Friday, December 14, 2007

The detour from Charles Wesley to Christmastide

Hymn 27 of my favorite hymnal is listed as the entrance hymn for Christmas Eve, ten days hence:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled:
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.
There are certainly few hymns that allow such an enthusiastic proclamation of Christ's birth to ring in the new season. Of course, the Mendelssohn melody makes it possible, just as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Easter hit helps proclaim Christ’s resurrection.

The 1940 Hymnal hints as changes to the lyrics with the notation “Charles Wesley, 1739, alt.” But the real story is brought out in an article (with a book adaptation) in today’s Christianity Today.

The original Wesley version praised the “King of Kings,” consistent with Luke’s Gospel. However, this was changed by George Whitfield to “Glory to the newborn King.” Gordon Giles identifies subtleties of Methodist and Calvinist theology that underline these decisions, but I guess I’ll have to buy his latest book on Christmas readings to learn more.

In looking up Giles, I found an earlier chapter he wrote on the theological basis of musical performance. The book is not on Amazon, but it is indexed by Google.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Yes, I'm not sure to what degree Calvinism would support the concept of Theosis which seems present in Wesley's original.