I VOW TO THEE MY COUNTRY
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above, Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test, That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price, The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago, Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King; Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase, And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
PUBLISHED: 00:37, 9 November 2013 – Daily Mail
‘Obscene’: Reverend Gordon Giles claims the words of I Vow to Thee My Country are obscene, offensive and unfit to be sung by Christians
A leading Church of England vicar yesterday condemned the words of one of the country’s best-loved hymns as obscene, offensive and unfit to be sung by Christians.
The Reverend Gordon Giles, one of the Anglicans’ leading authorities on hymns, declared that I Vow to Thee My Country should be rewritten if it is to be sung by modern congregations.
His verdict was delivered in advance of the remembrance weekend when the hymn, which is especially valued by military families, will feature in thousands of services across the country and the Commonwealth.
Its patriotic words, written in the final year of the First World War, speak of the ‘final sacrifice’ made by those that love their country, and end with a promise of peace in heaven.
But Mr Giles – a former succentor responsible for hymns at St Paul’s – called I Vow to Thee My Country ‘dated’ and ‘unjust’.
He said in an article in the Church Times: ‘Many would question whether we can sing of a love that “asks no question”, that “lays on the altar the dearest and the best” and that juxtaposes the service of country and that “other country” of faith.
‘Should we, undaunted, make the sacrifice of our sons and daughters, laying their lives on the altar in wars that we might struggle to call holy or just?”
‘The notion of vowing everything to a country, including the sacrifice of one’s life for the glorification of nationhood, challenges sensibilities today.’
Valued: His verdict was delivered in advance of the remembrance weekend when the hymn, which is especially valued by military families, will feature in thousands of services across the country and the Commonwealth
Mr Giles said that the hymn had a ‘dated military concept of fighting for King and country.
This, he said, ‘gives offence, as it is based on the idea of a king as head of an empire, whose bounds need to be preserved for the benefit of subjects at home and abroad.
‘In post-colonial Britain this comes across as patronising and unjust. Associating duty to King and Empire with a divine call to kill people and surrender one’s own life is a theologically inept reading of Jesus’ teaching.’
Mr Giles, who is vicar of St Mary Magdalene in Enfield in North London, added: ‘Furthermore, if the cause is wealth, power, influence, national pride, then the sacrifice is diminished and its connection to the pride of suffering is, for me, almost obscene.’
The hymn is based on a poem written by British diplomat Sir Cecil Spring-Rice in 1908. Sir Cecil became ambassador in Washington charged with persuading America to enter the war against Germany, and heavily re-wrote his poem in January 1918, shortly before he died.
The new emphasis on sacrifice came in the final months of a war which saw more than three million British Empire casualties, including over 900,000 deaths.
Composer Gustav Holst, who was director of music at St Paul’s Girls School, where Spring-Rice’s daughter was a pupil, set the words to a slightly altered version of the Jupiter theme from his Planets suite in 1921.
With its stirring new tune, called Thaxted, it rapidly became a staple of Anglican worship.
However left-wing and liberal teachers turned against it after the Second World War, and nine years ago a Church of England bishop, the then Bishop of Hulme, the Right Reverend Stephen Lowe, described it as ‘heretical’ and accused it of having ‘echoes of 1930s nationalism in Germany and some of the nastier aspects of right-wing republicanism in the United States.’
Its unpopularity with some Church of England clergy mirrors the fate of another hymn that dates from World War One. Blake’s Jerusalem, set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry, is now often regarded by Anglican leaders as unsuitable for Church use.
While frowned on by some clerics, both songs remain treasured by millions.
I Vow to Thee My Country has been used as an anthem by England sports teams and featured in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics last year.
Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said that churchmen who dislike the hymn are out of touch with their congregations.
Criticism: Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said that churchmen who dislike the hymn are out of touch with their congregations
Sir Gerald, Tory MP for Aldershot, said: ‘Any Church of England vicar should know that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is the Queen. I am not sure a Church of England cleric should be taking this view of Her Majesty.
‘He is completely out of touch with the spirit of the times. There are more poppies being worn this year than ever and the armed forces have never been held in higher regard.
‘A vicar of all people should not be so insensitive at a time of remembrance of those who have made the final sacrifice, for the freedom of vicars to say insulting things.’