Sunday, August 05, 2007

Christ is the King, O Friends Rejoice!

A hymn starting "Christ is the King, O friends rejoice" was written by Bishop George Bell in 1931 for Songs of Praise. It doesn't appear in the English Hymnal—naturally since that preceded Songs of Praise.

However, I doubt many people know it in the original form in which it appeared in Songs of Praise. What we sing from the New English Hymnal bears rather little relation to it and clearly some other versions with additional bowdlerisation are also circulating.

Take this, for example, from the Enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, February 2003:
Christ is the King, O Friends rejoice
Brothers and Sisters, with one voice,
Tell all the earth he is your choice,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia...

Notice that the third line here differs from that in the NEH (and in Songs of Praise) which has
"Make all men know he is your choice."
Other versions of this line seem to include
"Tell all the world he is your choice"
(from the Enthronement of the Archbishop of York) and
"Make all things living know your choice".
I presume these changes (which have not been thought necessary by the NEH) are to substitute inclusive language for the "all men" of the original.

But it isn't as if the NEH has adhered to Bell's original.

Not at all.

Verse 1 in the NEH is the first three lines of the original, with an alleluia added. But the original was in six line verses, with no alleluias. The second half of verse 1 went thus:
Ring out ye bells, give tongue, give tongue!
Let your most merry peal be rung,
While our exultant song is sung.
Those lines no longer appear in our hymn books. The next verse began thus :
O magnify the Lord and raise
Anthems of joy and holy praise
For Christ's brave saints of ancient days...
These are familiar because they appear as verse 3 in the NEH, but in the original it continued without a break:
... who with a faith for ever new
Followed the King, and round him drew,
thousands of faithful men and true.
Instead of leaving those there, the NEH has moved them up to form verse 2, like this:
The first apostles round them drew
Thousands of faithful men and true
Sharing a faith for ever new.
Verse 3 in the original began
O Christian women, Christian Men
All the world over, seek again
The way disciples followed then...
—a thought that followed well after the second half of the original verse 2 (which is now our verse 2), but not so well after the revised verse 3 which is where it now comes (as verse 4).

The next three lines were what we now know as verse 5 ("Christ through all ages is the same..."), so their position has not changed, and what we know as verse 6 ("Let Love's unconquerable might...") followed, again no change. The second half of that verse, however, has gone altogether in the NEH. In the original it went thus:
So shall God's will on earth be done,
New lamps be lit, new tasks begun,
And the whole Church at last be one.
Interestingly that verse was included in the Archbishop of Canterbury's enthronement, so for that service they weren't just using the NEH version. Perhaps they were using the one from 100 hymns for today (I don't have access to that)? Or perhaps they were devising their own. Anyway, the fact is that much tampering has occurred all over this hymn, and the single dagger in NEH is a bit little to indicate the level of intervention. Arguably the change to three line verses and alleluias are an improvement, and the tune Vulpius is what has made it popular (whereas in Songs of Praise it was set to Llangoedmor, for which see 539 in the English Hymnal).


Virginia said...

What do the inclusive versions do about 'thousands of faithful men and true'? Weren't there women in the early church sharing their faith too? And if the words aren't changed to reflect this, why edit out 'make all men know'?

I once tried and failed to persuade a former organist of LSM that C major is too low a key for the tune to this hymn. Both verse and alleluia end with you growling at the bottom of your range if you have a high voice.

SE11 Lurker said...

I have often thought that the line, "Make all men know he is your choice" does not quite fit. I don't quite know why I thought that, but I suppose I just didn't think it good poetry! From the way I read your post, I think you're saying that the "choice" stanza never existed in the original. Is that correct?

Just out of interest, what is your view of inclusive language? I understand the argument of various writers that "men" has for many years been considered inclusive of (hu)mankind. I also understand the argument of feminist authors that it is deeply gender biased. I've no clear clue how to negotiate which argument is right (or whether it's situation dependent).

Catherine Rowett said...

Thanks for the comments. In reply to Angela, the answer is
(a) no I didn't mean to say that the 'choice' verse was not in the original. In fact it was there, and it did go "Make all men know he is your choice". I agree that that's not very good poetry, and that probably explains why people have tried to change it, though most of them seem to be more fussed about the use of "men" than about the ugliness of "make them know" as a phrase, or the prosaic or slang feel of "He is your choice". But I rather suspect that people suppose that their dislike of the line is due to the gendered language and fail to see what's really rebarbative about it.

(b) As regards my view of inclusive language, I'm generally in favour of preserving the authentic expressions of Christian faith as used in each generation, and learning to understand them and use them in the right way, and I don't think that eliminating language that was not intended to be exlusive is helpful to that process because current generations grow up unable to read correctly as a result. I also think that in many cases the supposedly gendered language is more inclusive and more egalitarian than the self-conscious terminology that is often substituted. For instance "brethren" used inclusively is more inclusive than "brothers and sisters" --which makes it sound as if it matters whether you're male or female, and that "and sisters" is an afterthought, and that sisters are only included when they are specifically mentioned, the default being that they are not invited. So the answer is that, aside from certain very rare circumstances, I am in favour of preserving the poetry and the theology untouched, and adding explanatory commentary if it is hard to understand.

(c) In answer to Virginia, the Archbishop of York's service had these words for that verse:

They with a faith for ever new

followed the King, and round him drew

thousands of faithful hearts and true.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

In the ABC's service they didn't have that verse.

Virginia said...

I was reminded last week of one feature of the EH which I'm not sorry to see the back of - the contortions the typesetters went through in order to fit a hymn onto one page, by running over the ends of lines above their beginnings. Hymn 312 in the full music edition, in which nearly half the lines are so treated (only two lines have no line break at all), is a particularly spectacular example of this. Surely this should have been printed as a single column of text, with the harmonised plainchant of Ave verum corpus which precedes either squeezed up a bit onto one page, or allowed to fill two pages with the addition of square notation. It's not as if they rule out page-turns either - otherwise why the convention of the dot after the number of the final verse (noted before)? (It is of course much easier to have music and words on one page though).