¿Por qué somos?: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 5

Our Father knows and loves His children all over the world, from Boston to Okinawa, from San Antonio to Spain, from Italy to Costa Rica. In Ghana, President Gordon B. Hinckley recently thanked the Lord “for the brotherhood that exists among us, that neither color of skin nor land of birth can separate us as Thy sons and daughters.” …

We come to this world in many colors, shapes, sizes, and circumstances. We don’t have to be rich, tall, thin, brilliant, or beautiful to be saved in the kingdom of God—only pure. We need to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. And we can all choose to do that regardless of where we live or what we look like.[1]

~Clate W. Mask Jr.

 

Note: This is a part of an ongoing series.  To start at the introduction, follow the link here.

Hymn Text:

The hymn ¿Por qué somos? by Edmund W. Richardson was initially published in the 1912 edition of Himnos de Sion (see Figure 1).  It is one of the three hymns that were written originally in Spanish that are included in the 1992 Spanish hymnal.  The hymn has also been included in the Portuguese hymnal as “De que rumo vêm os homens”, though it is not included in the current hymnbook in that language.  The original publication indicated that it should be sung to the tune of hymn 50 in Songs of Zion, which was ELIZA by Joseph J. Daynes (the tune used in English for “Lord, Accept Our True Devotion”).  There have been some changes to the text over they years (see Table 1).

Figure 1. ¿Por qué somos? in the 1912 edition of Himnos de Sion.

Figure 1. ¿Por qué somos? in the 1912 edition of Himnos de Sion.

 

Table 1. The text of ¿Por qué somos? in different hymn books over the years.

1912 Himnos de Sion 1942 Himnos de Sion 1992 Himnos
¿Hacia dónde van los hombres,

Y aquí de dónde son?

¿Quién los puso en el mundo,

Y aquí, por qué están?

Yo contesto: Dios el Padre,

E que hizo todo ser,

Púsolos aquí en carne,

A obrar su perfección.

¿Hacia dónde van los hombres,

Y aquí de dónde son?

¿Quién los puso en el mundo,

Y aquí, por qué están?

Yo contesto: Dios el Padre,

E que hizo todo ser,

Púsolos aquí en carne,

A obrar su perfección.

¿Hacia dónde van los hombres,

y de dónde provendrán?

¿Quién los puso en el mundo,

y aquí por qué están?

Yo contesto: Dios el Padre,

el autor de la Creación.

Él los puso en el mundo

a labrar su perfección.

Aunque no se perfeccionen,

Se espera progresión;

El que poco, pues, progrese,

Poco es su galardón.

Para él que no progrese,

Hay mayor condenación;

El que peque prefiriendo,

Para tal, no hay perdón.

Aunque no se perfeccionan,

Se espera progresión;

El que poco, pues, progrese,

Poco es su galardón.

Para el que no progrese

Hay mayor condenación,

El que peque, prefiriendo,

Para tal, no hay perdón.

Aunque no se perfeccionen,

se espera progresión;

para quien progrese poco,

será poco el galardón.

Para el que no progrese

hay mayor condenación;

el que no se arrepienta

no podrá tener perdón.

Que cayera nuestro padre

Por el fruto del Edén,

Esto Dioses decretaron,

Todo fué por nuestro bien;

Y que Cristo expiara,

Fué también Eterno Plan,

Que existe desde antes

Que el mundo y Adam.

Que cayera nuestro padre

Por el fruto del Edén;

Esto, Dioses decretaron,

Todo fué por nuestro bien.

Y que Cristo expïara,

Fué también eterno plan,

Que existe desde antes

Que el mundo y Adán.

Que cayeran nuestros padres

por el fruto del Edén,

fue planeado en los cielos;

todo fue por nuestro bien.

Y la Expiación de Cristo,

parte fue de ese plan

que los Dioses presentaron

en el mundo premortal.

Más que lucros mundanales,

Yo prefiero salvación;

Para ella se requiere

Obras, fe, abnegación.

Ya después aprenderemos

Más del gran Eterno Plan;

Esta vida, finalmente,

Vida es, de probación.

Más que lucros mundanales,

Yo prefiero salvación,

Para ello se requiere:

Obras, fe, abnegación.

Y después aprenderemos

Más del gran eterno plan,

Esta vida, finalmente,

Vida es, de probación.

Más que lucros mundanales,

quiero la exaltación;

para ello se requieren

obras y abnegación.

Ya después aprenderemos

más del plan de salvación;

esta vida, finalmente,

vida es de probación.

 

The author, Edmund Wilford Richardson (1884 – 1974), was discussed previously as the most prolific author of original Spanish hymns in the Mexican Mission hymnals, authoring 10 out of the 23 original hymns in the 1912 edition.  He was serving as a missionary in the Mexican Mission when the 1912 edition was printed, so may have written this hymn during his time as a missionary.

 

Table 2. My translation of ¿Por qué somos?, based primarily on the 1992 edition of the hymn.

1992 Himnos Prose English Translation Poetic English Translation
¿Hacia dónde van los hombres,

y de dónde provendrán?

¿Quién los puso en el mundo,

y aquí por qué están?

Yo contesto: Dios el Padre,

el autor de la Creación.

Él los puso en el mundo

a labrar su perfección.

Where do men go,

and where will they come from?

Who put them in the world,

and why are they here?

I answer: God the Father,

the author of Creation.

He put them in the world

to work His perfection.

Where do we go after dying?

Where did we come from at birth?

Who put people on this planet?

Why are we here on this earth?

This I answer: God the Father,

Author of all things throughout.

He put people on this planet,

Our perfection to work out.

Aunque no se perfeccionen,

se espera progresión;

para quien progrese poco,

será poco el galardón.

Para el que no progrese

hay mayor condenación;

el que no se arrepienta

no podrá tener perdón.

Even if they are not perfected,

progression is expected;

for those who progress little,

The award will be little.

For the one who does not progress

there is greater condemnation;

the one who does not repent

Can not have forgiveness.

Even if we aren’t perfected,

Progress is expected here;

Those who make but little progress,

Their reward will be austere.

Then for those who do not progress

There will come severe reproof:

For the one who’s not repentant,

God’s forgiveness is aloof.

Que cayeran nuestros padres

por el fruto del Edén,

fue planeado en los cielos;

todo fue por nuestro bien.

Y la Expiación de Cristo,

parte fue de ese plan

que los Dioses presentaron

en el mundo premortal.

That our parents fell

for the fruit of Eden,

it was planned in the heavens;

everything was for our good.

And the Atonement of Christ,

Was part of that plan

that the Gods presented

in the premortal world.

Eve and Adam fell in Eden,

For the fruit of that blessed wood:

This was planned above in heaven;

Everything was for our good.

The Atonement of our Savior

Also was part of that plan

That the Godhead once presented,

Long before this life began.

 

Más que lucros mundanales,

quiero la exaltación;

para ello se requieren

obras y abnegación.

Ya después aprenderemos

más del plan de salvación;

esta vida, finalmente,

vida es de probación.

More than mundane profits,

I want the exaltation;

for this they are required

works and self-denial.

Later we will learn

more of the plan of salvation;

this life, in the end,

life is probation.

More than gaining worldly lucre,

Exaltation I desire.

Righteous works and self-denial

For this blessing They require.

In the future, we will learn more:

The Plan of Salvation known;

Ultimately, mortal life is

A probation for a throne.

 

Music:

Here is what the music might have appeared like if printed together with the text in 1912.

And here it is with the English translation:

New Music:

This was actually one of the hymns I submitted for consideration with the new hymnal.  My wife didn’t care for the dorian-mode tonality with it, but I like it.

 

And here is my music with my translation:

History:

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints post-WWII, the statement that a socialist and anarchist was largely responsible for initiating missionary work in the country that is home to the second-largest community of Latter-day Saints is unexpected.  Yet, that is exactly what happened in Mexico thanks to Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty and his associates.

During the initial expedition of Latter-day Saint missionaries into northern Mexico in 1875-1876, they brought with them fifteen hundreds of copies of the Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormón (selections from the Book of Mormon) that Melitón Trejo had translated, packing them in by mule and horseback, and sent out five hundred copies to prominent men in central Mexico via mail from Chihuahua City.  One of these fell into the hands of Plotino Rhodakanaty, an immigrant with Greek and Austrian heritage who advocated for socialism in Mexico.  Rhodakanaty had arrived in Mexico from Europe in 1861 and began publishing works like La Cartilla Socialista and founded La Escuela del Rayo y del Socialismo in Chalco to propagate the ideas of contemporary European thinkers and socialists.  He is considered the intellectual father of Mexico’s agrarian and syndicalist movements as well as ideas on freedom and liberty that were direct intellectual precursors of the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917.   When he read Trozos Selectos del Libro de Mormón, he was particularly impressed with the portrayal of a Zion-like society in 4 Nephi. At that point, he taught at the Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City and had gathered a group of like-minded individuals around him, with whom he shared what he had found.  Soon, he began writing to John Taylor (who was leading the Church at the time), demanding that missionaries be sent to Mexico City.

The letters that Rhodakanaty sent outline what his expectations and desires were for association with the Church.  Prior to even hearing about the Book of Mormon, however, Rhodakanaty had outlined his ideas for a socialist Christianity: “It has been eighteen centuries since humanity was moved to listen to the eloquent and sublime voice of twelve inspired fishermen who preached the doctrine of Jesus Christ.  This doctrine was that of socialism.”[2]  He had heard of the communitarian “United Order of Enoch” projects that Latter-day Saints in the American west had been attempting and in his December 15, 1878 letter to President John Taylor, he expressed his belief that the Church would lead to a “humanitarian transformation not just of a religious order, but also in moral, social, and political” spheres.  In requesting missionaries to come, he stated that his group was “vehemently desirous to perform our mission as providential instruments of divine will for the salvation of so many poor souls as there are today in this country.”  He added that he desired missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to preach in Mexico “in order to accomplish radical reformation and the salvation not just of our country, but the world.”[3]

Letter from Rhodakanaty to John Taylor[7]

As Bill Smith and Jared Tamez have pointed out, Rhodakanaty and Taylor likely misunderstood each other in their correspondence.  The terms Rhodakanaty used (i.e., transformation, salvation of poor souls, reformation and salvation) were used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to represent the spiritual salvation of converts and changes in how people lived their lives as a result.  Hence, John Taylor likely understood it simply as a request for missionaries to come preach and baptize.  Yet, keeping in mind Rhodakanaty’s background as an ardent socialist reformer, it seems likely that he had economic and social salvation as part of the package deal, along with the spiritual salvation.  As Smith and Tamez wrote:

In the original Spanish … ‘poor souls’ (‘pobres almas’) signifies not just the poor in spirit, but the literal poor, the masses in Mexico for whom Rhodakanaty fought before and after his association with the Mormons.  The possibilities for the poor in Mormon-style United Orders would have been appealing. … Rhodakanaty and Taylor were engaged in a good-faith dialogue while in reality neither fully understood the other.  This would bode ill for future collaboration.[4]

Their initial communications seem to have involved Rhodakanaty and Taylor talking past each other, which led to difficulties for Rhodakanaty staying involved with the Church in the long-term.

Rhodakanaty’s requests were sufficient enough for John Taylor to authorize and call a missionary group to travel to central Mexico and launch missionary work there.  In November 1879, Apostle Moses Thatcher, James Z. Stewart, and Melitón Trejo (who had been corresponding with Plotino Rhodakanaty) traveled to Mexico City and met with Rhodakanaty and his circle of friends.  Thatcher and his companions were enthusiastic about the situation and baptized and confirmed Rhodakanaty as well as Silviano Arteaga (one of Rhodakanaty’s inner circle) on November 20, 1879.  Three days later, six others were baptized.  Some of the new converts were ordained to the priesthood and Thatcher organized a branch with Rhodakanaty as president, Arteaga and another convert (José Ybarola) as his counselors.[5]

Shortly thereafter, Thatcher dedicated Mexico for the preaching of the gospel.  On January 25, 1880, on the upper floor of his hotel, Thatcher and others gathered and Thatcher offered the first prayer.  As he recorded in his journal:

I was first in suplication, and did dedicate the land of Mexico to God our heavenly Father and should it be his will, to the colonization, by His Saints of any and or all works thereof: that through them salvation <may> come to many of the inhabitants of the republic, and especially to the remnants of Israel, the poor forsaken Lamanites, who for so many centuries have knew nought but bondage and sorrow. I prayed, that from this hour the fetters which have so long bound their bodys and souls might be by the power of God broken and shaken off: that their leading thoughtful men might have dreams, visions and manifestations to prepare them and their brethren for the truths of the gospel and a knowledge of their fathers, who knew God. That as the coming of the Spanish Conquerors foreshadowed their downfall, so might the coming of the messengers of peace, bringing tidings of great joy, foreshadow their near approaching deliverance and quickly establish, under God, their supremacy. That as the first thoroughly conquered them with the sword, so may the latter even more effectively conquer their hearts with the words of truth and the love of Christ Jesus our Lord. I dedicated unto this end and for the good of God’s servant the lands the water the timbers and all surroundings and prayed that peace might hover over the face thereof, that violence might be removed and revolutions and the shedding of blood removed and that to this end the hearts of government officials and influential men of the nation might be softened and inclined to peace, instead of hardened and given to intrigues and war.[6]

This dedicatory prayer laid out the expectations and desires of Moses Thatcher for the Mexican Mission in its earliest days.

At that point, things looked promising for this first mission in Mexico.  Subsequent events would unfold rapidly, however, ultimately leading to a downturn in success.  But first, they would continue to proselytize and bring in some stalwart pioneers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Clate W. Mask Jr., “Standing Spotless before the Lord,” CR April 2004, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2004/04/standing-spotless-before-the-lord.p23?lang=eng

[2] Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Cartilla Socialista; o sea Catecismo elemental de la Escuela Socialista de Carlos Fourier (Mexico City: n.p., 1871), 1.  Cited in Bill Smith and Jared M. Tamez, “Plotino C. Rhodakanaty: Mormonism’s Greek Austrian Mexican Socialist,” in Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, ed. Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 59.

[3] Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, “Letter, 15 December 1878, Mexico City, to the President and Apostles of ‘The Christian Church of the Latter-day Saints’, Salt Lake City, Utah”, cited in Smith and Tamez, 60-61.

[4] Smith and Tamez, 61.

[5] See F. LaMond Tullis, Grass Roots in Mexico: Stories of Pioneering Latter-day Saints (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2021), 6-7.

[6] Moses Thatcher Journal, January 25, 1880, https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/MMD/id/32845/rec/4.  See also https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2022/04/12/dedicatory-prayer-for-mexico/.

[7] First Presidency (John Taylor) correspondence, 1877-1887; Letters, 1878; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty letters, 1878; Plotino C. Rhodakanaty letter, Mexico City, Mexico; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/fe54957f-9462-4bcb-8fa3-1b326e3bfb48/0/2 (accessed: October 22, 2022)

6 comments for “¿Por qué somos?: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 5

  1. Thank you for your work on these hymns! I’ve seen the titles and first lines of these songs many times in my music projects, but I don’t often take the time to read through them and understand their messages – despite having served a Spanish-speaking mission.

    This hymn, “¿Por qué somos?”, is my favorite so far in this series. Some of the others seem either too didactic, or their themes are commonly found in other hymns, but this one has some unique expression and enthusiasm that, with a good translation, I think would be well-liked by Church members in English and other languages.

  2. Thanks Samuel! It seems like this one has a good shot at making it into the next hymnbook, so I’m hopeful (whether the original music or my submission).
    By the way, do you have any suggestions on improvements for this translation of the hymn?

  3. I like your translation! I thought I’d try my hand at my own translation as well. This hymn is hard to get a precise literal translation while keeping the flow. In the first two lines, for example, it seems like it has to be stretched in English to be able to get the right number of syllables. Here’s what I have so far for the first verse:

    Have you pondered where you’re going,
    Whence you’ve come, or why you’re here?
    Have you wondered who created
    Friends and strangers far and near?
    God, the Father of Creation,
    Is the author of the plan,
    And his work of exaltation
    Is the reason it began.

  4. I like what you’re doing with it there, Samuel. It’s less literal translation, but smoother in conveying the ideas of the hymn.

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