Thursday, July 12, 2007

Archaic hymnody.

Do you like old hymns? I do. Language and usage changes over time, however, and some of these poetic expressions fall out of use. Some of those that have fallen out of use should have fallen out of use. Some, however, fall out of use for a time (sometimes centuries), only to be rediscovered several generations later. I am thankful that some of our contemporary / modern / emerging / [use whatever adjective applies here] worship song-writers actually spend time and energy looking for some of these and try to bring them back into the lexicon of faith expression. An example is the reintroduction/reincarnation of the ancient Greek Phos Hilaron by the Passion Worship Band several years ago.

Most of the "old hymns" we have in current usage have withstood the test of time and have proven to be valuable to believers in their pilgrimage ... that's why we still use them. I put "old hymns" in quotations because some of what we call "old" are not really that old when we look at the full scope of church history. Most of what people consider "old" only dates back to the mid-19th century. Indeed, some of our people who cherish the "old hymns" balk at the introduction of something from the 12th or 13th century ... because it's new to them.

Some of the older hymns we know actually had many more stanzas than we use nowadays. There are several reasons to be grateful for this. First, we can be grateful that we no longer sing 18 stanzas at one time, although I'm not sure the church ever did that. I remember worshiping in a Dutch Reformed Church in Bloemfontein, South Africa several years ago, and each hymn that was sung was limited to the specific stanza that made sense with where it was located in the order of service. Talk about being intentional with worship planning!

Second, we can sometimes make use of different groups of stanzas and derive more than one hymn from an original source. Can we really? We've already done it. "Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts" and "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" are both from the same longer work by Bernard of Clairvaux.

Finally, over time the less well-written stanzas may be weeded out so that we have a refined product more apt to express well the things we desire to say to God. Sometimes the stuff we no longer use just sounds funny to current language practice, as in the description found here.


Blogger JATB said...

The new hymnal/worship book from the ELCA, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, has done a remarkably good job, IMHO, of updating archaic language in many hymns, thus "rescuing" them. I'm working on a review of this hymnal for my blog. Stay tuned . . . .

5:36 PM  

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