2018 April 8: Breathe on me Breath of God
Aria W. Zeitler
"Breathe on me Breath of God"
Erwin Hatch attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, where he studied under James Prince Lee who later became the Bishop of Manchester; it was during this period of his life that his strong mental independence and extreme study habits were noticed. At this time he joined the Church of England (having been raised a nonconformist). He graduated from Oxford in 1857, after undergraduate studies at Cambridge.
In 1858, Hatch won the Ellerton prize — still offered today: "If you are a University of Oxford student with excellent writing skills you could win the Ellerton Theological Essay Prize. It is worth £500. The essay should be up to 10,000 words and be written on a doctrine or duty of the Christian religion, or any other subject approved by the judges."
In 1859, he was ordained an Anglican priest, ministered in an Anglican parish in the slums of east London before accepting a position at Trinity College in Quebec. Until his return to Oxford in 1867, he also served as rector of the High School of Quebec, and as professor of Classics at Morrin College. He also served as vice-principal of Saint Mary Hall until 1885. In 1884 he was appointed university reader in ecclesiastical history (regarded as he was as a leading authority on the early Church). In 1873, Hatch edited The Student Handbook to the University and Colleges of Oxford, which appeared in several revised editions during and after his time at the University.
While a Grinfield lecturer from 1880 to 1884 he presented his concordance on the Septuagint. A ‘concordance’ is a book in which you can look up a word — say, ’angel’ — and it lists all the places in the Bible where that word occurs. The Septuagint is a translation done in the 4th century B.C.E. from Hebrew into Greek. In Jesus’ day it remained in widespread use among Greek speaking people in the ancient world — many quotes from the Old Testament in the New are verbatim from the Septuagint. The Septuagint is still an extremely important document in ancient Biblical Language studies as it functions as a ’linguistic glue’ between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. The idea of doing a concordance of the Septuagint is a daunting prospect — particularly when cutting edge technology was index cards!
Near as I can determine Hatch wrote maybe a dozen hymn texts, of which "Breathe on Me Breath of God" is by far the most popular.
The tune to which Hatch’s hymn text is usually paired was written by Robert Jackson (1842-1914) He was born in Oldham (near Lancashire), England. Jackson’s father played the organ at St. Peter’s Church in Oldham. Robert attended the Royal Academy of Music, and served as organist at St. Mark’s Church at Grosvenor Square in London. He also played in the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 1868, he took over his father’s duties at St. Peter’s in Oldham, and played the organ there 46 years — together father and son served almost an entire century.