Annie Johnson Flint Has Been Ripped Off (and Mark Pearse and Sarah Rowntree, Too)

Once upon a time, there was a poet and lyricist named Annie Johnson Flint. She did not live in the 14th or 15th century. She lived from 1866 to 1932.

Here is her biography.

One of the poems she wrote, “The World’s Bible,” was turned into a Protestant church hymn. It seems to have been fairly well-known in the late 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s, but lost popularity at some point. It is described as an “old song.” Some churches sang it to the same tune as “The Church’s One Foundation,” while others sang it to an original 1934 tune by J. E. Hamilton. There was also a 1986 setting by Eggleston. The only hymnal I’ve found that gives a date for the lyrics says it’s “1919,” but obviously it would be good to know what their source was. Here are the lyrics:

THE WORLD’S BIBLE

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way;
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s gospel, we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message, given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him and hasten His return?

(Occasionally this probably non-Flint verse was added:)

So, Christians, tell your neighbors, tell everyone you know.
Tell them that Jesus died, because He loved us so.
Tell how He came from Heaven to earth, so He could give
His life upon the cross, that all mankind might live.

The song at some point was translated into Spanish, probably by evangelicals working in Spanish-speaking countries. At this point, the actual author of the lyrics seems to have been forgotten. You see the words attributed to a “14th century Prayer of the Apostle” (siglo XIV Oración del Apóstol), so possibly the song was named “Oración del Apóstol” in Spanish hymnals. Some sources say it was a medieval German prayer (plegaria medieval aleman). And then, you get another bunch of sources who say it’s by St. Teresa de Avila. (There were also a few folks who said it was St. Catherine of Siena, believe it or not.) It seems to have been at this point that the Cursillo movement took it up, and that’s apparently who popularized the song among Catholics!

See if this “Oración del Apóstol” version doesn’t look familiar:

Cristo, no tiene manos, tiene solamente nuestras manos
para hacer el trabajo de hoy.

Cristo no tiene pies, tiene solamente nuestros pies
para guiar a los hombres en sus sendas.

Cristo, no tiene labios, tiene solamente nuestros labios
para hablar a los hombres de sí.

Cristo no tiene medios, tiene solamente nuestra ayuda
para llevar a los hombres a sí.

Nosotros somos la única Biblia,
que los pueblos leen aún;
somos el último mensaje de Dios
escrito en obras y palabras.

And here’s another version:

“Cristo no tiene manos, solo nuestras manos para hacer el trabajo de hoy!
Solo tiene nuestros labios para hablar a la gente acerca de el!”

Then it got turned into socialist/social justice versions, which were still advertised as being “a medieval prayer”:

Cristo no tiene manos, tiene sólo nuestras manos
Para construir un mundo nuevo donde habite la justicia.
Cristo no tiene pies, tiene sólo nuestros pies
Para poner en marcha a los oprimidos por el camino de la libertad.

Cristo no tiene labios, tiene sólo nuestros labios
Para proclamar a los pobres la Buena Noticia de su dignidad.
Cristo no tiene medios, tiene sólo nuestra acción
Para lograr que todos los hombres sean hermanos.

Cristo, somos tu pueblo unido,
Contigo queremos ofrecernos a Dios, Nuestro Padre
Para cumplir siempre su voluntad.
Ayúdanos a ser servidores de tu Amor,
Constructores de la justicia y obreros de la Paz. Amén.

At any rate, the meme and the various versions of the Flint song seem to have gotten picked up by the Seventies and Eighties crowd, and then translated back into non-rhyming English, with changes in the pronouns.

But there’s also another version, which is even more popular with the peace and justice crowd, and which seems to be taking over in some places!

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

Apparently this version leans heavily on a couple of UK Quaker statements (in English!) from about the same time that Flint was having her poems published. In The British Friend, volume 1, number 1, 1892, p. 15 (via Mockingbird’s Imitations, Living in the Monastery and BrianMcLaren.net):

Sarah Eliza Rowntree gave an interesting account of the recent establishment of the “Home” in Pearl Street, and the progress of the Mission there. She appealed for more workers to assist its further usefulness, concluding with some words of Mark Guy Pearse, “Remember Christ has no human body now upon the earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion has to look upon the world, and yours are the lips with which His love has to speak. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good through His Church which is His body.”

Mr. Pearse’s original quote actually goes all the way back to 1888, so both quotes may actually predate “The World’s Bible,” if that poem really didn’t come out until 1919. Here is Pearse, from a sermon delivered on January 3rd, 1888, in Steinway Hall, Portman Square, London:

“Now you, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out upon this world, and yours are the lips through which His love is to speak; yours are the hands with which He is to bless men, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good–through His Church, which is His body.” – Evangelical Christendom, v. 42, February 1st, 1888, p. 46

(Heh, I wonder if he’s related to Roger Pearse….)

The connection with UK Quakers explains a lot of the more theologically problematic versions of the words, because obviously Quakers have a hugely different theology and ecclesiology from a lot of other Christian groups.

Either way, this version was turned into hymns again! Lots and lots of hymns! Catholic hymns! Lutheran hymns! Anglican hymns!

Here’s John Michael Talbot’s “St. Teresa’s Prayer”, an adaptation which seems to lean more on Pearse and Rowntree.

Coro Jovenes Santa Teresa gets a little bit further away still, with the refrain of “Crucifijo”.

Cristo no tiene manos y pide las tuyas
Cristo no tiene voz y pide tu canción
Cristo no tiene pies para caminar el mundo
Cristo pide tu amor.

Here’s David Haas’ setting.

Here’s a totally different take by Tom Porter, for a Lutheran church.

“Christ Has No Body Now But Yours” is music by David Ogden, and seems to have become a very popular choir piece. (This one includes the popular pronoun change — allowing a denial that the choir is any part of the Body of Christ, in exchange for getting to lecture the audience.)

A pretty version set to music by Brian McLaren.

To be fair, most of these are far enough away from Flint, and Pearse, and Rowntree to count as new works. Pearse and Rowntree were putting out prose, so they’re covered by the less restrictive UK life plus 70, instead of the sheet music rules. But more importantly, they deserve credit for their own works. (Although it’s awfully flattering to be mistaken for one of Spain’s greatest poets.)

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One response to “Annie Johnson Flint Has Been Ripped Off (and Mark Pearse and Sarah Rowntree, Too)

  1. Roger Pearse

    It’s not certain, but the chances are that he *was* related somehow as he came from the same area of Cornwall as my family does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s