Skip to content

Crown him with many crowns – a hymn for the disabled?

May 2, 2017

I first encountered this hymn as a teenager. It was my first experience of a high mass. I remember the incense at the head of the procession and Fr. Stonton at the back in cloth of gold vestments. He was a hero, having enthralled us in school with his experiences as a prisoner of war after serving as a missionary to the head hunters   in Borneo.

It was my first experience of ‘the beauty of holiness’ to be found in Anglo-catholic worship. I guess I was ‘Absorbed in prayer and praise’.

‘Holiness’ denotes whole-ness but the late John Hull points out that the wholeness of the risen and ascended Christ lies not in his physical perfection but in his wounds being part of his being, taken up to the Father.

Crown Him the Lord of love
Behold His hands and side
Rich wounds, yet visible above
In beauty glorified

No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight
But downward bends his wand’ring eye
At mysteries so bright

I have looked at this hymn in the light of this and conclude that many modern hymn books airbrush this out. The prosperity gospel will have nothing of wounds. They are seen as imperfections.

The writer, Mathew Bridges (1800-1894), like several others of his era, started in the Anglican Church and then, following the lead of John Henry Newman (1801-1890), became a Roman Catholic. Bridges was born in Essex, England and left the Church of England to become Roman Catholic in 1848, just three years after John Henry Newman had taken that course. He lived his latter years in Quebec, Canada, returning to England before his death.

This was the time of the Oxford Movement in England. The Oxford Movement centered on, according to hymnologist Albert Bailey, “claiming for their Anglican Church lineal descent from the original Apostolic Church.” In pursuit of this, adherents to the movement studied the ancient history of the church, its doctrine, and especially its liturgy. In doing so they discovered a wealth of Greek and Latin hymnody from the earliest centuries of the Christian church.

Dated from 1833 with a sermon by John Keble, the movement gained steam under John Henry Newman. The earliest years of the movement were given to translations of Greek and Latin hymns by such important figures as Edward Caswall (1814-1878) and John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Wanting to share in the rich hymnic tradition of the Protestant Church, former Anglican poets now converted to Roman Catholicism such as Frederick Faber (1814-1863) and Matthew Bridges began writing original hymns.

He published two small volumes of hymns, Hymns of the Heart (1847) and The Passion of Jesus (1852). “Crown him with many crowns” was published in the second edition of Hymns of the Heart in 1851 in six, eight-line stanzas. According to Methodist hymnologist Fred Gaely’s research, the stanzas appear under the title “In capite ejus, diamemata multa, Apoc. xix. 12” (“His [the rider of the white horse] eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.”)

Once the hymn appeared in the Appendix to the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1868), the monumental hymnal of the Oxford Movement, its future was assured.

If there was ever a hymn that suited Christ the King Sunday (last Sunday before Advent begins a new Christian Year), it is this hymn. The original six stanzas mention six crowns: “Crown him . . . the Lamb upon the throne” (stanza one) drawn from Revelation 22:1; “Crown him the Virgin’s Son” (original stanza two); “Crown him the Son of God” (original stanza three); “Crown him the Lord of Love” (original stanza four); “Crown him the Lord of Peace” (original stanza five); and “Crown him the Lord of Years” (original stanza six).

A good or even a great text does not survive without a stirring tune. DIADEMATA (meaning “crowns”) is the tune that was written by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1893) for this hymn when it was published in the Appendix of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1868. Watson agrees with most when he observes, “[DIADEMATA] makes a magnificent setting for the text, march-like and joyful without ever becoming mechanical or strident.” The popular tune appears four times, each to a different text, in The UM Hymnal.

The text of this hymn is from The Passion of Jesus, a Collection of Original Pieces Corresponding with the Five Sorrowful Mysteries in the Rosary of Our Blessed Lady. This collection of devotional poetry was first published in London in 1852. The prayers are said in sets of tens, each focused on a “mystery” concerning the life of Christ; the mysteries themselves are in groups of five: the “Joyful Mysteries” concerning Christ’s birth and childhood, the “Sorrowful Mysteries” concerning His death, and the “Glorious Mysteries” concerning the Resurrection and events following. (In the 20th century the “Luminous Mysteries” of Christ’s earthly ministry were added.) Bridges’s collection was dedicated to the five Sorrowful Mysteries: Christ’s agony in Gethsemane, His scourging, the crown of thorns, Christ carrying His cross, and finally the Crucifixion itself. “Crown Him with many Crowns,” therefore, was a reflection on the central mystery of the original 15 mysteries of the rosary. Bridges employs an unexpected approach to the topic, however, taking the cruel mockery intended by that original crown and turning it on its head.

The first stanza seems clearly to invoke Revelation 5:11-14: Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

His sovereignty is indicated foremost; but in applying the title “Lord of” to abstract concepts, Bridges ties into an old tradition of expressing the subject’s preeminence in various qualities as well. Revelation 19:9 declares Jesus “Lord of Lords,” and other passages in the New Testament identify Him as “Lord of the Sabbath,”(Matthew 12:8) “Lord of Glory,”(1 Corinthians 2:8) “Lord of Peace,”(2 Thessalonians 3:16–though this might refer to the Father) and “Lord of All.”(Acts 10:36) Bridges begins stanzas in this hymn by calling Jesus “Lord of Love,” “Lord of Peace,” “Lord of Years,” and “Lord of Heaven.”

“Who died eternal life to bring, / And lives that death may die!” The Lord of Life died, “that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”(Hebrews 2:14-15) In what should have been the hour of Satan’s triumph, he was utterly crushed (as promised in Genesis 3:15!), as Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame.”(Colossians 2:15)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-14)

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.(Psalm 90:2-4)

In respect to “Crown Him with Many Crowns, ” Bridges clearly states that this is a poetic description of the scene of Revelation 19:12 “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself.” The author places this scripture at the head of his poem.  He is also writing in the larger context of the Crucifixion, and at this particular point is contemplating the crown of thorns. Between the crown of thorns at Calvary and the many diadems of the Conquering King of the Revelation, lies the scene of Christ’s coronation by the Father, described in the second chapter of Hebrews: You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned Him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under His feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.(Hebrews 2:7-9)

Hull observes: The source of this doctrine is to be found in the Gospels of Luke and John. Both tell us that the scars or wounds of Jesus were still visible in his resurrected body. In Luke we read that Jesus said to the fearful disciples: `Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. (Luke 24.39-40)

“No doubt the scarred hands and feet were prominent among the `many convincing proofs’ by means of which ‘he presented him­self alive to them’ (Acts 1.3). The question is whether, if the scars were visible in the resurrected body, they were also visible in the ascended body. This question, strange as-it is to most modern people, presented a gift to the devout imagination of earlier gen­erations of Christians.” After all, did not the angels say, ‘This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts I.’ I)? The King James Bible translates it ‘This same Jesus …’, which leads to the thought that the identity of the returning Christ will be verifiable by the same scars, now glorious as Wesley said, and beautiful as Bridges says. This is the basis of the belief that those who pierced him will behold with horror the scars that witness to their cruelty.

The idea of the wounded resurrected body is even more vivid in the Fourth Gospel. As we have seen, only John refers to Jesus being wounded in the side, and Bridges’ hymn says, ‘behold his hands and side’. Only in John does Thomas demand proof of the identity of the resurrected man with the crucified man by ask­ing to see his wounds. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’ (John 20.25). When the resurrected Jesus appears a week later he says to Thomas Tut your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’ (John 20.27). The astonishing thing about these words is that they presuppose a deep wound in the side of Jesus. To put one’s finger on and to see the hands is consistent with scarring, but to put one’s hand into the wound suggests a wound that was still open. This is why the hymn does not speak of scars but of ‘rich wounds, yet visible above’. We may wonder why God who had the power to raise the body of Jesus from the dead did not exercise the power to perfectly heal the body, but that is not the point. The continued visibility of the wounds was necessary in order to establish the identity of the person. True, Paul says that the body is ‘perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15.42-44), but if we are to combine Paul with Luke and John we must add that the body of Christ is raised with imperishable scars, glori­ous scars, and in a state of wounded power. So we see that this biblical doctrine of perfection is that of a wounded perfection, a scarred perfection, an imperfect perfection. This is why Paul, who understood broken bodies, was so conscious of weakness (astheneia: i Cor. 15.43; 2 Cor. 11.30; 12.5, 9ff.; 13.4; Gal. 4.13). Paul also said that God’s weakness is stronger than hu­man strength (1 Cor. 1.25), which could be translated, ‘God’s inability is stronger than human ability’; and he was comforted by God who did not reply to his prayer for strength, but told him that ‘power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12.9), or `ability is made perfect in inability’.

“The doctrine of the heavenly session refers to Christ seated in glory. It is based upon such passages as Mark 16.19, ‘the Lord Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God’, which is a late formulation, and upon several say­ings of Jesus, such as, ‘But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God’ (Luke 22.69). The idea is prominent in the writings of Paul: ‘he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet’ (1 Cor. 15.25); and, ‘it is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us’ (Rom. 8.34). From this last expression we learn that the idea is not only of Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God as an exercise of authority and power, but is also a continuation of his mercy and grace on be­half of human beings. The heavenly session is also the heavenly intercession. This idea is a source of inspiration for Christian living: ‘So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God’ (Col. 3.1).25

The idea of the heavenly intercession leads naturally to the concept of Christ as High Priest. This is a central motif in the Letter to the Hebrews. As High Priest, the ascended and glorified Christ represents his earthly followers, and, just as a priest on earth offers sacrifices, so the great High Priest must have some­thing to offer: ‘he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood’ (Heb. 9.12). Thus, ‘he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf’.’

“Although the scars and wounds of the ascended Christ are not specifically mentioned in Hebrews, the idea of the High Priest presenting his blood and interceding does suggest the image. An important feature of the argument in Hebrews is that the High Priest was perfect (Heb. 7.26-28). This refers to the contrast between the repetition of the sacrifices offered by the earthly priests and the finality of the perfect sacrifice offered once for all (v. 28). Nevertheless, the High Priest remains a man who

can ‘sympathize with our weaknesses’ and who ‘in every respect has been tested as we are’ (Heb. 4.15); ‘he learned obedience through what he suffered’ and, although he has been ‘made per­fect’ and ‘became the source of eternal salvation’ (Heb. 5.8-9), he continues to present before God the evidence, so to speak, of his sufferings in the form of his blood.

“Adoration of the five wounds of Jesus became a feature of mystical contemplation in the Middle Ages, and the Cult of the Wound in the Side is to be found in the writings of Bonaventure (c. 1217-74) and others, although it was not theologically de­fined until the eighteenth century. The stigmata, first received by Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226) were always ambiguous in that it is unclear whether these replications of the five wounds were induced through meditation upon the crucifixion or upon the wounds of Christ the High Priest. This ambiguity became a matter of controversy with the Protestant Reformation in thesixteenth century.

“The question was whether the Eucharist reproduced the actual body and blood of Christ. The reformers, in opposing transub­stantiation, insisted that the real presence of the body of Christ could not be on earth, because it was already in heaven, at the right hand of God. Moreover, it was argued that the sacri­fice of Christ’s death could not be repeated Sunday by Sunday since it had been offered by Christ once for all. This raised the question whether, when Christ showed himself to the Father, interceding for us, he was merely reminding the Father of the merits of his past sacrifice, or whether he was always en­gaged in a perpetual self-sacrifice.28 One point of view, which is significant for a theology of disability, was that it was as a human being that Christ interceded before God. Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428) had taught that our human nature is already in heaven where Jesus Christ, in the body he received from the Virgin Mary, which was crucified, risen and ascended, represents us before God. Thus, the exultation of Christ is the exultation of the human.

“Similarly, Jerome (c. 342-420) taughtthat ‘Christ is said to intercede because He ever exhibits to the Father the manhood, which He took upon Him…… a significant point remains, and one that is hardly ever commented on in the interests of a theology of disability: the Man who sits at God’s right hand is imperfect. The broken body on earth corresponds to the broken body in heaven. More­over, the broken body on earth is to be found not only in the Eucharist but also in the Church, which is the broken body of Christ, and in the broken body of suffering humanity. When people are hungry or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison, it is Christ who suffers these things; and, because only a body can suffer thirst, hunger, nakedness, illness and im­prisonment, it is not the Spirit but the body of Christ that suffers (Matt. 25.31-46).

“We have found that, in addition to its mythological history of a perfection lost and to be regained, the Christian faith also expresses a profound and beautiful theology of brokenness. Perhaps we could even say that a fundamental distinction can be made between churches and individual Christians: the the­ology of power, supremacy, uniqueness and prosperity is one form taken by the Christian faith today, and the theology of brokenness is its principal alternative. The theology of broken­ness offers the Church a way of replacing the oppressive monolith of an unambiguous perfection with the rich and varied ambigu­sity of many forms of human brokenness.”

Hull links this to “the implications of the fraction, that is, the breaking of the bread by the priest at the Eucharist, and the scarred and wounded body of Christ the King. The first of these symbols reminds us that brokenness lies at the heart of the paschal mystery and that the Church is united through brokenness. The second symbol reminds us that the Christian mythology, while it converges upon the perfection of a liberated cosmos, does not conform to the images of perfection found in our present culture.”

Protestant hymn books tend to gloss over all the suffering and include this verse:

Crown Him the Lord of Heav’n

One with the Father known

One with the Spirit through Him giv’n

From yonder glorious throne

To Thee be endless praise

For Thou for us has died

Be Thou O Lord through endless days

Adored and magnified


Crown Him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave
And rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save

His glories now we sing
Who died, and rose on high
Who died, eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die

An early casualty, often excised, is:

Crown Him the Virgin’s Son!
The God Incarnate born,–
Whose arm those crimson trophies won
Which now His brow adorn!
Fruit of the mystic Rose
As of that Rose the Stem:
The Root, whence mercy ever flows,–
The Babe of Bethlehem!

“Mystic Rose” is one of Our Lady’s title in her litany but modern singers might be wondering who Rose is – is it Rose of Lima? Was she a mystic? Hymnology scholar J. R. Watson, notes that, “During the 1870s, objections were made to Bridge’s words, perhaps because of the complex references to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Godfrey Thring (1823-1903), an Anglican priest, composed a new version and published it in his Hymns and Sacred Lyrics (1874). The United Methodist Hymnal, like many others, combines a stanza of Thring’s text (stanza two) with three from Bridges’ original.

Relevant – but too political, is:

Crown Him the Lord of peace!
Whose power a scepter sways,
From pole to pole,—that wars may cease,

And you’ll rarely get:

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,

Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime

(though a former vicar of mine asked an intelligent teenager about this and he immediately made the link with Dr. Who as Time-lord.)

Evangelicals stress Scripture  – this hymn is soaked in Scripture:

Revelation 5:13 “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Revelation 7:10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne  will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

 John 20:20 he showed them his hands and side.

John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Psalm 57:8 Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.

2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Return to the home page

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: