The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Latin Hymns of the Christian Church

 Preface

A minister in the Church of England in the early 1800s, John Chandler felt trapped by the rigidity of the Church, which refused to sing almost any hymn unless it was based on the 150 psalms of David as framed by Tate and Brady since the 1600s in their A New Version of the Psalms of David.  Beautiful as they were, Chandler felt that additional hymns would enhance the spiritual expression of the Church.

Hoping to supplement the Psalter with other hymns, Chandler began looking for hymns that displayed a certain degree of joy, reverence, devotion, and appropriate Christian teaching, but was frustrated by hymnals then published, together with the lack of leadership from within his own church.

His response was to seek out Latin hymns from the early church as contained in Breviaries and collections of Latin hymns such as the Parisian Breviary (Breviarium Romanum, as early as 1542) and Geogius Cassander's book of Latin hymns, Hymni Ecclesiasticus, 1556. Chandler struck a vein of gold that others would also mine throughout the 19th century.

However, Latin hymns are no less vulnerable to "editing" by well meaning editors, and the student of the subject would be well served by remaining flexible when examining any texts. Because of their age, it is sometimes impossible to determine which text is "the" text composed by the original author. Plus, of course, there is always the problem of fingers that go faster than brains — and I am a perfect exampele ;) of this — resulting in the unfortunate mangling of texts. Spell checkers are of little help in such cases.

All collections contain more than Christmas-tide hymns; all collections are available from either Google Books or the Internet Archive or both. Some collections may also be available at Project Gutenberg or similar sites.

The most recent Latin version of the Divine Office — now called the Liturgy of the Hours, promulgated by Pope Paul VI — is available on-line: Liturgia Horarum. I believe that the English translations are under copyright, but I'm still looking at this issue. There is a Wikipedia article that discusses the history of this traditional prayer of Christians: the Liturgy of the Hours.

Herewith, then, are a few of these collections and their reverent translations.

Collections

John Chandler, The Hymns of the Primitive Church (1837)

Richard Mant, Ancient Hymns from the Roman Breviary (1871)

Isaac Williams, Hymns Translated from the Parisian Breviary (1839)

See also:

For a listing that has the hymns sorted according to their position within the expanded Christmastide season, see: Latin Hymns in the Seasons of the Church Year.

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Latin Hymns on The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

 

Notes:

See also:

An excellent Latin resource is Michael Martin, "Thesaurus Precum Latinarum: Treasury of Latin Prayers," Latin hymns are found on his Hymni page. He has many other excellent resources for the Latin student or scholar. His Links page is worth checking out, too.

Rev. John Brownlie had an interest in the hymns of the Eastern Christians and provided the Latin church with numerous translations. See: Eastern Christmas Hymns from John Brownlie.

Because a number of Latin hymns are performed in the context of the recitation of the Daily Office (a.k.a. "The Liturgy of the Hours"), here's a quick look at the "hours" of the Daily Office:

The hours have been a part of Christian practice from the beginnings, continuing the prayer pattern of the Jews.

"In the morning I offer you my prayer"

"Evening, morning and at noon I will cry and lament"

"Seven times a day I praise you"

"At midnight I will rise and thank you"

In the 4th Century, six of these hours were specified in the Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 4, Paragraph 34, which provides in part:

XXXIV. Offer up your prayers in the morning, at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, the evening, and at cock-crowing:

  • in the morning, returning thanks that the Lord has sent you light, that He has brought you past the night, and brought on the day;

  • at the third hour, because at that hour the Lord received the sentence of condemnation from Pilate;

  • at the sixth, because at that hour He was crucified;

  • at the ninth, because all things were in commotion at the crucifixion of the Lord, as trembling at the bold attempt of the impious Jews, and not bearing the injury offered to their Lord;

  • in the evening, giving thanks that He has given you the night to rest from the daily labours;

  • at cock-crowing, because that hour brings the good news of the coming on of the day for the operations proper for the light.

This organization, and the prayers themselves, have been subject to numerous changes throughout the centuries. Here are a couple of articles at Wikipedia that might shed some additional light: Canonical Hours and Liturgy of the Hours.

Two Latin Dictionaries

For those of us lacking a classical education, or for those whose education was some years ago, here are two — of many — Latin dictionaries.

 

Links to Latin Hymn Sources

Anonymous, Hymni Latini (London: Wm Clowes & Sons, 1906)

John Chandler. The Hymns of the Primitive Church (1837) (PDF at Google Books; Not at the Internet Archive)

John David Chambers, Lauda Syon-Ancient Latin Hymns (1857) (PDF at Google Books; Not at the Internet Archive)

John Brownlie, Hymns of the Early Church (1913) (PDF at Google Books)
John Brownlie, Hymns of the Early Church (1896) (PDF at Internet Archive)
John Brownlie, Hymns of the Early Church (1913) (HTML at Project Gutenberg)
John Brownlie, Hymns of the Early Church (1913) (ePub at Project Gutenberg)
John Brownlie, Hymns of the Early Church (1913) (Plain Text at Project Gutenberg)

Thomas George Crippen, Ancient Hymns and Poems: Chiefly from the Latin (1868) (Google Books; Not at the Internet Archive)

Hermann Adalbert Daniel, Thesaurus hymnologicus sive hymnorum canticorum sequentiarum. 5 Volumes.  (J.T. Loeschke, 1855-6):

Richard Mant, Ancient Hymns from the Roman Breviary (1871) (PDF at Google Books)
Richard Mant, 
Ancient Hymns from the Roman Breviary (1871) (PDF at Internet Archive)

Francis Andrew March, Latin Hymns With English Notes (1894) (PDF at Internet Archive)
Francis Andrew March, Latin Hymns With English Notes (1894) (PDF at Google Books)

William A. Merrill, Latin Hymns (1904) (PDF at Internet Archive)
William A. Merrill, Latin Hymns (1904) (PDF at Google Books)

Ruth Ellis Messenger, Christian Hymns of the First Three Centuries, (1942) (PDF at Internet Archive; not at Google Books)
Ruth Ellis MessengerChristian Hymns of the First Three Centuries (1942) (HTML at Project Gutenberg)
Ruth Ellis MessengerChristian Hymns of the First Three Centuries (1942) (ePub at Project Gutenberg)
Ruth Ellis MessengerChristian Hymns of the First Three Centuries (1942) (Plain Text at Project Gutenberg)

Robert Maude Moorsom, A Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient and Modern (1903) (Internet Archive; not at Google Books)

John Mason Neale, Hymni ecclesiae (1851) (PDF @ Google Books)
John Mason Neale, Hymni ecclesiae (1851) (HTML at Project Gutenberg)
John Mason Neale, Hymni ecclesiae (1851) (ePub at Project Gutenberg)
John Mason Neale, Hymni ecclesiae (1851) (Plain Text at Project Gutenberg)

Richard Chenevix Trench, Sacred Latin Poetry (1864) (Internet Archive)
Richard Chenevix Trench, Sacred Latin Poetry (1864) (Google Books)

James Van Buren, Latin hymns in English verse : with short biographical sketches of their authors (1904)
James Van Buren, 
Latin Hymns in English Verse-1904 (Internet Archive)
James Van Buren, 
Latin Hymns in English Verse (1904) (Google Books)

Isaac Williams, Hymns Translated from the Parisian Breviary (1839) (PDF at Google Books; Not at the Internet Archive)

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