Saturday, May 23, 2009

Non Nobis Domine

We don't deserve praise! The LORD alone deserves all of the praise, because of his love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1 CEV

In 1989, I dashed home from the movie theater, humming the Henry V soundtrack theme and its descant repeatedly, until I could reproduce it on my piano, and notate it so I’d never forget it. I still use that theme when playing softly under a prayer or offertory. The music for Non Nobis Domine had a great effect upon me because of its setting in the Shakespeare play.

In the morality play similar to Psalm 115, King Henry V of England was pursuing his ancestral rights to territory in France, but was being rebuffed by the French government. As Anglo-centric William Shakespeare wrote it, the arrogant, godless French depended upon their superior numbers, home advantage, and mercenary muscles to beat the battle-weary, disease-ridden, far-from-home, humble, God-fearing English at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. When the battle was over, the French herald gave Henry the news of his victory. Vast numbers of French had died, and only a handful of the English had gone down.

Shakespeare’s poetic rendering of King Henry’s victory speech was: “O God, thy arm was here; And not to us, but to thy arm alone, Ascribe we all! When, without stratagem, But in plain shock and even play of battle, Was ever known so great and little loss On one part and on the other? Take it, God, For it is none but thine! Come, go we in procession to the village. And be it death proclaimed through our host To boast of this or take the praise from God Which is his only… God fought for us. Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum.”

God fought.. for us! It's almost unbelievable. But he loves us with a love that literally tore him apart to save us from hell. He fought for us when we never wanted him, or thought of him with anything but fear and distrust. He fought for us because he's our creator and parent. He knew before the creation of the world how each one of us would need him and his love, and that we'd do anything to get away from his care--and he loved us the more for our misery and need. God fought for us. And he won.

In the 1989 movie, composer Patrick Doyle begins singing “Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam,” and gradually the weary, heroic English soldiers join the glorious chorus as they trudge to the nearby church.

The Non nobis is Psalm 115:1-3: Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. 

Clip of the Non Nobis Domine portion of the film, immediately after the battle of Agincourt. 

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