Theology of Amazing Grace
  • Do you play Amazing Grace at your parish?

    In talking to folks, some people theologically object to Amazing Grace, for the following reasons:
    -the word "wretch" can be interpreted as referring to total depravity
    -the use of "saved" throughout the song implies "once saved, always saved"

    What do you all think?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,239
    Wretch can be interpreted as "a miserable or unhappy person" according to Merriam-Webster, so that objection is absurd.
    I don't know what version of the lyrics you, or they, are looking at. My hymnal only uses the word saved in the first verse, and implies nothing more than initial rescue from a sinful life. The rest of the text invokes grace, which is a gift we continually are offered by God, but from which we are always free to turn away.
  • I like this song only when played by a pipe and drum corps.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,838
    I scheduled it maybe four times a year. That was to quiet the, "why don't we sing my favorite song," crowd. Do I like it? Not so much.
  • davido
    Posts: 754
    It’s thoroughly Protestant and Calvinistic. So much better rep out there. And NEW BRITAIN isn’t much of a tune. I program it for funerals per request.
    Thanked by 2Lars MNadalin
  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 317
    Though the author was undoubtedly a Calvinist of some sort (like most 18th century Anglicans who were not closet Unitarians), I can't think of a single line of Amazing Grace that expresses a distinctively Calvinist doctrine. Really. Not one.
    Thanked by 2Andrew_Malton Chrism
  • Does Deacon Fritz lack imagination?
  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 317
    If a small child can imagine monsters hiding under the bed, I suppose I could imagine Calvin hiding under Amazing Grace. The question is, why would I want to?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,763
    And John Newton himself made clear he was no pure, thorough-going Calvinist, or pure Anglican Churchman or pure Methodist for that matter, notwithstanding things he shared among them, other than a great sinner in need of an even greater Redeemer. He was a former slave ship master who had an experience of conversion, and how that conversion manifested was not instantaneous but over the rest of his life. For the English-speaking peoples, who largely became a hymn-singing people, this hymn became foundational in that tradition. And all the more for its symbolic reminder of turning from the evils of chattel slavery.
    Thanked by 1Andrew_Malton
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,131
    My main objection to 'Amazing Grace' being sung at any church service - Catholic or Protestant, is that invariably there is someone in the congregation who will decide it has to be sung with a nasal twang.

    My cousin plays the Irish pipes and refused to play this song.
  • tandrews
    Posts: 142
    It's 5/8 of a hymn ;)
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,063
    By no means is it a great theological hymn, but that also takes the wind out of the sails of those who see it as a malevolent Calvinist intrusion.

    It's a white spiritual, take it or leave it.
  • Caleferink
    Posts: 421
    I maybe program it on Sundays a couple of times per year when the readings for the day are blindingly obvious (pardon the pun), like for Lent IV when the Gospel of the man born blind or that of the prodigal son are read.

    One of the deacons at my parish told the story of how a coworker at his regular job at the time complained to him about having to sing "...that saved a wretch like me..." because she told him, "I am not a wretch!" To which he replied, "Would you like a second opinion?"
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,889
    I like this song only when played by a pipe and drum corps.

    I remember it most fondly when Scotty plays it on bagpipes in The Wrath of Khan.

    So, if you abide by sci-fi author John C. Wright's assessment that Catholicism is the "church of Vulcans", then I suppose it is 'Catholic' by association.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW francis
  • Drake
    Posts: 208
    The lyrical question I've always had about 'Amazing Grace' is what precisely is the sound that saved a wretch like me? Or maybe I'm just not getting the word placement as intended.
  • To me. Not what is the sound referred to. What is the grace referred to?
    (The grace of conversion is an actual grace, which does not save)
    And no Church; just sola fide, apparently.
    Thanked by 1Drake
  • Carol
    Posts: 805
    I do not like Amazing Grace on the bagpipes because there is usually a note the bagpipes cannot hit, and so the tune is altered, which I find jarring. I can take it or leave it.

    I sing what I'm told- LOL.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,121
    It's a parenthesis: Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!) that saved a wretch like me.

    Wretch means miserable outcast, not totally depraved. And we are saved by grace.

    Quid sum miser tunc dicturus cum vix iustus sit securus?
    Qui salvandos salvas gratis salva me, fons pietatis.
    Lux æterna luceat eis Domine cum sanctis tuis, quia pius es.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,763
    Andrew beat me to it As originally published in Olney Hymns, it's a parenthesis.

    The Olney Hymns were written as meditations on texts of Scripture. In this this case, the Scripture is 1 Chron 17:16-17 (which comes after the Ark of the Covenant has been brought to Jerusalem and placed in a tent, and offerings and thanksgivings have been made):

    "And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant's house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O LORD God."
  • francis
    Posts: 10,345
    Up with grace... down with the song
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • So, Andrew and Liam, can you hazard a guess why the parentheses have been removed?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,763
    Looking through the early decades of published examples provided by Hymnary, it appears that the parentheses were arbitrarily dropped by some publishers or converted into dashes in the first generations of the text's popularization (which was generally as a text without music). The version in the 1854 edition of The Southern Harmony, sourced there to Baptist Harmony, still retains it:
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,451
    A bit off-topic, but my conspiracy theory about Olney Hymns is that Cowper, not Newton, wrote Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.

    I just don't think Newton had that much poetry in him.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 646
    My objection to Amazing Grace while it is a fine hymn appropriate for community prayer services or even mission services, is it really shouldn't be used at Mass. Many people like it and sing to it because Catholic church musicians use it all the time and because Catholic musicians are unaware that there is a better quality of hymn available. The whole idea of trying to rationale the theology behind Amazing Grace wouldn't even be a point of consideration if Catholic musicians started using these better-quality hymns.

    There are over two hundred public domain hymns that can be sung before and after Latin Masses and at Novus Ordo Mass that are contained in A Catholic Book of Hymns. Like the Prodigal Son who was lost and is found, these hymns were lost to us and have been found again. All the hymn text for each hymn is fully approved by the Catholic Church and the melodies, tried and true, are easy to sing, your congregation will love them.
    Thanked by 1oldhymns
  • I'm going to turn the question around:

    With all the other great music one can sing, in all sorts of languages, why does this wretched text/tune duo keep coming up?

    When I wrote a spoof about some people I used to work with, one of them asked the other about the great French musical classics such as Frere Jacques. Every time I see another attempt to raise Amazing Grace to the level of Catholic liturgical music, I'm reminded of that imaginary conversation.
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 bhcordova
  • >>And we are saved by grace.

    By sanctifying grace, yes. Not actual grace.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,121
    Qu’est-ce que cela fait? Tout est grâce.
  • A good exposition of Church doctrine on actual & sanctifying grace in the (I think 1911 Appleton) Catholic Encyclopedia