The Rise of the Hymn

In the ways of holiness, chanted psalms were the song …

in the reading of Scriptures, or in the chanting of psalms, or in the preaching of sermons, or in the offering up of prayers

The greatest monk advised …

Pray continually; avoid vainglory; sing psalms before sleep and on awaking; hold in your heart the commandments of Scripture

Psalms were the song of martyrs …

Perpetua sang psalms

Scripture prescribed them …

being afflicted, we will sing Psalms

They were the best way to God …

Mark also the considerateness of Paul. Seeing that reading is toilsome, and its irksomeness great, he led them not to histories, but to psalms, that thou mightest at once delight thy soul with singing, and gently beguile thy labors.

But were they enough? Even way back, ordinary men added their own songs too …

The participants (in a Christian feast), before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. … After manual ablution, and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from the holy Scriptures or one of his own composing

Dangerous, most dangerous. Best stay with the psalms. For song can lead to …

passions which are the offspring of servility and baseness are produced by this kind of music. … we must employ that class of music which is better in itself and which leads to better things, which David, the sacred psalmist, is said to have used to assuage the madness of the king. … Therefore you ought to have still less to do with the music of such influence than with other infamous things.

Indeed the wrong song could be fatal …

One of these licentious youths ran into the Church, and ventured to sit down upon the throne; and as he sat there the wretched man uttered with a nasal sound some lascivious song. Then rising up he attempted to pull away the throne, and to drag it towards him; he knew not that he was drawing down vengeance upon himself. … as if Divine justice had sent the wood to punish him, he struck it into his own bowels; and instead of carrying out the throne, he brought out by his blow his own entrails; so that the throne took away his life, instead of his taking it away.

But so many wouldn’t listen …

now your children will utter songs and dances of Satan, like cooks, and caterers, and musicians; no one knoweth any psalm, but it seems a thing to be ashamed of even, and a mockery, and a joke.

Worse than the baudy were the profane hymns of the Greeks …

Epiphanius, the sophist, recited a hymn which he had composed in honor of Dionysus. Apolinarius … went to hear the recitation … Epiphanius, according to the custom always observed at the public recitation of hymns, directed the uninitiated and the profane to go out of doors. But neither Apolinarius … nor, indeed, any of the Christians who were present, left the audience. When Theodotus, the bishop, heard … (he) ejected them from the church

Worse yet were the singing heretics …

The Arians … assembled by night in the public porticoes, and were divided into bands, so that they sang antiphonally, for they had composed certain refrains which reflected their own dogma, and at the break of day marched in procession, singing these hymns, to the places in which they held their churches. They proceeded in this manner on all solemn festivals, and on the first and last days of the week. … John [the bishop] was fearful lest any of his own church people should be led astray by witnessing these exhibitions

The psalms were not enough!

The godly had to step up, …

to sing hymns in the same manner. The orthodox became more distinguished, and in a short time surpassed the opposing heretics in number and processions; for they had silver crosses and lighted wax tapers borne before them. The eunuch of the empress was appointed to regulate these processions, to pay the cost of whatever might be required, and to prepare hymns. … Having commenced the custom of singing hymns in the manner and from the cause above stated, the members of the Catholic Church did not discontinue the practice, but have retained it to the present day.

In Syria too, heretics sang. There too, ungodly songs had to be countered, melodies reworked …

Bardasanes, who devised a heresy designated by his name, and Harmonius, his son. It is related that this latter was deeply versed in Grecian erudition, and was the first to subdue his native tongue to meters and musical laws; these verses he delivered to the choirs, and even now the Syrians frequently sing, not the precise copies by Harmonius, but the same melodies. For as Harmonius was not altogether free from the errors of his father, and entertained various opinions concerning the soul, the generation and destruction of the body, and the regeneration which are taught by the Greek philosophers, he introduced some of these sentiments into the lyrical songs which he composed. When Ephraim perceived that the Syrians were charmed with the elegance of the diction and the rhythm of the melody, he became apprehensive, lest they should imbibe the same opinions; and therefore, although he was ignorant of Grecian learning, he applied himself to the understanding of the metres of Harmonius, and composed similar poems in accordance with the doctrines of the Church, and wrought also in sacred hymns and in the praises of passionless men. From that period the Syrians sang the odes of Ephraim according to the law of the ode established by Harmonius. … It is said that he wrote three hundred thousand verses

At Antioch, songs were allowed to battle out …

When they sang hymns to God, they were, according to custom, divided into choirs, and, at the end of the odes, each one declared what were his own peculiar sentiments.

Though the old bishop knew it couldn’t last …

he once raised his hand to his head, the hairs of which were quite white, and said, “When this snow is dissolved, there will be plenty of mud.” By this he intended to signify that, after his death, the different modes of singing hymns would give rise to great seditions, and that his successors would not show the same consideration to the people which he had manifested.

So the Orthodox took their opponents tunes and styles? Certainly not! …

We must now however make some allusion to the origin of this custom in the church of responsive singing. Ignatius third bishop of Antioch in Syria from the apostle Peter, who also had held intercourse with the apostles themselves, saw a vision of angels hymning in alternate chants the Holy Trinity. Accordingly he introduced the mode of singing he had observed in the vision into the Antiochian church; whence it was transmitted by tradition to all the other churches.

Indeed hymns were above the psalms …

The Psalms contain all things, but the Hymns again have nothing human. When he has been instructed out of the Psalms, he will then know hymns also, as a diviner thing. For the Powers above chant hymns, not psalms.

A hymn could save a city …

the officials … impose more than the customary taxes; for this reason the populace of Antioch in Syria revolted; the statues of the emperor and empress were thrown down and dragged by ropes through the city, and, as is usual on such occasions, the enraged multitude uttered every insulting epithet that passion could suggest. The emperor determined to avenge this insult by the death of many of the citizens of Antioch; the people were struck dumb at the mere announcement … and supplicated God to turn away the anger of the emperor, and made use of some threnodic hymns for their litanies. They deputed Flavian, their bishop, to go on an embassy to Theodosius; but on his arrival, finding that the resentment of the emperor at what had occurred was unabated, he had recourse to the following artifice. He caused some young men accustomed to sing at the table of the emperor to utter these hymns with the litanies of the Antiochans. It is said that the humanity of the emperor was excited; he was overcome by pity at once; his wrath was subdued, and as his heart yearned over the city, he shed tears on the cup which he held in his hand.

2 Responses to “The Rise of the Hymn”

  1. Lucas Says:

    Oh she looks like an angel. Love, love, love the first one and the last one where she’s showing her paseonrlity. I’m sure that God is smiling down on this child. I am a mom to 2 boys and a little girl, and when I see them, I do see God. They say that you can’t see him, but there’s no denying it when you see the innocence and perfection in a child’s face.

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