History of Hymns: 'Glory Be to the Father' (Gloria Patri)
By C. Michael Hawn
“Glory Be to the Father” (Gloria Patri)
The United Methodist Hymnal, 70/71
Glory be to the Father
and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.
Many congregations may take these words, sung weekly, for granted. Like many parts of liturgy, their roots extend to the deepest levels of our praise and prayer. This essay will attempt to explore some of the origins and trace their continued use.
Origins of the Words
The text of the Gloria Patri falls into the broader category of doxology – in the Greek doxologia or “words of glory.” Doxology finds its roots in the Hebrew liturgy and the psalms as the kaddish. The kaddish is a doxology recited after the verses of a song. Its recitation signals the conclusion of one of the sections of the liturgy and has many different forms and purposes (Idelsohn, 1967, p. 108). In the Jewish context, a doxology blesses the One God and God’s everlasting nature. For example, Psalm 41:13 states: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen and Amen” (KJV). This is a form of berakhah (blessing or benediction) that pervades Jewish liturgy and life. The Sh’ma is the most famous and prevalent statement in Reform Jewish liturgy that addresses these criteria:
Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד):
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam vaed (בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד):
“Blessed is/be the name of the glory/honor of His kingdom forever and ever.”
The “Baruch” is a berakhah added in the rabbinic tradition. It is very similar to Psalm 72:19:
“Blessed be His glorious name forever.”
The following is a traditional setting that is sung during the weekly Shabbat (Shabbos) liturgy in many synagogues:
This traditional congregational setting may be varied style when performed by different groups. Compare these two brief YouTube recordings to the score above:
Given this heritage, early Christians adapted the Jewish form to include the Triune God and the Trinity’s eternal nature – “world without end.” Scholars suggest that the opening trinitarian formula is taken from the Great Commission in Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). Any trinitarian affirmation at the conclusion of a prayer became known as a “doxology.” The Lesser Doxology has for centuries been chanted in Latin at the conclusion of psalms and canticles, especially in the daily monastic prayers:
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
The Greater Doxology is the fourth-century hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo, the incipit (opening line) of which was drawn from the angel’s canticle, Luke 2:14. This non-biblical canticle was introduced during the fourth-century Christological controversies as a corrective to Arianism – a doctrine attributed to Arius (c. 256–336) claiming that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father. The Gloria became a stable part of the ordinary (fixed) sections of the Roman Catholic mass except during Advent and Lent when it is omitted.
Protestants often limit the doxology to a single stanza from morning and evening hymns composed by Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken (1637–1711) for a resident boys’ school. While the four lines of this well-known stanza are Trinitarian, Ken does not specifically mention the eternal nature of the Trinity. However, he references the cosmic perspective of our praise to God – taking place both on earth and in heaven:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
(For a fuller discussion of Ken’s Doxology, see https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/history-of-hymns-praise-god-from-whom-all-blessings-flow.)
Many standard hymns conclude with a doxological stanza that might also serve the liturgical function of the Gloria Patri (For a more complete discussion of the history and use of doxology in hymns, see Hornby, Canterbury Dictionary, n.d.) Note the final stanzas of the following classic hymns:
- “All Creatures of Our God and King” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 62)
- “Come, Thou Almighty King” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 61)
- “Now Thank We All Our God” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 102)
- “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 184)
Recent hymn writers offer creative Trinitarian doxologies. See, for example, the following final stanzas:
- “Baptized in Water” by Michael Saward (The Faith We Sing, 2248)
- “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity” by Richard Leach (Worship & Song, 3017)
- “Eternal God Transcending Time” by Carl P. Daw Jr. (Worship & Song, 3030)
- “Father, We Have Heard You Calling” by Gareth Hill (Worship & Song, 3150)
- “In Unity We Lift Our Song” by Ken Medema (The Faith We Sing, 2221)
- “The Risen Christ” (“O Breath of God”) by Keith Getty and Phil Madeira (Worship & Song, 3179)
- “Together We Serve” by Dan Damon (The Faith We Sing, 2175)
- “We Are One in the Spirit” by Peter Scholtes (The Faith We Sing, 2223)
- “We Were Baptized in Christ Jesus” by John Ylvisaker (The Faith We Sing, 2251)
- “Womb of life” by Ruth Duck (The Faith We Sing, 2046)
Congregations use several traditional musical settings. One is by Charles (Christoph) Meineke (1782–1850), a German-born organist who moved to England around 1810 and then to Baltimore in 1820. He served as organist of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for several decades. Meineke authored Music for the Church . . . Composed for St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore (1844). His musical setting, included in this collection, is usually given the name MEINEKE (Young, 1993, p. 797).
Another is by English-born church musician Henry W. Greatorex (1813–1858). Thomas, Henry’s father, was organist at Westminster Abbey. Greatorex moved to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1839 where he served as the organist at Center Congregational Church and then St. John’s Church (Episcopal). Around 1846, he moved to New York City where he served as organist-choirmaster of Calvary Church and then to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1853 where he was the musician for an Episcopal congregation until his death due to Yellow Fever (Ronander and Porter, 1966, pp. 385–385). His setting, often called GREATOREX or GLORIA PATRI, was first published in his Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, Chants, Anthems and Sentences, Original and Selected (1851). He composed four settings of the Gloria Patri in this volume. “Gloria Patri No. 1” (p. 146) is the one known today. The melody is in the tenor part. (See the following link for the original publication: https://archive.org/details/collectionofpsal00grea/page/146/mode/2up.)
Their respective tunes appear almost equally in hymnals. GREATOREX (GLORIA PATRI) and MEINEKE have nearly identical rhythms. Paul Westermeyer suggests that Meineke provided Greatorex with the “rhythmic template” for his setting (Westermeyer, 2005, p. 313). To complicate the comparison, they both maintain a single pitch for the first measure – with MEINEKE rising a step on the second measure and GREATOREX continuing the same pitch and then descending a step.
A third commonly used setting is an anonymous chant version usually listed as “Old Scottish Chant.” The melodic range is a perfect fourth. All three versions appear in several hymnals in the mid-twentieth century. The Baptist Broadman Hymnal (1940) is one of several hymnals from this era to include all three versions on a single page: https://hymnary.org/hymn/BH1940/page/429.
A common compositional technique in psalm- or canticle-based anthem literature is to establish a musical theme at the beginning and repeat it at the end of the setting when the Gloria Patri appears. Composers base this technique on the phrase: “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” Numerous compositions employ this practice. An accessible and brief example is “Jubilate Deo in C” by Benjamin Britten (1913–1976). The same melody (d-d-r-m, d-d-r-d-m-f-r-d) that introduces the initial words of Psalm 100, “O be joyful,” in unison returns in four-part harmony on the text “Glory be to the Father and to the Son.” This melodic pattern returns as a final reprise of the melody in canon on the “Amen.” Listen to this recording in Leicester Cathedral in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2REdmT_SjM.
For a Contemporary Christian rendition of the Gloria Patri (in Dutch), see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWV3aAPjMzo.
An expanded version that includes the first section of the Greater Doxology is the “Gloria tibi” from Mass (1971) by Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsOowKrGJ8I.
Abraham Zebi Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development (New York: Schocken Books, 1967).
Henry Wellington Greatorex, A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, Chants, Anthems, and Sentences, Original and Selected, from the Best Standard Composers: Adapted for the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, and for Congregations of Other Denominations, as well as for Societies and Schools (Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co., 1851): https://archive.org/details/collectionofpsal00grea/page/n5/mode/2up.
Emma Hornby, “Doxology,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/d/doxology (accessed March 10, 2021).
Albert Ronander and Ethel Porter, Guide to the Pilgrim Hymnal (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1966).
Paul H. Westermeyer, Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2005).
Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.