Thursday, December 25, 2008

Our Father's love

In what is becoming an annual event, as with last year Pastor Todd Wilken did a one hour segment of Issues Etc. today on a single Christmas hymn, by interviewing Dr. Arthur Just, professor at the Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

For Christmas Day 2008, the second hour of the (pre-taped) show is about the hymn “Of the Father's Love Begotten.” Dr. Just summarized its importance as follows:
This is perhaps one of the most sublime christmas carols there is. It is an absolutely magnificent hymn and one of the oldest hymns in our canon.
The poem was written ca. 400 by the Spanish Christian poet, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-c. 413). The first verse of the Latin original is as follows:
Corde natus ex parentis
ante mundi exordium
Alpha et Omeega cognominatus,
ipse fons et clausula
Omnium quae sunt, fuerunt,
quaeque post futura sunt.
Modern hymnals owe their English version to a translation by John Mason Neale in 1854, among the many medieval texts he translated. However, we today use the modified version of the Neale translation, created by Henry Williams Baker, editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern.

In fact, Hymn #46 in Hymns A&M lists both the (Baker-modified) English text and the Latin original that they used for the translation. The first verse in A&M is:
Of the Father’s Love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
To Dr. Just, this hymn of joy at the incarnation of the Christ is also a hymn of praise and mystery. To this, I would add that this hymn — reaching to us across the centuries, from a time closer to Jesus’ time on earth than to our own — speaks to the eternal nature of God and his love for us. Such transcendent timelessness is (at least to me) an essential element of any Christian liturgy.

Neale is also credited with selecting (or at least finding) the tune that we use today. The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion (1990) summarizes the tune as:
Divinium Mysterium is a plansong melody used by Neale for his translation of “Corde natus ex Parentis” in the collection The Hymnal Noted (1851). There it was captioned “Melody from a manuscript at Wolfenbutel of the XIIIth century.”
Wherever it was first printed, most hymnals refer to the tune as “Plainsong, Mode V, 11th cent.”

In addition to being among the most important (if not earliest) Christmas hymns, it is also among the most popular. YouTube lists 23 different videos, most (but not all) concert performances by school choirs.

Amazon lists 60 versions of “Of the Father’s love begotten.” Of these, after poking through them I bought the version performed by a choir from a special program at Rider University. It seemed like the most authentic, although it’s only verses 1, 6 and 9 of the nine listed in A&M.

I was disappointed and a little surprised not to find a recording of the Latin version anywhere, particularly since this would fit the recent interest in Gregorian chant. Sure, the words predate Pope Gregory by at least 200 years, but the tune is later than Gregory and is in the Gregorian style. I will keep searching, in hopes of finding a recording somewhere, hopefully by a church choir in a sanctuary with suitable medieval acoustics.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What child? Not just a child!

Earlier this week, I was debating with Vicar Josh over a throwaway line in his blog
Jesus is NOT the reason for the season
As I interpret the good vicar, he believes that the phrase “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” is too much about the birthday of Baby Jesus, not enough about the death and resurrection of the grown Jesus. I choose to see the glass as half full — that celebrating Jesus’ birth could, in fact, be part of an acknowledgment of the reason for His coming.

As it turns out, this topic came up last week on the new Issues Etc. webcast radio show. On Wednesday (Dec. 17), Pastor Todd Wilken hosted a 12-minute segment inviting listener participation, entitled “What is your favorite Christmas hymn, and why?”

One reader emailed that his favorite is “What child is this?” (which made a recent list of most often-found Christmas hymns). Pastor Wilken read from the email by “Dennis” of St. Johns, Michigan:
Only this Christmas hymn puts the cross in Christmas — which is the true meaning of Christmas. The sole purpose of the Incarnation was the cross and our salvation. This is why he came and this is what he's done for us.
Set to the 16th century English ballad, Greensleeves, the 19th century words are by William Chatterton Dix. The strongest message of the cross comes from the last half of the second verse
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
This is the version reported in the 1982 LCMS hymnal, Lutheran Worship. (#61). I did not see it in the earlier 1941 LCMS hymnal, The Lutheran Hymnal, nor in the PECUSA Hymnal 1916. It was not indexed in the 1865, 1906 or 1933 Church of England hymnals; in the 1986 New English Hymnal (#40), the nails, spear and piercing are there, but not “the Word made flesh,” a direct quotation from John 1:14.

Alas, Episcopalians (and we continuing Anglicans) get only part of the message from Hymnal 1940 (#36) and Hymnal 1982 (#115). While the first part of the verse (with the reference to sinners) remains, the rendition uses a common refrain for all three verses. This is a version I grew up with, and the use of the refrain makes it more singable; however, it dramatically changes the theology by dropping the direct and vivid reference to the cross and Crucifixion.

Even with the simplified refrain, in the final verse from Hymnal 1940 we sing of Christ’s purpose for coming:
So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
come, peasant, king, to own him;
the King of kings salvation brings,
let loving hearts enthrone him.

This, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud,
the babe, the son of Mary.
So while the hymn starts with an emphasis on Baby Jesus, it ends with a discussion of his kingship and his role in our salvation. This is at least one hymn that begins from the “Jesus is the reason” theme, but links that directly to the Good Friday and Easter message.

Pastor Wilken said that he didn’t really appreciate the hymn until last year, when on the old Issues Etc. (then distributed by LCMS Inc.) he conducted an interview about it with Dr. Arthur Just, professor at the LCMS seminary in Ft. Wayne. As Dr. Just says in the interview, “Christmas is about the fact that Jesus is born to die.” He also notes that Dix wrote this as an Epiphany hymn (hence the incense, gold and myrrh).

As it turns out, I thought the Dec. 30, 2007 episode with Dr. Just was so memorable that I blogged on it at the time. The interview with Dr. Just also emphasized Christmas as a season — the season that runs from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6, not from Nov. 1 (or Oct. 1) through Dec. 24.

Jesus is the reason for the season. Q.E.D.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Draw nigh, Emmanuel

The hymn we now know as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is variously attributed to 9th and 12th century Latin texts. The tune “Veni Emmanuel” is more reliably attributed to a 15th or 16th century French tune.

However, the English translation of these texts is known to be by John Mason Neale and his 1851 book, Medieval Hymns and Sequences. The Google online PDF of the book Hymns of the Breviary and Missal says this about the Rev. Neale:
Dr. Neale was an eminent hymnologist and a most felicitous translator of Greek and Latin hymns. His translations of Latin hymns appeared in his Mediæval Hymns and Sequences, 1851, and in the Hymnal Noted, 1852 and 1854, in which 94 out of the 105 hymns therein are translated from the Latin by Dr. Neale.
Somewhere along the line, Neale’s “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel” became the now familiar Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” (More on this some other time).

Vicar Josh (with help from his blushing bride) suggests the use of a “word cloud” to analyze the text of a hymn. Below is the cloud for the Cyberhymnal version of “O Come, O Come,” analyzing all the words as they would be sung:

I think this map shows why (to apply the Vicar’s test) Neale’s (adapted) translation of medieval Latin texts does a better job of celebrating Advent than the ego-centric approach of typical CCM praise music.

Update: For more detail, “Veni Emmanuel” is the subject of November 1959 article in The Musical Times.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baby Jesus' greatest hits

An entire blog has been started to discuss the most popular Christmas carols. “Liberal Baptist” blogger Leland Ross lists the 12 “greatest hits” for Advent and Christmas carols, as measured across 24 hymnals:
  • Angels from the realms of glory
  • Angels we have heard on high
  • Away in a manger
  • Hark the herald angels sing
  • It came upon the midnight clear
  • Joy to the world
  • O come, all ye faithful
  • O come, O come, Emmanuel
  • O little town of Bethlehem
  • Silent night, holy night
  • The first Noel
  • What child is this
I understand all of them except “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Why is that ahead of these next four?
  • While shepherds watched
  • Go tell it on the mountain
  • Come thou long-expected Jesus
  • We three kings of orient are
The last of these is obviously for Epiphany.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Next hymnal: Schism II without Schism I

Exactly a year ago, (following Peter Toon), I asked “A new US church - a decade away?” Looking at the progress of Common Cause Partners, I said “Five years seems like a best case.”

But exactly a week ago, the recent TEC and ACC defectors held a ceremony in Wheaton, Illinois to form a new Anglican province (hereafter NAP). AnglicanTV has a wide assortment of videos from the event.

While this is just a milestone en route to a full ecclesiastical authority — not to mention recognition in the broader Anglican Communion beyond the GAFCON bishops who visited Canterbury last week — it’s obvious that things are moving much more quickly than I predicted in December 2007. So if it takes a few years to become fully legal, then 2009 or 2010 (as I said in September) seems more likely.

However, this paragraph from David Virtue’s report caught my eye:
Asked about what Prayer Book would be used, [ACN Moderator Robert] Duncan said that that would be left to the various diocese and networks. There would no official Prayer Book, some will use the 1662 and others will use the 1979, he said.
This is troubling on two levels.

First, why continue to use the deeply flawed, revisionist PECUSA prayer book? As Peter Toon notes, it has so seriously broken the continuity with the original BCP that it should be called A Book of Alternative Services (1979). In fact, these alternative (Rite II) services that are exactly the services that the Evangelicals are using and why they adopted the 1979 prayer book.

Second, AMiA and Toon produced a 1662 prayer book with modern words. So if theology and words and beliefs matter, why continue to perpetuate the flawed theology of TEC née PECUSA?

But what really bothered me is what’s missing: the 1928 BCP. Yes, I know there are arguments about whether it is a faithful interpretation of 1549 or 1662, but those arguments are fewer than for the 1979 prayer book. More seriously, the earliest generation of Anglican rejectionists — who I term “Schism I” — formed around their rejection of the 1979 prayer book and its associated theology.

And back to the theme of this blog, what does this say for our next hymnal, one that does not enrich the TEC retirement fund? Alas, traditionalists are happy to continue using (and reinforcing the themes) of the TEC Hymnal 1982.

From a liturgical standpoint, I would think that the FiFNA (anti-WO) part of NAP should partner with Schism I parishes to create a traditionalist hymnal that is a worthy successor to Hymnal 1940, my favorite hymnal. If so, sign me up!

However, my fear is that NAP will make a watered-down, compromise hymnal in an attempt to maintain bureaucratic control and span the gulf that separates its Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical wings. This will bring us politically correct hymns that mangle doctrine, rather than building upon tradition and liturgy that reach out to us across the centuries.

Christmas hymns before December 24?

Jim Bonewald, Presbyterian minister in Iowa who is also a blogger has posed the question: “When should churches start to sing Christmas hymns?” He’s running an online poll with these choices:
  1. It's ok to sneak in an occasional Christmas hymn or two during the season of advent, just don't make it a regular practice.
  2. Be strict about Advent - no Christmas hymns until Christmas Eve.
  3. Who cares? Dive right in and start singing Christmas hymns on the 1st Sunday of Advent.
  4. What? You mean there is a difference between Advent and Christmas hymns? 
  5. Wait with the Christmas hymns until the third or fourth Sunday of Advent.
The comments section at the bottom of the poll are interesting, in that they represent a cross-section of Christian thought on the subject.

Pastor Bonewald himself comes down on the side of #1. But what I find interesting is that in reviewing his blog, he has a flurry of activity every year connected with Advent. So he takes the season seriously, also also evidenced by this exchange in the comments:
December 1st, 2008 at 9:33 pm
Interesting conversation, but please excuse me for asking the dumb question. What’s the difference between Advent and Christmas songs? Can you give me some examples and explain why they fall into those catagories? I’ve never heard there was a difference!

Personally, I think any song that helps someone feel the love of Christ is a good song, no matter what season. I love listening to the Go Fish version of Little Drummer Boy all year long. It’s a great rocking song that makes me remember God’s sacrificial entry into the world with great awe.

December 1st, 2008 at 9:58 pm
Bonnie, great question….If you take a close look at our blue hymnal, you will notice that the very first section of songs is referred to as “advent,” the next section is then “christmas.”

The advent songs play on themes of advent (coming, waiting, preparing the way) they allude to the hope and promise of the Messiah, but they don’t sing about or celebrate his coming as a reality. The two most prominent and best known advent songs are “O come O come Emmanuel” and “Come Though Long Expected Jesus.”

Christmas songs tell the story of the nativity and birth of Christ and celebrate the reality of his coming. “joy to the world” and “o come all ye faithful” announce the arrival of christ and call us to worship him.
This is a surprisingly clear and traditionalist viewpoint for a co-leader of the postmodern, emergent church group called Presbymergent.

To me, this is one of the starkest examples where the canon of hymns compiled into a hymnal intersect liturgy, if not theology. Familiar hymns serve to put us in the mind of the meaning of a given season in the liturgical calendar, whether All Saints Day, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost or Trinity Sunday. In some ways, the messages of the hymns are more stirring and effective than anything said from the pulpit: hymn singing is a participatory event, the music strengthens the emotional impact, and we repeat the exercise every year using the same message.

So botching the choice (or wording) of Advent or Christmas hymns at best misses a great opportunity to prepare the faithful for the meaning of Christmas and the coming of the Christ child, at a time when the secular world has expressed either hostility to the Christian message or has turned it into the year’s largest marketing push.

To enable the latter, we get Christmas songs (nowadays Christian carols are rare) playing as Muzak in every shopping mall from mid-November through December 24. In other words, the retail world deliberately violates the liturgical calendar by promoting Christmas cheer during (and before) Advent. Because there’s no money to be made, they stop the Christmas message exactly when the 12 days of Christmas begin.

For several years, the local Christian radio station used to run billboards proclaiming “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Advent carols — kept apart from the Christmas message being exploited by secular marketers — are a powerful way of reminding us of this truth by preparing us for the true meaning of Christmas.

Hat tip: Vicar Josh

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beginning at the beginning

Today is the first day of the liturgical year, and (as with last year) the first hymn at the first service of the year was Hymn #1, “Come thou long expected Jesus.” The 18th century melody includes words by Charles Wesley, four of the eight verses he wrote in 1744 or 1745.

Prominent in Hymnal 1940, the hymn is buried as #66 in Hymnal 1982, but given all its failings as to political correctness, it’s a relief it’s still there. Strangely, the CoE wasn’t much interested in Wesley’s ditty (due to some sort of Anglican-Methodist split?) It’s nowhere to be found in the 1869 (Hymns Ancient and Modern), 1906 (The English Hymnal) or 1933 (Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition) CoE hymnals. It does show up in their 1986 Hymnal (New English Hymnal) as Hymn #3, although with tunes unfamiliar to American ears.

The liturgical index at the back of Hymnal 1940 recommends for morning services three other hymns from the Advent section: #7 (which we sang), #8 and #9 (which we skipped). It turns out we skipped the wrong one.

We began the service with the Advent I collect from the 1928 BCP (also found in the 1789 and 1892 BCP):
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.
Apparently this is a collect from Thomas Cranmer himself.

Our rector emphasized “cast away the works of darkness” as the theme for his sermon and for all of Advent 2008. That familiar phrase sent me flipping pages in my hymnal. Sure enough, Verse 1 of Hymn #9 contained a parallel phrasing:
Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding:
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say.
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day!”
The Complete Book of Hymns (by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen) attributes the text to Malachi 4:2, Matthew 3:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5. None of these have the “cast away” metaphor of Cranmer or the hymn.

Hymnal 1940 attributes to a 6th century Latin text, translated by Edward Caswall. Other books on hymns and hymn writers don‘t discuss the hymn, perhaps because its origins are lost to history.

However, The Hymnal 1940 Companion says that the original Latin text has been attributed (non-authoritatively) to St. Ambrose (340-397). Let me pick up the story
In the Sarum and other English liturgies, it was assigned to Lauds for the First Sunday in Advent and then daily until Christmas Eve. It is found at this point of the litrugy in many manuscripts from the tenth century, although it may be somewhat older.
The companion also notes that the 1850 tune (Merton by William Henry Monk) “has been firmly wedded to this hymn since the original musical edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861.”

Finally, our communion hymn was #199, which uses a 1263 text by Thomas Aquinas for the Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The tune, termed Pange Lingua, is a Mode III plainchant from the Sarum liturgy, and is also use for Hymn #66, which uses a 6th century text by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus. My references don’t provide a date for this tune, but the Sarum rite (from the great Norman cathedral in Salisbury) was written down (based on prior practice) sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Both Hymns (#9 and #199) are examples of the liturgical continuity cast aside by CCM and other modern worship. In our Anglo-Catholic worship, we are not just linking to Wesley 250 years ago or Luther some 500 years ago, but also to Christians going back 1000 or even 1500 years. We do not have accurate missals and hymnals from the 1st century Christian church, but we do have many texts (and a few tunes) from ancient and medieval sources that clearly capture early church practice.

Such linkages cannot be used to justify requiring that every church service everywhere be filled with Sarum or Gregorian chant of Latin texts. However, it does strongly argue for a form of worship that includes these ancient texts and tunes in everyday use.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is CCM really appropriate?

Catching up on reading blogs, here is an interesting commentary on a LCMS youth retreat in S. California
We on the left coast have just experienced (unfortunately) what these men from Water’s Edge have to offer by way of preaching as their “Missions Pastor” (Travis Hartjen) led the Pacific Southwest District Youth Gathering this past weekend in San Diego.
The “worship band” hailed from one of our not-so-confessional SoCal churches and played the top 20 CCM Dove award winning hits almost exclusively. Most of these songs emphasized, yep you guessed it: I, you, me, and we giving some lip service to God or Jesus. I have no problem with rock music as I am a musician that plays in a rock band here in San Diego. But I DO NOT play it on Sunday in my church. Everything has its proper place. Looking at the authors of the songs offered at our DYG I found them to be: Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and always Arminian. Thankfully, they did play one hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and I sung it with gusto!
As always, the most obvious difference with CCM is the rock band and the musical format, but the theologically important difference is in the lyrics.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hymn blogs

Here is LCMS vicar Josh Osbun’s new list of hymn blogsplus of course his own blogI’m already listing some of these. I’ll be checking out the others.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Social activism carols

The Telegraph reports on efforts of anti-Israel activists in London to protest the country’s Palestinian policies. Their Nov. 26 protest service will include this parody:
Once in royal David's city
Stood a big apartheid wall;
People entering and leaving
Had to pass a checkpoint hall.
Bethlehem was strangulated,
And her children segregated.
Telegraph correspondent Damien Thompson asks
I wonder if the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, has given his permission for it and, if not, whether he will do anything to stop it. If the gay wedding fiasco at St Bartholemew's is anything to go by, his grip on his diocese is rather shaky these days.
This “carol” is not terribly subtle and is unlikely to gain widespread adoption. But it’s yet another reminder than words have consequences in shaping the views of the faithful and faithless alike.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ein' Feste Burg ist Unser Gott

Monday was the 525th birthday of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. The birthday was also observed on Issues Etc. with an interview with Pastor Paul McCain.

Beyond his work as a theologian — creating what became the Lutheran church — Luther also penned a few hymns. The unofficial anthem of the Lutheran church is “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott,” with word and music by Luther. In the LCMS branch in the US, the song is played every year on Reformation Day — Oct. 31, commemorating the day in 1517 that Luther nailed his 95th Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.

Today, “A Mighty Fortress” is found in every Protestant hymnal and — as Episcopalian hymn blogger “C.W.S.” notes — even in the Catholic hymnal. (S)he also notes the dozens of English translations from the German original, including one by the inveterate 19th century hymn translator Catherine Winkworth.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zondervan buys

I’ve occasionally linked to scripture passages on, a free website owned by Gospel Communications. I always wondered how they made money — and it turns out that they didn’t. Last week, the money-losing site was bailed out by Zondervan, the Michigan-based Bible publisher that owns the rights to the NIV.

Today Christianity Today has an interview with the Zondervan CEO about their plans for BibleGateway (and I’m not sure if they’re going to make any more money, but they have deeper pockets and intend to keep it free for now. There’s even discussion of creating a Bible social networking site.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Anglican praise music

The last two Sundays have taken us away from our normal 1928 BCP/Hymnal 1940 parish. While the choices were geographically convenient, they serve as a reminder as to why I am fighting to preserve our hymnal and liturgy for future generations.

Yesterday was an ACN low church parish, complete with rock band. (Some rock band churches draw the lines at a drummer — this modern liturgy does not).

The worship music consisted of
(† The copyright assertion is probably an error — or intended for the music — since the words are just a paraphrase of the 1611 KJV version)

As pop-rock (or pop-folk), the music is harmless stuff. A little bland, and without the timeless qualities of, say a hymn that’s survived for 700 years or a four-part Bach harmony. But nothing too terribly offensive, and at times I even wonder if I could be up there, strummin’ or singin’ away.

However, at the end of the service, something struck me: it’s all “praise” music. (Which is I guess why they call it “praise music.”) Words like “praise” and “love” are common, but expressions of contrition, penitence or obedience are not.

Let’s take a few examples. Here’s an excerpt from the MW Smith Agnus Dei:
Alleluia, Alleluia
For our Lord God Almighty reigns
Holy, Holy
Are You Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb
Worthy is the Lamb
Here is what John Merbecke wrote in 1549, for the first English-language service music:
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.
Here are some words from the closing hymn at Our Lady of the Praise Music:
I can sing in the troubled times
Sing when I win
I can sing when I lose my step
And fall down again
I can sing 'cause You pick me up
Sing 'cause You're there
I can sing 'cause You hear me, Lord
When I call to You in prayer
I can sing with my last breath
Sing for I know
That I'll sing with the angels
And the saints around the throne
According one of the two liturgical indices in my favorite hymnal, the closing hymn for Trinity XXIII is #147, an 1897 composition by Rudyard Kipling.
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
What’s missing? Sin. Humility. Penitence. But, if you think about it, there’s no surprise here.

Lutherans (like LCMS founder CFW Walther) and also the Reformed talk about the Christian message as being Law and Gospel. In contrast, this praise music (like most praise music) is all about the Gospel — God’s love — without the obedience to his will and the confession of our failings implicit in any discussion of the Law. We are incomplete Christians without both: admitting God’s great power — and thus humbling ourselves before him — requires both Law and Gospel.

It’s been long known that a major failing of the hip, modernized nondenominational churches (notably including the megachurches) is that “the sin-free pep rallies don't encourage personal transformation and reflection, keystones of religion” (to use a quote from Fox news).

So my question is for my CCM-toting Anglican brethren: is it really safe to pick up our worship music (and thus our theology and instruction of the laity) from a branch of Christianity that repudiates (or carefully avoids) many of the tenets of our 39 Articles? Perhaps if Anglicans want to use CCM they need to write their own — or borrow some from the Catholics — making sure that it emphasizes not only praise but obedience.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Holy, Holy, Holy

One of my favorite hymns in my favorite hymnal has always been “Holy, Holy, Holy,” with lyrics by Reginald Heber and a tune, Nicaea, by John Dykes.

The website,, is profiling the hymn as part of its ongoing series on important hymns. The lyrics, MP3 (or Real) audio version, and the history of the hymn are provided in each profile.

The website is from the Center for Church Music, which promotes hymn education through a radio program and a kid’s summer camp to teach hymns. It‘s based in Grand Rapids, and the camp sounds like a great opportunity for kids (or grandkids) to learn about the hymns of the faith. Even though it’s a Reformed parish (adhering to the Heidelberg Confession and Belgic Confession), its interest in promoting hymnody seems consistent with a wide range of Protestant hymn-lovers.

Since I first saw it mentioned in a Catholic hymn site, perhaps I should say a wide range of Christian hymn-lovers.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Speaking the unspeakable

Christianity Today has an interesting discussion of whether Christians should use the holiest term of the Jewish faith, Yahweh. This word, unspeakable and unwritable in the Jewish faith, is often abbreviated YHWH to avoid this prohibition. (Just as some Jews write G*d to reflect the spirit of this belief.)

The word is so holy, that Christians have 3 chapters in the Old Testament named after a minor prophet, Joel, whose name means “Yahweh is God.”

The CT article was prompted by a recent change in Catholic doctrine to respect the Jewish tradition by banning Y*hw*h from worship.
"By directive of the Holy Father, in accord with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this congregation ... deems it convenient to communicate to the bishops' conferences ... as regards the translation and the pronunciation, in a liturgical setting, of the divine name signified in the sacred Tetragrammaton," said the letter signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, congregation prefect and secretary, respectively.

The Tetragrammaton is YHWH, the four consonants of the ancient Hebrew name for God.
The impact should be small, because only a few hymns in the Catholic missal use the word.

Since the 16th century, the English have used the word “Iehovah” as a reading of YHWH. Under the current interpretation, saying “Iehovah” (or “Jehovah”) does not violate the prohibition on saying YHWH.

For that I thank God, for I certainly want to keep in the liturgy all the Anglican hymns containing that term. First on that list “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,” an 18th century lyric with a 100-year-old tune.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Resolving the Issues issues

On the 6th month anniversary of the cancellation of Issues Etc., Pastor Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz spent 80 minutes giving more details on their firing.

In particular, they went through line-by-line dissecting the official LCMS explanation for their firing. (Also stored and annotated by Save the LCMS! on May 1 and May 1 and May 2 and May 2). Rather than burn air time from their syndicated show, last Tuesday’s response was a web-only MP3 report, following up on their earlier August 1 “open mic” discussion.

“LCMS Inc.” sounds a lot like the large lethargic bureaucratic organizations where you can’t get any results, either because nobody knows if a good job is being done or no one feels they can make a difference. The term “syndocrat” may be specific to today’s problems of the Missouri Synod, but many large church bodies (like many government bodies and nonprofits) have similar problems. It is refreshing to have the “inside scoop” of a detailed rebuttal by two former employees that know where the bodies are buried.

We should all be thankful that the two former KFUO employees didn’t sign the non-disclosure agreement that was the prerequisite for any severance pay.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Last one out turn of the lights

This week marks the beginning of the final chapter of traditional belief in the Episcopal Church. Acting in the belief that the ends justify the means, the revisionist majority of the House of Bishops ignored the canons of the church and voted to depose Bishop Robert Duncan, leader of the Anglican Communion Network and Bishop of Pittsburgh. The heretic Bp. Walter Righter got a trial for his heresies, but the orthodox do not.

The vote — in anticipation of the diocese’s imminent departure from TEC — was likened by one Episcopal priest to a 2002 Tom Cruise movie:
The Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor have interpreted the canons of the church in a way that would not hold up under impartial scrutiny and so appear to have proceeded with an interpretation of the cannons that suits their desire to proceed with deposition. Expediency ruled the day. I am reminded of the movie “Minority Report” in which people are arrested before they commit crimes.
Ignoring due process sets a dangerous precedent for the church, as a few Episcopalians recognize. However, with the Stalinists firmly in charge, no further dissent will be tolerated and all the orthodox (small o) will be forced out.

Steve Wood predicts that next summer’s General Convention will sweep away any attempt at compromise, repealing all accommodations intended to hold the moderates in the church. He sees this as the logical end result of decades of revisionism in PECUSA.
I suggested that two entirely different religions, with very different languages of faith, now exist under the same name. And that The Episcopal Church as revealed at the most recent General Conventions no longer remotely resembles The Episcopal Church we once knew - which is the source of great grief and sorrow for many of us.
So the orthodox (traditionalist and evangelical) will be gone by the end of 2009. In Virginia and possibly in California, they’ll leave with their buildings, but in other cases, parishes will be forced to start from scratch. Either way, they’ll all be leaving, because the façade of compromise has been stripped away.

The good news is that this week’s developments will likely hasten US and international support for a new North American Anglican Province. So perhaps the new church is two years away, not nine years away.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What makes 'Christian' music?

On Wednesday, George Strait won a Country Music Award nomination for best single for “I Saw God Today”. The songwriters were also nominated for song of the year. The poignant song about loss and faith spent two weeks at #1 on the country charts in May.

I happened to see Strait perform the song back in February, before the song was released on Strait’s album, Troubadour. (I didn’t tape it but someone else did).
I've been to church 
I've read the book 
I know he's here 
But I don't look 
Near as often as I should 
Yeah, I know I should 
His fingerprints are everywhere 
I just slowed down to stop and stare 
Opened my eyes and man I swear 
I saw God today.
Still this song — supposedly tied to the death of his daughter in 1986 — is far more explicitly religious than you’d hear in hip hop or (nowadays) even in pop.

So my question — how is this different than CCM? Is the music enough to make it not qualify than CCM? If you read the lyrics and didn’t have the music, would it seem consistent with some of the less salvation-oriented CCM songs.

Some argue that country music reflects the theology of rural white Southern Protestants. (See, for example, Redneck Liberation: Country Music As Theology).

Given this, other than the pedal steel, how is popular (country) music with vaguely Christian lyrics different from popular (pop) music with vaguely Christian lyrics?

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Wesleyan disharmonies

Charles Wesley was perhaps the most prolific English hymn author, with more than 5,000 hymn lyrics to his name. He recently celebrated his 300th birthday (or rather, his fans celebrated on his behalf). Today he’s best known as the younger brother John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement within the 18th century Church of England.

Recently, Kenneth Newport, English professor (and Anglican priest) decoded Charles Wesley's secret diaries. Those diaries reveal his feelings about his brother's personal and professional choices. Newport's findings were reported last month in the Daily Independent and then reprinted in VirtueOnline.

Rev. Prof. Newport’s website notes that he is preparing to release a two-volume edited set of letters of Charles Wesley. So if there's a living expert on what Wesley was thinking, it would appear Newport is it.

One discovery from the diaries was that Wesley objected to the timing of his brother's marriage. More relevant to church history are his feeling sabout forming a separate Methodist church:
The diaries confirm Wesley's clear opposition to a break-off from the Church of England. "There was a suspicion of lay preaching and Methodism was frowned upon by the established church," said Professor Newport. "Charles had a very clear line on separation. He wrote: 'I am for church first and then Methodism.'"
Fortunately, Anglican hymnody borrows liberally from Methodist hymnals, as well as Lutheran and often Catholic and other Christian songs. (Not counting those hymns sung in the Church of England before Henry decided he wanted his own church).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Protestant doctrine in hymn lyrics

Josh Osbun runs the most hymn-oriented Lutheran blog out there (or at least LCMS blog): Holy Holy Hymnody, successor to his earlier blog The Crazy Lutheran. On July, he went on a binge of posts about wedding hymns (i.e. his own), but recently the Concordia seminarian is now back posting about how theology peeks out in hymn lyrics.

Two recent posts look at hymns whose theology would not fit with LCMS (or earlier Luther) teachings. One a week ago looked at how a particular Lutheran denomination (Association of Free Lutheran Congregations) had adopted a law-based theology in hymns more consistent with a Pentecostal hymnal. A posting Monday noted not only the strong Marian worship in a Catholic hymnal, but also the phrase “ever virgin” as a side comment in a hymn about Joseph.

Of course, the whole point of the “both Catholic and Reformed” mantra of the COE is that in the 16th century, Henry, Cranmer and later Elizabeth were trying to split the difference between the Catholic heritage and the winds of Reformation blowing over England.

Unfortunately, John Calvin (with Reformed) theology was having more influence on the British Isles (e.g. Church of Scotland) than were Luther and Melanchthon. I say unfortunate, because I believe Lutheran thought would be easier to reconcile than Calvinism: despite the enmity to the "Bishop of Rome," much of the theology of Luther (the former Catholic monk) is Catholicism plus the primacy of the Bible (Sola Scriptura) minus a Pope. A few Lutherans even parallel Catholics and Anglo Catholics in their liturgical traditions.

So how would Anglicans (e.g. as bound by the 39 Articles) react to Osbun’s list?

The rejection of certain Reformed beliefs is clearest. While the Reformed put Law ahead of Gospel, Article XVIII explicitly rejects works righteousness and embraces Luther’s Sola Fide.

Although a strong tenet of Catholic and Orthodox faith, the 39 Articles are silent as to whether Mary remained a Virgin after Jesus was born or enjoyed normal marital relations with her husband. A recent Nashotah term paper renews the older argument that Anglicans should embrace perpetual virginity, because a) it’s not banned by the 39 Articles and b) there was a long church tradition supporting the idea.

Here Catholic and Lutheran theology are opposed: with sola scriptura, it’s hard for most Protestants to accept this dogma. (But again, Anglo Catholics are neither/both reformed and catholic). So I guess I need to scour all the Marian hymns in the COE/PECUSA hymnals and see what they say.

I had not realized that it’s the Evangelicals rather than the Anglo-Catholics that treat the 39 Articles as a statement of confession, analogous to Luther’s small catechism. At least, that’s what Ian Murray said in a review of the GAFCON events, said Evangelicals called themselves “confessing Anglicans.” Murray continued:
For centuries evangelicals have appealed to the Thirty-nine Articles as affirming the Protestantism of the Church of England, particularly the Articles which deny the ‘Romish Doctrine of Purgatory’ (22), other ‘sacraments’ (25), ‘the sacrifices of masses’ (31), and the jurisdiction of ‘the Bishop of Rome’ (37). For Anglo-Catholics those statements have long been the most serious barrier to any re-union with Roman Catholicism, and if evangelicals were to enjoy their partnership there was no way that commitment to all the Articles could be required.
Despite being a High Church Anglican, the willingness of some Anglo-Catholics to abandon the founding principles of our church is troubling. If some clergy are so keen on working for the Pope, they should jump now, as opposed to pretending that they want to create a new orthodox Anglican province.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Neo-medieval plainsong

Today in church the bulletin said “Hymn 482". The first stanza is written
"Lift up your hearts!" We lift them, Lord, to thee;
Here at thy feet no other may we see.
“Lift up your hearts!” E’en so, with one accord,
We lift them up, we lift them to the Lord.
In Hymnal 1940, there are actually two tunes, but whoever printed the bulletin forgot to designate which tune, so I was wondering which one we’d end up singing. The choir director normally picks the oldest tune of the two. We have a great choir (and sanctuary) for renaissance and baroque music, so it makes sense to pick a 16th century tune over a 19th century one, both for their tastes and also their abilities.

This time, however, the choice was between two 20th century tunes: Sursum Corda (1941) and Magda (1925). The former was obviously written just in time for Hymnal 1940. My money was on the latter, because at the bottom it said “R. Vaughan Williams.”

However, the organist played the former, a tune by Alfred M. Smith, and I was very pleasantly surprised (as was the choir director). The tune is very singable, but has a very Mode V, medieval plainchant feel to it. The lines are reminiscent of Divinum Mysterium (“Of the Father’s love begotten”), but with a much simpler rhythm.

The 1881 words by H. Montagu Butler are set to two other tunes in the CoE hymnals. The English Hymnal (1906) and New English Hymnal (1986) use All Souls by J. Yoakley. The Songs of Praise Enlarged Edition (1931) prints only Pfigysbren, a Welsh tune.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m resistant to (or perhaps even surly about) musical change. With the exception of a few pieces by Britten, Rutter and Bernstein, there’s not much church music worth keeping that was composed since Vaughan Williams’ prodigious contributions to The English Hymnal. 20th century tunes seem to range between unsingable tonality bending (Stravinsky without the talent) and the more recent, rock-influenced pop pablum.

Here is proof that such modernist failings have little to do with the times, and everything to do with choices made by the composers who lived in those times. This is particularly true if you flip to the back of Hymnal 1940, and see that Smith contributed three separate plainsong tunes. Living in the 20th century is no impediment to making lasting church music.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Curious hymnal heresy

Earlier this summer, I visited London and worshipped at St. Paul’s Cathedral. My choirmaster recommended that I attend either St. Paul’s or St. Martin’s, but the latter choir had the day off.

St. Paul’s as a sanctuary has a tremendous history. The location has been the center of Christian worship in England since the 7th century. The current structure, designed by Christopher Wren after the 1666 fire, was for centuries the tallest building in London and remains one of the few sanctuaries to rival St. Peter’s in Rome for scale and grandeur. (Given that the cost of building St. Peter’s brought us Luther’s 95 Theses and the Reformation, that’s saying something).

As with other famous cathedrals, the crowd was a mixture of tourists with backpacks with a few locals. Most went up for communion, and it seemed as though at least half knew the creeds (which is more than I saw at a trip to Westminster Abbey last year).

The choir performed a mass setting by Palestrina, the Missa Papae Marcelli. The program notes (er, seat bulletin) said that with this setting, “Palestrina is often credited with having rescued sacred polyphony,” because it was his first setting approved after the Council of Trent ruled that music must not subordinate the clarity of the text.

The hymn choices from the New English Hymnal were, to put it mildly, uninspiring. At the Offertory, we sang Toplady’s famous hymn “Rock of Ages” (alas to the tune Petra rather than Toplady), and the congregation came alive. But on the other hymns and service music it was the choir (with its overmatched boy trebles) doing all the singing, as the tunes were unfamiliar and (because they violate most understood principles of meter and harmony for the past 400 years) unsingable.

What really caught my attention (other than the building and the tourists and the musicians...) at the service was the opening hymn, #461 from the NEH. (The hymn tune was too new to be from an earlier hymnal). Entitled “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” this verse grabbed my eye:
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind
At the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify his strictness
With a zeal he will not own.
In other words, forget about the commandments and any other rules promulgated by your faith leaders across the millenia. This clearly ignores one side in the longstanding debate in theology about the appropriate balance between law and gospel, and today seems a pointed controversy on the whole controversy tearing apart the Anglican Communion with the GAFCON and Lambeth conferences.

What was even more odd was that a few minutes later, one of the priests read Matthew 7:21-29. Multiple translations are authorized in the COE, but to my ear it sounded similar to the ERV/RSV, so here’s the first seven verses from the RSV:
“Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”
Or, as the subsequent sermon from Rt. Rev. Michael Colclough (former Bishop of Kensington now resident canon) put it, the passage is an admonishment ”against those who build upon the shifting sands of fashion and fancy.” I could imagine no more telling indictment of the modernized theology than Canon Colclough’s sermon or the Gospel passage. The blatant contradiction of these two parts of the modernized service was actually funny (in a way that hiding or misinterpreting the Matthew passage would not be.)

But where did the heretical hymn lyrics come from? The bulletin reports it composed by F.W. Faber (1814-1863). The CCEL has a (public domain) 1915 book on hymn authors which lists Frederick William Faber as a Church of England priest who became a Catholic priest under Cardinal Newman. It lists 11 hymns by Faber in the 1905 Methodist hymnal (most notably “Faith of our Fathers”), and concludes:
Dr. Faber ... not only succeeded in large measure in his undertaking to give Roman Catholics good modern hymns, but he wrote many which have had a wide circulation among Protestant Churches. It has been found necessary, however, to eliminate objectionable Romish expressions from many of his hymns in order to adapt them to use in Protestant worship.
The Catholic Encyclopedia reports
Faber’s hymns, composed especially for these services, display a combination of accurate theological doctrine, fervent devotion, musical rhythm, and true poetic talent.
Doesn’t sound like a heretic to me.

COE seems to be consisent in its presentation of Faber. It’s not among 11 Faber hymns in Hymns Ancient & Modern (my copy is the 1916 update of the 1869 original). However, the words printed in 1906 The English Hymnal (#499) match that from the NEH seat bulletin (#461).

For PECUSA, it’s in the 1916 hymnal (#240), Hymnal 1940 (#304), and Hymnal 1982 (#469, 470). It turns out the 1916 hymnal paraphrases the text, but here is the version from the 1940 hymnal:
For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take him at his word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of the Lord.
which is essentially what’s up on Oremus.

In 101 More Hymn Stories, Kenneth Osbeck (p. 281) says it was published in Faber’s book Hymns 1862. The Book of Hymns by Dr. Ian Bradley (2005, p. 455) reports this hymn as being from Oratory Hymns of 1854, and as having 13 verses.

Several editions of Faber’s poems are in the public domain in Google books. A 1868 US compliation of Faber’s works lists a 13 stanza poem on pp. 53-55, with 13 stanzas. The same 13 stanzas are listed on pages 66-68 of an 1879 British compilation. The poem begins “Souls of men!” while “There’s a wideness” is stanza #4 and “For the love of God” is stanza #8. (12 of the 13 stanza are listed in a different order in another book).

So what’s the source of the variation? There’s no (re)translation issue of the hymn written by a 19th century English priest. It turns out it’s selective presentation: both the 1906 TEH (English) and Hymnal 1940 (US) are correct, but use different stanzas. TEH reprints stanzas #4-5,7-13 while 1940 pairs six stanzas into three verses: 4&6, 5&10, 8&13. (The 1916 US Presbyterian hymn #35 uses 1&3, 4&5, 7&8, 9&13).

Still, there’s little doubt that Faber penned the offending stanza. Today, it seems like an anachronistic heresy. Searching around for other explanations, reader Jeff suggested that it was an overreaction to a different heresy, specifically the austere legalism of some of the Reformed clergy. Given the Anglo-Catholic vs. Reformed controversy that raged in the COE from its founding through Faber’s day, that seems like a very plausible explanation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

As one of several projects posting out-of-copyright books on music, Project Gutenberg has posted an 1886 book Standard Oratorios. To quote from the preface:
The main object has been to present to the reader a comprehensive sketch of the oratorios which may be called "standard," outlining the sacred stories which they tell, and briefly indicating and sketching their principal numbers, accompanied in each case with a short biography of the composer and such historical matter connected with the various works as is of special interest....

[T]he work has been prepared for the general public rather than for musicians, and as far as practicable, technical terms have been avoided. Description, not criticism, has been the purpose of the volume, and the various works are described as fully as the necessarily brief space allotted to each would allow. The utmost pains have been taken to secure historical and chronological accuracy, inasmuch as these details are nearly always matters of controversy.
The book talks about three Bach pieces (including my favorite piece of religious work, the Matthew Passion) and Beethoven’s Mount of Olives. It also talks about requiems by Berlioz, Brahms, Mozart and Verdi, as well as multiple religious pieces by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn.

The blog Hymnography Unbound focuses on the description of Handel’s Messiah provided by the book, which it calls “a delightfully chatty late-19th century ebook about the major oratorios.” Alas, outside the Messiah, few of the works are performed in churches, other than occasional excerpts of the requia as service music for the Mass.

Despite the century-long role of the Roman Catholic church as a musical sponsor, many of the oratorios have a distinctly Protestant origin. Bach is the world’s most famous Lutheran Kappelmeister. Both Handel and Mendelssohn composed in England, although the Messiah premiered in Ireland using choirs from the Church of Ireland.

For us Yanks, the book includes a fascinating 20 page epilog on “Sacred Music in America.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Does traditional theology require traditional liturgy?

I missed Issues Etc. when it was gone, so I was glad when it came back. One reason I missed the original show is that it was the only talk show I’ve ever heard that discussed issues of liturgy and liturgical music.

I’ve been listening to its first month back on iTunes. Of the new shows I’ve heard so far, the most substantive was the July 18 segment with Pastor Klemet Preuss. Pastor (and blogger) is the author of the The Fire And The Staff: Lutheran Theology In Practice.

Given that book, it’s not surprising that the July 18 show was entitled “Doctrine and Practice.” He makes some interesting points about liturgical choices:
  • The divine service and historic liturgy are a “gift of God to us,” and thus it would hard to improve upon it: “You have bible passages put together in a structured and wonderful way so beautifully and so consistently thtat you can’t improve upon it.”
  • Churches that use more modern worship believe that approach is the only way to reach potential new members (i.e., seekers), but is rare that they
  • The modern worship approach has the goal of “they want to elicit and immediate and emotional response to what is going on on Sunday morning,” but of course the goal of liturgy is to bring us closer to God.
  • The modern liturgy is oriented towards quick conversions, but overall no denomination has been able to grow based on this approach.
Pastor Preuss is not very ecumenical in how he views traditional interpretations of the historic liturgy, praising only traditional Lutheran worship. I can’t tell if that’s due to ignorance, chauvinism, or perhaps (due to his position and responsibilities) because his concern for appropriate practice is limited to the LCMS.

Despite, the half-hour show is thought-provoking. It suggests that his book (which attacks the Church Growth movement) would provide good ammunition for someone seeking to argue for traditional worship.

I’d love to believe Pastor Preuss is right that modernized worship is inherently a bad idea: after all, I’m a big fan of the traditional+traditional corner of the liturgy matrix. But such a big fraction of the Schism II Anglicans are liturgical modernists — consonant with the Evangelical wing of the communion — that it’s hard to rule out the possibility they could also holding a valid liturgical alternative. So is traditional worship a must or merely a want? The jury is still out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

And with your spirit

Recently the Catholic church took the first step to reverse some of the most of the prominent liturgical errors of the 1970s, as embodied by the PECUSA Rite II service of its 1979 prayer book. It also offers a path forward for at least some Continuing Anglicans.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) — later allied with the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET) — brought us the modernized paraphrases of the ancient liturgy. So (among other examples), the Latin translated from 1662-1928 as “And with thy spirit” became “And also with you.”

On July 25, Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican has approved a new translation for a subset of the Mass:
In 2001 the Vatican issued new rules requiring liturgical translations to follow the original Latin more strictly and completely -- a more literal translation approach called formal equivalence. The resulting new translation adheres far more closely to the normative Latin text issued by the Vatican.
From the 2001 charge for a more accurate translation from the “vernacular,” the English version was taken on by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, representing the national conference of bishops in 11 English-speaking countries.

Under the approved change, the “thy” becomes “your,” i.e. “And with your spirit.” The Nicene Creed again begins with “I believe” and the “God of power and might” has been banished from the Sanctus.

The change will take effect in a few years, allowing time for changes to musical settings. (Why? Can’t they use the setting for “And with thy spirit”?)

Other parts of the Latin rite still need an updated translation. Earlier in July, US bishops rejected the 2nd installment of the ineffable translation (OK, that's a stretch) of the Roman Missal; a revote is planned. The goal is to finish the entire translation by 2010.

What impact will this have on Protestant liturgy? The CCT is hopelessly en thrall to the liberal mainline denominations (think NRSV). Will the Anglo-Catholics use this, stick with the 1928 BCP, or revert to the 1662 BCP used elsewhere in the world? Will the evangelicals among the Continuing Anglicans use these modernized (but faithful) translations — or widely adopt the Toonian 1662 rendition? Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Schmaltz, praise and worship

Regular readers know that a major theme of this blog is questioning the suitability of praise music and other modernized forms of liturgy as a form of Christian worship. Even ignoring the creeping effects of modern theology on worship, the modernized liturgy (favored by evangelicals) poses its own problems. In the old Issues Etc. show, guests Terry Matingly, Barbara Resch and Jon Sollberger explained the inherent problems of chasing the culture to epxress even the most traditional theology.

Almost every Sunday I avoid this problem by spending my worship time in Anglo-Catholic worship. However, today I visited our former church. Its rector is very Biblical in his worldview, but a couple of years back he decided to convert the main service to praise bands in hopes of attracting more congregants. Like so many other parishes, the traditional liturgy is relegated to the early (in this case 8:30) service, which is why we don’t make it back very often. But if growth is the success measure, the strategy seems to be working.

More than a year before the praise band service began, the new music director was moving the hymn service away from Bach and other 16th, 17th and 18th century composers. Instead, there were a fair number of schmaltzy postwar hymns — the netherland between traditional hymnody and CCM/praise music that’s occupied by Hymnal 1982. It got to be a running joke — she would offer me now and again Bach to keep me in the choir, but any other week I would expect something schmaltzy.

What do I mean by “schmaltz”? The American Heritage dictionary definition:
schmaltz n.
1. Informal
a. Excessively sentimental art or music.
b. Maudlin sentimentality.
According to Random House, the term is Yiddish slang dating to 1930-1935, which in turn goes to the Old High German term for animal fat.

Today, with the choir on vacation, we had guest musicians on flute and piano. But even without the words, the three pieces certainly met the definition of schmaltz. One of them was “The Lord’s Prayer,” composed in the 1930s by Albert Hay Malotte.

Obviously, the words of this song (not used today) were not schmaltzy. But the music — written by a man who wrote film scores during the 1930s and 1940s — was designed to stir the listeners’ emotions. So much of what we lament about CCM was foreshadowed 75 years ago.

One of the other songs they performed was “I need thee every hour,” written in 1872 by Baptist parishioner Annie Hawks and her pastor, Robert Lowry. Hawks was later quoted as saying:
I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood some thing of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace.
The refrain seems to presage the egocentrism (if not narcissism) of praise music a century later:
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
In trying to link this schmaltz to the problems of Contemporary Christian Music, I found this interesting factoid. Ten years ago this month, the Gospel Music Association instituted formal criteria as to what would count as gospel music. Even this definition has serious problems when applied to popular CCM. I’m particularly suspicious of the clause allowing lyrics reflecting a “testimony of relationship with God through Christ,” which would appear to cover lots of feelings.

Still, briefly using Google to identify popular CCM lyrics, the first two examples of Michael English seemed OK: “In Christ alone” and “Mary Did You Know?” But, more generally, CCM in the view of many leaders has veered away from its nominal Christian roots.

Obviously not all CCM was meant to be used for worship, and pastors have their choice of what to use and what to reject. However, the lines between CCM and praise music are blurring.

For me, the first warning sign is the use of the first person pronoun. Contrast Lowry’s hymn with Amazing Grace:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Even with the first person pronoun and the additional Harriet Beecher Stowe stanza, the emphasis is on God’s grace rather than our individual needs. This is even less of a problem for older hymns — such as Martin Luther’s classic of the Reformation.

Clearly praise music lyricists could make their text about God rather than human feelings. So why don’t they? Is the culture so corrupting that they don’t even try?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Extremist but not moderate

Apologies for another schism posting, but this one was too good to pass up.

The TEC, ACC and others continually emphasize how “inclusive” and “tolerant” they are. Of course, that tolerance does not mean sharing power with those who disagree with them on key social issues, such as who should be ordained to the ministry. Such dissenters are labelled “sexist”, “racist” and “homophobes.”

Canadian TV personality (and author) Michael Coren has an interesting post (in the National Post) that refers to “extremist moderation.” An excerpt:
The latest schism within the denomination has exposed the core nastiness of a bitingly exclusive institution.

The glimmering paradox of the church is that it guards its ostensible moderation with a grim determination, as so many orthodox Christian believers can testify. They have been persecuted in Canada and beyond for two decades by the liberal hierarchy, and it is only now, after so many attacks, that they are fighting back to the point of separation.
Am I the only one who thinks it odd that the wing of the TEC that denounces racism denounces black African bishops as “demonic”? Apparently Coren agrees:
Hardly surprising, in that at the last synod of this church we heard some extraordinary comments from British and North American bishops about “primitive” and “superstitious” believers from the Third World. They were described thus because they opposed the ordination of homosexuals to the ministry. Something to do with that Bible thing apparently.

None of which speaks of a middle-of-the-road organization, anxious to bend and adapt so as to please all and offend few. More like yet another liberal body vehemently intolerant of anything and anybody it sees as refusing to tolerate its extremist moderation.

Hat tip: Titus 1:9

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gregorian chant resources

Life is hectic at work right now, so I'm going to try to do a series of shorter posts rather than wait for time to do a big long post.

Catching up late last night on my favorite liturgical music blogs (listed at right), I found an interesting post on Hymnography Unbound. Blogress “Ephrem” (like me, a pseudonymous writer) was inviting her Catholic readers to attend a conference:
All the cool kids are going to the Sacred Music Colloquium this June!

This is like summer camp for music geeks. You wouldn't want to miss that, would you?
By the time I read the link the June 2008 conference was history and the website is now promoting the June 2009 conference. I don’t know if it makes sense for a Protestant to attend, but it sounds like a spectacular vehicle for preserving the divine liturgy (lower-case D) in America.

However, I did want to pass along all the other stuff on their website, particularly as it relates to Gregorian chant. Look at the sidebar of the conference web page for
  • Two dozen online resources for Gregorian chant and an equal number of teaching resources. For example, there’s a whole article on reading the medieval neumes entitled “An Idiot’s Guide to Square Notes
  • Their online bookstore, with titles such as Advanced Studies in Gregorian Chant, as well as online copies of non-copyrighted (ca. 1907) books on church music.
  • Their quarterly journal, Sacred Music
Someday I hope to have time to read and comment on all these materials, but I thought I’d pass them along to readers sooner rather than later.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Traditionalists singing PC hymns

During a recent vacation visiting friends, we attended an Anglo-Catholic former ECUSA parish that has broken away and aligned itself under a South American bishop. The rector is as godly and devout an Anglican as I have met. He led the parish in aligning with all the various (failed) attempts to organize traditionalists within ECUSA: Episcopal Synod of America, then Forward in Faith North America (where he was an officer), then Anglican Communion Network. The Sunday we were there, worship was led by the (equally devout) assistant because the rector was at GAFCON.

And yet, like most of the Schism II Anglicans (post V.G. Robinson) they use the flawed instruments of the ECUSA 70s and 80s modernized theology: the 1979 alternative service book (to use Peter Toon’s phrase) and Hymnal 1982. It’s only because I’ve been attending a Schism I Anglican parish (post-Congress of St. Louis) with the 1928 BCP and Hymnal 1940 that I’m now cognizant that there’s another path for Continuing Anglicans.

The blog has been drifting off the past few months too much into questions of denominational boundaries and the hope that Schism I and Schism II Anglicans will someday make common cause to proclaim the gospel in North America within the Anglican tradition of worship. So rather than rehash the old arguments, let me illustrate them with a specific hymn.

The closing hymn at this ACN, Global South parish was hymn #530 in the revisionist hymnal (#253 in my favorite hymnal), an English translation of the Jonathan Frederic Bahnmaier lyric “Walte, für der, nah und fern” by A.F. Farlander and W. Douglas. The hymn is a widely reprinted example of a missionary hymn.

As is almost always the case, the changes were for gender inclusive language, banishing the M-word:
Spread, O spread, thou mighty word,
Spread the kingdom of the Lord,
That to earth’s remotest bound
Men All may heed the joyful sound.

Word of how the Father’s will
Made the world, and keeps it, still;
How his only Son he gave,
Man earth from sin and death to save.
Of course, they could have achieve the same gender-inclusive results by just using the words from The English Hymnal, an 1858 translation attributed to the great Catherine Winkworth:
Spread, O spread, thou mighty Word,
spread the kingdom of the Lord,
whersoe'er his breath has given,
life to beings meant for heaven.

Tell them how the Father's will
made the world, and keeps it still,
how he sent his Son to save
all who help and comfort crave.
Since this is a German hymn, it makes sense to look at the American church of German immigrants, the LCMS. Their 1941 hymnal (The Lutheran Hymnal) attributes their translation to Winkworth but combines the two
Spread, O spread, thou mighty Word,
spread the kingdom of the Lord,
whersoe'er his breath has given,
life to beings meant for heaven.

Tell them how the Father's will
Made the world, and keeps it still,
How His only Son he gave
Man from sin and death to save.
A google book Sacred Hymns from the German (available in PDF) says that the original German lyrics are:
Walte, walte nah und fern,
Allgewaltig Wort des Herrn,
Wo nur seiner Allmacht Ruf
Menschen für den Himmel schuf.

Word vom Vater, der die Welt
Schuf und in den Armen hält,
Und der Sünder Trost und Rath
Zu uns hergesendet hat!
Neither Yahoo nor Google translation sites did a readable job, but here’s a literal translation of these verses (my best German with a little help from a native speaker:
Rule, rule near and far the all-encompassing word of the Lord
Who only through his almighty call created people for heaven.

Word from the Father that created the world and holds it in his arms,
and has sent us sinners comfort and guidance.
An alternate text for verse 2 is found in an online German hymnal; below is the text and my translation:
Wort vom Vater, der die Welt
Schuf und in den Armen hält
Und aus seinem Schoß herab
Seinen Sohn zum Heil ihr gab;

Word from the Father that created the world and holds it in his arms,
And from his being sent down his Son to bring us to heaven.
So in the end, none of the three (or four) English texts is the Bahnmaier hymn: instead, we have a Winkworth hymn or a Farlander-Douglas hymn (in original or bowdlerized form) loosely based on the 1827 German text. The compulsion to make rhyming couplets is greater than the imperative to stay faithful to the text.

Bahnmaier (1774-1841) was a theologian, not just a lyricist. Still, it’s not like they're meddling with a statement of doctrine passed 1700 years ago. In other words, a new translation of an old text should be be evaluated as a new act of authorship, rather than as merely the representation of the original author's intent in a new language.

Which brings me back to my original point: all the ACN/Common Cause/neo-“Anglican” parishes in North America need to re-examine every liturgical innovation of the past 50 years with a skeptical eye, and throw out anything that cannot be supported by scriptural texts and their long-understood interpretation. (Last time I checked, neither JC nor St. Paul said anything about pipe organs or electric guitars, so these decisions remain in the hands of mere mortals).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Issues Etc. is back

Pastor Todd Wilken, his team and the Lutheran radio show Issues Etc. came back this week as an Internet radio show, two hours a week every weekday (and apparently also on Sunday). The show is available online, for one hour live in St. Louis (on AM 1320), and as an iTunes podcast.

I was struck by the graciousness of Rev. Wilken, who with producer Jeff Schwarz were fired March 18 by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as part of an internal power struggle. The first hour of the first day back was about what happened on March 18 and during their period of enforced hiatus that Rev. Wilken referred to as a "spring break".

Both men also referred to the support they received from their LCMS pastors during the hiatus; Schwartz’s pastor is blogger Will Weedon, who has written about the LCMS problems and the Issues Etc. cancellation.. They talked about the sense of relief (and independence) they felt upon being fired, as well as their inability to reply to all the Lutherans and non-Lutherans who called and wrote to offer their support.

Rev. Wilken’s personality, format and melodious tones were near indistinguishable from the earlier KFUO incarnation. Some other observations:
  • Rev. Wilken also remarked at being the brunt of the LCMS publicity machine, something he’d never faced in his 17 years as an LCMS pastor;
  • the ads are for the donor-supported program rather than its former host KFUO or sponsor the LCMS;
  • many of the topics are the same, including popular perceptions of religion (the recent Pew Forum survey) and dissecting the theology of pop evangelists (such as Rick Warren);
  • many of the guests are the same, including various LCMS pastors: one guest the first day was from the LCMS seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
I find the new iPod podcasting to be more convenient than the KFUO MP3 files. The MP3 files were organized into hours: usually each hour had multiple guests and sometimes a guest spanned two separate segments. Now, each podcast episode stands alone, whether 14 minutes or 55 minutes. I am looking forward to having the Issues Etc. episodes to keep me company as I work at home.

To close out the week, on Friday Rev. Wilken observed 4th of July by interviewing another LCMS pastor, Lt. Col. Jonathan Shaw of the Army Chief of Chaplains office in the Pentagon who edits the “Sabre of Boldness” column for Gottendienst, an unofficial LCMS publication that celebrates the historic roots of Lutheran worship.

With Rev. Shaw’s impressive credentials, I look forward to listening to that podcast. Ministering to our men and women in uniform is an important concern for any patriotic, churchgoing American — just as I believe honoring their sacrifice is an appropriate topic for hymns and worship.