What is a hymn? - Quotes thru History


He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. - Psalm 40:3

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! -- Psalm 95:2

... be filled with the Spirit; addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart to the Lord. -- Ephesians 5:19

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your heart. -- Colossians 3:16

Do you know what a hymn is? It is singing to the praise of God. If you praise God and do not sing, you utter no hymn. If you praise anything which does not pertain to the praise of God -- though in singing you praise, you utter no hymn. A hymn then contains these three things: song, and praise, and that of God. Praise then of God in song is called a hymn. -- St. Augustine, c. 400 CE

Now hymn is from the Greek language, and means praise composed in poetic form. -- Cassidorus, c. 550

Any songs which are uttered in praise of God are called hymns. -- St. Isidore of Seville, c. 630 CE

Whatever poems, them are sung in the praise of God are called hymns. A hymn, moreover, is of those who sing and praise, which from the Greek into Latin is interpreted LAUS, because it is a song of joy and praise; but properly hymns are those containing the praise of God. -- 4th Council of Toledo, 633 CE

See On Divine Psalmody by Agobard of Lyons (c.836)

It is our intention, following the example of the prophets and ancient church fathers, to write vernacular psalms for the masses, that is, spiritual songs, that the word of God man continue among the people even in song. I beg you to work with us in this cause, and to try to transform any of the psalms into songs. However, I would prefer that you omit new words and those used at court, in order to appeal to the masses of plain people, yet at the same time using words that are choice and proper to be sung, having a clear meaning, and related as closely as possible to the psalm. -- Martin Luther, 1523

May I be permitted to add a few words with regard to the poetry? Then I will speak to those who are judges thereof with all freedom and unreserve. To these I may say, without offense, (1) In these hymns there is no doggerel, no botches, nothing put in to patch up the rhyme, no feeble expletives. (2) Here is nothing turgid or bombast on the one hand, or low and creeping on the other. (3) Here are not cant expressions, no words without meaning. Those who impute this to us know not what they say. We talk common sense, whether they understand it or not, both in verse and prose, and use no word but in a fixed and determinate sense. (4) Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language, and, at the same time, the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity. -- John Wesley, 1770

A hymn ought to be as regular in its structure as any other poem; it should have a distinct subject, and that subject should be simple, not complicated, so that whatever skill or labour might be required in the author to develop his plan, there should be little or none required on the part of the reader to understand it. - - James Montgomery, 1828

The music is intended to be essentially congregational in character, and this end has been kept in view both in the choice of tunes and in the manner of setting them out. Fine melody rather than the exploitation of a trained choir has been the criterion of selection: the pitch of each tune has been kept as low as is consistent with the character of the melody. Where there is congregational singing it is important that familiar melodies should be employed, or at least those which have stood the test of time... The usual argument in favour of bad music is that the fine tunes are doubtless “musically correct”, but that the people want “something simple”. Now the expression “musically correct” has no meaning: the only “correct” music is that which is beautiful and noble. As for simplicity, what could be simpler than ST. ANNE or THE OLD 100TH, and what could be finer? It is indeed a moral rather than a musical issue. No doubt it requires a certain effort to tune oneself to the moral atmosphere implied by a fine melody; and it is far easier to dwell in the miasma of the languishing and sentimental hymn tunes which so often disfigure our services. Such poverty of heart may not be uncommon, but at least it should not be encouraged by those who direct the services of the Church... -- Ralph Vaughan Williams, from the Introduction to the English Hymnal, 1906

A Christian hymn is a lyric poem, reverently and devotionally conceived, which is designed to be sung and which expresses the worshipper’s attitude toward God, or God’s purposes in human life. It should be simple and metrical in form, genuinely emotional, poetic and literary in style, spiritual in quality, and in its ideas so direct and so immediately apparent as to unify a congregation while singing it. - Carl F. Price, 1937 [from What is a Hymn? Paper of the Hymn Society of America, © Hymn Society, Boston, MA. Used by permission.]

HYMN: A term of unknown origin but first used in ancient Greece and Rome to designate a poem in honor of a god. In the early Christian period the word was often, though not always, used to refer to praises sung to God, as distinct from 'psalm'. The Western and Eastern (Byzantine) Churches developed widely differing hymn traditions. [From: New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians  [Permission requested.]

... the hymn represents a unique form of literary art, sustaining a relationship to poetry somewhat akin to that of prayer to prose. It is a type of poetry existing of and by itself, having qualities that are distinctly its own. Some would go so far as to affirm that the hymn 'per se' is not to be considered a subdivision of lyrical poetry at all. Rather, they claim that it is so distinct that it fits into categories neither of poetry nor of prose. Hymns are, after all, 'sui generis' -- the products of an art having its own qualities and requirements. They may indeed be poetry-like; however, they do not have to be true poems to achieve status as true hymns. Be that as it may, the purely artistic appreciation of hymns as poems has a legitimate place in worship and devotion. The capacity to discern and appreciate the highest good and artistic best can and should be cultivated by those seeking through hymns and their singing to glorify God, the author of all art and beauty. Though hymns do not have to exhibit all the characteristics considered above to qualify as poems, they have both religious and aesthetic values when they do. The literarily informed critical faculty is not the opponent but, the friend of true religion. - Harry Eskew and Hugh McElrath, 1980. [From Sing with Understanding, © Church Street Press, Nashville, TN. Used by permission.]


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