The word doxology comes from two Greek words, doxa, which means glory, and logos, which means word. So a doxology is literally “a word of glory.” We sing doxologies to give glory or praise to God.
There are a number of doxologies. Among the more familiar doxologies is one traditionally used in Roman Catholic worship. It begins “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”
Another familiar doxology, The Gloria Patri, begins “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.”
The doxology under consideration here is only four lines:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
But these four lines just might be sung more frequently than any other Christian music.
This doxology was written by Thomas Ken, an Anglican clergyman. Ken was born in 1637, and was orphaned at an early age. He then went to live with his half-sister, Anne, and her husband Izaak Walton. You might recognize Izaak Walton’s name, because he was the author of The Compleat Angler, a book on fishing that quickly established itself as a standard work and ultimately became a classic. It was first published in 1653, and you can still buy a copy of it on Amazon.com today.
When Ken was fourteen years old, he entered Winchester College, and four years later began studies at Oxford. He later returned to Winchester College as the chaplain to the bishop. While there, he wrote his Manual of Prayers for the use of the Scholars of Winchester College, which he first published in 1674. It was a book of prayers for all occasions, and included (among many others) a Morning Prayer, an Evening Prayer, a prayer to use after committing a sin, a prayer for use when tempted, a prayer entitled “Acts of Shame” and another entitled “Acts of Abhorrence.”
Ken also wrote hymns for the students to use to mark the passages of their days, including Morning Hymn, Evening Hymn, and Midnight Hymn. Both the Morning Hymn and Evening Hymn end with the doxology that begins, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That was the origin of this doxology.
Ken established an excellent reputation at Winchester, and was eventually appointed chaplain to King Charles II. When the king decided to visit Winchester, he sent word to Ken that Nell Gwynne, the king’s mistress, was to be lodged at Ken’s house. Ken not only mounted loud objections, but also hired workmen to remove the roof to his house so that the king could not enforce Nell’s lodgment there. In that time and place, an act of rebellion against the king could cost a person his head, but King Charles was impressed with Ken’s courage. Not only did he allow Ken to live, but he even appointed him sometime later to be the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Some years later, Ken was one of seven bishops who refused to sign King James’ Declaration of Indulgence. For this act of rebellion, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London—but he was later tried and acquitted. He died of natural causes in 1711.
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan