Let Our Gladness Have No End
“Let Our Gladness Have No End” This hymn’s anonymous text and tune date from 1400s Bohemia. Bohemia, an area in what is now the Czech Republic but which traditionally has been German-influenced, seems always to have fomented a certain type of ecclesiastic reformation, even before the time of Luther. Jan Hus, an early reformer burned at the stake in 1415, advocated the “protestant” principle of the translation of scripture into the common language. After his death, Hus’ followers (led by such colorful people as Ziska, Procopius the Less, and Procopius the Great!), demanded that they be able to receive both the host (bread) and the wine at communion. (Roman Catholic tradition had withdrawn the wine from the laity.) The Church, in the “Compacta of Prague,” agreed to this demand, but the seeds of Reformation had already been sown in this territory. According to Newadvent.org, the Catholic online encyclopedia, this early Bohemian rebellion, along with gross corruption and wealth of the clergy, made it “easy for Protestantism to make advances.” Indeed, religious sects continued to develop even after the Reformation. The Bohemian Brethren (sometimes called “The Brethren” in the US) and the Moravians (who are related to the Mennonites and who have a historical presence on the US east coast) originate from this area.
The term “Bohemian” is often used casually to refer to someone of loose manners or questionable morals. For example, artists and musicians around fin de siecle Paris (particularly Montmartre) such as Monet, Satie, Debussy, would often gather and philosophize and criticize the strictures of church and government, and would long for the personal freedom to be rid of such “artificial” confines. This pejorative term derives from the student movement in Prague centuries after the Reformation. Yet, we can gather much about the character of the Bohemian people from the history of their quest for spiritual and political liberty.
The fervency and energy with which some Bohemian Christians exercised their faith—even a hundred years before Luther--is certainly evident in this raucous, triple-meter tune. Much like a modern praise chorus, this hymn uses only three major chords (F, C, Bb) with a few minor forays into other harmonies. This is a folk hymn—no one knows who composed it, but the average person gravitated to it and sang it because it was easy. As with many folk hymns, rhythm is just as important as the melody. The writer of music notes will attempt to play it on the organ with the rugged rhythm primarily in mind. This simple hymn, unlike its commercially-driven contemporary counterpart, is honest. It does not claim to be great or interesting music. It seeks only to convey Christmas joy, and it is even theological. Dealing with the incarnation, the first stanza notes that Christ did “descend,” and that “God gave us Christ, His Son, to save us.” The third stanza alludes to the prologue of John’s gospel, “Into flesh is made the Word, Alleluia! He, our refuge and our Lord. Alleluia!” These are profound theological concepts which this hymn does not even attempt to explain (for that we will need to sing “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”) But, as a good last hymn of the service will do, it encapsulates these vast theological concepts so that, hopefully, our minds will be a little less “Bohemian” and a little more Christian as we go about our weekly tasks.