“Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” was first published in 1774, written by Ignaz Franz (1719-1790), a German Catholic priest, primarily remembered for his important eighteenth century study of Catholic hymnody. This particular hymn is based upon the text of the 4th century Latin hymn, Te Deum. Some have said that the early hymn was spontaneously created and sung by Ambrose at the baptism of Augustine! It is currently credited however, to Nicetas of Remesiana, a bishop of the 4th century. Te Deum was also translated by Martin Luther in his hymn, “Herr Gott, Dich Loben Wir” or “Lord God We Praise You” published in 1529.
As a result of the German emigration in the 19th century, Franz’s hymn became known in the United States and was translated into English by Clarence Walworth (1820-1900), an American Catholic priest. On the initiative of Johann Gottfried Schicht, the hymn also became part of Protestant hymnals, though shortened.
As not much is known concerning the details of the life of Franz, let’s consider the effort that Walworth put into the translation of the hymn. Translators usually don’t get much credit for hymnody, but realistically, they are of vital importance. “Translating hymns for singing is even more challenging than translating prose. The translator must honor the content of the original poetry, while writing a version that fits the meter and word accent of a pre-existing tune. Then the words should sing as naturally as possible in the new language. In many ways, translating a hymn for singing is like writing a new hymn.” (Hawn) In any case, what a privilege we have in continuing to sing these beautiful old lines that help us verbalize the mystery of the Trinity and honor our holy God so well!
I love how my dear friend Danielle has summarized the doctrine of the Trinity. “The word ‘Trinity’ is a term used to describe God as three distinct persons that exist simultaneously—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are the same in substance (ONE God), equal in power and glory, and separate in their person and role (THREE members). The doctrine of the Trinity is beautiful and complex and not fully comprehensible to finite man. But wouldn’t we expect that of God? How can finite man fully comprehend an infinite God? Every attempt at metaphor fails to fully explain the beauty and complexity of the Trinity. So we search the Word as we pray for understanding, and we accept, in faith, both what we learn and what we do not yet comprehend. Despite our incomplete understanding of how the Trinity works, we have a strong biblical basis for this doctrine.”
Why don’t you join us as we not only meditate on the doctrine of the Trinity, but as we take time this month to memorize the beautiful words of this hymn! You may or may not already be familiar with this month’s hymn. If it’s helpful to you, please use our YouTube channel to hear it so you can sing it with confidence. And don’t forget your free printable lyrics, music, and a copywork page to help you along.
We encourage you all to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn, whether it is during family worship, or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. By the end of August, you are encouraged to join us on Instagram and post either a photo or video inspired by the song. Every time you post, you will be entered into a drawing for a little something special. Just tag your post with #hymnofthemonth. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! Let us know if you’ll be joining in!