Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: “O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be”

History of Hymns: “O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be”

Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard

O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be
by Peter Abelard, trans. John Mason Neale;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 727

O what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see;
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.

The devotional life associated with the monastic movement of the tenth through the sixteenth centuries is the period during which Peter Abelard wrote the seven-stanza 12 12. 12 12 “O Quanta, Qualia Sunt Illa Sabbata.” John Mason Neale translated this twelfth-century Latin hymn into English as 10 10. 10 10, “O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be” (Glover, 1994, vol. 3B, 1144-1145); (Young, 1993, 535).

Abelard wrote this hymn for vespers on Saturday, and it appears in his Hymnarius Paraclitensis. The stanzas that appear in The United Methodist Hymnal from Neale’s translation are 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7 (Glover, 1994, vol. 3B, 1145). Stanzas 2 and 5 are omitted:

2. What are the Monarch, his court, and his throne?
What are the peace and the joy that they own?
O that the blest ones, who in it have share,
All that they feel could as fully declare!

5. There dawns no Sabbath, no Sabbath is o’er,
Those Sabbath-keepers have one evermore;
One and unending is that triumph song
Which to the angels and us shall belong.

Praise for the eternal city, Jerusalem, while living in “exile on Babylon’s strand” (stanza 4:4) and yearning for Jerusalem’s joys are the themes for this text. The first stanza embodies the Christian doctrine of the beatific vision. The beatific vision is the eternal face-to-face worship between God and humanity. Pope Benedict XII set this doctrine in place in the fourteenth century. A quote by St. Cyprian of Carthage captures the essence of this vision.

“How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, … to delight in joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.”

The heavenly city of Jerusalem, “the city of peace” (stanza 2:2), is where only the joys of the endless Sabbaths transpire. Expressing the hopes and expectations of sainthood and the desires of God’s children still in exile are the foci of stanzas two, three and four. Psalm 137 is recalled in parts of the third and fourth stanzas. Although Psalm 137 is considered a psalm of exile and lament because of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile of the Israelites, the remembrances of Jerusalem and the worship that occurred in the temple foreshadows the ultimate worship of God in heaven. Singing the “sweet anthems of Zion” (stanza 3:2, Psalms 137:3) and “seeking Jerusalem, dear native land” (stanza 4:3, Psalm 137:5a; 6b) are examples of how this psalm is recalled. The Trinitarian statement in the final stanza serves as a doxology that often concludes hymns.

The tune most associated with this text is O QUANTA QUALIA; its name is taken from the first line of the Latin text by Abelard. The melody first appeared in the Paris Antiphoner, 1681, and was harmonized by John B. Dykes in 1868 for Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1868 (Young, 1993, 535).

Peter Abelard was born in Pallet, France, in 1079 and died in Priory of St. Martel, France, in 1142. At a young age, Abelard showed an unusual capacity for knowledge. He soon became a lecturer at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Although many students flocked to Abelard because of the grace and simplicity of his lectures, his rationalistic views brought him into conflict with many of his colleagues.

Abelard’s life took many twists and turns because he was a priest who fell in love with Heloise, the niece of Canon Fulbert of Notre Dame. When the two could no longer hide their affair, they fled to Brittany, France, where they privately married and had one son. When Abelard and Heloise returned to Paris, Canon Fulbert hired men to emasculate Abelard. After this, Heloise became a nun; and Abelard, a monk. In fact, it was for Heloise’s Convent of the Paraclete, founded at Nogent-sur-Seine in 1129 that Abelard wrote “O Quanta, Qualia Sunt Illa Sabbata."

Finding a place at the Abby of St. Denis, Abelard resumed teaching and again attracted crowds. St. Bernard of Clairvaux instituted a trail for heresy based on Abelard’s Theologia. He was condemned for heresy by the Council of Soissons in 1121 and by the Council of Sens in 1141 and was forced to cease teaching. He appealed to Rome; unfortunately, he died on his way there. He and Heloise are buried together in the Cemetery of Père-la-Chaise, Paris. This storied romance has been the subject of numerous novels and plays (Glover, 1994, vol. 3A, 311); (Young, 1993, 714) .

John Mason Neale’s (1818–1866) translation of Abelard’s text appeared first in 1854 for the Hymnal Noted. Neale was an Anglican priest, scholar, and hymn writer. His contribution to hymnody in the nineteenth century is vast. Neale is primarily known for his translations from Latin and Greek sources into English. Neale is the original author or translator of over 350 hymn texts.

For Further Reading:

Glover, Raymond F. The Hymnal 1982 Companion. Vol. 3a. New York, NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994.

Young, Carlton R. Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993.

“O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be” at hymnary.org, http://hymnary.org/text/o_what_their_joy_and_their_glory_must_be

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.

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