A hymnal history Hymns are beginning to become a thing of the past
A hymnal history
Hymns are beginning to become a thing of the past. Over time, generations change. Each generation looks at the previous generation with a certain amount of respect, but they are certainly afraid, nor do they hold all that much restraint in changing things up and bringing about new changes compared to the generation that came before them. Over time, this can and will lead to the generations of future years completely shedding some traditions that were held near and dear by the generations before. This shedding of past traditions has been evidenced in the transitions from horses to cars, eating dinner together as a family, and of course… hymns.
In order to completely understand the concepts and truths behind nearly every subject a paper is written on, it is critical that a person understands the history and the traditions behind the subject that they are observing. That fundamental truth is certainly no different for hymns… so it’s time for some history!
Hymns were created a couple thousand years ago, however, they stayed out of the general spotlight until the 6th century monk St Benedict, who found interest in taking early Latin texts and converting these early manuscripts into song structures that he deemed suitable for use in early monastic worship. These hymns were referred to as plainsong hymns, which were simply a form of chants used in monastic services and were known as the widespread hymn used throughout the entire Western church. The exception to this simple fact, however, was that the Byzantines and the chants they produced often were not referred to as plainsong hymns, when compared to the rest of the Western Church. Some of the earliest forms of the monastic hymns were named Ave Maris Stella, Pange Lingua, and Veni Sancte Spiritus. These were some of the very first hymns to be put in books, and were also the epiphany of a entirely new form of worship, which had been hidden from view all the way up to the 6th century.
The process of using these plainsong hymns was continued for several centuries, all the way up until the Reformation in the 16th century. The olden ways of the plainsong hymns were viewed as quite inconvenient by the reformers, as since the hymns were in Latin… they could therefore only be read and understood by the priests. So, with the up and coming of the Reformation and the increasingly widespread availability of the Bible to the general public, it was due time in history for a change in the way hymns were handled.
One of the very first changes that came about during the Reformation was an immediate outcry for the new style of hymns to have a much stronger basis on scripture. This outcry from the reformers brought forth a new style prevalent in the next generation of hymns. Although this may seem like a big change, the new hymns were rather simple in their nature and design. All the new generation of hymns were was a simple modification of the psalms into a form of music and rhythm that could be easily read and understood by the majority of the general population. One of the most well-known examples of this new style of hymns is the hymn titled “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Although these new hymns were much easier to understand, it still didn’t stop the inevitable resistance that was sent out from supporters of the older plainsong hymns. The division between the supporters was perhaps the greatest cause of divide and controversy in the Anglican Church during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Over time, these new hymns came to be relatively accepted among England during the 16th and 17th centuries, however as these new ideas and styles of the latest generation were being accepted and introduced to society, there was already a brand-new generation of Hymns in the making by a man named Isaac Watts. He was working hard to develop a new batch of hymns, ones that also began to take the focus slightly off the scriptures and placed a larger emphasis on the religious expression of those worshipping while singing these hymns. Some hymns that were the result of Watt’s brainstorming included “Joy to the World” and “O God our help in ages past”. It took till the beginning of the 18th century though, for hymns to really begin the modernization that people know and recognize today.
The 18th century began with introduction of two brothers by the names of John and Charles Wesleyi, who were bent on changing churchgoers’ perspectives on gospel worship. As the founders of Methodism, they were determined to bring about (similar to Watt) a change in hymn meanings, hoping to bring about a spirit of stirring up their congregations, and inflate the “feel-good factor” in the songs. Although initial backlash was encountered when forward-looking English Pastors attempted to incorporate the new hymns into their churches, and as the Anglican Church continued to resist any change, still holding on tightly to their psalms, the acceptance and enjoyment of these psalms swelled and blew up into the hymns that are widely known and recognized today in modern churches and worship settings.
So, with a complete analysis of the historical backstories into the hymns people are aware of today, comes a notable lesson in the stubbornness of an elder generation to let go of the traditions and styles that they had grown up with, as well as a persistent willingness of an up and coming generation of believers to accept the changes in music style. Maybe that’s the reason that hymns are beginning to disappear in modern day churches and sanctuaries, and maybe that’s why the traditional pianos and organs are beginning to drop out of view on the front stages. But maybe this isn’t necessarily as bad as a thing as people tend to make it. Maybe the most important thing to do, rather than worry about the change, is to simply accept it and figure out how to take advantage of these new opportunities. Maybe… it’s time for a change.