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ONE of the first fruits of the Spirit is joy, and joy is naturally expressed in song. James (v. 13) says, "Is any merry? let him sing psalms." Paul (Eph. v. 19) urges Christians to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord, and exhorts them (Eph. v. 19, Col. iii. 16) to help one another when they come together for worship, by "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." At midnight, in prison, Paul and Silas "were praying and singing hymns unto God" (Acts xvi. 25). The worship of the church from the beginning included the singing both of psalms used in the Jewish ritual and also of hymns that were peculiar to the Christian service.
Besides the four great anthems given by Luke, the Magnificat (i. 46-55), the Benedictus (i. 68-79), the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (ii. 14), and the Nunc Dimittis (ii. 29-32), there are passages in the New Testament that may be fragments of early hymns; e. g., Eph. v. 14, 1 Tim. iii. 16, vi. 15, 16, and several in the Apocalypse. It is probable that there was a considerable body of these early hymns, though but few of them have come down to us in any form. In the early part of the second century, the younger Pliny, who was governor of Bithynia, wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan, to give him whatever information he had obtained about the Christians in his province and to ask his advice about their treatment. In describing their meetings (Ep. x. 96) he says, on the evidence of those who admitted that they belonged to the sect, that the Chris
were accustomed to come together on a certain day [of the week] before daylight, and sing a hymn to Christ as God." As this is the only part of the service that is mentioned, it is evident that the singing of hymns held a very important place in Christian worship within a century after the death of Christ.
But the Jewish psalms in Hebrew and the Christian hymns in Greek did not wholly satisfy the needs of the Western Church. When the Christians of Rome began to express their emotions in Latin hymns, they soon broke away from the restrictions that had been imposed upon classical Latin poetry by Greek influQuantity was more and more disregarded, and accent took its place. This was a necessary change. The lyric verse forms of Horace and Catullus were too artificial and too difficult to be appreciated by the classes in society to which the majority of the Christian converts belonged. Simplicity of form, as well as simplicity of thought, was necessary when the uneducated common people made up mainly the congregation that joined in singing the hymns. The earliest meter in common use was iambic dimeter, arranged in stanzas of four verses each, as in our long-meter tunes. This was the prevailing form in the third and fourth centuries.
The introduction of accent into Latin poetry was gradually followed by the use of rhyme, to mark the end of the verse. In the Ambrosian hymns it is found rarely. Evidently it was not carefully avoided, as in the classical poetry of Rome, nor carefully sought, as in the hymns of the Middle Ages. When it appears, it is for the most part imperfect, and employed irregularly, as in Aurora lucis rutilat (p. 44). In two hymns that are assigned to this period, Hilary's hymn on the
Epiphany and the hymn of Pope Damasus on St. Agatha (p. 18), it is used intentionally and with pleasing effect. In the centuries following it became common, and in many of the hymns of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was carried to great perfection, as in Ad perennis vitæ fontem (p. 50), Iesu dulcis memoria (p. 116), Hora novissima (p. 122), Dies iræ (p. 138), Stabat mater (p. 160). By the combination of accent and rhyme were produced many stanza forms that have kept their place in popular favor, and still appear in some of the most pleasing varieties of English verse.
The language and style of the early hymns are to a great extent borrowed from Scripture. The phraseology of the Old Testament is often repeated in them, but the central thought is Christ, Christ, the true light, the light of the world, the sun of righteousness. They are characterized by great simplicity and straightforwardness. They represent the longing of the human soul for Christ, joined with devout adoration. They are the glad utterances of hearts penitent and forgiven, hearts full of unquestioning faith and a love to Christ that turns sorrow into joy, fear into hope, and makes all trials seem light.
Some hymns were designed to commemorate events in Jewish history or in the life of our Lord, as the Days of Creation, the Nativity (p. 64), Easter (p. 44), Pentecost (p. 12), the Passion (pp. 80, 154), the Resurrection (p. 170); some recall the sufferings of the Saints and Martyrs (pp. 18, 74, 86); some were appropriate for different parts of the day, especially the morning, Aeterne rerum conditor (p. 24); the evening, Deus, creator omnium (p. 28); midday, - Iam sexta sensim solvitur; midnight, - Medic noctis tempus
est. It will be remembered that the Christians in Bithynia met before dawn and sang hymns in their morning worship, and that Paul and Silas in prison sang songs at midnight. The singing of the sacred songs at their appropriate seasons and many times each day must have given great spiritual help to the early Christians, the majority of whom had no Bibles, and indeed could not have read them if they had possessed them. By this means they were not only taught regular habits of worship, but kept constantly before their minds the life of the Saviour and the example of the Saints, and became also somewhat familiar with the greatest events in sacred history.
The hymns were sung not only in the assemblies of worshipers, but at prayers and at meals in the home, and by the workmen at their work. Jerome says, "You could not go into the fields without hearing the ploughman at his Hallelujahs, the mower at his Hymns, and the vine-dresser singing the Psalms of David." They continued to give comfort to the mourning, strength to the weak, and courage to the faint-hearted for many centuries. They have served as models for hymn-writers in all Christian lands. Some of the later hymns have been reproduced with great success in English; e.g., Urbs Sion aurea in "Jerusalem the Golden"; Iesu dulcis memoria in "Jesus, the very thought of Thee "; O esca viatorum in “O Bread to pilgrims given "; Veni, Sancte Spiritus in “Come, Holy Ghost, in love," and many others.
A good English translation of a Latin hymn should keep as close as possible to the thought of the original, should be written in choice English, and when finished should be genuine poetry. It seems to me that all these excellencies are combined in Bishop Van Buren's
translations. The present collection contains hymns that are universally ranked among the best. They are worthy of study, not only on account of their place in Christian literature and history, but also for their influence on the literature and life of later generations, and especially for what they tell us of the faith of those. early days, when men had a clearer vision of the unseen than we seem to have to-day.
OAKHAM, MASS., August 8, 1904.
HENRY P. WRIGHT.