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Ye Sons and Daughters of the King

 

“Ye sons and daughters of the King”  This text was written by Jean Tisserand, a friar who died in 1494.  Little is known about Tisserand except that he was a Parisian and founded a monastery for “penitent women.”  (One does wonder for what they were penitent.) 

            There are several notable elements of this hymn, and one can get a glimpse into the mind of the medieval/Renaissance writer.  This hymn is not primarily a catalogue of doctrine (“We all believe in one true God”), an abstruse expression of feelings (“I love You, Lord”), or a theological but poetical explication of Scripture (“Holy, Holy, Holy.”)  Rather, this hymn faithfully tells the story of Jesus’ appearing to His disciples a week after the resurrection, the account of which we read in the Gospel of John this morning.  From the apostles meeting “in fear,” to Thomas’ doubting, to Jesus’ showing His wounds, and to Thomas’ believing, we are led in this story through song (and there are manifold stanzas that are omitted this morning which would tell even more of the story.)  The “verses” of each of these stanzas attempt to recount the story faithfully, while we are given a chance to respond to these objective facts with a tripartite “alleluia” at the end of each stanza.  Medieval hymnody, in general, was “objective” in the sense that the hymn was not meant to codify one’s personal feelings about anything and one did not sing necessarily to express one’s feelings.  Rather, one sang in order to begin to comprehend the incomprehensible as exemplified in the final stanza:

Blessed are they that have not seen
And yet whose faith has constant been;
In life eternal they shall reign.  Alleluia!
 

Faith is the belief in something not understood or seen fully.  In one way, this hymn (and Jesus’ words in this Scripture reading) exemplifies medieval worship.  The glorious cathedrals were meant to inspire.  From the tower which beckoned for miles around, to the bright stained-glass windows meant to encapsulate bible stories for a pre-literate culture, to the smells of incense, candles and aged wood (and probably smelly people and farm animals, but those do not fit my analogy), to the serene chants reverberating through the nave, the cathedral was meant to be otherworld and mystical, yet also completely concrete and real.  One could see it, touch it, smell it, and even sleep and live in it, as many pilgrims would do for weeks.  Yet, at least in the view of their builders, these were buildings whose architectural groundplans and geometric ratios were taken directly from the mind of God (from I Kings 6).  They were as close to “heaven” as one could find on earth.  They were visible, tangible representations of what otherwise could only be known in faith.  Thomas doubted even after Christ appeared;  only after touching His wounds did Thomas believe.  The medieval mind, just as with the modern mind, can do its best to exemplify God’s presence through physical representation;  however, it is not possible for us to “prove” our faith as it was for Thomas.  This, perhaps, is a good thing.  And certainly bestows upon us Christ’s promise, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” 

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with