William Garrett Horder.

The hymn lover: an account of the rise and growth of English hymnody online

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Who is th' Immortal Father, heavenly blest,
Holiest of Holies — Jesus Christ our Lord I

Now we are oome to the sun's hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine.
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Divine I

Worthiest art Thou at all times to be sung,

With undefiled tongue,

Son of our God, Giver of life, alone !

Therefore in all the world. Thy glories Lord we own." *

This is still tho Vesper Hymn of the Greek Church.

How such hymns arose we know not. "Whether
they sprang first to light in a burst of choral song,
like that inspired hymn in the Acts ; or were bestowed
on the Church through the heavenly meditations of
a solitary believer; or gradually, like a river, by its
tributary streams, rose to what they are, we can perhaps
never know."t ^^ incline, however, to the idea that
they were, in the first instance, improvised songs, and
in aftertime brought to greater finish.

Thus the river which at first was but a tiny rill
broadens and deepens xmtil prophecy describes it as
becoming like the mighty waves of the sea — ** And
I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and
as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of
mighty thunders saying Hallelujah! for the Lord our
God, the Almighty reigneth. Let us rejoice and be
glad, and let us give the glory unto him, for the
marriage of the Lamb is come." "And I heard a
voice from heaven as the voice of many waters,
and as the voice of a great thunder, and the voice

♦ Lyra Apostolica, LXIII.
t "Voice of Christian Life in Song," p. 26.


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whicli I heard wob as the voice of harpers harping
with their harps, and they sang, as it were, a new
song before the throne."

The Bevelation of St. John the Divine is full of
glowing references to song as the highest expression
of worshipping feeling, indicating that in the future
as in the past, song is to be one of the noblest mediums
for the ascription of praise. Do not the pictures in
this book seem like glorified representations of the
Temple at Jerusalem and its worship; and do they
not as such justify the idea that song was in Herod's
temple, as it had been in earlier times in Solomon's, a
part of its ritual ? So vivid a picture of choral worship
would scarcely have risen in a mind that had not been
accustomed to its earthly counterpart. Thus the Temple
worship may have given form to the inspiration which
moved in the heart of the Beloved Apostle, and led
him to embody the thoughts kindled in his mind by
means of symbols drawn therefrom in which song forms
BO conspicuous an element. Whilst it is not unworthy
of notice that at times he rises above this symbolism
and declare •* I saw no Temple therein, for the Lord God
Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple thereof."


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As we have said in the last chapter, the '^Gloria in
Excelsis" gives us the best idea of the kind of hymn
nsed in the age succeeding that of the Apostles. This,
and the FJm ilaron attributed te Athenagoras of the
second century, and still in use in the daily office of the
Greek Church, " probably represent in their rhythmic but
unmetrical structure, many Christian hymns now lost. Of
the existence of such hynms from the time of Pliny's
well-known letter to Trajan we have abundant evidence."
As early as 269 a.b. it was made a charge against
Paul of Samosata, that he had '' put a stop to the psalms
that were sung to our Lord Jesus Christ, as being innova-
tions ; the work of men of later times." This establishes
the fact that such psalms must have been sung in the
second century, and probably earlier still. The epilogue
of Clement of Alexandria to his Fadago^ue has usually
been regarded as the first Christian hymn. In Dean
Plumptre's translation, the first verse runs thus : —

Curb for the stubborn steed,
Making its will give heed ;
Wing that directest right
The wild birds' wandering flight ;
Helm for the ships that keep
Their pathway o'er the deep ;
Shepherd of sheep that own
Their Master on the throne,
Stir up Thy children meek
With guileless lips to speak,
In hynms and songs Thy praise,
Guide of their infint ways.


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King of aainU, Lord !
Mighty, all-conqaering "Word ;
Son of the Highest God,
Wielding Hia wisdom's rod;
Our stay when cares annoj,
Giyer of endless joy;
Of all our mortal race,
Sayionr of boundless grace,
Jesus hear.

Tlie fourth century, however, was the age in which
hymns really estahlished themselves in the regular
services of the Church. And, strange to say, their
establishment was due to the keen-sightedness of great
men belonging to the orthodox party, who discerned the
wide influence exerted by hymns in favour of the teaching
of heretics, who made large use of them for the promulga-
tion of their views. Bardesanes and his son Harmonius
had introduced into Syria both the Greek metres and
music, and by means of these had given currency and
secured popularity for their particular views. To
counteract J this, Ephrem of Edessa wrote hymns on
the Nativity, Baptism, Fasting, Passion, and Resurrection
of our Lord, and set them to the music which had already
become popular. He trained choirs of virgins to sing
them, and on Sundays and festivals they were gathered in
the church, and led by Ephrem himself, standing in their
midst. Thus metrical hymnody became rooted in the
services of the Syriac Church. In Constantinople, a like
method was adopted against the Arians, who had been
expelled from the churches by Theodosius, but who still
met outside the walls, or in the open spaces of the
dty, marching in procession and singing their hymns.
Chrysostom organised rival processions, which marched,
bearing torches and crosses, and singing hymns. The


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Empress Eudocia patronised the scheme^ and provided
means for its execution. It would seem that Chrysostom
laid more stress, like a certain modem sect, on the torches^
the crosses, the music, than on the words of the hymns.

Nor was it otherwise in the West. There, also, heresy
gave birth to Christian hymnody. The story is told by
Augustine, who, with his mother, Monica, was in Milan at
the time. The Empress Justina ordered Ambrose, then
the Bishop of the city, to give up one of the Basilicas for
Aiian worship. He refused, and was sentenced to exile —
a sentence he refused to obey. The popidation of Milan^
enthusiastic for their bishop, supported him in this refusal^
and watched his house day and night, to protect him from
the troops of the Empress. Ambrose formed these troops
of watchers into bands of worshippers, and arranged for
them a course of offices, in which hymns played an
important part. This is the real source of the Offices for
the various hours of the day and night which form so
conspicuous an element in the Breviaries of the Western

It is a fact of singular significance and great interest^
that in the Syriac, the Greek, and the Latin churches, the
action of the heretics should have given rise to the
introduction of hymns as a part of the regular services of
the Church. From the Syriac Church, few hynms have
passed into our English hymnody;* but from the Greek ;
although none of the hymns of Chrysostom have
come into English use — ^probably they were not worthy

•"Glad sight, the Holy Church," No. 861, in "Hymns Andent
and Modern," last edition but one, is from the Syriac ; whilst others
from the same source may be found in " The People's Hymnal," in
Thrupp's collection, and in a recent volume hy Dr. Bonar.


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enongh — ^the movement originated by him gave birth to a
later school of hymnists ; many of whose hymns, through
the translations of Dr. Keale, have become deservedly
popular among us. The results of the movement set on
foot by Ambrose, on English hymnody have been far more
direct, since several of the hymns composed by him, in
their English form, are now sung, whilst the school of
Ambrosian music has had considerable influence on that of
modem times.

Turning now from the originating causes of these three
schools of hymnody to the hymns themselves ; (1) as to the
Syriac hymns little need be said, since they have not
exerted any perceptible influence on English hymnody.
This is probably due to the language in which they were
written, which has put them beyond the range of all save
those versed in the tongues of the East. In Daniel's
great book, they are represented in a German form.
Dr. Burgess has translated them into English, and
Mrs. Charles has rendered a few from the German version
in Daniel. But, as they are seen in their English dress,
they are singularly free from the gorgeous imagery so
characteristic of the East. Doubtless they have been
toned down by transference to our English speech. Some
of them seem to us not unworthy of a place in our
modem collections, since they are marked by a freshness
and simplicity which are very pleasant.

Here is Ephrem's hymn on Palm Sunday, as translated
by Mrs. Charles : —

He calls iis to a day of gladness,

Who came to us the King's own Son;

Oo forth with houghs of palm to meet Him,
And Him with loud hosannas own.


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The angelB are with ub rejoicing,
AngeUo triumphs swell our song ;

All nations in our joy uniting,
Hosanna sounds on erery tongue.

To Thee, Lord, loud praise ascendeth.
From eyery creature in its kind ;

Thee, with an awed and quiy'ring motion,
Exalteth eyery waving wind.

The heayens in their quiet beauty,

PtaiBe Thy essential majesty;
The heights rejoice from whidi Thou oamest;

The depths spring up to welcome Thee.

The sea exults to feel Thy footsteps.
The land Thy tread, Lord, knoweth well ;

Our human nature brings thanksgivings.
Because Thy Godhead there doth dwell.

To-day the sun rejoicing shineth,
With happy radiance tenfold bright,

In homage to the Sun of glor^.
Which brings to all the nations light.

The moon shaU shed her &ireet lustre
0*er all the heavens her softest glow ;

Thee on her radiant heights adoring.
Who for our sakes hast stooped so low.

And all the starry hosts of heaven,
Li festive robes of light array'd,

Shall bring their festal hjmns as odSerings
To Him who all so hit hast made.

To^y the forests are rejoi
loh '

Each tree its own sweet anthem sings.
Because we wave their leafy branches
As banners for the King of Kings.

To-day let all the brute creation,

Bejoicing, be no longer dumb ;
For 101^ on the foal Jle sitteth.

The Heavenly One to us has come.

Let every village, every city,

Li happy tumult sing His name ;
Since even infant lips are shouting

Blessed is He, the King who came.

Those wlio are curious as to Syriac hymnody should
consult Dr. Burgess's translations of the hymns of Ephrexn
Syrus and other writers of his schooL

(2) The hymns of the (Jreek Church, thougli somewhat
allied to those of the Syriac, yet have in them enough


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affinity to our Western ideas to be incorporated into our
worship. Like the city in which they first appeared, they
stand midway between the East and West, and have
certain elements common to both ; whilst the vast mass of
hymns produced by this Church — ^Dr. Neale computes that
out of the five thousand quarto pages of which the Greek
office books consist, at least four thousand are poetry — ^has
enabled men like Dr. Neale to select portions suited to our
Western taste. Even then, however, it has been found
necessary to subject such portions to a very free treatment,
and to preserve their ideas rather than the forms in which
they were cast. This is the more necessary since the
great mass of the hymns of this Church are not in
metrical form, but simply rhythmic and accentuated like
the earliest Latin sequences.

Not until they fell under the skilful hand of Dr. Neale
did they contribute their share to the now many-voiced
song of the churches of England.

Through his centos from the hymns of the Eastern
Church, we now have such weU-known favourites as
"The day is past and over" (586), probably by St.
Anatolius (a.i>. 458), which is to the scattered hamlets of
Chios and Mitylene, what Bishop Ken's evening hymn is
to the villages of our own land. '' Christian dost thou see
them " (418), a stichera for the second week of the great
fast, by St. Andrew of Crete (660-732). "Art thou
weary, art thou languid?" (520), by St. Stephen the
Sabaite (726-794). " 'Tis the day of Eesurrection," by
St. John Damascene {cirea 780). This is the canon for
Easter Day, and a modem traveller gives the following
graphic account of its use at Athens. It is quoted in
" Hymns of the Eastern Church," by Dr. Neale.


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** Ab midnight approached, the Archbishop with his
priests, aooompanied by the King and Queen, left the
church, and stationed themselyes on the platform, which
was raised considerably from the groxmd, so that they
were distinctly seen by the people. ' Everyone now
remained in breathless^expectation, holding their unHg^ted
tapOTs in readiness when the g^ad moment should arrive,
while the priests still continued murmuring their melan-
choly chant in a low half -whisper. Suddenly a single
report of a cannon announced that twelve o'clock had
struck, and that Easter Day had begun; then the old
Archbishop, elevating the cross, exclaimed in a loud,
exulting tone: 'Christos anesti! Christ is risen!" and
instantly every single individual of all that host took up
that cry, and the vast multitude broke through and dis-
pelled for ever the intense and mournful silence which
they had maintained so long, with one spontaneous shout
of indescribable joy and triumph: 'Christ is risen! —
Cbrist is risen ! ' At the same moment, the oppressive
darkness was succeeded by a blaze of light from thousands
of tapers, which, communicating one from another, seemed
to send streams of fire in all directions, rendering the
minutest objects distinctly visible, and casting the most
vivid glow on the expressive faces, full of exultation, of
the rejoicing crowd; bands of music struck up their
gayest strains; the roll of the dram through the town,
and farther on the pealing of the cannon, announce far
and near these ' glad tidings of great joy,' while from hill
and plain, from the sea-shore and the far-off olive-grove,
rocket after rocket ascending to the dear sky, answer
back with their mute eloquence that Christ is risen indeed,
and told of other tongues that were repeating those


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bleseed words, and other hearts that leaped for joy ;
ererjwhere men clasped each other's hands, and con-
gratulated one another, and embraced with conntenances
beaming with delight, as though to each one separately
some wonderful happiness had been proclaimed — ^and so in
truth it was ; and all the while, rising above the mingling
of many sounds, each one of which was a sound of glad-
ness, the aged priests were distinctly heard chanting forth
a glorious old hymn of yictory in tones so loud and clear
that they seemed to have regained their youth and
strength, to tell the world how * Christ is risen from the
dead, having trampled death beneath His feet, and hence-
forth they that are in the tombs have everlasting life.* "

All these differ widely from the hymns of the Latin
Chxtrch, in that they are more vivid, and spring more
directly out of Scripture events.

(3) It is generally admitted that the Western Churches
owe the incorporation of metrical hymnody into their
services to Ambrose, and the movement originated by
him. Hymns may have been in use, in the West
before his time, but all previous attempts were sporadic
and fitful. Ambrose was the founder of a school of
hymnody, from which no less than ninety-two examples
have come down to us; of these twenty-one, or, at
the lowest computation, that of the Benedictine
Editors, twelve are from the pen of Ambrose himself.
The hymns of this school, since they are more
akin to our Western modes of thought, reached an
earlier popxdarity in our midst than those from the
Eastern or Oreek Church. The picturesqueness of the
Greek hymns, and the skilfulness of Dr. !Neale's renderings


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liave, however, brought them of late into great promi-
nence, and rendered them eyen more popular than those
of the Latin Church. The strong ethical element in the
hymns of the Ambrosian school, whilst it makes them,
perhaps, more practically useful as aids to holy living, yet
gives them a certain subdued tone which militates against
their popularity. They are more akin to statuary— -clear,
sharp, cold — ^than, as the Eastern hymns are, to painting,
with its richer colour and more vivid mode of portrayal,
and so, like statuary, appeal less forcibly to the imagina-
tion. Professor F. M. Bird says : — " The Latin hymns of
Ambrose and his successors form a school which may be
said to have held possession of the Church of the whole of
Europe for some 1200 years." This reached its highest
point of excellence in the "Veni Creator," and "Veni
Sancte Spiritus." The most notable hymns of the
school of Ambrose which have established themselves by
means of translations in our English hymnals are " We
praise, we worship Thee, God " (13), " Jesu, Lord of
heavenly grace " (558), and " Now that the daylight fills
the sky " (554). These may suffice to indicate the subjects
and style of this school. The '* Te Deum " has usually
been ascribed to Ambrose ; the well-known tradition being
that it broke forth in sudden inspiration from his lips as
he was baptising Augustine; another form of the same
tradition being that it was due to an inspiration common
to both Ambrose and Augustine, which enabled the one to
respond antiphonally to the verses uttered by the other.
This, like the similar tradition concerning the Septuagint
version of the Old Testament, can scarcely be regarded as
a true account. The great authority, Daniel, seems to
regard it as having sprung froin an early Oriental hymn,


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or from fragments of many sucli hymns. It is probably
the work of many minds and ages, in which Ambrose may
have borne a part: it may have been that of arranging
and perfecting the scattered fragments into a compact
composition. The latest theory, however, respecting it is
that it is later than the time of Ambrose, and probably of
Gallican origin. Some there are who ascribe it to Hilary
rather than Ambrose.

Spain, too, contributed its share to the early hymnody
of the Chnrch. The Mozarabic Breviary of the fifth
century was no unworthy collection. Some idea of its
contents may be gained from Mr. Ellerton's translation of
one of its hymns : —

SiQg Hallelujah forth in duteous pndae,

dtizens of heaven, and sweetly xaiee

An endless HaUelujah.

Ye next, who stand before the Eternal Light,
In hymning choirs re-echo to the height
An endless Hallelujah.

The Hdv City shall take up your strain,
And with glad songs resounding wake again
An endless Hallelujah.

In blissful antiphons ye thus rejoice
To render to the Lord with thankful voice
An endless Hallelujah.

Ye who have gained at length your palms in bUss,
Yictocious ones, your chant shall still be this,
An endless Hallelujah.

There in one glad acclaim, for ever ring
The strains which tell the honour of your King,
An endless Hallelujah.

This is the rest for weary ones brought hack.
This is the food and drink which none shall lack.
An endless Hallelujah.

While Thee, by Whom were all things made, we praise
Por ever, and tell out in sweetest lays,
An endless Hallelujah.


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Almighty Christ, to Thee our Yoioes sing ;
OI0T7 to evenn or e to Thee we hring
An endless Hallelujah.

In these early, as in later, times, however, conflicts of
considerable intensity arose concerning the introduction of
hymns into the services of the Church. Some there were
who doubted whether any but the words of Scripture
should be used in worship. Others had grown so used
to the Ambrosian hymns that, like the devotees of
"Watts or of the Scotch metrical psalms in a much later
age, they resented the introduction of hymns from other
sources. Indeed, it needed the decision of a Council to
give them sanction; whilst in the 7th century, the Council
of Toledo threatened with excoiomunication all in Spain
or France who resisted the use of hymns in divine
worship. Even as late as the 9th century, there were
churches which would not admit metrical hymns into
their offices. Thus the conflict raged, until at last hymns
established themselves, either in metrical or rhythmic
forms, as an integral and vital element in worship, and
80 played a great part in lifting the hearts of men to the
Father of their spirits. The hymns of this earlier period
are chiefly occupied with the events of our Lord's life ;
special stress being laid on His incarnation. There is an
entire absence of that carnal element which in later, and
especially in the latest times, came into prominence; so
that the blood and wounds of Christ were regarded as
though in themselves they possessed some mystic merit.
This is so even in the hymns of the Eastern Church,
which are so largely occupied with the actual scenes of
our Lord's life; whilst in the Latin Church, it is the
ethical side of the Christian faith which is thrown into


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special prominence. Indeed, the early literature of the
Church — ^not only its hymns, but creeds and liturgies, are
singularly free from those carnal conceptions of our Lord's
work which came in later times into so much prominence,
both in the Roman Church and what may be called the
ultra-Evangelical section of the Protestant Church. Our
modem hymnody is, to a large extent, reyerting to this
earlier type; occupying itself with the facts of our Lord's
life as in the Eastern, and with the ethical side of the
Gospel as in the Latin Church.


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Thebb are two writers who form a kind of connectmg
link between early and mediseval hymnody — ^Yenantios
Fortonatos, who was bom in 530, and died in 609 a.d.;
and Gregory the Great, whose life extended from 550 to
604 A.n. Fortunatus, a child of the sunny south, in his
early days was a kind of Troubadour : ** the fashionable
poet of his day," who wandered from castle to palace,
appearing and siugkig his songs at marriages and festivals,
fond of court revelry ; but yet, so far as we can judge,
one of the few who passed unscathed through the fires,
and they were fierce, of the temptations of such a course
in those times. Later in life he was consecrated a priest,
and became almoner of the monastery at Tours, founded
by Queen Rhadegunda, with whom he had been on very
intimate terms, and to whom he addressed many of his
poems. Still later in life he became Bishop of Poitiers.
His hymns are such as we should expect from such a
nature, and from the sunny land in which he spent his
days. Three of these attained to great popularity. They
have more in common with those of the Eastern Church
than those of Ambrose and his ^school, and are more the
product of the poet's imagination than of the moral


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natnre which found so full an expression in the Ambrosian
hymnody. One of these, the '' Yexilla Kegis prodeunt/'
well-known through Dr. Neale's translation, ** The Bojal
Banners forward go," who calls it " one of the grandest
in the treasury of the Latin Church," was written to
commemorate the reception of certain relics by St.
Gregory of Tours and St. Ehadegund, at the consecration
of a church at Poitiers, and was originally intended for
use as a processional hymn. This is Dr. !Neale's trans-
lation of it : —

The Boyal Banners forward go ;
The Groea shines forth in mystic glow;
Where He in flesh, our flesh Who made,
Oar sentenoe bore, our ransom paid.

Where deep for 119 the spear was dy'd,
Life's torrent rushing from His side,
To wash us in that precious flood
Where mingled water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that Dayid told

In true Prophetic song of old;

Amidst the nations God, saith he.

Hath reign'd and triumph'd from the Tree.

Online LibraryWilliam Garrett HorderThe hymn lover: an account of the rise and growth of English hymnody → online text (page 4 of 37)