Friday, April 10, 2009

Bernard, Paul and Bob

Due to work commitments, I couldn’t go to my regular parish for our noontime Good Friday service. So I ended Lent where I started it, at the LCMS parish where I have numerous friends.

The main hymn was one of those recommended by The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) for Good Friday, “O sacred Head, now wounded,” based on a 1656 text by Paulus Gerhardt for the 1601 tune Passion Chorale by Hans Leo Hassler.

TLH (#172) has 10 verses translated by various sources, but this is also listed as a Passiontide, Holy Week or Lenten hymn in all my Anglican hymnals:
  • The 19th century Hymns Ancient & Modern (#97, #111 depending on the edition) has three verses of “O Sacred Head, Surrounded” translated by H.W. Baker
  • The English Hymnal, 1906 (#102) has 5 verses translated by “Y.H.”
  • Hymnal 1940 (#75) has four verses translated by Robert (Seymour) Bridges
  • Hymnal 1982 (#168) has these four verses, plus an (altered) translation of the fifth verse by James Waddell Alexander
  • New English Hymnal, 1986 (#90) has five verses translated by Bridges
TLH and A&M have their own harmonizations, while the others use the harmonization by J.S. Bach.

The Cyberhymnal has 11 verses translated by Alexander (plus the MIDI). With the Bridges translation, Oremus follows the four verses of Hymnal 1940, starting with the words I recall from my childhood:
O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!
This is a pretty influential and popular hymn, but it’s more than just that. TLH credits this as
Based on the Latin
Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153, asc.
Bernard (1091-1153) was a monk in the Cistercians order (the order that brought us the Trappists.) There are brief biographies in CCEL and Wikipedia, and a longer biography in the New Advent Encyclopedia; STEM quotes the biography from Julian's Hymnology.

The Center for Church Music has a brief discussion of the hymn, which begins:
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" is based on a long medieval poem attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 'Salve mundi salutare'. This poem talks about Christ's body, as he suffered and hung on the cross. It has seven sections, each addressing a part of Jesus' body-his feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and head. Our hymn is a translation of the seventh section 'Salve caput cruentatum', focused on Jesus' head.
The original Latin text can be found in the 1874 book Sacred Latin Poetry, as published online by Google Books. I haven’t checked Gerhardt’s translation, but clearly there is some disagreement of the English translation of the German translation of the Latin text, even before the “improvements” in late 20th century.

Still, as with other timeless hymns, there’s something magical about thinking that today’s observance of Good Friday was tied across the generations to earlier Christians, all through a 850-year-old text and 400-year-old tune. I pray that it remains in the worship into the 4th millennium.

Note: the hymn is also the subject of a commentary by the blog “Hyfrydol. Discuss.” (Love that title) and Mia Himnareto.

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