mean both!

We desire express our love and respect to Jesus because He is the "soul's glory, joy and crown." The oldest German text reads "Freud' und Wohn," literally, "joy and home," but over the centuries it became "Freud' und Kron'," which is the source of the English translation. "Joy" is a concept associated with Jesus and taught by Him throughout the gospel accounts. His birth was announced as "good tidings of great joy" (Luke 2:10). His resurrection filled the disciples with "fear and great joy" (Matthew 28:8). Christ is himself the reason for and source of joy: "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). Likewise Jesus is the source of all the glory of God that we can comprehend, for in the Son of God "we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). His glory can only be claimed as our glory, however, when we acknowledge the supremacy of this truth:
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD . . .
(Jeremiah 9:23-24a).
The knowledge of the glory of Christ is the crown for which we strive. There are many crowns, of course, literal and figurative, for which people strive in this world. Paul said, "Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25). And though Paul spoke of the literal "crowns" or laurels given in the Greek and Roman athletic games, he might just as well be speaking of all the perishable glories and achievements for which many people strive in this life. But the knowledge of Christ is the "glory, joy and crown" that will never fade away. As Isaiah prophesied, "In that day the LORD of Hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of His people (Isaiah 28:5).

Stanza 2:
Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

The succeeding stanzas follow a simple thought: Imagine the most beautiful things in earth and heaven--Jesus is more beautiful. Friedrich Spee, who has been suggested as the possible author of this hymn, left the following devotional commentary on the Lord's Supper which is certainly in the same spirit:
Picture to yourself, as if this entire world, as many thousands of miles far and wide as it is, were all a sparkling crystal, or diamond, if you will, which is the most costly of gems. Also, that all the grass and herbs of the earth were all silver, and all trees and woods in the entire world were gold, and all waters, seas, rivers, brooks, and fountains, were nothing but choice pearls. Also, that the whole sky were a single shining sapphire, and all the stars nothing but glowing carbuncles.
O God, how could there be such an inexpressible and incomprehensible treasure and wealth? Let one think on this a little, and contemplate this beautiful spectacle. And afterward, remember that the holy and most high Sacrament is just such a costly heavens and earth, because it contains in itself God, and all that is. (Friedrich Spee, from the Güldenes Tugend-Buch, 17th century; quoted in M. Fischer, "Liedkommentar").
Though I certainly regard the elements of the Communion in a different fashion, I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of Spee's sentiment!

This stanza seems to originate from 4th stanza of the earliest German version of this hymn, which expresses the thought: "Fair are the flowers, / Fairer still the people / In the fresh bloom of youth!" The original goes on to point out the evanescence of both flowers and youth, reflecting on the truth of Isaiah 40:6-8, "All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field . . . but the word of our God will stand forever." The beauty of Jesus Christ, of course, is eternal and changeless. Over the years, however, this stanza evolved into a simple comparison of the beauties of the flowers, fields, and woods to that of Christ. The image of flowers remained in the reference to the meadows "robed in the blooming garb of spring," as the folk tradition rewrote the original "Jugendzeit" ("time of youth") into "Frühlingszeit" ("time of spring").

There was also a slight alteration when this stanza was translated into English, transposing the order of "woodlands" and "meadows"; it should have been, more literally, "Fair are the woodlands, fairer still the meadows / Robed in the blooming garb of spring." No doubt the second line refers to the beautiful wildflowers that sprinkle the fields and roadsides in the springtime; they are free gifts from God, yet "even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:29). In the same way, "the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many" (Rom 5:15), far surpassing any other sacrifice that could have been made, and so far outstripping the "cunningly devised fables" invented by men for their own salvation, as to beggar comparison (2 Peter 1:16). But just as we often overlook the beauty of the wildflowers along the roadside, many pass by that free gift of grace without a second thought, or take it for granted once they have secured it.

The stanza concludes by telling us that Jesus "makes the woeful heart to sing." He promises comfort to the mourner (Matthew 5:4), and rest to the weary (Matthew 11:28). When we think we will never sing again, He shows us that we can and will. King David was a man who saw tragedy and setbacks throughout his life, and he understood this principle when he wrote,
I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
Out of the miry bog,
And set my feet upon a rock,
Making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God.
(Psa 40:1-3a)
The wildflowers in springtime are a cause for joy, and lift my spirits every year; but Jesus is with me all the year round, giving me new reasons to sing every day. It is a blessing, too, that God placed a direct line from the voice to the heart; sometimes joy in the heart overflows in song, but sometimes we have to reverse the direction and fill the heart with joy from singing! This hymn itself is a powerful antidote to the melancholy that some of us struggle with, reminding us of simple truths that last.

Klatschmohnen (poppies) near Wojbórz (German: Gabersdorf), Poland, in the Kłodzki
(Glatz) district, from which the 1842 version of "Fairest Lord Jesus" was collected.
Photo by Bjoern Hoernitz, Wikimedia Commons, used by Creative Commons license. 

Stanza 3:
Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
And all the twinkling starry host;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer,
Than all the angels heaven can boast.

In this stanza as well, the original hymn was slightly rearranged in translation. The German lyrics from 1842 read, "Fair is the moonlight, fairer still the sunshine," progressing from the lesser to the greater. (I remember wondering about this as a child--why would someone think the moonlight was more beautiful than sunshine?) But it really is no matter, because Jesus outshines them all. The oldest German text presents this idea even more forcefully: "Schäme dich, O Sonne! Schäme dich, O Mond!" (Literally, "Shame on you!") Compared to the Light of the World (John 8:12), they are insignificant. The "inconstant moon," as Juliet called it, has long been a metaphor for changeableness because of its cycle of phases. In modern times we have learned that the output of the sun is not as constant as was once thought, but actually varies considerably over time. By contrast, we put our trust in the One "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17).

"All the twinkling starry host" is a number that long ago passed the ability of our minds to grasp, but recent research by Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University suggests that the current count of 100 sextillion might be low. His estimate runs to 300 sextillion, or, 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. His revision is an attempt to correct the way previous estimates accounted for the number of stars in certain types of galaxies; using the Keck observatory in Hawaii, Van Dokkum determined that the elliptical galaxies have "10 to 20 times" more stars than previously thought. Astronomer Richard Ellis of Cal Tech said that Van Dokkum's findings are stirring up current thinking in astronomy "like a cat among pigeons." He notes dryly that perhaps "the universe is more complicated than we think" (Borenstein).

Yes, it is, and in more ways than we think. We should remember that as astonishing as these things are--and I am always glad to learn more about them, to the extent that I can understand them--"the secret things belong to God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). Augustine of Hippo summed up our frustration and admiration thus, in his Confessions, book 1, chapter 3:
Since, then, Thou dost fill the heaven and earth, do they contain Thee? Or, dost Thou fill and overflow them, because they cannot contain Thee? And where dost Thou pour out what remains of Thee after heaven and earth are full? Or, indeed, is there no need that Thou, who dost contain all things, shouldst be contained by any, since those things which Thou dost fill, Thou fillest by containing them? 
For the vessels which Thou dost fill do not confine Thee, since even if they were broken, Thou wouldst not be poured out. And, when Thou art poured out on us, Thou art not thereby brought down; rather, we are uplifted. Thou art not scattered; rather, Thou dost gather us together.
But when Thou dost fill all things, dost Thou fill them with Thy whole being? Or, since not even all things together could contain Thee altogether, does any one thing contain a single part, and do all things contain that same part at the same time? Do singulars contain Thee singly? Do greater things contain more of Thee, and smaller things less? Or, is it not rather that Thou art wholly present everywhere, yet in such a way that nothing contains Thee wholly?
To all this I can only say, "Amen. I don't understand Him either." Augustine was trying to grasp the magnitude of God's works, with the scientific and philosophical tools of his day, and we do no better with ours. All I know is that even if we really were able to comprehend this physical universe, God is so much greater that it would not even be a first step in truly understanding His nature. We know Him to the extent that He has revealed himself to us. And it is in Jesus Christ that He has most fully revealed himself, and has drawn us to Him. There is the even greater mystery, that surpasses all 300 sextillion (or more?) of the "twinkling starry host." That is a mighty big number; but how much more incomprehensible is "the breadth and length and height and depth" of "the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge!" (Ephesians 3:18-19).

Image from the Hubble telescope's XDF (Extreme Deep Field) study, the farthest
visible-light view into deep space ever undertaken. Public domain photo from NASA.

Stanza 4:

Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
Now and forevermore be Thine!

In many hymnals this stanza concludes "Fairest Lord Jesus," though it is actually the first stanza again, here taken from the translation by Joseph A. Seiss. "Lord of the nations" perhaps harks back to the original "Herrscher aller Herren" ("Lord of Lords") in the earliest German text, reminding us of Jesus' authority over humanity--over our souls--and not just over the physical realm. "Son of God and Son of Man" is parallel to the other translation's "O Thou of God and man the Son," but ties more directly into specific Scriptural expressions. Jesus is the Son of God, and claimed to be so while on this earth (John 10:36); but He referred to himself more often by the latter expression, "Son of Man" (John 13:31). Of course, any of us could claim the latter title in a simply literal sense; David used it in the same fashion in Psalm 8:3-4,
When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have set in place;
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
But when the Son of God came to this earth and put on this mortal flesh, He took up that humble name "Son of Man" and gave it a new dignity. He came to be the new Adam (Romans 5:14), and to make us "new creatures" (2 Corinthians 5:17), the people God intends for us to be. The stanza ends in a declaration of the intent to praise and honor Jesus because of this wonderful gift, and reads very much like the doxology at the end of Jude: "To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever" (Jude 25).

About the music:

Unlike most older hymn texts, "Fairest Lord Jesus" comes down to us with words and music already put together. There are two different tunes associated with the hymn, each of which is associated with a specific stage in the hymn's history; but seldom if ever will it be found in a hymnal set to any other tunes besides these two. The earlier tune is less familiar to the general hymn repertoire, because it dates from the era in which this text was used exclusively in the German Catholic tradition. Usually designated today as SCHÖNSTER HERR JESU, this tune goes back to the earliest appearance of the hymn, the Münsterisch Gesangbuch (M. Fischer). (The digital copy of this hymnal provided by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster is from the words-only edition, but there was a music edition as well--the last copy of which was lost during the wars of the 20th century--also dating from 1677.) The video below reveals the haunting beauty of this melody, which is much of a piece with the Pietist hymns of the 17th century.




The more familiar tune, known by the unfortunately inaccurate title CRUSADER'S HYMN, has not been found so far in any source prior to its 1842 publication in Hoffman's Schleslische Volkslieder. The tune is also sometimes called ST. ELIZABETH becuase of its use in Franz Liszt's 1862 oratorio Legend of St. Elizabeth, where it is featured in the "March of the Crusaders". Liszt's use of the tune in this context does not lend any support to the supposed Medieval origin of the hymn; by 1862, much of the public had already accepted this association as fact, and Liszt would never have let historical authenticity get in the way of good drama anyway.

Hearing this tune with the German lyrics, it is easy understand how this hymn became so popular, so quickly. It simply sings well, and has been popular with the numerous choral groups in German-speaking lands ever since. The video below is the group Chorioses, singing at the Ludwigskirchen in Saarbrücken.




It is probably fruitless, of course, to try to define what makes any particular melody beautiful; but there are certain characteristics of this tune that are common to many such timeless folk melodies, and are perhaps helpful to note.


To begin with, the rhythms are simple and repetitive, yet not monotonous. Only three different note lengths are used: half notes and quarter notes make up most of the tune, but two half notes and a whole note are found at the ends of phrases B and D, the midpoint and ending. The slowing to longer note values at those two points gives gentle emphasis to the periodic structure of the tune, with a half cadence ending phrase B and an authentic cadence ending phrase D. Within phrases A and C, there is a continual reference to the basic rhythm:


This rhythm goes together with a particular melodic shape, seen in subphrase a1 above ("Fair-est Lord Je-sus"). Though this motive is sometimes varied at its beginning (repeated notes in subphrases a1 & a2, step up and back down in subphrases c1 & c2), the ending is always the same shape: leap down a 3rd, then step back up.

On the larger scale, this melodic idea is the basis of phrase A, stated once (subphrase a1) and then sequenced up a 3rd (subphrase a2). Phrase B begins another 3rd higher, and starts with the same rhythm as before, then breaks away from the sequence with a leap up to the highest note of the melody. After this dramatic high point, phrase B winds down with a heavily emphasized descending line to rest on G, implying a half cadence (conclusion of the phrase on the dominant chord, C-E-G).

Phrase C begins on the same note as does phrase B, but then returns to a slightly changed version of the basic melodic idea from phrase A. Phrase C also sequences down by step, from subphrase c1 to subphrase c2. Phrase D, like the corresponding phrase B, is made of contrasting material and ends with a slow descent, this time coming to rest on F for an authentic cadence (return to the tonic chord of the key, F-A-C).


References:

"August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben." Wikipedia. Viewed 20 November 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Heinrich_Hoffmann_von_Fallersleben

Augustine. Confessions, translated by Albert C. Outler. Wikisource edition. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Confessions_of_Saint_Augustine_(Outler)

"Beautiful Savior." Hymnary.org.  http://www.hymnary.org/text/beautiful_savior_king_of_creation

Borenstein, Seth. "Number of stars in the universe could be 300 sextillion, triple the amount scientists previously though." Huffington Post 1 December 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/01/number-of-stars-in-universe_n_790563.html

Fischer, Albert Friedrich Wilhelm. Kirchenlieder-Lexikon. Gotha: Friedrich Andrea Perthes, 1878.
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.b3379523?urlappend=%3Bseq=818

Fischer, Michael. "Schönster Herr Jesu." Freiburger Anthologie: Lyrik und Liedhttp://www.lyrik-und-lied.de/ll.pl?kat=typ.show.song.ebs&ds=479&start=0

Jehle, Friedrich. "Hymnologisches." Monatsschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst 13:8/9 (Aug.-Sep. 1908): 244-254.  http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433082189618?urlappend=%3Bseq=271

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology. London: J. Murray, 1891.
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015073326483?urlappend=%3Bseq=1034

Münsterisch Gesangbuch (Münster in Westphalen : Raesfeldt, 1677). Digital edition by Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster, 2012. http://sammlungen.ulb.uni-muenster.de/ob/content/titleinfo/1116423

Pruett, Laura Moore. "Willis, Richard Storrs." Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, viewed 21 November 2013.

Schaff, Philip. "Ein altdeutsches Pilgerlied." Der Deutsche Kirchenfreund 5:6 (June 1852) 229-230
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.ah6jjq?urlappend=%3Bseq=233
***A rather careless English translation is given in The Guardian (Philadelphia) 20:3 (March 1869) 96-97.
http://books.google.com/books?id=x-4VAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA96&f=false#v=onepage&q&f=false

Schlesische Volkslieder mit Melodien, ed. Hoffmann von Fallersleben and Ernst Richter. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1842. http://books.google.com/books?id=nUgJAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA339#v=onepage&q&f=false

"SCHÖNSTER HERR JESU" (tune page). Hymnary.org. 
http://www.hymnary.org/tune/schonster_herr_jesu_51277

Shriver, George H. "Schaff, Philip." American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000. http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-01331

Willis, Richard Storrs. Church Chorals and Choir Studies. New York: Clark, Austin & Smith, 1850.
https://archive.org/details/churchchoralscho00will


1 comment:

  1. Johannes Zahn's "Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder" vol. 2, p. 36 notes that the 1842 Silesian melody ("CRUSADER'S HYMN") might be related to the Swiss chorale "Heil'ge Liebe, Himmelsflamme."

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