Hymns – Handout on a History of Hymns in the Church

History of Hymnody – Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I. Background Questions:

            A. Why poetry vs. prose?

            B. What is hymn?

            C. Purpose of hymns:

                        1. Essential to who we are: “For what else can I do, a lame old man, than sing hymns to God? If then I was a nightingale, I would do the part of a nightingale: if I were a swan, I would do like a swan. But now I am a rational creature, and I ought to praise God: this is my work; I do it, nor will I desert this post, so long as I am allowed to keep it; and I exhort you to join in this same song.” Epictetus (55AD-135AD), The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 16.

                        2.  Hymns become our own: “When someone reads the words of a psalm as an act of worship, he or she takes over, in a sense, the psalm’s authorship. It may have been written by an ancient Levite, but at the moment of its recitation, its words become the worshiper’s own.” Kugel, How to Read the Bible, 472-73. The LORD is MY shepherd, not just David’s.

                        3. Congregational singing makes us one body: When choirs sing, their hearts rates become synchronized.

II. Old Testament Hymns:

            A.  Book of Odes: Eastern Orthodox Church hymnal (c.400):

1. Ode of Moses (Ex. 15:1-19)

2. Ode of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deut. 32:1-43)

3. Prayer of Anna (1 Sam. 2:1-10)

4. Prayer of Habakkuk (Hab. 3:2-19)

5. Prayer of Isaiah (Isa. 26:9-20)

6. Prayer of Jonah (Jon. 2:3-10)

7. Prayer of the Three Holy Youths (Dan. 3:26-56)

8. Hymn of the Three Holy Youths (Dan. 3:57-88)

9a. Hymn of the Theotokos (Lk. 1:46-55)

9b. Prayer of Zacharias (Lk. 1:68-79)

            B. Song of the Sea (Moses) – Found in Exodus 15. Mentioned in Revelation 15:3.

            C. What does “Psalm” mean?

            D. Instrumentation in the OT: Psalm 33:1-3, 2 Samuel 6:5, 1 Chronicles 15:16

            E. Singing in the OT: Psalm 33:1-3, Psalm 95:1-2, Psalm 100

III. Singing in the New Testament

            A. No musical instruments were used in the Synagogues.

                        1. Playing instruments are work. (Talmud: Tractate Beitzah, 5.2)

                        2. Instrumental music limited to Temple. (Psalm 137:1-6)

            B. Singing: Matt 26:30, Acts 16:25

            C. New Testament Hymns: Luke 1:46-55 (Mary), Luke 1:68-79 (Zachariah), Luke 2:29-32 (Simeon), Col. 1:15-20, Phil. 2:6-11

IV. Singing in the Early Church

            A.  Pliny was governor of Pontus/Bithynia (area of Turkey bordering the Black Sea) for 111-113 and wrote the Emperor Trajan after his interrogation of Christians. He describes their testimony as to their worship service as follows:

            They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.

            B.  No musical instruments:

                        1. Same form of worship as the synagogue.

                        2. Clement of Alexandria (150-215)’s The Instructor, Book 2.4: “We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies. . . .”

                        3.  Instrumental music generally shunned in Greek philosophical thought: “Where there are men of worth and culture, you will find no piping or dancing or harping.” Protagoras (481BC-411BC)

            C.  Early Christian Hymns:

                        1. Gloria (late 1st c. to early 3rd c.) 1979 BCP 356

                        2. O Gladsome Light (Phos Hilaron) (c.150) 1979 BCP 64, 1982 Hymnal 25

                        3. Te Deum (c.400) 1979 BCP 95

            D. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397)

                        1. Before Ambrose, hymns were unmetered and in a prose style like that of the Gloria and the Te Deum.  There was no singing in the church.  Ambrose introduced antiphonal chant. He set simple hymns to the metrical tunes of the Roman soldiers ( in order to teach Trinitarian theology to the people at a time to counteract the Arian heresy.

                        2. 1982 Hymnal 5 (Splendor paternae gloriae) (see, also 14, 19, 21, 55, 233)

                        3. Augustine’s ambivalence to Ambrose’s introduction of singing in the church: “I therefore, vacillate between dangerous pleasure and tried soundness; being inclined rather to approve of the use of singing in the church, that so by the delights of the ear the weaker minds may be stimulated to a devotional frame. Yet when it happens to me to be more moved by the singing than by what is sung, I confess myself to have sinned criminally, and then I would rather not have heard the singing.” Confessions 10.33.50

V.  Medieval Church: Still no musical instruments: “A Capella” is Latin for “as in the church.”  Organs first appear in 10th century to accompany the chant.  Gregorian chant was monophonic (only one line of music) and only cantors sang, not the congregation.  Very different that the worship described in the Psalms.  1300’s introduction of polyphony where there are different line of music.  Example of Renaissance polyphony is Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) – “If ye Love Me” (1560) (John 14:15-21).

VI. Reformation:

            A. John Hus (1369-1415) – Priest in Prague.  He translated the liturgy and the bible into Czech. He advocated in giving the sacrament in both kinds to the laity and opposed the idea of Indulgences and purgatory.  He also wrote hymns to be sung by the congregation in Czech in common melodies. This was a century before Martin Luther and Guttenberg Press. He was burned at the stake for heresy. His descendants are the Moravian Church. They published the first hymnal for congregational worship in 1501.

            B. Martin Luther (1483-1546) – In 1517 he nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Like Hus he translated the liturgy and the Bible into German.  And he wrote hymns to be sung by the congregation.

Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs!

He published his first hymnal of eight hymns and three tunes in 1524 for use in the church and home.  The hymnal uses the vernacular and instrumental music. (It will be 300+ years until the Anglican Church has a hymnal with music.)

He wrote A Mighty Fortress (1529) (1982 Hymnal 688), the first line of which are inscribed on his tombstone.

            C. John Calvin (1509-1564) – French theologian and contemporary of Martin Luther.  Calvin sought to reestablish the early church. This means no hymns other than those found in Scripture and no musical instruments.

            In his commentary on Psalm 33, Calvin writes: For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him.

VII. Reformation Anglicanism –

            A. Henry VIII (Reigned 1509-1547)

                        1. 1534 Act of Supremacy: King is head of the church. Little change to liturgy.

            B. Edward VI (Son of Henry VIII, Reigned 1547-1553)

                        1. 1549 Act of Uniformity: Article VII. “Provided also, that it shall be lawful for all men, as well in churches, chapels, oratories, or other places, to use openly any psalm or prayer taken out of the Bible, at any due time, not letting or omitting thereby the service or any part thereof mentioned in the said book.”

                        2. 1549 Book of Common Prayer: No hymns except Te Deum (Canticle 21), Song of Creation (Canticle 12), Song of Zechariah (Canticle 16), Song of Mary (Canticle 15), and Song of Simeon (Canticle 17).

                        3. In accordance with John Calvin’s teaching, no musical instruments.

                        4. Metrical Psalms to sing:

1  My Shepherd is the living Lord,

         nothing therefore I need:

      In pastures fair, near pleasant streams,

         he setteth me to feed.

   2  He shall convert and glad my soul,

         and bring my mind in frame

      To walk in paths of righteousness

         for his most holy Name.

   3  Yea, though I walk in vale of death,

         yet will I fear no ill:

      Thy rod and staff do comfort me,

         and thou art with me still.

   4  And in the presence of my foes

         My table thou shalt spread

      Thou wilt fill full my cup, and thou

         anointed hast my head.

   5  Through all my life thy favor is

         so frankly showed to me

      That in thy house for evermore

         my dwelling place shall be.

            C. Elizabeth I (Daughter of Henry VIII, succeed Mary1, Reigned 1558-1603)

                        1. Maintains most of Edward’s Reform including musical instruments and hymnody.

                        2. William Kethe Psalm 100 (1982 Hymnal 377) a cappella

                        3. Thomas Tallis – Metrical Psalms (Archbishop Parker’s Psalm 1).

            D. Commonwealth of England (1649-1660) – Established by the Calvinist Puritans who executed Archbishop Laud and later Charles I Created by Oliver Cromwell. It outlawed Christmas as a Romish holiday.  In 1644, Parliament passed the Lords and Commons Ordnance which, among other things, ordered the speedy demolishing of all organs, images, and other matters of superstitious monuments in all cathedrals, collegiate or parish churches and chapels throughout England and Wales.

            E. 1660-1830: Use of Instruments: “Until roughly the mid-19th century, an English church organ had just two purposes. In local churches it had to accompany the congregation in their singing of metrical psalms and to perform voluntaries before and after the service. The works of J. S. Bach and other composers who wrote for German-style organs were either unknown or not in style, so the English organ of the day served its purpose quite adequately. In cathedrals, the organ’s purpose was to accompany the choir as it performed the sung service. It was not necessary to fill the church with sound.”

VIII. Modern Music

            A. Isaac Watts (1674-1749)” He was a “Dissenter” meaning he was a Christian but not in the Church of England. He learned Latin and Greek (through the Odessey, etc.) as a young child.  As a young adult he told his father that the only singing in church was “grim, ponderous psalms to sing” and he wanted to bring in the New Testament themes. His father told him to do better, and he began writing a hymn a week for the congregation. He would write almost 600 hymns including O God Our Help in Ages Past (1719) (1982 Hymnal 680) and Joy to the World.

While we sing the praises of God in His church, we are employed in that part of worship which of all others is the nearest akin to heaven, and ’tis pity that this of all others should be performed the worst upon earth. That very action which should elevate us to the most delightful and divine sensations doth not only flat our devotion but too often awakens our regret and touches all the springs of uneasiness within us.

            B. Charles Wesley (1707-1788) and his brother John were Anglican priest that founded the Methodist movement. Both Wesley’s were uncertain of their salvation when they were sent as missionaries to Georgia.  On January 25, 1736, their ship encountered a great storm. While others panicked, the Wesleys found the Moravians (John Hus) singing their hymns. Upon their return to England the Wesley attended a Moravian meeting house on Altersgate Street on May 24, 1738. It was there that John’s heart was “strangely warmed” and both brothers first knew God’s presence. From that day until his death, Charles would publish over 6,000 hymns and write almost 9,000 total hymns. This hymnody was based upon those hymns he heard from the Moravians.

            Both John and Charles were criticized as being “Enthusiast.” At this time, the Church of England still only permitted the singing of Psalms and Biblical hymns.  He taught his hymns to the congregations by singing a line and having them answer.  He wrote O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing – (May 24, 1739) – 1982 Hymnal 493 on the anniversary of his conversion.

            C. Hymn singing was not approved in the Church of England until 1820 (400 years after John Hus and 300 years after Martin Luther). The Oxford Movement in the 1830’s to recover the older traditions of the Christian faith that pre-dated the Reformation including the older hymns of Roman Catholics and Lutherans.  In 1861, Hymns Ancient and Modern, the first Church of England Hymnal was published.

            D. Hymnals in the Episcopal Church –

                        1. 1789 Hymnal  – Metrical Psalms

                        2. 1826 Hymnal – 216 hymns and published with the Prayerbook

                        3. 1871 Hymnal – Separately published. Only a few Metrical Psalms

                        4. 1892 Hymnal – Like the prior hymnals, no official music published with the hymnal and so private publishers used different tunes.

                        5. 1916 Hymnal – First to officially include the tunes with the words 

                        6. 1940 Hymnal

                        7. 1982 Hymnal

End with modern hymns of Hillsong United’s Hosanna (2006) and a new old hymn of U2’s Psalm 40 (1982)

Compline – The Day Thou Gavest 1982 Hymnal 24.

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