Hymn `not so wise and wonderful'
Tuesday 05 September 1995
The Catholic Bishop of Leeds, David Konstant, claimed that the hymn, which remains a firm favourite of many schoolchildren, blames God for the problems of society.
Bishop Konstant made his remarks at the annual conference of the Catholic Men's Society, which was held at Trinity and All Saints' College, in Horsforth, Leeds, West Yorks, where he said Mass.
The congregation listened in surprise as he told them: "All Things Bright and Beautiful is one of the most dreadful, even unintentionally wicked, commentaries on society.
"Words in the hymn lay all the blame for social problems at God's door, and take away the incentive to bring about change on the part of individuals and society, wholly contrary to the Old Testament and Gospel teachings."
Bishop Konstant directed particular criticism to the last verse of the hymn, which was written in 1848 by Mrs C F Alexander, wife of the Bishop of Dublin, which says:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
Bishop Konstant said: "Some have a view of how the Church works that takes away all responsibility. The Pope tells the bishops, the bishop tells the priests, and the priests tell me. I like to know where I stand.
"None of us can escape the responsibility that comes from being Christian."
The offending verse has already been removed from some modern hymn books because of its conservative views. But the hymn remains a favourite.
The Archdeacon of York, the venerable George Austin, commented: "I never thought of the hymn as wicked. I like the hymn, but it is a Victorian hymn which contains Victorian concepts. I would say some hymns are wicked, but not this one."
Bradford Cathedral's organist and choirmaster, Alan Horsey, said: "All the hymn is doing in encouraging all of us to recognise the hand of God in creation.
"Its purpose is to teach children and I see no problem with it as it appears in our hymn books, although that verse is not in.
"The Victorian social order was much more defined than it is now and the verse has to be seen in that background. But the hymn is still a favourite with children and has proved a popular hymn at a lot of recent weddings."
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