All People That on Earth Do Dwell (Hymn Story)

 

 

In the Reformation, there was a difference of opinion between Luther and Calvin concerning music for congregational singing.  Luther advocated the use of hymns and carols, and even wrote a number of those.  Calvin was concerned that hymns not clearly based on scripture might introduce false doctrine into the church, and so he advocated the singing of Psalms.  He said that there were "no better songs nor more appropriate to the purpose (of congregational singing) than the Psalms of David which the Holy Spirit made and spoke through him."

 

Calvin, of course, was based in Geneva, Switzerland.  In 1551, a Psalter was published in Geneva that included a song based on Psalm 134 and set to a tune by Louis Bourgeois.  In 1561, the Anglo-Genevan Psalter (an English-language Psalter) was published in Geneva that included "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" set to that earlier tune by Bourgeois. 

 

The words to "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" were written by William Kethe, a Scottish clergyman who had fled the persecutions of Queen Mary.  His exile took him first to Frankfurt, Germany and thence to Geneva.  Kethe helped with the translation of the Geneva Bible in 1560 and contributed 25 psalms to the Anglo-Genevan Psalter. 

 

Kethe left Geneva for England in 1561, and took a copy of the Anglo-Genevan Psalter with him –– thereby introducing this music to the English.  A number of his psalms found their way into the English Psalter of 1562, which was published by Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins.  All of his psalms were included in the Scottish Psalter two years later.

 

"All People That on Earth Do Dwell" is based on Psalm 100.  That Psalm is five verses in length, and the song is four verses.  The first verse of the song is based on verses 1 and 2 of the psalm, and each of the subsequent verses of the song is based on one verse of the psalm.  It is probably the oldest hymn in common use today.

 

The tune by Bourgeois is known today as "Old Hundredth," and is one of the best-known tunes in modern hymnals –– in large measure because it is also sung to the Doxology, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."

 

Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan