This hymn is a paraphrase of the ancient hymn Te Deum laudamus, an assemblage of credal concepts appended with a litany of Psalm verses, a structure that hints at origins early in the Christian era. Though several authors have at one time or another been cited, it is likely the work of none of those named. 'Several authors' is far more probable, organically grown in the garden of regular liturgical use. Our earliest written reference is from a monastic rule dating to 502, indicating that its use at Matins was already established. The credal nature of the texts resonates with echoes of the Apostles' and Nicaean Creeds, and like those creeds, is a Latin document. Some segments (plus the inclusion of Psalm verses) may reference inputs earlier than the Ambrosian era (c. 390); New Advent argues that a case can be made for a date as early as c. 250 or before, which would place it between the two Creeds. It is only possible to speculate about authorship, and at best we see through a glass darkly. Numerous musical settings have been a long tradition over the centuries, beginning as a plainsong vigil hymn (matins of most Sundays) it has expanded to high-ceremonial use as well as to symphonic extravagance. The versification Grosser Gott, wir loben dich was adapted by Ignaz Franz after it appeared in the Austrian hymnal Allgemeines Katholisches Gesangbuch (1771). The present tune existed in several variants prior to its now widely-used 1686 form, and it's not hard to imagine it as a fiddle tune. It has been harmonized many ways for different hymnals.
In its four-verse form, ending in a doxology, it has instant appeal for use on Trinity Sunday. In its longer seven-verse form, a clear case is made for use on Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, i.e., the Sunday before Advent.
HOLY GOD, WE PRAISE THY NAME
Doxology, v 4
– Anon. 1771, rev. Ignaz Franz 1774 tr. Clarence Wentworth
Verse 7 (Hymnal 1982)
– F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984)
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