History of Hymns: “Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit”

by Ulston Smith

"Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit"
Thomas Troeger
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 264

Thomas Troeger

“Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit!”
cried God’s healing Holy One.
“Cease your ranting! Flesh can’t bear it.
Flee as night before the sun.”
At Christ’s words the demon trembled,
from its victim madly rushed,
while the crowd that was assembled
stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.*


Few, if any, hymns address the casting out of demons found in Mark 1:21-28. Thomas Troeger wrote “Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit” and others in his New Hymns for the Lectionary (1986) to fill in gaps where hymns did not exist for the text of the day. 

This hymn, written in 1984, may be used for the occasion of a healing service and also for any service where demonic activity is a theme or focal point of the sermon. It reads and sings as if a dramatic play is unfolding before your eyes. The stanzas contain a progressive theological paradigm that ends with restoration. 

In stanza one, Jesus confronts the demon-possessed man. The demons recognized Jesus, called him the Holy One and exhibited fear as Jesus spoke. The gathered were in dismay that Jesus would command the demons—and more so, that they obey him. The theological emphasis here is that God is almighty and acts on our behalf by confronting our adversary. 

Stanza two chronicles the condition of one under the influence of demonic possession. This possession affects the person’s mind and has varying manifestations including fear, voices that create self-doubt, distorting of one’s ability to reason and feelings of anxiousness. In theological terms, the devil is relentless in his attempts to cripple our faith and keep us under oppression, thus making us less than what God created us to be. 

In the final stanza, the voice of Jesus causes the demons to flee bringing a state of calm and peace. There is also clarity of thought and restoration of the body. The theological point here is that the power of God manifested in our lives brings restoration. 

Dr. Troeger (b. 1945) is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. After serving in other teaching posts, he was jointly appointed in 2005 as the J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor of Christian Communication at Yale Divinity School and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. 

The music was written by noted musician Carol Doran (b. 1936). She served on the faculty of the Colgate Rochester Divinity School-Bexley Hall-Crozer Theological Seminary as associate professor of worship and pastoral music, and later at Virginia Theological Seminary. 

Both the words and tune have been unaltered since the hymn’s first publication. Some sources have suggestions for alternate tunes including EBENEZER and HYMN TO JOY, which in themselves are beautiful tunes. However, these alternate tunes lack the musical expressiveness to properly convey the deep theology embedded in the text. 

There is a depth to the poetic landscape of the text and the inseparable union with the music. As Jesus confronts the demon, the undergirding harmony is very dissonant and depicts the struggle. The melody is resolute, portraying the authority of Jesus. 

The second half of the music reflects a lyrical, dance-like folk song—a hermeneutic for the victory that is won by Jesus and the wholeness he gives. 

At the end of the last stanza, the music uses a major chord to finish up the hymn. The shift in tonality is used as a proclamatory device for restoration and wholeness. It also befits the series of petitions of this final stanza that comes to a salvific climax on the word “wholeness.”
 

*© 1984 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Mr. Smith, a Moravian minister from Antigua, is a master of sacred music student at Perkins School of Theology and a student of Dr. Michael Hawn.