Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Truly, A Trivial Pursuit

This past Christmas, while pursuing some entertainment, I chanced upon "The Bishop's Wife" starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young. While it was for the most part a pleasant diversion, watching the angel Dudley (Cary Grant) get uncomfortably cozy to the Bishop's wife (Loretta Young) got a bit creepy to me (and to the Bishop as well). At the current pace, the title "The Bishop's Wife" will undoubtedly take on a whole new meaning in the not too distant future (as far as the Epsicopal church is concerned)...

At the end of the movie version, David Niven, who plays the preoccupied and suspicious Bishop, is reading the sermon that Dudley had substituted for the Bishop's original script. The careful viewer might notice that to the Bishop's left as he stands in the pulpit is a hymn board with three hymns posted for that Christmas. Knowing that the good film director placed that hymn board there for a reason, and selected those hymns for a reason, left me wondering...

What were they?

Answers below.




Next question: Name the Hymn or cite the first verse...

(Insert theme from "Final Jeopardy")

Did I forget to mention that you needed to pull out your 1940 Hymnal?

If you can't find yours, here is a link to an on-line version.

If you don't want to go there, here are the answers:

12 O come, all ye faithful

382 O where are kings and empires now

268 I bind unto myself today

#382 is one we don't sing anymore because it got left out of the 1982 Hymnal.

I can't imagine why...

O where are kings and empires now
of old, that went and came?
but Lord, thy Church is praying yet,
a thousand years the same.

We mark her goodly battlements
and her foundations strong;
we hear, within, the solemn voice
of her unending song.

For not like kingdoms of the world
thy holy Church, O God,
though earthquake shocks are threatening her,
and tempests are abroad.

Unshaken as eternal hills,
immovable she stands,
a mountain that shall fill the earth,
a house not made by hands.

Words: Arthur Cleveland Coxe, 1839

Since the Bishop in the film was preoccupied with fundraising for the construction of a cathedral, the last line of the hymn might be the reason why the director chose that particular hymn.

I wonder why "O where are kings and empires now" got left on the cutting room floor during the 1982 revision of the hymnal?

I can only guess that the references to "earthquake shocks" that "are threatening her," and "tempests are abroad" struck too close to home. Or maybe "the solemn voice of her unending song" was not thought to be clappy happy enough to reach the current generation. Or perhaps the idea of "goodly battlements" was an image the post-Vietnam era wished to reject because it sounded too militaristic.

Maybe they thought new hymns would be a better box office draw. (Oops!)

Or maybe they thought that hands could build a proper house. (In which case they didn't watch the movie).

I have a hard time understanding the workings of the inner circles that decide these things, but every few decades we get a new Hymnal, a new Prayer Book, but why?

In pursuit of truth, the wise follow the money.

Maybe the earthly desire of the Clergy Pension Fund, which profits from the sales of new hymnals and prayer books, is the impetus behind the need for revisions.

The film instructs us that the pursuit of money to the neglect of our loved ones is not always wise.

In pursuit of "The Bishop's Wife" the wise tune to TCM on Jan 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm.


  1. Anonymous2:25 AM

    The name Arthur Coxe was immediately familiar, and thinking he had been a PECUSA bishop (made familiar due to entering his name and succession information into my American Succession weblog), I checked. Sure enough, he was 2nd bishop of Western New York.
    He was quite the writer. The Wikipedia article is illuminating.
    Interesting note that when he died in 1896, the two hymns in the PECUSA hymnal did not include the one you noted from the movie hymnboard! So the 1940 Hymnal committee had to choose to include it.
    See the Project Canterbury webpage here:

    My wife looked for a copy of the movie for two years before finding it finally online. One of our favorites.

  2. Could it be that the hymn speaks of truth and the eternity of the Bride of Christ?

    As for ever changing translations and such, your "follow the money" is a good answer. The Bible and most hymns are in the public domain, so there have to be substantial changes in order to obtain copyright status and allow exclusive sales.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of intellectual property!


  3. Rob+,

    Thanks for that. I wonder if any of our current crop of purple shirted chart toppers will try their hand at hymn composition.


    While I understand the need for composers to get paid, something inside me says that I should not write or compose something dedicated to the glory of God and ask for personal financial reward.

    For that reason, this blog shall remain a no "profit" zone.

  4. Cato said,

    Perhaps a "no prophet" zone?