The Battle Hymn of the Republic as Bible Hymn of the Republic

I was reminded today of one of my favorite hymns as I read the first reading from today’s Mass. In particular these lines stood out:

[An] angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud [Jesus], “Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” So the one who was sitting on the cloud  swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven who also had a sharp sickle……“Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great wine press of God’s wrath. (Rev 14:14-19)

Ah, yes, the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on
– –

We live in a time that does not usually appreciate these fearsome images of God. These are dainty times where many have tried to tame God. And yet the image from the hymn above is thoroughly biblical as you can already see. This first verse of the Battle Hymn also recalls Jeremiah

God will thunder from his holy dwelling and  roar mightily against his land. He will shout like those who tread the grapes, shout against all who live on the earth. The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgment on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword,'” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 25:30-31)

Yet again Scripture is alluded to by the hymn in reference to the terrible swift sword which is from Isaiah:  In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea (Isaiah 27:1).

The author of these words, Julia Ward Howe, lived in times that were anything but dainty or delicate. She lived in time of war, the Civil War. And she , like many of that time, possibly including President Lincoln, had come to see that horrible war as God’s judgment on a land that had enslaved, and cruellyand unjustly treated a whole race of people. Many decades before Thomas Jefferson had written, Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free (Notes on the State of Virginia). Yes, many abolitionists and others saw the Civil War in terms of God coming to render justice for the oppressed and to punish and purify by fire a land that strayed far from justice.

Julia Ward Howe had been stirred to write the hymn when, just outside of Washington DC, she heard the troops marching to the tune “John Brown’s Body.” The rythmn of that hymn stayed with her and that night she lodged at the Willard Hotel in Washington and recounts how she was was inspired to write:

I awoke in the grey of the morn­ing, and as I lay wait­ing for dawn, the long lines of the de­sired po­em be­gan to en­twine them­selves in my mind, and I said to my­self, “I must get up and write these vers­es, lest I fall asleep and for­get them!” So I sprang out of bed and in the dim­ness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered us­ing the day be­fore. I scrawled the vers­es al­most with­out look­ing at the p­aper (Julia Ward Howe, 1861).

She describes it as a moment of inspiration. The words seem to flow from her effortlessly as is the case with inspiration. We have been blessed by these words ever since. It is true,  these words do not remain without controversy. Some object to such warlike imagery associated with God. Even more objectionable to some is the human tendency to have God take sides in a war or to attribute any war  to his inspiration. And yet, for one who has read Scripture, it is hard to wholly dismiss the notions advanced in this hymn even if they are offensive to modern ears. The Battle Hymn remains a masterpiece of English Literature and the music is surely masterful as well.

Other verses contain Biblical quotes and allusions as well. Perhaps a brief look at them.

Verse two says,

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:His day is marching on.

A powerful word painting here. The campfires of the bivouacked troops burning like candles before an altar to God’s glory and justice. The righteous sentence perceived by the flickering light recalls Daniel 5 where the hand of God wrote a sentence on the wall near the lamp stand at King Bleshazzar’s feast: MENE, TEKEL, PERES. The King trembled and all with him as the words appeared in the flickering candlelight. The righteous sentence of God announced that the King had been “placed in the scales and found wanting.”  His kingdom was about to end. God’s “Day” of judgment marches on. The Scriptures often refer to the Day of the Lord as the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” (eg. Mal 4:5-6).

Verse Three says,

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”

“Contemners” are those who despise God and his justice, who hold his law in contempt. Against these is the fiery Gospel. The Scripture says the Lord Jesus will judge the world by fire (eg. 2 Peter 3:7) and that his word comes forth from his mouth like a sharp sword: Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty(Rev 19:5). The author allows the bayonets of the soldiers to allude to Word of the Lord whose fiery gospel judges the world. And in the second line the Lord promises grace to those who fight for justice. The last two lines are the reference to Genesis: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, while you strike at his heel (Gen 3:15). It also refers to the reiteration of this in Rev 12. The Lord is destroying Satan’s power and ending the injustice of slavery, and ultimately all injustice.

Verse Four says:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

A clear reference is made here to St. Paul who writes of the trumpet blast, For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised  (1 Cor 15:52) and of the judgment we must face: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). The third line is a reference to Malachi which promises a joyful judgment day to the Righteous: Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out leaping  like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the Lord Almighty  (Mal 4:1-4).

Verse Five says,

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

The lily is a symbol of purity in the Scriptures. A sea a clear and calm as glass is described as surrounding the throne in heaven (Rev 4:6; 15:2). We are transfigured by Christ’s glory for we are made members of his body (Eph 5:30). Hence, when the Father sees Christ he also sees us, transfigured as it were in Christ’s glory.  We too are called to walk in Christ’s footsteps. We are to carry our cross as he did (eg. Lk 9:23). As his cross made us holy, our cross can help to make others free. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church (Col 1:24). Clearly Howe is appealing here to Northern Soldiers to be willing  to die in order to free the slaves.

The Final verse says is a kind of doxology:

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Christ is Lord of History (Rev 1:8;  21:6; 22:13) and the earth is his footstool (Is 66:1; Mat 5:35; Acts 7:49). He will come in Glory accompanied by his angels: They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Mat 24:30-31). The world has doubted and scorned him and his teachings, Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children (Luke 7:35).

Ah, what a hymn. It is remarkably Christological and Biblical. Some consider it controversial. But that’s OK, the Bible is too, and this hymn is rather remarkable stitching of Bible verses and allusions. For this reason, it is not only the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it is also the Bible Hymn of the Republic.

43 Replies to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic as Bible Hymn of the Republic”

  1. Monsignor – I wouldn’t be so sure that this song is as Christian as it appears it should be with its density of Biblical imagery. It exalts the Union Army’s supposedly unalloyed intention to “make men free,” which might work as a polemical marching song, but is hardly truthful, and isn’t fit to be sung even near a church. The Union wasn’t Christ’s Army and the Confederacy was not Satan’s – which is the exact equivalency that this entire song is based upon. Demonizing enemies and glorifying your own forces to exaggerated extents is understandable in war, but 150 years later? I plead you reconsider your judgement regarding this song.

    1. You state well the opposing view. I would only say it is in almost every Christian Hymnal, including Catholic ones. In that sense it is seen more widely than the political interpretation you articulate. Your analysis seems to be historically accurate but 1861 and the politics of slavery and northern aggression are largely of the past. Nevertheless, well said and I think you articulate that aspect of the problem which I do mention in passing.

    2. K.T. – While it is true that we are coming on 150 years since the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War, let us not allow that long passage of time to obscure the enduring moral issues surrounding the conflict. Every historian I’ve read agrees that the war was not *only* about slavery, but by the same token I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the war had *nothing* to do with slavery, the opposition to which provides the impetus for much of the imagery of this beautiful hymn.

      While I am confident that the Lord didn’t take a stand on such temporal issues as secession or the cotton industry, I am very confident that he held a very strong view on the issue of slavery. It was an evil that needed to be blotted out from our nation’s very fabric. The words of Jeremiah were renewed, and the wicked were indeed put to the sword.

      Surely not every northern soldier was a saint any more than every confederate soldier was a demon. Atrocities took place on both sides. However, there was no moral equivalency between the causes for which the respective sides fought. The so-called “Confederate States of America” was a society whose culture, politics and economy was based on the enslavement and oppression of human beings deemed to be of an inferior race.

      As imperfectly as could be done by mere men, the troops of the Union did in fact take up the mantle of Christ, as the fifth verse so elegantly states: “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.”

      Sometimes we forget that amid the awfulness that is war, there often is a side that is actually fighting for good. Our civil war wasn’t just about states’ rights or economics. It was also about the dignity of the human person born in the image of God.

      P.S. The last words of the last speech of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before he was assassinated, were “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

  2. [An] angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud [Jesus], “Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” So the one who was sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven who also had a sharp sickle……“Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great wine press of God’s wrath. (Rev 14:14-19)

    Now we`re talking Monsignore.
    THAT`S what I`m talking about.

  3. Thank you for this post. I am of the spiritual camp regarding this song. It has always been one of my favorite hymns. I have been a music minister in Catholic churches for years and found this song to be not only liturgically useful but welcomed by any congregation, be it traditional or comtemporary. I think it was most appreciated when used as a closing hymn throughout the season of advent. I personally prefer music that challenges the singer’s spirit and intellect while inspiring their soul and heart. And let’s face it… Battle Hymn is just plain fun to sing. Everyone gets to sing full throttle.

  4. In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea (Isaiah 27:1).

    Here is the coiling, writhing serpent. The dragon of the sea:;action=Article.publicShow;ID=2808

    The article is from the Norwegian Metrological Institute and the article begins with the following ingress:
    Translated from Norwegian it reads

    “Ice Swirl! Natures own work of art outside Vestfold (On the coast of Norway) The work of art is due to the cold water that is in Skagerak these days”
    Then below the picture the article says

    ” The picture above shows sea-ice in a swirl outside Vestfold. The picture is taken on the February 7th before noon. It is the first time the Oceanographers at MET.NO has seen sea-ice swirl in,
    and make such a beautiful pattern. Therefore they choose to share it with their readers.”

    The official explanation is that this is “sea-ice swirling.”
    It kept on swirling for about a week, last winter.

    No one has ever claimed it to be the Leviathan, before me, that is.
    I knew what it was the second I laid my eyes on it.

    So I have known about it since february.
    But since you brought up the topic of Leviathan, I`d thought you deserved to see a picture of it.

    The symbols of the apocalypse, are not symbols at all. If the bible says the Leviathan is a “swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent.” And a “dragon of the sea”. That means it is a swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. And a dragon of the sea.

    The Catholic Church does not have an official explanation of the book of revelations, because it is supposed to be revealed as it unfolds.

    And there you have a crystal clear picture of “the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent.”

    and as you know: He will kill the dragon of the sea (Isaiah 27:1).

  5. “1861 and the politics of slavery and northern aggression are largely of the past.” Monsignor, if this is true, what chance is there that I will hear “God Save the South”, “The Cross of the South”, “The South Will Rise Up Free” or “Dixie” the next time you celebrate mass? (and I just gave you an entrance hymn, hymn for the presentation of gifts, eucharistic hymn, and recessional hymn).

    1. I don’t hear this sort of stuff at Mass. If you mean that those songs can of should be sung at mass I would doubt that they had any sort of sacred text or biblical basis though i admit I am nto familiar with the text of any of them really. I DO know that none of them are in any hymnal approved by the bishops as is the Battle Hymn

  6. I was singing this song in my head around the time of the recent midterm election. I was thinking the Tea party should make it their theme song. I’m not affiliated with them or the republican party but with what we are up against presently in the political and moral spectum inside the beltway, this song could get a lot of peoples attention. It’s deja vu all over again.

  7. the Battle Hymn of the Republic is NOT a Christian song and esp not a Catholic Christian song. Julia Howe, who wrote it was anti-Catholic. The song is about the slaughtering of the southern people by Gen Sherman that is ‘the coming of the glory of the Lord” .. not in my eyes is that the glory of the coming of the Lord. There are many pages on the truth behind this song, here is one link .. why this song is still being played in Churches is beyond me. Open your eyes and learn its history! Its like the pledge of alligence is written by a self proclaimed socialist Frank Bellamy. Great tune but the song was writen with evil in the mind

    1. Well, you are entitled to your opinion. But the meaning of some things changes over time. This is not 1861. The hymn is approved by the Bishops for use in our parishes and is in just about every Catholic hymnal. I am not familiar with the pledge written by Frank Bellamy

      1. Yes, I’m aware the bishops approved it, but does it make it the birth of it different?! Maybe the Bishops, don’t know the history of the song. A lot of people I know love Lincoln but if you honestly do research on him that man was a tyrant, not a believer in God (he used the belief to fool others), arrested disenters that didn’t see it his way, & more. Does that make them bad people? No, just they were indocrinated by socialized public schools (in most cases) by Lincoln defenders that claim him to be the greatest president. Back to the original thought.. not my opinion.. research her and her beliefs. They WERE anti-catholic, anti-south, and the abolistionists were radicals that stirred up trouble. People like Jefferson Davis & Robert E Lee & Stonewall Jackson were all about ending slavery and said it would end a natural death like in Europe. The north propaganda (since the won the war for southern independence) made it about slavery (funny thing is the slave trade was very profitable in the north & all southern ports were ended.. Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave in the north. & if you read DeTouchville’s ‘democracy in America’ you’ll see how the races were treated (surprisingly they both got along much better in the south vs the north but oh the northerns were soooo tolerant .. ha). Most items writen, like this song & books like “Uncle Toms Cabin’ were items writen by people who never stepped foot in the south yet they helped boost the abolistionist movement (again a radical group not in it for anything but themselves.. remember Lincoln, himself, didn’t want to do a thing to end slavery will running for office & even had meetings to ship off slaves either to est colonies in Latin America or back to Africa saying ‘our races cannot co-exist’,
        The only nation to call the Confederacy a nation or at least respect it as a nation was the Vatican. Jefferson Davis was a Catholic (he even had an adopted black son whom the north came down & kidnapped… can’t call an enemy racist if one of their children is black) & as Lord Acton said that he regretted the loss of the Confederacy more than the loss at Waterloo.
        My opinion of the author of the song is not an opinion it is straight facts. But since the winners get to write history & the losers must surrender to them we in the south & surprisingly the Church has adopted a song that is written (again factual) as a proclamation of see the ‘glory of the coming of the Lord’ as Sherman slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent & unarmed southerners (since he wasn’t fighting the confederate army and was burning towns where women & children lived). If you use rational thought about this and dig up info on the and put it all in context you’ll see that the true meaning of the song is sickening.

        Frank Bellemy was a Baptist preacher and a self proclaimed socialist. the pledge is basically swearing alligence to the state. Something our founders would never do. Funny thing w/ him is he was kicked out of the pulpit for his socialist views but he was able to get the pledge to the schools. “under God’ came in much later to the pledge. At 1st the students said pledge with an arm extended and palms up toward the flag .. that was stopped when it was too similar to the Nazi salute.

        To say the meanings of things change over time is to say then how things came to be is meaningless. The Constitution doesn’t change because its 200 yrs later we are still to use Original Intentions not case law in understanding that document. & that is a guideline of governing. A song by Marilyn Manson 100 yrs from now will still mean the same thing then as it would now. You cannot pick & choose well this song’s meaning has changed but this one hasn’t. The true meaning is evil, we just have cowered to it and have dishonored our ancestorial tradition for embracing it. Imagine a song writen by someone that was for the execution of your group, etc. Would that same song change its meaning 100 yrs later? Or would its true meaning still be the same?

      2. Well look, if you want to continue to live in 1861 you go right ahead. But as for most of the rest of us, things do change over time and songs and things and people can be rehabilitated or be seen and experienced in another light. In my hymnal I have noticed another song that is very stirring and is in just about every Catholic hymnal but has an anti-catholic past and was written by an anti-Catholic. I was playing the song on the organ the other day in fact: A Mighty Fortress is Our God, written by Martin Luther. Things do change. One of my favorite medieval masses is by Henrich Isaac and it uses for its cantus firmus a set of tavern songs from the 1400s it is called the Missa Carminum. The Church has a way of taking things up from secular and other sources. You may also be aware that the the former Austrian National anthem which Hitler made his Marching song “Deutsland Uber Alles” in also in our hymnals under the hymn tune name “Austria” I dunno steve, it seems like time heals wounds. You are free to live in 1861 if you please but some of us have moved on a bit and see the Battle hymn in a different way than you insist we do. Interestingly, it was played for the Pope at his most recent visit to the White House as well.

        In the end, please note my post was more about Biblical allusions in the hymn than its history.

      3. I realize your original post is about the hymnal and not history … I’m adding to the history of it. I’m not living in 1861 I am just (as Plato’s allegory of the cave states) helping you ‘see the light’ of the truth behind the meaning of the song.. the original meaning which was the murdering of 600,000 unarmed southerners. But hey I know I’m the knuckle dragging neanderthal. I’m fine with that. I cringe everytime I hear that song played at football games down this way. Before I knew the history of the song I had it played during my dad’s funeral since he was former marine. I regret playing that today. I cannot sing ‘glory glory alleluia’ knowing it was made for the applause of killing 600,000 unarmed innocent people. Does that make me ‘living in the 1860s” or does it make me knowledgable of my history and ancestors and not willing to surcome to that? Forgive me if I do not like a song written about killing 600,000 people. Like I saw another guy on here write “why not Dixie?” at least that wasn’t written for killing 600,000. But again I’m the one ‘living in the past’. I see it as you should know the past for how do you know where to go if you do not know where you’ve been. & I know plenty of us southerners that do not like this song b/c of the historical evidence of its birth. I’m not expecting a northerner to understand that, with all due respect.

        I did not know of “Austria” being in the hymnal. I’ve had to defend us from anti catholics who keep tellign me Hitler was a Catholic and yes he was baptised a Catholic but that doesn’t mean he practiced the faith. Mussilini falls in that as well.

        I’m going with would you be ok with a song say a 100yrs from now that was written about the extermination of you & me & others like us? or would you be all ‘you have to stop living in the past & adapt’ to people in future that sung it?

        Am I shocked it was played at the White House for the Pope? Nope. Remember it was a northern anthem (though Lincoln, the tyrant, loved the song Dixie .. i don’t know why) and is a catchy and good tune. Does have ‘God’ referenced in it. So most people would say it’s a good song. But again like we say to Protestants that take things out of context. We don’t change context of what happened throughout the 1st 2000 yrs but you’re to say i’m to change my feelings toward the true meaning of a song written 150 yrs ago? You cannot pick and chose what ‘changes’ and what doesn’t. Or history is just false then if we do it that way.

        Just being charitable with all this and say all this with the upmost respect for you, Father.
        God Bless you always 🙂

  8. If I recall properly, the Battle Hymn, Psalm of the Crusaders is Psalm 91; verses 11-12 were quoted by Satan to Jesus. However, the Psalm is a warrior’s psalm, and has been made into a dog-tag avaliable at “” Psalm 91 (Safe in God’s sheltering care) is also the Sunday Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

  9. Interesting column as coincidentally I’ve been playing (atttempting to plunk out) this song at the piano the last few days from The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. It is definitely great poetic text and a stirring melody. There have been many priests in my parish over the years, and some let the song be sung and others didn’t. Now I think it is less popular just out of political correctness–we can attempt to banish war by supplanting it with songs of peace. It is interesting how certain songs germinate out of certain times. Take a song like Sixteen Tons sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford. It takes a period of poverty for a song like that to become popular (deeper in debt, owing one’s soul to the company store), and it is hard to imagine such a song being created in the last couple decades of supposed economic prosperity, yet it is a very solid song and conveys a message and will still strike a chord with people who have suffered hardship. It was a very popular song for its time. And our country could come upon times of poverty again, times that might create similar music, who knows?

    I think the Battle Hymn of the Republic is still relevant even though some might discourage it being sung. Hopefully our country will not have to endure another civil war but one never knows what the future holds. The slavery of the 1800’s is gone, and for many of us it is a segment of history that no longer seems immediate to our lives, but there are still things that enslave our society and I suspect to some extent we are blinded to them. Perhaps it is only after the slavery has grown to a certain point that one suddenly realizes that they are indeed enslaved and that they have lost their freedoms and the lines of the forces of good and evil sharply emerge to a sin-clouded consciousnesses as we are suddenly forced to reflect on “how we got to where we are”. So perhaps the Battle Hymn has both a historical context, and it may also serve to warn us that history can repeat itself. And it may serve as a reminder of that spiritual warfare constantly taking place, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities…”

    1. This may be a tad nit picking but there was never a civil war. A true civil war is when 2 groups fight for control over that gov’t. In our case the southern seceded (like our founders did w/ England) and created a new gov’t. So there were 2 gov’ts; 1 in the south and one in the north. Even the Vatican recognized the Confederacy as a sovereign nation. A true civil war would have never saw secession but a group fighting to control DC. That never happened. It should be called the ‘war for southern independence’ or ‘war of northern aggression’

  10. Steve is correct. If you think anything has changed since 1861, you don’t understand our history here and abroad.

    1. Oh I think a few things have changed since 1861 – flush toilets and indoor plumbing for one. But any way I am aware of a subculture in this country which is still focused on civil war stuff, I don’t think the vast majority are however. Most of us have moved on into issues of relevance to the 20 and 21st centuries

      1. No, the vast majority are focused on themselves and nonsense such as who is going to win the latest reality show. Thankfully there are still a few who refuse to let the past slip into oblivion. We need our history – it is how we became what we are today, and if we can just learn from it, maybe we won’t make the same mistakes twice.

      2. ***No need to ridicule your opponents Jason. I do not watch reality shows. There might actually be those who disagree with you who are something other than stupid or focused only on “nonsense”

    2. thanks Ken. Yes, flush toilets & indoor plumbing isn’t relevant for what this is about. But if you do want to go that route then yes things have changed. We’ve turned our backs on the founding principles of our republic and have embraced more socialistic principles. all but 1 of the 1928 planks of socialism has been adopted in these united States and 9 of the 10 pillars of communism has been. So if we are to praise the advancment of our republic please tell me where should we start. We’re all socialist now. & see above for my statement on the so called ‘civil war’ that they used the wrong term for. & yes, Jason is right most people care more about reality shows then their own liberties. Just ask them. Most know the ‘situation’ from Jersey shore then who is their local, state, and federal representatives.

  11. In 1845 poet James Russell Lowell published a work in a Boston newspaper in protest of the American war with Mexico. That text, set to the strong Welsh tune Ton-y-botel, has become one of the great hymns of the Church; “Once to every man and nation”. It’s very political origins do not detract from the strong, firm, theology nor the relevance that it has today.

    Many of the great hymns of the early church were prompted by a reaction to heresies and secular events. They were simply strong poems stating an orthodox and biblical view of things.

      1. Beautiful and inspiring video. Thank you for sharing it and I agree with your wish that it should see more use in our parishes.

  12. I know this song from both perspectives. As a born-and-bred Southerner, a Civil War re-enactress and living historian, I am well aware of the political overtones–perhaps even intent–of the song. The camp images are particularly striking when you have actually been in one of those “circling camps” and tried to do your evenng reading by firelight–albeit a pale modern imitation of the real thing. But it is well to remember that writers sometimes pen works with meaning far beyond anything they imagine or intend. The words, taken solely from a spiritual perspective, are haunting, stirring, demanding and overwhelming. Much of the history of the people of God has been written through the battles of mankind, and we are, in fact, still locked in spiritual battle that gets more heated every day. Julia Ward Howe’s words never rang truer than they do for the Catholics Christians of today, if read as Msgr. Pope explains them. We will be sifted–we are in battle–men still die both in religious wars and political ones to secure the freedom of others– and the Hero born of Woman (how much more Catholic can you get?) has crushed the serpent, and we still have our marching orders. Then and now, the song lyrics are religious first, political (if at all) second. It is a great piece of music, and deserves both to be sung and heard.

  13. “Paul tells us in I Corinthians 14:15, to sing not only with the spirit, but with the understanding also.”

    There is much truth from all sides here, but, apparently, also some half-truths and potentially serious Omissions. Even Saints have erred at times, as Aquinas also had a few slips, corrected in Council centuries later (something to do about Mariology). Far better to take cue from St. Anselm, when commenting on the great mystery of Atonement via Christ’s Passion, in ‘Cur Deus Homo?’ (Why did God become man?). “Anselm says at the outset that he will not so much show his disciple the truth he needs, as seek it along with him; and that when he says anything that is not confirmed by higher authority, it must be taken as tentative, and provisional.” (NewAdvent citation, 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia on Atonement)

    Firstly, this Hymn has been purported to have Unitarian, Masonic and Transcendentalist roots. The idea that Christ was not part of any Trinity, was only a great teacher, and that it was up to humanistic man to complete the work of salvation. Some citations have been quoted here: and Pastor Don Elmore

    Whatever the merits of these arguments, I do not believe such considerations of historical and contextual fact (if they are indeed factual) should be omitted in any future re-examination of Catholic hymnals. The same applies to other hymns, such as ‘Mighty Fortress’ by Luther. Pope Paul VI famously stated in a public Mass, 1972, “The smoke of Satan has entered the Church”, and Pope John Paul II in his 1998 ‘Authentic Liturgy Renewal’ addressed to US Bishops, that in hindsight, the grand experiment (regarding so many unfortunate misinterpretations of Vatican II about proper Liturgy Music) has harmed our attendance, caused deep divisions and scandal.

    Second, As Catholics, we are obliged to welcome worthy ideas (hymns) and brotherly kinship with non-Catholics, atheists included, but must also keep vigilance to what is truthful. All are called to apply Reason to Faith, and Faith to Reason (Pope John Paul II, ‘Fides et Ratio’). St. Augustine, commenting on Genesis vs. Science, said, ” It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.”

    Third, the mob and scapegoating nature of most mankind, is an anthropological fact attested throughout all of Scripture, culminating in our (that means us) joint-Crucifixion of Christ, our ultimate scapegoat. We all want to point the fingers at someone else, to hide our own sins. Catholics want to point blame at Protestants, while hiding the various scandals in our own behavior, and vice versa in reverse. (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”) Professor Rene Girard famously developed some of the most profound studies of this, seconded by the mature Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and other visionaries of the sacred and the violent.

    With these in mind, Catholics must respect others, sometimes even sing others’ (non-Catholic) hymns, but with an important catch: they must be carefully examined, cleansed for Truthfulness, with any potentially misleading errors or innuendos “Catholicized”. As pagan rituals such as the marriage ring were Christianized, so too might certain anti-Catholic verses “adopted”. From the many sharp disagreements here, it is clear this hymn is loaded with innuendo, and loaded with scapegoative power, loaded with mob-reactive tendency, that it deserves re-examination in Council, by the USCCB, and even Rome.

    I have hesitated thus far to say “our sacred Liturgy song has been increasingly protestantized”. I would never willingly violate the spirit of Ecumenism which we Catholics must practice in welcoming our fellow brethren. However, at the same time, the argument that just because Bishops approved this hymn, and Luther’s ‘Mighty Fortress’, does not make it a moral obligation for all Catholics to believe they were right. Aquinas on Fraternal Correction says, it IS a precept for a layperson to correct their prelate, especially since prelates can so mislead so many flocks into sin. This is one of those matters which is provisional, and may need clarification from Rome in Ecclasiastical Council.

    Steps in that direction have already been initiated by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with current “corrections” of our bad ICEL translations. Our Hymnal should be next! We should also expunge ‘Sing to the Mountains’, which I fail to see has any relation to Ps 118, and also subverts authentic faith, through its subtly folksy mediocrity.

    Personally, the “dum-ta-dum-ta-dum” beat to me reeks of mediocrity, distinctly late-19th-century protestant. At least, it fails to capture the sublime that we used to hear from the more reverent renditions and psalms of old. , It plays up to our mob nature in its very musical construction, and subtly anti-Catholic innuendo (Unitarian elements). It is not a hymn very well suited for organ and choir, and in its own subtle way, tends to scapegoat the Bach-Mozart types, by getting the populace to prefer mediocre hymns, sung out of tune by amateurs, contributing to massive unemployment of the more highly gifted music ministers. That is, most of our churches are in violation of Nehemiah 12, when we substitute heathen Tobias’s stealing our tithes, driving the authentic ministers out.

    This phenomenon–the sharp decline in attendance due to sacreligeous music–was warned of by Pope John Paul II in 1998, and in Scripture, Nehemiah 12 “abandoned the worship tent”. There is real danger when we sinners, Catholic and Protestant alike, scapegoat others again and again, choosing mediocrity and driving out the gifted, without facing up to our own sins, and our own neglect. Most parishes neglect the divine commandment to pay the cantor full time, and embraced neo-protestant volunteer Tobias’es instead. If these cantors protest of their rights, they are rapidly shunned, scapegoated, driven out of most parishes, preferring guitars and pianos sung by neo-socialistic pro-choice amateurs, rather than the sort of reverent and highly-accomplished works by trained and theologically-sound pros.

      1. Happy 4th! Humble apologies for those portions above which might invite ridicule, but again, the ineffable is hard to describe. Perhaps the context of how it came about is better “attempted” here:

        Last Sunday, July 1, the exit hymn of the choir was Battle Hymn of the Republic, played by an older lady directing the choir. Many deem it an excellent patriotic anthem for July 4th fireworks. I myself grew up singing it in schools or at Mass without knowing much about its history. However, this day, I noticed how Protestant it sounded, also how out-of-tune was the singing, and how the parishioners seemed to transform into something more like a riled up crowd in a Baptist service than at a reverent Catholic Mass. Somehow, it sounded more like war mongering, even anti-Catholic to me. Like a happy sneer, it seemed to emit a kind of blind rallying of so many guns, a kind of crusade…only aimed at our own Church! Then I wondered if it is even theologically sound enough to be included in any Catholic Hymnal; so I did a little research, and found this page, and others.

        As is typical of many parishes nowadays, the lady ruling the choir music has been there forever, because she is “free” / volunteer, saving the diocese money, getting along with the Priests who sanction her rule, she who can’t sing, nor play the keyboard properly, nor follow any proper GIRM laws, and very typically she is also, pro-choice. Any Traditional music director who is in authentic Communion with our Church on pro-life, authentic doctrinal truths, and who actually has the equivalent of a seminarian’s formation in music, she shuns…just as her clones in other parishes also shun, or drive out. (Revisit the story of Nehemiah 12, 13, the heathen Tobias, doing the same, usurping the tithes, to drive out the Sons of Asaph).

        Now this lady gets so many complaints by parishioners on her particular banging on the piano, and her ragtag choice of hymns, her many mistakes, and inability to correct the harmonies sung out of tune every week by the choir. Yet when someone competent comes along, she woos them to “volunteer” just like her, then stabs him in the back whenever he’s not around, telling the Priest and others that he is a professional who expects pay, causing everyone else to shun and abuse him, even gossip among the townsfolk. Thus life becomes more difficult for him just to make ends meet, as he brings real competence for the first time to the choir, via 10-20 hours preparation per service (40-60 hours for 3-4 services, to include Bach preludes and postludes, and his own compositions of comparable craftsmanship). Everyone is enchanted, and loves him for providing “relief” from the older lady’s piano-banging, and for his stricter attention to Hymn selection and choir harmonizations. Yet when the casual matter of pay comes up, they become the monstrous mob.

        Now the Priest is OK with paying him some scrap meat, gas money, as it is Diocesan policy and divine law to compensate their artists if it is asked and needed. Yet by and large, the Parish Bulletin lists as paid staff, the secretary, the “youth director”, even janitor, but no mention of the organist, who has no benefits, no work contract, who can be terminated at any time without cause, and is told to shut up or leave. Contrast with Divine Law and GIRM, SIng to the Lord, Liturgy Docs, and Papal Encyclicals which all attest God’s will that the Sons of Asaph be treated with dignity and respect, and pay according to his needs, not like lapdogs. Precisely because he too has been annointed as a music minister, to wear choral vestments, since the earliest days, of David. CHrist Himself, and the Apostles, also followed these precepts…nowhere did Christ authorize the aboloshing of the office of Asaph. Psalm 63, Asaph laments of this treatment, where the poor and trammelled he speaks of, includes his sons.

        What happened?

        Now back to the Battle Hymn, which I somehow sense has more of a scapegoative than redemptive spirit, most of the defenses in its favor seem to come mostly from the Old Testament, where eye for eye was still the “nascent” stage of Mankind. They had not yet been revealed the fullest extent of their scapegoative mob behavior, but they’ve been given hints via Cain and Abel, Jacob, Joseph, Job. Then Christ came. As Girard noted, the Mystery of his Passion, seemed to have concealed a deeper truth about human nature, yet at the same time displayed it right out in the open. It is the painful truth that even our first Pope went along with the crowd in betraying Christ. It seems that perhaps for 2000 years, we have been hesitant to admit that we too, from lowest level on up, have continued to repeat the sins of the bad Levites and Tobias’es.

        However, one difference is that Christ seemed to have left behind a potent remedy, where he “vouches for” the innocent Mary’s, persecuted under the Martha’s. The Divine Right of Fraternal Correction, as the only shield against neglect or outright abuse, whereby the lowly might have a defense, through sound reasoning, against the arbitrary.

        If fare like the Battle Hymn does indeed have good and bad effects on the spirit, then it behooves dialogue to better understand, rather than summarily dismiss the claims, pro or con. One question is, was the particular Bishop of OCP, or other publishers, careless, or unaware, or merely overwhelemed at the huge task of surveying 1000s of hymns? If Battle Hymn was approved, why not Bach’s Orgelbuchlein Chorales such as ‘He Who Will Suffer God To Guide Him’, or ‘When Adam Fell The Human Race’, or ‘In Thee Is Gladness’? A savvy Organist with enough tenure, can slip those in, and will likely get praise from the Priest and congregation, for it is truly high art, and the lyrics are both contemplative, and joyous. So was Battle Hymn approved without much thought, merely because it was already so popular among Protestants, and its words seemed to pass Scriptural muster? (ignoring its alleged Unitarian spirit), whereas Bach Orgelbuchlein material was passed over because it was too artsy, or too “expensive” to hire organists competent enough to play it?

        It would seem Bach should be welcomed more than he is in Catholic parishes, since although Lutheran, his intents were pro-unity with Catholics. He wrote Catholic Masses, and probably would have vomited at the Calvinistic hymns like Battle, as somehow, mysteriously, odious to his aesthetic sense. He too perceived the earthly Crowd, and had to fight for pay rights, to be able to afford something sublime, to lift the crowd instead towards Heaven.

        These details may seem nit picking, and is admittedly hard to express without Volumes.

        Perhaps it could be summed up as follows: certain songs, hymns, produce definite physiological and intellectual effects, which can enhance, or inhibit, the spiritual. WHere the lines are, are a great Mystery.

        However, divine law and ecclasiastical do provide certain guidelines to aid in discernment, some of which have the force of Commandment. One is to make sure that no Tobias’s are running the music worship, nor parish operations. Another is to be sure that the ministers, Levite and Asaph, are in full doctrinal Communion, and are supported “each according to his needs”. It would seem that God mandated these as Commandments, as insurance that the Hymn-Selections will also be sound…by people who have had formations of 13+ years, fully competent to do the office.

        Christ did not abolish the ministry of Asaph, nor did He approve its merger into Levite. The formational-period for both ministries is typically huge, so they cannot be assumed (using practical reason) to be relegated to amateurs (like the elder lady above mentioned). Perhaps a more reasonable restoral of Asaphs today, would keep Battle Hymns on a careful leash, and instead give the Crowd more healthy fare. More Rack of Lamb, less potato chips.

        In so doing, would tame the Crowd, and make it less prone to scapegoat, judge rashly (Mt 7), and drive people out of the worship tent (Nehemiah 12).

          1. OK, just respectfully learning and sharing. It’s just one of thousands of Hymns.

            However, like in mass-piracy, where seemingly small things add up to billions, with lethal effects, it is perhaps a manifestation of one of the grand themes across all of Scripture: that most “faithful” still (!) scapegoat and collectively murder the few who are gifted and visionary, who could otherwise have saved many more souls. It is Cain’s envy multiplied to the multitude. Satan does and always has acted through the mob, and is quite strategic at destroying church attendance, by taking away the tithes lawfully belonging to heirs of Levi, Asaph and gatekeepers, merely because Asaph offers far better gifts. Where can Cain hide? He cannot.

            Christ’s Passion provides salvation for the many who sin so mortally, yet it is also conditional upon repentance and atonement of the many towards their victims. Lest we become too complacent in believing we have the one true faith, the Passion is also an indictment and public exposure of the entire crowd of us, who would prefer to “hide from the truth, for fear it would expose their sin.” (John 3). Sins of Omission of this type, where the most fundamental, basic needs of the hard-working composers and gifted agents of the Holy Spirit are almost everywhere suppressed, are mortal sins, since it violates several Commandments, on stealing, coveting, false witness (the crowds in every parish who backbite the Asaphs merely for asking for more respectful treatment), murder (from the millions of lives lost as consequence of this absence), and the First Commandment (honoring God, by obeying Him, not deceptions from false gods).

            It is frankly amazing how insensitive most people are to the sufferings of Asaph, whom God Himself vouches for and the Paraclete defends. Today’s Asaphs everywhere face bankruptcy, debt collection courts, loss of everything due to everyone’s piracy and preference for mediocrity even in churches, a slow torturous death, not unlike Job’s. Yet the Crowd and the Courts condemn him as somehow being irresponsible for not getting a day job. Well, God says sacred music IS his day job, and everyone has to apportion part of the tithes for it!

            Battle Hymn is perhaps just a tiny part of a much larger picture, where our Lord is not happy with the present state of things in His Church, and converts their prayers into curses upon themselves. Is it a sin to speak truth about Satan and the crowd, merely for fear of upsetting the status quo? Hardly. Rather, I beseech the crowd to have an examination of conscience, and stop treating Asaph as serfs. They have a valid claim to certain Biblical rights as authentic music ministers. In this, Christ certainly wasn’t a-political. His wrath at the money changers in the temple was a powerful statement, which demanded reform and authentic renewal all the way to the top.

            Fortunately, our recent Popes have heard this cry loud and clear, and have started the reforms. The only question is, will the people and our Bishops listen?

        1. My church affiliation is Baptist, and we do not worship in riled-up crowds,and if you believe that God honors your derision and sarcasm about someone else’s worship, you are truly pathetic. Your statements are just Pharisaic! Give your heart to God and not to the world.

  14. I just saw 12 years slave. Powerful and graphic, it is impossible to get out if your head the evils of slavery. I think that Julia Ward Howe lyrics and their tie in to Gods judgement are brilliant. I liked this site with all the analysis of the song and how it relates to scriptural references.

  15. If you read the story why the Battle Hymn was written by the author you will realize that it is no way a biblical song. Even though it might be in hymnals doesn’t make it biblical.

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