History of Hymns: "Father, We Thank You"
Father, We Thank You
Second century Greek, trans. F. Bland Tucker and others
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 563 and 565
The ancient second century text The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or Didache, is the inspiration for this hymn paraphrase by the Rev. Francis Bland Tucker. The Didache is an early Greek source divided into two sections. Chapters 1 – 5 is a manual on moral catechism and chapters 6 – 15 is a manual on church order where topics of baptism, Eucharist, fasting, and prayer are addressed.
Written in 1939, “Father, We Thank You” is a paraphrase from chapters 9 and 10 of the Didache which deals with teachings on the Eucharist. Tucker conflates sections 10.2 and 10.3. of the Didache to comprise the text of the first stanza. Clayton N. Jefford translates 10.2 and 10.3 in this manner: “10.2 We thank you, holy father, for your holy name that you caused to inhabit [our] hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality that you made known to us through your child Jesus—yours is the glory forever. 10.3 You yourself all-powerful Master created, all things for your name’s sake and gave food and drink to humanity so that they might thank you” (Jefford, 2013, 36-37). Comparing Jefford’s direct translation to Tucker’s paraphrase, it can be argued that stanza one is almost a direct translation to fit the meter 98.98 D.
The second stanza is an amalgamation of sections 10.5 and 9.4 of the Didache. Another look at Jefford’s translation will show Tucker’s technique to paraphrase the stanza. “10.5 Remember your community Lord, to shield it from all evil and to perfect it in your love, and, being made holy, bring it together from the four winds into your kingdom…” “9.4 Just as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and, coming together, became one, may your community likewise come together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (Jefford, 2013, 35, 37).
All of stanza one and the first part of stanza two offer thanks after communion has been distributed and received by the faithful. The end of stanza one is a plea for Christian unity. The second part of stanza two is a prayer to use during the distribution of communion, and the entire stanza reminds us of Jesus’ prayer that all may be one. The overall theme of these prayers is to show that the Eucharist is the unifying factor that keeps us one with Christ and one with our sisters and brothers.
Two musical arrangements of this text appear in The United Methodist Hymnal. The original paring of the text was to the tune RENDEZ À DIEU, which is attributed to Louis Bourgeois, and first appeared in the Episcopal Hymnal 1940. This pairing can be found in The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 565. William Albright composes the other musical setting found at No. 563. Alec Wyton commissioned Albright to compose the setting, and it was first performed in 1973 in a Eucharist at the gathering of the Anglican Choirmasters Association at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (Young, 1993, 333). Albright breaks each of the original two stanzas into two parts, creating four stanzas.
ALBRIGHT is a tune in which the melody is written in the D Mixolydian mode and is completely diatonic except for a Bb. Raymond Glover, editor of The Hymnal 1982 Companion, describes the tune in this way: “It is based on a “blues” scale and is accompanied by a steady series of chords that reflect the harmony of ragtime with which the composer has been frequently identified. The same scale is used as the basis for an optional instrumental ostinato with instructions that this “row” may be played in random rhythm by any number of melodic percussion instruments, thus setting up a sort of “sonic halo” around the tune.” (Glover, 1994, vol. 3A, 578-579).
F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) was born on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1895, in Norfolk, VA. He was the thirteenth child of Bishop Beverly Dandridge Tucker and Anna Maria Washington Tucker. His mother was one of the last children to be born at Mount Vernon, a national site dedicated to President George Washington. Tucker was educated at The University of Virginia (B.A. 1914) and Virginia Theological Seminary (B.D. 1920) and served in the American Expeditionary Force in World War I during his seminary training. Tucker was ordained a deacon in 1918 and a priest in 1920. In 1944 Virginia Theological Seminary conferred on him the Doctor of Divinity Degree.
Tucker first served in parishes in the Diocese of Southern Virginia; later he served as rector of St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. for twenty years. In 1945, Tucker was assigned as rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia, a post he served for twenty-two years. He was also fond of pointing out that he was the successor to John Wesley, who held that same position.
Tucker was a Bible Scholar, hymnologist, poet, musician, and theologian. He was the only person to serve on two commissions, forty-two years apart, that revised hymnals for the Episcopal Church: Hymnal 1940 and The Hymnal 1982. Tucker is the author of original hymns and is probably best known for “Our Parent, by Whose Name,” No. 447 in The United Methodist Hymnal. He is also the translator for several second and third century Greek hymns. For his work on the commissions and his contributions to hymnody, he was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada in 1980.
For further reading
Glover, Raymond F. The Hymnal 1982 Companion. Vol. 3a. New York, NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994.
Jefford, Clayton N. Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Salem, OR: Polebridge Press., 2013.
Young, Carlton R. Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press., 1993.
About this week's writer:
Darrell St. Romain currently serves as Director of Music and Liturgy at St. James and St. Philip Catholic Churches in St. James and Vacherie, LA respectively. He also serves as the assistant director for the Diocesan Gospel Choir for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, LA.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada. For more information about The Hymn Society, visit thehymnsociety.org.