All Creatures of Our God and King


TODAY’s hymn in praise of God’s creation was written by St Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), the patron saint of animals.

Francesco Bernardone was born in Assisi, Umbria, in 1181. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant who wanted his son to follow him into business. Francis was a popular young man who became the leader of a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties. Thomas of Celano, his biographer, said: ‘In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.’

He wanted more than anything to be a knight. He got his chance when Assisi declared war on the nearby town of Perugia. Most of the troops from Assisi were butchered in the fight. Only those wealthy enough to be ransomed were taken prisoner. Among them was Francis, who spent nearly a year in a dungeon before his father paid the ransom.

After his release, Francis was in a ruined church at San Damiano, near Assisi, when he heard the voice of Christ, who told him to live a life of poverty and rebuild the church. He abandoned his life of luxury, gave away all his possessions, even his clothes, and from then on lived on donations from well-wishers. Taking the call from Christ literally, he restored the church with his own hands.

He gained followers and founded the Franciscan Order of friars. The first woman to become a follower, Chiara Offreduccio, founded the Order of St Clare, commonly known as the Poor Clares. A house was built for them next to the church at San Damiano.

Francis’s love of nature is well known. He felt that everything in creation was his brother. In one story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked among him, flying off only when he said they could leave.

The years of poverty took their toll on his health. In 1224, when he was 43 and completely blind, he suffered the stigmata, the wounds inflicted on Christ on the cross. He went to San Damiano so that Sister Clare could look after him. He stayed in a small reed hut in the garden of the monastery, and from time to time he could be heard singing in the hut. During his stay he wrote the Canticle of the Sun, also known as Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures). According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was by Francis and Brothers Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions, on Francis’s deathbed on the evening of October 3, 1226, the final verse praising ‘Sister Death’ having been added only a few minutes before. He was 45 years old. Two years later he was canonised.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II paid tribute to Francis’s love for creation by declaring him the patron saint of ecologists.

In a subsequent speech, the Pope encouraged Catholics to follow the example of Saint Francis by embracing all creatures as members of a single family and by offering respect, dignity and care to each family member.

‘As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honour and praise to the Lord. The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all peoples.

‘It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of “fraternity” with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created. And may he remind us of our serious obligation to respect and watch over them with care, in light of that greater and higher fraternity that exists within the human family.’

The words of the hymn were translated into English and paraphrased by William Draper, rector of the Norman parish church of St John the Baptist at Adel, near Leeds, for his church’s Whitsun festival celebrations some time between 1899 and 1919. It was published in 1919 in the Public School Hymn Book. Draper, who lost three sons in the First World War, wrote about 60 hymns and this is the best known.

1 All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

2 Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
O praise him, alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

3 Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
that givest man both warmth and light,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

4 And all ye men of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

5 Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, three in one,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

He set it to a German tune called Lasst uns erfreuen herzlich sehr (Let us rejoice most heartily). The tune’s first known appearance was in a 1623 hymnal edited by Friedrich Spee, an influential Jesuit priest, professor, and activist against witch-hunts, who is often credited as the hymn’s composer and original lyricist. The standard setting used now was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the 1906 English Hymnal.

Here it is sung by a choir at St Andrew’s Church in Chennai (formerly Madras). The church was built in 1821 for the Scots in the British Army, and is known locally as The Kirk.

This is a modern approach by Anthem Lights, from Nashville, Tennessee.

And here is a glorious arrangement by John Rutter.

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