The Hymns Of Martin Luther: Their Predecessors, And Their Place In History -- By: Edward Dickinson
BSac 52:208 (Oct 1895) p. 676
The Hymns Of Martin Luther: Their Predecessors, And Their Place In History1
The science of hymnology has never yet received the attention which it deserves at the hands of students of church history. It is a necessary branch of the subject of religious art, and yet while architecture, painting, and music have been examined with considerable thoroughness in respect to their ecclesiastical relations, the voice of the church in hymns and spiritual songs has been but slightingly regarded. So far as hymns have been studied at all, it has been mainly upon the aesthetic side, and in individual instances; not by groups, or with reference to their expression of certain general types of piety. But it is in this latter particular that their historic value lies. The student of church history soon comes to realize that the ultimate object of his search is the enduring
BSac 52:208 (Oct 1895) p. 677
spiritual elements which underlie doctrinal systems and antagonistic policies. Clearing away the vast multitude of phenomena which tell only of political ambition, the lust of aggrandizement, and the delight in the exercise of mere intellectual subtlety—facts which make the annals of the church so bewildering and often so sad—we perceive that below all these there has been a persistent and constantly deepening current of conscientious spiritual endeavor. There is a history of piety, as well as a history of dogma and of conduct. This religious consciousness, this spirit of piety, has taken manifold forms, it has passed through many phases, often issuing in results of divine beauty and perfection, often led by erroneous conceptions into strange vagaries; yet the ultimate ground purpose has been a sincere longing to enter into right relations with God and to obtain his favor. This impulse has revealed itself in the mystical temper, the ascetic, the practical. In actual conduct it has at one time insisted upon obedience to authority, at another it has deferred to the spirit of individualism; it has absorbed the mind in contemplation, or it has neglected contemplation in favor of philanthropic activities; it has sometimes derived aid from the disciplined enjoyment of the good things of this world, again it has sought the annihilation of temporal satisfactions as hindrances to spiritual growth. All these aspects of the religious motive are the outcome of one common basic principle, acted upon by different conditions and diffracted through various types of mind.
These we study with an especially absorbing interest, for they lead us as far as we can go into the deepest and most sacred arcana of the human soul. We study them not simply as they have manifested themselves in conduct, but ...
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