Battle Hymn of the Republic

Some of the American hymns are beautiful. This is one of my favorites.

Comments

  1. Ditto, Fr. Hans. I have never been able to sing or listen to it without tears in the eyes, esp. “with the Glory in his Bosom which transfigures you and me”.

  2. It’s been a favorite of Iowa All-State combined choir / orchestras for years. One of the few pieces that really shows off what a combined orchestra and choir can do in a shorter format.

    Did you know that audiences routinely rise and stand for the last verse, entirely unscripted and unprompted? Always was impressed by that.

  3. Jeffrey Dennis Pearce :

    Gentlemen,

    This “hymn” was written by a Transcendetalist Unitarian, Julia Ward Howe. Among other things, she was a racist, she and her husband helped finance terrorist and murderer John Brown and advocated a slave revolution to destroy the Republic, and her “hymn” vindictively celebrates the killing of Southerners in the name of her Unitarian Tyrant God.

    Christians need to re-think their use and support of this song.

    As Michael Dan Jones has written, “Did Jesus Christ teach that God is a vengeance seeking, sword-wielding maniac that slaughters innocents and tramples people under His wrathful feet, as Mrs. Howe’s violent and bloody lyrics would have you believe?”

    See this link: http://www.plpow.com/Atrocities_BattleHymn.htm

    Respectfully,

    Jeffrey Dennis Pearce

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Well, if this is true I’ll have to rethink my support of the hymn.

    • Fr, much to my dismay, and as much as love the music of the hymn, Mr Pierce is right. Perhaps the worst heresy to ever be derived from Christianity was Unitarianism. Even today they are a bunch of vainglorious, sanctimonious hypocrites who do nothing but preen about their superiority.

      Perhaps a gifted Orthodox hymnologist could come up with more appropriate words for this stirring, rousing hymn?

  5. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    George, yes, I don’t have much patience with Unitarianism either, but is the author that Jeffrey Pierce cited correct about the history of the hymn?

  6. Let’s be clear that Christian musicians of later ages simply omit to reprint much less sing the theologically dubious verses. Here’s the whole text, so you can see the source of the theological complaint, how that was omitted and how what remains is revered rightly.

    text from http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/b/h/bhymnotr.htm

    [This verse is always sung first and reprinted:]

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
    His truth is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

    [This verse is always sung and reprinted by serious choral groups:]

    I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
    They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
    I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
    His day is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

    [This verse is almost universally not even reprinted in music, nevermind skipped during performances. Probably because only lawyers use the word ‘contemners’ these days. But theologically the Christ that told his followers not to use swords to keep him from being arrested might find a problem here, you’d have to read it in a fairly major mirror minded way to find a shred of light in the quoted line in the context of the preceding ‘burnished rows of steel’. War to protect, war to defend, there is a justification. War to kill those one thinks God doesn’t like for that reason runs afoul of the ‘judgement is mine’ theory:]

    I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
    “As ye deal with My contemners [trans:those who obstruct/despise Me], so with you My grace shall deal”;
    Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
    Since God is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

    [This verse too is almost never printed or sung, probably for the same reason you don’t hear “His Yoke is Easy and His Burthen is Light” in shopping malls at Christmas time– only “Hallelujah”:]

    He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
    He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
    Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
    Our God is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

    [This one is usually the big finale in choral/orchestral performances]

    In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
    With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
    As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
    [originally …let us die to make men free]
    While God is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

    [But this one, also rarely reprinted or sung, is the original finale, never gets any ‘air time’ whatever]
    He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
    He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
    So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
    Our God is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

  7. Jeffrey Dennis Pearce :

    Not to belabor the point or cause contention, but I would not think that any of this song should be revered rightly.

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
    His truth is marching on.

    This verse refers to God stomping on Southerners in vengeance. Love your enemies said our Lord.

    I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
    They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
    I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
    His day is marching on.

    This verse is pure Transcendentalism. His “righteous sentence” is again Mrs. Howe’s radical anti-Southern vitriol. Love your enemies said our Lord.

    With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
    As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;

    Again, Transcendentalism, and mixing in her radical politics with her strange theology. Follow the Unitarian War God.

    Someone asked about sources. Mr. Jones lists these in his article:

    *”The Secret Six: The True Tale of the Men Who Conspired with John Brown,” by Edward J. Reunion Jr. (New York, 1995)
    *The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement” by Otto Scott (Murphy, Calf., 1993)
    *”The Singing Sixties: The Spirit of the Civil War Days Drawn from the Music of the Times” by Willard A and Porter W. Heaps (Norman, Okra., 1960)
    *”Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary” Vol. 11, Article on Julia War Howe, (Cambridge, Mass.)
    *”The Encyclopedia of Religion” Vol. 15&16, Article on Unitarians, (New York, 1995).

    and

    Suggested Reading: “From Godly Inspiration To Human Desecration – An Analysis of the Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Rev. Fr. Alister C. Anderson.

    Brothers, I do not wish to fight, merely to point out some serious problems with this song and author that we should all consider carefully. Thank you,

    Jeffrey Dennis Pearce

    • Jeffrey,

      You see these things with a clear vision of the history and context of the author. The reason people today don’t have a problem with it is there is no knowledge or interest in that at all, rather in the words seen for themselves in the modern era in a basic Christian context. What do the words ‘mean’ when seen through that typical lens?

      The first verse echos to the Gospel passages of God pruning the unwelcome parts of His Vinyard. Allegories to taking an axe to the unproductive root of unproductive vines by trampling down wrath. In fact there are Orthodox icons with just that image, at Epiphany http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_W8k_-zfUyVg/R_DlPq73PrI/AAAAAAAAAX8/l1RGRp1FIYA/s1600-h/Epiphany.jpg

      To mind comes also the Paschal Orthodox Hymn Christ is Risen from the Dead ‘trampling down death by [His sacrificial] death [and life]’ So you get the resonance the Orthodox find there, ‘trampling down the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored’ in the manner of sacrificing for defense and restoration.

      You have to understand many Orthodox came to the USA in the 1900’s, not knowing English and so choosing to be Democrats because they liked what the word meant and ‘Republican’ sounded a bit too much like why they left the old country. The point is– surface meanings that resonate with what one knows counts for a whole lot.

      In the verse you see Transendentalism through the lense of careful history, the person unaware of that history sees the soldiers on the eves of battles where they know they might die and certainly are expected to kill others looking inward for assurance they are acting justly and doing what must be done as the alternative, not doing, would be worse.

      Likewise for the inspirational line most feel, unaware of the mind of the author and history but accepting the meanings of the words in the context they know: Christ died willingly in a way which if understood creates a transfiguring change in the way the understanding person relates to everyone and everything.

      So there is no argument that those aware of what they think most probably was in the mind of the author have a case there was dubious theology there. Consequently the modern choral folk simply entirely omit the verses that in the modern context can’t be saved, and go with the rest which do generate warmth and energy for self sacrificial activity aiming to elevate the community as a whole.

Care to Comment?

*

Top