Te Deum laudamus, the most famous non-biblical hymn of the Western Church, intended originally (as it appears) for daily use as a morning hymn. It is not now known to the Eastern Church in a Greek form, though the first ten verses exist in Greek. In the West it is known to have been in use from the beginning of the 6th century as a hymn for the Sunday service for mattins before the lesson from the Gospel.
i. Authorities. Till recently the best modern authority was Daniel's Thesaurus Hymnologicus. vol. 2, Halle, 1843, pp. 276-299, but considerable advance has been made on this by Prebendary Edgar C. S. Gibson, of Wells, in his able and learned article on the Te Deum in the Church Quarterly Review, of April, 1884 (vol. 18, pp. 1-27); supplemented by one on the Gloria in Excelsis, ibid., Oct., 1885 (vol. 21, pp. 19, 20).
ii. The Text. As it is impossible to discuss the Date and Authorship and Origin and Intention of the hymn without a minute analysis of its text, there are four of the most ancient forms:
I. Irish Version.
II. Milan Version
III. Ordinary Version of the Hymn.
IV. Greek Version.
iii. Title. The hymn is found in many manuscripts without any title and so in some printed books. In earlier lieterature it is generally cited by is first three words. Later it is simply the Te Deum, and sometimes, though less commonly the Hymnus Ambrosianus. In the printed Breviaries the reference to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine is general in some form or other, though the hymn sometimes has not title.
iv. Date and authorship. The traditional attribution to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine has been traced up as far as the year 859, when Himemar of Rheims published his second dissertation On Predestination. The tradition trook fuller shape in a Milanese chronicle, now ascribed to Landulphus senior, who wrote in the 11th century.
v. Origin and Intention. Most students of the hymn now recognize the triple division of its 29 verses: (1) The “Te Deum” proper (1-11), preceded in the Irish text by the antiphon “Laudate pueri,” &c.; (2) the hymn “Tu rex gloriae” (12-21); (3) the antiphons “Salvum fac” and “per singulos dies”—in inverse order in the Milan text—followed in the common use by certain Preces, or ersicles and responses of which there are four sets in the current text (22-29).
vi. Versions. (1) Old German, (2) Old-French, (3) Anglo-Saxon and English, (4) (5) Thomson prints a modern Swedish version, (6) Russian.
vii. Liturgical Use. Palmer remarks that the usage prescribes the the first and second, who both appoint the hymn to be sung in the morning, is a kind of argument for their better acquaintance with the author’s design than the rule of Benedict who ordered it to be sung at the octurnal office on Sundays, i.e. on Saturday night. From Sundays its use seems gradually to have extended to Saints’ Days, and from the reglar to the secular clergy.
viii. Musical Settings. One musical setting only of the Te Deum is to be found in the choro-liturgical books of the Western Church. Although slight differences appear in various dioceses, these are never more than mere local embellishments or variations, such as are constantly to be met with in local versions of the melody of the Preface, Pater Noster, and other invariable portions of the Latin services. It seems that the ancient melody was known to the musicians of some of the Lutheran Churches down to at least the middle of the 18th century. We come across fragments of it amongst Buxtehude's Vorspiele, and also in those of Bach. The metrical translations of the Te Deum into English are in almost every instance the prose translation in the Book of Common Prayer turned into metre. That translation beginning "We praise Thee, 0 God" was given in the Book of Common Prayer in 1549. The translator is unknown.
The metrical renderings therefrom in English include:—
1. 0 God, we praise Thee, and we own. Dr. J. Paterick. This was given in his Psalms of David in Metre, &c. 1679, in 12 stanzas of 4 lines. and began:— "0 God, we praise Thee, and we own, Thee to be Lord and King alone."
2. We sing to Thee, Thou Son of God. J. Cennick. Published in his Sacred Hymns for the Use of Religious Societies, &c.
3. Infinite God, to Thee we raise. C. Wesley. Appeared in Hymns for those that seek and those that have Redemption, 1747, No. xiii. in 14 stanzas of 6 lines. The hymn in some American collections "To Thee to laud in songs of praise," is a cento from this version of the Te Deum.
4. How can we adore, Or worthily praise ? W. Hammond. Published in his Psalms & Hymns, &c. 1745, p. 193, in 17 stanzas of 8 lines.
5. We praise, we worship Thee, 0 God. This anonymous version of the first part of the Te Deum is traced to P. Gell's Psalms & Hymns, 1815.
6. God eternal, Lord of all. J. E. Millard. Written for and first published in the Rev. T. F. Smith's Devout Chorister, 1848, p. 106, in 8 st. of 4 1. and entitled "Hymn for Choristers." An abbreviated and altered form of the text was given in Hymns Ancient & Modern 1861, as:—“God eternal, Mighty King," and this has been repeated in several collections in Great Britain and America.
7. Holy God, we praise Thy Name, Lord of all, &c. C. A. Walworth. This is dated 1853 in the American Evangelical Hymnal (Hall and Lasar), Barnes & Co., N. Y. 1880.
8. Thou art the everlasting Son. This anonymous rendering of the latter part of the Te Deum appeared in the American Sabbath Hymn Book 1858, No. 335, in 3 stanzas of 6 lines and has been repeated in a few American collections.
9. Thee God we praise, Thee Lord confess. W. Robertson. This rendering of the first part of the Te Deum was given in the Hymns for Public Worship, 1861, and the Scottish Hymnal, 1870.
10. Thee, Thee, we praise, 0 God, and own. E. F. Hatfield. Written in 1871 for, and published in 1872 in his Church Hymn Book in 6 st. of 4 1.
Other translations are:—
1. We prayse thee God, we knowledge thee. Old Version. 1560.
2. We praise thee, 0 God, with one accord. W. Barton. 1639.
3. 0 God, we praise Thy Holy Name. W. Barton. 1639.
4. We praise thee, God, we acknowledge thee. W. Barton. 1639.
5. We give thee praise, 0 God, with one accord. W. Barton. 1639.
6. Great God, we praise thee, thee our Lord. Miles Smyth. 1668.
7. Thee Sovereign God! our grateful accents praise. J. Dryden. 1701. Repeated in The Christian's Magazine. 1760.
8. Thee Sov'reign God! our anthems praise. B. Woodd. Circa 1800.
9. We praise Thee God, before Thee fall. By "M.A.C." in Almond's Hymns for Occasional Use in the Parish Church of St. Peter in Nottingham. 1819.
10. Before Thee, Lord of all, we bow. W. W. Hull. 1852.
11. Thee God! we praise, and Thee our Lord confess. D. French. 1839.
12. We praise Thee as our God. W. W. Hull. 1852.
[Rev. John Julian, D.D.]
Many German versions of the Te Deum have been made at various periods. Of these one is “Herr grosser Gott." Another is:—
Herr Gott, dich loben wir! Herr Gott, wir danken dir. This is a free version, by Martin Luther, in 52 lines arranged for antiphonal singing. It apparently was first published in Klug's Gesang-Buch. Wittenberg, 1529, and from this passed into the Rostock Gesang-Buch (Low German) of 1531. The translation in common use is:—
Thee Lord, our God, we praise. This is No. 356 in the Ohio Lutheran Hymnal 1880, marked as a cento.
Other translations are:—
(1) "Oh, Lord our God! Thy name we praise." By Miss Fry, 1845, p. 83. (2) "Lord God, to Thee we raise." By J. Anderson, 1846, p. 83. In his ed. 1847, p. 94, altered to " Lord God of hosts, to Thee we raise." (3) "We praise Thee, God—Thy name we praise." By Dr. J. Hunt, 1853, p. 166. (4) "Lord God, Thy praise we sing, Lord God." By R. Massie, 1854, p. 86, repeated by Dr. Bacon, 1884, p. 55. (5) "Lord God, Thee praise do we." By Dr. G. Macdonald in the Sunday Magazine , 1867, p. 841, repeated, altered, in his Exotics , 1876, p. 112. [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]
-- Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)