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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Hymn

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(῞Υμνος ). This term; as used by the Greeks, primarily signified simply a song (comp. Homer, Od. 8, 429; Hesiod, Op. et Dies, 659; Pindar, 01. 1,170; 11, 74; Iisthm. 4, 74; Pyth. 10, 82; AEsch. Eum. 331; Soph. Antig. 809; Plato, Republ. 5, 459, E. etc.); we find instances even in which the cognate verb ὑμνεῖν is used in a bad sense (φαύλως ἐκλαμβάνεται, Eulstath. p. 634; comp. Soph. Elect. 382; (Ed. Tyr. 1275; Eurip. Med. 425); but usage ultimately appropriated the term to songs in praise of the gods. We know that among the Greeks, as among most of the nations of antiquity, the chanting of songs in praise of their gods was an approved part of their worship (Clem. Alex. Strom. 6, 633, ed. Sylburg., Porphyr. de Abstin. 4 sec. 8; Phurnutus, De Nat. Deor. c. 14; Alex. ab Alex. Genesis Dies, 4:c. 17, s.f..; Spanheim in not. ad Callimachum, p. 2; comp. Meiners, Geschichte aller Religionen, c. 13) and even at their festive entertainments such songs were sometimes sung (Athen. Deipnos. 14, 15, 14; Polyb. Hist, 4, 20, ed. Ernesti). Besides those hymns to different deities which have come down to us as the composition of Callimachus, Orpheus, Homer, Linus, Cleanthes, Sappho, and others, we may with confidence refer to the choral odes of the tragedians as affording specimens of these sacred songs, such of them, at least, as were of a lyric character (Snedorf, De Hymnis Vet. Graec. p.19). Such songs were properly called hymns. Hence Arrian says distinctly (De Exped. Alex. 4, 11, 2), ὔμνοι μὲν ἐς τοὺς θεοὺς ποιοῦνται, ἔπαινοι δὲ ἐς ἀνθρώπους. So also Phavorinus: ὕμνος, πρὸς θεὸν ᾠδή Augustine (in Psalms 72) thus fully states the meaning of the term: "Hymni laudes sunt Dei cum cantico. Hymni cantus sunt, continentes laudes Dei. Si sit laus, et non sit Dei, non est hymnus. Si sit laus et Dei laus, et non cantatur, non est hymnus. Oportet ergo ut si sit hymnus, habeat haec tria, et lauden et Dei et canticum." See CHANT.

"Hymn," as such, is not used in the English version of the O.T., and the noun only occurs twice in the N.T. (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), though in the original of the latter the derivative verb (ὑμνέω ) occurs in four places ("sing a hymn," Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; "sing praises," Acts 16:25; Hebrews 2:12). The Sept., however, employs it freely in translating the Hebrew names for almost every kind of poetical composition (Schleusn. Lex. ὕμνος). In fact, the word does not seem to have in the Sept. any very special meaning, and hence it calls the Heb. book of Tehillim the book of Psalms, not of Hymns; yet it frequently uses the noun ὕμνος or the verb ὑμνέω as an equivalent of psalm (e.g. 1 Chronicles 25:6; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 2 Chronicles 23:13; 2 Chronicles 29:30; Nehemiah 12:24; Psalms 40:1, and the titles of many other psalms). The word psalm, however, generally had for the later Jews a definite meaning, while the word hymn was more or less vague in its application, and capable of being used as occasion should arise. If a new poetical form or idea should be produced, the name of hymn, not being embarrassed by a previous determination, was ready to associate itself with the fresh thought of another literature. This seems to have actually been the case. (See SONG).

Among Christians the hymn has always been something different from the psalm; a different conception in thought, a different type in composition. (See HYMNOLOGY). The "hymn" which our Lord sung with his disciples at the Last Supper is generally supposed to have been the latter part of the Hallel, or series of psalms which were sung by the Jews on the night of the Passover, comprehending Psalms 113-118; Psalms 113, 114 being sung before, and the rest after the Passover (Buxtorth Lex. Tam. s.v. הלל, quoted by Kuinol on Matthew 26:30; Lightfoot's Heb. and Talm. Exercitations on Mark 14:26; Works, 11, 435). (See HALLEL).

But it is obvious that the word hymn is in this case not applied to an individual psalm, but to a number of psalms chanted successively, and altogether forming a kind of devotional exercise, which is not inaptly called a hymn. The prayer in Acts 4:24-30 is not a hymn, unless we allow non-metrical as well as metrical hymns. It may have been a hymn as it was originally uttered; but we can only judge by the Greek translation, and this is without meter, and therefore not properly a hymn. In the jail at Philippi, Paul and Silas "sang hymns" (A.V. "praises") unto God, and so loud was their song that their fellow-prisoners heard them. This must have been what we mean by singing, and not merely recitation. It was, in fact, a veritable singing of hymns. It is remarkable that the noun hymn is only used in reference to the services of the Greeks, and in the same passages is clearly distinguished from the psalm (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), "psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs." It has been conjectured that by "psalms and hymns" the poetical compositions of the Old Testament are chiefly to be understood, and that the epithet "spiritual," here applied to "songs," is intended to mark those devout effusions which resulted from the spiritual gifts granted to the primitive Church; yet in 1 Corinthians 14:26, a production of the latter class is called "a psalm." Josephus, it may be remarked, used the terms ὕμνοι and ᾠδαί in reference to the Psalms of David (Ant. 7, 12, 3). (See PSALM).

It is probable that no Greek version of the Psalms, even supposing it to be accommodated to the Greek meters, would take root in the affections of the Gentile converts. It was not only a question of meter, it was a question of tune; and Greek tulles required Greek hymns. So it was in Syria. Richer in tunes than Greece, for Greece had but eight, while Syria had 275 (Benedict. Pref. vol. 5, Op. Eph. Syr.), the Syrian hymnographers reveled in the varied luxury of their native music; and the result was that splendid development of the Hymn, as molded by the genius of Bardesanes, Harmonins, and Ephraem Syrus. In Greece, the eight tunes which seem to have satisfied the exigencies of Church music were probably accommodated to fixed meters, each meter being wedded to a particular tune; an arrangement to which we can observe a tendency in the Directions about tunes and measures at the end of our English version of the Psalms. This is also the case in the German hymnology, where certain ancient tunes are recognized as models for the meters of later compositions, and their names are always prefixed to the hymns in common use. See Music.

It is worthwhile inquiring what profane models the Greek hymnographers chose to work after. In the old religion of Greece the word hymn had already acquired a sacred and liturgical meaning, which could not fail to suggest its application to the productions of the Christian muse. So much for the name. The special forms of the (Greek hymn were various. The Homeric and Orphic hymns were written in the epic style, and in hexameter verse. Their meter was not adapted for singing; and therefore, though they may have been recited, it is not likely that they were sung at the celebration of the mysteries. We turn to the Pindaric hymns; mid here we find a sufficient variety of meter, and a definite relation to music. These hymns were sung to the accompaniment of the lyre, and it is very likely that they engaged the attention of the early hymn-writers. The dithyramb, with its development into the dramatic chorus, was sufficiently- connected with musical traditions to make its form a fitting vehicle for Christian poetry; and there certainly is a dithyrambic savor about the earliest known Christian hymn, as it appears in Clem. Alex. p. 312, 313, ed. Potter.

The first impulse of Christian devotion was to run into the moulds ordinarily used by the worshippers of the old religion. This was more than an impulse it was a necessity, and a twofold necessity. The new spirit was strong; but it had two limitations: the difficulty of conceiving a new music-poetical literature; and the quality so peculiar to devotional music, of lingering in the heart after the head has been convinced and the belief changed. The old tunes would be a real necessity to the new life; and the exile from his ancient faith would delight to hear on the foreign soil of a new religion the familiar melodies of home. Dean Trench has indeed labored to show that the reverse was the case, and that the early Christian shrank with horror from the sweet but polluted enchantments of his unbelieving state. We can only assent to this in so far as we allow it to be the second phase in the history of hymns. When old traditions died away, and the Christian acquired not only a new belief, but a new social humanity, it was possible, and it was desirable too, to break forever the attenuated thread that bound him to the ancient world. Thus it was broken; and the trochaic and iambic meters, unassociated as they were with heathen worship, though largely associated with the heathen drama, obtained an ascendant in the Christian Church. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, illusion is made to improvised hymns, which, being the outburst of a passionate emotion, would probably assume the dithyrambic form. But attempts have been made to detect fragments of ancient hymns conformed to more obvious meters in Ephesians 5:14; James 1:17; Revelation 1:8 sq.; Revelation 15:3. These pretended fragments, however, may with much greater likelihood be referred to the swing of a prose composition unconsciously culminating into meter. It was in the Latin Church that the trochaic and iambic meters became most deeply rooted, and acquired the greatest depth of tone and grace of finish. As an exponent of Christian feeling they soon superseded the accentual hexameters; they were used mnemonically against the heathen and the heretics by Commodianus and Augustine. The introduction of hymns into the Latin Church is commonly referred to Ambrose. But it is impossible to conceive that the West should have been so far behind the East: similar necessities must have produced similar results; and it is more likely that the tradition is due to the very marked prominence of Ambrose as the greatest of all the Latin hymnographers.

The trochaic and iambic meters, thus impressed into the service of the Church, have continued to hold their ground, and are, in fact, the 7's, S.M., C.M., and L.M. of our modern hymns, many of which are translations, or, at any rate, imitations of Latin originals. These meters were peculiarly adapted to the grave and somber spirit of Latin Christianity. Less ecstatic than the varied chorus of the Greek Church, they did not soar upon the pinion of a lofty praise so much as they drooped and sank into the depths of a great sorrow. They were subjective- rather than objection; they appealed to the heart more than to the understanding; and, if they contained less theology, they were fuller of a rich Christian humanity. (See Deyling, Obss. Sacrc. 3, 430; Hilliger, De Psal. Hymn. atque odar. sac. discrimine. Viteb. 1720; (Gerbert, De cantu et,musico, Bamb. et Frib. 1774, 2 vols. 4to; Rheinwald, Christl. Archaö l. p. 262.) Our information respecting the hymnology of the first Christians is extremely scanty: the most distinct notice we possess of it is that contained in Pliny's celebrated epistle (Ep. 10:97): "Carmen Christo quasi deo, dicere secum invicem." (See Augusti, Handbuch der Christlichen Archä ologie, 2, 1- 160; Walchii, Miscellanea Sacra, i, 2; De hymnis ecclesie Apostolicae, Amstel. 1744; and other monographs cited in Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 133).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hymn'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/h/hymn.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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