3. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” by Reginald Heber
Slide 3 of 5
This timeless hymn wasn’t discovered until after the death of its composer, Reginald Heber. Heber was a poet from a wealthy English family. He entered religious life first as a church vicar in England and then, in 1823, as the Anglican Bishop of Kolkata in India.
During this time of spreading the Gospel, Heber composed “Holy, Holy, Holy,” praising God and the Holy Trinity.
This hymn’s lyrics were inspired by the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God’s heavenly court. In particular, the prophet saw God seated on an exalted throne surrounded by angels called the seraphim. In revering God, the heavenly angels repeatedly proclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3; see also Revelation 4:8).
Heber was the first person to assemble a hymnal in which hymns were ordered around the church calendar. He wrote “Holy, Holy, Holy” to be sung specifically on Trinity Sunday, a day that celebrates the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Heber died in 1826 and his widow found the unpublished hymn among Heber’s papers.
The hymn was published posthumously that year, and begins with the following well-known verses:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
The symbolism of three is repeated throughout the hymn, as seen in the verse praising God for being “holy, merciful, and mighty,” and the verse adoring God for his wondrous works in the “earth and sky and sea.” Years after its publication, the composer John Dykes composed the tune “Nicaea” to accompany Heber’s “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
The hymn text and its accompanying music were first published together in 1861.
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