Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr

The Sunday of the Resurrection
Easter Day

In the parish I serve the setting of the Gloria in excelsis sung in Eastertide is Hymn 421, ‘All glory be to God on high’, Bland Tucker’s metrical version set to Nicolaus Decius’s tune for his own adaptation, ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’. As it turns out, this Lutheran adaptation of the Gloria was first sung on Easter Day in another year when it fell on 5 April: 1523.

On that day 492 years ago, at Braunschweig, the Low German original of this hymn, ‘Aleyne God yn der Höge sy eere’, was sung publicly for the first time, coupled with its author’s adaptation of the ‘Et in terra pax’ portion of the tenth-century melody for that Canticle traditionally appointed for Eastertide (from the Missa ‘Lux et origo’).

Decius was one of the first, if not the first (his hymns apparently predate Luther’s own first effort by a year), of the German Reformers to take up the task of finding ways for the whole congregation to sing more of the liturgy. He and others made vernacular strophic, syllabic-metrical paraphrases of many of the fixed parts of the Mass and Offices – the Kyrie and Gloria, the Nicene Creed, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the Pater Noster, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, and so on, drawing upon existing Latin hymns and chant tunes, popular religious song, and even secular materials for their musical settings (expanding and adapting the texts of popular religious songs was also a fruitful endeavor). Decius also made an enduring version of the Agnus Dei (‘O Lam Gades vnschüldich’ / ‘O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig’) and wrote a Sanctus version, ‘Hyllich ys Godt de vader’ / ‘Heilig ist Gott der Vater’.

In 1537 Luther also made a metrical Gloria, ‘All Ehr und Lob soll Gottes sein’, sung to a different adaptation of the same plainsong melody (Thomas Müntzer also made an adaptation of this Gloria melody for a non-metrical German translation in 1524), but Decius’s version won out. Here they can be compared with the original:

Decius’s original text first appeared in Joachim Slüter’s Gesang Buch (Rostock, 1525):

dat gloria in excelsis deo

ALlene Godt yn der höge sy eere
vnd danck vor syne gnade
Darumm dath nu vnnd vort nicht meer
vnns rören mach eyn schade
Eyn wolgeual God an vns hatt
nu is groth freed ane vnderlath
alle veyde nu hefft eyn ende.

Wy lauen prysen anbeden dy
vor dyn err wy dy dancken
Dat du Godt vader weichlick
regerest an alle wancken
Ganz vngemeten ys dyne macht
vort geschüt wat dyn wyll hefft gedacht
wol vns des fynen Heren.

O Jesu Christ söhn eyngebarn
dynes hemmelschen vaders
Vorsöner der de weren vorlarn
du styller vnses haders
Lam Gades hylge Herr vnd God
nym an de bede van vnser noth
Vorbarm dy vnser Amen.

O Hyllige geyst du gröteste gudt
dy alder heylsamste tröster
Vor dnels ghewalt vordann behödt
de Jhesus Christus vorlösede
dorch grote marter vnd bytteren dod
affwend all vnsenn yamer vnd nodt
Dar tho wy vns vorlaten.

A High German version of the text, possibly Luther’s adaptation, appeared in Valentin Schumann’s Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert und gemehrt (Leipzig, 1539), along with Decius’s tune. The familiar High German version is given here with a literal English translation:

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr
und Dank für seine Gnade:
Darum daß nun und nimmermehr
uns rühren kan kein Schade.
Ein Wohlgefalln Gott an uns hat
nun ist groß Fried ohn Unterlaß
all Fehd hat nun ein Ende.

Glory to God alone on high,
and thanks for his mercy,
for now and nevermore
can harm touch us.
God has goodwill towards us,
now there is great peace without pause,
all quarrels now have an end.

Wir loben, preisn, anbeten dich
für deine Ehr wir dancken:
Daß du Gott Vater ewiglich
regierst ohn alles Wancken.
Gantz ungemessen ist deine Macht
fort geschicht was dein Will hate bedacht
wohl uns des feinen Herren.

We praise, laud, and worship thee,
we give thanks for thy glory,
that thou, God the Father, eternally
reign without wavering.
Thy power is completely unmeasured,
it doth whatever thy will considers,
happy we, for our great Lord.

O Jesu Christ, Sohn eingebohrn
deines himmlischen Vaters:
Versöhner der’r die warn verlohrn
du Stiller unsers Haders
Lamm Gottes heilger Herr und Gott
nimm an die Bitt von unrser Noth
erbarm dich unser aller.

O Jesu Christ, only begotten Son
of thy heavenly Father,
reconciler of those who were lost,
settler of our disputes,
Lamb of God, holy Lord and God,
accept the prayer from our distress,
have mercy on us all.

O heiliger Geist du höchtes Gut
du allerheilsamster Tröster:
Fürs Teuffels Gwalt fortan behüt
die Jesus Christus erlöset
durch grosse Marter und bittern Tod
abwend all unser Jammer und Noth
darauf wir uns verlassen.

O Holy Spirit, thou highest good,
thou most beneficial comforter,
guard us henceforth from the devil’s power,
from which Jesus Christ released us
by his great agony and bitter death,
turn away all our misery and distress,
we depend on it.

The tune’s first appearance in print (with some differences including the division of some note values as well as a different beginning to the B phrase), though, was in Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes (London, 1535), with Coverdale’s translation:



Gloria in excelsis Deo.
To god the hyghest be glory alwaye,
for his great kyndnes and mercy
that doth prouyde both nyght and daye
both for our soule and our body
To mankynde hath god great pleasure
now is great peace euery where
god hath put out all enmyte.

Ad Patrem.
We loue and prayse and honoure the
for thy great glory we thanke thy grace
That thou god father eternally
art our defender in euery place
Thou art to vs a mercyfull father
And we thy chyldren altogether
Therfore we geue the thankes alwayes

Ad filium.
O Jesu Christ thou onely sonne
Of god almyghtye thy heauenly father
Oure full and whole redempcyon
Thou that hast stilled gods displeasure
O gods lambe that takest synne awaye
when we haue nede helpe vs alwaye
graunt vs thy mercy altogether.

Ad Spiritum sanctum.
O holy goost oure confortoure
In all our trouble and heuynesse
Defende vs all from Sathans power
whome Christ hath bought from wofulnesse
Kepe oure hertes in the verite
In oure tentacion stonde vs by
And strength alwaye oure weake bodies.

This, of course, had little currency, as Calvinism gained a great deal of influence on the Church of England and metrical Psalmody became the norm for congregational singing until the nineteenth century, since which time ‘Allein Gott’ has been translated into English a number of times. Tucker’s text, however, is less a translation of Decius than a metricization of the text of the Gloria itself – much close to the original, and in a couple of ways closer even than the icet / ellc prose version – making it a suitable version for use in Eastertide or at any time.

The Prayer Book translation of the Gloria (or Coverdale’s metrical version) was hardly the first made into English, despite what some less nuanced studies of the Anglican tradition might lead the reader to believe. As with substantial portions of Holy Scripture, this and other liturgical texts were translated or adapted into English far back in medieval times. I conclude with a verse version from ca 1300:

Ioy be vnto god in heuen,
with alkyns myrthe, þat men may neuen;
and pese in erthe, alle men vntille,
þat rightwis are, & of gode wille.
we loue þe, lord god almyghty,
and als we blesse þe bisyly,
we worship þe, als worthi es,
& makes ioy to þe more & les;
we thank þe god of al þi grace,
forþo grete ioy þat þou hase,
oure lord, oure god, oure king heuenly,
oure god, oure fader almyghty.
oure lord, þo son of god of heuen,
Ihesu crist, comly to neuen,
oure lord, lamb of god, name we þe,
& son of god, þi fadir fre.
þou þat wostis þo worlds synne,
haue mercie on vs, more & mynne;
þou þat wostis þo worlds wrake,
oure praiere in þis tyme þou take;
þou þat sittes on þi fadir right hande,
with merci help vs here lyuande,
for þou art holly, made of none,
bot of þi selue, & lord alone.
þou are þo heghest, of wisdam most,
Ihesu crist with þo holy gost,
wonand with þo fadre of heuen,
In more ioy þen mon may neuen;
vnto þat ioy, ihesu, vs ken
thorght prayere of þi modre, amen.


See the Resources page for my own adaptation of the same ‘Lux et origo’ melody intended for use with the Hymnal paraphrase, which can be used instead of, in or alternation with, Decius’s rhythmic tune.