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Instead of a “hymn of the month” for February, we are looking at a “tune of the month.” In our worship services we will sing the tune “Deo Gracias” to two hymns, “O Love How Deep” and “Oh, Wondrous Type, Oh, Vision Fair.” Both of these texts have their roots in the Roman Catholic tradition. The history of the tune is less certain. The Lutheran Book of Worship cites “Deo Gracias” as a 15th century English tune, while other sources state that it is an anonymous Latin tune. Regardless of its lost origin, the tune is lovely, minor and powerful. The rhythm has a punch in three beats with an ancient feel, reminiscent of, perhaps, waltzing monks!

The Latin Hymn, O amor quam exstaticus, “Oh, Love, How Deep”, has no known writer, but the text is credited to Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471). He wrote the classic devotional work “The Imitation of Christ”, one of the earliest printed books, which seems to have similar content to the words of the hymn.

The original Latin text has 27 verses. The Lutheran Service Book includes only seven of them. The verses tell the story of Christ, from his taking of human form, baptism, temptation, miracles, death and resurrection. All is framed in the beautiful excerpt from Ephesians 3 on which the first and last verse are based: “ … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ … .”

Thomas a Kempis was raised by peasant parents until age twelve, when he was sent for an education with the Brethren of the Common Life in Holland. At age eighteen he became part of the community and was ordained as a priest in 1413, at age 33. He worked at Mount St. Agnes near Zwolle, copying manuscripts, editing and writing. It is believed that he compiled and edited Imitatio Christi in 1471, the year of his death.

The hymn as we know it was translated by Benjamin Webb, who was born in London in 1918. Webb was educated at Cambridge, earning a Master’s degree in 1845. He became the rector at St. Andrews in London and worked with his organist, Joseph Barnby, to provide the congregation with music he considered equal to that of the concert halls in London. The two collaborated to produce “lavish choral services, which were really in the nature of sacred concerts.” The paid choir was very large and created to ensure impressive choral Roman Catholic masses. It may be noted that Webb made this hymn translation prior to his position at St. Andrews.

“Oh, Wondrous Type, Oh, Vision Fair” is an old Transfiguration hymn. It first appeared in a Latin liturgy used in the 1400s. Though the version of the hymn we sing differs quite a bit from the original, having gone through translation and “Lutheranization”, we still maintain the images of Christ revealed in glory in the presence of Moses and Elijah.

We hope you enjoy this old hymn tune from its exclamatory beginning to the end. Sing loudly with the last two lines of "Oh, Love, How Deep”, “The Trinity whom we adore,/Forever and forevermore!”

Saint John’s Board of Worship and the Arts oversees the details of the congregation’s worship life.