and in the canticles, “Magnificat,” “Benedictus,” &c., which manifestly followed the form and style of Hebrew poetry, hymns or songs, proper for liturgical use, have always been recognized by the church.
3. Eastern Church Hymnody.—The hymn of our Lord, the precepts of the apostles, the angelic song at the nativity, and “Benedicite omnia opera” are referred to in a curious metrical prologue to the hymnary of the Mozarabic Breviary as precedents for the practice of the Western Church. In this respect, however, the Western Church followed the Eastern, in which hymnody prevailed from the earliest times.
Philo describes the Theraputae (q.v.) of the neighbourhood of Alexandria as composers of original hymns, which (as well as old) were sung at their great religious festivals—the people listening in silence till they came to the closing strains, or refrains, at the end of a hymn or stanza (the Therapeutae. “acroteleutia” and “ephymnia”), in which all, women as well as men, heartily joined. These songs, he says, were in various metres (for which he uses a number of technical terms); some were choral, some not; and they were divided into variously constructed strophes or stanzas. Eusebius, who thought that the Theraputae were communities of Christians, says that the Christian practice of his own day was in exact accordance with this description.
The practice, not only of singing hymns, but of singing them antiphonally, appears, from the well-known letter of Pliny to Trajan, to have been established in the Bithynian churches at the beginning of the 2nd century. They were accustomed “stato die ante lucem convenire, Antiphonal singing. carmenque Christo, quasi Deo, dicere secum invicem.” This agrees well, in point of time, with the tradition recorded by the historian Socrates, that Ignatius (who suffered martyrdom about A.D. 107) was led by a vision or dream of angels singing hymns in that manner to the Holy Trinity to introduce antiphonal singing into the church of Antioch, from which it quickly spread to other churches. There seems to be an allusion to choral singing in the epistle of Ignatius himself to the Romans, where he exhorts them, “χορὸς γελῳδίαν” (“having formed themselves into a choir”), to “sing praise to the Father in Christ Jesus.” A statement of Theodoret has sometimes been supposed to refer the origin of antiphonal singing to a much later date; but this seems to relate only to the singing of Old Testament Psalms (τὴν Δαυιδικὴν μελῳδίαν), the alternate chanting of which, by a choir divided into two parts, was (according to that statement) first introduced into the church of Antioch by two monks famous in the history of their time, Flavianus and Diodorus, under the emperor Constantius II.
Other evidence of the use of hymns in the 2nd century is contained in a fragment of Caius, preserved by Eusebius, which refers to “all the psalms and odes written by faithful brethren from the beginning,” as “hymning Christ, the Word of God, as God.” Tertullian also, in his description 2nd century. of the “Agapae,” or love-feasts, of his day, says that, after washing hands and bringing in lights, each man was invited to come forward and sing to God’s praise something either taken from the Scriptures or of his own composition (“ut quisque de Sacris Scripturis vel proprio ingenio potest”). George Bull, bishop of St David’s, believed one of those primitive compositions to be the hymn appended by Clement of Alexandria to his Paedagogus; and Archbishop Ussher considered the ancient morning and evening hymns, of which the use was enjoined by the Apostolical Constitutions, and which are also mentioned in the “Tract on Virginity” printed with the works of St Athanasius, and in St Basil’s treatise upon the Holy Spirit, to belong to the same family. Clement’s hymn, in a short anapaestic metre, beginning στόμιον πώλων ἀδαῶν (or, according to some editions, βασιλεῦ ἁγίων, λόγε πανδαμάτωρ—translated by the Rev. A. Chatfield, “O Thou, the King of Saints, all-conquering Word”), is rapid, spirited and well-adapted for singing. The Greek “Morning Hymn” (which, as divided into verses by Archbishop Ussher in his treatise De Symbolis, has a majestic rhythm, resembling a choric or dithyrambic strophe) is the original form of “Gloria in Excelsis,” still said or sung, with some variations, in all branches of the church which have not relinquished the use of liturgies. The Latin form of this hymn (of which that in the English communion office is an exact translation) is said, by Bede and other ancient writers, to have been brought into use at Rome by Pope Telesphorus, as early as the time of the emperor Hadrian. A third, the Vesper or “Lamp-lighting” hymn (“φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης”—translated by Canon Bright “Light of Gladness, Beam Divine”), holds its place to this day in the services of the Greek rite. 3rd century. In the 3rd century Origen seems to have had in his mind the words of some other hymns or hymn of like character, when he says (in his treatise Against Celsus): “We glorify in hymns God and His only begotten Son; as do also the Sun, the Moon, the Stars and all the host of heaven. All these, in one Divine chorus, with the just among men, glorify in hymns God who is over all, and His only begotten Son.” So highly were these compositions esteemed in the Syrian churches that the council which deposed Paul of Samosata from the see of Antioch in the time of Aurelian justified that act, in its synodical letter to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, on this ground (among others) that he had prohibited the use of hymns of that kind, by uninspired writers, addressed to Christ.
After the conversion of Constantine, the progress of hymnody became closely connected with church controversies. There had been in Edessa, at the end of the 2nd or early in the 3rd century, a Gnostic writer of conspicuous ability, named Bardesanes, who was succeeded, as the head of his sect or school, by his son Harmonius. Both father and son wrote hymns, and set them to agreeable melodies, which acquired, and in the 4th century still retained, much local popularity. Ephraem Syrus, the first voluminous hymn-writer whose works remain to us, thinking that the same melodies might be made useful to the faith, if adapted to more orthodox words, composed to them a large number of hymns in the Syriac language, principally in tetrasyllabic, pentasyllable and heptasyllabic metres, divided into strophes of from 4 to 12, 16 and even 20 lines each. When a strophe contained five lines, the fifth was generally an “ephymnium,” detached in sense, and consisting of a prayer, invocation, doxology or the like, to be sung antiphonally, either in full chorus or by a separate part of the choir. The Syriac Chrestomathy of August Hahn (Leipzig, 1825), and the third volume of H. A. Daniel’s Thesaurus Hymnologicus (Leipzig, 1841–1856), contain specimens of these hymns. Some of them have been translated into (unmetrical) English by the Rev. Henry Burgess (Select Metrical Hymns of Ephrem Syrus, &c., 1853). A considerable number of those so translated are on subjects connected with death, resurrection, judgment, &c., and display not only Christian faith and hope, but much simplicity and tenderness of natural feeling. Theodoret speaks of the spiritual songs of Ephraem as very sweet and profitable, and as adding much, in his (Theodoret’s) time, to the brightness of the commemorations of martyrs in the Syrian Church.
The Greek hymnody contemporary with Ephraem followed, with some licence, classical models. One of its favourite metres was the Anacreontic; but it also made use of the short anapaestic, Ionic, iambic and other lyrical measures, as well as the hexameter and pentameter. Its principal authors were Methodius, bishop of Olympus, who died about A.D. 311, Synesius, who became bishop of Ptolemais in Cyrenaica in 410, and Gregory Nazianzen, for a short time (380-381) patriarch of Constantinople. The merits of these writers have been perhaps too much depreciated by the admirers of the later Greek “Melodists.” They have found an able English translator in the Rev. Allen Chatfield (Songs and Hymns of Earliest Greek Christian Poets, London, 1876). Among the most striking of their works are μνώεο Χριστέ (“Lord Jesus, think of me”), by Synesius; σὲ τὸν ἄφθιτον μονάρχην (“O Thou, the One Supreme”) and τί σοι θέλεις γενέσθαι (“O soul of mine, repining”), by Gregory; also ἄνωθεν παρθένοι (“The Bridegroom cometh”), by Methodius. There continued to be Greek metrical hymn-writers, in a similar style, till a much later date. Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem