Hymnody: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”

 

Dear Readers, 

The study of Theology always begins and ends with Doxology.  And a Hymn is Theology, set to music.

Study, memorize, and sing hymns that are rich in Theology:  hymns that are solid, historic, orthodox,  ancient, classical, and Trinitarian.

This is a delightful way to engage in both Theology and Doxology.

Below I have provided two versions of a theologically-rich hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

 

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

“This powerful Eucharistic hymn, so full of awe and mystery, is taken from one of the early liturgies of the Greek Orthodox Church.  The verses are based on a part of the Liturgy of St. James, which dates from the fourth century and is found in both Greek and Syriac .

The whole liturgy was first translated into English, by J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, and published in their Primitive Liturgies [1868-9].  Shortly after the books’ publication, the Reverend Gerard Moultrie [1829-85] versified a section entitled Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn, to form this hymn.  Moultrie was successively Chaplain of Shrewsbury School, Vicar of South Leigh, and Warden of St. James’ College, also in South Leigh.  He was responsible for several translations of hymns, as well as a number of his own compositions.

It is Moutlrie’s translation which appears [above] and which is found in most Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian hymnals.”

~~~From The Book of Hymns, Ian Bradley

 

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence:  Version One

French Carol Melody, Picardy; Liturgy of St. James, Translated by G. Moutlrie

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,

And with fear and trembling stand;

Ponder nothing earthly-minded,

For with blessing in His hand,

Christ our God to earth descendeth,

Our full homage to demand.

 

King of kings, yet born of Mary,

As of old on earth He stood,

Lord of Lords, in human vesture –

In the Body and the Blood –

He will give to all the faithful

His own Self for heavenly food.

 

Rank on rank, the host of heaven

Spreads its vanguard on the way,

As the Light of Light descendeth,

From the realms of endless day,

That the powers of hell may vanish,

As the darkness clears away.

 

At His feet, the six-winged Seraph;

Cherubim with sleepless eye,

Veil their faces to the Presence,

As with ceaseless voice they cry,

“Alleluia!  Alleluia! Alleluia!  Lord most high!”

 

“The text of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is . . . taken from the fourth-century Orthodox Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem; Gerard Moultrie’s verse translation was published in 1864, when there was renewed interest in early Christian rites, awakened, doubtless, by the Oxford Movement.  Vaughn Williams included it in The English Hymnal, set to the French carol melody Jésus Christ s’habille en pauvre, an unlikely, but inspired, union.”

~~~From CD and Notes:  Sing, Ye HeavensHymns for All Time:  The Cambridge Singers, Directed by John Rutter, Collegium Records

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence:  Version Two

Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling, and lift itself above all earthly thought.

For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, cometh forth to be our oblation and to be given for Food to the faithful.

Before him come the choirs of angels with every principality and power; the Cherubim with many eyes, and winged Seraphim, who veil their faces as they shout exultingly the hymn:  Alleluia. 

From the Liturgy of St. James

~~~E. C. Bairstow, [1874-1946]

“Outwardly, Sir Edward Bairstow typified the English organist-composer of the early twentieth century:  conservative, craftsman-like, gifted with a natural feeling for choral writing, and discriminating in his choice of texts.  From 1913, until his death, he was organist of York Minster, for the spacious acoustic of which building Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence was doubtless conceived. 

Yet this brief anthem, written in 1925, is filled with an awe-inspiring sense of mystery, majesty, and power that is anything but conventional, evoking the solemn liturgical music of Russia, rather than the aura of the English organ loft.  One wonders what Bairstow might have achieved if he had been free to devote himself more fully to composition.”

~~~From CD and Notes:  Images of Christ, The Cambridge Singers, Directed by John Rutter, Collegium Records

Coram Deo,

Margot

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