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).
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