Isaac Watts vs. Catherine Winkworth

We end the First Round with a matchup between two musicians, Isaac Watts and Catherine Winkworth. Naturally, we're calling this the Battle of the Bands. Watts was a prolific Anglican hymn writer whose greatest hits catalogue would be well known to church goers. Winkworth, also a Brit, is credited with bringing the German chorale tradition to the English-speaking world.

Yesterday, Martin de Porres trounced John of Beverley 84% to 16% and will face Dymphna in the next round.

It's hard to believe, but the Saintly Sixteen begins tomorrow! Vote today and stay tuned. Our Lenten journey continues...

Isaac Watts

Isaac WattsIsaac Watts, famously thought of as the father of English hymnody, was born in Southampton, England, on July 17, 1674. Whereas many English people were members of the Church of England, Isaac’s identity as a Nonconformist shaped his vocation and ministry. He received a classical education in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and demonstrated a proclivity to rhyme at an early age. As he grew older and progressed in his studies, he was offered a scholarship to study at Oxford or Cambridge as a candidate for ordination in the Church of England. He refused this opportunity and chose to study at the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington. He was ordained as a Nonconformist minister in 1702 and served a congregation in London for ten years.

Isaac is credited with writing between 600 and 750 hymns, a quarter of which are still in popular use. Many of his hymns were metrical adaptations of the psalms for use in English-speaking congregations. His hymn-writing was said to flow from his own personal faith, described as “gentle, quiet, sturdy, and deeply devout.” The Hymnal 1982 contains seventeen of Isaac’s hymns including “Joy to the world,” “From all that dwell below the skies,” and “When I survey the wondrous cross.”

In addition to hymns, Isaac wrote a textbook called Logic. The full name of the book likely did not fit on the cover: Logic, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. The book defined logic as a practical art and became a standard text in universities and among philosophers.

Isaac spent the last few decades of his life largely out of the public eye because of health complications. He continued writing sermons and hymns as well as writing on less religious topics such as the English language and logic. He died in 1748.

Collect for Isaac Watts
God of truth and grace, you gave Isaac Watts singular gifts to present your praise in verse, that he might write psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for your Church: Give us grace joyfully to sing your praises now and in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Marcus Halley

Catherine Winkworth

Catherine WinkworthBorn in 1827, Catherine Winkworth had a way with words. When Catherine was a sixteen-year-old British school girl, General Charles James Napier conquered the Indian province of Sindh. The conquest was unauthorized and brutal. When Catherine heard about it, she told her teacher that Napier’s dispatch should have read “Peccavi,” Latin for “I have sinned.” It was a dark twist on what the dispatch presumably was,“I have Sindh.”

The pun was sent to the humor magazine, Punch, and became a meme that traveled through history.

Catherine’s cleverness continued to serve her well in her calling. She translated hundreds of German hymns into English and introduced English audiences to the German chorale tradition. She labored to make sure that the translated songs retained the poetry, rhythm, and meaning of the originals.

In 1852, Catherine began to work among the poor in the Sunday School and District Visiting Society. This society gathered volunteer teams to visit poor people in their homes to provide help and comfort. Long after she left this work, Catherine received letters from the people she met and helped. Her compassion was evident in her translation of biographies of founders of sisterhoods for the poor and sick: Life of Pastor Fliedner and Life of Amelia Sieveking. Winkworth not only served people who lived in poverty, but she also had a passion for women’s rights and advocated for higher education for women and girls.

In 1878, Catherine went to care for her nephew, who was disabled. Soon after, she had a pain in her heart and died within an hour.

Collect for Catherine Winkworth
Comfort your people, O God of peace, and prepare a way for us in the desert, that, like your poet and translator Catherine Winkworth, we may preserve the spiritual treasures of your saints of former years and sing our thanks to you with hearts and hands and voices, eternal triune God whom earth and heaven adore; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

-Carol Howard Merritt

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Isaac Watts: National Portrait Gallery [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Catherine Winkworth: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



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202 comments on “Isaac Watts vs. Catherine Winkworth”

    1. This was a tough decision, but as a proud Episcopalian I had to go with the father of British hymnody. Go Isaac!!

  1. I figure that Watts will win this one -- after all, who can deny the composer of "Joy to the World"? But I voted for Winkworth anyway, as a smart, sharp woman who pursued a life of service to the poor, the sick, and to women's education and rights.

    1. I quite agree with my sisters of faith on this one. While Watts had almost had me with "Joy to the World" and the fact we share birthday (he does have a few years on me!!). However, Winkworth gave the English speaking world a new genre of singing as well as helped the poor and, most importantly advocated for higher education for women and girls.

  2. Happy to learn about Catherine, but Isaac Watts wrote way too many of my favorite hymns and singing is my preferred way to praise and pray!

  3. Another difficult choice. Catherine won my vote because of her work among the poor, her love of German chorales, and especially her unforgettable pun. Saints just wanna have puns.

    1. Catherine, if only to raise knowledge of her life by continuing to the next round.

    2. Indeed! Catherine for the pun, her contribution to our music tradition and her work with the poor. Humor is a saving grace!

      1. Exactly! And yet, having just sung When I Survey at our diocesan convention and with Holy Week close upon us, when it will be sung again and again, It's Isaac today for me.

  4. Isaac Watts, the greatest of all English-language hymn writers. He has had a greater impact on the church than most (but not all) of his fellow Round of 32-ers. Yes, he's my pick for the Golden H. Go, Issac!

    1. My choice, too, Ken. Original hymns and prayers, a foundational work on logic, commitment to principal - too much evidence in support of Isaac. The "peccavi" pun is cleve but didn't sway my vote. Thank you!

    1. Mr. Watts wrote hymns of comfort and joy..."My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" and "Joy to the World". He get my vote today.

  5. Favored Catherine for challenging British imperialism in India and getting her hands dirty in working with the poor.

  6. Catherine Winkworth brings together both lines of my ancestry: German and British. She also shares a name with five members of my family. But her work with the poor and her advocacy for women's rights, as well as her scholarship and contribution to our hymnals are what swayed me today.

  7. As an avid user and lover of puns, I had to go with Catherine here. Plus all the other stuff she did was pretty awesome too.

  8. This was a tough one and led me to look up more information about both of today's saints. I admire Catherine for her work with the poor and her dedication to education for women. But I had to go with Isaac this morning as the writer of some of my favorite hymns and his text on logic. How could I not vote for the one who wrote "Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come; Be thou our guard while troubles last, And our eternal home." And, on a lighter note, "How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From every opening flower!"

    1. "How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail, by pouring waters of the Nile on every golden scale." I did not know the author of the original; this is one of Lewis Carroll's parodies! Thanks for the smile this snowy morning.

      1. I’ve always thought of “How doth the little crocodile” as sung to William Billings’ tune for “Methinks I see a manly host of angels on the wing.” If I knew how to attach a video, I’d hum a few bars.

  9. As a Lutheran, I owe a tremendous debt to Catherine Winkworth, the translator and poet par excellance of the German Lutheran hymns and chorales, which are still used to this day. “Now tho daily earth’s deep sadness may perplex us and distress us, yet with heavenly joy you bless us!”

    1. Isaac Watts, because anyone who uses logic to avoid error when it comes to religion, is okay by me.

  10. Winkworth got me reading and ever-fascinated with the fine print in the hymnal: who wrote the words for the tune? As a little Cathy, I thought she was winking at me! Now grown and going by my given name, Catherine, I still go to the credits and smile whenever a woman’s worthy work shows up!

  11. It was a no-brainer to me as well, but I voted for Catherine Winkworth. In her shorter life, she not only had a significant impact on English and therefore American music, proved herself to be a poet and linguist who could translate beautiful words and sentiments beautifully, but was also a compassionate advocate for the poor and an activist to boot. I love music, words and ACTION.

  12. This year's round of 32 has been so full of horrible hard choices that I have ended up just thinking of my morning vote as an extension of my alarm clock - if my brain isn't working yet, it sure will be when I'm done with all this thinking.
    I usually come down on the side of earthly service, and women and the poor will get my vote on an ordinary day, but I have to declare today extraordinary and let my musician self have the last word.

  13. Watts was a great hymn writer, but Catherine not only introduced the great German music form to the English with her wonderful translations. But she also was a great servant to the poor and stood up for the rights of women and girls, including the right to education. So she gets my vote.

  14. I really really like Catherine for her work with the poor, her advocacy for women's rights, and her wonderful pun. But Isaac got my vote with Joy to the World

    1. My reasoning is along the same lines. I’d like to see Catherine advance so more people learn of her. Let her works be as well known as Isaac’s!

    2. I feel like I've known Isaac all my life. Started playing the organ for a small church before I could reach the pedals. So many wonderful hymns, but only one vote for my friend!

    1. Thank you, Barbara, for giving Isaac his historical and spiritual context. How funny that he was considered a radical in the 18th century, yet an earlier LM comment today was that his hymns were antiquated and irrelevant.

    2. I believe that if there is nothing more that I gain from LM this Lent, peccavi will be more than sufficient. Of course it is not the only thing that I have gained so far this LM.

    3. Me too! These two are in my "top 10 hymns". We even used Joy to the World as the recessional at my father's funeral.

  15. Catherine Winkworth translated the hymn "Now thank we all our God." This could come down to a contest between "Joy to the World" and "Now thank we." The choices have been very difficult this year, but what a great opportunity to learn about those Holy Men and Women who have been great witnesses for our Lord Jesus.

  16. I voted for Catherine because without her some of my favorite hymns would not be available to English-speakers: "Praise to the Lord! The Almighty, the King of Creation," "Now Thank We All Our God," "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People," and "Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word," just to name a few.

    1. I like all of the hymns that you mentioned plus Open Now They Gates of Beauty!

    2. I'm not saying how I voted, but do I dare open myself to the wrath of many by admitting that on the whole, I'd take Advent's "Comfort, Comfort Ye my People" over "Joy to the World?"

  17. Isaac Watts's hymns are spectacular, but the metrical Psalter balances that out. Catherine Winkworth's work with the poor and for women's rights in addition to what she did for church music wins the day for me.

  18. Having been raised in The Missouri Synod Church where I attended first through eighth grades, Catherine had to get my vote. And then there is her support of education and women’s rights.

      1. What dangling modifier? I’ve read your comment through five times and can’t find it.

          1. Of course! One more sign of how my sensitivities have been degraded by my surroundings. Something like not noticing when someone says, please pardon the expression, “shithole.”

            No comparison intended, Gay; your dangler was artful.

            No, no, no, I didn’t mean THAT; but what I have written I have written, and I’d better stop before someone shoots me.

  19. Yes, Catherine worked with the poor, but so did many other saints. And Catherine's contributions to hymnody are substantial. However, Isaac Watts's hymns have shaped our worship tradition, as well as informed our beliefs, for centuries. His contributions to Christianity are supererogatory! To say nothing of the wattage his hymns bring to our hearts. (Couldn't help the pun. Sorry, Catherine.)

  20. This was a tough choice! Isaac Watts died 200 years to the day I was born and he wrote "Oh God Our Help in Ages Past"--the Valparaiso University hymn--so I feel a special kinship with him.

  21. I knew of Isaac Watts and love his hymns. Sadly, I did not know Catherine Winkworth. I voted for Catherine in thanksgiving for her ministry to the poor and disabled and her gift for her musical gifts.