Reginald Heber wrote “Holy, Holy, Holy” while serving as vicar of Hodnet, Shropshire, England. He was the first to compile a hymnal ordering hymns around the church calendar. Wanting to celebrate a triune God, Heber wrote “Holy, Holy, Holy” for Trinity Sunday–a day that reaffirmed the doctrine of the Trinity and was observed eight Sundays after Easter. The hymn was first published in 1826.
Years later, John Dykes composed the tune Nicaea especially for Heber’s “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Text and tune were first published together in 1861. Since that time, this popular hymn has appeared in hundreds of hymnals and been translated into many languages.
Heber was impressed by the holiness of God. Whether in England, with the prevalence of vice, or in Calcutta, where people worshiped idols, he would often write “Only Thou art holy.” Based on the words of Revelation 4:8, he used the symbolism of three repeatedly throughout his hymn: God is “holy, merciful and mighty,” he’s “perfect in power, in love and purity,” he’s worshiped by saints, cherubim, and seraphim, and he’s praised “in earth and sky and sea.”
Through these consistent units of three, this hymn describes and worships God in three persons. Alfred Lord Tennyson felt “Holy, Holy, Holy” was the world’s greatest hymn. It truly does call us to worship our God, falling down before him with those who sing in Revelation 4:8, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.