We Praise You, O God: A Commentary on the Te Deum

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The Early Church has furnished us with a wellspring of liturgical resources. Studies in this area have seen a minor renaissance as modern Christians, particularly Evangelicals, have expressed a desire for a living tradition to hold on to. [1] They desire for this tradition to not simply be the accepted beliefs and practices of those of ages past, however. They crave a vibrant and deep liturgical experience rooted firmly in the Holy Scriptures.[2] Anglicanism is no stranger to this form of worship. That legacy preserved in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer is no more than the ancient faith of the Church refined during the Reformation and expressed in liturgical poetry.

Anglicanism’s emphasis on Morning and Evening Prayer is part of that Reformational heritage. Coming out of monasticism, the Reformers wanted to instill into their churches a prayer life that was both impactful and practical. Instead of waking up throughout the night, the day itself would start and end with prayer to the Triune God. These practices included elements such as the ancient hymn Te Deum Laudamus (usually called the Te Deum). Of uncertain origin, it was in use as early as the 300s and continues to be a vibrant part of public and private worship in the Christian Church.[3] In the Book of Common Prayer, the Te Deum is one of the canticles regularly used within Morning Prayer to respond to the office’s scripture lessons.

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Below is the ancient hymn in its various parts, followed by some reflections and meditations.

Holy, Holy, Holy

We praise you, O God; we acclaim you as Lord;
all creation worships you, the Father everlasting.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

We begin the Te Deum with praise to God, who is the Lord and everlasting Father. It is interesting how this song borrows the language of Scripture: here, Isaiah’s vision of God on His glorious throne is used. We stand in the company of the heavenly angels, coming to the heavenly Mt. Zion to worship God alongside all His creation (Heb. 12:22-24). We confess with the Great Prophet of the Old Testament that all of existence cannot contain who God is: he is too glorious for that. We praise His name forever!

The Glorious Company

The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all praise,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

The hymn’s three-fold division of those who praise God here is critical. The Apostles, Prophets, and Martyrs link to the New Testament, Old Testament, and Modern Church, respectively. Each one takes their turn to join in creation’s song of praise to God, but they do not praise a nameless and unknown deity (Acts 17:23). Rather, they, as the united Church, praise the God in Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit are each praised for their respective roles. The Father is eternally boundless in His glorious majesty; the Son is the eternally unique One from the Father (John 1:14, 18); and the Spirit remains our aid and director today.

The King of Glory

You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you took our flesh to set us free
you humbly chose the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come to be our judge.

The hymn now focuses on what must be the center of all Christian praise: Christ crucified, resurrected, seated, and, one day, returning. This section of the hymn bears a striking resemblance to the Apostles’ Creed, and though they may not be derivative of one another, both clearly and succinctly express that the eternal Son of God became a true Man, died a true death, and rose to a true Life. Indeed, this hymn goes further and makes this belief personal: Christ’s victory is our door to the heavenly life, granting us access to where He now sits and from where He will return in glory as our righteous judge.

Save Your People

Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.
Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance;
govern and uphold them now and always.
Day by day we bless you; *
we praise your Name for ever.
Keep us today, Lord, from all sin;
have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
Lord, show us your love and mercy,
for we have put our trust in you.
In you, Lord, is our hope;
let us never be put to shame.

Christians now move into making requests of this crucified and risen Lord. Because he has defeated death, we now have the confidence to come before his throne to receive aid and help (Heb. 4:14-16). We are the people he died to save, and we know he will not abandon us now (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 8:31-32). He will bring us to glory, completing our journey in this pilgrim life (Phil. 1:6). We ask, then, that Christ would continue to guard and protect his Church and be its true leader.

As we praise him daily, we also make requests for ourselves: we ask that he keep us from our many sins, acknowledging that his mercy freely comes to those who trust him. With the Psalmist, we confess that our hope is in the Lord, who leaves no one to shame (Ps. 22:5).


[1] Nick Needham, 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 1: The Age of the Early Church Fathers.

[2] Robert E. Webber & Lester Ruth, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church.

[3] Schaff, Philip, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. Vol. 3 of History Of The Christian Church. Accordance electronic ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910.

Author

James Hodges

James Hodges, of Ridgeway, VA, is a Kindergarten Teacher in the local public school system and teaches the Junior Church in his local congregation. He is husband to Anna and father to Lilabet.

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