16 September 2016

A Fascinating Monograph

This afternoon I came upon by chance a little volume in the LCMS Worship library titled The Praise of the Virgin in Early Latin Hymns. It's by Dr. Ruth Ellis Messenger and was published back in 1944. I read through it with some interest. She was quite manifestly sympathetic to the sort of hymns to the Virgin that Roman Catholics are quite familiar with, and I assume she might have been a Roman Catholic. Which makes her monograph all the more fascinating, for she patently demonstrates that until the 9th century, the Blessed Virgin was not addressed in hymnody (save for a sole line in Fortunatus, that is an apostrophe of praise rather than an appeal). The hymnody was addressed to the Blessed Trinity, though Mary's place in the story of salvation was often told. And even for the ninth century, she admits that no manuscripts she had access to included Ave, Maris Stella which she dates from that century and notes is the hinge from which other more exuberant praises of the Virgin begin to take root in the West. She writes (p. 10) "a new note, characteristic of the future, is also heard. The mother is implored to use for mortals her great influence with the Son." 

You can imagine a Lutheran would read this with great interest. Wait, you mean that the ancient Western Church for hundreds and hundreds of years actually sang hymns like we have in our hymnal (well, any number of them are from those days!), where the Virgin's place in the economy of Redemption is celebrated and rejoiced in, but where the focus is and remains upon the work of the Second Person of the Trinity, and where she is not invoked? Well, it was a book on Latin hymns so the Lutheran might be pardoned for smiling and saying: "sic ego dixi vobis."


Chris said...

What hymns in the Lutheran repertoire, save for Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, actually address the Virgin and give her the praise which is due to her? Also, consider that this is from 1944 and I can assure you that the manuscript tradition of hymns from the Middle Ages and before has grown quite substantially so I would take her "conclusion" cum grano salis. Also, keep in mind that even IF this were true in the Western church (and that's really a big if since Lutherans seem to be oblivious to the fact that not everything was written down, music included and that so much has been lost) that there is a great continuity of hymns to the Virgin which do which she says wasn't done in the West until later since the beginning. Keep in mind also that a lot of western hymnody wasn't developed until later because of the great amount of Byzantine hymns still in use in Western Europe until the 8th century.

William Weedon said...

Hi, Chris. Mary is also addressed in the hymn "The Angel Gabriel" in the third stanza:

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
"To me be as it pleases God," she said.
"My soul shall laud and magnify God's holy name."
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

But that we only have two hymns that apotrophize the Virgin actually rather well matches the fact that in all those centuries in the West, apparently only one line from Fortunatus did so. It was a much later development in Latin hymnody that moved in the direction of Ave, Maris Stella.

And because Lutherans continue to make big use of the old Latin office hymns, the speaking ABOUT the Virgin rather than TO her also characterizes our hymns. But she is MUCH spoken of in our hymns. You know all the older hymns that do this (Savior of the Nations, From East to West, Lo How a Rose, etc.). Two of the newer hymns that fit the pattern:

We sing with joy of Mary,
Whose heart with awe was stirred
When, youthful and astonished,
She heard the angel's word.
Yet she her voice upraises
To magnify God's name,
As once for our salvation
Your mother she became.

We sing of Mary, mother,
Fair maiden, full of grace.
She bore the Christ, our brother,
Who came to save our race.
May we, with her, surrender
Ourselves to Your command
And lay upon Your altar
Our gifts of heart and hand.

Certainly Dr. Messenger acknowledged that the East went a different route far earlier. But Lutherans in using those older hymns and in restricting themselves to the model they provide in our own newer compositions, are fitting into a pattern that St. Ambrose or St. Augustine or St. Gregory the Great would feel right at home with.

Joanne said...

Liturgical chant coming from the Greek-speaking East in the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries arrived in the West in Greek texts and Greek chanting styles. This is a time when the Roman Empire, though centered in the East, was still very much in evidence in Italy and many Greek monasteries in Italy were the transmitters for things Greek, going west. The cult of Mary, the Virgin Mother, is said to have traveled from East to West.

The Latin-speaking Italians translated the texts into Latin, though some remained in Greek. They also used their own chanting style, Old Roman Chant, though that continued to sound very similar to the Greek sound. I made a quick and cursory survey of all the Old Roman Chants that I can find on YouTube, looking for Marian chants that might be TO as opposed to ABOUT. I didn't see any TO Mary at first glance. Although some people give Old Roman Chant later dates, I am inclined to significantly earlier dates. The difference in the treatment of Mary between what may be earlier (Old Roman Chant) and later (Gregorian/Carolingian Chant) could be informative of a change in Marian treatment. Surely this has been done over and over.

Here's a link to a well done kyrie in Old Roman. Sounds Greek to me.