REVIEW OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN HYMNARY
David P. Saar
Reprinted by permission from Lutheran Theological Review (Lutheran Church-Canada)
Academic Year 1996-1997
In the Winter 1997 publication of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s (LC-MS) Commission on Worship, it was reported that the LC-MS is beginning to consider work on another hymnal. At a time when many congregations regularly use a liturgy photocopied in the service folder so that our members are unfamiliar with the hymnal, one might wonder at the wisdom of producing a new hymnal at all. Furthermore, in cost-conscious congregations, the expense of purchasing new hymnals could prove prohibitive. For these reasons alone, it is with great courage that a tiny synod in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), smaller than our own Lutheran Church – Canada (LC-C), should venture to publish the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELH). As one might expect, the Norwegian heritage of the synod is strongly represented in the liturgy and selection of hymns. Nevertheless, what is even more noteworthy is the outstanding contribution this hymnal makes in the worship and devotional life of North American Lutheranism.
The variety of settings of the Divine Service betrays the diverse origins of the members of the ELS, including Norwegians and Germans. The first setting appeals to the Norwegians, being in the tradition of Bugenhagen’s church order. Its peculiarities include the absence of an invocation and a rubric for individual absolution at the altar. The second setting is the common service of The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) familiar to the Germans of Missouri and Wisconsin heritage. The advantage of this setting is that it is in a lower key than TLH. While the language has been modernised, the musical setting the congregation sings is preserved intact from TLH. Congregations using TLH would find a shift to this setting of the Divine Service very easy and painless. Divine Service: Rite Three is a new composition. The Deutsche Messe or Chorale Service is included as Divine Service: Rite Four. All of the settings of the Divine Service include the collects, the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution pointed for the pastor to chant. Traditional usages have been retained in the Divine Service such as the Communion Exhortation contained in each of the settings, and the ninefold Kyrie in the original language in the second setting. A rubric allows the Gospel to be read or sung. Options are fewer in the Divine Service than in Lutheran Worship (LW), for example, there are no alternatives offered to the Gloria in excelsis, the “Create in me”, and the Nunc dimittis. In this, the rites are conservative and much more reminiscent of the old Common Service than the modernised versions in Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and LW.
ELH is not only a hymnal, a book to be used in the Divine Service, it is also a book of prayer. The incorporation of Prime and Compline in a simple straightforward form facilitates prayer throughout the day. These minor offices could also be used to begin or conclude a church meeting. Matins and Vespers are the familiar settings from TLH. An order for the confession of sins has been added to the beginning of these hours, presumably because many congregations use them in place of the Divine Service. As a further aid to prayer, the hymnal provides daily and weekly prayers, prayers for the sick and dying, and prayers for before and after worship. Among the latter is the beautiful Anglican composition, the Prayer of Humble Access, based on Matthew 15. A distinctive Norwegian feature in the prayers is the inclusion of the Veit Dietrich series of collects along with the historic Latin collect of the day.
Besides being a prayer book and a hymn book, the ELH is also a book of confession. This unique aspect is exemplified by the inclusion of our Church’s two leading confessions, the Small Catechism (ELS version) and the Augsburg Confession. The so-called Athanasian Creed is set to psalm tones. This permits the old custom of replacing one of the psalms in Matins on Trinity Sunday with this creed. The church year calendar confesses that the church is catholic. Confessors of the faith, such as Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom, previously unknown to Lutheran calendars, are incorporated in the calendar of ELH. The source and norm of our confessions is the Holy Scriptures. The ELH makes use of the New King James Version of the Bible. It provides a table of the Sunday pericopes for the three year cycle as well as the historic lectionary, which the book’s editors seems to favour. As is customary in our hymnals a selection of psalms is supplied for the Divine Service as well as the Daily Office. The older forms of the Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed are included, though not within the settings of the Divine Service.
It has been said that all theology is doxology. The hymns of ELH certainly prove that axiom to be true. In much the same way as the liturgical section of the hymnal is not characterised by the upbeat optimistic tone of LBW and LW, so the hymn portion reflects a serious, sturdy faith. This is illustrated first, by the absence of the perennially popular “How Great Thou Art” (a Norwegian folk hymn!), “Amazing Grace”, and by the use of a less than accessible tune for “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. Secondly, the editors have resisted the urge to adopt inclusive language or substitute modern forms for older English usage. A total of 602 hymns comprise the hymn section of ELH, approximately 15% of which have no music, and only suggest a hymn tune. Following the order of its predecessor book, The Lutheran Hymnary, the hymns are organised according to the Sunday of the church year of the historic lectionary with the addition of a topical listing. To a person familiar with the hymnody of TLH and LW, the major weakness of the hymns in this volume is a peculiar quality of hymnody in the Norwegian tradition, namely, the use of isometric hymn tunes. Nearly 10% of the hymns make use of the isometric chorale rather than the original rhythmic form. If this form of the Lutheran chorale were ever adopted in our Church, it would prove to be a serious step backwards. While the ELS has benefited from the influence of C. F. W. Walther and the Missouri Synod who have consistently advocated the use of the rhythmic chorale, it has been slow to recover and regain the authentic form of the chorale. Setting this defect aside, though, time and again the strengths of the hymns in ELH exceed all expectations, proving the hymnal to be a worthy contender of the Lutheran faith.
One of the distinctive features of the hymnody in ELH are the many new and different hymns included. For example, there is a metric versification of the Athanasian Creed which would provide an interesting alternative usage on Trinity Sunday. There are four hymn versions of the Te Deum, including Luther’s borrowed from the hymnal of our sister synod in Australia. The Queen Mum’s favourite hymn, “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven,” is included, though an easier accompaniment could have been provided. The hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” is an excellent reflection on living the baptismal life. This is a new hymn to the English-speaking world, from the author of “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive”, and “I Know My Faith is Founded”. A translation of this by Pr. Harold Senkbeil of Wisconsin has recently been made available in our circles. or Martin Franzmann fans, besides the staples of “Thy Strong Word,” and “In Adam We Have All Been One,” is the rugged “Weary of All Trumpeting,” with the well matched tune by Hugo Distler. For the musically challenged, Luther’s Ten Commandments hymn is set to “Tallis’ Canon,” while for the more advanced, the lively rhythms of the original melody is also provided. A delightful hymn that would be well worth having children memorise, “Fear and Love Thy God and Lord,” summarises the chief parts of the catechism in five stanzas. The Real Presence is boldly confessed in a newly translated hymn on the Lord’s Supper, “O Jesus, at Your Altar Now,” by the Danish churchman, Thomas Kingo, saying in part, “On this blest table e’er shall be/ Your body/blood once shed for me.”
Another refreshing aspect worth noting about this hymnal is that compilers resisted the urge to edit lengthy hymns to suit modern tastes. Hymn stanzas unfamiliar to users of LW and sometimes even TLH have been restored. The hymnal has included a fourth stanza to “Silent Night” which most people probably had no idea even existed. The choice of stanzas for “Lift High the Cross” better reflect our theology of the cross than the ones chosen by LW. All ten stanzas of Paul Gerhardt’s Passiontide hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” are an excellent example of the rich piety much maligned and often considered non-existent in the period of Orthodoxy. Additional stanzas to the baptismal hymns, “Baptised into Thy Name Most Holy,” and “Dearest Jesus, We Are Here,” develop such neglected baptismal themes as clothing, light, and the renunciation of Satan. The sixteen stanzas of Philip Melanchthon’s hymn appointed for Michaelmas is a good example of the catechetical aspects of our Evangelical-Lutheran hymnody. It mentions Daniel, Lot, the three men in the fiery furnace, our guardian angels and warns against the devil and his evil purposes. At the same time, the hymnal editors were not afraid to tackle weak hymns. For example, the hymn “Jesus! And Shall It Ever Be,” also included in TLH and LW was extensively rewritten for the better. Previously, the hymn spent a number of stanzas rhetorically asking whether it would be possible to be ashamed of Jesus. In this form the focus was on the individual instead of on Christ, and thus falls short of what makes for a suitable Lutheran hymn. Comparing the last three stanzas of LW and ELH will make this point clear.
|Ashamed of Jesus, that dear friend |
On whom my hopes of heav’n depend?
No; when I blush, be this my shame,
That I no more revere his name.
Ashamed of Jesus? Yes, I may
When I’ve no guilt to wash away,
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fear to quell, no soul to save.
Till then – nor is my boasting vain –
Till then I boast a Savior slain;
And oh, may this my glory be,
That Christ is not ashamed of me!
|Never! For Jesus is my Friend, |
On whom my hopes of heav’n depend.
He sheds the beams of light divine
O’er this benighted soul of mine.
Jesus! May this my glory be:
That He is not ashamed of me!
The Lamb of God, my Savior slain,
Has washed me clean from sin’s dark stain.
Jesus, the name which we adore,
O make us love Thee more and more!
Thy goodness, Jesus, now we sing,
True Man and God, our loving King!
Another strength of ELH is the broad scope of hymnody it incorporates. No other North American Lutheran hymnal in the English language has ever included so many of the core hymns of the Reformation period. These Kernlieder are significant because they are a representative consensus of hymns produced in the 16th century and considered normative for Lutheran congregational singing for the next two centuries. ELH has 37 of these core hymns of the Lutheran faith. By comparison, the Evangelical-Lutheran Hymn Book (ELHB), the predecessor to TLH has 32; TLH has 30, LWhas 31, and LBW has only 25. When the temptation today is to bring congregational singing to the level of Vacation Bible School songs, it is a bold and brave move to embrace what many would put aside as culturally obsolete and too difficult to sing. At the same time, ELH has not neglected other fruitful periods of hymnody within the Church. It has included metric versions of the five medieval sequence hymns: Victimi paschali, Stabat mater, Lauda Sion, Dies irae, and Veni Sancte Spiritus, a Praetorius setting of a Latin hymn, Paul Gerhardt’s endearing cradle hymn, “I Stand Beside Thy Manger Here,” along with a number of 20th century hymns, including one by a member of the ELS. Nor should it be assumed that the volume is full of German hymns. While it is true that Paul Gerhardt and Martin Luther are given a fair representation, over 10% of the hymns are of a Norwegian or Scandinavian background. The famous Danish bard and bishop, Thomas Kingo, has 15 hymns included, many unfamiliar to those of Germanic origins. Nor have the riches of English language hymnody been neglected with 21 hymns by Isaac Watts and 13 by Charles Wesley. One would have to search high and low to find a hymnal as comprehensive.
A third area where ELH is strong is in its hymn translations. One such instance worthy of note is Luther’s baptismal hymn, “To Jordan Came Our Lord.” Where LBW and LW have used the Elizabeth Quitmeyer translation of this hymn, ELH has opted for its own translation. The result is that the catechetical nuances of this hymn are much clearer. In the second stanza for example, the Quitmeyer translation pales in comparison:
Likewise, the reference to the command and promise of baptism is clearly enunciated in the ELH translation, whereas these catechetical citations are not spelled out as well in the translation of Quitmeyer. Such clear teaching and singing about Holy Baptism as in the ELH composite translation gives new life to this hymn and makes the effort to learn it worthwhile. ELH has probably the best English translation available of “Wake Awake.” This is a superior translation because the implications of the Lord’s Supper in the original text are made plain in English. No other English translation of this hymn successfully manages to accomplish this. The final phrases of the second stanza,
Wir folgen all/
Und halten mit das Abendmaal,
We enter all,
the marriage hall,
To eat the Supper at Your call.
In the last stanza where the hymn writer concludes in an ecstatic Latin full of the praises of God in heaven,
Des sind wir froh,
Ewig in dulci jubilo,
the translation in ELH more than any other captures the jubilant note of the original,
Blessed, will we,
Sing “Gloria” eternally.
ELH offers one more example of fine hymn translation in the Lord’s Supper hymn “Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Bestowed.” The graphic phrases of this hymn stand in contrast to the popular Zwinglian conceptions of the Holy Supper all around us. Stanza three and four proclaim:
- Still You are here, as says Your Word,
- With us, Your congregation,
- With now Your flesh and bones, O Lord,
- Not bound to one location.
- Your Word stands as a tower sure,
- None can o’erthrow its trust secure,
- Be he most shrewd and subtle.
- “This is My body,” thus You say,
- “Eat orally, so take Me;
- All drink My blood; by you I stay,
- And you shall not forsake Me.”
- Thus You have spoken, so ‘tis true;
- Naught is impossible with You,
- For You, Lord, are almighty.
Once again, the beautiful sacramental piety characteristic of the period of Orthodoxy is highlighted in stanzas six and eight. Stanza six confesses:
Your Baptism, Supper, and Your Word
My comfort here below afford;
Here lies my heart’s true treasure,
and stanza eight proclaims:
Help that Your body and Your blood
May be my soul’s consoling food
In my last moments! Amen.
One final area where the ELH shines is in its devotional aspects. The hymnal was clearly fashioned not only for congregational use in the Divine Service, but also for personal and family devotional use. For example, instead of leaving empty space on a page, the editors chose to fill that space with prayers and portions of the Holy Scriptures. Hymns that are favourites of young children as well as fondly remembered by adults such as “Children of the Heavenly Father,” and “God Loves Me Dearly,” have been included. A hymn that might be considered more appropriate in Sunday School, “Jesus Loves Me,” has with the composition of three new stanzas been given a churchly emphasis. For example, the final stanza says,
Jesus loves me! He is near.
He is with His Church so dear.
And the Spirit He has sent
By His Word and Sacrament.
The section on Holy Baptism is void of the sweet sentiments occasionally expressed in the baptismal hymns of TLH and LW. What is offered instead is solid, thoughtful, catechetical hymnody, “to give every Christian enough to learn and to practice all his life in regard to Baptism.” (Luther) This baptismal emphasis is present throughout the hymns of the ELH. For instance, Kingo’s Easter hymn, “Like the Golden Sun Ascending,” says in part,
For Thy resurrection is
Surety for my heav’nly bliss,
And my baptism a reflection
Of Thy death and resurrection.
Another devotional strength of this hymnal is its powerful piety surrounding death and dying. Where TLH had 18 hymns in its section on death and burial, and LW has a mere 6, ELH has 19. In keeping with the theology of the cross, one of the characteristics of classic Lutheran hymnody was often a final stanza on death. Where this focus has been muted by LW, the ELH is not afraid to sing a godly approach to death, a helpful corrective in our society fixated in one way or another on dying.
The absence of the LW Divine Service Two and the repeated use of the isometric chorale prevent a whole-hearted endorsement of ELH. Nevertheless, it should be on every pastor’s shelf as a valuable resource to mine, and with judicious use could become a helpful asset for the church choir. For obvious jurisdictional reasons, we in the Lutheran Church – Canada will not have the same voice in the production of the next Missouri Synod hymnal as we have had in the past. Could the example of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the ELH offer a model for us as we consider the future of hymnody in our congregations?
David P. Saar is Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada.