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"We all do extoll Thee, Thou leader in battle":

A wonderful article by Melanie Kirkpatrick in today's Opinion Journal details the history of the Thanksgiving hymn "We Gather Together." Originally written in Dutch for an already-familiar melody, the hymn was a celebration of the victory of the Dutch (who were Calvinists) at the 1597 cavalry Battle of Turnhout, in their decades-long war for national independence against Catholic Spain. Turnhout was the first time the Dutch had defeated the Spanish in an open-field battle.

John Lothrop Motley, in his 1860 masterpiece History of the United Netherlands, 1597-98 explained the significance of Turnhout:

The true and abiding interest of the battle is derived from is moral effect, from its influence on the people of the Netherlands. And this could scarcely be exaggerated. The nation was electrified, transformed in an instant. Who now should henceforth dare to say that one Spanish fighting-man was equal to five or ten Hollanders? At last the days of Jemmingen and Mooker-heath needed no longer to be remembered by every patriot with a shudder of shame. Here at least in the open field a Spanish army, after in vain refusing a combat and endeavouring to escape, had literally bitten the dust before one fourth of its own number. And this effect was a permanent one. Thenceforth for foreign powers to talk of mediation between the republic and the ancient master, to suggest schemes of reconciliation and of a return to obedience, was to offer gratuitous and trivial insult, and we shall very soon have occasion to mark the simple eloquence with which the thirty-eight Spanish standards of Turnhout, hung up in the old hall of the Hague, were made to reply to the pompous rhetoric of an interfering ambassador.
Because the Dutch won the war, they were able to build in the 17th century the first nation in the modern world which practiced religious tolerance. The religious freedom which we enjoy today in the United States was won for us, in part, by the brave cavalrymen of Prince Maurice's army who risked (and, in some cases, lost) their lives against the larger Spanish force.

Like Passover, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the debts of thanks we owe to previous generations which fought (in various ways, including literally) for freedom, and, especially, to God for leading them in their fight. Thanksgiving in 2005 is also an especially appropriate time to reflect on our own contemporary obligations to ensure that the sacred light of religious freedom is never extinguished, as our nation is now engaged in a world-wide war against an enemy determined to destroy that freedom.

"We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing,
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to His name - He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine,
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be Thine.

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader in battle,
And pray that Thou still our defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation!
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!"

Abdul (mail):
We sing that hymn in my Catholic church all the time! What other hymns have proddies snuck into our repetoire to undermine our belief in transubstantion, justification by faith and works, and the communion of saints?

[DK: The number of Protestant hymns in standard Catholic American hymnals is huge. They even have Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God"--although with this song, as with a lot of the Protestant repetoire, the lyrics are changed. The changes often have less to do with transubstantiation or other doctrinal issues than with eliminating militant imagery.]
11.22.2005 5:51pm
Willard:
Correspondingly, Abdul, I had sung "Faith of Our Fathers" in my Protestant church many times, all the while thinking of John Winthrop and the Marian martyrs, before I learned a few years ago that it was written by Englishman who converted to Catholicism and hoped to regain that country for his new faith. The Protestant version we sing is slightly changed (a) so it does not refer to England exlicitly and (b) to omit a reference to the Virgin Mary.
11.22.2005 8:29pm
Ken H (mail):
The first timeI heard the line "Sing praises to His name - He forgets not His own," I was bewildered-- He forgets not His own name? Huh? Did he just get over amnesia? I had to go back and read it again while the choir went on to the next verse.
11.22.2005 10:33pm
Defending the Indefensible:
David:

Thanksgiving in 2005 is also an especially appropriate time to reflect on our own contemporary obligations to ensure that the sacred light of religious freedom is never extinguished, as our nation is now engaged in a world-wide war against an enemy determined to destroy that freedom.

It seems you want to pound the drums of "world-wide war" in every posting, of late.

Our nation is not engaged in any such world-wide war, at present, and God save us from those who want to expand the conflict from Iraq and Afghanistan to the rest of the Muslim world.

There are over a billion Muslims, by the way. If you think the US would actually win such a war, I think you are mistaken.
11.23.2005 1:53am
Defending the Indefensible:
I'm reminded of this Monty Python sketch:

Brother Maynard: And Saint Attila raised the Holy Hand Grenade up on high saying, "Oh Lord, Bless us this Holy Hand Grenade, and with it smash our enemies to tiny bits." And the Lord did grin, and the people did feast upon the lambs, and stoats, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and lima bean-

High Priest: Skip a bit, brother.

Brother Maynard: And then the Lord spake, saying: "First, shalt thou take out the holy pin. Then shalt thou count to three. No more, no less. *Three* shall be the number of the counting, and the number of the counting shall be three. *Four* shalt thou not count, and neither count thou two, excepting that thou then goest on to three. Five is RIGHT OUT. Once the number three, being the third number be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade to-wards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it. Amen."

All: Amen.
11.23.2005 1:58am
John Judge:
Don't forget our debt to Good Queen Bess. Queen Elizabeth I aided the Dutch with troops and money in their wars with Spain. Elizabeth probably would have preferred also to permit greater religious freedom in England (as the Dutch did in Holland). However, during her reign the Catholic Church was regularly attempting to foment religious civil wars in England, contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of the English people. If the rebels in such a war had prevailed, they would almost certainly have beheaded Elizabeth.
11.23.2005 3:14am
Luc (mail):
"our nation is now engaged in a world-wide war against an enemy determined to destroy that freedom"

Well, it is a bit off to use this particular song in support for that.
The original version of the song was written by Valerius, published in a book called Nederlandtsche Gedenck-Clanck.

In the first part he starts off by berating the Spanish for their fight against the Moors, the Spanish Muslims. And he condems their cruel imperialism, giving the number of 200.000 deaths caused in "inde Provintien van Nicaragua, Nova Hispania, Mexico, Guatimale, Panuco, Jacatan, als inde Eylanden van Espaniola, Cuba, Jamaica ende andere plaetsen".

It wouldn't take much fantasy to place the U.S. in the role of the Spaniards.

But then, these kind of historical parallels can get you anywhere, with a bit of creativity.
11.23.2005 3:40am
Jam (mail):
And do not forget the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

1) The imagery of the Union Army as angels trampling on our Southern people as grapes of/for wrath. No self-respecting Southron ought to be even humming it.

2) Many Evangelical and Protestant Churches sing this hymn written by an Unitarian.
11.23.2005 9:16am
Henry Woodbury (mail):
This hymn always closed the annual thanksgiving assembly at my public high school. It still sends chills up my spine when I hear it.
11.23.2005 10:53am
Virginia:
Willard, that's a fascinating fact about "Faith of Our Fathers." We sing that in my (Calvinist) church on Reformation Day, after listining to a good sermon about the men who freed us from the chains of Popery.
11.23.2005 11:10am
KevinM:
And tolerant Holland, of course, was the original destination of the Puritan Separatists whom we celebrate as the Pilgrims. After a 13-year layover, they sailed to the New World in 1620. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
11.23.2005 12:35pm
KevinM:
Ken H's "he forgets not his own" comment reminded me of another Thanksgiving/harvest hymn: "We Plow the Fields And Scatter" As a kid, I always thought: "Why not stick around? Maybe have some dinner?"
11.23.2005 12:39pm
Cynicus Prime (mail) (www):
I prefer the Sarah McLachlan version from SNL:

we gather together for yams, beans, and cranberry sauce.
but have you given much thought lately to the Turkey Holocaust?
twenty million noble birds slaughtered every fall.
ain't no difference between Hitler, Stalin, and the folks at Butterball!
Butterba-a-a-a-ll!!

so set your tables, America, from Birmingham to Branson.
but when you carve that turkey you're a finger-lickin Charlie Manson.
enjoy your pumpkin pie, your buttery Idaho spud.
grandma's chestnut stuffing, and a turkey basted in blood...

basted in blood! basted in blood!
basted in blood! basted in blood!
basted in blood! basted in blood!
basted in blood! basted in blood!


http://snltranscripts.jt.org/97/97gupdate.phtml
11.23.2005 9:27pm
John Judge:
Addendum to my comment above re Good Queen Bess

I have just read for the first time an 1832 essay by T.B. Macaulay (one of Churchill's favorite historians) that, in part, bears on Elizabeth's treatment of religion. Macaulay regards Elizabeth as a great queen, but one who missed a unique opportunity to allow England more freedom of religion. Macaulay discusses the issue at the end of his essay "Burleigh and His Times." (Burleigh may also be spelled Burghley.) The essay may be found at a number of places, including:

11.24.2005 2:43am
John Judge:
Addendum to my comment above re Good Queen Bess

I have just read for the first time an 1832 essay by T.B. Macaulay (one of Churchill's favorite historians) that, in part, bears on Elizabeth's treatment of religion. Macaulay regards Elizabeth as a great queen, but one who missed a unique opportunity to allow England more freedom of religion. Macaulay discusses the issue at the end of his essay "Burleigh and His Times." (Burleigh may also be spelled Burghley.) The essay may be found at a number of places, including:

11.24.2005 2:51am