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History of Hymns: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”

Joachim Neander

Joachim Neander

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Joachim Neander; translated by Catherine Winkworth
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 139

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near;
join me in glad adoration.

The author of the original German text is Joachim Neander (1650-1680), who studied theology in Bremen. His life was cut short by tuberculosis. His text first appeared in A und Ω Glaub-und Liebesübung in 1680.

Neander was a Calvinist schoolmaster who was influenced by the pietist theologians Philipp Spener (1635-1705) and Johann Jakob Schütz (1640-1690), the latter also a hymnwriter. In 1674, Neander became the rector of the Latin School at Düsseldorf, a Calvinist German Reformed institution.

In a curious historical coincidence, Joachim Neander's move to Düsseldorf placed him in a region of Germany now called Neandertal or sometimes "the Neander Valley" where nearly 200 years after Neander's untimely death the skull of the first example of Homo neanderthalensis was discovered in 1856 by workers in a limestone quarry named Neandershöhle (Neander's Hollow) after pastor Joachim Neander. "Neander" is the Greek translation of the family name "Neumann", both of which mean "new man." Pastor Neander is said to have loved the natural beauty of this valley named for his family and it inspired many of his hymns.

For example, selected stanzas from the following hymn, "Heaven and Earth, and Sea, and Air," published in German in 1680 as "Himmel, Erde, Luft und Meer" and translated by Catherine Winkworth, may well reflect the splendor that Neander found in one of his many walks in this region:

Heaven and earth, and sea and air,
All their Maker's praise declare;
Wake, my soul, awake and sing:
Now thy grateful praises bring.

See how he hath everywhere
Made this earth so rich and fair;
Hill and vale and fruitful land
All things living, show his hand.

NorthRhine-Westphalia Germany map

North Rhine-Westphalia

See how through the boundless sky
Fresh and free the birds do fly;
Fire and wind and storm are still
Servants of his royal will.

The adjacent map is of the North Rhine-Westphalia region located in the northwest area of Germany. The country directly to the west of this region is the Netherlands. 

Catherine Winkworth brought this text to the English-speaking world almost three centuries later. Winkworth, the daughter of Henry Winkworth of Alderley Edge, Cheshire, was born in London on Sept. 13, 1827, and died near Geneva, Switzerland, on July 1, 1878. She is the forerunner of 19th-century translators of German hymns. Most hymnals will contain at least five or six of her translations.

 

Categories: History of Hymns