O Love, how deep, how broad, how high!

A hymn to sing along with…

The Latin hymn O amor quam ecstaticus is attributed to Thomas à Kempis (c1379-1471). He wrote The Imitation of Christ, a handbook for spiritual life. The text is divided into four books: “Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life”, “Directives for the Interior Life”, “On Interior Consolation” and “On the Blessed Sacrament”. The book places a high level of emphasis on the devotion to the Eucharist as the key element of spiritual life.

The hymn was translated into English by Revd Benjamin Webb (1820-1885), a priest in the Church of England ordained in 1843. He collaborated with John Mason Neale in the production of The Hymnal Noted published in 1852. The version of the words provided here is the original text from 1852. In modern hymnals, the second line of the first verse is usually rendered as “it fills the heart with ecstasy”, which seems to be more in accord with the original Latin.

The tune Eisenach was composed by Johann Schein (1586–1630). He was a German composer in the early Baroque style (which may explain his striking appearance). His output tended to be alternately sacred and secular; he composed drinking songs as well as church music. He suffered from ill health and died at age 44, having suffered from tuberculosis, gout, scurvy, and a kidney disorder

Eisenach is a town in Thuringia in the Eastern part of Germany. In the days of the German Democratic Republic, the Wartburg was produced here.
But probably the name was chosen for the tune because Eisenach was also the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The earlier verses are set to what may be the original harmony. Later verses have the harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, while the final verse is a modern arrangement.


O Love, how deep, how broad, how high,
How passing thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!

He sent no Angel to our race,
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And He Himself to this world came.

Nor willed He only to appear;
His pleasure was to tarry here;
And God and Man with man would be
The space of thirty years and three.

For us baptised, for us He bore
His holy fast, and hungered sore,
For us temptations sharp He knew,
For us the Tempter overthrew.

For us He preaches and He prays,
Would do all things, would try all ways;
By words, and signs, and actions, thus
Still seeking not Himself, but us.

For us to wicked men betrayed,
Scourged, mocked, in Crown of Thorns arrayed;
For us He bore the Cross’s death,
For us at length gave up His breath.

For us He rose from death again,
For us He went on high to reign,
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All honour, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee!
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.

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