01 January 2015

Carols and Hymn for Christmas (8):
‘In the Name of Jesus’ (No 94)

On the Eighth Day of Christmas .. the naming and circumcision of the Christ Child, depicted in a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We have come to the beginning of New Year 2015. Today (1 January 2015) is New Year’s Day and the Eighth Day of Christmas. In the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland, this day is a Festival, and in the calendar in Common Worship in the Church of England it is a Holy Day, commemorating ‘The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.’ In the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, today celebrates ‘The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ,’ while the Church in Wales refers to the day as ‘The Naming of Jesus.’

Saint Luke recalls in his Gospel that, in accordance with Jewish tradition and law, eight days after his birth Jesus was circumcised and named. Mary and Joseph named their son Jesus because the angel told them that “he will save his people.” In Hebrew, the name Joshua means “the Lord will save.”

As part of my spiritual reflections for this Christmas season, I am thinking about an appropriate carol or hymn each morning. This morning, I have chosen ‘In the Name of Jesus,’ also known as ‘At the Name of Jesus,’ by the English hymn-writer Caroline Maria Noel (1817-1877).

This is her best known-hymn, and was first written as a Processional for Ascension Day. It is dated 1870 and was first published that year in an enlarged edition of Caroline Noel’s collection The Name of Jesus, &c.

It appears in the Irish Church Hymnal as ‘In the name of Jesus’ (No 94), but in the New English Hymnal it has the title ‘At the Name of Jesus’ (No 338).

Why does this popular hymn have two different names?

The hymn is inspired by a verse in Philippians 2: 10, which says in the original Greek: ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ (en to onomati Iesou). This is translated in the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible as: “at the name of Jesus.” However, when the Revised Version (RV) of the Bible was published in 1881, mainly under the guidance of the Cambridge theologians Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and and the Dublin-born Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–1892), these words were translated more accurately as: “in the name of Jesus.”

However, by the time the Revised Version was published in 1881, Caroline Noel had died four years earlier. She must have used the words found in the KJV, but when the hymn was published in the 1903 edition of Church Hymns (London), her family asked for the change, and this is how it was introduced to the repertoire of the Church of Ireland in 1915.

So an Irish-born Cambridge theologian may have influenced the change of name in one of the most popular Anglican hymns.

Caroline Maria Noel was born in Teston, Kent, on 10 April 1817, the daughter of Canon Gerard Thomas Noel (1782-1851), and niece of the hymn writer the Revd the Hon Baptist Wriothesley Noel (1798-1873). These two brothers, who were born into a large, aristocratic family of 18 children, were evangelical hymn writers in their own right; although Gerard was an Anglican priest all his life, Baptist was a barrister who later became a Church of England before becoming a Baptist minister and later President of the Baptist Union.

At the age of 17, Caroline wrote her first hymn, ‘Draw nigh unto my soul.’ Over the next three years she wrote about a dozen hymns or poems. Then, from the age of 20 to the age of 40, she wrote nothing. At age of 35, she became an invalid, and five years later, she once again picked up her pen to write hymns that would comfort people in their sickness and illness. In her last 20 years, she wrote the rest of her hymns and poems.

The first edition of her hymns was published as The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1861). This was enlarged from time to time, and its title was subsequently changed by her publishers to The Name of Jesus and Other Poems (1878).

Caroline Noel, like Charlotte Elliott, suffered greatly, and many of her verses reflect those days of pain. They are specially adapted “for the Sick and Lonely,” and were written for private meditation rather than for public use, although several are suited to the public worship of the Church.

She died at 39 Great Cumberland Place, Hyde Park, on 7 December 1877, and is buried beside her father in Abbey Church, Romsey, Hampshire, where he had been the vicar for many years.

Strangely, this hymn is not what we would expect in a collection aimed at comforting the sick and the lonely. Instead, it is a hymn about Christ and how he bore his suffering on the cross so that he might rise victorious over death.

The fist stanza has echoes of the Christmas Gospel:

who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

Properly understood, the last verse is comforting, because it promises strength to those who place Christ on the throne of their hearts. It calls us to “Crown him as (our) captain in temptation’s hour,” and to “Let his will enfold (us) in its light and power.”

While this verse does not mention suffering, it reflects Caroline Noel’s understanding that all people, including the sick and the lonely, can find strength by making Christ captain of their lives so that they might experience his light and power.

Both the Irish Church Hymnal and the New English Hymnal suggest the tune Evelyns, composed by William Henry Monk for this hymn at the publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1875. The tune is named after the house in Church Hill, Nutfield, Surrey, where it was composed and is regarded as one of Monk's best hymn tunes.

The Irish Church Hymnal offers as an alternative tune ‘Camberwell,’ which the Revd John Michael Brierley (born 1932) wrote for this hymn in 1960 while he was a student at Lichfield Theological College before his ordination. He named it in honour of the Revd Geoffrey Beaumont (1903–1970), who was then the Rector of Saint George’s, Camberwell, and who is remembered for composing his Twentieth Century Folk Mass, while he was the chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, in an attempt to make the Mass relevant to churchgoers in the 1950s. In 1957, he co-founded the Twentieth Century Church Light Music Group with Patrick Appleford, to “promote the use of worship music written in a style based on popular light music of the mid-20th century.” He became a monk when he joined the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield. He published Beaumont Meets Reflection, an original LP in 1970, just before he left England for his final posting with the Community of the Resurrection in South Africa.

The New English Hymnal offers as an alternative ‘King’s Weston,’ which was composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for this hymn. It was first published in 1925 in Songs of Praise. The tune’s title refers to a manor house on the Avon River at Kingsweston near Bristol. At the time Vaughan Williams composed this tune, the house was being used as a hospital.

This tune is marked by distinctive rhythmic structures and a soaring climax in the final two lines. Like many of Vaughan Williams’s tunes, it is best sung in unison with moderate accompaniment to support this vigorous melody. The combination of Noel’s words and Vaughan William’s tune make this a festive hymn or anthem, and it is a favourite among many choirs.

The tune ‘Cuddesdon,’ named after Cuddesdon Theological College (now Ripon College, Cuddesdon), was written in 1919 with this hymn in mind by Canon William Henry Ferguson, and continues to be associated with it in many hymnals.

Fenton Hort, a portrait by George Percy Jacomb-Hood (1893) in Trinity College, Cambridge ... this Dublin-born theologian may have influenced the change in title of a popular hymn

In the name of Jesus by Caroline Maria Noel

In the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
’tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

Mighty and mysterious
in the highest height,
God from everlasting,
very Light of Light;
in the Father’s bosom
with the Spirit blessed,
Love, in Love eternal,
rest, in perfect rest.

At his voice creation
sprang at once to sight,
all the angels faces,
all the hosts of light;
thrones and dominations,
stars upon their way,
all the heavenly orders
in their great array.

Humbled for a season,
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came;
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed.

Bore it up triumphant,
with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures
to the central height;
to the eternal Godhead,
to the Father’s throne,
filled it with the glory
of his triumph won.

Name him, Christians, name him,
with love strong as death,
but with awe and wonder,
and with baited breath;
he is God the Saviour,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshipped,
trusted and adored.

In your hearts enthrone him;
there let him subdue
all that is not holy,
all that is not true;
crown him as your captain
in temptation’s hour,
let his will enfold you
in its light and power.

With the Father’s glory
Jesus comes again,
angel hosts attend him
and announce his reign;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of glory now.

Tomorrow:What child is this, who, laid to rest

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