The Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon, executive director of The Hymn Society, offers this note about Ascension’s Hymn of the Week for December 4, 2022:
This Chinese hymn, translated by Francis P. Jones and adapted by Mary Louise Bringle, FHS, celebrates God’s goodness and high regard for humans and the entire cosmos, beginning with creation and ending with the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring us all homeward. It is paired with the chant tune DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, evoking the role of Christ, the Word-made-flesh, as the center and primary expression of God’s grace.
Francis Price Jones was born in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, in 1890. Educated at Platteville Teachers’ Training College, Northwestern University, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and the University of Chicago, Price went to Fukien Hinghwa, China, as a Methodist missionary in 1915. Price served on the committee that assembled the Chinese hymnal Hymns of Universal Praise. Price translated the hymn text below during his time in China before returning to the United States in 1951.
Mary Louise (Mel) Bringle is Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and French at Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina. Dr. Bringle holds a PhD in theology from Emory University. A published author of books on pastoral theology, Bringle began to write hymn texts at the turn of the millenium. Around 2012, Bringle adapted Jones’ English translation of the original Chinese text of “In a Deep, Unbounded Darkness”. Bringle was elected a Fellow of The Hymn Society in 2020.
The tune DIVINUM MYSTERIUM is a plainsong or chant dating back in its earliest for to the 12th century. Some hymnals continue to use this tune in the original chant form, while others carry the tune in triple meter as it was found in the Swedish collection Piae cantiones (1582). This tune may be more familiar to most through the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”.
In a deep, unbounded darkness,
long before the first light shone,
you, O God, beyond all merit
worked a wonder faith makes known:
in your mercy, in your mercy,
you embraced us as your own,
evermore and evermore.
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