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Christian Hymns Of The First Three Centuries by Ruth Ellis Messenger

VII. Conclusion

Reviewing the total pagan influence, both Greek and Latin, upon Christian hymnody, it must be understood that, in comparison with Semitic pressure in its wider implication, as well as the strictly Hebraic, pagan influence was relatively slight. It was a matter of centuries before the Hebrew psalms were permitted any rivals whatever in the usage of worship, except other biblical citations or such poems as might be produced by unquestioned churchmen. Even these were sparingly used, for psalmi idiotici, as the novel and original compositions were called, were forbidden by the Church and a new hymnody was thus stifled at its very birth. In a period of confusion marked by the rival use of hymns on the part of the orthodox and non-orthodox, it was felt that worship must be safeguarded. Only after the appearance of the modern vernacular languages in Europe in the period of the ninth century, when the liturgy had been set apart in the Latin tongue, was any real freedom permitted in the composition of new hymns. By that time the clergy were the poets and Latin their chosen medium of expression.

By the time of Ambrose in the fourth century, however, Greek and oriental elements had long since merged in other aspects of civilization and, in the course of time, Christian hymns felt the effect of a universal development. There was a certain departure from biblical models and an emancipation from the old poetic forms in favor of the trend toward accent and rhyme. After all, a new religion had come into existence which demanded an authentic expression of a spiritual aspiration beyond that of the Old Testament models, just as Isaac Watts in the eighteenth century turned from the tradition of psalmody to an original presentment of the new revelation in Christ.

Are we to suppose that the Christians in the Mediterranean world of the first three centuries, representing the average inhabitant of these lands, had no hymns except those cited above? Or others like them? If they had, we are unacquainted with them. It is fair to assume that secular poetry and music eventually exerted an influence upon hymnody. At least the beginning of such influence was apparent in the adoption of popular meters by heretical poets, as well as by the orthodox. Later, Ambrose perpetuated aspects of popular verse and perhaps music as well. But there is no evidence at hand to support the assumption of a popular hymnody enjoyed either in connection with worship or independently of it.

The problem of music is outside the province of this paper but is involved in any serious study of hymnology at any period of its development. Here the student is almost totally at a loss for manuscript evidence bearing musical notation from the primitive period. The Oxyrhynchus hymn is a solitary example. This does not mean that the subject is altogether obscure. Many statements about Christian practice, inspired by biblical precedent, are found in patristic literature. The traditions both of Hebrew music and of the early Church are well known. It seems clear that melody only was employed and that it was, for the most part, unaccompanied. Instrumentation was opposed and forbidden in public worship of a liturgical nature.

No student can leave the consideration of early Christian hymnology without a sense of defeat. The past cannot be forced to yield the hidden knowledge of which it is the custodian. Sources are very scanty, especially in proportion to other literary remains of early Christianity. Specifically, there is no collection of hymns in existence which might correspond to a modern hymnary. On the contrary, isolated examples or groups appear from place to place and from time to time in varied forms. But in one respect our evidence is sure, if not complete. Springing from the culture and the vicissitudes of the age, Christian hymns of the early Church, as in every other stage of its development, not only express the spiritual aspiration of the time but also respond to the challenge of a new day.

H. LeClercq, |Hymnes,| Dictionnaire D' Archeologie Chretienne, etc. (Paris, Letouzey, 1925), vol.16, 2826-2928; Part I, Hymnographie des trois premiers siecles, 2826-2859.

C. S. Phillips, Hymnody, Past and Present (London, S. P. C. K., 1937).

J. Kroll, |Die Hymnendichtung des fruehen Christentums,| Die Antike, 2 (1926), 258-281.

J. Mearns, Canticles of the Christian Church (Cambridge, Un. Press, 1914), 1; F. Cabrol, |Cantiques,| Dictionnaire D' Archeologie Chretienne, etc., vol.2 (2), 1976.

All biblical passages quoted in this paper are given in the King James Version of the English Bible.

R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1913), vol. I, 627-629.

J. Mearns, op. cit. (see note 4), 1.

F. Cabrol, op. cit. (see note 4), 1976-1977.

J. Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (London, John Murray, 1892), |Canons,| 461, 463.

Quotations from the Psalms are not included in this paper.

C. H. Toy, Quotations in the New Testament (New York, Scribners, 1884), 199-200.

E. F. Scott, The Pastoral Epistles (New York, Harper, no date), 14.

J. Kroll, op. cit. (see note 3), 264.

M. Dibelius, A Fresh Approach to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature (New York, Scribners, 1936), 247.

R. Reitzenstein, Die Hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen (Leipzig, Teubner, 1927), 3rd edition, 385.

G. D. Kellogg, The Ancient Art of Poetic Improvisation, a paper read at the meeting of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, April 26, 1940; J. Kroll, op. cit. (see note 3), 259.

Contra Haereses, III, xvii, 2; Migne (PG), VII, 929-930. For a recent commentator, see F. J. Foakes-Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1931), 10-13.

Note the citation, I Tim.6:15-16, supra, p.7, in which the repetition of the relative clause produces a stylistic effect.

Justin Martyr, Apologia pro Christianis, 67; Migne (PG), VI, 430. Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York, Scribners, 1899), I, 14.

Didache, xiv; Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, VII, 381.

Apostolic Constitutions, II, lvii; Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, VII, 421-422.

Ante-Nicene Fathers, VII, 371-376; Catholic Encyclopedia, IV, 779f; Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edition, VII-VIII, 209f.

Didache, ix; Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, VII, 380.

Hymnody Past and Present, 16-17.

F. E. Brightman, Liturgies, Eastern and Western (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1896), vol. I, Introduction, xvii-xxix.

F. E. Brightman, supra, xxix; see also B. S. Easton, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (Cambridge, Un. Press, 1934), 12.

L. Eisenhofer, Handbuch der katholischen Liturgik, vol. I, Allgemeine Liturgik (Freiburg im B., Herder, 1932), 150-152.

Apostolic Constitutions, VII, 47.

Supra, VII, 48.

Supra, VII, 49.

Translations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, VII, 538, 544.

Liber de spiritu sancto, xxix, 73; Migne (PG), XXXII, 205. See also J. Mearns, op. cit. (see note 4), 16.

Translation by Robert Bridges, Yattendon Hymnal (London, Oxford Un. Press, 1920), no.88.

R. M. Pope, |Latin Hymns of the Early Period,| Theology, 21 (1930), 159; Catholic Encyclopedia, |Te deum,| XIV, 468-470; C. W. Douglas, Church Music in History and Practice (New York, Scribners, 1937), 158-160.

F. Cabrol, op. cit. (see note 4), especially Part II, Les cantiques anciens, 1976-1977.

E. Norden, Agnostos Theos (Leipzig, Teubner, 1913), 276.

Translation from Book of Common Prayer (Prot. Epis. Church, U. S. A.), 84. Similar effects were apparent in I Tim.6:15-16, I Tim.3:16, I Peter 2:22-25, quoted above.

K. Keyssner, Gottesvorstellung und Lebensauffassung in griechischen Hymnus (Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 1932). In his index Keyssner lists 72 known authors of all periods, 37 anonymous pieces (some fragments), and 22 magical formulae or collections.

E. H. Blakeney, Hymn of Cleanthes (London, S. P. C. K., 1921), 8.

E. D. Perry, Preface to A. Koerte, Hellenistic Poetry, translated by J. Hammer and M. Hadas (New York, Col. Un. Press, 1929), vii.

S. Angus, Religious Quests of the Graeco-Roman World (New York, Scribners, 1929), 76.

Supra, 77, 86, 87.

Metamorphoses, xi, 25. Translation from S. Angus, Mystery Religions and Christianity (New York, Scribners, 1925), 240-241. For the hymn from Cyme see P. Roussel, |Un nouvel Hymne a Isis,| Revue des Etudes grecques, 42 (1929), 138.

Cited by Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanarum religionum, 20; Migne (PL), XII, 1025; F. Cumont, Textes et Monuments Figures relatifs aux Mysteres de Mithra (Bruxelles, Lamertin, 1899), vol. I, 313.

Contra Faustum, xv, 5; Migne (PL), xlii, 307.

Cumont, op. cit. (see note 44), 302.

A. Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie (Leipzig, Teubner, 1923), 14; Translation from S. Angus, op. cit. (see note 43), 241.

Philosophumena, V, iv; Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, Hippolytus, vol. iii, edited by Paul Wendland (Leipzig, Hinrich, 1916), 99-100. Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, V, 56-57.

T. Taylor, The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (London, Dobell and Reeves & Turner, 1896), 63.

J. Geffeken, Der Ausgang des griechisch-roemischen Heidentums (Heidelberg, Winter, 1929), 18; M. Hauck, Die hymnorum Orphicorum aetate (Dissertation, Breslau, 1911); O. Kern, Die Herkunft des Orphischen Hymnenbuch in Carl Robert zum 8. Maerz 1910 Genethliakon (Berlin, Weidmann, 1910).

R. Reitzenstein, Poimandres (Leipzig, Teubner, 1904), 59, 347f.

Translations from S. Angus, Mystery Religions and Christianity, 241-242.

Phillips, Hymnody Past and Present, 13.

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris (Paulus Diaconus, d.799); Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen (Johann Heerman, 1630); Where is the Friend for whom I'm ever yearning (Johann Wallin, 1779-1839).

Acts of Thomas, IX, 108. Translation from M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1924), 411. See also B. Pick, The Apocryphal Acts (Chicago, Open Court Pub. Co., 1909), 312.

According to Pick op. cit. (see note 55), 312, it is a Gnostic development of Phil.2:5-11.

O. Bardenhewer, Patrology, translated from the 2nd edition by T. J. Shahan (Freiburg im B., Herder, 1908), 107.

J. Kroll, op. cit. (see note 3), 270.

Acts of Thomas, I, 6. Translation from M. R. James, op. cit. (see note 55), 367.

Acts of John, 94, 95. Translation from M. R. James, op. cit. (see note 55), 228, 253.

Augustine, Epistula ccxxxvii; Migne (PL), xxxiii, 1034. See also Leclercq, op. cit. (see note 1), 2841.

Philosophumena, v, 5; Text, op. cit. (see note 48), 102. Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, V, 58.

Philosophumena, vi, 32; Text, op. cit. (see note 48), 167. Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, V, 91.

E. Norden, op. cit. (see note 36), 69.

H. Burgess, Select Metrical Hymns and Homilies of Ephraem Syrus (London, Blackader, 1853), 77-83.

J. R. Harris & A. Mingana, The Odes and Psalms of Solomon, vol. I, Text; II, Translation (Manchester, Un. Press, 1916-1920), II, 69, 187-189, 197; J. R. Harris, Odes and Psalms of Solomon (Cambridge, Un. Press, 1909), 1-15; M. Dibelius, op. cit. (see note 14), 248-251; J. Kroll, op. cit. (see note 3), 265-268.

Harris & Mingana, Odes and Psalms of Solomon, II, 232.

Supra, 259.

Supra, 362.

Supra, 369.

Supra, 69.

Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, 23.

Chapters vii, ix, x, xii. Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, 27, 28, 29, 30.

Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, VIII, 756.

Poetical translation from Ante-Nicene Christian Library (Edinburgh, Clark, 1867), IV, 343, by William Wilson. A familiar poetical translation is found in B. Pick, Hymns and Poetry of the Eastern Church (New York, Eaton & Mains, 1908), 21.

Harris & Mingana, op. cit. (see note 66), 187.

B. F. Grenfell & A. S. Hunt, Amherst Papyri (London, Frowde, 1900-1901), 23; Leclercq, op. cit. (see note 1), 2853f.

Translation from P. D. Scott-Moncrieff, Paganism and Christianity (Cambridge, Un. Press, 1913), 83-84.

B. F. Grenfell & A. S. Hunt, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Pt. XV (London, Oxford Un. Press, 1922), no.1786, 21-22; also Preface.

{Symposion ton deka parthenon}, xi, 2; Migne (PG), XVIII, 207-214; Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, VI, 351.

W. N. Myers, The Hymns of Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the Codex Aretinus (Philadelphia, Un. of Penn., 1928), 12, 29, 53, 67. For a discussion of other hymns attributed to Hilary see supra, p.14 and A. S. Walpole, Early Latin Hymns (Cambridge, Un. Press, 1922), 1-4.

Epistulae, x, 96.

Leclercq, op. cit. (see note l), 2837-2838.

C. J. Kraemer, |Pliny and the Early Church Worship,| Classical Philology 29 (1934), 293-300.

H. F. Muller, |Pre-History of the Mediaeval Drama,| Zeitschrift f. romanische Philologie 44 (1924), 544-575.

J. Kroll, op. cit. (see note 3), 273-274.

E. Norden, |Die Literatur,| in Vom Altertum zur Gegenwart (Leipzig, Teubner, 1921), 41-49.

Grenfell & Hunt, op. cit. (see note 79), 22. There are 8 recognizable notes in the Diatonic Hypolydian key of Alypius. The mode is Hypophrygian or Iastian.

J. Quasten, Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der heidnischen Antike und christlichen Fruehzeit (Muenster im W., Aschendorff, 1930), ch. iv.

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