This hymn, attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, was translated from the Latin in 1858 (a loose paraphrase rather than a strict translation) by Dr. Ray Palmer, a Congregational pastor from Albany, New York. It would seem almost fair to say that the hymn as we know it was written by Bernard of Clairvaux and Palmer of Albany. Dr. Palmer also wrote several hymns on his own, the best known being “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.”
Bernard of Clairvaux was born of well-to-do parents in central France — in what we know as burgundy wine country — near Dijon. He didn’t grow up as a spoiled rich kid, though. His parents, especially his mother, Aleth, taught him the virtues of justice, mercy, and affection for others.
His mother’s death, when he was seventeen, affected Bernard profoundly. He began to experience a more profound conversion and a call to study theology. He entered a Benedictine monastery in 1112 A.D. His talent was soon recognized, and three years later he was asked to establish a monastery at Clairvaux. That was a successful venture, and a number of monasteries were established throughout France under his leadership. He became a confidant of Popes and a preacher to the King of France. In spite of these remarkable achievements, the focus of his life remained twofold: Knowing God and serving the needy.
“Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts,” like many hymns, is a prayer — in this case, a prayer to Jesus. It celebrates the joy that we have in Jesus — the peace that his love imparts — the filling of our souls through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. It concludes with a prayer for Christ’s continuing presence:
“O Jesus, ever with us stay;
make all our moments calm and bright;
oh, chase the night of sin away,
shed o’er the world your holy light.”
(NOTE: Adapt this as needed to fit the words in your particular hymnal.)
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan