Hymn Story: The Church’s One Foundation

samuel_john_stoneIn 1860, a volume entitled “Essays and Reviews” caused controversy in the Anglican Church. It questioned the historical accuracy of Scripture. A few years later this idea was furthered by John William Colenso (1814 -1883), the bishop of Natal in South Africa, who published The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined (1862-63). This book denied that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, called Joshua a myth, called the books of Chronicles fictitious and disputed the accuracy of Christ’s statements about Moses.

The bishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Bishop Gray, supported by 40 other bishops deposed Colenso for his heresy. A battle ensued, as Colenso refused to submit. A court confirmed his deposition but Colenso appealed to a secular court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and he was reinstated. This created a schism in the South African church that lasted until Colenso’s death.

During this time the Reverend Samuel John Stone, one of Bishop Gray’s supporters, was concerned about people saying the Apostles Creed in a perfunctory manner, saying the words without a clear understanding of what they were saying. He wrote a series of twelve hymns, each explaining a section of the creed and defending the fact of the inspiration of Scripture. “The Church’s One Foundation” explains the ninth article – “I believe in the Holy Catholic (Universal) church, the communion of the saints.” This series of hymns was printed in Lyra Fidelium (Lyre of the Faithful) in 1866.

The controversy between Colenso and Gray is referenced in this hymn in stanza 3, “Though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale” and stanza 4, “With a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder by heresies distressed.”

Originally this hymn had 7 stanzas. In 1868 this hymn was included in Hymns, Ancient and Modernwith 5 stanzas, omitting the original third stanza and combining the second halves of the sixth and seventh stanzas as stanza 5. Most hymnals use that version. In 1885, three more stanzas were added to the original hymn, giving a total of 10 stanzas, to be used for an ecclesiastical processional hymn in the Salisbury Cathedral.

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