Earlier this week, we published a post about the earliest known Chinese hymn, “Da Qing Hymn of Perfection of the Three Majesties.” It was written by the Nestorian missionaries in China during the Tang Dynasty, which ruled from 618 to 907 AD. It is #385 in The New Chinese Hymnal.
But there is another hymn that is even older: “Father, We Praise Thee.” It is hymn #7 in The New Chinese Hymnal under the Chinese title 夜尽光天歌 (ye jin guang tian ge), which can be translated something like Dark Night, Bright Day. While the bilingual version of The New Chinese Hymnal lists the English title as “Father, We Praise Thee,” Hymnary.org shows the title of the song to be Father We Praise Thee, Now the Night is Over.
The hymn has historically been attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604), but that attribution is no longer accepted, according to The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. David’s Hymn Blog gives a bit of the history:
This is a translation of the Medieval hymn "Nocte surgentes vigilemus omnes" (Rising up by night, let us all keep vigil") from the Roman Catholic liturgy, originally sung during the nighttime prayer hours in the summer months (Walpole 265). Dearmer's English translation tweaked the original to make it a morning prayer, more suitable for his Anglican audience.
Father, we praise thee, now the night is over;
active and watchful, stand we all before thee;
singing we offer prayer and meditation:
thus we adore thee.
Monarch of all things, fit us for thy mansions;
banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
bring us to heaven, where thy saints united
joy without ending.
All-holy Father, Son and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessèd, send us thy salvation;
thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
through all creation.
This is how it appears in Chinese numerical notation:
Here is a YouTube clip of the song:
I was introduced to the hymn at the Three-self church I attended in Beijing for many years; it was a favorite of the pastor in charge of music, so we sang it often. It is one of my favorite hymns.
I once asked the music pastor at that church the rationale for including so many translated western hymns in Chinese churches. Her response was that singing these hymns was a way of keeping the church in China connected not only to the global church, but to the historical church as well. She felt it was important for Chinese believers to know that they are part of something bigger. “Western” is our label, not theirs. To her and her congregation, this hymn, and so many others in the hymnal are hymns of the faith, not hymns of the West.
I think maybe she’s on to something.
Image credit: Moon…Early Morning, by Natalio, via Flickr
Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio
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