Skip to comments.‘Amazing Grace’ and the task of living our faith more deeply
Posted on 02/28/2007 12:15:50 PM PST by Frank Sheed
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
was blind, but now I see.”
Whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, nearly every American Christian knows John Newton’s beautiful hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Believers have sung it for more than 200 years. Its words and melody speak to one of the deepest instincts of the human heart: the need for deliverance. Like St. Augustine before him, Newton discovered that “our hearts are restless until they rest in (God).”
A former slave trader, Newton converted to Christianity during a storm on the Atlantic. He later became one of the leading Christian evangelizers of his day in England as an Anglican priest. But he never forgot his role in the slave trade. He spent the rest of his life repenting for it and preaching against it. He understood from direct experience that real personal conversion must have broader consequences. If we claim to love God, then we need to prove it with our actions. Slavery, Newton saw, violated human dignity in a profound way.
Newton did more than write a memorable hymn, however. His life had a huge impact on others — among them the son of a wealthy merchant named William Wilberforce. Like Newton, Wilberforce underwent his own Christian conversion. He took Newton’s anti-slavery message into Parliament in 1789, where he became the leading voice against slavery for the next 18 years. Largely because of Wilberforce, England abolished the slave trade throughout its empire in 1807 — the same year Newton died.
Last week, the story of William Wilberforce and John Newton opened in theaters throughout the United States in the new film by Walden Media, “Amazing Grace.” It’s a compelling movie; a beautifully written, acted and directed portrait of a man — Wilberforce — on fire with his faith and its consequences. Inspired by Newton, Wilberforce literally reshaped the conscience of the modern world. Walden Media is the same company that brought the wonderful “Chronicles of Narnia” to the screen in 2005. It’s easy to recommend a film like “Amazing Grace” because the story is so powerful and so very well done. But it’s also an ideal source of personal reflection as we begin our own journey of Lent.
As long as we have breath, God offers us the chance for repentance and conversion, and through them, a path to eternal life in Jesus Christ. St. Paul, St. Augustine and St. Ignatius all took that path. So did William Wilberforce and a self-described former slaver and “wretch” like John Newton. In fact, every Christian man or woman who takes the Gospel seriously must walk the same road. Lent is the season every year when the Church encourages us to repentance and conversion in a special way. We urgently need to use this time well.
Fortunately, Colorado Catholics have a uniquely fruitful way to deepen their experience of Lent this year that fits very well with the message of “Amazing Grace.”
On March 9, we’ll open the annual Living the Catholic Faith conference in Denver. This year’s theme is especially powerful and rooted in Jesus’ first words from the Gospel of Mark: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The speakers and workshops this year are outstanding for both the English and Spanish tracks: Jonathan Reyes, Curtis Martin, Juan Carlos Munoz, Tim Gray, Jesse Romero, Marissa Esparza, Terry Polakavic, Father Jorge Rodriguez, Father Andreas Hock, Alex Jones, Edward Sri, George Weigel and many others. This is one of the finest and most important events on the calendar of our local Church every year. I enthusiastically encourage every teacher, catechist, parent and pastor to take part — as I will.
The story of “Amazing Grace” teaches a vital lesson for every believer. Every true Christian conversion has consequences that go far beyond the individual. A Christian life, lived well, helps to change the world in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s our vocation as Catholics. And Lent is the time to claim it.
Information on the Living the Catholic Faith Conference, March 9-10, can be found on the Web at www.archden.org (click on the Living the Catholic Faith Conference link). Or send an e-mail to email@example.com, or telephone 303-715-3260. The film “Amazing Grace” is playing in theaters nationwide and is highly recommended.
Superb movie ping!
Looks good - we'll have to rent the DVD when it comes out.
This is one I'm gonna see. And, I heard the last Will Smith movie was really good too. I think I'll get that one on Netflix.
The Will Smith movie is excellent! My husband and I went to see it about 2.5 weeks ago and we both loved it. Very positive message and very well acted.
It's unusual to have more than one good movie available!
Pursuit of Happyness is what it is called. I have heard rave reviews from friends. I missed it in the theater but am going to make sure I see it.
I saw the movie and loved it. I highly recommend it!
I will be buying the DVD when it comes out.
That is so true! I didn't know who won anything with the Academy Awards until the following day. Barbara Nicolosi and another woman (memory cells are now inert) were on "The World Over Live" on EWTN last Friday and really trashed the movies being considered this year.
I remember Alan Arkin in "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!" and he was really great. So he wins an Oscar finally as a foul-mouthed old dude who teaches a young girl to strip.
"The Russians are Coming!" was my mom's favorite movie for many years.
Adam Arkin was a recurring character on "Northern Exposure" for several seasons.
Netflix available on March 27, 2007. Have it in the queue.
And who can forget Theodore Bikel? He made the perfect phlegmatic USSR sub captain!
Since this thread is on "Amazing Grace," have you seen what they've done to it in the Gather or one of the other Oregon Press Hymnals? They've changed the words horribly! The word, "wretch" does not appear! Groan....
Yes, I always make a point of singing the correct words to everything, as loudly as possible. People stare!
A friend of mine, a Christian, wears a T-shirt that says (paraphrasing slightly), "I'm the wretch that the song talks about." Oh well, probably few people knew what it really meant anyway. Now, fewer and fewer.
It's probably too harsh and politically incorrect for non-believers who can't experience the sense of gratitude for what Jesus did for them.
It is also refreshingly beautiful language which won't pass muster in the PC culture of today.
OT: I wonder when they will remove words like "wench" from Shakespeare?
That reminds me of one of my favorite Flannery O'Connor quotes:
You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.
Flannery OConnor, novelist.
Hate the hymn; love the message.
I've always sort of liked the hymn and I get teary when the music only is played on bagpipes.
"No authority has specifically decreed that Amazing Grace is not to be sung, but Church norms require that hymns be doctrinal correct and Amazing Grace has a wrong theology of justification, and therefore is incompatible with Catholic liturgy. The liturgy must express the Catholic faith, and it clearly does not, despite its popularity." Colin B. Donovan, STL
'The grace of which the hymn is speaking is not "actual grace," which moves us to conversion, or the grace of faith, which moves us to believe, though not apart from the command of our own will accepting Christ's teaching, but justifying, sanctifying, grace. It is the grace by which we are saved by faith, as Protestants understand that.
The problem is the implication that "the hour" in which grace is infused, is when "I believed." Catholic doctrine is that faith given preparatory to baptism does not confer grace, but that baptism infuses sanctifying grace, charity, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the infused moral virtues, into the soul. A doctrinally incorrect hymn should not be used in the liturgy. If "when we sing we pray twice," when we sing such a hymn we err twice. This is not a good thing for Catholics to do." Colin B. Donovan, STL
'Sadly, it is true they are sung, as are others, all the time.
Amazing Grace is coming out of the Protestant theological tradition and reflects its emphasis on sola gratia, grace alone. In verse one the text says "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!" While this sounds very humble, and by itself appears inoffensive to Catholic ears, in light of the theological tradition it comes from it suggests the complete depravity of man which was at the root of Luther's theology. Catholic teaching rejects that. Human nature is wounded, but remains capable of natural good acts, that is, acts of natural virtue, both moral and intellectual, as opposed to supernatural virtue (which IS a gift from God).
In keeping with that the Catholic must also reject verse two, which asserts that sanctifying grace is given with belief. "How precious did that grace appear,The hour I first believed." While a certain natural faith in the credibility of revelation disposes the person to request entrance into Christ's Church and to desire the "Amazing Grace" of Justification, sanctifying grace (actual justice), the grace of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the supernatural moral virtues (without which a meritorious act, as opposed to an act of the natural man cannot be done) and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (which perfect man) are communicated at Baptism, NOT "the hour I first believed." Granted a Catholic could read into that the hour of baptism, when supernatural faith is actually communicated, but that is not the intended meaning of the hymn, which reflects the theology that one must only "believe on the Lord Jesus" and one is granted salvation. Implied in the balance of the verses is the doctrine of Blessed Assurance, that "once saved" one's salvation is assured - a doctrine at serious odds with Scripture, and therefore Catholic teaching, and contrary to the good of man.
Since there is an obligation to use only doctrinally sound hymns in the Liturgy, Amazing Grace is at best equivocal and at worse seriously contrary to the Catholic theology of grace.
As for "Mary did you know", a similar situation pertains. Its coming out of a theological tradition that tends to reduce Mary to an ordinary mother and wife, and eliminates her perpetual virginity and sinlessness. While the Church has not formally taught that Mary had detailed knowledge of Her Son's future, Our Lady would at minimum have known the Scriptures and what the Messiah would do and suffer. She certainly knew, from the Annunciation, Who her Son was and what His mission would be. In addition, a number of saints have had highly developed mystical lives from an early age (4, 5, 6 etc.), so it would be incongruous to suggest that Mary did not have mystical insights into the Scriptures, or even private revelations regarding the Divine plan. Indeed, later Catholic mystics affirm this conclusion of logic.
Particularly troublesome is the verse, "Did you know that your baby boy, has come to make you new; this child that you delivered, will soon deliver you." It at least calls into question the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which teaches that in virtue of the Redemption, Mary was conceived without original sin. This occured about 44 years prior to Calvary. So, while this verse correctly alludes to her need for redemption (in the sense understood by the Church as preservation from falling), it places it in the future, rather than the past (with regard to original sin and personal sin), and the present (she was also preserved from falling at every moment of her life).
So, both songs are unfitting for Catholic use, as they at minimum call into question Catholic teaching, and if understood according to the lyricists' intention, teach contrary to it.' Colin B. Donovan, STL
Thank you to AA.Cunningham, for posting the explanation of why this hymn does not conform to Catholic doctrine.
" Due to the Calvinistic nature of the lyrics, "Amazing Grace" is incompatible with the Catholic Mass and should never even be sung in a Catholic Church, not ot mention during Mass. Unfortunately many poorly catechized Catholics have never learned the theology contained within the lyrics. As explained numerous times by Colin Donovan, STL at EWTN: "
Following VCII, the hymn was introduced to the Latin Mass and grew in popularity. It is often played at the funerals of Catholic police and firefighters, both of which have bagpipe bands. Like freeper Salvation, I believe this hymn, though beautiful, should be abolished from all Catholic liturgies, and a clear explanation of its theological disconnect, provided to Catholics, as a form of education.
I don't recall ever hearing it played at a mass and generally when I have heard it sung it is usually only first verse (no mention of the Blessed Mother); however, I can't see how anyone isn't moved to hear it on bagpipes.
I like the bagpipe version as well. Perhaps my weakness can be attributed to my mother's side of the family, which was Protestant.:) She converted in her late teens.
Thanks for your explanation, A.A. Cunningham as I am one who decries what we have done to Catholic hymnody. I prefer Latin Chant every time or a gorgeous hymn like "Adoro Te Devote" or "Pange Lingua."
I don't believe I ever said I heard this at a Catholic Mass--I haven't. It is printed in the hymnals, however, and the lyrics are changed from those we have all "heard" at some point. It was this to which I was referring. The whole thing of "copy but copy badly" and not for the purpose of theology. The entire "Here I Am Lord!" is the "gay" anthem, for example, as the Hauugens school will freely admit.
As for the tune on bagpipes, I'd love to have bagpipes at my funeral. I would accept "Amazing Grace" because of its beautiful melody. It is a beautiful song. The lyrics would not be sung. "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" would be my personal choice, however. I'm sure a piper can do that.
I asked someone who plays bagpipes about this and I was told that the music/tune is most likely a Irish or Scottish bagpipe tune that was already in existence before the the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" was put to it. So, the reason that it sounds so good on bagpipe is that it was written for that purpose.
As you said, I would love to have bagpipes at my funeral and my feeling is that any singing will always detract from the sound of the bagpipes. My brother had bagpipes playing traditional Irish bagpipe music at his wedding and reception and it was very impressive.