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§ 113. Church Poetry and Music.


J. Rambach: Anthologie christl. Gesänge aus allen Jahrh. der christl. Kirche. Altona, 1817–’33. H. A. Daniel: Thesaurus hymnologicus. Hal. 1841–’56, 5 vols. Edélestand du Méril: Poésies populaires latines antérieures au douzième siècle. Paris, 1843. C. Fortlage: Gesänge der christl. Vorzeit. Berlin, 1844. G. A. Königsfeld u. A. W. v. Schlegel: Altchristliche Hymnen u. Gesaenge lateinisch u. Deutsch. Bonn, 1847. Second collection by Königsfeld, Bonn, 1865. E. E. Koch: Geschichte des Kirchenlieds u. Kirchengesangs der christl., insbesondere der deutschen evangel. Kirche. 2d ed. Stuttgart, 1852 f. 4 vols. (i. 10–30). F. J. Mone: Latein. Hymnen des Mittelalters (from MSS.), Freiburg, 1853–’55. (Vol. i., hymns of God and angels; ii., h. of Mary; iii., h. of saints.) Bässler: Auswahl Alt-christl. Lieder vom 2–15ten Jahrh. Berlin, 1858. R. Ch. Trench: Sacred Latin Poetry, chiefly lyrical, selected and arranged for use; with Notes and Introduction (1849), 2d ed. improved, Lond. and Cambr. 1864. The valuable hymnological works of Dr. J. M. Neale (of Sackville College, Oxford): The Ecclesiastical Latin Poetry of the Middle Ages (in Henry Thompson’s History of Roman Literature, Lond. and Glasgow., 1852, p. 213 ff.); Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences, Lond. 1851; Sequentiae ex Missalibus, 1852; Hymns of the Eastern Church, 1862, several articles in the Ecclesiologist; and a Latin dissertation, De Sequentiis, in the Essays on Liturgiology, etc., p. 359 sqq. (Comp. also J. Chandler: The Hymns of the Primitive Church, now first collected, translated, and arranged, Lond. 1837.)


Poetry, and its twin sister music, are the most sublime and spiritual arts, and are much more akin to the genius of Christianity, and minister far more copiously to the purposes of devotion and edification than architecture, painting, and sculpture. They employ word and tone, and can speak thereby more directly to the spirit than the plastic arts by stone and color, and give more adequate expression to the whole wealth of the world of thought and feeling. In the Old Testament, as is well known, they were essential parts of divine worship; and so they have been in all ages and almost all branches of the Christian church.

Of the various species of religious poetry, the hymn is the earliest and most important. It has a rich history, in which the deepest experiences of Christian life are stored. But it attains full bloom in the Evangelical church of the German and English tongue, where it, like the Bible, becomes for the first time truly the possession of the people, instead of being restricted to priest or choir.

The hymn, in the narrower sense, belongs to lyrical poetry, or the poetry of feeling, in distinction from the epic and dramatic. It differs also from the other forms of the lyric (ode, elegy, sonnet, cantata, &c.) in its devotional nature, its popular form, and its adaptation to singing. The hymn is a popular spiritual song, presenting a healthful Christian sentiment in a noble, simple, and universally intelligible form, and adapted to be read and sung with edification by the whole congregation of the faithful. It must therefore contain nothing inconsistent with Scripture, with the doctrines of the church, with general Christian experience, or with the spirit of devotion. Every believing Christian can join in the Gloria in Excelsis or the Te Deum. The classic hymns, which are, indeed, comparatively few, stand above confessional differences, and resolve the discords of human opinions in heavenly harmony. They resemble in this the Psalms, from which all branches of the militant church draw daily nourishment and comfort. They exhibit the bloom of the Christian life in the Sabbath dress of beauty and holy rapture. They resound in all pious hearts, and have, like the daily rising sun and the yearly returning spring, an indestructible freshness and power. In truth, their benign virtue increases with increasing age, like that of healing herbs, which is the richer the longer they are bruised. They are true benefactors of the struggling church, ministering angels sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation. Next to the Holy Scripture, a good hymn-book is the richest fountain of edification.

The book of Psalms is the oldest Christian hymn-book, inherited by the church from the ancient covenant. The appearance of the Messiah upon earth was the beginning of Christian poetry, and was greeted by the immortal songs of Mary, of Elizabeth, of Simeon, and of the heavenly host. Religion and poetry are married, therefore, in the gospel. In the Epistles traces also appear of primitive Christian songs, in rhythmical quotations which are not demonstrably taken from the Old Testament.12311231   E.g., Eph. v. 14, where either the Holy Spirit moving in the apostolic poesy, or (as I venture to suggest) the previously mentioned Light personified, is introduced (διὸ λέγει) speaking in three strophes:
   Ἔγειρε ὁ καθεύδων,

   Καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν·

   Καὶ ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ Χριστός.

   Comp. Rev. iv. 8; 1 Tim. iii. 16; 2 Tim. ii. 11; and my History of the Apostolic Church, § 141.
We know from the letter of the elder Pliny to Trajan, that the Christians, in the beginning of the second century, praised Christ as their God in songs; and from a later source, that there was a multitude of such songs.12321232   2 Comp. Euseb. H. E. v. 28.

Notwithstanding this, we have no complete religious song remaining from the period of persecution, except the song of Clement of Alexandria to the divine Logos—which, however, cannot be called a hymn, and was probably never intended for public use—the Morning Song12331233   ὝΥμνος ἑωθινός, beginning: Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις Θεῷ, in Const. Apost. vii. 47 (al, 48), and in Daniel’s Thesaur. hymnol. iii. p. 4. and the Evening Song12341234   ὝΥμνος ἐσπερινός, which begins: Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης, see Daniel, iii 5. in the Apostolic Constitutions, especially the former, the so-called Gloria in Excelsis, which, as an expansion of the doxology of the heavenly hosts, still rings in all parts of the Christian world. Next in order comes the Te Deum, in its original Eastern form, or the καθ ̓ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν, which is older than Ambrose. The Ter Sanctus, and several ancient liturgical prayers, also may be regarded as poems. For the hymn is, in fact, nothing else than a prayer in the festive garb of poetical inspiration, and the best liturgical prayers are poetical creations. Measure and rhyme are by no means essential.

Upon these fruitful biblical and primitive Christian models arose the hymnology of the ancient catholic church, which forms the first stage in the history of hymnology, and upon which the mediaeval, and then the evangelical Protestant stage, with their several epochs, follow.



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