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ART. I. — 1. The Hymns of the Primitive Church; now
first collected, translated, and arranged: By the Rev. J. CHANDLER. Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford,
and Curate of Witley. London. 1837. pp. 239. 2. Ancient Hymns, from the Roman Breviary, for domestie • Use, every Morning and Evening of the Week, and on
the Holy-days of Church; to which are added, Original Hymns, principally of Commemoration and Thanksgiving, for Christ's Holy Ordinances. By RICHARD MANT, D.D., M. R. I. $. Lord Bishop of Down and Connor. London. 1837. pp. 163.
The Hymns of the Primitive Church, to be sure, would be a treasure, could they be recovered, at the present day. Not being acquainted with any such as in existence, however, we felt a little curious to see a volume, which held out the promise of so rich an acquisition. True, we had no great faith in the compiler, though we know nothing of him, except that he is a Fellow, as he informs us on the title-page of the volume, of “ Corpus Christi College, Oxford.” But we are so accustomed to witness unfounded pretension and reckless affirmation, in the class of divines to which he belongs, that really their assertion goes with us for very little. Still, we were not quite prepared for so bold a fiction as that exhibited on the title-page of the work, first named at the head of the present article.
We concluded that possibly we might have overlooked some ancient hymns, so old, perhaps, as to be entitled to be called primitive, belonging, it might be, to the first age of the Church.
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Who knows, we were ready to ask ourselves, but that this learned compiler, profiting by the leisure and opportunity afforded by his fellowship, to explore the archives of his college, has stumbled upon some choice relic of antiquity, some mouldy, and it may be, half legible manuscript, which he has had the good fortune to rescue from the dust and oblivion, in which it was quietly slumbering. Or perchance, he has been rambling on the continent, and from the dark recess of some old cloister, has dragged into light genuine remains of ancient writing, on which no modern eye had as yet rested.
All this occurred to us as possible. And though we are not of those who profess to believe, that all merit belongs to past times, and do not feel bound, as matter of course, to fall into raptures, as often as we are introduced to any musty fragment of antiquity, which accident or industry has disinterred ; yet surely, thought we, scraps of the devotional poetry of the early Christians, such as they were accustomed to sing, when, as Pliny tells us, they asseinbled before it was light, to hymn the praises of their Saviour, meeting, as we know, in private dwellings, in caverns, and whatever secure place they could find, must be worth looking at.
A single glance at the preface and table of contents, however, was sufficient to dispel our pleasing visions. The compilation contains a tasteless selection of hymns from Roman Catholic sources, written, nobody knows when, or by whom, but none of them having the least claim to a primitive antiquity. The compiler and translator, for he appears, too, in the latter character, felt the want, it seems, of some collection of hymns to accompany the Psalms of David in the service of the church. He supposed, at first, that the deficiency might be supplied by some one of the numerous collections already in use. But then he recollected that these were “ unauthorized," not having been “ sanctioned by proper Episcopal authority," nor had their introduction into the church been “ legalized by statute, or order in council.”
This, among other reasons, induced him to look elsewhere. And where, as a sound churchman, should he go but to the fountains whence the prayers of his church had been mostly taken — the Roman Catholic Books ? Here would be consistency, at least ; and the prayers and hymns being derived from a common source, might be expected to harmonize. The “foundation being thus laid," and the “general mass of the work
comme least; aman Catices of it shoulder to look
constructed out of these ancient materials," some modern hymns might be “very advantageously introduced to finish it off;” the liturgy, as he intimates, having been formed by an analogous process. “So I got,” says he, “a copy of the Parisian Breviary, and one or two other old books of Latin Hymns, especially one compiled by Georgius Cassander, printed at Cologne, in the year 1556, and regularly applied myself to the work of selection and translation. The result is the collection I now lay before the public."
The number of “Ecclesiastical Hymns," as the compiler calls them, given in the volume, is one hundred and eight. These he inserts in Latin, as well as in their English dress; but makes no attempt to trace their origin and history. Four of them, without any sufficient authority, however, are ascribed to Ambrose, and one to Gregory ; the rest are anonymous. We shall presently see on what slender ground the honors of antiquity can be claimed, in favor of any collection of hymns derived from simnilar sources. But we must first finish what we have to say of the present collection, and add a few observations on that of Bishop Mant.
The general character of the hymns, in the compilation first mentioned, is simple and devotional, and now and then a stanza occurs of no inconsiderable merit. We do not, however, discover in it any hymns, which, in our view, possess the first order of excellence, and very few which we should wish to see transferred to a place in our modern collections. A few we should be glad to substitute for some in the collections now in use among us. In point of doctrine, the hymns, taken collectively, contain fewer exceptionable sentiments than are found in most writers of hymns among Protestants, far fewer than are met with in Dr. Watts. To the trinitarian doxology, which forms the concluding stanza of nearly all of them, of course, we object. But this may be easily severed from the hymn, without leaving any marks of violence. Nor is it as bad, generally, in the original as in the translation,
Indeed, the manner in which the doxologies are translated, speaks little for the progress of good taste, in the class of Christians to which the compiler belongs. The originals are far more neat and simple, and in every way less offensive than the versions, than which nothing can be more barbarous. We will give a single specimen.
To many of the hymns, in Latin, is appended the following doxology, which is not necessarily trinitarian.
“Deo Patri sit gloria,
Ejusque soli Filio,
Nunc et per omne seculum ;”. literally thus,
s To God, the Father, be glory,
And to his only Son,
Now and through every age.”
“To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the holy Ghost,
And from the angel-host;”
“ All glory be from saints on earth.” Other instances occur still more gross. But it is unnecessary to quote them. It is sufficient to say, that there is scarcely an obnoxious form of a trinitarian doxology, which the translator has not contrived to introduce, in defiance of every principle of taste and correct translation. Are the dark ages again throwing their shadows over Oxford ?
Bishop Mant's Collection, which consists partly of original hymns, and partly of versions of hymns found in the Roman Catholic Breviaries, is designed for family and personal use. It breathes, generally, a spirit of calm and elevated piety ; but a large proportion of the hymns are marked by the frequent recurrence of unscriptural and sectarian sentiments, which must render it of little value in the estimation of those, whose views do not coincide mainly with those of the author and compiler. This is true of many of the translated hymns, which, besides the trinitarian doxology with which they conclude, retain many traces of the false theology of the age in which they originated. A similar objection lies against the original hymns. Some of them are unexceptionable, embracing sentiments only which are common to all Christians. But a large portion of them relate to the holidays, rites, and ministrations of the Episcopal Church, and can hardly be used by any but churchmen.' To them