Posted by: rcottrill | April 1, 2011

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Words: Ignaz Franz (b. Oct. 12, 1719; d. Aug. 19, 1790)
Music:  Grosser Gott (composer unknown)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The English translation from the original German was done by Clarence Alphonsus Walworth (1820-1900), except stanza CH-7, written by Hugh Thomas Henry (1862-1946). The tune first appeared in Katholisches Gesangbuch, around 1774. A modified version of the tune (called Hursley) is used with the hymn Sun of My Soul.

Here is another hymn that, at least in my own circles, is used far less than it should be. Though of Roman Catholic origin, it is an expression of worship directed to the Trinity, an area of doctrine on which evangelical Protestants have some common ground with Rome. Though many hymn books only use the first four stanzas (CH-1 through 4), I’ll make a brief comment on all seven.

Some reservation is needed with regard to one line in CH-1. Mr. Franz says, “All on earth Thy sceptre claim.” If by that he means that all human beings recognize and submit to the Lord’s rule over their lives, then the statement is demonstrably false. But if we take it to mean that the Almighty is sovereign Lord of all, and that His purposes will ultimately be accomplished in believers and unbelievers alike, then that is true (Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:35). He is “Lord of all,” and as Franz tells us, His domain is infinite and His reign everlasting.

CH-2, with its reference to angelic choirs praising God “in unceasing chorus”, is reminiscent of the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy!” before the throne of God (Isa. 6:1-3). The cherubim do the same (Rev. 4:8; cf. Ezek. 1:5; 10:20). CH-3 reminds us that, in our praise of God, we are part of a long procession that began, no doubt, in Eden, and includes prophets and apostles. It even involves white-robed martyrs, because we must not forget the “whole family [of God] in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:15). The lines” “And from morn to set of sun, / Through the church the song goes on,” call to mind John Ellerton’s majestic and beautiful hymn, The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended.

CH-4 contains a strong Trinitarian statement.

Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;
While in essence only One,
Undivided God we claim Thee;
And adoring bend the knee,
While we own the mystery.

This is followed by two stanzas expressing a strong Christology. In CH-5 He is both “King of glory” (cf. Ps. 24:7-10, a messianic psalm) and “Son of God, yet born of Mary” (Lk. 1:30-35). And, “First to break the bars of death, / Thou has opened heaven to faith” (Jn. 11:25-26; I Cor. 15:20-22). In CH-6 we have, “From Thy high celestial home, / Judge of all, again returning.” Once more, this is precisely what God’s Word declares (Ps. 98:9; Jn. 5:22; Acts 17:30-31).

In CH-7, the saints are described as servants of God who, “By Thy precious blood out-poured, / Thou has saved from Satan’s scheming” (cf. Acts 26:17-18; Col. 1:13; Heb. 2:14-15). CH-8 provides an earnest pray for daily help from the Lord, dramatically changing from plural pronouns to singular ones in the last lines.

Lo, I put my trust in Thee;
Never, Lord, abandon me.

1) What does it mean to you, in praising God, that you are joining with a worshiping chorus of millions of believers, both living and with the Lord, as well as hosts of angels?

2) What will be different about a praise-filled life, a life lived consciously for the glory of God?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Hi, Robert,

    I love this hymn, but many (if not most) of my fellow Baptists shy away from it because they view it as “too Catholic” and they don’t particularly care for the tune (which I think is very well done).

    Although the hymn as written goes back to Ignaz Franz in 1774, the words are taken from the much older text “Te Deum Laudamus”, which goes back to the 4th century and to the time of the Arian heresy that afflicted the Church. I forget to which bishop the original hymn is attributed, but in that context, “all on earth Thy sceptre claim” refers to all of the Christianized Roman empire. It doesn’t mean that everyone on earth acknowledged, much less worshiped, the Lord God. What it does suggest is that God’s authority over the earth is extended over the earth through the Roman empire (remember, there was then no separation of church and state, and the Roman empire was considered the world-dominant force in the fourth century, even though the Western empire would fall to barbarians about 100 years later)

    • Sorry. I left an incomplete thought there, didn’t I? 🙂

      What I was trying to say was that in the context of its time, the particular phrase “all on earth Thy sceptre claim”, as it was written in “Te Deum Laudamus” may have been a form of what is known today as Dominion Theology. The Latin of the hymn reads “Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur,” which translated means “You, Eternal Father, all the earth venerates (or worships).” That is the basis for my understanding of this hymn as being possibly a form of late Roman empire Dominion Theology. Of course, we know that presently (as then!) not all the earth worships the Father, but we also believe as Paul wrote that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”, and we could reinterpret and understand this line in the hymn in that way.

      Anyway, I have to run to work this morning, but thanks for bringing that hymn up. I really enjoy your blog site.

      • Thanks, as always, for your comments–Part 1 and Part 2. 🙂

        Your analysis of the hymns origins, and of the phrase “all on earth Thy sceptre claim” seem spot on. Actually, the original, as you translate it, seems to me to suggest a more biblical application–whether intended or not. “You, Eternal Father, all the earth venerates (or worships).” That could be construed to mean that the Lord is honoured all over the earth, though not necessarily by every individual on the earth. And that is true. It may be similar to such inclusive statements as, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Me” (Jn. 12:32, NKJV). “Peoples” is a supplied word, not in the original. But it suits what is likely the intended sense: not that every single person on earth will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but people from all nations and ranks, Jew and Gentile, men and women, bond and free.

        As to Baptists shying away from the hymn because it’s too Catholic. Interesting. I’m Baptistic in my theology too, but haven’t run across that. A couple of thoughts.

        For one thing, we do have some theological common ground with Roman Catholicism. If a hymn sticks with that, it would seem to me we are able to use it. Second, having studied the origins of our hymns and gospel songs for nearly half a century, I know that our sacred songs come from many sources. There are hymns written by rank liberals, and even, occasionally, by unbelievers. There are hymns by Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, and more. There are hymns by Roman Catholics too.

        If we went through our hymn books and weeded out every hymn on the basis that we disagree with some doctrinal position of the author, not much would be left! I think its better to evaluate each song on its own merits. God has used many different instruments, over the years, to communicate His truth (even a mercenary prophet and his donkey!).

  2. One way to look at the line, “All on earth Thy scepter claim…” might be in terms of vocation. Whatever one’s calling in life, father, worker, friend, etc., glorifies God. God uses even atheists to accomplish His purposes. I am thinking of English composers of the 20th century. Churches around the world sing their music. Non-Christians tune in as well. Some were known atheists. The Lord still uses them for His glory.

    Psalm 22:27-28:

    27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
    and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
    28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

    Here’s a setting of the full Te Deum by Healey Willan.

    Here’s a setting with updated language using Anglican chant. The mic must have been at the organ, or the congregation just wasn’t in a singing mood. I know this congregation, and they know this canticle!

    The Latin text and English text (Book of Common Prayer) can be found over at wiki.

    • Thanks for the comments, and the video clips. And yes, great organ on the latter, but little from the congregation. The placement of the mike is likely the problem–something I’ve run across quite often on YouTube’s amateur videos.

      As to your suggestion for the meaning of “all on earth Thy sceptre claim…” Not so sure about that. The word “claim” is pretty strong. As used in the hymn, it seems to mean: to claim personally as one’s own, to assert as true of one’s self. An act of willing obeisance seems to be involved. I do agree that all serve the purposes of a sovereign God–even wicked Pharaoh, who tried to destroy the people of Israel (Rom. 9:17). But that’s not the same thing. If the line was, “Over all Thy sceptre reigns,” meaning there’s nothing outside of God’s ultimate control, I could agree (cf. Dan. 4:35).

      • I guess I have always applied a different meaning than the text states! Chalk it up to faithful expositors of the Word who taught me the truth even when a hymn didn’t! 😉

        Here is the German text for lines 3 and 4 of stanza 1 and my remedial translation:

        Vor dir neigt die Erde sich
        Und bewundert deine Werke.

        The earth bows before Thee
        and wonders at Thy works.

        The English translator, Hugh Thomas Henry, [] was ordained Catholic, which may support Erasmus’ Theology of Glory but certainly doesn’t claim the Prosperity Gospel!

        Henry’s awkward rendering is the standard translation. Some hymnals tweak the Thee and Thine to you and yours, but overall the translation tends to be the same.

      • Thanks for you comments, and for your encouragement. I very much needed the latter this morning.

  3. May I please ask for an analysis on the third verse? More particularly the first line “Lo! the apostolic train”

    • Thanks for the question. “Lo! the apostolic train” is simply a poetic way of saying, “Behold, the procession of apostles.” What the author is doing is calling attention to the multitude of those who, down through the ages, have joined in praising the Lord. In stanza 2 it’s the angels. Then, in stanza 3 it’s human beings–apostles, prophets, and martyrs. It’s something similar to what the writer of Hebrews does in chapter 11. Calling on “so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1) to testify to the greatness of God, and the value of trusting in Him. Hope that’s a help. God bless.

  4. I received a comment from a reader suggesting I was being less than forthright with regard to this hymn. (“Verse 7 contains more than you are willing to admit.”) His contention was that this stanza–quoted in full, below–is a prayer for dead believers, that they be delivered from suffering in Purgatory. Here is the seventh stanza:

    Therefore do we pray Thee, Lord:
    Help Thy servants whom, redeeming
    By Thy precious blood out-poured,
    Thou hast saved from Satan’s scheming.
    Give to them eternal rest
    In the glory of the blest.

    As you see from the blog post, I do state that the hymn comes from a Roman Catholic source, but observe that it treats mainly of an area of doctrine (the Trinity) that Protestants and Catholics hold in common.

    On the blog, I write about the hymns found in standard Protestant hymnals, and the above stanza is not included in the books I’ve seen. Therefore, I gave it only a passing comment. Reading it over, I would have to say that the doctrine of Purgatory is certainly not clear or explicit there. Though a Catholic might see it as implied, non-Catholics might simply read the words as a prayer for God’s eternal blessing on Christians who have died.

    Finally, let it be noted that the doctrine of Purgatory is not biblical. Number 22 of The 39 Articles of the Anglican Church puts it bluntly: “The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory…is vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”

    The passage usually referred to by Rome in support of this false teaching is First Corinthians 3:11-15. But no direct mention of a “Purgatory” is found there. The Apostle Paul is speaking of works that will be worthy of reward in eternity (symbolized by gold, silver and precious stones), and those that will not (symbolized by wood, hay and straw). The latter will be consumed and not endure. It is clearly the works that are subjected to the metaphorical fire and burned up, not the person.

    The doctrine of Purgatory maligns the work of Christ and suggests that it is insufficient. That when Christ cried, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30) He was mistaken, because it’s only partly finished. And that the Bible is wrong when it declares that Christ “is the propitiation [the full satisfaction of God’s justice] for our sins” (I Jn. 2:2).

    The doctrine of Purgatory also contradicts the precious truth of salvation by grace, apart from any striving on our part (Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9). Works such as masses, prayers for the dead, indulgences, meritorious works on behalf of the dead, and so on, are a denial and a repudiation of pure grace.

    The Apostle Paul had “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). He never gives the slightest hint that he was expecting first to face the painful fires of something called Purgatory. I share his confidence and comforting hope.


%d bloggers like this: