Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
Psalm 42:1,2
Words Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153
Music by John B. Dykes, 1823-1876

This hymn comes from the height of the Middle Ages, a period of history often scornfully called "The Dark Ages." The spiritual and moral darkness of the Church reached a new blackness. The institution founded by Christ some 1,000 years prior was for the most part degenerate and corrupt. The moral standards of many of its prominent leaders were characterized by utter disgrace and shame. Bernard was born to a noble family at Fontaine in Burgundy, France; his father was a knight and his mother a person of radiant goodness. At an early age young Bernard showed a bent for piety and scholarship. With his natural charms and talents Bernard had many opportunities open to him for a successful secular life. However, while still in his early twenties, he chose the life of a monk at the monastery of Citeaux. Within three years his forceful personality, talents and leadership qualities were recognized, and he was asked to form other branches of this order throughout Europe. Within Bernard's lifetime 162 other such monasteries were founded. One of these new monasteries was at Clairvaux, France, where Bernard was made its abbot or head. Here he remained until his death in 1153.

It is generally agreed that Bernard of Clairvaux was the greatest of the medieval leaders of this period. He is said to have represented the best of monastic life of his time. In the sixteenth century Martin Luther wrote of Bernard that "he was the best monk that ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together." Bernard's influence was soon felt throughout Europe. It is said that he commanded kings, emperors, and prelates, and they obeyed him. In 1146 he was commissioned by the pope to lead a second preaching crusade against the Moslems. With his eloquence and strong preaching, great crowds followed him. One of the conditions for those joining the Crusade was a personal conversion experience. It is recorded that multitudes of vicious men were changed through his preaching and carried a cross unashamedly as a symbol of their commitment to Christ and this Crusade. Bernard wrote a number of books, chiefly on such subjects as church government, monasticism, and other church-related topics. It is generally thought that he wrote a long 192 line poem entitled "Dulcis Jesu Memorial" ("Joyful Rhythm on the Name of Jesus"). From this poem Edward Caswall in the nineteenth century translated portions of the lines for this hymn text. Bernard is also credited with the text for "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" (101 More Hymn Stories, No. 70).

Edward Caswall is considered to be one of the important nineteenthcentury English translators of ancient hymnody. He was born in Yately, Hampshire, England, on July 15, 1814. Though ordained to the Anglican Church, he became strongly involved in the Oxford Movement that began in England in the 1830's. Finally, in 1847, Caswall resigned his Anglican pastorate at Stratford and was received into the fellowship of the Roman Catholic Church. Following the death of his wife in 1849, he was ordained as a Catholic Priest. His most significant publication was Lyra Catholic, 1849, which contained 197 translations of Latin hymns from the Roman Breviary and other sources. This translation was part of that collection. Caswall is also the translator of the well-known German hymn, "May Jesus Christ be Praised". The tune, "St. Agnes," was composed by John B. Dykes, who wrote more than 300 hymn tunes, most of them still in use today.

Other hymns by John B. Dykes include "Holy, Holy, Holy", "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say", "Lead, Kindly Light", "Eternal Father, Strong to Save", and "O for a Closer Walk With God".

Quoted from "101 Hymn Stories" by Kenneth Osbeck. Kregel Publishers, P.O. Box 2607, Grand Rapids, MI 49501, 1982.
Used by permission - duplication without permission is a violation of U.S. copyright law.

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