We Believe . . . Redux
Last week I posted some notes on the translation of the Nicene Creed. So I’m leading chapel today. A service of communal intercessions. Hmmm, what liturgical hymn to use? How about Lutheran Book of Worship 939: “You are God, we praise You. You are the Lord, we acclaim You.” Notice again the “we.” This is the old Lutheran Worship Hymn of Praise from Morning Prayer. It is simply an alternative (and more accurate) translation and setting of the Te Deum, which is used also in the Order of Matins in The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, Lutheran Service Book.
The Te Deum is a phenomenal text, and, if played and sung in the right setting and with gusto, creates an atmosphere of majesty that is, I think, unparalleled. This hymn goes back to the fourth century, and may have been composed by Nicetas of Remesiana (in Greek in the fourth century) but has been passed down, in Latin, as part of Matins since the sixth century. I have a beat-up old German Bible from the 1680s, printed in Nürnburg. In addition to the standard OT/Apocrypha/NT, like many Lutherbibeln it includes the “Four Ecumenical Creeds” and the Augsburg Confession. What is the “fourth” ecumenical creed? The Te Deum, of course. And, as a confession of the Church, it is confessed together: We. Us. One.
Te deum laudamus te deum confitemur . . .
And my favorite part:
Te gloriosus apostolorum chorus,
Te prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
Te per orbem terrarium sancta confitetur ecclesia,
You the glorious choir of the apostles,
You the praiseworthy body of prophets,
You the white-robed army of martyrs [and finally the clinching verb] praises
You the holy church on earth throughout the world confesses.
Notice the connection back to the opening line: ladaumus / “We praise” . . . confitemur / “We confess” is repeated with laudat / “apostles,” “prophets,” “martyrs praise” . . . confitetur / “church confesses.” Great stuff. You’ve got all of God’s people there: Those who spoke the Good News (apostles, prophets) which created the (one) church; the martyrs who testified with their lives to that Good News and now await the end result of that Good News, the resurrection; and those of us still on this terrestrial orb who are part of Church. We, all together, with one voice, praise and confess. There is no “I” in the Te Deum.
There are a couple other hymns based on the Te Deum scattered throughout LSB: Notice the “we” in Luther’s “We All Believe in One True God” (953, 954); notice the “we” in my personal favorite, the adaptation by Stephen Starke set to the phenomenal fourth movement of Gustav Holst The Planets (I commented on Holst’s piece last year). For the latter, though, the music and text is so awesome that it is disappointing to hear it sung by a congregation unfamiliar with the tune. So practice it with the congregation, then sing it.
Contrast this ancient emphasis on “we” confessing together (in the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Te Deum) to other hymns — let alone “contemporary praise music (I’m not out to start a fight, just making an observation). Flip through the “Praise and Adoration” section of even LSB: 809: “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!“; 801: “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder . . . Then sings my soul”; 794: “My Father who will shield And keep me day by day And make each moment yield New blessings on my way.” Not that the first person is always inappropriate, but these sound more like personal prayers than the songs of the gathered faithful. And in our Americanized, customized, individualized world, maybe we need a little less me and a little more us: “You the holy church on earth throughout the world confesses.”