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HYMN 121 All Glory Be to God on High

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Danish: Aleneste Gud i Himmerig

German: Allein Gott in der höh sei ehr

Icelandic: Guð faðer lof og þökksé þér

Norwegian: Alene Gud I himmerik

Swedish: Allena Gud I himmelrik

Text: Nicolaus Decius (1485-1546) Tune: Gregorian chant arr. Nicolaus Decius (1485-1546)

Braunschweig where Decius wrote this hymn

1. All glory be to God on high, Who hath our race befriended! To us no harm shall now come nigh, The strife at last is ended. God showeth His good will to men, And peace shall reign on earth again; O thank Him for His goodness!

2. We praise, we worship Thee, we trust, And give Thee thanks forever, O Father, that Thy rule is just And wise, and changes never. Thy boundless pow'r o'er all things reigns, Done is whate'er Thy will ordains: Well for us that Thou rulest.

3. O Jesus Christ, Thou only Son Of God, Thy heav'nly Father, Who didst for all our sins atone And Thy lost sheep dost gather. Thou Lamb of God, to Thee on high From out our depths we sinners cry, Have mercy on us, Jesus!

4. O Holy Ghost, Thou precious Gift, Thou Comforter unfailing, O'er Satan's snares our souls uplift And let thy pow'r availing Avert our woes and calm our dread. For us the Savior's blood was shed; We trust in Thee to save us. Tr. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

MEDITATION People tell me this hymn was sung at the beginning of every chapel service at Concordia College in Moorhead for many years. It had become, over the years, the Lutheran hymn for openings and beginnings of services. It was frequently the first hymn in the hymnal. Before the liturgical movement gained its momentum, many Lutheran hymnals put the worship section first: Hymns for Praise and Prayer, Opening, Closing, baptism and communion, etc. The second section would be the liturgical year and the last, Christian topics like Trust and Guidance, Death and Dying, etc. Now the church year comes first.

For a Lutheran hymn you can’t get much earlier than this. It appeared in 1522. Written by Nicolaus Decius, a monk in the Steterburg Cloister near Wolfenbüttel. He had been persuaded

Early version of the hymn Allein Gott...

by Luther’s theology and left the cloister to become a teacher in Braunschweig. He and a group began to worship using the principles Luther espoused, especially in regard to it being in German. This hymn is a German version of the Latin Gloria, the second piece in the Ordinary of the Mass, five liturgical songs that every celebration of the mass must include: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei. They had been in Latin for centuries and sung to Gregorian chants. Luther’s evangelical theology argued that people should understand the language of the service as well as the music, not just German words to the Gregorian chant, but German tunes. For Germanic languages, the hymn form with German tunes, stanzas, rhymes and repetitions seemed natural.

To show how this worked, Luther put together the service of what has been called the Deutsche Messe, German mass, or hymn mass—in which all of the musical parts of the service are paraphrased German hymn versions of the Latin Ordinary. People could sing the service themselves, not listen to a choir of monks. In fact, Danish pastor Peder Balslev-Clausen argued in an interesting paper in the 1990s that hymn singing by the congregation was what it meant to be Lutheran. If people didn’t sing the hymns during the service, it was not a Lutheran service.

Young Martin Luther 1520

When Luther started writing hymns in 1523, he had a clear idea that in the singing of the hymns, people would be proclaiming the Gospel to each other. So his hymns, and many Lutheran hymns since, are sermons that preach to the congregation.They are not addressed to God until maybe the closing stanza, if then. The first stanza of this hymn addresses the congregation and then turns to praise. Later his friend Philip Melancthon wrote in the "Apology to the Augsburg Confession" what Luther thought about hymns--they were like Scripture or the sermon because they could "cause faith and fear, and even prayer."

When I look around in a service and see people unable to sing or not singing for whatever reason, I worry that we have not chosen hymns well enough so everyone can sing. And thus excluded them from the privilege of sharing or hearing the word with others.

The vocation of the church musician is to figure out how to make it possible for people to sing in church. It is really a ministry. Something happens to people when they sing together, they are joined bodily, sharing their presence--and their germs--! and their spirits. Now with the pandemic, singing is regarded as dangerous given the exchange of aerosols and droplets. We need to think seriously about this. Worship without singing for Protestants is almost a contradiction in terms. The exchange of dangerous microbes has been happening in choirs and churches ever since we were instructed to sing a new song. I pray we can figure this out before too long. It is a serious matter. At least we can sing at home with others in our family group. But we long to be together so we can sing our hearts out with each other. It is how we teach, console and learn from one another. Paul writes in Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your heart to God." Singing the word gets it deep into our flesh. Sing it! Happy Sunday!

HYMN INFO This hymn was loved and known before 1523 when Luther started writing hymns. Although Luther had written a Gloria in German for his German mass, this one became the preferred one. So now if you sing the chorale service, (Deutsche Messe) you will most likely sing this as the Gloria. Decius also wrote the hymn "O Lamb of God," the Agnus Dei hymn of the German service. Decius served as pastor in Stettin until his death under suspicious circumstances. Some thought his enemies had poisoned him. The fourth stanza was added later to make the hymn more Trinitarian.

While it has slipped some in its popularity, it is still important. Bach did several prelude settings for the hymn.

LINKS Organ, congregation at an Easter vigil service/German

Bach’s organ prelude BWV 715

German Mass in English by a congregation, go to 3:14

Anders Widmark Jazz Trio: Psalmer

Michael Burkhardts organ version

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