“Holy, Holy, Holy” was written by Reginald Heber, an Anglican clergyman, nearly two centuries ago. He wrote hymns in an attempt to improve the singing in his little congregation at Hodnet, near Birmingham, England.
Most congregations in those days sang the Psalter— but most sang it badly. To inject a bit of spirit in the hymn-singing, Heber introduced his congregation to some of the modern church music of his day, to include John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.” He also wrote dozens of hymns, the best-known being “Holy, Holy, Holy.” He wrote it for Trinity Sunday, as evidenced by the words, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” in the first and last verses.
The hymn tune was written by John Dykes. He called it Nicaea (also spelled Nicea) after the church council that established the doctrine of the Trinity.
When Rev. Heber was 40 years old, he reluctantly left his beloved England to begin service as Bishop of Calcutta, India. The scope of the job combined with the hot climate and primitive conditions, proved too much for Bishop Heber. He died at the age of 43 after serving only three years in India.
His music was Rev. Heber’s true legacy. After his death, a hymnal was published that included all of his hymns. Even today, most hymnals include two or three of his hymns.
But it is this hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” that has blessed people all over the world. Translated into many languages and sung in many tongues, it was Rev. Heber’s most enduring gift to the church.
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan