Hymn Reflection: All Creatures of our God and King

Church Music in America is seemingly “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.” That is to say, we are experiencing a period of transition stylistically, theologically, and musically as well as lyrically. There appears to be a groundswell of desire to return to the time honored-hymn form…a new renaissance, as Robert Webber put it, of the “ancient-future” in which many musicians, composers, and lyricists are returning to texts and tunes that have stood the test of time as the basis for new compositions. We need look no further than Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, David Crowder, even the popular groups coming out of the Passion movement, Bethel, and yes, even Hillsong has tipped their caps to the sound of songs from years gone by.

Such is the case with the hymn-subject of this entry, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and its well-known tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN. As recently as November of 2017, Sovereign Grace Music did a new arrangement of “All Creatures. CCLI claims no less than 185 different entries in their catalog of songs either quote, mention, borrow from, or add choruses or other pieces to the original hymn. “All Creatures” is found in over 200 hymnals, and the LASST UNS ERFREUEN tune is found in excess of 300 hymnals as well.

ABOUT THE WRITERS

091e7-1bhsovazwr9qfkkpytsqwywSt. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1182–1226) lived during the time of the Crusades, when the upper class and elite ruled the land and when armored knights rode chivalrously on their horses across the European countryside. But not Francis. A monk in search of reform, Francis lived a humble, simple lifestyle in service to God and to his fellow man. He is said to have loved nature, travel, and would preach to anyone who’d listen, even if it was a group of birds in a cave. His love of nature and his love for the Creator of nature is what birthed his “Song of Brother Sun and All Creatures,” or “Cantico del frate sole.” It was one of several popular laude spirituale, or popular spiritual songs in Italian for use outside of the liturgical context.

Francis is believed to have written this poem near the end of his earthly life, during a period of tremendous pain and suffering. And among its more salient details are the tone with which Francis writes, a tone that expresses a desire for man and nature to be one, a love of the earth and all God’s creatures in it, a voice way ahead of its time and well before any hint of a movement toward a cultural and ecological revolution like America saw in the 1960’s.

Dr. J.R. Watson, British hymnologist observes: “In the original the saint gives each element, such as fire and water, a human gender, so that they become ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ This remains in the appellation of ‘Dear mother earth’ in verse 4, and is suggested by the personification of death as ‘kind and gentle’ in verse 6. These elements in the hymn make it seem tender as well as grand. It is based in part upon Psalm 148.”

In most English Versions, freely translated by William Henry Draper, we find either four or five verses. William Henry Draper (1855–1933) was born at Kenilworth, GB and educated at Oxford for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. He was ordained in 1880 to serve the Anglican church at St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury, as well as in Alfreton, and Leeds.

Draper is credited as the paraphraser or free translator of this text attributed to St. Francis.

He is also given credit for twelve to fifteen other hymns, the most popular being “In our day of Thanksgiving, one psalm let us offer.” Julian offers that Draper had some sixty hymns to his credit in 1907 and gave Draper high praise for his verse. Draper composed his translation/paraphrase for the occasion of a children’s celebration of Whitsuntide at Leeds between 1906 and 1919. It was published in the Public School Hymnbook of 1919, and Draper couldn’t remember the exact date of his composition. It was set to Ralph Vaughan Williams tune, LASST UNS ERFRUEN, a staple tune of British hymnody, in this publication, though it is believed to have been sung and known prior to the 1919 book.

THE TUNE

0b64d-1mvbtilff8i3icrjzubtkjgThe tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN, is most often set by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who originally included it when he compiled and edited The English Hymnal in 1906. The title is derived from the Eastertide text, Lasst uns erfreuen herzlich sehr, from the 1623 Jesuit hymnal collection titled Ausserlesene Catlwlische Geistliche Kirchengesänge. Other texts often associated with this tune include “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “From All That Dwell Below The Skies,” “Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones,” “Now All The Vault Of Heaven Resounds,” and “Give To Our God Immortal Praise.” There are numerous arrangements and opportunities for variation in texture, voicing, call and response, or many other creative options. Erik Routley once suggested this hymn to be a part of a broader family of tunes based on the major triad, including MIT FREUDEN ZART.

THE TEXT

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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,

[Refrain]
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice:
[Refrain]

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright
that givest us both warmth and light,
[Refrain]

All ye who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
sing his praises, Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
[Refrain]

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,
[Refrain]

In each stanza, the author personifies an aspect of nature as brother and sister humankind. In the opening stanza, he calls all creatures in praise to God . . . echoes of Psalm 8, Psalm 19 reminiscent in the back of our minds. Each stanza ends with a Trinitarian “alleluia,” beginning with a two-part opening chorus motif calling us to “praise him,” and concluding with the tripartite “alleluia.” Some translations have translated the refrain as “Praise God” in an effort to make the language more gender-neutral. Others have removed the language considered to be archaic, “thees” and “thous” with we, you, and other modern pronouns.

Stanza two speaks of the winds, clouds, moon, evening lights, and skies, all in praise of the Creator.

Stanza three speaks of the flowing water, which brings cleansing and healing, that clear water . . . double-entendre perhaps, speaking of Christ as living water and the water that flows from the throne as referenced in the Old Testament narrative. It also speaks of fire in contrast to water.

Stanza four breaks from this pattern of Creator-Creation praise to focus on the act of forgiveness on the part of humans, created in the image of the Creator and created to offer forgiveness to one another. God as forgiver, Christ as sacrifice and bearer of our sin, shame, and care. Echoes of Christ bearing our burden as he shares in Matthew 11 immediately come to mind. Once again, the stanza ends in a closing Trinitarian refrain.

Stanza five could be considered a corollary to stanza one, once again calling all of creation to bless their creator-God. This time, the Creator is praised as the holy Three-in-One, Father, Spirit, and Son. The author calls all creation to praise the Creator, to praise the Father, the Son, and Spirit, Three-in-one. And as each stanza that preceded it, stanza five concludes with the Trinitarian refrain.

A CLOSING WORD…

Having grown up in Churches of Christ, I can safely say that we did not sing, talk about, make mention of, or give credence to the Trinity as I grew up, and really, even still today. Sure, we believed in Father, Son, and Spirit. But the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture and being a people who believed themselves to be students of the word and people of reason, we didn’t acknowledge that word. To take it one step further, we all but edited the Trinity and hymns written purposefully to be Trinitarian in their construct out of our hymnals altogether. As a result, I didn’t sing this and numerous other hymns referencing the Trinity. Only now are some of our churches beginning to recover original language and original verses that have long been omitted from our hymnals to recover the original intent and composition as intended by the author. I hope that ours and many other churches that do not know this hymn that spans some 400+ years at the very least will recover it and begin to include it in their hymnody once again. The theology and heritage are incredibly rich and worthy of regular inclusion in our congregational worship practice.

References
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/a/all-creatures-of-our-god-and-king.
Hymns and History, F.M. McCann, ACU Press, 1997.
Psalter Hymnal Handbook, E. Brink, B. Polman, Faith Alive: 1998.
https://hymnary.org/text/all_creatures_of_our_god_and_king
https://hymnary.org/tune/lasst_uns_erfreuen

2 thoughts on “Hymn Reflection: All Creatures of our God and King

  1. Pingback: The Future of Song Worship | With God's Word

    • It may not be a fast transition, and it may not look exactly like the hymns of the classical era (Such as ALL CREATURES), but indications are a portion of songwriters and lyricists are certainly leaning heavily in that direction! (Thanks for the shout out!)

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