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Roman Catholic Hymns

The one great step that was made in German hymnology at this time was the official introduction of vernacular hymns into the Roman Catholic churches of Southern Germany and Austria. Many collections of hymns had already been made for private use; but now under the Emperor Joseph II. portions of the service of the mass itself were translated into German verse, and sung by the people while the priest was officiating; and even where the "Vienna Mass," as it was called, was not used, hymns in the mother-tongue were assigned to the various services and festivals. The collections of hymns thus called into existence contain naturally a large proportion of 315 translations from the Latin; they also possess a smaller number of original compositions, of which some have great sweetness and devotional feeling, while others are weak and overwrought; and they include a good many of the Evangelical hymns, modified where necessary to suit their new position.

The antagonism between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches which had been so fierce during the previous age, and which in another form has revived in our own, had in fact almost died out. The difference was regarded as one rather of birth and geographical position than of conviction; conversions from one Church to the other were generally censured as acts of disloyalty, but mixed marriages were common; while really serious Christians in either communion felt themselves strongly drawn together by the possession of a common faith in a time of scepticism. Thus a cordial and intimate correspondence on religious subjects was maintained between a circle of pious Protestants in Hamburg, of which Claudius and the Stolbergs were members, and similar circles on the Rhine and in Bavaria, which were composed of distinguished Roman Catholics, such as the Prince-Primate Dalberg, the Princess Galitzin, and others. During the latter half of this century, Southern Germany possessed several Roman Catholics of high position and great abilities, who were also men of deep evangelical piety and strong national feeling, anxious to reform abuses within their own Church. Such men were Sailer, long a professor at Dillingen and Landshut and finally Bishop of Ratisbon, his great friend Feneberg, pastor of Seeg in Bavaria, and Von Wessenberg, the friend 316 and coadjutor of Dalberg, and his successor in the bishopric of Constance. All three wrote hymns, which, if not of the first order, are yet good, earnest, and thoughtful; and all warmly promoted the use of such hymns in their own language among the people, both at home and in public worship.

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