One of the hymns we'll be singing this week comes to us first from the Jesuits and then from the Lutherans. It is a very beautiful hymn in many ways:
Beautiful Savior, King of Creation
Son of God and Son of Man!
Truly I’d love Thee, truly I’d serve Thee,
Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.
Fair are the meadows, Fair are the woodlands,
Robed in the flowers of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
He makes our sorrowing spirit sing.
Fair is the sunshine, Fair is the moonlight,
Bright the sparkling stars on high;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels in the sky.
Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, Praise, adoration
Now and forevermore be Thine!
Like I said, this is a beautiful hymn in many ways. The music used for it seems fitting for church, and some of the lyrics are certainly very worshipful and conducive to reverence, particularly the first and fourth verses.
So why do I find myself not altogether liking it?
The second and third verses.
For one thing, they shift the address; the first and fourth verse address Jesus directly under the title "Beautiful Savior" and praise Him directly. The second and third, on the other hand, speak of Jesus in the third person, to other people. And perhaps it's the unfortunate effect of translation, or perhaps the unfortunate effect of living in a time saturated by advertising and marketing, but there's something about the language employed in the second and third verses that reminds me a little of this kind of thing (picture removed).
It's not that Jesus isn't fairer, purer, etc. than stars, angels, flowers, and so on. It's just that the words in English tend to sound too facile, like advertising copy for laundry soap or a new fragrance; like I said, perhaps the original German avoids this problem. But the unhappy facility of the language here makes what is otherwise an inspiring sort of hymn sound just a bit like the vocalization of Christian kitsch--something which, though well-intentioned, ends up trivializing the faith too much, or treating solemn topics in a way that would be perfectly apt for the treatment of a new shiny product being touted by some Madison Avenue geniuses.
I hesitated to write about this, lest people start thinking I'm just hopelessly picky and impossible to please when it comes to sacred music. But ultimately I wanted to be honest with my criticism of this song precisely because it is an older hymn. It was written, after all, in 1677, and translated to English in 1873. The flowery sentimentality of the second and third verse may have seemed quite appropriate for Mass at some time in the past, but I don't know for certain if the hymn was used at Mass or only at other devotions; even so, there's no doubt that either because of the translation or because of our familiarity with advertising the hymn now seems to be lacking a bit in its middle verses--at least, in the "Beautiful Savior" translation.