Yet another series of hymns from the Greek Office Books. Some of them are translations or renderings, more are centos, but most are suggestions, or based upon the Greek. To quote from the author's preface to his third series: -- "In process of reading, thoughts linked themselves to the memory, and echoes of music -- much of it surpassingly sweet -- lingered, and from those echoes and thoughts the centos and suggestions have been formed. The phrases containing the thoughts, and the echoes repeating the music, have been woven together to form the fabric which is shown here." And again, from the Introduction to his fourth series: -- "The Greek has been used as a basis, a theme, a motive; oriental colour, and, it is to be hoped, some of the oriental warmth, has been preserved. Now and again an oriental figure is retained, and to those who have any knowledge of the worship of the Eastern Church, it must be obvious that the peculiar themes of her praise are in abundant evidence." These extracts accurately describe the contents of the greater part of this volume.
It is in their suggestiveness that the chief attraction of Greek hymns lies. By the ordinary process of translation a hymn is reproduced in its excessive symbolism and multiplicity of metaphor, and the result in our matter-of-fact language is incongruity. The harmony which it presents in the original language and setting, and the combined effect of symbol and metaphor, are in most cases lost, and discord is the result. It is by capturing the subtle suggestion of the original, and utilising it to the best advantage, that the value of the Greek hymn is made appreciable. That this is the general conviction is evidenced by the fact that none of Dr. Neale's work is so popular, and rightly so, as the hymns, "Art thou weary, art thou languid?" and "O happy band of pilgrims," and neither of these hymns is a translation: both are merely suggestions from the Greek.
In no hymns is this suggestiveness more felt than in those for the morning and evening, which are found in many of the Offices. The Greek hymn writers took time to watch the sun rise and set. The glow of early dawn spreading and brightening; the clouds fringed with purple and gold; the glowing shafts chasing the retreating darkness -- this morning vision awakened in them thoughts which have inspired meditative minds in all ages, but which it is enriching to have expressed in the peculiarly suggestive manner of the Greek Christian poet. As with the sunrise, so with the sunset. The morning and evening give buoyancy and restfulness to Greek hymnody, and clothe the work of its choicest singers with a brightness and varying beauty which are the abiding characteristics of those seasons.
But if one would realise in the greatest possible degree the wealth of Greek praise, he must acquaint himself with the Offices for Passiontide and Easter, as they are contained in the Triodion and Pentecostarion. There the Christ, in all the humiliation of His manhood, bearing the burden of fallen humanity to the Cross, is presented to us in a guise, if not attractive, certainly fascinating and pregnant in suggestion; while the Resurrection victory is proclaimed in Easter song in tones the gladdest, sweetest, and most triumphant in the whole range of Greek hymnody; for it is in Easter song that the Greek Church excels.
By its objectiveness, the Greek hymn enables us to do for ourselves what our less wholesome subjective hymns aim at doing for us, and not always successfully. It presents the picture, and if the worshipper be not hopelessly blind, he sees it, and the impression is made upon the mind and heart, with the desired result in varying degrees. It is this that makes the Greek hymn so suggestive. Hence it is that the hymn which is the result of a reminiscence of the Greek is usually subjective. We are under no temptation to reproduce the writer's words and figures. The outline fades, but the impression remains and possesses the mind, and it is that that is given. So there is inspiration in Greek hymnody for every mind capable of inspiration.
What we cannot understand is that this treasure-house of song, and of inspiration to singing, should be so persistently ignored, and should still attract so few capable workers. Practically it remains almost unexplored, notwithstanding that enough has been brought to light to awake desire for more. Had we treated the hymnody of the Latin Church, and the Church of the Reformation in Germany, after this fashion, our praise would have suffered incalculably. But we have made the praise of those Churches our own, by the work of a band of devoted translators, while practically ignoring that of the Church of the Apostles. The present writer, in his Introduction to The Hymns of the Holy Eastern Church, has suggested a few possible causes of this state of matters, but none of them is sufficient, nor all of them combined. When once we overcome our indifference to a great past to which we owe so much, and disabuse our minds of an uncatholic localism, an interest in the Church of the East and her worship will possess us -- but not till then. We want hymn writers of the first rank, who have the necessary knowledge of the language, to venture into the unexplored region, to cull its choicest flowers, and bring them back to adorn the temple of the Living God; and, fired with the inspiration which a sojourn there must give, to send forth in new dress and fresh attractiveness the glorious truths which are the possession of the Church of God in all ages, but which our modern hymnody is in danger of reiterating with stale monotony.
From the Table which the author has been at the trouble to prepare, it will be seen that there are only forty-one hymns from the Greek in common use. The blame for such a deplorable condition of things lies at the door of the Christian Church of our time, which has failed, by its hymn writers who had the needful equipment, to make those hymns available to a greater extent; and partly at the door of compilers of hymnals, who have not sufficiently made use of the material which is available.
What, then, are the available sources when compilers ask for Greek hymns for their compilations? The first really masterly contribution to our English hymnody from Greek sources was that made by Dr. Neale. With his work as a whole in relation to the Greek Church, we have nothing to do here. Early attracted to the Greek Office Books, he set himself to introduce the hymns with which they are embellished to the notice of his fellow-countrymen. So well was his task performed, that in a very short time the best of them were appropriated by the Church for her praise, and to the present day they hold a secure place in all our best hymnals. In 1862, he published Hymns of the Eastern Church, which contains about sixty pieces -- his complete contribution to English hymnody from the Greek, and a very substantial contribution indeed, far surpassing anything that has been done until very recently. About the same time, or a little later, Dr. Littledale drew the attention of the Church to the Greek Offices by his Offices from the Service Books of the Holy Eastern Church (1863), and he also prepared a few metrical translations of hymns, which may be found in The People's Hymnal (1867). Dr. Littledale's renderings -- which are, needless to say, very true -- are in most cases graceful and winning, and do not deserve the neglect which they have suffered. Mr. W. Chatterton Dix, a considerable name in hymnody, would seem to have been stirred to follow the pioneers as closely as possible; for while he made no entirely original contribution from the Greek, he worked upon some of Dr. Littledale's prose translations, putting them into graceful metrical form. This he did to a considerable extent, but the result is, as might be anticipated, artificial, and lacking the spirit which a thorough acquaintance with the original alone can give. Mr. Dix's work can be seen in the Lyra Messianica (1865), where about a dozen of his metrical renderings find a place. These, too, have all been allowed to lie unused. The Rev. Allen W. Chatfield did good service by rendering much of the poetry of the early Greek Christian poets, which had been compiled by MM. Christ and Paranikas (Anthologia Graeca Carminum Christianorum, 1871). The hymns in that collection are not found in the Greek Service Books, with the exception of a few by St. John of Damascus; but from the renderings which were made by Mr. Chatfield, and published by him in 1876 under the title, Songs and Hymns of the Earliest Greek Christian Poets, Bishops, and Others, a few very beautiful centos have been formed, notably one beginning "Lord Jesus, think on me," which has been included in no fewer than five permanent hymnals, as may be seen from the Table. The Rev. Gerald Moultrie, who prepared renderings from several languages, contributed a few from the Greek, but only a few. The best is his rendering of the midnight hymn, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night." From that time till now, very little attention has been given to the Greek Offices, until we come to the Rev. R. M. Moorsom, whose intensely catholic instincts led him to use the gift he possessed in the service of the praise of the Church, to which he contributed twenty-two pieces from eastern sources -- Renderings of Church Hymns (1901). Two of these have already found a place in the revised edition of Church Hymns (1903) and of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1904). In the recently published English Hymnal, three new names of translators from the Greek are to be found -- Rev. T. A. Lacey, Mr. Athelstan Riley, and Mr. C. W. Humphreys. Their contributions are few, but we do not know to what extent they may yet pursue the work.
Giving the most generous estimate, there could not, till very recently, have been more than 150 hymns from the Greek available for the use of compilers of hymnals. To that number, however, are now to be added 108 translations and 153 centos and suggestions by the present author -- 261 pieces in all. That work of this kind is welcomed and readily appropriated, is evidenced by the fact that, although his first series was published so recently as eight years ago, several of the hymns have been included in most of the hymnals compiled or revised since then, both in this country and in America.
The Table will show at a glance to what extent available material has been taken advantage of by hymnal compilers. The twelve principal hymnals compiled or revised since 1892 have been collated, and the Greek hymns contained in each set forth. It will be seen that there are only forty-one of these hymns in common use. A gratifying feature is that the most recently prepared collections contain the greatest number. The Methodist Hymn Book contains four -- the smallest number; The English Hymnal, twenty-four -- the greatest number. The most popular hymns of the forty-one are, "Art thou weary?" and "The day is past and over," which are included in all the twelve hymnals; and "O happy band of pilgrims" and "The day of Resurrection," which appear in eleven and nine of the twelve respectively. A noteworthy circumstance, as already stated, is that two of the most popular hymns are not renderings in the proper sense, but merely suggestions -- "Art thou weary?" and "O happy band of pilgrims" -- an indication of the direction in which successful effort must be made in dealing with Greek hymnody by those competent to do so.
A. The Hymnal (Episcopal Church, U.S.A.), 1892.
First Lines HYMNALS
Is it too much to hope for, in the interests of congregational praise, that more attention will be given to the contents of the Greek Office Books in the future than has been given to them in the past? But intending students must have ready access to them. Where are they to be found? Unless it is resolved to purchase them, which may be done through a bookseller in Athens or Constantinople, search will probably be made for them in vain in our libraries. They are to be found in the Bodleian Library, and in the library of St. John's College, Oxford, and also in the library of Cambridge University; but it is doubtful if the library of any other university or theological school in England possesses them. We, in Scotland, are even less fortunate. A year ago, the writer was unaware of the existence of a set of the Greek Service Books, other than his own, in Scotland. Last year, the Library Committee of Glasgow University purchased a complete set, and her students may now acquaint themselves with the contents as they feel inclined. Will Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen follow the example of Glasgow? And will our theological schools do the same? And when that has been done, will our professors of theology suggest to their students that it might be worth their while to dip into their contents? In this way, the fact of the existence of these books would be kept before the minds of those from whose number interpreters of their hymns are most likely to come, and some hope be reasonably entertained of a growing acquaintance with them as time passes. Meanwhile, the density of ignorance of even well informed men, on the subject of the Greek Church generally, is disheartening, while to our ordinary worshippers it is little more than a name, if even that.
The hymns in this, and in former volumes, have been prepared in the hope that they may be of service in the public worship of the Three-One God, and hymnal compilers who may be attracted to them, and who may deem them suitable for their purpose, are at liberty to make use of them without the payment of any fee, but on the following simple conditions: -- (1) Permission must be asked, and a formal acknowledgment made in the hymnal when published. This is not always done. In a recent case, an historical error was set afoot which may cause future hymnologists some trouble to rectify, and which would certainly have been obviated had this common courtesy been observed. (2) The text of the hymns must not be tampered with in the very slightest particular: they must be printed exactly as they appear in the author's collection. If compilers wish to omit any verse or verses, permission to do so must be asked. (3) The author expects that a copy of the hymnal containing his work will be sent to him on publication.