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An early example of the change of sequences from a rhythmical to a metrical form is seen in the so-called "Golden Sequence," "Veni Sancte Spiritus," called by Archbishop Trench "the loveliest of all the hymns in the whole circle of Latin sacred poetry." Tradition assigns its authorship to Robert II, King of France (997-1031). Its merit is attested by the many translations made of it into German, English and other languages.
By the beginning of the tenth century the impulse given to the arts by Charlemagne had gradually died out and the state of society had become so disorganized that for two centuries after the time of Notker the field of literature was comparatively barren. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, mark a great change and form an era of rapid growth. Germany was now ruled by the Hohenstauffens, whose dream it was to prove themselves true heirs of Charlemagne by re-establishing the Empire of the West. As a result of their participation in the common life of Christendom, very largely through the influence of the crusades, came the development of chivalry and a national literature, the first great outburst of German poetry and song. A large class (more than two hundred) of minnesingers sprang up who glorified earthly and heavenly love and the Virgin Mary as the type of pure womanhood. In the church too the voice of native song now made itself heard. The "Kyrie eleison" and "Christe eleison" which passed from the Greek church into the Latin, as a response of the people, to be repeated over and over again, especially on the high festivals, were popularly enlarged, and these brief poems were called from the refrain "Kirleison" or "Leisen," also "Leichen."3 These sequences, for such they were, were the first specimens of German hymns which were sung by the people. The oldest dates from the end of the ninth century and is called the "Leich vom heiligen Petrus." It has three stanzas, of which the first reads:
Unser trohtin hat farsalt
zeimo dingenten man.
The twelfth century produced the "Salve Caput cruentatum" of Bernard of Clairvaux,—a hymn which has come to us by Paul Gerhardt, whose own hymn writing is wonderfully affected by Bernard.
* It is possible that instead of being a corruption of the Greek phrase the word may have denoted at first a certain dance measure. Cf. Grimm: Deutsches Wörterbuch, Vol. VI.
"Our Lord hath given St. Peter power that he may preserve the man who hopes in him."
"Cf. p. 86 and note.
In the following century appeared two widely celebrated compositions, the "Dies irae" and the "Stabat Mater dolorosa." These, as well as many others of the best Latin hymns, such as the "Te Deum" and the "Gloria in excelsis," were repeatedly translated. Occasionally words of the original Latin were introduced into the vernacular as in the Christmas hymn:
In dulci jubilo
Nu singet und seyt fro!
The mystic school of Tauler, in the fourteenth century produced a number of hymns full of glowing love to God. Tauler is the author of the Christmas poem, "Uns kommt ein Schiff geladen" and the hymn of Self Renunciation, "Ich musz die Creaturen fliehen," both of which have passed into English, the best versions being those of Miss Winkworth.
Of unusual sweetness and abiding worth are the hymns of Heinrich von Laufenburg, the most important and prolific hymn writer of the fifteenth century. Many are in intricate metres, while others are transformations of secular songs into religious songs. His cradle hymn, "Ach lieber Herre Jesu Christ," is a beautiful prayer of a mother for her infant child, and has become well known in England through Miss Winkworth's translation.
German hymnody of the Middle Ages is, like the Latin, overflowing with the worship of the saints and the Virgin who is even clothed with divine attributes and is virtually accorded the place of Christ as the fountain of grace. In characterizing the period Wackernagel says?
"Through all the centuries from Otfrid to Luther we meet with the idolatrous worship of the Virgin Mary. There are hymns which teach that she pre-existed with God at the creation, that all things are created in her and for her and that God rested in her on the seventh day."
One of the favorite hymns to the Virgin, "Dich Frau von Himmel, ruf ich an," Hans Sachs subsequently changed into "Christum vom Himmel ruf ich an," a change strikingly characteristic of the effect which the Reformation exerted upon the worship of the Virgin Mary. It substituted for it the worship of Christ as the sole Mediator through whom men attain eternal life.
THE REFORMATION PERIOD, 1500-1648.
Guizot in his History of European Civilization calls the Reformation an insurrection of the human mind against the absolute power of spiritual
Cf. Christian Singers of Germany.
"Das deutsche Kirchenlied, II, p. 13.
order. In the changes that then occurred few things are more noteworthy than the new privileges granted to the individual worshipper. There was revived the primitive idea of the priesthood of all believers. Instead of the Latin Mass, the Reformation introduced a sermon in the vernacular, and for the chanting of priests and choirs it substituted congregational singing. Among the means which contributed to the large benefits which then came to the church the writing of hymns was not the least important. It is interesting to note that the leader of the Reformation was also the first evangelical hymnist. To Luther belongs the extraordinary merit of having given to his people in their own language not only the Bible and the Catechism, but also the hymn book, so that they might directly answer the word of God in their songs. No sooner had there been felt the want of German psalms and hymns to take the place of the Latin hymns and sequences than Luther set about to supply the want. He was intensely fond of poetry and song and was himself a poet by nature. His estimate of the value of music is revealed in his words: "He who despises music, as all fanatics do, will never be my friend." He wished that all children might be taught to sing; "for," he says, "I would fain see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has bestowed and created them."
He began to write hymns soon after he had completed his New Testament translation and from this time on he was an active reformer of church music and hymns, enlisting in the same work the large circle of friends whom he gathered about him. Luther had recourse to the Latin hymns, adapting and translating many of those which would lend themselves best to his purposes. Altogether he wrote thirty-seven hymns, most of them dating from the year 1524; more are frequently ascribed to him though on doubtful authority. Luther's hymns which are characterized by simplicity and strength, had a popular churchly tone; his style is plain and often rugged and quaint but he throws into his poems all his own fervent faith and deep devotion. His most famous hymn "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott," written in 1529 when the German princes made their formal Protest against the revocation of their liberties, thus gaining the name of Protestants, has passed into English hymnody in no less than sixty-three versions.10
Of the many hymnists inspired by Luther's example the more eminent were Justus Jonas, Luther's friend and colleague in the preparation of metrical German versions of the Psalms, Paul Eber, the faithful assistant of Melanchthon, Markgraf Albrecht of Brandenburg, Hans Sachs, the shoemaker, and later Gerhardt.
But cf. L. F. Benson: The English Hymn, N. Y. 1915, p. 20 ff.
Cf. Tischreden: "Von der Musica" and "Die Musicam sol man nicht verachten."
10 Cf. Julian Dictionary of Hymnology, pp. 324-5.
The German hymnody of the Reformation period was enriched by the hymns of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren, who as followers of John Huss, had in 1467 formed themselves into a separate and organized church; their archbishop Lucas in 1501 collected hymns and published the first hymn book in the vernacular to be found in Bohemia or Germany. The adherents of this cult are commonly called Moravians, because the first founders of the settlement in Saxony immigrated from Moravia. They assumed this name in England and America and it is very largely through their hymn book11 that German hymns have found their way into English hymnody.
The Lutheran hymnody which followed closely upon the Moravian contributions concluded its productive period with the Formula of Concord12 in 1577 which gave final shape to the Lutheran creed. In this period there were over a hundred poets whose verses have expressed the highest Christian praises. It is an era which, for its productiveness, may be compared with the time of Watts and Doddridge and their immediate successors in England.
The hymns from this time to the close of the Thirty Years' War are of a more subjective13 experimental type of sacred poetry, that is, writers made. their songs more and more expressive of personal feelings. In point of refinement and grace of style the hymn writers of the period of the Thirty Years' War, whose taste was chiefly formed by the influence of Martin Opitz1 the founder of the First Silesian School of German poetry, excelled their predecessors. His finest hymn, "O Licht, geboren aus dem Lichte" is a special favorite in Silesia where he was born, and has passed into English in several translations, notably that of Miss Winkworth, "O Light, who out of Light wast born."15
Near the close of the war, when the hope of peace had begun to dawn, Martin Rinckart (1586-1649) composed that noble expression of trust and praise, "Nun danket alle Gott." It has been translated many times and is included in nearly all American and English hymnals. The hymn of trust in Providence by Neumarck (1621-1681), "Wer nur den lieben Gott läszt walten," is hardly inferior to that of Gerhardt on the same theme.16
The two most famous and most copious hymn writers of this time were however Rist and Heermann; the former wrote between 600 and 700 hymns, such as were intended to supply every possible requirement of public worship or private experience. In so great a mass of writings it is inevitable that there should be much that is poor, but over 200 may be said to be in
"Cf. the frequent references to the Moravian Hymn Book, p. 38 ff.
12 Cf. p. 4.
13 Cf. p. 14.
14 For his influence on Gerhardt cf. pp. 2, 14, 18.
15 Cf. Christian Singers of Germany, p. 173.
16 "Befiehl du deine Wege," cf. p. 114 ff.
common use in Germany and at least fifteen have appeared in the hymn books of English-speaking countries. Not so prolific as Heermann and Rist but superior to them in poetical genius was Simon Dach (1605-1659), who was Professor of Poetry at Königsberg and the most important poet of the Königsberg School.17
While the Lutheran churches were superior to the Reformed churches of Germany and Switzerland in original hymnody, they were inferior to them in the matter of psalmody. Zwingli and Calvin held firmly to the principle that in public worship the word God should have supreme dominion, a principle which raised the Psalter to new dignity and power. Versified versions of the Psalms became the first hymn books of the Reformed Churches.18 The first German Reformed hymn book appeared at Zürich, 1540. It contained not only versified psalms but also hymns, with a preface in defense of congregational singing. The most popular collection however was the versified Psalter of Lobwasser of Königsberg. While its poetry is but a poor translation of the French Psalter of Marot and Beza,19 its pious contents made it a rich source of devotion for a hundred years. It is a parallel to the Scottish Psalter of 1641 by Francis Rous.20
Simon Dach was the last poet of any note to write in the Reformation period of German hymnody. After him a new era of poetry, the Confessional (1648-1680), opens and it is at this time that Paul Gerhardt appears. He, however, although living in the midst of this churchly atmosphere, profound in Lutheran orthodoxy, feels the tendencies of a still later period, that of the Devotional era. Like many other great men he saw beyond his time. He combined in his poems all the strong qualities of the century in which he lived, and of the later epoch, the period of the Pietists.
17 Of the 165 hymns that he wrote, five have found places in modern English hymnals. One of the best known popular songs is his love-song written in East Prussian dialect "Anke von Tharaw." This is made familiar to English readers through Longfellow's translation, "Annie of Tharaw."
For their effect on English hymnody cf. p. 28 ff. 19 Cf. p. 29.
20 Cf. Julian: Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 1023.