580. O Perfect Love

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1 O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
lowly we kneel in prayer before thy throne,
that theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
whom thou in sacred vow dost join in one.

2 O perfect Life, be thou their full assurance
of tender charity and steadfast faith,
of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
with childlike trust that fears no pain or death.

3 Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife;
grant them the vision of the glorious morrow
that will reveal eternal love and life.

Text Information
First Line: O perfect Love, all human thought transcending
Title: O Perfect Love
Author: Dorothy F. Gurney (1883, alt.)
Meter: 11 10 11 10
Language: English
Publication Date: 1982
Scripture: ; ; ;
Topic: Family; Love: Our Love for Others; Marriage (4 more...)
Tune Information
Composer: Sir Joseph Barnby (1889)
Meter: 11 10 11 10
Key: E♭ Major

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Matt. 19:4-6, Eph.3:19, 1 Cor. 13:7, 13

One Sunday evening in 1884 at Pull Wyke, Cumberland, England, Dorothy Francis Blomfield (later Gurney; b. London, England, 1858; d. Kensington, London, 1932) wrote this text for her sister's wedding. The hymn tune STRENGTH AND STAY by John B. Dykes (PHH 147) was her sister's favorite, but that hymn's text (by Ellerton and Hort) included the line "the brightness of a holy death-bed," which made it inappropriate for a wedding. So her sister challenged her to write a new text to fit that tune.

At a later time Gurney said:

After about 15 minutes I came back with the hymn, "O Perfect Love," and there and then we all sang it to the tune of "O Strength and Stay." . . . The writing of it was no effort whatever after the initial idea came to me of the two-fold aspect of a perfect union, love and life, and I have always felt that God helped me to write it.

The text was published in the 1889 Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern with a reference to Ruth 1:17. Because of its use at the wedding of Princess Louise and the Duke of Fife that same year, it gained much popularity. Thereafter its place in many hymnals and at many weddings was assured.

"O Perfect Love" is a prayer that Christ's love and life may infuse a wedding couple's new life together. The text, however, would be stronger if it contained a direct address to God or Christ in more customary biblical terms. In 1897, several years after her sister's wedding, Dorothy Blomfield also married. She and her husband, Gerald Gurney, were both children of Anglican clergymen. Initially an actor, Gerald was later ordained in the Church of England. But in 1919 Gerald and Dorothy joined the Roman Catholic community at Farnborough Abbey. Dorothy Gurney wrote several volumes of verse, including A Little Book of Quiet, which contained the once well-known poem "God's Garden."

Liturgical Use:
Weddings (sparingly); renewal of wedding vows in family services with a marriage renewal emphasis.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

Joseph Barnby (PHH 438) composed O PERFECT LOVE and said it was a "hymn tune in the natural style and idiom … of our own time." Originally an anthem, O PERFECT LOVE was shortened into a hymn tune for publication in The Hymnal Companion (1890) and in the Church Hymnary (1898). The tune is also known as FIFE and SANDRINGHAM.

Erik Routley (PHH 31) calls Barnby's hymn tunes "shamelessly sentimental." O PERFECT LOVE is surely an example of what he means (Barnby's tunes at 438 and 447 are not). Sometimes thought to be the most notorious product of the Victorian composers, this tune is often performed with too much rubato and in a sentimental manner too often associated with weddings. Sing it in unison at a cheerful pace.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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