"Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”
Some New Testament Texts: 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Mark 14:26; Luke 1:14-17; 1:46-55; 1:68-79; 2:14; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16.
XIII.1IGNATIUS: For your deservedly famous presbytery, worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a harp. Therefore by your concord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is being sung. Now all of you together become a choir so that being harmoniously in concord and receiving the key note from God in unison you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father. (Ephesians 4)
2There is one Physician,
both fleshly and spiritual,
begotten and unbegotten,
God who came in the flesh,
true life in death,
both of Mary and of God,
first passible and then impassible,
Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ibid. 7.2)
3ODES OF SOLOMON 11:
My heart was circumcised
and its flower appeared;
Grace bloomed in it
and it bore fruit to God.
The Most High circumcised me with his Holy Spirit
and exposed my secret parts before him.
He filled me with his love;
his circumcision became for me salvation.
I have run in the way of truth in his peace;
from the beginning to the end I have received his understanding.
I was established on a solid rock
where he placed me.
The murmurring water approached my lips;
I drank from the fountain of the Lord’s life in his abundance.
I became intoxicated with the immortal water,
but my intoxication did not deprive me of reason.
I turned away from vanities to the Most High, my God,
and I was enriched by his gifts.
I forsook the foolishness which lies on the earth;
I stripped it off.
I cast it from me;
the Lord restored me with his own garment.
He reinstated me in his light;
he brought me to life again with his incorruption.
I became as the land
which flourishes and rejoices in its fruits.
The Lord became to me as the sun
upon the face of the earth.
My eyes became bright;
and my face was sprinkled with dew.
My nostrils were gladdened
by the sweet odor of the goodness of the Lord.
He led me into his paradise,
where is the luxurious wealth of the Lord.
[I beheld fruitful trees in season;
their natural growth was their crown.
Their branches flourish and their fruits were rejoicing.
Their roots grow from a deathless land.
A river of joy was watering them;
and I encircle the land of their eternal life.]
I worshipped the Lord
on account of his glory.
And I said, "Lord, blessed are those who have been planted in your land,
who have a place in your paradise,
Who grow in the growth of your trees,
who turned from darkness to light."
Behold, your good laborers make good conversions
from wickedness to what is excellent.
The bitterness of the plants in your earth will be changed;
all things are becoming according to your will.
Blessed are those who perform sacred rites with your waters,
eternal reminders from your faithful servants.
There is much room in your paradise;
and nothing is useless, but all bears fruit.
Glory be to you, O God,
in your paradise of eternal delight.
4ODES OF SOLOMON 16:
As the work of the husbandman is the ploughshare;
And the work of the steersman is the guidance of the ship:
So also my work is the Psalm of the Lord;
My craft and my occupation are in his praises;
Because his love hath nourished my heart,
And even to my lips his fruits he poured out.
For my love is the Lord
And therefore I will sing unto him.
For I am made strong in his praise,
And I have faith in him.
I will open my mouth
And his spirit will utter in me
The glory of the Lord and his beauty;
The work of his hands and the fabric of his fingers;
The multitude of his mercies,
And the strength of his Word.
For the word of the Lord searches out the unseen thing
And scrutinizes his thought.
For the eye sees his works,
And the ear hears his thought.
It is he who spread out the earth,
And settled the waters in the sea:
He expanded the heavens,
And fixed the stars;
And he fixed the creation and set it up. . . . [11 lines omitted]
And there is nothing that is without the Lord;
For he was before any thing came into being.
And the worlds were made by his Word,
And by the thought of his heart.
Glory and honor to his name.
5ODES OF SOLOMON 41:
Let all the Lord’s children praise him,
And let us appropriate the truth of his faith.
And his children shall be acknowledged by him;
Therefore let us sing in his love:
We live in the Lord by his grace;
And life we receive in his Messiah.
For a great day has shined upon us;
And marvellous is he who has given us of his glory.
Let us, therefore, all of us unite together in the name of the Lord;
And let us honor him in his goodness:
And let our faces shine in his light;
And let our hearts meditate in his love,
By night and by day.
Let us exult with the joy of the Lord.
All those that see me will be astonished,
For from another race am I.
For the Father of truth remembered me;
He who possessed me from the beginning.
For his riches begat me, and the thought of his heart:
And his Word is with us in all our way,
The Saviour who makes alive and does not reject our souls:
The man who was humbled, and was exalted by his own righteousness
The Son of the Most High appeared in the perfection of his Father;
And light dawned from the Word
That was before time in Him;
The Messiah is truly one;
And he was known before the foundations of the world,
That he might save souls for ever by the truth of his name:
Let a new song arise from them that love him.
6GREEK MORNING HYMN (GLORIA):
Glory in the heavens to God,
and on earth peace,
to men, favor.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we worship you,
we give thanks to you,
on account of your great glory,
Lord, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty;
Lord, only Son,
and Holy Spirit.
O Lord God,
the Lamb of God,
the Son of the Father,
you who take away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us;
you who take away the sins of the world,
receive our petition;
you who sit on the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.
Because you only are holy,
you only are Lord,
unto the glory of God the Father. Amen.3
Each day I will bless you,
and I will praise your name forever, and forever.
Count us worthy, O Lord, that this day
we may be kept guiltless.
Blessed are you, O Lord the God of our Fathers.
Your name is worthy of praise and is glorified forever. Amen.
Blessed are you, Lord, teach me your judgments. [3 times]
Lord, you have been a place of refuge for us from generation to generation.
I said, Lord, have mercy on me,
heal my soul, because I have sinned against you.
Lord, I have fled to you for protection;
teach me to do your will, because you are my God;
because beside you is a spring of life,
in your light we shall see light;
extend your mercy to those who know you.
7GREEK EVENING HYMN:
Gracious light of the holy glory
of the holy, blessed,
immortal, and heavenly Father,
Having come to the setting of the sun,
seeing the evening light,
we hymn the Father and the Son
and the Holy Spirit of God.
Worthy are you at all times
to be praised with holy voices,
Son of God, the giver of life.
Therefore the world glorifies you.4
8FRAGMENT OF CHRISTIAN HYMN, with musical notations:
Let none of God’s notable [creatures]
. . . . . . . be silent, nor the light bringing stars
cease [from praise] . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . Let all the fountains of rushing rivers praise our
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let all the angels respond, Amen,
Amen. Power, praise,
. . . . . . . to the only Giver of all good things. Amen. Amen.5
Praise is your due,
hymns are your due,
glory is due to you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
due to you always.
10AN ACROSTIC HYMN:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In order that you may receive eternal life.
You have escaped the heavy ordinance of lawless.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . to love.
You have come to the marriage of the King,
Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . in order that you may not be destroyed.
Speak no more in double words
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Some come as sheep
in their manner, but inwardly they are wolves;
recognize them from afar.
Seek to live with the saints,
seek that you may receive life,
seek that you may escape from the fire.
Hold the hope which you have learned;
the day which the Lord set for you
is known to no one.
God, after arranging many things, came;
having won a triple victory over death
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Jesus suffered for these;
having said that I offer my back,
in order that you might not fall in death.
The ordinances of God are good;
they remain for examples in all things
in order that you may receive the good life.
[Jesus] washed in the Jordan,
washed for an example;
he has the pure bath.
Having remained on the mountain he was tempted.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Now work out the inheritance,
now is the time for you to give,
even now to those in great hunger.
God said to care for strangers,
the strangers and the helpless;
show hospitality in order that you may escape the fire.
God sent him in order to suffer.
He received eternal life;
he preached the power of immortality.
He preached the gospel to his servants, saying:
The poor receive the kingdom
to be children, of the inheritance.
He was scourged as an example
in order that he might provide an influence for all;
he has broken death in order that it might be destroyed.
In order that after dying you may see the resurrection,
in order that you may see the eternal light,
in order that you may receive the God of lights.
O the refreshments of those who sorrow,
but, O, the leapings of the unfaithful,
O the fearful fire for the wicked.
You have come under grace freely;
listen to the petitions of the poor;
speak no more arrogantly.
The fire is fearful;
it is always fearful;
the fire is fearful to the wicked.
Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Christ is the support of the saints,
Christ is the fire to the wicked.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sing psalms with the saints;
speak always to feed the soul.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Never forget the things you have learned,
the things that he spoke to you that you might receive.7
11INSCRIPTION OF ABERCIUS:
The citizen of an elect city, I made this tomb
while I was alive so that I might have here a place for my body during time.
Abercius is my name, a disciple of the pure shepherd
who feeds his flock of sheep on hills and plains,
who has large eyes looking around everywhere.
He taught me the faithful writings of life.
He sent me to Rome to behold a kingdom
and to see a queen with golden robe and golden sandals.
I saw a people there who bore a shining seal.
And I saw the plain of Syria and all the cities, even Nisibis,
when I crossed the Euphrates. Everywhere I had companions
and I had Paul as a guide. Everywhere faith led the way
and set before me food, everywhere the fish from the spring,
mighty and pure, whom the pure virgin caught
and gave this to the friends to eat always,
having sweet wine, giving mixed wine with bread.
While standing by, I Abercius said for these things to be inscribed here.
Truly I am seventy-two years old.
May every one who understands and agrees with these things pray for Abercius.8
The Psalms of the Old Testament continued to be used by Christians in their worship (VII.4). In addition, the new religious energy released by Christianity found expression in the creation of many new hymns. New Testament scholarship has now identified several such hymns, or portions of hymns, embedded in the text of the New Testament.9
The same kind of critical analysis has revealed hymnic material in Ignatius (XIII.2 as an example). Ignatius refers to a harp by way of comparison (XIII.1), and that is the only way musical instruments are referred to in the earliest Christian writers. He draws his picture of congregational unity from what he had often experienced–the participation of the whole congregation in singing to God through Christ.10
Quite notable is the Christ-centered and almost confessional character of the earliest Christian hymns. Eusebius quotes an anonymous writer from the late second century who wrote against the heresy that the Savior was only a man and who adduced the hymns of the church as an evidence of its faith: “All the psalms and odes which have been written by faithful brethren from the beginning praise Christ as the Word of God and speak of him as a God.”11 One of the notable things about Christian worship to the Roman governor Pliny was the reciting of hymns to “Christ as to a God” (VII.1). Although prayer was normally addressed to God, hymns were often addressed to Christ (and even the Old Testament Psalms were understood in the church as about Christ). The praise of Christ continued to be a central element in songs produced in the centuries after the New Testament and Ignatius.
Some poetry is included in this chapter, for we do not know what was actually sung in worship. The inscription of Abercius, obviously, was not. Some of the materials that have been called hymnic may not have been sung in worship either. Again, we cannot always make a distinction between prayers and hymns when these are found on papyrus.12 Jews and Christians practiced a cantillation of the Scripture lections as well as the prayers, which makes them approximate hymns.13 Hymns are poetic prayers, and prayers in elevated prose often approximate poetry. Indeed, early Christian poetry and hymns, following their Semitic models, generally do not follow the metric patterns of Greek and Latin poetry, and so may be called “prose hymns.” Some of the formal devices which do appear in developed (Byzantine) Christian usage and which seem to be related to Semitic rather than Greek models are the following: use of acrostics, use of parallelism of clauses, rhyme and similar endings of words giving an effect like rhyme, the same number of syllables in verses of a strophe, and similar placing of strong accent in verses to aid in cantillation. The flourishing of blank verse and other less rigid poetic forms in modern literature may prepare us to appreciate the freer forms of ancient Hebrew and Christian psalmody.
Hymn writing especially flourished in Syriac speaking Christianity.14 Syriac is the language in which the earliest Christian “song book” survives, the collection of forty-two songs known as the Odes of Solomon. The Odes are commonly ascribed to the early second century.15 It can be sustained that they are Christian, not only in present form, but in composition. How the name of Solomon came to be attached to them is something of a mystery. There is no obvious effort in the contents to project back to the historical Solomon. The connection may be nothing more than the fact that Solomon was ascribed a large number of songs (1 Kings 4:32). Or the association of Solomon with Wisdom, and the appearance of Christ as the speaker in some of the Odes, may indicate that the connection comes through an association of Solomon with Christ, the heavenly Wisdom.
Although some of the Odes use the language of the first person singular in reference to religious experience (sometimes this would seem to be Christ who is speaking), they seem to have been designed for corporate worship. In a further effort to give the Odes a context, J. H. Bernard argued that they were used for baptismal services.16 This would seem to go a bit far, but baptismal language and allusions are prominent and many of the songs can be thought of as initiation hymns. It is probably a mistake, however, to think of the collection as having a single setting. In terms of structure, many of the Odes begin with a comparison and end with a Hallelujah (as XIII.4).
The Odes have been suspect of Gnosticism, but this seems an unnecessary inference. They express such pure religious sentiments that almost anyone could have used them, and Christian history exhibits many examples of one group using another’s songs. But there is nothing here that an orthodox writer may not have said. On an early dating the Odes would belong to the spiritual atmosphere in Syria before orthodox and fully Gnostic positions were sharply distinguished, but other scholars see indications of polemic against Marcionites and Manichaeans (third-century dualists). Their spirituality is not unlike that of Ignatius, and there is much the same atmosphere of thought as is found in him.
A good many of the certainly second-century hymns which survive are Gnostic or suspect of Gnosticism. Heretics made good use of the power of popular verse in spreading their ideas.17 And on the purely religious side of its expression, much in Gnosticism made an appeal to a rational spirituality which found a natural expression in elevated poetry. Among these products of Gnostic religious poetry may be mentioned the hymn of Christ with his apostles in the Acts of John,18 the Naassene hymn quoted by Hippolytus,19 and the “Hymn of the Soul” (also known as “Song of the Pearl”) preserved in the later Acts of Thomas.20 Because matters of interpretation would divert us from our main purposes, these have been omitted from our discussion. Bardesanes, at the end of the second century, was known as a prolific writer of hymns in Syriac,21 but later doubts about his orthodoxy meant that his works were not preserved and were replaced by the works of later authors, such as Ephraim the Syrian.
If a conjecture is correct, an addition to second-century hymnic material is to be found in the Bodmer Papyri. On the back of the last page of Melito of Sardis’ sermon On the Passover there is a liturgical fragment:
Praise the Father, you saints!
Sing to the mother [the church?], you virgins!
Let us praise, let us exalt exceedingly, O saints!
You have been exalted, brides and bridegrooms,
Because you have found your bridegroom, Christ.
Drink into the wine, brides and bridegroom,
. . . .22
If this fragment is from Melito, as is what precedes it, then it belongs to the second century. It has been suggested that it was part of a hymn chanted after baptism and after the homily on Exodus 12 but before the eucharist, and that it is referring to the newly baptized who have taken their vows to Christ and become a part of his spouse, the church. The fragmentary nature, of course, leaves all of this speculative. Melito’s sermon itself contains many hymn-like passages, and it is an indication of the indefinite line distinguishing certain types of prose from poetry in the language milieu of early Christianity that Melito’s sermon has been studied in relation to later Byzantine hymnography.23 It is part of a tradition of poetic homilies.
Some present-day hymn books include Clement of Alexandria’s hymn to Christ that concludes his treatise Instructor. “Shepherd of Tender Youth” is sometimes called the “earliest known Christian hymn,” which was not inaccurate for the state of knowledge a century ago. It is evident from the foregoing that this statement is no longer correct. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Clement’s composition was intended for the liturgy of the church. If it was not purely a poetic piece, then it may have been chanted by Clement’s students in his school. Such exercises are known among followers of Hellenistic philosophers, and Clement’s composition would have been a fitting piece for his students.
Turning to compositions which did have a definite liturgical history in the church, we have two ancient hymns from the Greek church which have continued in modern usage, the Gloria and “Hail Gladdening Light” (as it is rendered in some modern hymn books). The Gloria in Latin translation has held a place in the usage of the Western church. The Greek original, with the title “Morning Hymn,” is contained in the biblical codex Alexandrinus, dated early fifth century (XIII.6).24 At the end of the book of Psalms in this codex and in succeeding manuscripts of the Greek Old Testament there are collected the biblical odes (the songs from other parts of the Bible). They were used in addition to the Psalms in worship. Alexandrinus has ten songs from the Greek Old Testament, three from Luke, and then the Gloria, which is the song of the angels in Luke 2:14 expanded for liturgical use. It is possible that the Old Testament songs had been brought together in the pre-Christian period for use in the Hellenistic synagogue, so the collection could be quite early. The position of the Gloria in this collection and in a biblical manuscript would argue that its composition was quite early, at the latest we might think the third century. The exact wording, of course, could be any time up to the date of the manuscript.
There were various expansions of the brief Lukan text as the song was used in worship: Apostolic Constitutions 7.5.47 (63-66), which contains a slightly later form than that preserved in codex Alexandrinus and entitled a “Morning Prayer”; the Latin liturgy; and indeed even to the present it is a favorite text for musical scores. The structure is as follows:
(1) the biblical text,25 (2) praise to the Trinity individually, (3) petition to Christ, and (4) glory to the Father. It looks as if the biblical text was first expanded in words of worship to God; then it was given a Trinitarian form with brief words about Christ and the Holy Spirit; finally, in the manner of confessional statements (Ch. II), a Christological addition was made.
The “Evening Hymn” (XIII.7) has been universally acclaimed as one of the most beautiful pieces from Christian antiquity. It belongs probably to the second century. Basil of Caesarea, who makes the first literary reference to it, refers to the song’s antiquity and is not able to say who its author was. He explains that the words were a thanksgiving spoken at the time of the lighting of the lamps in the evening.26 The hymn is addressed to Christ, the “gracious light” and the “giver of life.”
The acrostic hymn (XIII.10) is found in a papyrus from the early fourth century, and the editors think the date of composition is not likely to be much earlier than the actual manuscript. The hymn is an alphabetic acrostic (from alpha to omega), such as was employed in Old Testament Psalms (e.g. 119). There are twenty-four lines of three members each. Each letter of the Greek alphabet in sequence provides the initial letter of the first word of each of the three members of a line. We have tried to show this feature in the translation by using indentation where the acrostic letter is repeated. The three members of a line each have the same metric quantity. Use of the hymn in a liturgical setting is uncertain. It addresses in the second person singular another believer (perhaps newly baptized ?). The theme is the salvation accomplished through the works of Christ.
The fragmentary third-century papyrus from Oxyrhynchus containing a portion of a Christian hymn with musical notation (XIII.8) is the only thing of its kind from the early centuries of the church. As for contents, it is somewhat exceptional among our surviving remains in its call for all of creation to join in the praise of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.27
The musical notations, however, are what make the fragment unique. We really know very little about how Christians actually rendered their hymns in the earliest centuries. Conclusions are deduced from Jewish singing (most of the sources for which are later than the beginning of the Christian era), Greek music, and the medieval church music (both Latin and Byzantine). From these sources some idea may be obtained of how the singing was probably done.
This technical subject is beyond our intentions here, and we have kept our attention mainly on contents. Some features of the usual musical rendition by Christians, however, should be noted. The performance was more in the nature of what is called a chant than it was melodic. The more melodic compositions are attested only for the fourth century. Even then, the singing was homophonic, and not polyphonic as in modern harmonies. Furthermore, until the latter part of the fourth century the psalms were performed responsorially.28 That is, the main content was sung as a solo by the cantor (psaltēs he was called in the church) with the congregation repeating the last words or responding with a refrain or acclamation. Antiphonal singing in which the congregation was divided into two choirs and chanted alternately came in alongside the responsorial chant in the late fourth century.29
In Christian hymnography the words were the important thing and melodies were adapted to the words. This was possible where the words were chanted and so were not bound to a rigid form of meter. The priority of the words and the form of rendition ensured that the singing was done without instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, an instrument had no function in these simple chants with their emphasis on the content of praise. There is no certain evidence of the use of instruments in the Christian liturgy until the later Middle Ages.30 Because of the associations of musical instruments with immorality and idolatry in the pagan world, the church fathers took a very dim view of them in any setting and interpreted the Old Testament references to instruments in worship either as allegories or as part of the Mosaic dispensation replaced in the Christian dispensation.31
The inscription of Abercius is included as a sample of clearly non-liturgical poetry. It is an epitaph prepared by Abercius for his own tombstone. Abercius was bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia and died around A.D. 200. The complete text of the inscription is contained in a fourth-century “Life of Abercius,” but the major part of the inscription itself has been discovered and placed in the Vatican Museum. Since this inscription was copied, in part, in an inscription dated A.D. 216 and since the general period of Abercius’ life is known, the inscription can be confidently dated at the end of the second century. It is one of our earliest certain Christian inscriptions. Its significant references to Christian faith and practice bear on many of the aspects of church life considered in other chapters: the world-wide Christian fellowship, the seal of baptism (e.g., III.4), the eucharist of bread and mixed wine, Christ born of a virgin, and Christ the good shepherd32 and the fish.33
In these early hymns and poems one can sense the vibrancy and joy in the Christian faith with which “Christ is sung.”
Church, F. Forrester and Terrence J. Mulry. The Macmillan Book of Earliest Christian Hymns. New York: Macmillan, 1988.
Foley, Edward. Foundations of Christian Music: The Music of Pre-Constantinian Christianity. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996.
McGuckin, J. A. At the Lighting of Lamps: Hymns of the Ancient Church. Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1995.
McKinnon, J. W, ed. Music in Early Christian Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Quasten, Johannes. Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity. Washington, DC: National Association of Pastoral Musicians, 1983.
1 Translated from the Greek text edited by Michel Testuz, Papyrus Bodmer X-XII (Geneva, 1959). The manuscript is third century. This is the only one of the Odes for which there is a Greek text. It is entitled simply “Ode of Solomon,” but it agrees substantially with Ode 11 of the Syriac text, except that the lines within the brackets are not represented in the Syriac. I have departed from the markings of the manuscript in my division into lines, for the sake of sense units in English.
2 This selection and the next are quoted from the translation of the Syriac in Rendel Harris and Alphonse Mingana, The Odes and Psalms of Solomon (Manchester, 1920). A more recent edition of the Syriac and English translation is provided by James H. Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon (Missoula [Atlanta]: Scholars Press, 1977) and English translation in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985).
3 The Apostolic Constitutions and manuscript T of the Psalms omit the remainder. It is likely that this remainder represents two separate pieces, marked by the spacing between lines in our translation. So H. Leclercq, “Hymnes,” Dictionnaire d’archéobgie chrétienne et de liturgie, Vol. VI (Paris, 1924), col. 2849.
4 Translated from the Greek text in W. Christ and M. Paranikas, Anthologia graeca carminum christianorum (Leipzig, 1871), p. 40. See Antonia Tripolitis, “Phos Hilaron: Ancient Hymn and Modern Enigma,” Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 24 (1970), pp. 189-196.
5 Edited in Oxyrhynchus Papyri Part XV (London, 1922), pp. 21-25, No. 1786 by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt. In our translation the words in brackets have been supplied to indicate the line of thought probably taken in the omissions but with no pretensions of making a restoration. For an improved edition and discussion of the musical aspects, see E. Wellesz, “The Earliest Example of Christian Hymnody,” Classical Quarterly 39 (1945), pp. 34-45, and A. W. J. Holleman, “The Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1786 and the Relationship Between Ancient Greek and Early Christian Music,” Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 26 (1972), pp. 147.
6 Quoted from A. Hamman, Early Christian Prayers (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1961), p. 145.
7 Our translation is made from Charles Wessely, Les plus anciens monuments du Christianisme écrits sur papyrus in Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. 4 (1907), No. 28, pp. 205ff. The hymn has also been edited and translated by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt in Amherst Papyri I (London: Oxford U. Press, 1900), pp. 23-28, and E. Preuschen, “Ein altchristlicher Hymnus,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Vol. 2 (1901), pp. 73-80.
8 Translated from the text given by H. Leclercq, “Abercius,” Dictionnaire d’archéologle chrétienne et de liturgie, Vol. I (Paris, 1924), col. 74.
9 On Christian use of the Psalms see J. A. Lamb, The Psalms in Christian Worship (London: Faith, 1962), and Everett Ferguson, “Athanasius’ ‘Epistola ad Marcellinum in interpretationem Psalmorum’,” Studia Patristica, Vol. 16.2 (1985), pp. 295-308. Reinhard Deichgräber, Gotteshymnus und Christushymnus in der frühen Christenheit (Göttingen, 1967), and Gottried Schille, Frühchristliche Hymnen (Berlin, 1965), include a great deal more as hymnic than most New Testament scholars do.
10 Socrates, Church History 6.8.95 attributes to Ignatius the introduction of responsive chants (antiphōnōn hymnôn) by the congregation, but his evidence is so late as to be dubious. In any case, the congregation participated; it was only later that choirs gave the responses instead of the congregation. On musical imagery see Robert Skeris, Chroma Theou: On the Origins and Theological Interpretation of the Musical Imagery Used by the Ecclesiastical Writers of the First Three Centuries with Special Reference to the Image of Orpheus (Altötting: Coppenrath, 1976); Everett Ferguson, “The Active and Contemplative Lives: The Patristic Interpretation of Some Musical Terms,” Studia Patristica, Vol. XVI (1985), pp. 15-23; idem, “Toward a Patristic Theology of Music,” Studia Patristica, Vol. XXIV (1993), pp. 263-283.
11 Church History 5.28.6. For prayer and hymns to Christ cf. Origen, On Prayer 14.6-15.1 and Against Celsus 8.67. Sibylline Oracles Book VI (Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. II, pp. 663-664) is a "Hymn to Christ." Daniel Liderbach, Christ in Early Christian Hymns (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1999).
12 A. Hamman, Early Christian Prayers (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1961), contains hymns as well in his collection. “Hymning” was used of non-melodic praise, for example Origen, On Prayer 33.
13 Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1959), p. 26 and chapter 4.
14 Origen, Against Celsus 8.37, says that in the early church each person prayed and sang in his own language.
15 Michel Testuz, the editor of Ode 11 in the Bodmer papyri (XIII.3 and note 1), is among those who favor Greek as the original language of the Odes, but James H. Charlesworth in numerous publications has articulated the current majority view of a Syriac original (in Charlesworth’s wording an “early form of Syriac” “when Aramaic was shaping it”). He also speaks for the larger majority that dates the collection before 125, or at the latest 135. See now his Critical Reflections on the Odes of Solomon, Vol. 1: Literary Setting, Textual Studies, Gnosticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of John (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), pp. 18, 78-136 (on the language), and 283. A third-century date is argued by H. J. W. Drijvers, “Odes of Solomon and Psalms of Mani: Christians and Manicaeans in Third-Century Syria,” Studies in Gnosticism and Hellenistic Religions Presented to Gilles Quispel, ed. R. van den Broek and M. J. Vermaseren (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981), pp, 117-130; cf. his “Facts and Problems in Early Syriac-Speaking Christianity,” The Second Century, Vol. 2 (1982), pp. 157-175 (esp. 166-169); repr. in Everett Ferguson, Missions and Regional Characteristics of the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity, Vol. XII (New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 251-269.
16 Odes of Solomon in Texts and Studies, Vol. 8.3 (Cambridge, 1919).
17 A fourth-century synod at Laodicea, canon 59, sought to forbid any psalms composed by private individuals and not in the canon of Scripture from the services of the church, but this was not effective.
18 Chapters 94-96.
19 Refutation of All Heresies 5.5.
20 Chapters 108-113.
21 The number given is 150, after the number in the Psalter.
22 Othmar Perler, Méliton de Sardes, Sur la Pâque in “Sources Chrétiennes,” No. 123 (Paris, 1966), p. 128. Perler thinks this fragment represents a liturgical dialogue for a Quartodeciman Easter celebration in which the vigil of Saturday night ended with an agapē and eucharist on Sunday morning (cf. Epistle of the Apostles 15). This piece was used before the agapē-Othmar Perler, Ein Hymnus zur Ostervigil von Méliton? “Paradosis” XV (Freiburg, 1960), pp. 88f.
23 See especially Melito’s On the Passover 68-71; 82-83; and 103-105. It is notable that each of these passages has Christ as its theme and might as easily be included in our selection of confessional passages. E. J. Wellesz, “Melito’s Homily on the Passion: An Investigation into the Sources of Byzantine Hymnography,” Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 44 (1943), pp. 41-52.
24 The treatise On Virginity attributed to Athanasius directs that in the morning one is to say the Gloria and quotes the opening lines with the indication that the rest is so familiar, like the Psalms, it need not be quoted in full (ch. 20). B. Capelle, “Le texte du ‘Gloria in Excelsis,”’ Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique, Vol. 44 (1949), pp. 439-457 argues that an ante-Nicene hymn to Christ was transformed into a hymn addressed to the Father.
25 That the meaning of the original in Luke 2:14 was “Peace among men of God’s good pleasure” (i.e. his elect) see Ernst Vogt, ‘“Peace Among Men of God’s Good Pleasure’ Lk. 2:14” in The Scrolls and the New Testament, ed. Krister Stendahl (New York: Harper, 1957), pp. 114-117.
26 On the Holy Spirit 29.73.
27 For a close parallel see Origen, Against Celsus 8.67.
28 In Acts of John 94 referred to in note 18 Jesus instructs that after he sings a verse the apostles are to respond with “Amen,” and so the apocryphal hymn is constructed. Tertullian, On Prayer 27 refers to psalms at the close of which the company responds. Most interesting is Eusebius’ use of Philo’s description of the Therapeutae, a first-century Jewish sect, in On the Contemplative Life (esp. 80). Eusebius (Church History 2.17) thought Philo was really referring to Christians. He mentions their composing “songs and hymns to God in all kinds of meters and melodies” (section 13) and then (22) refers to their customs “which exactly agree with the manner observed by us,” including, “the hymns which we are accustomed to recite, how while one sings in a decorous manner, keeping time, the rest listen in silence and join in singing the endings of the hymns.”
29 Egon Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 35. Basil of Caesarea (d. 379), Letter 207.3 describes antiphonal, responsorial, and unison singing as all employed by his church.
30 James McKinnon, “The Meaning of the Patristic Polemic against Musical Instruments,” Current Musicology, Spring, 1965, pp. 73f., 78f., 80f., based on his unpublished dissertation “The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments,” Columbia University, 1965. The patristic evidence is collected and studied in my A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church, third edition (Ft. Worth: Star Bible Publications, 1999).
31 William Green, “Ancient Comment on Instrumental Music in the Psalms,” Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 1 (1957), pp. 3-8. One notable exception to the uniform patristic condemnation of musical instruments is Clement of Alexandria, Instructor 2.4, but his approval of the lyre is for a private banquet, and early church writers never contemplate instruments in public worship. See also my work referred to in note 30 and the correction of the interpretation of a passage from Gregory of Nyssa sometimes cited as favorable to instruments in my “Words from the PSAL-Root in Gregory of Nyssa,” Studien zu Gregor von Nyssa und der Christlichen Spätantike, ed. Hubertus R. Drobner and Christoph Klock (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990), pp. 57-68.
32 The most common portrayal of Christ in early Christian art is as the Good Shepherd-see, for example, Michael Gough, The Early Christians, “Ancient Peoples and Places” (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), pp. 90ff. See our Plates VII, VIII.
33 There is a striking visual illustration of Abercius’ words in the Catacomb of Callistus where a painting shows a large fish on a small table with one person laying hands on it in blessing and another person standing by with hands uplifted in prayer. The scene evidently represents Christ as the fish present in the church’s eucharist. See our Plate III. For the fish symbolism see page 38, note 5.