Great English-language Hymn Authors
  • graduale
    Posts: 21
    What are some of the greatest (quality, poetry, theologically rich) hymns and authors - both ancient and modern - that stand out as essential Catholic repertoire? I'd love to hear some answers - even if the hymns or authors are/were not Catholic, but the substance jives with Catholic theology...

    And why?

    Ex. J.M. Neale, C. Wesley, C.F. Alexander, and so on...
  • Bianco da Siena
    Gregory the Great (attributed to, not certain)
    Ambrose of Milan
    Hillary of Poitiers
    Thos. Aquinas
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  • JonLaird
    Posts: 206
    Venantius Fortunatus (also a bishop of Poitiers! perhaps the last great bishop-poet)
    Prudentius
  • Oops! Sorry. I just noticed that you are seeking English-language authors.

    Thanked by 1JonLaird
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Kathleen Pluth
  • KyleM18
    Posts: 150
    Knox, Murray, and Neale are the three I can remember, at least for translators. I also know Bl. C. Newman wrote many hymns, including Praise to the Holiest in the Height.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,065
    How about Fr. Faber?!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Melo, you are much, much too kind.

    In order of brilliancy:

    Robert Bridges
    William Cowper
    St. Robert Southwell
    George Herbert
    Reginald Heber
    F.B.P.
    Robert Grant
    RF Littledale
    John Greenleaf Whittier
    Edward Caswall
    Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman
    James Montgomery
    Charles Wesley
    Charles Wesley
    Charles Wesley
    Isaac Watts
    John Mason Neale
    Robert Campbell
    Horatius Bonar
    Henry Alford
    F. Bland Tucker
    Catherine Winkworth
    Christopher Idle
    John Ellerton
    Fr. Faber
    Wlilliam Dix
  • Anonymous (though most of his work is Latin)
    J.H. Newman - as advanced by Kyle
    Vincent Uher - once active at Walsingham
    The Rev. Christopher Phillips - one time pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement (Ordinariate)

    Kathy beat me to the cream of the crop.
    Perhaps Christina Georgina Rossetti should get honourable mention for 'In the Bleak Mid-winter'? (Though it really isn't a hymn, but a religious poem-song.)
  • Tallis? Byrd?

  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    There are quite a few English-language hymn writers who have created fine texts that are, per the OP's criterion, theologically rich.

    So what additional criteria need to be met for one of these fine hymn writers to receive the designation of "great" or even "cream of the crop"?

    Would "having a significant number of fine hymn texts sung often today in worship" be one of these criteria? Or should it be "having a significant number of fine hymn texts included in hymnals presently in use (whether those texts are often sung or not)"? What constitutes "a significant number"? Ten or more? Five or more?

    If a hymn writer had 25 texts in wide circulation in 1920 but only two today, could he or she still be considered "great"?

    Surveying both the authored and translated works of John Mason Neale and Catherine Winkworth on hymnary.org, the numbers appear to indicate that each of them is more a translator than an author. (Other than "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," what text that Neale authored has wide circulation today?)

    Fanny Crosby was a prolific hymn writer. Was she a great hymn writer?

    Can we at least agree that Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts were great hymn writers?

    Are we too close in time to contemporary hymn writers to be able to judge whether they are "great" hymn writers? Must at least a century pass before that designation can be made?

    So - what are the criteria?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    I like Charles Rosen's criteria for judging any work of art: "Coherence, power, and richness of allusion." (From The Classical Style)
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  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,601

    Melo, you are much, much too kind.

    In order of brilliancy:

    Robert Bridges


    Explain yourself.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    You have to consider that this is like the Olympics, and everyone on this list is a champion.

    Some people are probably not capable of great art in a particular medium. Many are capable of both art and of something less than great art.

    A good deal of C. Wesley's work misses the mark, for example, though much is sublime.

    Except for his magnificent Wrestling Jacob, I don't think Wesley approaches O Gladsome Light, O Grace by Robert Bridges for brilliance. Although Love Divine comes close.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,114
    John Brownlie?
    Christina Rossetti? (Not just "In the bleak midwinter" but also "Advent" and others).
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    But Bridges' "O Gladsome Light" is a translation, and the "coherence, power, and richness of allusion," to which Kathy referred above is already in the Greek text. In addition, a more literal rendering of hilaron as "laughing/hilarious" is a much more startling allusion than Bridges' "gladsome."
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Writing a translation is hymn writing +, not hymn writing -.
  • ...much more startling...

    Yes, but, um, 'gladsome' is soo much more civilised, n'est ce pas?
    Also, nicer.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    And "gladsome light" sounds amazing. And in the vocative!
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  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017

    Would "having a significant number of fine hymn texts sung often today in worship" be one of these criteria? Or should it be "having a significant number of fine hymn texts included in hymnals presently in use (whether those texts are often sung or not)"? What constitutes "a significant number"? Ten or more? Five or more?


    These things, I believe, should have no effect on anyone's judgments of great hymns or great hymn writers. Poor Cowper and Southwell have been shamefully neglected, for example.

  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    I have no problem with how "gladsome light" sounds. It's just not what the Greek literally says. The alliterative "laughing light" sounds fine, too, and it is a more literal translation of the Greek.

    I happily grant that Robert Seymour Bridges, poet laureate of the United Kingdom (1913-1930), has a few fine hymn translations and paraphrases that are still included in hymnals and sung by congregations today, among them, "O Gladsome Light." (But most hymnals that include a translation of the Phos hilaron use someone else's translation.)

    Bridges' "Ah, Holy Jesus" (a translation of Johann Heermann's "Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen") and his "All My Hope in God is Founded" (a paraphrase of Joachim Neander's "Meine Hoffnung stehet feste") have each been included in a couple of recently-published hymnals. And his translation of Martin Janus' "Jesu meiner Seelen Wonne" is in the latest hymnal from WLP, although the first line uses the 1989 Methodist Hymnal's alteration: "Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring."

    But I return to the subject of this discussion: great English-language hymn authors. Despite the efforts of the Anglican and Episcopal/USA churches to promote the hymn texts that Bridges authored (two dozen of which were included in a few hymnals each over the past century), there is precious little to show for that promotion these days. Robert Bridges, a great translator of hymns? Indeed. A great hymn writer? No.

    And, of course, whether congregations actually sing a given hymn text or do not has a great bearing on judging it.

    Poor Cowper, indeed. Even though more of his texts are still sung today than are those of Bridges, his pietism and melancholy never have fit well with Catholic sensibilities.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Hmm. I'm trying to find the melancholy here and I just. Don't. See. It.

    (Try singing to AURELIA)

    Wisdom
    (Proverbs, viii. 22-31)

    "Ere God had built the mountains,
    Or raised the fruitful hills;
    Before he fill'd the fountains
    That feed the running rills;
    In me from everlasting,
    The wonderful I am,
    Found pleasures never wasting,
    And Wisdom is my name.

    "When, like a tent to dwell in,
    He spread the skies abroad,
    And swathed about the swelling
    Of Ocean's mighty flood;
    He wrought by weight and measure,
    And I was with Him then:
    Myself the Father's pleasure,
    And mine, the sons of men."

    Thus Wisdom's words discover
    Thy glory and Thy grace,
    Thou everlasting lover
    Of our unworthy race!
    Thy gracious eye survey'd us
    Ere stars were seen above;
    In wisdom thou hast made us,
    And died for us in love.

    And couldst thou be delighted
    With creatures such as we,
    Who, when we saw Thee, slighted,
    And nail'd Thee to a tree?
    Unfathomable wonder,
    And mystery divine!
    The voice that speaks in thunder,
    Says, "Sinner, I am thine!"

    by William Cowper
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Hymnal editors and music directors may or may not be excellent judges of hymn texts.

    Since they are often musicians first and poets rarely, this is only reasonable.

    No, the greatness of texts is not based on inclusion in hymnals, nor on use. The art of hymnic verse has its own criteria.
  • I'm really not at all quibbling with Fr Krismon, but -

    I suppose that to some, 'gladsome', or, for that matter, 'glad', doesn't convey hilarity or laughter. To me, Bridges, and many others, it does. To be glad is to be filled with joy, a joy that runneth over, to be in a state of mind that is joyous to the point of a spontaneously gleeful hilarity. It can be interiorly nurtured or exteriorly released.
    I do appreciate Fr's critique, and, even, agree with it. I just don't agree that 'gladsome' falls short of expressing hilaron.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Regarding translation, it is an extra step beyond the craft of hymn writing.

    To be a good astronaut, you first have to be a good pilot--not the other way around.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    1. Up to those bright and gladsome hills,
    Whence flows my weal and mirth,
    I look and sigh for Him, who fills
    Unseen both heaven and earth.

    2. He is alone my help and hope.
    That I shall not be moved ;
    His watchful eye is ever ope,
    And guardeth his beloved.

    3. The glorious God is my sole stay,
    He is my sun and shade ;
    The cold by night, the heat by day,
    Neither shall me invade.

    4. He keeps me from the spite of foes,
    Doth all their plots control ;
    And is a shield, not reckoning those,
    Unto my very soul.

    5. Whether abroad, amidst the crowd,
    Or else within my door,
    He is my pillar and my cloud.
    Now and forevermore.

    -Henry Vaughan
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    Re: the Cowper. No. It hasn't been included in any hymnal published in the last 40 years. Forty thousand hymnal editors can't all be wrong.

    Re: the Vaughan. Nope on that one, too. Not good for communal worship: "... my... I... my... I... my... my... me... me... my... my... my... my..." (There are about as many He's and his's as well.)
  • So then, because the vast majority of the populace don't read Homer, don't listen to Bach, don't communicate with a Michaelangelo painting, they are not great artists? There have been many writers whose work was not accepted, musicians whose work was rejected, artists who were thought out-landish, but on whose heads history has placed laurels. Further, the music, art, and literature that is taken in by the populace is often so inferior that it does, indeed, betray their ignorance and lack of judgment. What is sung in Catholic churches is but one proof of this pudding. Even a would-be fine Catholic hymnal such as Worship IV is notable not so much for what is in it, but what isn't in it because of what shouldn't have been in it.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,114
    (I accidentally didn't get this posted yesterday when perhaps it would have been more relevant). I have no problem with excellent translations/translators.

    Other than "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," what text that Neale authored has wide circulation today?
    "Christ is made the sure foundation" is Neale's translation of Angularis fundamentum (Urbs beata Jerusalem, part II).
    Thanked by 1ronkrisman
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    @CHG You are correct. I was thinking about this yesterday but did not remember to correct my post.

    Hymnary.org, in its listing of the hymns written and translated by J.M. Neale, has Neale as the author of "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation." However, when one clicks on the link to the hymn itself, it is indicated there that Neale is the translator.

    So perhaps I should amend my prior statement to read:
    Other than "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," what text that Neale authored has wide circulation today?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Forty thousand hymnal editors can't be wrong.

    It is to laugh.

    Also, you aren't addressing the issue, which is whether or not that is a melancholic text. No, it is not.

    Likewise, the Vaughan merely illustrates that there is more to "gladsome" than you have yet admitted.

    Also, for use of "I" and "me," see the Psalms. And their antiphons.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    So then, because the vast majority of the populace don't read Homer, don't listen to Bach, don't communicate with a Michaelangelo painting, they are not great artists?

    Indeed.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    Also, you aren't addressing the issue, which is whether or not that is a melancholic text. No, it is not.

    Sorry. Yes, that one is not melancholic. Perhaps Cowper was having a good day when he wrote it and, at least on that day, had no visions from God commanding him to kill himself.
    Likewise, the Vaughan merely illustrates that there is more to "gladsome" than you have yet admitted.

    So you weren't saying you thought the Vaughan was a great hymn! I'm relieved.
    Also, for use of "I" and "me," see the Psalms. And their antiphons.

    But hymns are not psalms (unless they are).
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Other than "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," what text that Neale authored has wide circulation today?


    A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing.

    But again, this misses the point. There are two steps to being a good hymn translator:
    1. Be a good hymn writer.
    2. To #1, add further skills.

    What hymnal is complete without Creator of the Stars of Night? Let All Mortal Flesh? Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain? The Great Forerunner of the Morn, Of the Father's Love Begotten, O Wondrous Type, That Easter Day? Neale is a hero. Why are you bashing him?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    For that matter, why are you hating on Cowper and his painful weaknesses?
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,419
    I notice that Sternhold and Hopkins haven't made the list.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Hymns are not Psalms? Really? Can you cite a Scriptural commentary that agrees with that assertion?

    But here we have the heart of the issue, I think. Should the criteria for choosing hymns for Mass be what I think they should be, namely:
    1. Texts that are like Psalms and their antiphons
    2. Or like other Scriptural examples of hymnody
    3. Or like the retained sequences
    4. Or like the office hymns
    5. That are poetically excellent (coherence, power, and richness of allusion)
    6. Energetically promote the Catholic faith
    7. Are delightful in some way

    Or, should these criteria be used?
    1. Hymnal editors chose them
    2. Music Directors chose them
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,114
    Other than "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," what text that Neale authored has wide circulation today?


    A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing.


    Not so fast. "A hymn of glory let us sing" is a translation by Elizabeth Rundle Charles of Hymnum canentes gloriae by the Venerable Bede (673-735).

    Neale translated the other (alternate) Bede text Hymnus canentes Martyrum as "The hymn for conquering Martyrs raise" ... which I have set to my hymn tune ST CROIX (L.M.D.), attached.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Hmm, I realize you are right, that it's actually a translation--but I saw it attributed to a Benjamin Webb.

    Hmm.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,326
    Must be a bad hair day for some people in the world.

    I don't hate Cowper. I've never met the man.

    I have not bashed Neale because he was a translator. He was a great translator. "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing" is a translation of the Venerable Bede's Hymnum canamus gloriae. I think that both Elizabeth Rundle Charles and Benjamin Webb are credited as the translator.

    I never wrote "Hymns are not Psalms." Instead, I wrote "But hymns are not psalms (unless they are)."

    I have been concerned only about addressing the subject of this thread: Great English-language Hymn Authors. And in addressing it, I have consistently distinguished between writers and translators. If someone wants to address other topics, have at it. But don't expect me to have to, or even want to, join your party.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    I have been concerned only about addressing the subject of this thread:
    Great English-language Hymn Authors

    Sure. Go ahead. Address it.

    Stop quibbling and attacking, and address it.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,114
    The "O risen Christ..." stanza, usually 3rd (as in The Hymnal 1982) or 4th, if included, is indeed a translation by Benjamin Webb. The title stanza (and the others that I know of) are translated by Elizabeth Rundle Charles.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    For that matter, why are you hating on Cowper and his painful weaknesses?

    My first thought as well.

    Must be a bad hair day for some people in the world.
    I don't hate Cowper. I've never met the man
    .


    Curt, impolitic, condescending and, I have to wonder if none-too-subtly gender-based....
    40,000 hymnal editors may not be wrong, but that doesn't make Fr. Krisman right.

    I set this Cowper text to my own arrangement (kind of a Proulx meets Clannad nod harmonically) to KINGSFOLD:

    Sometimes a light surprises
    The Christian while he sings;
    It is the Lord, who rises
    With healing in His wings:
    When comforts are declining,
    He grants the soul again
    A season of clear shining,
    to cheer it after rain.

    In holy contemplation
    We sweetly then pursue
    The theme of God’s salvation,
    And find it ever new;
    Set free from present sorrow,
    We cheerfully can say,
    Let the unknown tomorrow
    Bring with it what it may.

    It can bring with it nothing
    But He will bear us through;
    Who gives the lilies clothing
    Will clothe His people, too;
    Beneath the spreading heavens,
    No creature but is fed;
    And He who feeds the ravens
    Will give His children bread.

    Though vine nor fig tree neither
    Their wonted fruit should bear,
    Though all the field should wither,
    Nor flocks nor herds be there;
    Yet God the same abiding,
    His praise shall tune my voice,
    For while in Him confiding,
    I cannot but rejoice.

    Melancholic? Let their number be 40K.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Kathy
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    Thanks, Melo.

    The opening lines of this decidedly non-melancholic text of Cowper's became an everyday saying, once upon a time.

    God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm.

    Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill
    He treasures up His bright designs
    And works His sov’reign will.

    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.

    His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.

    Blind unbelief is sure to err
    And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own interpreter,
    And He will make it plain.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,017
    John Newton, the slave-trader-turned-pastor and author of Amazing Grace, asked his parishioner Cowper to help him write what would become the important Olney Hymns to help him out of depression. And that is something I think Cowper's hymns express extraordinarily well, a moment of hope after a season of trial.

    Something which they have very much in common with the Psalms and their antiphons.
  • ICEL? Have we not seen some of their beautiful translations of hymns?
    [read as purple]
  • Um, can you give an example, Chris???
  • I am glad that Mr Osborn has brought up the hymns of Father Phillips, Pastor emeritus of the ordinariate parish Our Lady of the Atonement. They really should be wider known, especially within the OCSP. He is an astute theologian who has produced an incredible body of lucid, musically sensitive poetry.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,766
    What is Chris talking about? The only ICEL hymn translations I know of are those in preparation for a future US edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, and they are a great improvement over the non-liturgical songs they will replace.
  • I know my least favorite translator . . . "alt."

    The gumption it takes to tinker with the language in some of these hymns is about on the same level as the early sound film version of Taming of the Shrew with the credit "Written by William Shakespeare - Additional Dialogue by Sam Taylor".
    Thanked by 1Viola
  • swerdswerd
    Posts: 26
    I have composed and arranged numerous hymns spanning the church's liturgical year and for all age groups. Please see my website for more info at www.NewHeartMusic.net and listen to a partial listing of my hymns at www.hymntime.com or copy and paste the following link to access my page on that website:
    http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/w/e/r/werdebaugh_s.htm

    Also, I have choral works posted there as well as organ instrumental music.
    Thanked by 1Kathy