Sunday, September 30, 2007

The church’s unfoundation

If the Lutheran Church’s greatest contribution to hymnal theology is “A mighty fortress is our God,” then certainly one of the greatest of the 19th century Church of England is Samuel Stone’s “The Church’s one foundation” (set to the tune of Aurelia by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, grand-nephew of Methodist Church founder Charles Wesley).

London Times religion reporter Ruth Gledhill feels guilty about reprinting the satirical take on the TEC (PECUSA) modernism that is expressed as a satire of the Stone-Wesley hymn. It culminates in this final stanza:
Our church has no foundation
And Christ is not her Lord.
She is our new creation
By our own mighty word.
The Bible's too oppressive,
And morals leave us bored.
Who then is our salvation?
It's our own selves - adored.
Perhaps she'd be even more reticent if she knew it was posted to David Virtue’s website more than a year ago. The Wayback Machine seems to be malfunctioning, but my e-mail archives show that I forwarded these same lyrics (quoting Virtue) to friends back in August 2006.

Postscript: One of Gledhill’s readers added this one from the early days of the women’s ordination debate, sung to Bill Joel’s “She’s always a woman”:
She can reverence in style, genuflect with a flair
She can keep you entranced with a flick of her hair
Then she'll hold up the elements so you can see
She looks like a priest but she's always a woman to me

Oh I consider it fine
If she takes bread and wine
In her kitchen at home
But if she starts that round here
Then I'm sorry my dear
I'll be heading for Rome

Get to the Getty while the getting is good

Next month, I’m hoping to visit the exhibition of hand-copied medieval church music being shown at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition, which closes Oct. 28, was covered earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times. (I learned of the article and the exhibition because I follow the LA Times religion section via RSS feed).

I can’t explain it better than reporter Francisco Vara-Orta:
Before the advent of the 15th century printing press that eventually made books available to the masses, Christian priests, monks and nuns in the Middle Ages relied on rare, handmade and colorfully illustrated choir books to preserve their music generation to generation.

Music in the religious world in Europe had been passed down orally until the 800s, when monks began to transcribe their melodies onto the parchment of their choir books. Now more than 40 of these works, dating from 1170 to the early 1500s, are part of the “Music for the Masses” exhibit at the Getty Center.

“These manuscripts offer one of the best windows into learning about the Middle Ages,” said Christine Sciacca, assistant curator of the Getty Museum’s department of manuscripts. “It shows not just what people saw but also what sound was like back then.”
Of course, the Getty is an art museum, so the emphasis is on the drawings and illustrations, not upon the (Latin) words (still Latin). Still, the Getty emphasizes the importance of the manuscripts as among the earliest examples of written Western music:
Beginning in the 800s in Europe, music was first transcribed with “neumes,” which look like a cluttered collection of rising and falling dots and lines. Rather than representing specific notes to be sung as is done today, the neumes instead indicated whether the vocalist should go higher or lower in pitch and how long to hold a tone.

Eventually, around the 1260s, the chants became more elaborate and the neumes were replaced by small squares written along a horizontal, usually red, four-line staff. Today, notes are written in rounded forms on a five-line staff.
Even without visiting the museum, some photographs and explanatory information are available on the Getty’s website. One webpage explains examples of the two forms of notation, i.e. the neumes and four-line staff. Another page explains the difference between the gradual and missal (for the mass) and the antiphonal and beviary (for the daily prayers). Some of the books can be browsed online.

The highlight of the exhibition is the 12th century Stammheim Missal, saved from an abbey in Lower Saxony. In true museum fashion, the Getty is selling a coffee table book of reproductions from the missal. The latter is not from this exhibition, but the Getty’s earlier 2001 exhibition “Illuminated Liturgical Manuscripts.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Abominable NO man

The reports from New Orleans — e.g. the New York Times — are saying that the TEC bishops are saying no to the Windsor bishops, no to Dar es Salaam, and yes to the status quo. That is to say, nominal compliance with Anglican Communion’s wishes but (in many dioceses) open defiance without sanctions.

This is not a blog about the looming TEC schism/Anglican realignment: there are plenty of more active blogs covering that. Of interest here are two issues. One is what the traditionalists (AAC, ACN or Common Cause or whatever they call themselves) do about a hymnal once they leave TEC. The second is any musical divergence between the two camps.

Quoting blogger Baby Blue, Ruth Gledhill of the London Times offers two examples of postmodern hymns being favored by the TEC bishops. The second is
All creatures of our God, sing praise,
with thankful hearts your voices raise
O sing praises! Alleluia!
O Brother Sun with golden beam,
O Sister Moon with silver gleam!

Dear Mother Earth, who day by day
unfolds our blessings on our way
O sing praises! Alleluia!
The flow'rs and fruit that in you grow,
let them God's glory also show!
As she notes, this is the modernist update of familiar Anglican hymn based on 13th century words by St. Francis of Assisi. The Anglican world uses the 1919 translation by William Draper. Even the 1982 hymnal is willing to use the “K” word:
All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voices, let us sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Bright burning sun with golden beams,
pale silver moon that gently gleams,
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
I would note that the “Mother Earth” is in the Oremus version, the Hymnal 1982 (#400), and the CoE Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition (#439). The hymn does not appear to be in Hymnal 1940 or the two earlier CoE hymnals — The English Hymnal (1906) or Hymns Ancient & Modern.

As a kid, we sang the same tune from Hymnal 1940 as “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” (#599). No sister moon there.

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:


HymnalDateHymnMelodyTranslationVerses
Hymns Ancient & Modern1869

206
1st tune

1869: “old melody”
subsequent: “Plain song”
1869: uncredited
subsequent editions: “Bishop Woodford and compilers”
1,5,6,7
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.