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XI. Appendix: The Decline Of Psalmody In French-Speaking Reformed
Churches.139139Not delivered in connection with the “Stone Lectures.”

We have considered thus at length the Genevan Psalmody in Switzerland and France, because in it we are dealing with the source and spring of the Reformed Psalmody in general. And the logical course would be to proceed at once to follow the several streams of its advance into other countries until we shall have gained a connected history of the whole movement to establish Metrical Psalmody, and then to follow that with a similar study of its general decline. But the actual materials hardly admit such an arrangement. We have to deal not with the Psalmody of the Reformed Church, but with that of national Reformed Churches, mutually connected with Geneva, but severally independent; subject to common 108 influences, but separated by national boundaries. The materials for our study insist in grouping themselves along these national lines, and the only practicable way to a complete account of the development and decline of Reformed Psalmody is to take up the national Churches consecutively, and in each case to follow the history of the Psalmody from its rise to its transition into modern Hymnody, noting as we proceed those common principles and influences which gave unity to the whole movement.

Our next step, therefore, is to carry forward the story of the Genevan Psalmody in its original home and in France to the point of its ultimate displacement.

For more than a century after its completion the Genevan Psalter, without alteration, continued in universal use among French-speaking Reformed churches. But during a considerable part of that period several causes were coöperating to produce marked changes both in the spirit and practice of the Psalmody.

(1) The first of these was the waning of the enthusiasm characteristic of the early Psalm singing. As French Protestantism gradually lowered its aggressive ideal of winning France to that of establishing itself within effective lines of defense against outside interference, so the tone of its worship also was lowered, and it had to be defended against that spirit of indifference lurking at the gate of every church. This indifference, naturally, was especially conspicuous in the Psalmody, because congregational song depends upon the good will of the greatest number of people.

In 1579 the national Synod of Figeac advised “Churches that in singing Psalms do first cause each verse to be read,... to forbear that childish Custom, and such as have used themselves unto it shall be censured.”140140Quick, Synodicon, vol. i, p. 132. This early introduction of what came to be known as “lining the Psalm,” plainly marked a decadence. Two years later the Second Synod of Rochelle dealt with current indifference to Psalmody as follows:


“Forasmuch as there is a notorious contempt of Religion visible in all places, yea also in our Religious Meetings, we advise that Notice be given to all Persons, to bring with them their Psalm-Books into the Churches, and that such as contemptuously neglect the doing of it, shall be severely censur’d; and all Protestant Printers are advised not to sunder in their Impressions the Prayers and Catechism from the Psalm-Books.”141141Ibid, vol. i, p. 139.

The lessened interest in Psalm singing continued to manifest itself in spite of these ecclesiastical censures. Some of the churches found it tedious to sing through the whole of the allotted portions (“pauses”) of the Psalter, and undertook to skimp them. In 1617, the Second Synod of Vitré dealt with this practice as follows:

“Whereas Complaints are made us, that in some Churches before Sermon they sing part of the Psalm, and reserve the last Verse for conclusion of the Exercise. This Assembly injoins all the Churches to sing out the whole pause, and to conform themselves as much as may be to the ancient Order.”142142Synodicon, vol. i, p. 499.

The succeeding Synod of Alez, in its “Observations made on Reading the Acts of the last National Synod held at Vitré,” thought that the practice had been dealt with too leniently, and ordered that:

“These words, as much as may be, shall be razed out of that Canon which had enjoyned the Churches to sing full parts of Psalms, and so conform themselves into that Antient Custom in use with us ever since the Reformation.”143143Synodicon, vol. ii, p. 11.

These successive actions of Synod show a real desire and effort to maintain the Reformation Psalmody in its integrity. All the practices condemned were actual breaches of the established church discipline, and capable of correction. But the waning of the earlier enthusiasm was beyond the reach of any process of discipline.

(2) Partly a cause and partly an effect of this changed attitude toward the Psalmody was a dissatisfaction with the canonical Psalter itself as the subject-matter of praise. In the 110 first enthusiasm at receiving and singing the Word of God in their own tongue, one Psalm was as good as another, and to the bold and aggressive spirit of the early Huguenots the imprecatory Psalms were far from unwelcome. The colder spirit of later generations felt the need of discrimination, and this they exercised in the way most feasible, the way of selecting from the Psalter the Psalms they thought best adapted to public worship. By the end of the sixteenth century144144Douen, vol. i, p. 526. the custom of singing through the Psalter in course was generally given up in France, and the choice of the Psalms for the day was recognized as being in the pastor’s hands. In Switzerland the old custom obtained somewhat longer; in some parts, as at Neuchâtel, it lingered till well toward the middle of the eighteenth century.145145See Bovet, p. 48, note. And in France, even to our own day, there have been voices of earnest protest against eliminating from actual use any part of the Psalter as being an unwarranted tampering with God’s Word.146146See preface to the complete Les Psaumes de David tout en musique suivis des continues sacrés, Paris 1840: published by authority of the consistory of the Reformed Church of Paris.

(3) Parallel with the desire to eliminate parts of the Psalter was the desire to supplement it by adding other songs of Scripture. In this there was nothing inconsistent with Genevan principles; and the Genevan Psalter of 1562 already contained Marot’s version of the Song of Simeon and the versified Ten Commandments. The project was in fact committed, in 1594, by the national Synod of Montauban to Beza himself, then residing at Geneva in his honored old age. Beza responded in 1595 by publishing at Geneva sixteen versions of Scripture songs as Les saincts Cantiques recueillis tant du Vieil que de Nouueau Testament, mis en rime Françoise par Theodore de Besze.147147For its contents, see Douen, vol. ii, bibliographie, No. 216. In 1598 the national Synod of Montpellier directed that “they shall be received and sung in Families, thereby to dispose and fit the People for the Publick 111 Usage of them in the Churches, until the next National Synod.”148148Quick, Synodicon, vol. i, p. 196. Beza’s collection was reprinted in 1597 and 1598, but very soon fell out of sight. It may be that Beza’s versions did not appeal to the popular taste. Or it may be that the real demand was already for a more distinctively evangelical Psalmody, and that Beza’s versions, which with two exceptions were passages from the Old Testament, did not meet the demand, or even add materially to the resources furnished by the Book of Psalms.

(4) The great changes in the vocabulary, syntax and prosody of the French language in the latter half of the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century contributed greatly to the dissatisfaction with the Psalmody. The language and versification of the Genevan Psalter became at first antiquated and then uncouth. Ultimately it became even unintelligible to the common people. The revision of the Psalter was felt to be a necessity, lest the Reformed Church should share the reproach of the Latin Church of singing the Psalms in a dead and unknown tongue.149149“Avertissement” prefixed to Conrart’s revision. As early as 1646, Jean Diodati, himself a native of Geneva, declared in the preface to his Les Pseaumes de David, en rime, that for a long time, a revision had been desired, in order to overcome the distaste felt by many for the Psalmody.

It was not, however, until the last quarter of the seventeenth century that the revision of the Genevan Psalter was officially undertaken. A number of provincial synods united in requesting Valentine Conrart, the eminent secretary of the French Academy, to revise Marot and Beza’s work in the original metres, retaining so much of the language as was practicable. The first fifty-one Psalms with melodies, and accompanied by the prose version, appeared in 1677 as Le livre des Psaumes, en vers françois, par Cl. Ma. et Th. de Bè. retouchez par feu Monsieur Conrart, Conseillor Secretaire du Roy,... Première partie.150150Bovet, bibliographie, No. 192. It was twice reprinted in the same year. The complete Psalter appeared in 1679 as 112 Les Psaumes en vers François, retouchez sur l’ancienne version. Par feu M. V. Conrart, Conseillor, etc.,151151Ibid, No. 195. with the approbation of several synods. Though claiming to be only a revision, Conrart’s is substantially a new version. Gilbert, the author of a rival version, endeavored to deprive the new Psalter of the distinction of Conrart’s name. Conrart had died in 1675, and left his MSS. to his friend M. A. de La Bastide to be prepared for the press. Gilbert claimed that Conrart’s work had been so largely rewritten that the printed book should not bear his name.152152Les Pseaumes en vers François par Mr. Gilbert, Paris, 1780: preface, pp. 2, 3. There are grounds for thinking that Gilbert underestimated Conrart’s part in the new version,153153See Bovet, pp. 157-159. which continued to be known by his name.

Conrart’s Psalter appeared at a time when, under Louis XIV, the Reformed Church was under constraint and distress, soon to culminate in the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). No national council could be held, and any official authorization of changes of worship was impracticable. The new version was used independently in some congregations, but more, so far as they remained unscattered, went on in the old way.

It was the refugee congregation at Zurich which again brought forward the project of revision, overturing to Geneva, as the head of Reformed Churches, to take up the matter. The reply of the Venerable Company of Pastors was favorable. They appointed a committee of three of their number to examine Conrart’s version, with special instructions to eliminate any expression of the imprecations of the Jews against their enemies.154154Bovet, p. 164. The work of the committee, largely performed by Benedict Pictet, was complete in 1693. The new rescension was probably printed in 1695, but no copy of the original edition is known to have survived. The title of the 1701 edition reads: Les pseaumes de David mis en vers françois. Revus de nouveau sur les précédentes editions, 113 approuvés par les Pasteurs et Professeurs de l’Eglise et de l’Academie de Genéve. It was introduced at Geneva in October or November, 1698, and after a year’s trial of it, a circular letter was sent to the other French-speaking Reformed churches, explaining the motive and method of the new rescension of Conrart, and inviting its general adoption.155155Bovet, pp. 165, 166.

The responses of the churches showed anything but unanimity.156156They were printed in a pamphlet (without date), Récit de la manière dont les psaumes de David, retouches par M. Conrart ont été introduits dans l’Eglise de Genève. See Bovet, p. 243, and, for a summary of the responses, pp. 166, 167. In Switzerland the new Genevan Psalter was adopted by many of the French refugee churches and by the national churches of Erguel and Neuchâtel; at Berne it was rejected. The French churches at London, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Frankfurt either rejected it or postponed its examination. The church at Berlin adopted it with qualifications, and issued an edition with amendments of its own.157157H. L. Bennett in Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 936 dates this as 1702; but a London ed. of Les Psaumes de David, retouchez, etc., bears in its title the words Revûs a Geneve & á Berlin. The 1702 ed. (Berlin) claims, however, to be retouchée une derniere fois. The Church of the United Provinces (“Synode Wallon”) resented the primacy assumed by Geneva in issuing without consultation a new Psalter, and offering it for general adoption. This was pronounced an act of schism, and the bitterness thus aroused continued through years of controversy and alienation.158158For the scarce pamphlet literature embodying this controversy see Bovet, appendice, note ix, and, for the details of the Walloon revision, pp. 169-171. The “Synode Wallon” undertook ineffectually a revision of its own; most of its churches falling back on Marot and Beza. Eventually Conrart’s version was accepted as a basis, and was subjected to a fresh rescension, which appeared at The Hague in 1720 as Les Pseaumes de David, mis en vers François, et revus et approuvez par le synode wallon des Provinces-unies.159159This issue, reported by M. Douen, bibliographie No. 439, anticipates by two years, the date of publishing the Walloon revision given by Bovet, pp. 172, 287. This was authorized 114 by the States General in 1729, and was very frequently reprinted.

Upon the adoption of this Psalter the version of Conrart in its three rescensions, that of Geneva, that of Berlin and this of the “Synode Wallon,” was in possession of the entire field. But the new version never attained anything like the position of the old. All the sacred associations of the Psalms with the sufferings of the fathers were enshrined in Marot and Beza. The new version depended for its welcome upon the fact that it restored the text of the Psalms to a shape practicable for general use. But metrical Psalms had lost their authority in French-speaking churches. The curious zeal for revision which made the Psalms an object of contention, and which brought forth further proposals for elimination and still new versions, had its roots not in a common zeal for the purest text, but rather in dissatisfaction in the use of Psalms. Behind was a growing desire among the churches for a Hymnody that should be frankly evangelical. Psalm singing continued for a long time in spite of the raillery of Voltaire;160160Voltaire’s well-known characterization of Geneva and its Psalmody was published in 1768 in “premier chant” of “La guerre civile de Genève” (Oeuvres completes de Voltaire, Basle, 1785, vol. xii, pp. 295, 296). Disregarding the rhythm, it may be rendered line for line as follows: “Famous city, rich, proud and cunning, Where they all weigh problems, and nobody ever laughs; The art of Barême is the only art that prospers. They hate the ball and abhor the theatre, They are ignorant of the melodies of the great Rameau, And for the general diversion Geneva drones out The good King David’s old-fashioned concerts In the faith that God is placated by bad poetry.” dissatisfaction within the churches expressing itself by continually narrowing the selection of Psalms actually employed. The dissatisfaction extended also to the music of the Psalter. Early in the eighteenth century a disposition to add the vocal parts to the melodies showed itself, and was followed 115 by various schemes of modifying or replacing them. The first definite effort to substitute new tunes for the old was made by Jean Pierre le Camus of Geneva. In 1760 he published an edition of the Genevan rescension of the Psalter with tunes of his own composition in two parts,161161Bovet, bibliographie, No. 254. For a specimen of his tunes, see Douen, vol. ii, p. 289. and in the preface characterized the old melodies as “fatiguing and insipid.”162162In a note to the passage already quoted, Voltaire said: “Ces vers sont dignes de la musique; on y chante les commandements de DIEU sur l’air: Réveillez-vous, belle endormie.” In Voltaire’s time the Psalm tunes were doubtless not heard at their best. But it seems odd that, for the sake of raising a laugh, he should have cared to borrow the venerable complaint of Roman Catholics that Calvin’s musicians appropriated melodic material then current with secular associations;—a charge that from their standpoint had some relevancy, from his none at all, and which surely had ceased to be a live issue by the middle of the eighteenth century. In the particular case of appropriation he alleges, Voltaire seems to have been misinformed.

The actual transition from the old Psalmody, thus invalidated in many ways, into the new Hymnody, was a gradual one, proceeding through the eighteenth century. It was effected not by a formal displacement of the metrical Psalter, but by the admission of the Hymn Book to an equal status and the churches’ preference of the hymns.

(1) In Geneva itself the desire for an evangelical Hymnody had been recognized and partly met at the opening of the century. In 1703, within five years of the introduction of the rescension of Conrart’s version he had helped to make, Benedict Pictet, with others, proposed to the Venerable Company as “a happy innovation” to supplement the Psalms with New Testament hymns, after the example of the Lutheran Church, which, they said, “is a good one to follow.”163163Registres de la Compagnie, quoted by M. Gaberel, Histoire de l’Eglise de Genève, iii, 19. Pictet was duly commissioned to prepare the hymns, and in 1705 published Cinquante-quatre cantiques sacrez pour les principales solemnitez. Twelve of these, paraphrasing 116 or closely following Scripture, were selected by the Company and authorized for public use, and from that date generally printed in the Psalters as an appendix. In principle, this project, except for its emphasis on the New Testament, hardly went beyond the apparently forgotten project of the French Synod at the end of the sixteenth century. But it took its impulse from Lutheran precedent, and it marks the beginning of the new period of “Psalms and Hymns” on equal footing. The number of hymns in use increased, and broadened in character, later in the century. In the new edition of Les cantiques sacrés, as attached to the Genevan Psalter of 1778, they numbered fifty-four.

The period of selected Psalms and hymns continued till the rise of modern French Hymnody in connection with the “Réveil” of the early nineteenth century. Its leader, César Malan, whose work inaugurated the new Hymnody, endeavored quite vainly to revive the interest in Metrical Psalmody, publishing both an “evangelized”164164Les Chants de Sion, etc., Geneva, 1824. Containing fifty Psalms with music. and a literal version165165Chants d’Israël, Geneva, 1835. For Malan’s efforts to reinvigorate Genevan Psalmody, see his son’s Life, Labours and Writings of Caesar Malan, London, 1869, pp. 184, 328, 329: also Bovet, pp. 197-200. of the Book of Psalms.

(2) In France, from the persecutions under Louis XIV to the Edict of Toleration of Louis XVI, congregational Psalmody was practiced, if at all, only under great difficulties. The churches lay prostrate, and the assembly of the faithful who still remained was prohibited. Psalms were sung in the household, and in “the assemblies of the wilderness” there was an attempt to maintain under rude conditions the simple liturgical order of the Reformed Church.166166Cf. G. de Felice, History of the Protestants of France, Tr. Barnes, London, 1853; pp. 367 ff. In many of the congregations formed abroad the history of the Psalmody followed that of Geneva, to which they looked for supplies of Psalm books as needed. In the last quarter of the century, in a number of refugee churches, notably those with 117 Lutheran surroundings, the complete Psalters gave way to selections of Psalms accompanied by fuller collections of hymns. That made in 1771 for the church at St. Gall167167Bovet, bibliographie, No. 256, & see p. 194. had sixty Psalms, and in the second edition only thirty. That made in 1775 for the church in Leipzig appeared as Cantiques tirés en partie des Pseaumes et en partie des poésies sacrées,168168Bovet, bibliographie, No. 257, and see pp. 194, 195. and in its preface Dumas, the pastor, exhorted the Reformed to imitate their brethren of nearly all churches who were wiser in that they sang hymns expressive of Christian thought and feeling. The Reformed church at Frankfurt, upon gaining permission to depart from the Lutheran cultus, published in 1787 its Nouveau recueil de psaumes et de cantiques, which remained in use for thirty years.169169Ibid, No. 259, and see pp. 196, 197, note. In 1791 the church at Berlin published its collection of selected and modified Psalms with hymns,170170Ibid, No. 260. prefaced by the statement that their Psalmody had long since ceased to satisfy their hearts. These collections, in their manner of dealing with the Psalms and in their free use of hymns, expressed the general sentiment entertained by the majority of Reformed people in France.

In the early nineteenth century there was still some resistance to the prevailing trend. A number of Reformed pastors in France, coöperating with some from Geneva, engaged for several years in efforts to rekindle the old zeal for metrical Psalmody. It was hoped that a fresh handling of the text, with musical settings modified to modern taste or newly composed, would insure a renewed welcome to the Psalter in its integrity. As a result there appeared at Paris and Geneva in 1823, Psaumes de David et cantiques, corregés dans les paroles et dans les quatre parties, par Charles Bourrit, pasteur, bibliothécaire, etc.171171Bovet, bibliographie, No. 264: as to the music, See Douen, vol. ii, pp. 381 f. But the effort failed of any real influence, and the new Psalter was soon forgotten. 118 The attempt of the consistory of the Reformed Church of Paris on similar lines and with similar results has been already referred to. These ineffective Psalters were followed in turn by a series of local collections, notably that of Lyons (1847), of Paris (1859) and of Nïmes (1868), each of which may be described as “Choix de psaumes et de cantiques sacrés,” and each of which has come into more or less general use.

(3) The Church of the United Provinces is the only one of the French-speaking Churches whose Psalm book conveyed the canonical Psalter in its integrity down to our own time. Some efforts at elimination and revision, failing to succeed, were followed in 1781 by an equally abortive evangelized Psalter in the manner of Isaac Watts’s The Psalms of David imitated. It was by Daniel Zachary Chatelain, of Maestricht, appearing as Pseautier évangélique.172172Bovet, bibliographie, No. 258. What the Walloon churches had “for a long time ardently desired” was that privilege of singing hymns in which nearly all the other Protestant churches of our language have found peculiar edification.173173Preface to Cantiques, 1802. In September, 1797, the “Synode Wallon” decided by a very large majority to introduce hymns.174174“Extraits des Articles du Synode,” prefixed to Cantiques, 1802. In June, 1798, a commission was named to compile a hymn book,175175Ibid. and their work was ratified and approved by Synod in September, 1801.176176Ibid. The hymn book appeared in 1802 as Cantiques pour le culte public, recueillis et imprimés par ordre du Synode Wallon. It contained one hundred and thirty hymns for public worship set to tunes from the old Psalter and from Lutheran books, with some specially composed for it; and also three hymns without music for private use. Henceforth it appeared bound up with the Psalters.

The authorization of this book may be regarded as the last step in the introduction of hymns into the worship of French Reformed Churches, and it rounded out the full circle of change. But this was not accomplished until two hundred and thirty-eight years had passed since the death of Calvin.

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