Posted by: rcottrill | October 23, 2013

All Creatures of Our God and King

Words: Francis of Assisi (b. circa 1182; d. Oct. 4, 1226); English paraphrase written by William Henry Draper (b. Dec. 19, 1855; d. Aug. 9:1933)
Music: Lasst Uns Erfreuen (“Let Us Rejoice”) a German Catholic tune first published in 1623, adapted and harmonized by Ralph Vaughn Williams (b. Oct. 12, 1872; d. Aug. 26, 1958)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (and here for William Draper)
The Cyber Hymnal

Graphic Francis and BirdsNote: This wonderful hymn, which Francis called Cantico di Fratre Sole (“Canticle [or Song] of Brother Sun”) was written in 1225. The statue of Francis to the left depicts the birds coming to him, a way of showing his intimacy with God’s creation.

The original language in which Francis wrote was a rough Latin dialect, used by the common people, a kind of transitional language between Latin and today’s Italian. Draper’s English version was written some time between 1906 and 1919 (later he couldn’t remember exactly when).

Of the seven stanzas, some hymnals use CH-1, 2, 4, 5, 7, others include CH-3 and omit CH-4. Most omit CH-6 about “kind and gentle death.” Some hymnals add what is known separately as the Keswick Doxology (below). This is an exalted and inspiring version of the Doxology, employs Williams’s great tune, instead of the usual one that uses the tune Old Hundredth. I encourage you to try it with your congregation, if you never have.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Alleluia! Alleluia!

This hymn, nearly eight centuries old, seems to be based on, or inspired by, Psalm 148, which summons all of nature to join in the praise of God, along with angels and human beings.

“Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created….Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all the depths; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word; mountains and all hills; fruitful trees and all cedars; beasts and all cattle; creeping things and flying fowl; kings of the earth and all peoples; princes and all judges of the earth; both young men and maidens; old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven” (Ps. 148:3-5, 7-13).

As a dying man in great pain, one who knew his time was short, Francis stopped at the St. Damian Convent to say farewell to Sister Clara, who’d inspired him to take a vow of poverty years before. For he had been completely blind, unable to distinguish light at all. It was there at the convent that he wrote or finished his Canticle.

Earlier that year, doctors who were trying to cure Francis decided to cauterize him by drawing a white-hot iron across his forehead (a barbaric Mediaeval treatment). As the glowing iron approached, the sick man at first responded in terror, then calmed himself and is reputed to have said, “Brother Fire, you are beautiful above all creatures; be favourable to me in this hour.”

In the original, Francis spoke of many aspects of nature as his brothers and sisters–not in a New Age pantheistic sense, but simply to express the kinship he felt with the natural world. In the unused CH-6, he refers to death has his sister (revised by William Draper to read “kind and gentle death”). Draper, in his paraphrase, omits all such familial references with the exception of “mother earth” in CH-4.

CH-1) All creatures of our God and king
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

CH-7) Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

Questions:
1) What are some things in nature that especially stir your praise and worship of God?

2) What other hymns about nature are a special blessing to you?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (and here for William Draper)
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. I love this hymn, Robert. And I have used the Doxology with Williams’ delightful tune; I second your recommendation that congregations try it.


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