If one excludes hymns with texts taken from the Bible, the Te Deum laudamus is the best known hymn in the history of the Western Church. It was long claimed to have been spontaneously improvised by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, but other venerable saints have also been named as its author.
In his book Te Deum: The Church and Music, music historian Paul Westermeyer summarizes the theology in this venerable text:
Long associated with morning prayer, it is cast in three parts. First, praise to God everlasting includes a ‘Holy, holy, holy’ Sanctus-like section in which apostles, prophets, martyrs, and the whole church praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then a christocentric section points to Christ the King of Glory and tells the whole story of Christ: born of a virgin, conquers death, opens the kingdom og heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, will come to be our judge. It concludes with a prayer to Christ to help us “whom you have redeemed with your blood.” The third section was not originally part of the Te deum and is sometimes omitted. It is a series of versicles from the Psalms: bless us, save us, keep us without sin.
In our parish, we traditionally sing this text using a pair of Anglican chants, one by Edwin George Monk (1819-1900), the other by William Croft (1678-1727). While under quarantine in April 2020, our choir (with the help of Wallace Hornady) joined in remotely to assemble this recording of the Te Deum laudamus.
Choral settings of the Te Deum
William Byrd, Te Deum (from the Great Service)