Eternal Father

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
           Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
           For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked'st on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
           Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
           For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
           Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
           For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
           Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
           Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

William Whiting (1825 - 1878)


Initially composed as a poem by William Whiting a teacher from Winchester, England, for a student who was about to travel by water for the United States. Eternal Father is also officially known as the Navy Hymn and the lyrics are an endorsement of the Nicene Creed. Certainly the writer does not try to argue the various cases of the Arians, Donatists, Macedonians and so on, but the principles of the Council of Nice are inherent in the structure of the poem. The melody was composed by fellow Englishman, the Reverend John Bacchus Dykes an Episcopalian clergyman was published in 1861.

Eternal Father was the favorite hymn of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral in Hyde Park, New York, in April 1945. The Navy Band also played it in 1963 as President John F. Kennedy's body was carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Roosevelt had served as Secretary of the Navy and Kennedy was a PT Boat Commander in World War II.

With its special appeal to seafaring men it has been sung on ships of the Royal Navy of the British Commonwealth and has been translated into French and as a result in more recent years, has become a part of French naval tradition.It might interest you to know that the first verse of Eternal Father has been customarily sung at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland as the musical benediction to conclude each Sunday’s Divine Services since 1879.

Intercession for those at Sea

More commonly known as the "Navy hymn" because it is sung by several branches of navies around the world, today it honors the men and women in all branches of the Armed Forces including astronauts that have given their lives in the service of their country. In its article Eternal Father Strong to Save, the Library of Congress says that:

    Reverend Whiting's ode "Eternal Father" drew inspiration from both the Old and New Testaments. His verses referenced familiar texts such as Matthew 8:26 ("He was asleep... Then he rose and rebuked the seas, and there was a great calm") and Psalm 65, ("who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations"). Whiting also cited as an impetus to the work his survival during a ferocious Mediterranean storm.

    Rev. Dykes is also known for the composition of such popular hymns as Nearer, My God, to Thee and Lead, Kindly Light. Dykes based the tune for Eternal Father on an earlier tune he had written entitled Melita (the ancient name for the Mediterranean island of Malta). Malta is associated with the biblical shipwreck of the Apostle Paul (Acts 28:1).

    In 1879, Lieutenant Commander Charles Jackson Train (later a Rear Admiral), then director of the Midshipmen's Choir, instituted the practice of singing the first verse of Eternal Father at the conclusion of the U.S. Naval Academy's Sunday Services. Because of this practice Eternal Father came to be called The Navy Hymn, became an integral part of Navy tradition, and gained increasing popularity among U.S. Navy personnel.

Other names that it goes by are the Royal Navy Hymn or the United States Navy Hymn, Eternal Father and sometimes by the last line of its first verse, For those in peril on the sea

Additionally the opening verse refers to is God's forbidding the waters to submerge the earth as portrayed in Psalm 104. The third stanza is an allusion the Holy Spirit role in the creation of the earth in the Book of Genesis, while the last verse is adds a reference to Psalm 107.

The words have been changed several times since the original hymn by the Reverend Whiting was first published.” The Protestant Episcopal version “Wikipedia notes that, “ In 1940, the Protestant Episcopal Church altered three verses of the hymn to include travel on the land in the second verse (referencing Psalm 50) and in the air in the third verse (again referencing Genesis). The 1982 Hymnal, which is in current use by most Episcopal congregations in the USA, has further revised this version (as Hymn #579) with opening line "Almighty Father, strong to save..." by adding the word "space" to the final verse, so it ends "...praise from space, air, land, and sea" (because by 1982 space travel was a reality); this 1982 Hymnal also has a more traditional water-only version (as Hymn #608) with opening line "Eternal Father, strong to save..."

Strong as a lion, pure as a dove. -Christina Rossetti

There are now many different verses to plea for God's protection for persons in different circumstances, including explorers and astronauts. Other texts from a publication of the Bureau of Naval Personnel includes additional verses like:

    Eternal Father, grant, we pray
    To all Marines, both night and day,
    The courage, honor, strength, and skill
    Their land to serve, thy law fulfill;
    Be thou the shield forevermore
    From every peril to the Corps.

    --J.E. Seim, 1966

    O God, protect the women who,
    in service, faith in thee renew;
    O guide devoted hands of skill
    And bless their work within thy will;
    Inspire their lives that they may be
    Examples fair on land and sea.

    -- Lines 1-4, Merle E. Strickland, 1972,
    and adapted by James D. Shannon, 1973.
    Lines 5-6, Beatrice M. Truitt, 1948

    Eternal Father, King of birth,
    Who didst create the heaven and earth,
    And bid the planets and the sun
    Their own appointed orbits run;
    O hear us when we seek they grace
    For those who soar through outer space.

    --J.E. Volonte, 1961

There are a number of movies and television shows that have made use of the familiar tune. Most of them naturally deal with the US Navy like Crimson Tide and JAG. It has also been used to spotlight Naval Aviation in The Right Stuff and took on a more civilian face for The Perfect Storm The hymn has also been performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford as a unique highlight on his television program produced on a U.S. Naval carrier to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of U.S. naval aviation. More recently it was used in the movie Titanic. A bit of trivia that you may find interesting is that the adaptation sung in the movie is the 1940 Protestant Episcopal version, which hadn’t been written yet since the Titanic had sank in eighteen years earlier.

William Whiting's responses to requests from publishers inquiring about paying a copyright fee for the publication of any of his works were usually met with his usual sentiment, "I have always given not sold the right to use that as well as any other of my hymns which have been asked for, and have refused all offers to purchase that or any other right... The only profit I have had is the satisfaction of knowing that I have written anything which has proved of service in Divine Worship." (from Ian Bradley's Abide With Me: The World of Victorian Hymns.) Likewise for Dykes, of whom Bradley explains: "Dykes was happy for his tunes to be used in hymn-books of all denominations and rarely, if ever, asked for payment."

Sources:

Collections . . . Central Texas Sailor
Accessed August 30 2000.

http://olimu.com/Readings/EternalFather.htm
Accessed March 28, 2006.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_Father_Strong_to_Save
Accessed March 28, 2006.

http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq53-1.htm
Accessed March 28, 2006.

http://memory.loc.gov/cocoon/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200000005/default.html
(Public domain document)
Accessed March 28, 2006.

Lori Arsenault
Accessed August 30 2000.

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner
Accessed August 30 2000.

in memory of the young men who perished at sea on the Russian Nuclear Submarine Kursk

CST Approved

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