Those who read this blog regularly, notice my frequent quoting of hymns, and read my citations know that I quote old and new hymns I have found in old and new hymnals. I am not a reflexive antiquarian who inveighs against the new, for I recognize worthiness in hymns and hymnals regardless of their relative ages. “Hymns these days!” is not my lament. Consider The Hymnal 1982, of The Episcopal Church, for example. First, its copyright date is 1985, which leads me to wonder why it is not The Hymnal 1985. But I digress. Anyway, it contains hymns from authors still living in the early 1980s, even today. Works of Brian Wren and Fred Kaan, two of the great hymn writers of the Twentieth Century, are there. So are English translations of hymns from the Church Fathers of the first five centuries of Christianity, as well as later notable figures, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Anglican hymn writers, such as William Walsham How and Charles Wesley. It is quite a mix.
I like to keep the tone on my blogs positive, so I prefer to permit my omissions to speak for themselves. Yet I make an explicit point here: I despise praise songs and choruses. They are “seven-eleven” songs, which, according to the explanation, have about seven words one sings eleven times. Praise songs and choruses are theological tide pools. Many older hymns, in contrast, are theological oceans.
Here is a sample from a theological ocean, “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” an English translation of words attributed to St. Patrick:
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.
That is the second of seven verses. The hymn fills three pages in The Hymnal 1982.
A theological tide pool follows:
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus;
There’s just something about that name!
Master, Savior, Jesus,
Like the fragrance after the rain;
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Let all heaven and earth proclaim:
Kings and kingdoms will pass away,
But there’s something about that name!
This, is of course is a product of William J. and Gloria Gaither. I found in the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Both hymns have their hearts in the right places, but only the first has a head. The second is pure emotion, and I am an intellectual.
On a related note, I find it amusing how recent many “old-time” hymns and gospel songs are. “How Great Thou Art,” for example, in English at least, dates to the 1950s. I propose that “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth,” with original Latin words by St. Ambrose of Milan, mentor to St. Augustine of Hippo, is really an old-time hymn. And, by the way, the John Mason Neale English translation hails from 1862, which is relatively old compared to many other hymns.
Here are three verses:
O equal to the Father, Thou!
Gird on Thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.
Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.
All laud to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, is as ever meet,
To God the Holy Paraclete.
John Mason Neale wrote better lyrics than the Gaithers, did he not? And, in case you wonder, that is “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth” playing over the end credits of Doubt, a wonderful movie with Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Amy Adams, and Meryl Streep.
It is also true that many hymns have fallen out of favor over time, so the best way to find them is to consult old hymnals from times when such hymns were in favor. Mining old hymnals has been a great source of joy and spiritual edification for me as I have read the words and reaped great benefits. That is why I like old hymnals and hymns.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MAY 25, 2011 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE VENERABLE BEDE OF JARROW, HISTORIAN AND ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDHELM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP