Sunday, September 2, 2007

An ancient hymn of devotion

I argue for the importance of retaining traditional hymns, such as those that predate the 1861 English hymnal, Hymns Ancient & Modern. Today we retain a large body of hymns from the 16th century, but what hymns would be considered “ancient”? From the medieval period? The Dark Ages? Only a handful of hymns date from before the 11th century, even though much plainsong remains in the Gregorian style.

Last week’s service concluded with one such hymn, Hymn 204 from my favorite hymnal:
Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen,
who thy glory hiddest ’neath these shadows mean;
Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed,
Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.
It is a childhood favorite, a really timeless chant that evokes simple adoration of the Lord our Savior. The 1940 hymnal attributes the original (Latin) words to Saint Thomas Aquinas as of 1260 (while others attribute it to 1264). Sure enough, it’s easy to find the original seven verses online from the Roman missal.
Adoro te devote, latens Deitas, quae sub his figuris vere latitas: tibi se cor meum totum subiicit, quia te contemplans totum deficit.

Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, sed auditu solo tuto creditur; credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius: nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius.

In cruce latebat sola Deitas, at hic latet simul et humanitas; ambo tamen credens atque confitens, peto quod petivit latro paenitens.

Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor; Deum tamen meum te confiteor; fac me tibi semper magis credere, in te spem habere, te diligere.

O memoriale mortis Domini! panis vivus, vitam praestans homini! praesta meae menti de te vivere et te illi semper dulce sapere.

Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine, me immundum munda tuo sanguine; cuius una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Iesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio, oro fiat illud quod tam sitio; ut te revelata cernens facie, visu sim beatus tuae gloriae. Amen.
After coming home from church, I found the Latin version in my MP3 collection, converted from my copy of the 1990 Gregorian Chant CD by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice & St. Maur. Even without understanding the Latin, the familiar haunting melody evokes religious worship of centuries past.

The Episcopalian translation is credited by Oremus to the Monastic Diurnal of 1932, a Benedictine list of prayers (while the 1940 Hymnal implies an original 1939 translation). The Monastic Diurnal is out of print in the US but available new in the UK.

The Church of England has been singing a different translation by James Woodford, variously estimated at 1850-1852, which first appeared in Hymns Ancient & Modern:
Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee,
Who in Thy sacrament dost deign to be;
Both flesh and spirit at Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.
It’s in my 1869 edition of A&M, as well as The English Hymnal. Below is a summary of the various versions:

Hymns Ancient & Modern1869

1st tune

1869: “old melody”
subsequent: “Plain song”
1869: uncredited
subsequent editions: “Bishop Woodford and compilers”
The English Hymnal1906331“Proper Melody (from the Solsines Version)”“Bishop J.R. Woodford”1,5,6,7
Hymnal 19401940204

Adoro Devote
“Benedictine Plainsong; Mode V, 13th century”

“Hymnal Version, 1939” 1,2,5,7
Hymnal 19821982314

Adoro devote
“French church melody, Mode 5, Processionale, 1697”

Hymnal 1940 (but with new translation of last verse)1,2,5,7
Lutheran Worship1982432“mode V; Processionale, Paris, 1697”New lyrics by Frank von Christiersonn/a

There are also differences in the music — beyond the question of whether the tune dates from the 13th or 17th century. All the versions of the past 140 years begin on a D, but the rhythms are distinct. Hymns Ancient and Modern uses both triplet and a dotted rhythm (and longer note) at the end of every phrase:
In TEH, the triplets are gone, but the dotted rhythm remains. On this side of the pond, the Hymnal 1940 has equal durations except that it doubles the duration in both the middle (“thee”) and end (“unseen”) of each phrase:

Hymnal 1982 suggests equal durations except at the end of each phrase:

Among LCMS Lutherans, I didn’t find it in the 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal, but found the music in the 1982 Lutheran Worship (without the Aquinian word and new insipid stanzas). Interestingly, these lamentable words seem paired with the most accurate musical notation: instead of D major, LW shows Mode V in the key of A major (since a Lydian mode tune ending in D is ending on the subdominant).

Update Sept 3, 2pm: My use of “ancient” was too sloppy, for two reasons. First, as my Orthodox reader Jeff reminded me, the writings of 13th century Aquinas are largely rejected by the Eastern branch of Christianity. Theologically, it seems like an “ancient” hymn should date to the period of one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church, and thus an “ancient” hymn would be one that predates not only the 95 Theses (1517) but the Great Schism (1054).

Second, I had forgotten that “ancient” (history, culture, writing) referred to a specific historical period ending in the 5th century with the Fall of Rome.

So even though a 13th century hymn is one of the oldest in the hymnal, it probably doesn’t qualify as “ancient.” But then what does? There are a few hymns from before 1054, but how many from before 476? Do we have accurate dates for any of these hymns? This raises another question: are there any “ancient” hymns in
Hymns Ancient & Modern. Alas, that’s a question for another posting.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

The thing I don't know, is what would a Western hymn look like pre-1054?

Most Orthodox hymns are fairly brief. Here is the Apolytikion for today:
"As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O
inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine
vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also
contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Anthimus. Intercede with
Christ our God that our souls be saved."

Is the concept of many multi-verse hymns a more "modern" development, even in the West? An interesting question, IMO, but unfortunately one I don't have an answer to.