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Hymn History: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

2 min

The Italian summer sun streamed over the tall grass and leafy olive trees. A middle-aged man sat still, listening to the singing birds and the gentle breeze rustling in the trees. He felt the warmth of the sun. A painful eye infection had weakened his sight and was slowly rendering him blind; but although his vision was failing, his other senses were heightened. 

The Italian man was Giovanni Bernardone. Born into a wealthy family around a.d. 1200, he lived an indulgent life until age twenty-five, when he dedicated his life to God. Mr. Bernardone declined the rich inheritance that was his due and chose instead to live a simple life of self-denial. What a dramatic change in lifestyle—from possessing great riches to having only the barest of necessities! Mr. Bernardone is better known as Saint Francis of Assisi. He lived peacefully near the Italian village of Assisi and spent his days preaching and helping the poor.

Saint Francis creatively expressed the joy within his soul by writing these words, which became the hymn titled “All Creatures of Our God and King”: 

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! 

In his praise to God, Saint Francis drew inspiration from the world surrounding him. He acknowledged that all creation gives glory to its Maker. God’s amazing creativity is displayed not only in the immense diversity of the animal kingdom but is also highlighted in the incredible preciseness and interdependence of the earth, sun, and moon. Indeed, everything praises God! In the final verse of his hymn, Saint Francis exalts the Triune Godhead: 

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 English version of the hymn was produced when a British rector named William Draper translated it for a children’s choir festival. Translating a hymn also requires creativity, which is “approaching a need, a task, or an idea from a new perspective.” A linguist must find the best words to convey the original writer’s meaning and also make sure that the new words rhyme! With his creativity, Mr. Draper successfully translated Saint Francis’ hymn of praise into English in 1919. The hymn is still popular today, more than one hundred years after it was translated into English. 

May we also be inspired by God’s creation and rejoice! May we creatively find ways to express and proclaim praise to our Lord!

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