The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christmas Hymns from John Brownlie

A significant body of Christmas-tide translations, described as “Hymns from the Office Books of The Holy Eastern Church,” were created in the early 20th century by the Rev. John Brownlie. He issued a series of six books of translations, including:

In this endeavor, Rev. Brownlie was expanding on earlier work done by Rev. John Mason Neale, notably in his Hymns of the Eastern Church. In the introduction, Rev. Brownlie wrote:

Thirty-eight years ago, Dr. John Mason Neale published his Hymns of the Eastern Church, and for the first time English readers were introduced to the priceless gems of Greek hymnody. At the close of his preface he throws out a challenge which, as far as the present writer is aware, has not yet been taken up. He says: ‘And while fully sensible of their imperfections, I may yet, by way of excuse rather than of boast, say, almost in Bishop Hall’s words—

I first adventure: follow me who list,
And be the second Eastern Melodist.”’

It would be presumptuous to believe that the translations which follow are in any particular a worthy answer to that challenge; but the translator can honestly say that they are a very earnest attempt to acquaint English readers still further with the valuable praise literature which lies buried in the service-books of the Greek Church, and they constitute the first real attempt in that direction since Dr. Neale issued his collection in 1862.

All six of Brownlie's Eastern works can be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Works by John Brownlie, and the Internet Archive, John Brownlie. Copies of Hymns of the Greek Church and Hymns from the East may also be found at Project Gutenberg.

An additional volume of translations "Hymns and Poetry of the Eastern Church" was published by Rev. Bernhard Pick in 1908 (a copy is available at Google Books). I will be exploring that volume for additional Christmas-tide content.

According to the article "English Hymnody: Its Later Developments" by Louis F. Benson (Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 8, pp. 353-388, 1910), another contributor to the genre of Eastern hymnology translation was Dr. Richard F. Littledale who in 1867 published The People's Hymnal, containing not less than 28 Greek hymns. Benson also mentioned Allen William Chatfield, Songs and Hymns of the Earliest Greek Poets (London: Rivingtons, 1876). Note that this article was also incorporated into Benson's The English Hymn (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1915); see p. 505.

Rev. Brownlie wrote that his collections contains specimens of some of the following types of musical forms:—

The Canon (κανών). This is the most elaborate form into which the praise of the Greek Church is cast. A canon consists, nominally, of nine odes or hymns, but the second ode is always omitted on account of [20] the denunciations of God against Israel which it contains. The canons of the Great Fast are made up of those rejected odes.

Hirmos (εἱρμός) is the first stanza of each ode. It may or may not have a connection with the stanzas following, but its function is to give them their rhythmical model.

Troparion (τροπάριον). The Troparia are the stanzas which follow the Hirmos, and the term is doubtless derived from the verb τρέπω, to turn. The Troparia turn to the strophes of the Hirmos, as to a model.

Contakion (κοντάκιον) is a term of uncertain origin. Contakia occur after the sixth ode of a canon. They are short hymns, and the term may be derived from the Latin Canticum.

Stichera (στιχηρά) designates a series of verses which are often taken from the Psalter.

Idiomelon (ἰδιόμελον). Unlike Troparia, which follow the model set by the Hirmos, Idiomela follow no model.

Stichera Idiomela are a collection of irregular verses.

Antiphon (ἀντίφωνον) is, as is well known, a hymn sung alternately by the choir, which is divided for that purpose into two parts.

The Christmas-tide hymns translated by Rev. Brownlie in these six volumes include:

  1. A Band of Herdsmen Tarried Late

  2. Behold the Bridegroom Cometh - Brownlie

  3. Behold the Bridegroom! Hark The Cry

  4. The Best That Heaven Could Bring

  5. Bethlehem Rejoices

  6. Christ is Born, Go Forth To Meet Him

  7. Come, Let Us Sing With Joyful Mirth

  8. Firm Through The Endless Years

  9. Gladness Fills The World This Morn

  10. Glory In The Highest!

  11. Hail The Morn! Let Praises Cheerful

  12. Hail to the King, Who Comes in Weakness Now

  13. Hail to the Morn That Dawns On Eastern Hills

  14. Hark! Upon the Morning Breezes

  15. He Came Because the Father Willed

  16. Herdsmen Keeping Lonely Vigil

  17. In The Bliss of Old Predicted

  18. In The Early Morning

  19. Jerusalem, Rejoice!

  20. The King Is On His Journey

  21. Light Upon Our Gloom Arising

  22. Lo, the Clouds of Night Are Rending

  23. The Longing Eyes That Sought The Light

  24. The Lord Of Life To Earth Came Down

  25. Now The King Immortal

  26. O Come Let Us Adore

  27. O Light Resplendent of the Morn

  28. O Love Supreme, Exceeding Broad

  29. Out From The Rising Of The Sun

  30. Over Trackless Regions

  31. Rosy Dawn, With Locks of Gold

  32. Thy Birth Upon Our World Hath Given

  33. Wake, My Soul! In Careless Slumber

  34. What Shall We Bring To Thee

  35. When O’er the World Augustus Reigned

  36. When With Powers of Heaven Attending

  37. Ye Saints, Exult With Cheerful So

  38. Zion Is Glad This Glorious Morn

Also available on this site are a number of Latin hymns. See:

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