Friday, February 8, 2013

Break Thou the Bread of Life

Here is another hymn! Sorry for the delay once again, but with school starting again, time is scarcely found for extra things. In any case, please enjoy this next hymn!

Title: Break Thou the Bread of Life

Tune: Bread of Life

Meter: D

Composer: William F. Sherwin (14 March, 1826-14 April, 1888)

Author: Mary A. Lathbury (10 August, 1841-20 October, 1913), Alexander Groves, St. 3 and 4 (1842-1909)

                  This popular hymn written by Mary A. Lathbury is one of two hymns that remain popular today from Lathbury. They hymn, originally written at the request of Bishop John H. Vincent, was used for worship services at the Chautauqua Assembly. The assembly was known in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century conference center, in which people could find a wide variety of bible studies, Sunday school method classes, concerts, and plays. Lathbury penned the first two stanzas of this hymn in 1877, and eventually had them published the following year in Chautauqua Carols. The Lutheran Book of Worship, published in 1978, offers an updated version of the hymn, updating the language used and adding two stanzas written by Alexander Groves. Groves’ two stanzas were published posthumously in September 1913 in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine. Though most hymnals use all four verses, the current Evangelical Book of Worship uses Lathbury’s two stanzas and only one of Groves’ stanzas.  Though much is not known about Grove, it is known that his career path took many different forms. At different points in his life, Groves was a grocer, an accountant as well as a trustee, auditor, and actuary for Henley Savings Bank. Groves served as the organist for the Henley Wesleyan Chapel, but eventually became a part of the Anglican Church in Henley.
                  Born the daughter of a Methodist preacher, Mary Artemisia Lathbury grew up in Manchester, Ontario County, New York. From an early age, it was clear that Lathbury was very interested in art, which led her to attend the recently founded School of Design in Worcester, Massachusetts when she was 18 years old. From 1861 until 1874, Lathbury held a career as a teacher in many different locations. In 1861, she taught French and Ornamentals at Newbury Seminary in Vermont, which would eventually become the Boston School of Theology. From 1862 to 1867, Lathbury taught French and fine arts at the Fort Edward Institute in New York, and from 1867 until 1873, Lathbury taught Literature and Art at Drew Ladies’ Seminary in Carmel, New York. In 1874, under the calling of John H. Vincent, the secretary of the Methodist Sunday School Union and editor of The Sunday School Journal, Lathbury became the assistant editor of the journal. Deciding to take a different route in life, Lathbury set off in 1878 with her watercolors and a few books that she had illustrated. John H. Vincent founded the Lake Chautauqua Institution in upper New York right on the banks of Lake Chautauqua. Eventually the institution was transformed from a camp meeting to an assembly where Bible Studies, teaching methods, and plays were held (Westermeyer, 2010, p. 346). Lathbury remained partners with Vincent from the beginning (1875-1886) and wrote several hymns, of which “Break Thou the Bread of Life,” is one. Because of her literary abilities, Lathbury earned the nickname of “Poet Laurate of Chautauqua (Julian, 1907, paragraph 1).”
                  William Fisk Sherwin composed the tune “Bread of Life,” in 1877, the same year Lathbury penned the text. The two were published together the next year (1878) in the Chautauqua Carols. The tune is very meditative and fits the idea of what Sherwin’s teacher, Lowell Mason, considered to be a “Chaste” European model with “Scientific improvement” and “correct” tunes (Westermeyer, p. 347). Sherwin was born in Buckalnd, Massachusetts as a Baptist lay person. Throughout his life, Sherwin studied under a few big name people such as Lowell Mason and George Webb. Eventually, Sherwin became the music director at the Pearl Street Baptist Church in Albany, New York, and was a teacher at the Albany Female Seminary as well as the New England Conservatory. In 1874, Bishop Vincent asked Sherwin to organize as well as direct the amateur choirs at the Chautauqua assembly. Sherwin would maintain this post until the end of his life in 1888. With the help of Robert Lowry, some of Sherwin's compositions ended up in a short Sunday School hymn book entitled Bright Jewels, which was published in 1869 (Westermeyer, p. 347).  Though he is not known for his hymns, some of Sherwin’s compositions are used in England, thanks to the publication of I.D. Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos, where each hymn tune was given Sherwin’s signature.

The Text:

(1) Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,

As Thou didst break the loaves beside the sea;

Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord;

My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!

(2) Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me,

As Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee;

Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;

And I shall find my peace, my all in all.

(3) Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me,

Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;

Give me to eat and live with Thee above;

Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.

(4) O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,

That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:

Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,

And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

My Take on the Hymn:

                 The text for this hymn is found in John 6, where the gospel talks about the body of Christ being the only way into heaven. The bread of life is what feeds us every day, and my not be actual bread, but rather the word of Christ that is given us every day. God is a gift to each and every one of us, and we can accept His gift through the consuming of the Communion and the Eucharist. The second stanza refers to being freed from all of the problems of the world because Christ feeds us, giving us true peace of mind on Earth. The differences between the first and second stanzas, and the third and fourth stanzas are quite apparent. The first two stanzas talk about finding God throughout life outside of the bible, where the second two stanzas refer to finding God through the bible. It is important to have a good combination of the two, because without the word of God, the actual bread means nothing and without the bread, we are not reminded of the new covenant that Christ made with us the night before his death. The bread of life is a simple gift, but it is one that everyone can receive. Through the simple act of accepting the bread through the word, and accepting the bread through communion, our lives can be changed forever, and we can become citizens of Christ that reflect the light of which we have been shown!

The Hymn:

If you cannot read music, just play the Youtube video and follow along!


Julian, John. "Break Thou the Bread of Life." Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.

Julian, John. "Mary A. Lathbury." - Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.

Handbook, Psalter Hymnal. "BREAD OF LIFE (Sherwin)." Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.
Julian, John. "William F. Sherwin." - Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.
"Break Thou the Bread of Life." Break Thou the Bread of Life. Cyber Hymnal, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.
Westermeyer, Paul. "Word of God." Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Vol. 1. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010. 345-47. Print.



  1. Great work Evan! just found yr blog whilst searching 4 info on writer of the hymn...enjoyed rdg yr insightful 'take' on the hymn too!
    Mrs Chan, homeschooling mother across in Asia

  2. I am glad you enjoyed it! I hope you continue reading some of the other hymns too!