I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art

Salutation á Jésus-Christ
Anonymous, 1545; translated by Elizabeth Lee Smith, 1868
Addressed to Christ
I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,Jer. 50:34; Ruth 3:9; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12
my only trust and Savior of my heart,Ps. 20:7; John 6:68; Acts 4:12
who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;1 Pet. 2:21; 3:18
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.Luke 10:41–42
Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,Heb. 4:16; Rev. 1:5
reigning omnipotent in ev’ry place:Matt. 28:18; Heb. 1:3
so come, O King, and our whole being sway;2 Cor. 5:14
shine on us with the light of thy pure day.Eph. 5:14
Thou art the Life, by which alone we live,John 11:25; 14:6; Gal. 2:20
and all our substance and our strength receive;Eph. 6:10; Col. 1:16–17
oh, comfort us in death’s approaching hour,Ps. 23:4
strong-hearted then to face it by thy pow’r.1 Cor. 1:8
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,Matt. 11:29; 2 Cor. 10:1
no harshness hast thou and no bitterness:1 Pet. 2:23
make us to taste the sweet grace found in theePs. 34:8; 119:103; 1 Pet. 2:3
and ever stay in thy sweet unity.Eph. 4:3, 13
Our hope is in no other save in thee;1 Tim. 1:1
our faith is built upon thy promise free;Prov. 30:5; Heb. 11:9–11
oh, grant to us such stronger hope and sureMark 9:24
that we can boldly conquer and endure.Eph. 6:16; 1 John 5:4

This hymn, at least in its original sixteenth-century context, was likely meant as a Protestant revision of the common Marian prayers “Ave Maria” and “Salva Regina,” whose texts would still have been fresh on the lips of Strasbourg parishioners re-learning their faith. Because of the somewhat incoherent originals upon which this hymn is based, it can seem tangential at times. A close look shows that threads of cohesion have been knit into its warp and woof, making it better and more evangelical than its points of origin.

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae:Hail, O Queen, Mother of mercy,
Vita dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.our life, our sweetness, and our hope. Hail!
Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae.To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes,To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and
in hac lacrimarum valle.weeping in this valley of tears.
Eja ergo, Advocata nostra,Hasten therefore, our advocate,
illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.and turn your merciful eyes toward us.
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,And show us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb,
nobis post hoc exilium ostende.after this, our exile.
O clemens: O pia:O merciful, O pious,
O dulcis Virgo Maria.O sweet Virgin Mary.

The sorrowful words of the Salve Regina (which in that prayer seem unjustified by context) appear in the first stanza of “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” but here it is Christ’s suffering, not ours, on which we focus. And because he suffers, our suffering is taken away. We need not, as the Roman prayer has it, “send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears” for Christ has suffered on our behalf. The “Regina” (“queen”) of the Roman Catholic prayer, prompts the opening of the second stanza of the hymn, but here it is Christ who is king, and king, not of some undisclosed domain (as is the case with Mary in the prayer), but of everything. Because of this all-reaching kingship, we can confidently ask him to sway our whole being—whose existence is already under his dominion. Taking cues from John’s gospel, the third stanza describes Christ as our life (just as Mary is described in the Salve Regina). And just as he is our life, he is our comfort at life’s end, unlike Mary, who is unwisely asked in the Ave Maria to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

The fourth stanza is prompted by the “sweetness” and the “sweet Virgin” of the Salve Regina. The conceit is beautifully coherent here where its original offered but tangential assertions. The fourth stanza describes Christ in terms befitting a prize wine, and just as we realize that it actually is a metaphor on tasting, we are singing “make us to taste. . .” clarifying the biblical image for us. In the final stanza we confess to Christ that he is our hope (not Mary, as the Salve Regina puts it). But no sooner do we confess Christ as our hope, than we ask him to strengthen it. The hymn does not merely borrow from the familiar Roman Catholic prayers, it makes biblical and coherent what was heterodox and fragmented.

The sense behind the hymn’s opening phrase, “I greet thee,” will now be clear. In both the Salve Regina and the Ave Maria, the prayers begin with a paraphrase of Gabriel’s words to Mary in Luke 1:28—“Greetings!” But a direct greeting of Christ occurs only once in Scripture—from the mouth of Judas (Matt. 26:49). After the resurrection it is Christ who greets his disciples, not they who greet him. So how, then, did the early reformer who wrote this hymn justify his direct transference of the “ave” or “salve” (both rendered “greetings”) from the Roman Catholic prayers into an address to Christ? Christ’s own words, in John 15:15, justify the choice best, for there Christ reminds us that we are no longer servants but friends. Christ has already greeted us with His Spirit so we must now, with boldness, return his greeting. We rightly take up the words of this hymn, then, and greet Christ, whose friendship with us is obtained by the work described in its first line—redemption. When we make “melody in our hearts to God” with this as our song, we greet Christ as the crowd did in Mark 9:15, who came to him with a petition for help. Perhaps with this in view, the hymn moves back and forth between greeting Christ with a list of his attributes, and petitioning him for help in the spiritual battle. The first three lines of the first stanza and the first two of the second, third, fourth, and fifth are dedicated to the former. The remaining lines are dedicated to the latter.

There are good reasons, in addition to its sixteenth-century origin, for associating the tune TOULON with this text. The melody is gentle and predictable enough to describe “the true and perfect gentleness” of the fourth stanza. Its four phrases are neatly related. The first two are arches and the second two are inverted arches. The second phrase is nearly a direct repeat of the first, only transposed up a third. The fourth phrase—in the contour if not the rhythm—is nearly a direct repeat of the third, only transposed down a third. The tune’s easy organization makes it singable and memorable. But not only is it a good tune, it is a good tune for this text. The first three phrases are all given the same rhythm. The fourth phrase, however, has the interior measures of this same rhythm switched, so that where we have come to expect two half notes, we get four quarters instead. The result is an unexpected surge in motion in the last line of the tune, perfect for setting the urgent petitions of each stanza’s last line.