“Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.” Johann Sebastian Bach
Sadly, over the last 500 years, there’s never been a lot of harmony between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Since the reformation days of Martin Luther, John Calvin and others, sides have been drawn up, and only on rare occasions have there been times when these two great institutions work together for the common good of God’s Kingdom. Interestingly enough, today’s hymn, Crown Him With Many Crowns, is one of those bright spots in Christendom where the two opposing sides are brought together, even if only for the singing of this one magnificent hymn for the glory of Christ!
But it didn’t start out that way. Let me explain.
The original text for this popular hymn was first composed in 1851 by Matthew Bridges. Based on the twelfth verse of Revelation 19 (…and on His head were many crowns), Bridges wrote six stanzas of eight lines each, and published his work under the Latin title, In capito ejus diademata multa, in the second edition of a publication entitled, Hymns of the Heart.
Bridges was born at Malden, Essex in 1800, and was educated in the Church of England. In his late twenties, he published a number of literary works that condemned the Catholic Church, but under the influence of John Henry Newman and the Oxford movement, Bridges eventually softened his views and actually became a part of the Roman Catholic Church in 1848! By 1851, when Bridges published the text to today’s hymn, he was well on his way to writing a number of hymns that would eventually be used in both Catholic and Protestant circles. Bridges eventually relocated to Canada and died in Quebec in 1894.
In 1868, Sir George J. Elvey of Canterbury, England wrote the stately tune DIADEMATA (Latin for crowns) for Bridges’ text and the hymn we now know so very well was on its way to becoming one of the most popular hymns sung by worshiping congregations over the last 150 years. But the story isn’t over yet!
In the late 1800’s, Godfrey Thring, a devout Anglican clergyman, was very concerned that Bridges’ popular hymn was exposing Protestant congregations to a “dangerous” Catholic theology. So in 1882, Thring published six new stanzas for the hymn, using only Bridges’ first stanza and line one from the fifth stanza in his newly revised version! So…I guess it could be said that by 1894, when Matthew Bridges, the hymn’s original author died, Christians around the world were now able to crown Jesus with many stanzas!
Twelve, in fact!
Fortunately, reason won out, and today most congregations sing only three or four verses at any one time! But here’s the real winner in all of this Catholic vs. Protestant nonsense. Of the verses most commonly appearing in hymnals today, two were written by Bridges, the Catholic (verses 1, 2 below) and two by Thring, the Protestant (verses 3, 4 below)! Let’s hear it for the spirit of reconciliation!
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.
Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.
Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.
My prayer: Father God, I’m so thankful when Your Spirit of oneness actually trumps our divisive attitudes. Help us, Jesus, to take off our personal crowns that might identify us as Protestant or Catholic, laying them at Your feet, and indeed, crown You alone, with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So what practical action steps can I take today to reduce the tension and distrust amongst members of the Church, while working toward the healing of ancient divisions within the Body of Christ?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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