Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Royal Banners Forward Go - Vexilla Regis

This ancient hymn, written by Venantius Fortunatus, has been sung by Christians for some 1500 years to various chant tones and melodies. The melody below is the one from The Lutheran Hymnal composed by John Hampton (text and tune in the public domain). Lutheran Service Book includes the hymn with a different melody. I don't know why it didn't make the cut for Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, but it didn't.

In case there are any churches that wish to use the hymn on Good Friday but don't have copies of The Lutheran Hymnal handy, I've created the graphic below that can be inserted in service folders. Right-click the link below and "Save Target As..."

TLH #168 - The Royal Banners Forward Go

The embedded mp3 plays all seven stanzas of the hymn.


Anonymous said...

If memory serves me correctly, this hymn was written in praise of a relic of the cross and was therefore part of relic worship. Reading the words of the hymn in that light gives the words a different sense than the one we may prefer. I suspect that is why it was not included in Christian Worship.

Pastor Allen Schroeder

Joel Lillo said...

Besides that, what is "purple dight"? Is that some old brand of diet soda?

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Granted, I had to look up "dight." That took all of 10 seconds. It means "arrayed" or "dressed" - the cross arrayed in royal purple as it is covered with the royal blood of the world's Redeemer - now that's good poetry!

As for the circumstances surrounding the composition of the hymn, granted that it's questionable, but the hymn text isn't in the least bit questionable.

Joel Lillo said...

My biggest problem with this one is that it has a melody that is completely unmemorable. I listened to the MP3, but it seemed to be a different melody than the one that is in TLH and it seemed almost completely formless. I played through the melody in TLH, found that it was different than the MP3, but also found that it is a fairly formless and unmemorable melody. The hymn is written in LM (8 syllables per phrase) so there are a number of melodies that could go with it.

However, there are easily two dozen Lenten hymns in TLH and CW that have imagery every bit as colorful and powerful as the text of this hymn which also happen to have melodies that carry the singer along and stick with a singer long after the last organ note has died away.

My verdict: The exclusion of this hymn from CW is not a great loss. Give me "Ah, Dearest Jesus," "O Sacred Head," "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth," or even "Glory Be to Jesus" or "What Wondrous Love Is This" any day.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

The MP3 is taken note for note from TLH - melody and accompaniment. So if you played through it in TLH and it didn't sound like the MP3, you need to check the key signature and try again.

There are lots of great Lenten/Good Friday hymns. I just think that the chopping of a 1500-yr-old hymn is unnecessary and tragic.

Joel Lillo said...

Hold the phone, Henrietta!

This just hit me.

Paul, you said in your previous post, "As for the circumstances surrounding the composition of the hymn, granted that it's questionable, but the hymn text isn't in the least bit questionable." The "circumstances" are that the hymn was probably written to be part of a relics veneration ceremony (specifically for a piece of the "true cross." You will agree that this is an idolotrous practice of the Roman Catholic Church and can, in no way, be considered a part of "small c" catholic practice that we can accept as Lutherans.

Hasn't one of the main arguments of Intrepid Lutherans been that we can make absolutely no use of CCM songs or simplified and contemporary orders of service because they have a connection to the questionable practices of the "sectarians"? This, you say, is true even when it comes to a really solid CCM song like "See His Love" or when a church whose teachings could be callen nothing else but Lutheran uses a contemporary order of service.

Why is is all right for you to champion a mediocre hymn (sorry, that's my judgment call) that is connected to a practice that goes beyond questionable? If you can divorce one song from its questionable background because it proclaims scriptural truth, why can't you do the same for comtemporary songs and methods of worship.

I think that this is evidence that this campaign on the part of Intrepid Lutherans against contemporary music in Lutheran worship services has nothing to do with the substance of the preaching and the text of the worship songs and has everything to do with personal preference when it comes to musical style.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I hate to rain on the parade of your perceived gotcha moment, but there was no Roman Catholic Church in the 6th Century AD. There was only the Church catholic. Like it or not, the pre-Reformation Church is our own history, not someone else's history that we can simply fail to claim or pretend doesn't exist. And if the Lutheran Church is, in fact, the continuation of the Church catholic, then Vexilla Regis is part of our inheritance - whether you appreciate it or not.

The sects, on the other hand, are not my history as a Lutheran, their Arminian feel-good songs are not part of my inheritance, and their musical styles are largely insufficient to carry the text of Scripture in a serious and honest way.

But, of course, you got us. You caught us red-handed. Definitely an apples-to-apples comparison of a 1500-yr-old, time-tested hymn and the 7-yr-old praise song that'll be here today and gone tomorrow.

We might as well close up shop. It's all about personal preference. You should have been a lawyer.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

To Joel and to all:

A blessed Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Joel Lillo said...


So you are saying that relic veneration is a part of the Church catholic? Are we simply to sing hymns that come out of its traditions without questioning because it came from 1500 years ago? I'm sorry, I don't care how far back the practice of venerating relics goes, it is a practice that more than touches on idolatry. I'd really be careful about using any hymn that was written to venerate a relic.

"Their musical styles are largely insufficient to carry the text of Scripture in a serious and honest way." That just goes to prove my point that it's all about musical style. I find that, when it's done right, CCM can be every bit as meaningful, weighty, instructive, and moving as a hymn written 100, 500, 1000, or 1500 years ago. Music is all a matter of personal taste. Let's let the music of today stand side by side with music of the past and see what has staying power and what does not. Every hymn, at one time or another, was a new hymn written in the style of the day.

Anonymous said...

Joel said: "Music is all a matter of personal taste."

The problem with today's CCM is that it is mostly driven by popular and current musical tastes, influenced by Evangelical theology. The strength of Lutheran hymnody and church music is that the text of Scripture and its doctrine inform the musical style, not the other way around. And because the text of the Bible and Lutheran theology is the spirit of St. John the Baptist's motto "He must become greater, I must become less" you'll find today's CCM falls short because CCM turns that motto around: "It's all about ME and how I FEEL. Deeds, not creeds!"

Joel also said: "Every hymn, at one time or another, was a new hymn written in the style of the day."

By saying "style of the day" I'm hearing you project a CCM mindset on a philosophy of ministry that didn't exist 100+ years ago in the orthodox Lutheran Church. The "style of the day" of hymns used in corporate worship throughout the vast timeline of church history was something considered appropriate for church, not the dance hall or pub. That's the way it ought to be today as well. Sadly, it is not. And that's why we see Lutheran congregations worshiping in theaters and bars. To think that such a philosophy of ministry doesn't influence correct doctrine is naive.

- Rev. James Schulz

Daniel Baker said...

It is true that hymns we know as "Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle" and "The Royal Banners Forward Go" were part of the poetry written by St. Venantius Fortunatus as a result of his having witnessed the procession of a relic which he believed to be the Cross on which the Lamb of God bore the sins of the world. But this does not mean that his poetry was written to honor earthen relics. Frankly, that someone could possibly read either of these beautiful hymns and come to the conclusion that they are worshiping relics seems rather preposterous. Moreover, their primary use in the Divine Liturgy of the Church has not been to worship or venerate relics, but rather to commemorate the Passion of Christ during Holy Week.

No, we do not assent to "relic worship" by making use of these time-tested and long-utilized hymns any more than we assent to the intercession of saints by naming our parishes in their honor. In any case, I hardly think we have room to point out the speck in St. Fortunatus' eye while we have the beam of Pietistic wolves running around depriving their sheep of the Means of Grace and preaching the "Purpose Driven" dogma of demons.

Finally, Pr. Schulz is spot on. The Divine Liturgy and hymnody of the Church was most certainly not written in the "style of the day;" it was always pointedly *counter*-cultural. This is why the Fathers rejected musical instrumentation for so long (because of its association with pagan worship) and why the Blessed Reformer himself very reluctantly allowed the use of what he called the "ensign of Baal," i.e. the organ, during the Divine Service. It is why chant and plainsong remained the norm in spite of the styles of the secular world. It is also why the Lutheran Church rejects the use of guitars and praise bands.

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