ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING (MHB 28)Jun 1st, 2010 | By The Sentinel Online | Category: Hymns and their Message
By Rev.Dr Nana Kwesi Bart-Plange
1. All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing:
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam:
O praise Him! O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
2. Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice:
3. Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light:
4. Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show:
5. And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care:
6. And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod:
7. Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him, Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One:
The author of this hymn “All creatures of our God and King” is said to be St. Francis of Assisi, born in Assisi, in Italy in 1182 He is known and loved as the “Poor little brother” for his humility.
Francis was born to Pietro di Bernardone, a prominent businessman, and his wife, Pica Bourlemont, about whom little is known except that she was originally from France. Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born, and Pica had him baptized as Giovannidi Bernardone in honour of Saint John the Baptist, in the hope that he would grow to be a great religious leader. When his father returned to Assisi, he was furious about this as he did not want his son to be a man of the church. Pietro therefore decided to call him Francesco (Francis), in honour of the child’s maternal heritage.
Rebellious toward his father’s business and pursuit of wealth,, Francis spent most of his youth lost in books. (Ironically, his father’s wealth did afford his son an excellent education, and he became fluent in several languages including Latin). He was also known for drinking and enjoying the company of his many friends, who were usually the sons of nobles.
Francis renounced the riches of his father, and spent time at lonely places, asking God for enlightenment.. By degrees, he took to nursing lepers, the most repulsive victims in the Lazar Houses near Assisi (a leper colony
administered by a Christian order, named after the parable of Lazarus the beggar). After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he begged at the church doors for the poor, St. Francis claimed to have had a mystical experience in the church of San Damiano near Assisi…This church, at the time of St. Francis, was a very run down and rugged building. He was praying in the church when he received the commission from the Lord to rebuild it.. For three times, he heard these words: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruins.” He thought this to mean the very ruined church in which he was praying, and so he sold his horse together with some cloth from his father’s store to assist the priest there for the purpose.
His Father Pietro, highly indignant, attempted to bring him to his senses, first with threats and then with corporal chastisement. After a final interview in the presence of the Bishop, Francis renounced his father and his patrimony, laying aside even the garments he had received from him. For the next couple of months, he lived as a beggar in the region of Assisi. Returning to the town for two years this time, he restored several ruined churches, among them the Porziuncola, little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, just outside the town, which later became his favourite abode.
It is said that while praying in the mountain of Verna, during a forty-day fast for Lent, Francis was reported to have received the stigmata on 13th September, 1224, during the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. (Stigmata are bodily marks, sores or sensation of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus).
Suffering from these Stigmata and from an eye disease, he had been receiving care in several cities – Siena, Cortona, Nocera, to no avail. In the end, he was brought back to the Porziuncole. Here, in the place where it all began,
and feeling the end approaching, he spent the last days of his life dictating his spiritual testament. He died on the evening of 3rd October, 1226, singing Psalm 141. His feast day is observed on 4th October.
He was pronounced a Saint by Pope Gregory IX, the former Cardinal Ugolino di Cont, a friend and protector of St Francis.
St Francis is considered the first Italian poet by literary critics. He believed commoners should be able to pray to God in their own language, and he wrote always in dialect of Umdria instead of Latin. His writings are considered as having great literary as well as religious values.
Francis loved nature, and many stories spotlight his interaction with animals, such as the one that led to the writing of this hymn. It is said that one day, Francis was travelling with some companions through Italy’s Spoleto Valley and chanced upon a place in the road where birds were. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:
“My brothers and Sisters birds , you owe much to your God, and you must always , and in every place give praise to Him, for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you ….. you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valley for shelter, and tall tress for your nest. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore …… always seek to praise God”.
The flock, it is said, then flew off rejoicing . That perspective is reflected in this hymn Francis composed just before his death in 1226, called: “Cantico di fratre, Song of Brother Sun” It exhorts all creation to worship God: the sun and the moon, all the birds; all the clouds, wind and fire and all creatures of our God and King.
Though the hymn was written in 1225, the English version didn’t appear until 1919, when Rev. William H. Daper decided to use it for a children’s Whitsuntide festival in Leeds, England.
But some may ask, whether it sounds theological to exhort birds and billowing clouds to lift their voices in praise? Yes! “All creatures of our God and King” simply restates what Psalm 148 says;
“Praise him sun and moon/Praise him all you Stars of light, you great sea creatures and all the Depths/ Fire and hail, snow and clouds Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;/Mountains and all Hills, Fruits trees and all cellars/Beast and all cattle: creeping things and winged fowls…. Let them Praise the name of the Lord, For his name alone is exalted….. Praise the Lord!”
St Francis, through this hymn, invites us as “ Creatures of our God and King” to come to His throne of grace and praise Him.+