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Hymnody, taken from the Greek (hymnodia), means exactly "hymn song", but as the hymn-singer as well as the hymn-poet are included under (hymnodos), so we also include under hymnody the hymnal verse or religious lyric. Hymnology is the science of hymnody or the historico-philogical investigation and æsthetic estimation of hymns and hymn writers.
Hymnology is still recent in its origin. Until lately the vast material of Latin hymnody lay buried for the most part in the manuscripts of the different libraries of Europe, notwithstanding the interest taken in spreading among the people a knowledge and love of hymns, especially of Latin hymns, as early as the twelfth century; and despite the activity with which the subject has been investigated in England, France, and Germany since the middle of the last century. As the "realencyclopadie fur protestantische Theologie" asserts: "Research in regard to hymns, as in general concerning the Latin ecclesiastical poetry of the Middle Ages has made as yet but little progress in spite of the studies so actively pursued during the nineteenth century. Although it may have been thought that the compilations of Neale, Mone, Daniel, and others had provided fairly complete materials for research, we have since learnt how incomplete in quantity and quality the hitherto known material was by the publication of the "Analecta Hymnica", begun by the Jesuit Father Dreves in 1886, continued after 1896 with his fellow Jesuit Father Blume [and since 1906 carried on by the latter aided by Rev. H.M. Bannister] . . . . Until this magnificent compilation is completed a comprehensive description of the Latin hymnody of the Middle Ages will be impossible; and even then it will first of all requite a most minute and thorough examination" (Op. cit., 3rd ed., s.v. "Kirchenlied", II). The "Analecta Hymnica" in the meantime has reached the fifty-second volume and will be completed in six more volumes and several indexes. This work, however, only lays the foundations for a history of hymnody, which had hitherto been practically nonexistent. We have been and are still in an incomparably worse state in regard to the hymnody of the Orient; for the Syrian, Armenian, and Greek hymns, in spite of the meritorious work of Pitra, Zingerle, Bickell, Krumbacher, and others, remain for the most part unpublished and even uninvestigated. For this reason also, only the broadest outlines of the origin and development of hymnody can be given at present, and we must expect many future corrections and many additions to the long list of hymn writers. The latest researches have already changed the whole aspect of the subject.
To praise God in public worship through songs or hymns in the widest meaning of the word (see HYMN) is a custom which the primitive Christians brought with them from the Synagogue. For that reason the ecclesiastical songs of the Christians and the Jews in the first centuries after Christ are essentially similar. They consisted mainly of the psalms and the canticles of the Old and New Testaments. The congregation (in contradistinction to the cantors) took part in the service, it seems, by intoning the responses or refrains, single acclamations, the Doxologies, the Alleluias, the Hosannas, the Trisagion, and particularly the Kyrie Eleison, and so originated the Christian folk-song. Genuine hymns even in the broadest sense of the term were not yet to be met with. Even the four songs handed down to us through the "Constitutiones Apostolicae" which were intended as hymns in the morning, in the evening, before meals, and at candle lighting, cannot be considered hymns. They are rather prayers which, in spite of the lyric tone and rhythmic quality evident in some passages, must be considered as songs in prose, similar to the Prefaces of the Mass, and which are mainly composed of extracts from the Scripture.
The first of these four interesting songs is the Morning Hymn (hymnos heoinos is its heading in the Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century in London; and proseuche heothine in the seventh book of the "Constitutiones Apostolicae"; we call it the "Hymnus Angelicus"): Doxa en hypsistois theo (Gloria in excelsis Deo). The first part of this song of praise was written before 150 A.D., and Saint Athanasius, after translating it into Latin, inserted the whole in the Western Liturgy (see Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, LXXXII, iv. 43 sqq.). The Evening Hymn: Aineite, paides, Kyrion, aineite to onoma Kyriou is the same as the "Gloria in excelsis" in a shorter form and with the first verse of Psalm cxii as introduction. The Hymn of Grace at meals begins: Eulogetos ei, Kyrie, ho trephon me ek neotetos mou, ho didous trophen pase sarki. These words show plainly their origin in the Holy Scripture, and from them can be seen to what extent, if at all, they are ruled by rhythm and metre. The fourth song, the celebrated "Candle-light Hymn" beginning Phos ilaron which St. Basil describes as old in his day, is more rhythmical than the others. It is usually divided into twelve verses; these verses vary between five, six, eight, nine, ten and eleven syllables. This at most is the very beginning of what is termed a hymn in metrical language. The fact that in the fifth and later centuries these songs and prayers were called "hymns" is another instance of the error committed in determining the origin of hymnody by deductions from passages in ancient writers where the expression hymnos or hymnus occurs.
The earliest safe historical data we find in endeavouring to trace the origin belong to the fourth century. The writing of Christian hymns intended to be sung in Christian congregations was first undertaken to counteract the activity of the heretics. The Gnostics Bar-Daisan, or Bardesanes, and his son Harmonius had incorporated their erroneous doctrine in beautiful hymns, and, as St. Ephraem the Syrian says, "clothed the pest of depravation in the garment of musical beauty". As these hymns became very popular an antidote was needed. This induced St. Ephraem (d. 378) to write Syrian hymns. His success inspired St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389) to counteract the heresy of the Arians by Greek hymns. About the same time St. Ambrose (d. 397) composed Latin hymns although the productions of his forerunner in Latin hymnody, St. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 366), had been unsuccessful because they failed to please the popular taste. Thus the earliest known founders of hymnody in the East and West appear at the same period. Even before them Clement of Alexandria (d. about 215) had composed a sublime "song of praise to Christ the Redeemer" which begins with Stomion polon adaon, and at the end of the third century we had the glorious song of the virgins Anothen, parthenoi, bons egersinekros echos of St. Methodius (d. about 311). But the latter song from the Symposion of the Bishop of Olympus is to be classed rather under Christian dramatic than lyric verse, while the song added to the Paidagogos of Clement is probably not by him, but is of an earlier date. Thus, to conclude from known facts, the writing of hymns proper begins towards the middle of the fourth century in the East and soon afterwards appears in the West. There are many points of contact between the two hymnodies; just as a certain influence was exerted by the Syrians on the Greeks and by both together on the Armenians in respect to the content and form of hymns, in like manner the East, particularly the half-Semitic, half-Greek Syrian Church influenced the development of Western Latin hymnody. But as to the extent of this influence, there is still much uncertainty and opinions consequently differ greatly. Most likely this influence is often over-estimated. At all events the East and West followed separate paths in hymnody from the very beginning, and in spite of their common characteristics the outward form of the hymns was very different.
By degrees Christian hymnody became more opposed in outward form to the ancient pagan verse. Nor was this a disadvantage. Christian verse was intended specially for the congregation, for the people, who in those days took a much more active and important part in the Liturgy than is now the case. Christian hymnody is therefore originally and essentially a poetry of the people. The popular and primitive principle of poetic forms is the rhythmical principle; the rise and fall of the verse is governed, not by quantity of syllables--which only the learned recognize--but by the natural accent of the word. To this principle of rhythm or accentual principle the quantitative principle is directly opposed as the latter regards only to length of syllables without heeding the usual intonations of the word. The Kunst-Dichtung or artificial verse used the latter principle, but not with lasting success. For the essence of language and the natural tendency of the people favor the accentual principle. The Humanists and many of the learned for a long time regarded the rhythmical verse form with contempt; but this false prejudice has disappeared. The decisive verdict of the Krumbacher on Greek hymnody, which is of great importance for the right valuation of Christian hymnody, is as follows: "None could reach the heart of the people with tones that found no echo in their living speech. The danger that lurked here will not be under-estimated by the historian; for had there not been invented and received at the appointed time another artistic form of expression, the Greek nation would have lost forever the treasure of a true religious poetry. Thanks to this new form alone a sort of literature arose which in poetical feeling, variety, and depth may be placed beside the greatest productions of ancient poetry. This effective artistic form which awoke with a mighty cry the poetic genius of the Hellenes and lent to the lethargic tongues measures of ancient power in rhythmical verse" ("Gesch. der byzant. Lit.", Munich, 1897, p. 655). To a greater degree the above is true in regard to Latin hymnody, especially for the Middle Ages.
The Christian poets did not all immediately abandon the old classic quantitative metre for the accentual. Many even reverted to its use later particularly in the age of the Carlovingians. It is interesting, however, to note that such hymns found no real favour with the people and therefore were rarely incorporated in the Liturgy. Occasionally, indeed, their lack of rhythm was redeemed by excellent qualities; for instance, when they employed a very popular metrical form and took care that the natural word accent should correspond as far as possible with the accent required by the quantitative metre, i.e. the accented syllables of the word should occur in the long accented place of the verse scheme. The last case is therefore a compromise between the quantitative and the accentual or rhythmical principles. We have an example of all these excellent qualities in the hymns of St. Ambrose. He observes the rules of quantity, but chooses a popular metre, the iambic dimeter, with its regular succession of accented and unaccented syllables, from which arises the so-called alternating rhythm which marks the human step and pulse and is, therefore, the most natural and popular rhythm. He usually avoids a conflict between the word accent and the verse accent; his quantitative hymns can therefore be read rhythmically. This is one of the reasons of the lasting popularity of the hymns of St. Ambrose. The meter he selected, a strophe consisting of four iambic dimeters, was so popular that a multitude of hymns were composed with the same verse scheme, and are called hymni Ambrosiani. Soon, however, many writers began to neglect the quantity of the syllables and their verses became in the fifth century purely rhythmical. The earliest known writer using such rhythmical iambics is Bishop Auspicius of Toul (d. about 470); hence, the purely rhythmical strophe is called the Auspician strophe. Both these iambic dimeters probably sprang from the versus saturnius, the favourite metre of the profane popular poetry of the Romans.
Next to this metre in popularity was the versus popularis or politikos, the name of which explains its character. Christian poetry adopted this metre also on account of its popularity. For instance, let us compare the following child-puzzle verse:
Réx erét, quí récte fáciet / quí non fáciet, nón erít
Ádæ cárnis glóriósæ / ét cadúci córporís.
This versus popularis and the iambic dimeter are the two metres in which most of the early Christian hymns were written, both in Latin and in Greek. This proves that Christian hymnody strove for popularity even in its outward form. For a similar reason the quantitative principle was gradually abandoned by hymn writers in favour of the rhythmical. "It is certainly no mere chance", as has been very justly said in the "Byzantinische Zeitschrift" (XXII, 244), "that Christians were the first to break away from the learned game of long and short syllables intended for the eye alone; for they wished to reach the ear of the masses. These early Christians strove for and attained by means of the metrical system of their ecclesiastical poetry that which in German religious poetry was first achieved by Luther . . . . contact with the people, with their ear, and thus, with their heart." The further development of this rhythmical poetical form, especially in Latin, is thus briefly described by Meyer*: "First, from the fifth century a slow groping struggle with the many essays, clumsy but still attractive in their ingenuousness. In the eleventh century begins the contrast of a finished art which in complete regularity creates the most various and beautiful forms, on the surviving examples of which the Romance poets and also, to some extent, the Germanic poets model their work even today" (Meyer, "Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur mittellateinischen Rhythmik", Berlin, 1905, 1, 2). The rhythmical principle, especially in its union with rhyme, gained a complete victory over the ancient classic prosody.
The first known Christian hymn writer among the Syrians is also the first in point of importance and fecundity, St. Ephraem the Syrian (c. 373). It is impossible to say which of the many songs ascribed to him are authentic as there is no satisfactory edition of his works. His poems may be divided into the two classes so common in Syriac hymnody: "Mêmrê" and "Madraschê". The former are poetic speeches or expositions of the Holy Scripture in uniform metre without division into strophes; they scarcely come within our present scope. The "Madraschê" on the contrary are songs and hymns composed in strophes, the strophes consisting of from four to six verse lines and closing as a rule with a refrain. St. Ephraem was particularly fond of the seven-syllable verse line, hence called the Ephraemic. The quantity of the syllables is scarcely regarded, the syllables for the most part being simply counted. Among the songs which are ascribed to St. Ephraem, no fewer than sixty-five are directed against different heretics; others have as their theme Christmas, Paradise, Faith, and Death. To this last subject he dedicated eighty-five hymns, probably intended for funeral services. Many of his songs, of which several are set to the same tune, was adopted by the Syriac Liturgy and have been preserved in it ever since. The main tenor of these hymns is often very dissimilar to that in the early Greek and especially the Latin hymnody. The sensuousness and the glow of Oriental imagination and the love of symbolism are evident, in some hymns more, in others less. Among the disciples and imitators of Ephraem we may note in particular Cyrillonas (end of the fourth century) whose hymns on the Crucifixion, Easter, and the Grain of Wheat are still extant; Balaeus (c. 430) after whom the Syriac pentasyllabic verse is called the "baleasic"; James of Sarugh (d. 521) named by his contemporaries the "flute of the Holy Spirit and the harp of the believing church", though he was a Monophysite. None of these equalled St. Ephraem in poetic gift. Syriac hymnody may be said to have died out after the seventh century as a result of the conquest of Syria by the Arabs, though the following centuries produced several poets whose hymns are chiefly to be found in the Nestorian Psalter.
Here also we must be contented with the barest outlines. Only a small part of the material has been gathered from the libraries, notwithstanding the publications, by Pitra, Christ, Paranikas, Daniel, and Amphilochius and the detailed investigations by Mone, Bouvy, Wilhelm Meyer, and especially Krumbacher. Greek hymnody, if we take hymn in the wider sense of the word, begins with St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389). In their outer form his numerous and often lengthy poems still rest on ancient classical foundation and are exclusively governed by the laws of quantity. Their language unites delicacy and verbal richness to subtility of expression and precision of theological definition while glowing with the warmth of feeling. The smaller portion of his poetical compositions are lyrical, and even among these only hymns in the wider sense of the word are found, as the glorious hymnos eis Christon beginning as follows:
Se, ton aphthiton monarchen, Dos anymnein, dos aeidein, Ton anakta, ton despoten, Di on hymnos, di on ainos
These hymns in artistic form did not reach the people nor did they ever form part of the Liturgy. The same is true of the stirring songs of Synesius (d. 430), which were also written in classical form. They are a rosary of twelve hymns of singular sublimity, delicacy, and polish, whose contents at times betray the neo-Platonist; six of them, however, written probably at a later period of the author's life, are distinctly Christian in tone. To all of them the term metrical prayer rather than hymn should be applied. "The easy metros that have something playful in them are unsuited to the dignity of the contents, while the failure to separate the verses into strophes and their prominent subjective tone disqualified them for use in the Liturgy" (Baumgartner, "Gesch. der Weltlit.", IV, 62).
We may look upon the inventive and stirring writer Romanos (d. probably c. 560) as the real founder of Greek hymnody. In his poems the quantitative principle has completely given way to the accentual, rhythmical principle; and with the triumph of this principle the great day of the Greek Christian hymnody begins. About eighty hymns of Romnos have come down to us; nearly all of them show the artistic form of the "contakia". These contakia consist of from twenty to thirty or even more strophes of uniform structure to which is prefixed as a rule one, but occasionally two or three strophes of varying structure; every strophe (troparion or oikos), the numerous verses of which are generally different, is followed by a refrain of one or two short lines. The most popular of his hymns was the Christmas hymn which was performed with great festal pomp at the imperial court every year, until the twelfth century, by a double choir from the St. Sophia and the Church of the Apostles. It may well be called a performance, for such a lengthy song, set to music, sung by choirs and counterchoirs, and supplied with proem and refrain, resembles rather a dramatic oratorio that what we are accustomed to call a hymn. It begins thus:
He parthenos semeron ton hyperousion tiktei
Kai he ge to spelaion to aprosito prosagei.
Alleloi meta poimenon doxologousin,
Magoi de meta asteros hodoiporousin.
Romanos deserves, as the greatest of the Byzantine poets, the surname ho melodos. Clear and precise in theological language, he possesses in a high degree the depth and fire of a true lyric poet. He was unable, however, to avoid monotony and repetition owing to the uncommon length of the hymns, and a comparison with the father of Latin hymnody, Saint Ambrose, must leave him at a disadvantage. The Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople, a Monothelite (610-41), followed as a poet very closely in the path of Romanos. It is, however, more than doubtful if the Akathistos hymnos (so called because the clergy and people were obliged, to stand while intoning it) should be ascribed to him; it is also impossible to ascertain whether this lengthy song of thanksgiving to the Mother of God, inspired by the rescue of Constantinople and the empire from the Avars was composed in the year 626 or 711. At all events it is still greatly reverenced in the Greek Church and is a shining witness of the poetical creative power of the seventh century. "Whatever enthusiasm for the Blessed Virgin, whatever knowledge of Biblical types and in general of religious objects and ideas was able to accomplish, whatever ornament of speech, versatility of expression, skill of rhythm and rhyme could add, all that is effected here in an unsurpassed degree" ("Zeitschrift für Kirhengeschicte", V, 228 sq.). The Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem (629) devoted himself more to a learned, and often very arid, artificial form of poetry. To these chief representatives of the florescence of Greek hymnody may be added Andreas-Pyrrhos, eight of whose charming "idiomela" on the chiefs of the Apostles are preserved; and Byzantios and Cyprianos, of whom, however, only the names are known. At the opening of the eighth century St. Andrew, Archbishop of Crete (d. about 726), created the artistic measure of the "canons". A canon is a hymn composed of eight or, in remembrance of the nine Canticles of the Old Testament, of nine different songs, each of which has a peculiar construction and consists of three, four and, originally, more strophes. St. Andrew wrote one hymn of as many as 250 strophes that became proverbial on account of its length and is called ho megas kanon. The influence of the great Romanos is unmistakable in the poems of St. Andrew; besides, the reflections and great verbosity often give a jarring and tiring impression. The canons were particularly cultivated in the eighth century by St. John of Damascus and his half-brother St. Cosmos. Their model in language and metre was St. Gregory of Nazianzus, so they tried to revive the use of the old classical quantitative principle. In this artificial verse their description grew subtilized and often obscure, and genuine poetic feeling suffered from pedantry. These were not songs for the people. But however inferior they were to the natural stirring contakia, these canons were greatly admired and imitated by contemporary hymn writers.
Disastrous as was its effect on hymnody the iconoclasm of the eighth and ninth centuries called forth a spiritual reaction which was forcibly expressed in religious poetry and inspired many excellent songs. These songs in particular have been the longest retained in the Greek Liturgy. After the Syracusians, Gregory and Theodosius, St. Joseph the Hymnographer (d. about 883) and the imposing succession of Studies are especially to be noted here. The great monastery of the Studium (Studion) at Constantinople became a nursery of hymnography. The hegumen (or abbot) of the monastery, St. Theodore (d. 826), began with the triumphal canon for the great festival that commemorated the victory of the icons, with his canon on the Last Judgment which is described by Neale as "the grandest judgment-hymn of the Church", and with numerous other hymns. After him come his brother Joseph, later Bishop of Thessalonica, who suffered martyrdom, the Studites, Theophanes, Antonios, Arsenios, Basilios, Nicolaos, and lastly George of Nicomedia and Theodorus of Smyrna. In the hymns of all these poets, along with some excellent qualities, there is more or less Byzantine bombast or inflated exaggeration and heaping of epithets. A remarkable personality at this time is the talented poetess Kasia (Ikassia) who about 830 was chosen as a bride for the future Emperor Theophilus on account of her beauty, but was rejected because of her too great frankness. She then founded a convent of nuns in which she devoted herself to profane and sacred poetry, as did the celebrated nun Hroswitha von Gandersheim long after her. Her best known poems are the three idiomela on the birth of Christ on the birth of St. John the Baptist, and on the Wednesday of Holy Week, all of which were incorporated in the Liturgy. A disastrous event for hymnody was the revision of the hymnal undertaken in the ninth century. Many beautiful contakia were dropped from the Liturgy in favour of the canons, and may of the old hymns were "improved", that is, mutilated. This kind of renovation showed that poetic feeling was declining. Hymnody now gleaned only a scanty aftermath. In the eleventh century even the Greek Liturgy ceased to develop and there remained no soil in which Greek religious poetry could thrive. Only a few isolated hymn writers appeared in the Byzantine Empire after that time; such were Johannes Mauropus, Johannes Zonaras, and Nicephorus Blemmida. On foreign soil, in Italy, There was, however, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a reflorescence, especially in the Basilian convent at Grottaferrata near Rome, founded by Nilus the Younger in 1005.
The West began to cultivate religious poetry at the same time as did the East. From the beginning in spite of some similarity the Western poems were of a very different nature and were hymns in the more restricted sense of the word. They were incorporated into all parts of the Liturgy. As hymnody began to decline in the East, it revived in the West becoming more vigorous and fruitful than ever; this was especially so from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. The works of the religious lyric poetry give us an instructive picture of the culture and spiritual life of the early Christian Age and of the Middle Ages that is wholly unexpected. "In this religious poetry, the entire Church co-operated, popes, kings, cardinals, bishops, the brightest lights of science, influential statesmen and ambassadors, humble monks, and simple schoolmasters. . . . The versatility and universality of religious culture, the harmony of mental life with the life of feeling lent to religious poetry that richness and depth, that fullness and fervour, which irresistibly attract even the unbelievers" (Baumgartner, "Geschichte der Weltliterature", IV, 441).
(1) First Period up to the Carlovingian Age
At the cradle of Latin hymnody stands the great opponent of the Arians, St. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 366). While exiled to Asia Minor he was inspired by the example of the Easterns to compose hymns, on which a verdict cannot now be pronounced as we possess only the fragments of three or four. The first celebrates in asclepiadic alternating with glyconic metre, the birth of the Son co-equal with the Father:
Ante saecula qui manens
Semperque nate, semper ut est pater.
From this abecedary, that is, a hymn in which every strophe begins with the corresponding letter of the alphabet, there are missing the strophes beginning with the letters from U to Z. The second hymn, also an abecedary, is apparently the song of the new birth of a soul in baptism; the whole song would enable us to ascertain this, but the first five strophes (beginning with A to E) have been lost. The first of the eighteen remaining strophes, which consist each of two iambic senaries, begins:
Fefellit saevam verbum factum et caro.
In the third hymn, each strophe of which consists of three versus politici, that is, of trochaic tetrameters, is described the "Hostis fallax saeculorum et dirae mortis artifex" (str. ü, 1); in the tenth strophe the single handwriting in which these three hymns are given us breaks off. The language is profound and obscure, and it is only too clear that St. Hilary could not have become popular with such hymns. All other hymns ascribed to him must be rejected as spurious with the exception of the hymn to Christ, written in twenty-four strophes:
Hymnum dicat turba fratrum, / hymnum cantus personet,
Christo regi concinnantes / laudem demus debitam.
It was reserved for St. Ambrose (d. 397) to become the real "Father of Latin hymnody". Of his pithy and profound hymns fourteen genuine ones have come down to us in addition to four others which are now used at Tierce, Sext, and None in the Roman Breviary, and the hymn of the virgins "Jesu corona virginum", which are of very doubtful authenticity. Their outer form has been described above. They became at once favourites with the people, drew tears of devotion from the great St. Augustine, and were committed to memory by his mother St. Monica and others. They gave a model and form for all the later Breviary hymns, and from the beginning they remained as component parts of the Liturgy, the revisors of the Breviary having left at least three of them in the prayers of the canonical hours, namely: "Aeterna Christi munera", "Aegerne rerum conditor" and the inimitably beautiful hymn at Lauds "Splendor paternae gloriae". The first strophes of the last named hymn give an idea of the profound poetry of the Bishop of Milan (note that the two strophes form one sentence):
Splendor paternae gloriae, Verusque sol, illabere
De luce lucem proferens, Micans nitore perpeti
Lux lucis et fons luminis, Iubarque sancti spiritus
Dies dierum, illuminans Infunde nostris sensibus.
Richard Chenevix Trench, Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, writes of the hymns of St. Ambrose as follows: "After being accustomed to the softer and richer strains of the later Christian poets . . . it is some little while before one returns with a hearty consent and liking to the almost austere simplicity which characterizes the hymns of St. Ambrose. . . . Only after a while does one learn to feel the grandeur of this unadorned metre, and the profound, though it may have been more instinctive than conscious, wisdom of the poet in choosing it; or to appreciate that noble confidence in the surpassing interest of his theme, which has rendered him indifferent to any but its simplest setting forth. It is as though, building an altar to the living God, he would observe the Levitical precept, and rear it of unhewn stones, upon which no tool has been lifted. The great objects of faith in their simplest expression are felt by him so sufficient to stir all the deepest affections of the heart, that any attempt to dress them up, to array them in moving language, were merely superfluous. The passion is there, but it is latent and repressed, a fire burning inwardly, the glow of an austere enthusiasm, which reveals itself indeed, but not to every careless beholder. Nor do we presently fail to observe how truly these poems belonged to their time and to the circumstances under which they were produced, how suitably the faith which was in actual conflict with, and was just triumphing over, the powers of this world, found its utterance in hymns such as these wherein is no softness, perhaps little tenderness; but a rock-like firmness, the old Roman stoicism transmuted and glorified into that nobler Christian courage, which encountered and at length overcame the world" ("Sacred Latin Poetry", London, 1874m 87 sq.).
Notwithstanding the deep impression made by St. Ambrose's hymns on St. Augustine, the latter did not contribute to hymnody but left us only an interesting rhythmical abecedary composed in the year 393 and intended for singing as the repetition verse proves. This hymn cannot be classed as lyric poetry but is a purely didactic exposition of the history and nature of Donatism. Nor can Pope Damasus I (d. 384), to whom a hymn in honour of St. Agatha and one to St. Andrew are erroneously ascribed, be counted among hymn writers, although the elegance of expression and polished form of his epigraphic poems display poetic talent. In general it seems that for decades at least, and perhaps longer, after St. Ambrose no poet essayed to enrich the Latin Liturgy with genuine hymns. The round of ecclesiastical feasts was still small; for the then customary canonical hours, the great feast of Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany, the festal anniversaries of the chief Apostles and the Martyrs splendid hymns had been composed by St. Ambrose which were adopted with enthusiasm wherever hymns were used with the Liturgy. The liturgical need was abundantly satisfied therewith and perhaps in the beginning no one had the courage to claim for his poems a place in the Liturgy side by side with those of St. Ambrose.
This explains, perhaps, the singular fact that Aurelius Prudentius (d. after 405), the poet who comes next after St. Ambrose in point of date, composed hymns only for private devotion, and that in construction and form they stood in complete contrast to the hymns of his great predecessor. The muse indeed that speaks in the songs of the Spaniards is quite different from the Muse of the hymns of the Milanese; Dreves has termed it the romantic Muse. The highly poetic songs which compose the two books "Kathemerinon" and "Peristephanon" of Prudentius should not be compared with St. Ambrose's hymns; the former as well as the latter are masterpieces of their kind. St. Ambrosia's hymns, like the old Roman dome, impress us by their classical dignity and weight, while Prudentius, like the Gothic cathedral, elevates our souls by the richness of his form and the bold flights of his fancy. The exquisite beauty of the hymns of Prudentius induced the Mozarabians to incorporate in their Liturgy some of the martyr hymns from the "Peristephanon" notwithstanding their great length and their private devotional character. In the Roman service as well, several beautiful extracts or centos were used in the Liturgy. Such are those hymns which were used for Lauds on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and are still retained in the Roman Breviary, namely: "Ales diei nuntius"; "Nox et tenebrae et nubili"; "Lux ecce surgit aurea" and the charming hymn to the Holy Innocents: "Salvete flores martyrum". It is regrettable that others have been given up for instance, the Christmas hymn which was widely known in the Middle Ages, the first strophe of which is as follows:
Corde natus ex parentis / ante mundi exordium,
Alpha et O cognominatus, / ipse fons et clausula
Omnium, quae sunt, fuerunt, / quaeque post futura sunt
Prudentius had apparently no followers, but St. Ambrose, as soon as the desire and courage awoke to introduce other hymns than his into the Liturgy, was the permanent model and pattern. These additions were made in the fifth century and were occasioned by the increased number of festivals. The so-called hymni Ambrosiani bear witness to this fact, as they are identical in outer form with the hymns of St. Ambrose; while each strophe consists of four iambic dimeters, as a rule, eight strophes form a hymn. The authors are mostly unknown. It cannot be determined whether the Bishop Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) is the first among them. According to Gennadius he is said to have written among other works a book of hymns; but it cannot be ascertained what they were, as among the extant lyrical poems of Paulinus there is no hymn proper to be found, though there are three poetical paraphrases of the Psalms and a morning prayer written in hexameters:
Omnipotens genitor, rerum cui summa potestas, etc.
Pope Gelasius I (d. 496) wrote genuine Ambrosian hymns as Gennadius tells us; but no single hymn can be ascribed with certainty to this pope. Of the poet Caelius Sedulius (about 450) we have two hymni so entitled by him, besides a great "Carmen et opus paschale" (a kind of harmonized Gospel). Of these hymni, one in spite of the refrain, is really a didactic poem; the other is still preserved in the Liturgy. The latter is the abecedary:
A solis ortus cardine
Ad usque terrae limitem,
Christum canamus principem
Natum Maria virgine, etc.
The metre and form of these strophes are those favoured by St. Ambrose while the number of strophes corresponding to the letters of the alphabet is much greater. From the "Carmen paschale" were taken later several hexameter verses which now form the Introit of the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin: "Salve, sancta parens, enixa puepera regem", etc. The most faithful, one might almost say slavish, imitator of St. Ambrose was Magnus Felix Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia (d. 521) who, while archdeacon of Milan, wrote twelve hymns which corresponded in outer structure with those of St. Ambrose; but they were not incorporated in the Liturgy.
In the empire of the Frankish dynasty of the Merovingians Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. about 605), is the most prominent poet. He was chiefly a non-liturgical poet; but he left a lasting monument in the Liturgy in the two fine hymns on the Crucifixion:
Pange lingua gloriosi
Proelium certaminis, etc.,
Vexilla regis prodeunt,
Fulget crucis mysterium, etc.,
and in the one to Our Lady:
Quem terra, pontus, aethera,
Colunt, adorant, praedicant.
The two last-mentioned hymns are Ambrosian in metre, structure, and number of strophes. The processional hymn formerly sung at Easter, "Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo", is especially to be noted; it was taken from his soaring Easter song:
Tempora florigero rutilant distincta serno
Et maiore poli lumine porta patet, etc.
Many of the Fortunatus's hymns have been lost. The "Hymnus ad Mandatum" on Holy Thursday was a very popular and widely known composition written in the Ambrosian style by the Bishop Flavius of Chalon-sur-Saone (d. 591). It begins:
Tellus ac aethra rubilent
In magni cena principis.
No other hymns by this bishop are known. As curiosities from this age two hymns are to be mentioned in honour of St. Medardus by one of the Merovingians, namely the highly gifted but notorious profligate King Chilperic I (d. 584). They are bad verses but the contents are profound and the imagery is striking. These hymns never found a place in the Liturgy.
As in Italy, the cradle of hymnody, and in the Merovingian Empire, hymnody flourished more and more after the seventh century in Spain, whose great writer Prudentius we have already noticed. The object of the writers to supply the Mozarabian Liturgy with hymns was carried out so well that we can speak of a particular Mozarabian hymnody consisting of over 200 hymns independent of the songs adopted from the hymnal works of St. Ambrose, Prudentius, and Sedulius or borrowed from the Roman Liturgy. The writers of these hymns were without exception bishops, as Isidore of Seville (d. 636), Braulio of Saragossa (d. 651), Eugenius II of Toledo (d. 657), Quiricus of Barcelona, (d. 666) and Cyxilla of Toledo (d. about 783). With few exceptions it remains doubtful which Mozarabic hymns should be attributed to each of these poets. Most of these productions are in the metre of St. Ambrose, and as all the hymns of that saint, except the one in honour of the Milanese saints, were used in the Mozarabic service, his influence is unquestionable. The pietic value of the Mozarabic poems is far from being uniform; the greater part have only historico-literary interest.
Of a quite different order are the Latin poems of the ancient Irish Church. They are all intended for private devotion or non-liturgical uses. Not only the quantitative, but also the accentual principle is rejected. The number of syllables forms the verse but in union with rhyme and alliteration. Rhyme is used there as early as the sixth century; it develops steadily and appears in the seventh and especially in the eighth century in its richest and purest form. The progress in rhyme is so constant that it may be taken as a criterion of date. Singular, too, is the taste for alliteration as expressed in verses like "O rex o rector regiminis" or "Patrem precor potentiae". The oldest hymn written in Ireland, and at the same time the oldest purely rhythmical Latin hymn, is that of St. Secundus or Sechnall (d. about 448) to St. Patrick:
Audite, omnes amantes Deum, sancta merita.
It is written in the rhythm of St. Hillary's "Hymnum dicat turba fratrum"; and the latter hymn may possibly have inspired it. St. Hillary was very popular in Ireland as were his compositions, and many ancient Irish hymns show exactly the scheme of this poem. The next poet in point of time to be mentioned is St. Gildas (d. 569), with his singular song (Lorica):
Suffragare trinitatis unitas,
Unitatis miserere trinitas, etc.,
which found widespread popularity through Lathacan Scotigena (Laidcenn). Other hymn writers are St. Columba (Colum Cille, d. 597), five of whose hymns are extant; St. Columbanus (d. 615), St. Ultan of Ardgreccan (d. 656), Colman Mac Murchon, Abbot of Maghbile (died about 731), Oengus Mac Tipraite (about 741), Cuchuimne (about 746) and Saint Maolruain, Abbot of Tallaght (d. 792). In the beginning of the ninth century the productivity of ancient Irish hymnody seems to have ceased. An Irishman by birth, but not writing in the ancient Irish manner, was the Scholastic of Liège, Sedulius Scotus (d. after 874). Here the Venerable Bede, born in the British Isles, may be mentioned, though he exercised much less influence through his generally dry hymns than through his more important work "De arte metrica".
It is remarkable at first sight that no Irish Latin hymn was adopted into the Liturgy or into the ancient Irish Church. In seeking an explanation of this fact we are led back to one of the most striking personalities of the second half of the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). According to an old Irish legend, he sent about the year 592 a hymn book to St. Columba with the "hymns of the week", i.e. with ;the hymns for Matins, Lauds, and Vespers for the different days of the week. This hymn book, to which the hymns of the "Commune Sanctorum" were added before the ninth century, supplanted towards the end of that century the old Benedictine hymns in the Roman Breviary among the "hymni dominicales et feriales", and in the hymns used for the "Commune Sanctorum". Many of these hymns were written by Gregory the Great himself, which shows that he merits an important place in a history of Latin hymnody. Lack of space forbids closer examination of this question, with which is connected the introduction of hymns into the Roman Liturgy during the ninth century.
(2) Period from the Carlovingians to the Crusades
The impulse that letters received in the empire of the first Carlovingians benefited poetry also, but it was not in every way advantageous for hymnody, as there was a return to artificial poetry and the old classical metre, whereby the development of accentual rhythm and folk-song was again somewhat hampered. Only by degrees the accentual folk-poetry rose again in the eleventh century to the surface, with renewed vigour owing largely to the impulse given it by the school of St. Gall. In this last stage of transition there are side by side with fine poems many clumsy efforts in barbaric language, especially in the hymns of unknown authors of the tenth century. The separate groups and schools of poets of this period can be sketched here only briefly. First we find of poets from the palace school of Charlemagne: Paulus Diaconus (d. 798), Paulinus of Aquileia (d. 802), Alcuin, Abbot of St. Martin of Tours (d. 804), Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans (d. 821), and Rabanus (d. 856) who introduces us to the school of Fulda. All these contributed extensive poetical works to hymnody. Thus, Paulus Diaconus is the author of a celebrated hymn on St. John the Baptist: "Ut queant laxix resonare fibris", a masterpiece of spiritual and harmonious lyricism in Sapphic strophes, but somewhat strained and bizarre; and a fervent and polished hymn on the Assumption of Our Lady: "Quis possit amplo famine praepotens". Paulinus of Aquileia is known by his nine hymns, among them the splendid one on the chiefs of the Apostles: "Felix per omnes festum mundi cardines", with the division:
O Roma felix, quae tantorum principum
Es purpurata pretioso sanguine.
Of Theodulf we have among others the once widespread processional hymn for Palm Sunday: "Gloria laus et honor tibi sit, rex Christe, redemptor". Alcuin in the great bulk of his poems has only left two real hymns. With Rabanus, afterwards Archbishop of Mainz, we reach the poetic school of Fulda, the importance and influence of which require closer examination. It is remarkable that Rabanus, who in other writings and poems adhered closely to his predecessors, is much more original in his hymns which show no small poetical powers. His Ascension hymn was widely known: "Festum nunc celebre magnaque gaudia", and the Liturgy still retains the hymn of the martyrs "Sanctorum meritis inclita gaudia," the two hymns to St. Michael: "Christe, sanctorum decus angelorum" and "Tibi Christe, splendor patris" (now transposed: "Te splendor et virtus patris") and above all the celebrated hymn: "Veni, creator spiritus." Among the pupils of Rabanus the following excelled as hymn writers: Walafridus Strabo (d. 849), Gottschalk of Orbais (d. 869), and Hermanric of Ellwangen (d. 874).
Of great importance for hymnody was that district in which lay the old Abbeys of St.-Amand, Landevenec, St-Omer and Prüm. There arose in this district on the eve of the tenth century an altogether new kind of poetry that subsequently flourished brilliantly, namely that of the metrical and rhythmical Offices. The chief writer of the school of St-Amand (Schola Elnonensis) is Hucbald-Amand (d. 930), the inventor of the "ars organizandi." He was preceded by the productive poet Milo (d. 872). The Landevennec monastery had among its writers the monk Clemens (about 870) and the abbot Gurdestin (d. 884). Prüm was represented by its hagiographist and poet Wandalbert (d. about 870). St. Gall, however, surpassed all the schools of poets and singers of that time in fame and influence. The poetry of the sequences, though not invented there, was cultivated and encouraged. This kind of poetry freed hymnody from the classical restraints and the scanty rhythmical garment of the Carlovingian time (see Sequences). In St. Gall were written a considerable number of beautiful processional hymns, and religious songs of welcome to distinguished visitors to the abbey. The notable lyric poet Ratpert (d. after 884), Waldrammus (d. towards the end of the ninth century), Tutilo (d. 898), the prince of sequence poetry Notker Balbulus (d. 912), Abbot Hartman (d. 925), Ekkehard I (973), Notker Physicus (d. 975), and Hermann Contractus (d. 1054) sang and wrote in St. Gall. This same period witnessed the origin of the tropes of which the motets and cantiones were developments (see Tropes).
In France the Abbey of Cluny contributed to hymnody by the writings of her abbots Odo (d. 943) and Odilo (d. 1048). Other talented French poets of this period are: Fulbert of Chartres (d. 1029), Adémar of Chabannes (d. 1034), Ordorannus of Sens (d. 1045), Rainald of St. Maurice at Angers (d. about 1074), Eusebius Bruno of Angers (d. 1081) and Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088). Germany produced the poets Arnold of Vohburg (d. about 1035), Heribert of Eischastadt (d. 1042), Berno of Reichenau (d. 1048), Othlo of St. Elmmeram in Ratisbon (d. 1072), Gottschalk of Limburg (d. 1098), and Bruno, Count of Egisheim, later Pope Leo IX (d. 1054). We owe to this pope, of whom Anonymus Mellicensis speaks as "in musica subtilissimum," a Christmas hymn "Egredere, Emanuel, Quem nuntiavit Gabriel," a rhythmus "O pater Deus aeterne, de caelis altissimo" and a rhythmical Office of St. Gregory, in a somewhat clumsy form. In England Wulstan (Wolstan) of Winchester (d. 990) and St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1109) were prominent though there is still great obscurity regarding the hymnal activity of the latter. Finally Italy is represented not only by Wido of Ivrea (eleventh century) and Alberich of Monte Cassino (d. 1088), but by those brilliant writers Alphanus of Salerno (d. 1085) and St. Peter Damian (d. 1072). The two latter, especially St. Peter Damian, are poets of great fertility. Alphanus wrote only in classical metre and is admirable for the purity of his expression and the skill of his forms. St. Peter Damian chose the rhythms of the Middle Ages and contented himself with a less ornate form; but the plainer cloak hides a depth of intellect, a richness of fancy, and a warmth of feeling which captivate and inspire the reader. Especially beautiful is his rhythmus, often ascribed to St. Augustine:
Ad perennis vitae fontem / mens sitit nunc arida,
Claustra carnis praesto frangi / clausa quaerit anima, etc.
(3) Period of Zenith and of Decline (until the rise of Humanism)
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the zenith of the culture of the Middle Ages there appeared such a wealth of poems of the highest order that it is impossible to mention here all the poets and their principal works. Still less is it possible to give an appreciation of them or to note the more important of the far greater number of poems by unknown authors. The newly founded religious orders took an active share in hymnody and enriched the list of hymn writers with glorious names. The poetic forms became even richer, the language more elegant, the rhythm more regular, and the rhyme purer. In the first rank comes France. Marbod, Bishop of Rennes (d. 1123), Balderic, Abbot of Bourgueil (1130), the Archbishop of Tours, Hildebert of Lavardin (d. 1133), and Reginald--by birth and education French--who became a monk of St. Augustine at Canterbury (d. 1136) form a group of poets, with the common trait that they still follow mostly the quantitative principle. Their works, especially those of Hildebert, are brilliant; the writers are book-poets, and votaries of the epic and didactic style, but apart from profane poetry, they contribute relatively little to hymnody proper. Next to them comes as representative of the accentuating principle Godefried, Abbot of Vendome (d. 1132). Then follows Peter Abelard, Abbot of St. Gildas (d. 1142) who composed a complete hymn-book for his convent, "The Paraclete." Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny (d. 1156) and St. Brnard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) stand, the one as a friend to the other as an opponent, in close relation to the remarkable Abelard. The former devoted himself to a considerable extent to the quantitative as well as to the accentual poetry, and not without result. But St. Bernard contributed to hymnody only three rhythmical hymns on St. Victor and St. Malachy. All the other poems ascribed to him are unauthentic, particularly the celebrated "Jesu dulcis memoria." The above-mentioned rhythmical hymns show that Bernard, the great preacher, was but a mediocre poet. The name of the Abbot of Clairvaux has been connected too with the beautiful "Mariale" which is best known by the verses beginning: "Omni die dic Mariae / Mea laudes anima." But the author of this polished hymn is the contemporary monk of Cluny, Bernard de Morlas (d. about 1140).
The zenith, not only of this period but of all hymnody, was reached by Adam of St. Victor (d. 1142). His numerous sequences, the exact number of which has not yet been determined, are incomparably beautiful. The splendid
Laudes crucis attollamus
Nos, qui crucis excultamus
is also ascribed to him, but it seems more probable that Adam had an equally gifted forerunner among the monks of St. Victor who wrote this sequence, and to whom therefore must now be ascribed some other sequences which until lately bore the signature of Victor. We must further mention in France Adalbert Bishop of Mende (d. 1187), Guido of Bazoches (d. 1203), Goswin of Bossut (d. 1230), and particularly Phiulippe de Grevia, Chancellor of the churches of Paris (d. 1236). Through the last named poet the poetic art of the "cantio" reached its highest point of perfection in a number of songs which appeal more to the intellect than to the heart. But Philippe also wrote several very fervent hymns. France and Germany must share the honour of claiming Julian von Speir (d. about 1250), choir-master at the court of the Frankish king and later a Minorite in the Franciscan Convent at Paris. He composed wonderful rhythmical Offices of St. Francis and St. Anthony.
In Germany, out of the great number of religious poems written in this period several may be ascribed to each of the following names: Henry of Breitenau (d. about 1150), Udalsalch of Maissach, Abbot of St. Ulrich and St. Afra in Augsburg (d. 1150), St. Hildegard, superior of the Rupertsberg convent near Bingen (d. 1179), Herrat, Abbess of Hohenburg (d. 1195), and Blessed Hermann Josef of Steinfeld (d. 1241). In Flanders we find Alanus of Lille (d. 1203) celebrated for his allegorical poem "Anticlaudianus," also Adam de la Bassee (d. 1258). England has but few great poets during this period: Alexander Neckam, Abbot of Cirencester (d. 1217), John Hoveden, the confessor of Queen Eleanor of England (d. 1275), and John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1274). Hoveden wrote besides other poems the delightful nightingale song "Philomeno" a long lyric-epic on the Life and Passion of Our Lord; and Peckham is immortal through his beautiful rhythmical Office of the Holy Trinity. Italy also witnessed in the thirteenth century the rise among her children of hymn writers no less celebrated and gifted. They were: Thomas of Capua (d. 1243), writer of the hymn on St. Francis "In caelesti collegio" and "Decus morum dux Minorum"; St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), the devout writer of the "Lignum vitae," of a rhythmical Office of the Passion of Our Lord, and of a beautiful song of the Cross, "Recordare sanctae crucis". About the end of the thirteenth century the touching classical sequence "Stabat mater" must have been written in Italy too, by a Franciscan monk, but whether by Jacopone da Todi (d. 1306) is more than doubtful. Finally we note Orrigo Scaccabarozzi, archpriest of Milan (d. 1293), who has left numerous liturgical poems of mediocre value.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries hymnody still flourished. But the creative power continued to decrease slowly. Many beautiful poems were written, but their number in comparison to the number of inferior ones dwindled, particularly in the fifteenth century, and above all in France, which had held the premier place in hymnody. The outer form was neglected more and more, the accentual principle with the regular rhythm gradually sank again during the fifteenth century to the bare counting of syllables. Of the poets of this period only the most important are mentioned here: the Cistercian monk Christan von Lilienfeld (d. before 1332); the Carthusian Konrad von Gaming (d. 1360); Archbishop Johann von Jenstein of Prague (d. 1400); and the Venerable Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471), who besides his immortal "Imitation of Christ" has left us a considerable number of hymns. In France besides the Cistercian Guillaume de Deguilleville (d. after 1358), Philippe de Maizieres, a nobleman of Picardy (d. 1405), was especially prominent. As hymn writers from Scandinavia the following are to be mentioned: Bishop Brynolf of Scara (d. 1317), confessor of the convent of Vadstena, Petrus Olavson (d. 1378), and Bishop Birger Gregorson of Upsala (d. 1383).
That this once so flourishing art of hymnody should have declined and finally died out cannot be wondered at, if it be considered that in all human undertakings the period of growth is followed by one of decay unless a new spirit pours fresh life into the old forms. This was not the case with hymnody, and external factors hastened its decline. Owing to the exile of the popes at Avignon and divers other religious and political entanglements of the age, and not the least to the Schism, abuses sprang up which lay like a frost on the hymnody of the people, rooted as it was in deep religious sentiment. The freedom to compose their own Liturgies which each diocese and convent enjoyed at that time, degenerated into total lack of control. Hymns and sequences of more than doubtful worth, composed by men who were anything but poets, were introduced. Hymnody grew exuberantly and ran to weed. This was the favourable moment for Humanism to oppose hymnody successfully. The Humanists abominated the rhythmical poetry of the Middle Ages from an exaggerated enthusiasm for ancient classical forms and metres. Hymnody then received its death blow as, on the revision of the Breviary under Pope Urban VIII, the medieval rhythmical hymns were forced into more classical forms by means of so-called corrections. The hymnody of the Middle Ages with its great wealth is now only an historical monument which bears witness to the artistic skill, the joyful singing, and the deep religious life of our forefathers. For a long time it was neglected, but in the last century it has come to be understood and appreciated more thoroughly.
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APA citation. (1910). Hymnody and Hymnology. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07596a.htm
MLA citation. "Hymnody and Hymnology." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07596a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Ferruccio Germani.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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