The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Devotions of the Abyssinian Church

William Chatterton Dix

Source: The Monthly Packet of Evening Readings for Members of the English Church. New Series, Volume 6 (July-December, 1868) (London: John and Charles Mozley, 1868), "Devotions of the Abyssinian Church," pp. 4-7.

I have thought it would not be uninteresting to bring before the readers of The Monthly Packet some selections from translations of the Hymnal of Jared, having already called attention to several of them in the pages of a contemporary. The resources of the Degua or Hymnal are so great, that anything like sameness or repetition need not be feared.

These compositions appear in their unrhymed form in a reprint from the 'Journal of Sacred Literature,' by a London Rector.

Although the very interesting Prayers and Offices do not come within the scope of my remarks, I cannot refrain from giving two or three extracts from an Evening Prayer.

'We will praise Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast continued us the livelong day,
And hast delivered us from all wherein we have gone astray,
And hast fed us with our daily food, and hast brought us to our rest.
Thou hast thought upon us, O Thou Shepherd, that neither slumberest nor sleepest, Whom no darkness darkeneth.
Shield us by Thy majesty, and protect us under the shadow of Thy wings, and number us among Thy sheep, whom Thou leadest out by day into Thy blessing and bringest home at night into the repose of Thy mercy.
We will be as blessed sheep who rejoice in our condition,
And we will be as the good son who loved his father, and not as the wicked son who provoked his hand to anger;
And we will render praises to Tiiee when we come to our rest, whither Thy holy Right Hand is leading us.'

I cannot help thinking that these beautiful words of prayer, (so unlike the unbridled expressions of modern religionism) must lead to a favourable reception of these specimens of the praises of the Abyssinian Church.

The simple yet sublime piety which breathes in these petitions is most touching, but not more so than that contained in a Sabbath-day hymn, a specimen of the prose of which I subjoin :—

The Lord of the Sabbath went up on ship-board;
He bridled the might of the winds;
He rebuked the sea;
It heard its Creator's Voice and was still,
And on the Sabbath was a great calm.

For the rest of this prose, beautiful in its very simplicity, I must refer the reader to Mr. Rodwell's pamphlet. I have attempted to render it into verse, taking, as the leading idea, the rebuking of the storm by our Blessed Lord.

Raged the winds, the waves in madness
Brake upon the rock-bound shore:
Weary grew the anxious sailors,
Shaping course and plying oar,
Striving hard to save their vessel,
As they never strove before.

Then the sea's Creator hastened,
Came on board the ship to bless;
Came the mighty winds to bridle,
Came to soothe the heart-distress;
And the angry deep rebuking,
Made the waves His power confess.

Now another Sabbath morning
Breaks upon our gladdened eyes;
Though our days pass like a shadow,
Here is shown us Paradise;
Day, which better than a thousand,
Never dawning, never dies.

Though the six days rage around us,
Comes the Master with His calm,
Making this, His own, so peaceful,
Glad with prayer and holy psalm:
Many a storm and well-nigh shipwreck,
But to day Heaven's shore and palm.

With the Cross of Christ for comfort,
By the Bread of Heaven refresht;
Be Jerusalem my city,
On Mount Zion be my rest;
Storm and tempest hushed for ever,
In the House of God a guest.

Truly we may gather from all orthodox sources (as e. g. this Abyssinian Hymnal) those gems which lie enshrined in Offices and Liturgies, and which the learning and piety of the devout from time to time disclose.

I cannot help expressing my opinion, though no doubt it is not a popular one, (I mean with those whose studies lie in the direction of Hymnology,) that German hymns are, as a rule, rather disappointing: at any rate, we have obtained the best of them. Those conversant with the 'Lyra Germanica,' 'Hymns from the Land of Luther,' and the 'Chorale Book for England,' (an ambitious title,) will, I think, agree with me in bewailing their monotony and occasional poverty. Still, without doubt we owe many fine hymns to German sources.

Neither are we free from obligation to French, Italian, and even Spanish authors. Nor would I wish to withhold from pious Nonconformist writers the meed of praise which is their due. Indeed it would be ungenerous not to confess that when Churchmen were satisfied with Tate and Brady, the more exalted and fervent strains of the Wesleys, of Watts, (though I can admire but few of the Doctor's compositions,) of Newton, and of Toplady, among others, were the spiritual songs of Dissenters. But the great revival of religion within our own Communion has changed all this; and, as in other matters, so in this, the English Church offers of the best to her Divine Lord, gathering with devout hands things new and old from her treasury, and in the spirit of true Catholicity making her own, her 'comrades' songs' of East and West.

Having gained so much from Latin and Greek sources, surely our collections may now be enriched from the Ethiopic.

From a magnificent composition entitled 'The Vigil of the Four Beasts,' I append the following centos, which may perhaps form a hymn not unsuitable for the commemoration of Holy Angels:—

The watcher-angels slumber not,
They celebrate God's might;
Stand round about th' Eternal Throne,
Or speed on wheels of light.

And when they to our world descend,
There sounds no voice—no word;
No trace of footfall on the wind,
No rustling wing is heard.

Beside the river Chebar's banks,
Of old Ezekiel saw
The Cherubel who bare the Throne
In majesty and awe.

'Twas when the Heavens were stretched abroad,
Like tent for dwelling meet;
God set the Angels there to stand,
And worship at His Feet.

The voices of that mighty host
Break like the water's force,
When Cherubel and Seraphel
Their praises chant in course.

The Stone the builders all refused,
The Father chose for Chief:
He on His angel-throne Who sits
And pleads for man's relief.

He stretched His Hands upon the Cross,
Whom thousands now adore,
While Seraphel encircle Him,
And nine-fold ranks adore.

I have only to add that if any like to pursue this branch of hymnology, they will find much interesting matter, beside a great deal of good material, in 'Ethiopic Prayers, No. n.' a reprint, as I have before said, from the Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record.

Wm. Chatterton Dix

Editor's Note.

The original prose version by Rodwell of "The Vigil of the Four Beasts" appeared in B. Harris Cowper, ed., The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record. Vol. VIII (New Series), No. 16 (London: Williams and Norgate, 1866), Rev. J. M. Rodwell, "Translations from the Aethoiopic," January 1866, "The Vigil of the Four Beasts," pp. 329-330. (Copies available at both the Internet Archive and Google Books)

The Vigil of the Four Beasts

These four together bless the God of righteousness,
They all praise and celebrate His might,
Saying, Holy Trinity,

Glory be to God on high,
The earth is full of His glory.
Isaiah said, “I saw the Seraphim encircling Him.”
Ezekiel said, “I beheld the four beasts.”

With two wings they flew,
The wheels sped along;
The earth was filled with His glory,
And His splendour covered the heavens.

Halleluiah was the song I heard in heaven,
From holy angels singing
Halleluiah, halleluiah, halleluiah, Lord,
Full are the heavens and earth of the sanctity of Thy glory.

Of the watcher angels who slumber not in their prayers for us, Send us, O Lord, the angel of mercy,

Good and kind,

With voice of clarion and with sweet accent.

When angels descend from heaven upon earth,
The rustling of their wings is not heard,
And there is no trace of their footfall,
Their descent is lighter than the winds.

He flew upon the wings of the wind,
Mounted upon horses—the King Eternal—
He spoiled Satan of his captives,
Those horses of salvation were the four glorious spiritual beasts.

By the river Chebar Ezekiel beheld
The majesty of the Cherubel,
Who bare the throne, alike in glory,
Sanctifying and praising with one voice.
Ye venerable beasts, pray for the forgiveness of our sins,
For the preservation of the righteous.

A thousand halleluiahs to Him that reigneth on the throne;
He clothes Himself with beamings of glory as with a garment,
The four beasts give forth a fount of glory,
The fires of their nostrils and wings commingle.


When God beheld the heavens,
The beauty of their balance,
And the glory of their expanse,
Like a tent meet for a dwelling,
And the angels dwelling therein and traversing it,
He said, “The angels of heaven shall abide therein,
They will know their Creator.”

The Cherubel and Seraphel cover their faces with their wings;

I heard the sound of the wings of the angels, as the sound of many waters,

And like the voice of a host;

Of awful sound were their praises,

Seven times brighter than the sun their faces.

Lord, Thou hast made the heavens Thy throne,
The earth Thy footstool;
Thou hast caused angels to serve Thee,
And priests to keep Thy law;
Thou hast created the sun and the moon,
The mountains and hills and depths of earth.

The same stone which the builders rejected
Hath the Father chosen to be the Head of the corner.
He who sitteth on the Cherubel,
Stretched forth his hand upon the cross,
He suffered, and by suffering hath united us to the Father.

The awful ones surround Him,
The Seraphel encircle Him,
The watchers adore His holiness,
Thousands minister to Him.

The full article also appeared in Rev. J. M. Rodwell, ed., Aethiopic Liturgies and Prayers. Translated from Mss. in the Library of the British Museum and of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and from the Edition Printed at Rome in 1548. No I & II, reprinted from "The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record." (London: Williams & Norgate, 1864), pp. 82-83.

Also see Dix's article on Abyssinian Hymns (The Churchman's Shilling Magazine, October 1867).

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