The church’s one foundation


Background. This classic hymn of the faith by Samuel J. Stone (1839–1900) was born out of a time of controversy in the Church of England in the 1860s, owing largely to the progressive and controversial views of John William Colenso (1814–1883), bishop of Natal, South Africa. Colenso had been appointed bishop of Natal in 1853 and quickly drew scorn from his more orthodox brethren by not requiring polygamists to divorce their multiple wives before being baptized by the church. In 1861, he published his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, “which by its denial of eternal punishment and rejection of much traditional sacramental theology aroused a storm of protest.”[1] This work was followed by a series of papers, The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined (7 vols., 1862–1879 | HathiTrust), in which he challenged the traditional authorship and historicity of the books. Colenso was strongly rebuked by Robert Gray (1809–1872), bishop of Cape Town and metropolitan over South Africa. In 1866, Gray wrote an open letter to his colleagues, enumerating his grievances, and stating:

The heresies into which Dr. Colenso has fallen are no light or common errors. They touch the very life and being of the Christian Church—overthrow the faith of Christendom. It is not merely the distinctive teaching of the Church of England that he has impugned. He has assailed those fundamental truths of our common Christianity, which are equally cherished by the Churches of the east and west, and by every sect and denomination of Protestant Christians. It is with Christianity itself, as a Revelation from God, that he is at war.[2]

Gray attempted to depose and excommunicate Colenso, but failed on the legal technicality of Colenso’s appointment predating Gray’s authority. Gray brought his complaints to the Convocation of Canterbury in 1866 and the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 (a gathering of 76 Anglican bishops). The contentious issue of leadership in Natal was not resolved until ten years after Colenso’s death, when the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed A.H. Baynes as bishop of Natal in 1893.

First Publication. At the outbreak of this controversy, Samuel Stone was a young minister, having become curate of Windsor in 1862 after graduating from Pembroke College the same year. In 1866, he published Lyra Fidelium: Twelve Hymns on the Twelve Articles of the Apostles’ Creed. In his preface, he laid out his rationale for the work:

Most clergymen are aware how many of their parishioners, among the poor especially, say the Creed in their private prayers. And they cannot but feel how this excellent use, as also its utterance in public worship, is too often accompanied by a very meagre comprehension of the breadth and depth of meaning contained in each Article of the Confession of Faith. Such a feeling first suggested to the Author the probable usefulness of a simple and attractive explanation of the Creed in the popular form of a series of Hymns, such as might be sung or said in private devotion, at family prayer, or in public worship.

The ninth of these articles is “I believe in … the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,” which he versified as “The church’s one foundation” (Fig. 1). On opposite pages to the hymn, Stone offered a prose summary of the article, with excerpts from various Scripture references. The hymn was printed in seven stanzas of eight lines.

Fig. 1. Samuel J. Stone, Lyra Fidelium (London: Parker & Co., 1866).

Although the book and the hymn do not speak directly to the Colenso controversy, a glimpse of the tumult can be seen in stanza 5:

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore opprest,
By schisms rent asunder
By heresies distrest …

Stone likely also had Colenso in mind among the “false sons” mentioned in stanza 4. A few years before his death, Stone provided this personal account of writing “The church’s one foundation,” “Weary of earth and laden with my sin” (Article X), and the others in the series:

They were written at Windsor when I was curate there in 1866, and finished off immediately after, during a holiday at Margate, and a few months after published with ten others (the twelve making one each on the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed) in a little volume called Lyra Fidelium. I wrote them all in behalf of the poorer people in my country district, who I found in many cases used the Creed in their prayers with but little comprehension of it. When I wrote “The church’s one foundation,” the steadfast defence of the Faith made by Bishop Gray of Cape Town against the heresies of Colenso some time before was much on my mind. I am personally most thankful about “Weary of earth,” because of the private testimonies I have had of its use in bringing home to individual souls the doctrine of atonement.[3]

In Lyra Fidelium (Fig. 1), Stone’s designation “Tune No. 142” for “The church’s one foundation” referred to the first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861), which in this case involved a set of three tunes for that number: ST. ALPHEGE by Henry J. Gauntlett (1805–1876), JENNER by H.L. Jenner, and EWING by Alexander Ewing (1830–1895).

The scripture references given by Stone for this hymn are as follows:

  1. 1 Cor. 3:11, John 3:5, Eph. 5:25-26, Acts 20:28

  2. Rev. 5:9, 1 Cor. 10:17, Eph. 4:5, Acts 4:12, 1 Cor. 10:17, Eph. 4:4, Eph. 4:7

  3. Matt. 16:18, Matt. 28:20, 1 John 3:13, Gal. 2:4, Micah 7:8

  4. 2 Peter 2:2, 1 Cor. 11:18, 11:19, 1 Peter 4:7, Ps. 25:22, Rom. 8:23, Is. 51:11

  5. Eph. 6:12, Rom. 8:37, Rom. 16:20, 1 John 3:2, Heb. 4:9

  6. 1 John 1:3, 2 Cor. 13:14, Heb. 12:22-23, Is. 43:2, Luke 23:43

  7. Jude 1:24, 1 Peter 5:6, Rev. 21:10, Rev. 7:17, Rev. 21:3

Revision. Stone’s hymn was popularized through its adoption into the Appendix to Hymns Ancient & Modern (1868 | Fig. 2). The editors reduced the hymn to five stanzas. In the second stanza, the only textual change was in the first two syllables, to “Elect.” Stone’s third stanza was omitted. The editors combined the first four lines of Stone’s stanzas six and seven to make their final/fifth. This revision was adopted by Stone as his official version in later publications of his hymns. The musical setting was to AURELIA by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810–1876), a tune originally written for “Jerusalem the golden.” This is the musical setting most commonly associated with this text.

Fig. 2. Hymns Ancient & Modern, with Appendix (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1868).


Extension. In 1885, Stone expanded his hymn to ten stanzas, in order to be used as a processional at the Salisbury Cathedral. The longer form of the hymn was printed the following year in Stone’s Hymns (1886 | Fig. 3). This version incorporates “Elect” in stanza 2, inserts the new text as stanzas 6 through 8, and mildly rewords some parts of stanza 9. The shorter form of the hymn, also included in this collection, was the 1868 revision from Hymns Ancient & Modern. Stone’s extended version was sung at the Lambeth Conference in 1888, in services at Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.


Fig. 3. Samuel Stone, Hymns (1886).


Assessment. Stone’s hymn is among the most widely known and widely sung Christian hymns. Hymnologist Erik Routley esteemed this hymn among the best:

“The church’s one foundation” is one of the dozen greatest hymns in English, one of the two or three greatest on the subject of the Church, and beyond question the greatest on that subject to be written within the last hundred years. The first time you sing it, you realize that it is saying something of importance and saying it with authority; the fiftieth time you sing it you begin to realize what a depth of doctrine and truth there is in it.[4]

Routley’s extended analysis in Hymns of the Faith (1955) is worth reading in its entirety. Likewise, the assessment of Frank Colquhoun in Hymns That Live (1980) is thoughtful, coalescing into a three-part message. Overall, he said, “It is emphatically a strong hymn: dogmatic, positive, decisive. … It is a hymn about the Church of Christ: the Church as it should be, the Church as it is, and the Church as it will be” (p. 283). The editors of the Hymnal 1982 Companion said of it, “This hymn has proved to have universal appeal. Although it has very specific Anglican origins, it has breached many denominational and linguistic barriers.”[5] Lastly, Francis Arthur Jones famously testified:

I have been told by men whose natures could hardly be termed ‘gentle’ that to listen to this hymn sung by a large congregation was almost more than they could stand; it made them feel weak at the knees, their legs trembled and they felt as though they were going to collapse. It seems an absurd statement to make, and yet I think some of us can understand the sensation.[6]

Modern Settings. One modern tune setting for Stone’s text was created by Brian Moss for his wedding to Stephanie on 27 Dec. 1996, later published on the first (self-titled) Indelible Grace album (2000). Brian provided this description of his experience writing the song and becoming involved with Indelible Grace through Kevin Twit, the Reformed University Fellowship campus ministry, and Belmont University (Nashville, TN):

My wife, Stephanie, and I met at RUF just as Kevin was getting the ball rolling at Belmont. Kevin introduced us to a lot of the hymn tunes he was working on, which inspired people like me to do the same. I had decided I wanted to write all of the music for our wedding. One Sunday, at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN, David Hampton led us in “The church’s one foundation.” I immediately knew I wanted to have that hymn at our wedding, but with my own tune. When Kevin was working on the first IG project he asked to record this one as well. We moved to Seattle not longer after that.[7]

Brian’s score was published through the Indelible Grace Hymn Book online (Fig. 4), which offers this explanation for the two different versions of the score:

There is a lead sheet (alternate version) that includes the bridge as the song appeared on the original Indelible Grace CD. However, for corporate worship we typically do not use the bridge and instead use the verse melody for all the words (including the bridge words.)


Fig. 4. Brian Moss, “The church’s one foundation (alternate version)” Indelible Grace Hymn Book (©1996), excerpt.


All twelve of Samuel Stone’s texts from Lyra Fidelium were developed into the album Hymns of Faith (2010) by Cardiphonia Music. As a springboard for the work, the producers used the melody for “The church’s one foundation” originally written by Brian Moss, then recruited several other songwriters to contribute melodies for each of Stone’s hymns. The Cardiphonia website (via explains their approach to working through Stone’s hymns:

Hymns of Faith: Songs for the Apostles Creed is a concept album for the church. It is based in a collection of hymns written on the 12 articles of the Apostles’ Creed by Samuel J. Stone in 1866. It was initially conceived as a sort of “flashmob” project for a loose collection of songwriters for the church. The challenge … two weeks to write and record music to one of a collection of hymns written on the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Hymns both arcane and beautiful in their meditation on the tenets of the Christian faith. (We thank Brian Moss for getting us started here!)

The scores for these settings are published and distributed through the Cardiphonia Music website. The album has a related publication of the same name (Hymns of Faith), containing Stone’s Lyra Fidelium, newly typeset with a foreword by Joshua Reitano. Reitano expressed the lasting value of the Apostles’ Creed and its purpose in the Christian life. Among other benefits, he stated, “It tells the story of God and his world. It tells us not only of the beginning, but of the end (a glorious eternity). It tells us how we get there: the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. And the Creed tells us how to live in the meantime—by the power of the Holy Spirit who has come to equip the church to live faithfully until the resurrection of the dead.”

for Hymnology Archive
17 July 2019


  1. “John William Colenso,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. ed (Oxford: University Press, 2005): Oxford Reference

  2. Robert Gray, Excommunication of the Bishop of Natal (Montreal: John Lovell, 1866), p. 1:

  3. Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A&C Black, 1898), p. 153:

  4. Erik Routley, “The church’s one foundation,” Hymns and the Faith (London: John Murray, 1955), p. 237.

  5. Robin A. Leaver, “The church’s one foundation,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3B (NY: Church Hymnal Corp, 1994), no. 525.

  6. Francis Arthur Jones, Famous Hymns and Their Authors (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1903), p. 152.

  7. Correspondence with Brian Moss, 16 July 2019.

Related Resources:

The Colenso Controversy:

Robert Gray, Judgment (London: Bell & Daldy, 1864): WorldCat

John William Colenso, Remarks upon the Recent Proceedings and Charge of Robert Lord Bishop of Cape Town (London: Longman & Co., 1864): PDF

Charles H. Todd, Observations on the Judgment of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in the case of Bishop Colenso v. the Bishop of Capetown (London: Rivingtons, 1865): PDF

Robert Gray, Excommunication of the Bishop of Natal (Montreal: John Lovell, 1866):

Robert Gray, A statement relating to facts which have been misunderstood: and to questions which have been raised, in connexion with the consecration, trial, and excommunication of the Right Rev. Dr. Colenso, 2nd ed. (London: Rivingtons, 1867): PDF

H.L. Sidney Lear & Charles Gray, Life of Robert Gray: Bishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of Africa, 2 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1876): HathiTrust

George W. Cox, The Life of John William Colenso, D.D., Bishop of Natal, 2 vols. (London: W. Ridgway, 1888): HathiTrust

Randall Thomas Davidson, The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867–1920 (London: SPCK, 1929): WorldCat

Audrey Brooke, Robert Gray, First Bishop of Cape Town (Oxford: University Press, 1947): WorldCat

A.M.G. Stephenson, The First Lambeth Conference 1867 (London: SPCK, 1967): WorldCat

Jeff Guy, The Heretic: A Study of the Life of John William Colenso 1814–1883 (Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg, 1983): WorldCat

“John William Colenso,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. ed (Oxford: University Press, 2005): Oxford Reference

The Church’s One Foundation:

John Julian, “The church’s one foundation,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: J. Murray, 1892), pp. 1146-1147.

Duncan Campbell, “Samuel John Stone,” Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A&C Black, 1898), p. 153:

“The church’s one foundation,” Hymns Ancient & Modern Historical Edition (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1909), pp. 493-494.

Percy Dearmer, “The church’s one foundation,” Songs of Praise Discussed (Oxford: University Press, 1933), p. 147.

Erik Routley, “The church’s one foundation,” Hymns and the Faith (London: John Murray, 1955), pp. 235-246.

Frank Colquhoun, “The church’s one foundation,” Hymns That Live (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), pp. 282-289.

J.R. Watson, “The church’s one foundation,” Companion to Hymns & Psalms (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House, 1988), p. 306.

Robin A. Leaver & Nicholas Temperley, “The church’s one foundation,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3B (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994), no. 525.

J.R. Watson, “The church’s one foundation,” An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: University Press, 2002), pp. 338-340.

Hymns of Faith: Songs for the Apostles’ Creed [a new edition of Stone’s Lyra Fidelium with a foreword by Joshua Reitano] (Raleigh, NC: Cardiphonia Books, 2013).

Samuel J. Rogal, The Music and Poetry of The Church’s One Foundation (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2014): WorldCat

Carl P. Daw Jr. “The church’s one foundation,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 324-325.

“The church’s one foundation,”

“The church’s one foundation,” Indelible Grace Hymn Book:

[Bruce Benedict, et al.,] “Hymns of Faith: Songs for the Apostles’ Creed,” Cardiphonia (Oct. 2010):

H.E.C. Stapleton, “The church’s one foundation,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:’s-one-foundation

Robert Cottrill, “The church’s one foundation,” WordWise Hymns: