Above: Saint John on Patmos
HEINRICH THEOBALD SCHENCK (APRIL 10, 1656-APRIL 11, 1727)
German Lutheran Pastor and Hymn Writer
Sometimes, during my voyages of historical discovery through hymnals, I find the name of a hymn writer about which little information is available. Yet that data does impress me. Such is the case with Heinrich Theobald Schenck (1656-1727).
Schenck’s life, as best I can determine, was that of a scholar-pastor. Born near Hesse (in modern-day western Germany) in 1656, Schenck studied at the University of Giessen (also in modern-day western Germany). In 1676 he joined the faculty of his alma mater as a professor of the classics. Thirteen years later, Schenck became a pastor at that city. He tended to his flock for the rest of his life and wrote at least one hymn.
That hymn, which dates to 1719, exists in English translations. One follows:
Who are these, like stars appearing,
These before God’s throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing:
Who are all this glorious band?
Alleluia! hark they sing,
Praising loud their heavenly King.
Who are these, of dazzling brightness,
These in God’s own truth arrayed,
Clad in robes of purest whiteness,
Robes whose lustre ne’er shall fade,
Ne’er be touched by time’s rude hand–
Whence comes all this glorious band?
These are they who have contended
For their Savior’s honour long,
Wrestling on till life was ended,
Following not the sinful throng;
These, who well the fight sustained,
Triumph through the Lamb have gained.
These are they whose hearts were riven,
Sore with woe and anguish tried,
Who in prayer full oft have striven
With the God they glorified;
Now, their painful conflict o’er,
God has bid them weep no more.
These like priests have watched and waited,
Offering up to Christ their will;
Soul and body consecrated,
Day and night to serve Him still:
Now in God’s most holy place,
Blest they stand before His face.
–Translated by Frances Elizabeth Cox (1812-1897)
I ponder Schenck and recall a portion of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:
Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who…gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore;
they were wise in their words in instruction;
those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses into writing….
all of these were honored in their generations,
and were the pride of their times.
Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as thought they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
But they also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten….
–Verses 1-10, New Revised Standard Version
Schenck’s name survives, as do a few facts and a hymn. That is more than I can say or write honestly about most people. But God knows everything; I am glad that someone does.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 12, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT, BISHOP OF ROME
Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:
We bless your name for inspiring Heinrich Theobald Schenck
and all those who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;
through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Chronicles 29:14b-19
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
John 21:15-17, 24-25
–Adapted slightly from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728