Heretical "Hymns"
  • Hi,

    I'm curious about two Hymn-related items.

    The first is more theorical: What makes a hymn, a hymn, and not just a song or a tune?

    Also, I've been told that "Amazing Grace" is heretical. The understanding of grace is not in line with Catholic theology. It's sort-of a form of pelagianism.
    Are there other "hymns" that are heretical, or leading to heresy? I'm perhaps overly cautious in not singing in church, because I don't want to sing heresy.

    Any help would be greatly apprciated.

  • I wish I could find a heresy in How Great Thou Art...
  • What's Latin for "ditto"?
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • dittus?
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I'd probably go with "concurro," which is more like, "I agree"
    Thanked by 1Gustavo Zayas
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,936
    Amazing Grace was written by an Anglican, not a Calvinist (TULIP not the issue) nor Semi-Pelagian. It's not a theological treatise, but a soulful reflection on his former involvement in the slave trade, and it is that context that has burnished its reputation over the centuries since. It's no more heretical than statements of St Augustine that were prompted by the horror at his former sinful life, even though those statements could be twisted to be given heretical interpretations.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,933
    There is one in our hymnal titled, "Ashes" that I would never use.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • IIRC, it's the end of the second verse of "Amazing Grace" ("How precious did that grace appear/The hour I first believed") that some find troublesome. The verse could be seen as implying that "faith precedes grace"--which is true in a sense--whereas the Catholic position holds that grace must also precede faith, i.e. it's God's grace that moves us to believe in the first place.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 674
    But that's what it says.

    'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear -- (ie, to realize that God was real and should be paid attention to)
    And grace that fear relieved. -- (ie, allowed him to trust as well as fear)
    How precious did that grace appear
    The hour I first believed. -- (ie, in the hour he first believed, he realized the preciousness of all the graces that had been showered upon him to allow him to believe)

    If that's what all the huhu is about, they're not reading all that closely. The whole song seems to be about the primacy of grace, perhaps to such an extent as to discourage little things like repentance and reparation among certain strands of Christianity in the US. I thought that was what people were freaking out about, actually.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CtB,
    I believe the Pelagian Conry tune most commonly cited is actually the lamentable "Anthem."
    "Ashes" is just dated, consigned to the nostaligia heap similar to Repp's "Sons of God" etc.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "Heresy" is a word with a real meaning. So the only actually heretical hymns I know of would be by Arius.
  • Point taken, Kathy. Conry's intellect and insight aren't at a primary level of Repp, Wise.
    I was speaking of the union of his text with an unusually banal melody also from his pen. Conry had/has? a fascination with the Kurt Weill minimalist/populist approach to artful tunes. Unfortunately, "Ashes" as a tune isn't anywhere near the ideal of Mack the Knife, much less his own "Anthem" or "I Will Lift Up my Eyes."
    I would venture to say that even Haas has wedded music to text better with this thematic content.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    I am wary of the entire "Eucharist" section of most new hymnals, ie the hokey-folky ones; and dread having to play them when substituting somewhere. Since about 99% of these are modern compositions (I refer to the text here), even those to traditional tunes, written by non-Catholics or Liberal "Catholics," they often contain blatant heresy: Consubstantiation, or no reference at all to the Body and Blood of Christ, merely to the wine and bread. In an effort to be "oecumenical" they chose the worst of the protestants (the spiritual "Eat the bread children" springs to mind.) and even the translations of traditional Latin hymns have an agenda. Frankly the hymns in the "Eucharist" section of the Hymnal 1982 are more orthodox than most hymns in the same section in any Catholic Hymnal.

    Also, if you happen to be singing "Father, we thank Thee," with a mangled text: make sure that you yell out the masculine pronouns that the editors have so kindly removed. This is especially fun if one is at Mass in a known feminist hot-bet, and counteracts the sick feeling one gets from all of the folk-ditties. Also fun during the Creed: For us MEN!!! and for our salvation, HE!!! was born of the Virgin Mary and became MAN!!! (Insert evil-maniacal laugh here.)
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Salieri- These past Sundays, I have scheduled 'Songs of Thankfulness' Salzburg. In Ritualsong,the last phrase has been changed to God in 'flesh' made manifest, which I absolutely refuse to sing. s loud as I can, I sing out 'man'
    I wondfer if we will see corrections in the coming months as hymnals are revised?
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I don't think Amazing Grace is heretical. "How precious did that grace appear," actually means, in my opinion, "how precious did that grace seem" i.e. until he first believed, he didn't see how precious the grace was.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • Thanks for your replies. I'm not just looking to identify songs that are formally heretical (which seem to be few), but also songs that lead to heresy.

    Are there theological criteria from papal documents (or *cough* USCCB documents) that outline the principles for proper liturgical music or hymnody for the divine liturgy? There have to be criteria someplace that could be used to decide musical selections that are suitable. I recall seeing a document which states one of the options for liturgical music can be chosen "1. blah blah, 2. blah blah, 3. blah blah 4....or some other suitable music". How do we know what is and is not suitable? I'm sure it's not just personal taste.

    At my parish, the music seems to be: pieces the director already knows, or pieces that suit her taste. I'd like to know, what are the proper criteria for choosing music? Without a document, it will appear to people that I want what I like rather than what the director likes.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,156
    To touch on one of Mark's opening questions:

    > What makes a hymn, a hymn, and not just a song or a tune?

    If I understand aright, hymns are structured in strophes that have a fixed meter: a fixed pattern of syllables-per-line. The same tune is used for each strophe.

    This distinguishes a hymn from a sequence, a poem whose tune changes every two strophes; or from a prose chant such as "Rorate caeli", or from an antiphon with verses.


    Regarding doctrine, paragraph 83 of the USCCB document Sing to the Lord says:
    83. The Church never ceases to find new ways to sing her love for God each new day.
    The Sacred Liturgy itself, in its actions and prayers, best makes known the forms in which
    compositions will continue to evolve. Composers find their inspiration in Sacred Scripture, and
    especially in the texts of the Sacred Liturgy, so that their works flow from the Liturgy itself.
    Moreover, “to be suitable for use in the Liturgy, a sung text must not only be doctrinally correct,
    but must in itself be an expression of the Catholic faith.” Therefore, “liturgical songs must never
    be permitted to make statements about faith which are untrue.”
    Only within this scriptural,
    liturgical, and creedal context is the composer who is aware of the Church’s long journey
    through human history and “who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae” properly
    equipped “to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the
    Liturgy.” No matter what the genre of music, liturgical beauty emanates directly from that
    mystery and is passed through the talents of composers to emerge in music of the assembled
    People of God.


    A little discussion of "Amazing Grace" is on the Catholic Answers forum.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    “liturgical songs must never be permitted to make statements about faith which are untrue.”

    And I will grant there are MANY of those, ranging from anti-transubstantiation to "we are us we we weeeeeeee" texts. Each and every one needs to be avoided.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,667

    can you give us the latest blacklist?
  • Not only does it take poetry and a strophic tune to make a hymn a hymn. Properly speaking, a hymn is addressed to or is about the deity; it has solid theological content and its purpose is to extol and teach. Thus, songs that are 'I' and 'we' centred are just that: songs, not hymns. Amazing Grace is certainly not a hymn, this aside from whatever (extra-liturgical) devotional value it may have for some. If it isn't praise directed to God, while extolling or expressing dogmatic or theological truths, it isn't a hymn. This is not to suggest that songs that aren't hymns have, ipso facto, no value - even liturgically. But they do need more than a little scrutiny. And, popularity is not among the criteria.
  • That's not really right, though, is it? Ave maris stella is a hymn that is not addressed to God. A hymn need only be devotional and strophic as far as I know.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Perhaps the hymn has to be addressed to a person, but not necessarily the Godhead? Like the verb "to hymn" usually means "to hymn someone's praises."
  • Maureen
    Posts: 674
    Um, the whole of "Amazing Grace" _is_ hymning praises of God. If you can sing praises of the "Precious Blood" or the Five Wounds and make the part signify the whole, you can't claim that singing about grace isn't singing about God. You can't whack little chunks off and sell grace in the store, now can you? It's an activity of God's, not a particle or a wave.

    I love people and all, but it's fairly clear that nobody really learns about poetry and figures of speech any more. (Except the logic and rhetoric majors, and they insist on using Greek terms for everything on every occasion. Which scares me.)

    Just say that you think the tone of "Amazing Grace" is more devotional than liturgical, and that this is a command decision on your part; or that you don't feel like singing some 18th century evangelical song; or whatever you want to say. The more people strain for reasons on this one, the less they manage to explain their intuitions and taste. When it comes to hymns, "Because I don't like it" or "It rubs me the wrong way" is a perfectly valid criterion.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,156
    The distinctive thing about "Amazing Grace" is that it focuses on individual salvation, rather than on salvation history. Singing it, one's attention is not drawn fully to God and to the things of God, but to one's own spiritual condition, whether one feels assured that one is in the state of grace, or perhaps not. It posits, furthermore, that there is an "hour I first believed": that the believer has had an identifiable conversion experience.

    [Oops: sorry, Charles, I see that I have edited this while you were responding below; sorry if I've changed the context for your note.]
  • Which cannot be dismissed easily as an integral component of why we aggregate together to praise God. If Newton's little missive helped him adhere to the life of a reformed soul steeped in sin, it can't be wholly untenable that it can't find a place in "liturgy."
  • There are some denominations that take a firm stand on only singing texts that truly reflect the teaching of the faith.

    Shouldn't Catholics do that as well?

    This was never a problem until the idea of ecumenism being encouraged by singing Protestant hymns in the Catholic church. Know anyone....anyone...who became Catholic because "Now they sing the hymns I like!"....know of many Catholic because the music's gotten so bad?
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • Maureen makes an appreciable point. But, when I contemplate a real, unmitigated example of hymnody, such as St John Damascene's Welcome, Happy Morning, or Salva Festa Dies, or Praise to the Holiest, or All Hail Adored Trinity, or, or... then lesser songs rather pale as paeans of praise - no matter what. Many of our most beloved 'hymns' are really prayers (i.e., Come Down O Love Divine), not hymns - and there's nothing wrong with that. Others are really more about the experiences and needs of I, Me, and Us (i.e., Amazing Grace) than they are about the God who gets honourable mention (and, that may be one reason that they are so popular!).
  • I have exactly the same attitude as the author of the original post, caution toward hymns by Protestants. Our choir is slated to sing Charles Wesley's "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus" on Sunday--and I was wondering if in the last four lines of stanza 2 there is a dig at Catholic teaching, to deny personal merit:

    "By thine own eternal spirit
    rule in all our hearts alone;
    by thine all sufficient merit,
    raise us to thy glorious throne."

    Being written by the founder of the Protestant Methodist sect, the hymn's phrasing made me suspicious of the theological integrity of the line I have bolded. Does anyone know whether this actually works with Catholic teaching on grace and merit?
  • Me immundum munda tuo Sanguine:
    Cujus una stilla salvum facere
    Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

    All-sufficient merit.

    It's not that grace is God's helping hand that gives us a shove that helps us climb to heaven. It's that the operation of grace is such that when God's necessary and sufficient grace enables us to perform a meritorious action, by the cooperation of our will, that act really becomes our own act, as well, as do the merits accrued.

    But the merits of all the saints are also the merits of Christ Himself, won by His operation, by and through his Body.
    Thanked by 3Carol Liam CHGiffen
  • Being written by the founder of the Protestant Methodist sect
    You've confused him with his brother.
    Thanked by 2Liam CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,368
    RachelR - I think this entirely orthodox statement says the same thing
    "For the presence of the Saviour in the flesh was the price of death and the saving of the whole creation" St Athanasius (Ep. ad Adelphium, vi)
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    I love Wesley but you have to be careful. I would not use that verse. It gives the impression that we do not cooperate with grace.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,025
    The verse gives no such impression that we do not cooperate with grace. The worst that could be said about it is that it's not explicit about free cooperation with grace or condign merit. The verse doesn't exclude free cooperation with grace or condign merit, both of which are dependent upon the all-sufficient merit of Christ's sacrificial death according to Catholic doctrine and theology. I think free cooperation with grace and condign merit can be understood to be implicit in the verse. Both our free cooperation with God's grace and our meriting salvation condignly are wholly dependent upon the merits of Christ and caused by God's grace.

    If everything about Catholic faith had to be spelled out explicitly in every text, not even the Nicene Creed would pass muster.

    CCC 2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • There is one in our hymnal titled, "Ashes" that I would never use.

    That is the cliche Ash Wednesday song. It’s terrible and heretical. I wish Parishes would stop singing it.

    I was bored one day and started re-writing it based on the Ash Wednesday antiphons for the EF. Sadly it’s still under copyright, so it could never be sung during Mass
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,499
    "Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church."
  • We'll burn some day to ashes,
    and we'll thumb our nose at you;
    We'd burn the church to ashes
    if we only could, boo hoo;
    Enough of pointless jabber,
    Enough of your dumb hate!
    On offer in this parish
    is a substitute for faith.
    Thanked by 2chonak MNadalin
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 683
    There was a song we were slated to sing a couple years ago "Christ has no body now but yours". Which I raised concerns and objected to when I was cantor. I believe it was based on a quote from one of the saints. The idea of singing a song that "Christ has no body" is most unsettling. Thankfully, we never did sing it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,156
    Despite the common attribution, that song wasn't really from words of St. Teresa; the text was by some more recent French spiritual writer. I mentioned it some years ago on my old blog, and a kindly reader provided the source:

    Ultimately, the idea may have roots in some 19th-century talks by Quaker and Wesleyan speakers.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • Thanks to all for offering your thoughts. I am simply a member of the choir, so I have alerted our director that he may want to ask Father to double-check the theological appropriateness of this piece.
    Again, I am so grateful to all those who commented, it has been very helpful!
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 683
    Thanks for sharing that link chonak. I read the article and comments and followed the subsequent links. Very enlightening.
    Thanked by 1chonak
  • Cantus67Cantus67
    Posts: 207
    Although there are some hymns that are quite obviously heretical, or at least lean way too much in that direction, I think that there can be a tendency to "look" for heresy in hymnody. There should be (in my mind) a tendency towards assuming charitably so that even if the authors intention was to go against Catholic doctrine it would be easily modified to fit back into church use. Too often we look for conflict and pick at tiny details because of some think in our own thinking. Although, is the devil in the details?

    Since it was completely out of copyright we decided to "mod" this particular one for our use. I see that as no different than someone changing the words in a hymn to fit a specific rhythm.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,177
    But, Cantus: You've left our may favorite verse!

    Though with a scornful wonder
    Men see Her sore oppressed:
    By schisms rent asunder,
    By heresies distressed:
    Yet saints their watch are keeping
    Their cry goes us: "How Long"?
    And soon the night of weeping
    Shall be the morn of song.
    Thanked by 1Cantus67
  • This discussion always reminds me of a passage from Msgr. Hayburn's invaluable tome. He quoted a report from Frid. Nausea Blancicampianus, bishop of Vienne, France, to Pope Paul III two years before the Council of Trent.

    "Not a few of these [German Protestant songs] are hymns which go contrary to the authority of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Mass, the good works, and the established customs of religious people on the one hand and praise their new rites and dogmas on the other."

    If a hymn does not mention God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or Mary, or if they are mentioned in a way that contradicts Catholic teaching, I don't allow it. If I am superseded by my pastor, that's another story.

    The only problem I see with Amazing Grace is in the first verse. "Amazing grace! how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!" I have not researched this hymn at all, so someone chime in to educate me. It looks like there are a few things that are questionable. Is 'amazing grace!' some acclamation said in response to a particular event? Is it a prayer with the power to save the intended listener? What exactly would the listener be saved from? Does it imply eternal salvation of his soul or immediate physical salvation? The rest of the hymn seems sound, as others mentioned previously. I'm of the mind that poetic license needs to be checked when it starts causing theological confusion and division.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,936
    Here's a summary of the background of what has long been one of the most famous English-language hymns in the world:
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,933
    I heard a Unitarian pastor say that getting hymns into the UU hymnal was very difficult. He said that when a hymn was aired, there might be one person singing while the rest were looking ahead at the text to see if they could find something to object to.
    Thanked by 3Liam Carol m_r_taylor
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 683
    Our choir is scheduled to sing the following in a couple weeks. "We Are Marching / Siyahamba". It says on the music, Text: South African, Music: South African. I am unfamiliar with music that might be sung in a Roman Catholic church in South Africa. This particular piece might be appropriate, I just don't know. Has anyone done this? Is it a hymn, is it Liturgical?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,368
    The full text is : "We are marching in the sight of God"
    This is repeated, and repeated, and ... until the song leader changes marching for another word, such as praying, ...
    I would not call it a hymn. It could I suppose be appropriate for an outdoor procession, if you call that liturgical. I would restrict it to extra-liturgical events such as Services for Christian Unity.
    It enjoyed a vogue in the 90s, I haven't heard it for years, even at Ecumenical events.
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 Carol
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,936

    You know the classic sign you've been visited by a fundamentalist UU is the burning question mark they leave on your lawn.
  • "Siyhamba" was used in middle school choral festivals in 1990s. I am so sorry that it crept into hymnody. Not that I dislike it. I just do not want it sung in my parish.
    Thanked by 3CharlesW Don9of11 Carol