Of Their Time   4 comments

Hymnal 1911-1917

Above:  The Title Page of the Presbyterian Hymnal (1911) with the Supplement of 1917

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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World War I (1914-1918) was a devastating conflict which changed the map of the world.  Many of the problems of today have much to do with that war and the events of the years immediately following it.  Europeans promised the same territory to both Jews and Palestinians, created Iraq (where the British military became bogged down in an insurgency for years), broke up empires, and created new countries, some of which (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) which have ceased to exist.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921) oversold the conflict as a war to make the world safe for democracy.  Meanwhile, back home in the United States, which entered the war in 1917, early in Wilson’s second term, which he won on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” xenophobia, nativism, and irrationality reigned.  The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned performances of the music of Ludwig von Beethoven, an anti-imperialist who died in 1827.  Had the great composer been alive in 1917 and 1918, he would have opposed the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  But why let reason stand between one and an irrational fear?  Mobs burned books in the German language or about Germany, vandalized buildings belonging to congregations where worship was not in English, dachshunds became liberty hounds, the state of Iowa outlawed public gatherings where the spoken language was not English (although many sheriffs in the state permitted Danish Lutheran congregations to worship in Danish), et cetera.  Opposing state-sponsored violence became a crime, one for which many pacifists went to prison and conscientious objectors suffered.  Really, were the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers threats to national security?  Were the Dutch Reformed (of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in particular) and the Lutherans (especially those in the denominations we call The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod these days) worshiping in other tongues that threatening?  In November 1918, at the organizing convention of the newly merged United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962), derived from German immigrant stock in North America since the 1700s, delegates felt the need to demonstrate their patriotism by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America,” due to lingering suspicions related to Germany, German-Americans, and the war.

The study of the past tells me that the war did not live up to its billing, that wartime hysteria and intolerance turned into widespread disillusionment, and that the psychological scars of the “Great War” or the “World War,” as people called it before World War II, influenced national decision-making (often for the worse) leading up to World War II.  Accounts of the “Lost Generation” and the false sense of security the Maginot Line engendered testify to the aftershocks of World War I.

These and other facts influence how I read certain texts from World War I and the time immediately following it.  How can they not, given my temporal relationship to that conflict?

During that war and immediately afterward some denominations amended their recent official hymnals.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. added the “Supplement of 1917” to its Hymnal of 1911.  This supplement consisted of three patriotic hymns:  “God of Our Fathers, Known of Old,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States added three hymns to The Pilgrim Hymnal (1912) after the war.  Hymns #542a-c were, respectively, “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “America, America, The Shouts of War Shall Cease.”  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was already present.

Two of those texts intrigue me.  The first is “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland.”  The author was the Reverend Washington Gladden (February 11, 1836-July 2, 1918), whose feast day in The Episcopal Church is July 2.  Gladden, a proponent of the Social Gospel, opposed corruption in government, favored civil rights for African Americans, and supported the labor movement.  He wrote many poems (including hymns), the most famous of which might be “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.”  In 1918 he composed the following text:

O Land of lands, my Fatherland, the beautiful, the free,

All lands and shores to freedom dear and ever dear to thee;

All sons of Freedom hail thy name, and wait thy word of might,

While round the world the lists are joined for liberty and light.

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Hail, sons of France, old comrades dear! Hail Britons brave and true!

Hail Belgian martyrs ringed with flame! Slavs fired with visions new!

Italian lovers mailed with light! Dark brothers from Japan!

From East to West all lands are kin who live for God and man.

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Here endeth war!  Our bands are sworn! Now dawns the better hour

When lust of blood shall cease to rule, when Peace shall come with power;

We front the fiend that rends our race and fills our hearts with gloom;

We break his scepter, spurn his crown, and nail him in his tomb.

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Now, hands all round, our troth we plight to rid the world of lies,

To fill all hearts with truth and trust and willing sacrifice;

To free all lands from hate and spite and fear from strand to strand;

To make all nations neighbors and the world one Fatherland!

The second text was, as the hymnal labeled it, “A National Hymn of Victory Inscribed to the Builders of the ‘League of Nations.'”  The author was the Reverend Allen Eastman Cross (December 30, 1864-April 23, 1942), a Congregationalist minister from Manchester, New Hampshire.

America, America!

The shouts of war shall cease;

The Glory dawns! the Day is come

Of Victory and Peace!

And now upon a larger plan

We’ll build the common good,

The temple of the Love of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!

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What though its stones were laid in tears,

Its pillars red with wrong,

Its walls shall rise through patient years

To soaring spires of song!

For on this House shall Faith attend,

With Joy on airy wing,

And flaming loyalty ascend

To God, the only King!

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America, America,

Ring out the glad refrain!

Salute the Flag–salute the dead

That have not died in vain!

O Glory! Glory to thy plan

To build the common good,

The temple of the Rights of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!

To mock the optimism and idealism of the texts is easy to do, but I propose that to do so is in error.  No, these hymns did not predict the future accurately.  Yes, the brutality of history since World War I has belied these texts’ highest sentiments, but the dream those hymns represent has never ceased to be a noble one.  The texts are of their time in two senses:  certain references to nations and the level of optimism regarding the future.  Without a goal to which to aspire, however, how are we humans supposed to improve the world?

I value precision in language, so I mark the difference between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy.  The former is more optimistic regarding human potential for effecting goodness than is the latter.  Neo-Orthodoxy, with its sober understanding of human nature, incorporates the best of the Social Gospel and emphasizes the human obligation to reform society and its structures for the better while stating that only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.  I read these quoted hymns through my lens of Neo-Orthodoxy and recognize a combination of naiveté and realism as I mourn the fact of those dashed hopes.  May nobody permit pessimism to prevent one from doing what one can to leave the world (or one’s corner of it) better than one found it.  God can save the world, but we can improve it.  We can love our neighbors as we love ourselves and seek to reform unjust social systems and institutions.  We have a moral imperative to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 12:  THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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SOURCES IN PRINT

I have provided hyperlinks to some sources.  My other sources were:

Bachmann, E. Theodore, with Mercia Brenne Bachmann.  The United Lutheran Church in America, 1918-1962.  Edited by Paul Rorem.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 1997.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints.  New York:  Church Publishing, 2010.

Mortenen, Enok.  The Danish Lutheran Church in America:  The History and Heritage of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1967.

The Hymnal Published in 1895 and Revised in 1911 by Authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; with the Supplement of 1917.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.

The Pilgrim Hymnal with Responsive Readings and Other Aids to Worship.  Boston, MA:  The Pilgrim Press, 1912.  Amended and reprinted, 1919.

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