For an occasional series for our blog we’ve asked Dr Noel Preston, our assistant organist, to write about a hymn of his choice suitable for the current season of the church’s year. We begin with Noel’s choice for Passiontide: Praise to the Holiest in the Height.
The double agony: in the garden secretly and on the cross on high
The sublime poetry of John Henry Newman in
Praise to the Holiest in the height, And in the depth be praise
is matched by the music of John Dykes’s tune ‘Gerontius’. Obviously written for these words, it soars to the ‘height’ in the first line, before plunging to the ‘depth’ in the second. Even the less musical members of a congregation are encouraged by its simplicity to play their full part in enacting the story of the Passion.
In recent times, the World Health Organization alleges that physical (and mental) well-being is a human right(!); and many doctors and nurses see death as a failure, to be deferred as long as possible by aggressive prolongation of mere existence.
What a contrast, here, with Cardinal Newman who sees it as “generous love” that Jesus, in his “double agony….should teach his brethren, and [even] inspire to suffer and to die” [when the call comes].
‘Praise to the Holiest’ is from the long poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ by John Henry Newman and was written in 1865. Dykes wrote the tune GERONTIUS for the hymn, and it was first published in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1868. Click here for a recording of the hymn from the BBC’s, Songs of Praise.