Sunday, May 27, 2007

The simple style of ancient hymns

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I love how ancient hymns very simply and poetically tell the story straight from the Scriptures. The example below (which may offend some) is the first hymn at Matins on Pentecost. The source of beautiful translation is the Anglican Breviary. For comparison, the story is recorded in Acts 2:1-21.

Hymn at Matins: Jam Christus astra ascenderat.

Now Christ, gone thither, whence he came,
And throned midst the stars aflame,
Desired God's Promise to bestow,
The Father's Gift to man below.

The solemn time was drawing nigh,
Replete with heavenly mystery,
On seven days' sevenfold circles borne,
That first and blessed Whitsun-morn.

When the third hour shone all around,
There came a rushing mighty sound
And told the Apostles, while in prayer,
That, as 'twas promised, God was there.

Then from the Father's light there came
That beautiful and kindly Flame,
To kindle every Christian heart,
And fervour of the Word impart.

With joy the Apostle's breasts are fired,
Thus by the Holy Ghost inspired;
And straight, in divers tongues and speech,
That wondrous works of God they preach.

All nations to their voice give ear;
Barbarians, Latins, Grecians hear,
And lo, the wondrous word to all
Doth in familiar accents fall.

But Jewry, faithless even yet,
With mad, infuriate rage beset,
To mock Christ's followers, combine,
As drunken all with new-made wine.

Thereat, with signs and works of might,
Stands Peter forth to teach aright
How Joel's words, fulfilled this day,
Refute what these maligners say.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, praise be done;
And Christ the Lord upon us pour
The Spirit's gift for evermore. Amen.


Anonymous said...

There are many examples of such hymns. Two of the best known are "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" and "Phos Hilarion".

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

I assume the Gloria would be related to the Christmas narrative with the shepherds in Luke 2. What passage of scripture does the Phos expand on?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I somehow missed the complete content of your "thesis statement" regarding ancient hymns based on Scripture. In referring to these two hymns, I was simply thinking of ancient hymns which are also simple while being both poetic and theologically profound. I don't think Phos Hilarion is directly grounded in Scripture, but like the Gloria is very ancient. My bad.