Old Hundredth

It’s no surprise that as the printing press got rolling in early modern Europe, the new publishing industry’s most important book was the Bible - but which book was the second-most important?  The answer is that sixteenth-century runaway bestseller, The Genevan Psalter, one of the first collections of psalms written in vernacular languages (originally in French, but then English and many other languages) and set to newly-composed tunes for popular singing.

And popular it was: the book spread like wildfire across Europe, particularly among Protestants.  For hundreds of years, the prevailing musical practice in Christian churches had been for sacred texts to be sung in Latin by choirs of clergy, monks, or monks-in-training.  Imagine singing - for the first time in your life - words from scripture in your mother tongue, and doing so with the entire congregation!

One of the most popular and enduring tunes from The Genevan Psalter was “Old Hundredth,” so-called because it was a setting of Psalm 100.  In 1674, English clergyman Thomas Ken wrote a hymn that included a nifty, trinitarian verse that began, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow…”  That verse, set to the “Old Hundredth” tune, became known as “The Doxology” (from the Greek doxa, “praise,” and logos, “word”) - and the combination of text and tune is today one of the best-known songs in all of Christian music.

If you listen closely, you can still hear the song ringing through those sixteenth-century stone cathedrals, sung not by specialist choirs but by everyone: men, women, and children (and surely along the way few cats dressed up in their Sunday best!).  In that spirit, here’s Butterflyfish’s version, an homage to all those generations of singers - and at the same time to the song’s vision of “all creatures here below” praising God!