Latin: Te Deum Laudamus German: Grosser Gott, wir loben dich Norwegian: Store Gud, vi lover deg
Text: Ignaz Franz (1719-1790). Tune: Vienna, 1774
1. Holy God, we praise your name; Lord of all, we bow before you; All on earth your scepter claim, All in heav'n above adore you. Infinite your vast domain, Everlasting is your reign.
2. Hark, the loud celestial hymn Angel choirs above are raising; Cherubim and seraphim In unceasing chorus praising, Fill the heav'ns with sweet accord: "Holy, holy, holy Lord."
3. Lo! the apostolic train Join your sacred name to hallow; Prophets swell the glad refrain, And the white robed martyrs follow; And from morn to set of sun, Through the church the song goes on.
4. Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three we name you; While in essence only One, Undivided God we claim you, And adoring bend the knee, While we sing this mystery. Tr. Clarence A. Walworth (1820-1900)
MEDITATION Trinity Sunday, the last Sunday of the festival time of the church year. After this we go into what the liturgical churches call Ordinary time. While Trinity does not receive the kind of attention that Christmas and Easter do, it is a fitting end to the festival season since the previous festivals have celebrated Christ and the Holy Spirit. This celebrates Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity.
This much beloved German hymn is a metrical version of the great canticle, Te Deum Laudamus, "Thee God we Praise" celebrating the attributes of God and telling the story of Jesus. Where it comes from we are not sure. There is a story that Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine improvised it as Ambrose baptized Augustine. That is unlikely. The two are connected, however, in a very significant way: the young Augustine, not yet a Christian, went to Milan, Italy, to hear the great preacher Ambrose in order to admire his eloquence, but as he listened he began to weep for his sins. Augustine's mother, Monica, had spent her life praying for his conversion which is portrayed in the painting above. Augustine's conversion is one of the most significant events in Christian history given what Augustine's thought and writings meant for the church.
Scholars can trace the Te Deum back to the 7th century at least. Used in the Matins service, in Latin, which the Catholic church used for its worship, it did not really need translation into the vernacular languages since most people understood much of the Latin in the services of the church. Protestants did translate this text into their vernacular languages, Luther wrote one in 1529, "Herre Gott, dich loben wir."
This German version was prepared by Ignaz Franz, from Silesia, part of the Habsburg empire. There are many more stanzas in it than the four we traditionally use.
The hymn was ordered to be included in the Catholic hymnbook (Allgemeines Katholisches Gesangbuch) by Her Apostolic Majesty Maria Theresa Queen of the Habsburg dominions and it has ever since been associated with her. Maria Theresa, a fierce Catholic, wanting her people to share the same faith, persecuted both Protestants and Jews in her realm.
Her reign had wide consequences on the European scene. She and her husband Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children in twenty years, many of whom ended up on thrones throughout Europe, one of them Queen of France, the ill-fated Marie Antoinette. Influenced by the Enlightenment, Maria Theresa reformed education, government and finances in the kingdoms she ruled. A wise and thrifty ruler she left the kingdom in much better shape than it had been when she took over from her father, Emperor Charles VI.
The separation between Catholics and Protestants which she promulgated continued through the 19th and well into the 20th century when both sides continued to distinguish themselves from each other with stereotypes. I grew up in a small town in North Dakota that was divided into Norwegian Lutherans and German-Russian Catholics. With barely 3000 inhabitants, the lines were clearly drawn and we knew it. The Catholic graveyard at the east side of town, the Lutheran on the west. The thought that we had much in common would have sounded outrageous even in the early 1950s.
The large German emigration to America brought the hymn here. At one time, not so long ago, thirty percent of Americans could trace their ancestry back to German regions. They made it a beloved hymn to be sung at festival occasions of many kinds as it had been at home. Notice how many people at the services in the links below can sing it by heart! It is thrilling to hear grand and glorious hymns that thousands of people can sing together. "And from morn to set of sun, Through the church the song goes on!" Praise the Lord!
After it was translated by Clarence Walworth into English it came to be known by more than German Catholics. Walworth, born in Plattsburg, NY, was an Episcopalian who attended General Seminary in Manhattan, but became a Catholic priest in the Order of Redemptorists. A poet of some talent, he wrote works that Oscar Wilde admired.
It took until the twentieth century for it to cross over into most Protestant hymnals. One little tidbit—it came to Norway through a missionary to Madagascar. As many of you know Norwegians and Norwegian Americans sent many missionaries to Madagascar. In order to work there, they had to spend some time in France learning French since Madagascar had been a French colony and French was an official language along with Malagasy. While studying French in Paris, the Norwegian missionary, Kari Lavik Mason (1890-1959) heard the song “Grand Dieu! Nous te bénisons,” during a Reformed church gathering in Paris. It so moved her that she translated it into Norwegian where it soon became part of the treasury of hymns as you can hear below from the Oslo Gospel Choir. It made it into American Lutheran hymnals, as far as I can tell, not until 1958 with the Service Book and Hymnal. Today both Protestants and Catholics around the world sing it with gusto!
Coral Ridge Presbyterian https://youtu.be/vTo5lW0FCws
German Earth Choir and animato Symphonic Orchestra https://youtu.be/8yLZnM2KFkY
Berlin Cathedral https://youtu.be/PsERP5OkLEs
Requiem mass for Otto von Hapsburg, Archduke Otto of Austria, St. Stephens Cathedral 2011/ something to see! https://youtu.be/tXVt5ScQSqA
Salmeskatt/Oslo Gospel Choir