Skip to main content
Select Source:

hymn

hymn, song of praise, devotion, or thanksgiving, especially of a religious character (see also cantata).

Early Christian hymnody consisted mainly of the Psalms and the great canticles Nunc dimittis, Magnificat, and Benedictus from the Bible and of the Sanctus, Gloria in excelsis, and Te Deum. These were chanted in unison (see plainsong). Metrical Latin hymnody began with the hymns of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, in the 4th cent. This type of hymn, usually four-line stanzas in iambic tetrameter, was the basis of nearly all Christian hymnody until the 16th cent.

Notable Latin hymns are Corde natus ex parentis by Prudentius in the 4th cent., and Fortunatus' 6th-century processionals, Vexilla regis and Pange lingua (whose meter was imitated in the Pange lingua of St. Thomas Aquinas). From the 11th cent. came Wipo's Easter sequence, Victimae paschali laudes. The Dies irae, probably by Thomas of Celano, and the Stabat Mater dolorosa by Jacopone da Todi are great hymns of the 13th cent.

With the Reformation came the development of Protestant hymnody. The first hymnbooks in the vernacular are probably those published by the followers of John Huss in Bohemia in 1501 and 1505. In 1524 the first Lutheran hymnal was published at Wittenberg. The early Lutheran hymns were translations of Latin hymns, folksongs with new texts, often paraphrases of biblical verses or passages, or sometimes original melodies. Calvinism contributed the Genevan Psalter (final version, 1562). It contained the Psalms, translated into French verse by Clément Marot and Theodore Beza and set to music, most of which was supplied by Louis Bourgeois, who used some original tunes and adapted others. The familiar doxology tune Old Hundredth is the tune of Psalm 134 in this psalter.

The first collection of English church tunes was Sternhold's Psalter (1556), published at Geneva and consisting of metrical versions of the Psalms by Thomas Sternhold (d. 1549) and others, which were set to unharmonized tunes. John Wesley's hymnal (1737) contained metrical psalms, translations from Greek and German, and original lyrics and melodies, and was thus the first hymnal in the modern sense. Other notable English hymnists of the 18th cent. were Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and William Cowper, poets whose hymns are still sung in nearly all Protestant churches. In the 19th cent. there was a revived interest in plainsong that resulted in many translations of ancient Latin hymns, such as those by John Mason Neale.

In America the Puritans used psalters brought with them from Europe until the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the earliest American hymnal, was published at Cambridge, Mass. William Billings wrote the first original American hymns as distinguished from paraphrases of psalms and psalm tunes; another important composer was Lowell Mason, whose song collections, such as Spiritual Songs (1831), compiled jointly with Thomas Hastings, attained wide distribution.

In the latter half of the 19th cent. the gospel hymn was developed (see gospel music). It is marked by lively rhythm, constant alternation of the simplest harmonies, and sentimental text. Arthur Sullivan's "Onward Christian Soldiers" (1871) is a well-known example of the martial hymn of the period. In the 20th cent. radical variations in church music have emerged: folk-song and jazz elements have been integrated with older music and frequently replaced it. Troubadour-style "protest" songs with theological content were common in the 1960s alongside a newly vital, more conservative hymnody.

See A. E. Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns (1950); H. W. Foote, Three Centuries of American Hymnody (1940, repr. 1968); L. F. Benson, The English Hymn (1915, repr. 1987); I. Bradley, ed., The Book of Hymns (1989); W. J. Reynolds, Songs of Glory (1989).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymn

"hymn." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymn

Hymns

HYMNS

HYMNS. Hymns, original religious poems intended for singing in public or private, were very widely known and used in early modern Europe. As well as embodying communal religious feeling across class barriers, they were the sole form of musical expression in many a devout family and institution.

THE LATIN HYMN

The familiar metrical form in several stanzas is credited to St. Ambrose (c. 340397). Medieval hymns were sung by priest and choir at mass or office. Their plainsong tunes, repeated with each stanza, later became the basis of polyphonic compositions in several vocal parts. In the sixteenth century and after, many composers published hymn settings. Instruments were generally added after 1600: an outstanding example is "Ave maris stella" (Hail, star of the sea) from Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers (1610).

THE LUTHERAN HYMN

A key aspect of Martin Luther's theology was the praise of God with understanding, and (following Jan Hus) he promoted a kind of singing in worship that could be understood, and if possible, joined by the congregation. The texts must be in the vernacular and in simple diction; the tunes were often adapted folk songs, or were composed in a popular style by Luther himself or by one of the skilled musicians among his followers. In hymns like "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God) Luther literally planted the Christian message, as he saw it, in the people's mouths and hearts. Many of his hymns ("chorales"), and those of a distinguished line of successors including Philipp Nicolai (15561608) and Paul Gerhardt (16071676), have been in continuous use, firmly wedded to their early tunes. Like their medieval precursors, they were used as a basis for more elaborate compositions by such men as Michael Praetorius (15711621) and Samuel Scheidt (15871654). Above all, Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750) displayed a seemingly inexhaustible creativity in the treatment of hymn melodies in his organ chorales (often misnamed "chorale preludes"), fantasias, cantatas, and passions.

THE ENGLISH HYMN

Because of the predominantly Calvinist theology of the early Church of England, hymns of "human composure" had to give way to metrical paraphrases of the psalms in Anglican worship. Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins's The Whole Booke of Psalmes (London, 1562) did, however, include a few anonymous hymns in an appendix, nominally for domestic use, and there is evidence that the pre-Reformation custom of the communion hymn survived in Anglican worship. The now widely sung hymns of George Herbert (15931633) and Thomas Ken (16371711) were intended for private use only, or even for silent reading. Hymns in worship were championed by the Independent Isaac Watts (16741748), and by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, whose brother Charles (17071788) has a claim to be the greatest hymn writer in the English language. These leaders championed a vigorous, heartfelt singing by women as well as men, which was in striking contrast to the then-current Anglican mode of singing. The Wesleys adapted tunes from any available source, including theater pieces, concert music, and folk song.

See also Church of England ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Methodism ; Wesley Family .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, Warren, et al. "Hymn." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie, 29 vols. 2nd ed. London, 2001, vol. 12, pp. 1735.

Benson, Louis F. The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship. Richmond, Va., and London, 1915.

Nicholas Temperley

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hymns." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hymns." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymns-0

"Hymns." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymns-0

hymns

hymns. In the sense in which most people understand the word, hymns are overwhelmingly a product of the 18th cent. They have been described as sacred poetry set to music, and have always been part of the Christian tradition, and the Jewish from which it derived. The psalms and specially composed sacred songs were certainly widespread in Christian worship by the 4th cent., and there is evidence to suggest that some passages in the New Testament, e.g. Ephesians 5, are actually quotations from hymns already in use within a generation or two of the lifetime of Christ.

Hymns in the early and medieval church were less expressions of personal or corporate devotion, than associated with the daily offices sung by members of monastic communities. In England the Reformation saw their virtual disappearance from public worship. There was a deep-seated prejudice against the use of non-scriptural language among many protestants, but the 16th and 17th cents. saw the composition of metrical versions of the psalms, notably by Sterhold and Hopkins (1557) and Tate and Brady (1696). These attained widespread popularity and were bound in with many editions of the Book of Common Prayer.

The work of Isaac Watts and John and Charles Wesley revived the popularity of congregational hymn-singing, and Wesley's Collection of 1737 is widely regarded as the first hymnal as we understand it. Suspicion of hymnody remained among many Anglicans, who associated it with evangelical ‘enthusiasm’, and not until Hymns Ancient and Modern, a fruit of the tractarian movement and Anglo-catholic revival, appeared in 1861 was this finally overcome.

Since then the writing of hymns and the publishing of collections has gone on apace among Christians of all traditions, though the appearance of many repetitive ‘choruses’ alongside hymns expressive of doctrine or personal devotion in recent years, whilst embraced enthusiastically by some, has been viewed with distaste by others.

Revd Dr John R. Guy

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymns." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymns." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymns

"hymns." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymns

Hymns

Hymns

Christianity

The use of poetry, or metrical prose, in worship may be detected in the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians 5. 14, 19). A 3rd-cent. writer (perhaps Hippolytus) refers to ‘Psalms and odes such as from the beginning were written by believers, hymns to the Christ, the Word of God, calling him God’ (Eusebius, History 5. 28. 5).

Latin hymns appear later than Greek. The most famous of early ones, the Te Deum, is written in rhythmical prose. Hymns were admitted into the Roman office in the 13th cent.

The Reformation affected greatly the development of hymns. Many were written by Luther (imitating the pattern of medieval secular music), by P. Gerhardt, and others. Since Calvinism resisted anything but the words of scripture in its services, the Psalms were converted into metrical versions.

The practice of hymn-singing was encouraged and developed by the Methodists, and soon spread among the Evangelical party of the Church of England.

The 19th cent. saw the establishment of hymn-singing in all parts of the Anglican church. Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) was an eclectic collection that set the pattern for most modern hymnals. In virtually all parts of the Church there has developed a wide use of chorus-type hymns in a modern idiom.

Sikhism

Sikh worship consists mainly of kīrtan, singing the hymns comprising the Ādi Granth. Gurū Nānak is popularly represented singing his compositions to Mardānā's accompaniment. See AṢṬAPADĪ; CHAUPAD; CHHANT; RĀG; RĀGĪ; ŚABAD; ŚALOK; SAVAYYE; VĀR.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hymns." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hymns." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymns

"Hymns." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymns

hymn

hymn. Song of praise to the deity or a saint. Particularly assoc. with Anglican church where words and melodies of hymns are especially popular for congregational singing. Books of hymns and hymn-tunes of special significance are Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861 and many subsequent edns.), The Yattendon Hymnal (Bridges, 1899), The English Hymnal (1906, rev. 1933, mus. ed. Vaughan Williams, in which some folk tunes were adapted as hymn-tunes), and Songs of Praise (1925, rev. 1931, mus. ed. Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw). In Eng. hymn-books, tunes are given an identifying title such as a Latin translation, or the name of a town or village, e.g. Down Ampney ( Vaughan Williams's birthplace) is title of his Come down, O love divine.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn

"hymn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn

hymn

hymn / him/ • n. a religious song or poem, typically of praise to God or a god: a Hellenistic hymn to Apollo. ∎  a formal song sung during Christian worship, typically by the whole congregation. ∎  a song, text, or other composition praising or celebrating someone or something: a most unusual passage like a hymn to the great outdoors. • v. 1. [tr.] praise or celebrate (something): Johnson's reply hymns education. 2. [intr.] rare sing hymns. DERIVATIVES: hym·nic / ˈhimnik/ adj.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn-1

"hymn." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn-1

hymn

hymn . XIII ME. imne, ymme — OF. ymne — L. hymnus — Gr. húmnos song in praise of a god or hero. The later form was refash. after L. Hence vb. XVII.
So hymnal XV. — medL. hymnāle (imnale). hymnody singing or composing of hymns XVIII; body of hymns XIX. — medL. — Gr. humnōidíā (cf. ODE). hymnographer, hymnology XVII. — Gr.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn-2

"hymn." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn-2

hymn

hymn Song of praise or gratitude to a god or hero. The oldest forms are found in ancient Egyptian and Greek writings and in the Old Testament psalms of rejoicing. In strict Christian church usage, hymns are religious songs sung by the choir and congregation in a church, distinct from a psalm or a canticle. Hymns, both old and new, are now regular features of church services.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymn

"hymn." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hymn

hymn

hymn a religious song or poem, typically of praise to God or a god. Recorded from Old English, the word comes via Latin from Greek humnos ‘ode or song in praise of a god or hero’, used in the Septuagint to translate various Hebrew words, and hence in the New Testament and other Christian writings. (See also sing from the same hymn sheet.)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn

"hymn." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn

hymn

hymnbedim, brim, crim, dim, glim, grim, Grimm, gym, him, hymn, Jim, Kim, limb, limn, nim, prim, quim, rim, scrim, shim, Sim, skim, slim, swim, Tim, trim, vim, whim •poem • goyim • cherubim • Hasidim •seraphim, teraphim •Elohim • Sikkim • Joachim • prelim •forelimb • Muslim • Blenheim •paynim • minim • pseudonym •homonym • anonym • synonym •eponym • acronym • antonym •metonym • Antrim • megrim •Leitrim • pilgrim • Purim • interim •passim • maxim • kibbutzim •Midrashim • literatim •seriatim, verbatim •victim •system • ecosystem • subsystem •item • Ashkenazim

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"hymn." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"hymn." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn-0

"hymn." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hymn-0