Chesterton's hymn (O God of Earth and Altar)
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 338
    Given it's authorship, why isn't it in more Catholic hymnals? It's commonplace in older mainline protestant hymnals. Will it make the PBEH - surely the text is public domain?

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    O God of earth and altar,
    bow down and hear our cry,
    our earthly rulers falter,
    our people drift and die;
    the walls of gold entomb us,
    the swords of scorn divide,
    take not thy thunder from us,
    but take away our pride.

    From all that terror teaches,
    from lies of tongue and pen,
    from all the easy speeches
    that comfort cruel men,
    from sale and profanation
    of honor, and the sword,
    from sleep and from damnation,
    deliver us, good Lord!

    Tie in a living tether
    the prince and priest and thrall,
    bind all our lives together,
    smite us and save us all;
    in ire and exultation
    aflame with faith, and free,
    lift up a living nation,
    a single sword to thee.

    - G.K. Chesterton, 1906
  • Maureen
    Posts: 652
    It has the word "sword" in it twice. That's why. :)

    Also, although Chesterton and all his pre-humous published works are public domain in the US and Canada, I'm fairly sure that the situation is more complex in the UK.

    Also, it's a bit of a reply or riposte to Kipling's hymn, and people don't get that any more.

    Also, some people think Chesterton is a bad guy or irrelevant, or they've never heard of him. They have been putting together the hymnals.

    I do think it's pretty funny that Chesterton, big fan of sleep, asks God to deliver us from sleep in even a symbolic fashion. :)
  • Actually, 'sword' is in there 3 times. LOL But I like this hymn. And everyone who pretends to a liberal education should have read G.K. At least, his Father Brown stories!!

    Donna
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,033
    Sure beats,

    Sing a bad song unto the Lord.
    Let your notes be flat and text inane...
    Thanked by 1CindyCecilia
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    Uhh . . . I guess we'd better not print that thing Jesus said about "I come not to bring peace, but a sword." Because, you know, some people might be offended.

    I think the text is far too challenging for most modern-day Catholics. For that reason alone it should be included, because the last thing we need is more comfort.
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    It would go well with MUNICH, I think.
  • How 'bout someone writing a new tune....
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Maureen,

    Bristish copyright for authors is author's death + 70 years. That would put the hymn out of UK copyright three years ago :-)

    I'd better add the formal disclaimer common under these circumstances that I'm not a lawyer.
  • "King's Lynn" is the tune I associate with this text. It is a great text to inspire a new tune !
  • Chrism
    Posts: 663
    Given it's authorship, why isn't it in more Catholic hymnals?

    Probably because it was written in 1906. The author converted to Catholicism in 1922. Similarly, most of Newman's earlier works were banned at one time.

    For the record, I would not want anything I did before my conversion to be considered an example of Catholic anything.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 652
    Oooh. Timing. Yes. Good point.

    Well, surely stuff written before conversion could be vetted piece by piece. That's why we have literary theologians, yes? :)

    It's not as if being written by someone who is Catholic is any guarantee that it's going to be an example of Catholic writing. (Even if that's what the writer intends, much less if it it's not.)
  • Timing - BS! Sorry. But if that's the logic to follow the Catholic Bible would be without a significant number of Books!

    A number of Anglicans were "on their way" towards Catholicism as they produced good "Catholic" hymn-texts. Give me a break!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,033
    "A number of Anglicans were "on their way" towards Catholicism as they produced good "Catholic" hymn-texts. Give me a break!"

    Amen!!!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Nope, sorry. We already got "Firmly I believe and Truly". You can't have it.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 652
    "Spoils of the Egyptians" is justification for anything. :)
  • Chrism
    Posts: 663
    Steve, what books are those?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,796
    In the word "nation" ("lift up a living nation, / a single sword to thee"), was Chesterton thinking of the English people and church? He speaks of a universality of social levels, but not of the universality between peoples which is more typical of Catholic thought.

    What does it mean that the nation would be "a sword" for God? Militant images, Scriptural though they may be, can be hard for people to accept. This is why the refrain of Msgr. Hellriegel's famous hymn was altered from "...Christ Jesus, Lord and Commander" to "...Lord and Redeemer".
  • I guess ST. Paul's words would not be acceptable either. I seem to remember something about Armor? and swords ? :)
    And if the criterion is that the words must be written by a Catholic, then what about the music? RVW was a professed agnostic most of his life, yet a composer of some of our favortie Tunes, ie 'Kings Lynn' , Kingsfold' and of course 'Sine nomine'

    Donna
  • And Bishop William How,an Anglican,not even a Catholic, wrote the words 'For all the saints"

    onna
  • St. Paul died by the sword, and it is included in his church heraldry and symbolism. It is always pictures as a straight bladed, two-edged sword - not a sabre. The "two-edged sword" is from the Old Testament.

    Around the 4th century, the Jews decided to delete from their scripture any thing not written in Judea, and/or not written in Hebrew. Many protestant denominations then followed suit by deleting them from their version of the Bible. This whole set of books is commonly known as "The Apocrypha". It IS a part of the Catholic Bible. And it was left our of other "Bibles" because the lame reasoning above - call it medieval "political correctness, or whatever.

    One of the things so obviously missing from our contemporary understanding of God's Creation is the concept of the "Church Triumphant" (souls in heaven, seeing God), the "Church Expectant" (souls in purgatory, on their way to heaven), and the "Church Militant" (those still living on earth in body and soul). IMO we need more of that concept here on earth, especially right now.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,796
    Offhand, I suppose the sword of which St. Paul speaks is "the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17), but I don't think the concept fits the words of Chesterton's hymn: "a living nation, / a single sword to thee". It wouldn't make sense for the nation to be made into the word of God. Right so far?

    I'm not positive, but it sounds as if Chesterton were expressing some idea of the English nation being raised up as God's instrument for action in the world, for His righteous purposes -- missionary purposes, or humanitarian/charitable/reformist purposes. Sort of a British counterpart to Protestant American ideas of this country as particularly chosen to carry out God's work in the world. (cf. "American exceptionalism" and the "Americanist" heresy.) But maybe someone with an in-depth knowledge of Chesterton can 'splain the poem in some other sense.
  • I agree with Yurodivi that its challenging, and that is good for us. But I also find it incomplete, specifically too temporal. I feel this text is too tied down to earth and its political woes to serve well in the heavenly liturgy. Had GKC included a verse about the transcendent, saving power of God, had he pointed to eternity or glanced upwards, I'd be more excited about the hymn. The third verse hints at this, but falls short.

    While I wouldn't use it for this reason, I also wouldn't object to its inclusion.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 663
    Steve, to equate the treatment of the inspired Deuterocanonical authors by the 1st Century Jews with the treatment of heretical authors under the prior code of canon law is, to put it mildly, offensive. The first group, some of whose members no doubt knew personally some of those who crucified Christ, met at Jamnia to formally expel all Christian writings from their midst, and so censored the Holy Spirit, lest their children might be tempted to become Christian. The second group, the compilers of the Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, including Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV, sought to protect Christians from exposure to doctrines like those of the Anglican Church which actually lead people away from Christ. Both groups may have made judgments on the suitability of texts to their religion. That is a feature of all religions, even secular relativism, which excludes all absolute religious claims like our own.
  • "O God of earth and altar" and "For all the saints" are some of the many hymns in The Hymnal 1940 vetted and authorised by the Holy See for the Anglican Use parishes in the States ad experimentum as all such things are. I don't believe any of the contemporary missalettes and current Catholic hymnals in the States -with respect to the hymn texts - have undergone such scrutiny by the Holy See.
  • Hmm. Let's see, which would I rather sing 'Oh God of earth and altar' sung to Kings Lynn with some rather difficult words and some 'open to interpretation' phrases, or 'Eagles Wings' ? :)

    Donna
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think chonak raises a good point.
  • With regard to chonak's points raised above I would venture (and NB I am not a Chesterton scholar) Chesterton was responding to Kipling by way of this text, and Chesterton's response was the farthest from militarism or Anglo-centric colonialism.

    The text in question "a living nation, / a single sword to Thee" addresses the question of "the nation", "the State, and "the Crown". He specifically chooses the word "nation" and defines it as being "living" in its relationship to the Lord's Justice by which its salvation may necessitate the smiting of said nation in order to save it.

    As "a single sword to Thee" Chesterton envisions the nation 'living' only because of the life of the Holy Ghost within it, and the Holy Spirit -- sharper than any two-edged sword -- shaping and filling this 'nation' so that it is "a single sword to thee" -- a nation forged by the Holy Ghost and completely, utterly in no other hand than the Hand of God & available to His purpose.
  • This text seems so appropriate for our times. I would think that a person in the pews, who may not be a literary scholar, will take the images as they come and use their own experience to make meaning of the verses.

    The last two lines of the hymn may be interpreted to mean ...

    lift up a living nation, (Lift up a living people)
    a single sword to thee. (think cross instead of sword.)

    To me the images are very powerful. It could be a theme song for conflict resolution in a parish, between political movements, nations, etc.

    Now the real problem. When would you sing this at a Mass? It has a big agenda and to me, agendas, even if they are well-intentioned, don't work in the Mass.

    I may suggest this to our JustFAITH classes to use as a meditation/prayer.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Can someone explain the line, "the walls of gold entomb us" in the first verse?
  • @jhoffman - You are very right about the sword as "cross". The raising of the sword as a gesture of the ancient knights was to turn the sword upside down so that it was a cross. This gesture in chivalry also has its counterpart in the raising of the sword upright for the Sovereign or otherwise honoured individuals.

    @Jam - "Walls of Gold" ... greed, filthy luchre, or perhaps as is said today "banksters". Also, it is the opposite image of the City of God as in a city of man that imprisons and destroys as opposed to the heavenly City where all are free in Christ.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    But the first thing I thought of when I heard "walls of gold" was heaven, because of all those songs that say "the streets are paved with gold"
  • I believe that is the connexion he wants us to make: "streets" vs. "walls" & 'the joyful life of the City of God' as opposed to the 'City of Man' where the golden walls "entomb us".
  • I love this poem; my sister and I performed it together for a 4-H speech once. It would definitely make a beautiful hymn.
  • While its sentiments, or the things for which it prays, are noble and good, and its imagery rich and somewhat biblical, I cannot think of a given mass at which its use would be 'proper'. It is entirely too 'state' oriented and reeking between the lines of nationalism when not (in-aptly for liturgical use) more focused on us and our woes than upon God. It is a good example of the social-gospel writing of the early XX. century, which I put in the same category as J R Lowell's earlier 'Once to Every Man and Nation'. I say this as a Chesterton admirer who thinks this poem would be best used in some extra-liturgical context. It isn't, really, a Hymn.
  • I think it would be perfect for the Red Mass.

    I would disagree that it is not a hymn. It is a hymn of petition to God, and there are several Sundays in the lectionary where it could be employed.
  • A hymn is, by definition, a song (a paean, if you will) in praise of or to God or some supposed deity. St Augustine, while not the first nor the last to recognise this, put it most succinctly: a hymn is 'song + praise + God'. We do, of course, sing many 'hymns' which do not fit this definition. Bianco da Sienna's incomparable 'Come Down, O Love Divine' comes immediately to mind. There are countless others of varying quality and aptness which fall more properly into the category of spiritual songs rather than that of hymns. This one is a rather wrenching cry of deliverance from our vividly described corruptions and, at best, is actually a prayer. I would disagree with my esteemed friend that it is a hymn, which extols only the All Holy, or that it is lectionarily appropriate or 'proper' at mass.
  • What follows is a bit of a thumbnail sketch not intended to be exhaustive:
    I would respond that the definition of 'hymn' derives first from the Psalter, the Praises of Israel. The overarching theme is 'praise of God' yet within the content of the psalms one finds a wide variety of emotions and expressions from man to God. While the definition my friend offered above from St. Augustine is certainly true of some hymns such as the Hallel Psalms, it is not true of all hymns. With St. Augustine also offering that one who sings prays twice, we can see that prayer is most certainly worthy content for hymns. Likewise, national aspirations are certainly part of the content of the Psalter and not inappropriate in hymns.

    After the attacks of the Eleventh of September in the USA, this hymn proved to be exceptionally useful for many Episcopalian churches as well as a few Catholic churches of my acquaintance. It remains useful whenever the Lectionary contains Matthew 22 or the Song of the Sword in Ezekiel by way of example.
  • awilliamsawilliams
    Posts: 95
    This is a very simple hymn tune I composed for use with this hymn. It is written a little low since I write for a male-only choir. I had been working on an accompaniment for this but I never finished it (or at least put it on paper).
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  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    This beautiful hymn is #307 in the Vatican II Hymnal, and here's the organ accompaniment.

    O God of earth and altar,
    bow down and hear our cry,
    our earthly rulers falter,
    our people drift and die;
    the walls of gold entomb us,
    the swords of scorn divide,
    take not thy thunder from us,
    but take away our pride.

    From all that terror teaches,
    from lies of tongue and pen,
    from all the easy speeches
    that comfort cruel men,
    from sale and profanation
    of honor, and the sword,
    from sleep and from damnation,
    deliver us, good Lord!

    Tie in a living tether
    the prince and priest and thrall,
    bind all our lives together,
    smite us and save us all;
    in ire and exultation
    aflame with faith, and free,
    lift up a living nation,
    a single sword to thee.

    - G.K. Chesterton, 1906
    Thanked by 1canadash