Text: St. Thomas á Kempis (1380-1471). Tune: English carol Deo Gracias
1. Oh, love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy, That God, the Son of God, should take Our mortal form for mortal's sake! 2 .He sent no angel to our race, Of higher or of lower place, But wore the robe of human frame, And to this world himself he came. 3. For us baptized, for us he bore His holy fast and hungered sore; For us temptation sharp He knew; For us the tempter overthrew. 4. For us he prayed; for us he taught; For us his daily works he wrought, By words and signs and actions thus Still seeking not himself, but us. 5. For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed, He bore the shameful cross and death; For us he gave his dying breath. 6. For us he rose from death again; For us He went on high to reign; For us he sent his Spirit here To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer. 7. All glory to our Lord and God For love so deep, so high, so broad; The Trinity whom we adore Forever and forevermore.
London. January 1976 at the Aldwych Theatre. Shakespeare’s Henry V. The victory at Agincourt. A sparkling white carpet rolled out over the raked stage, reflecting light on the faces of everyone in the audience. Then the orchestra began playing Deo Gracias and the actors, dressed in the reds and golds of royalty, came on stage. Thrilling. It was the climax of the three Henry plays, Henry IV part 1 and 2, concluding with Henry V.
I was there on sabbatical and going to at least one play a day. This was the high spot of the time. And every time I hear the hymn tune, either with this text or "O Wondrous Type," I am back in that theater. It is the palimpsest effect about which I have spoken before. You hear the original or whatever you first heard along with the text you are now singing.
The tune has been called the Agincourt hymn and the association for the English is strong.
Those who chose the tune for the text knew that the grandeur of the tune would bring that story back to those who knew it, but it also has grandeur in and of itself.
Scholars think this text was written by St. Thomas á Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, but they are not sure. That book is one of a small number that has persisted in the Christian imagination for centuries. While it breathes the spirit of medieval monasticism, it is the book referred to by many a leader of spiritual renewals in the church as necessary to their spiritual lives.
In this hymn we get the whole story of salvation. One of its best features is the repetition of “For us.” If one thinks that all that Jesus did was for someone else, but not each one of us, we miss the point. If it was not for you and me, it is just an harrowing story with a good ending, finally. Something to be intellectually known.
But when one adds the “for us” then one is forced to wonder why. Why did I need a God to be born on earth and live with me, be like me, suffer at my hands and then die, and rise again? What is that all about?
It really was the only way it could be done. Because human beings broke the relationship with God, a human being had to suffer the consequences, not an angel. And because he was God, he could bring us back into relationship with God, in fact, dwell in us and with us, and give us the abundant life that God always wanted to give us. This is love so deep, so high, so broad, there is no way to fathom it, only adore it always and forever more.
The tune is a 15th Century English carol which has always been known as Deo Gracias sung to commemorate the victory of the English over the French at Agincourt on October 25, 1415, St. Crispin's Day. Thomas á Kempis was a German monk born in Kempen, near what is now Holland. He came under the influence of the Brethren of the Common Life, a group devoted to religious reforms that anticipated the Reformation. He entered the community of Mount St. Agnes and became a well regarded copyist in the order. He is known to have copied the Bible four times: one copy still exists. He was given the responsibility of instructing novices in the monastery and that was the beginning of his classic Imitation of Christ.
St. Bartholomew’s Church https://youtu.be/tNQXxwjOp-A
Organ and Trumpet
Higher Things, Inc
Deo Gracias from Henry V
Benjamin Britten's version of "Deo Gracias" from Ceremony of Carols