In our previous two posts on ancient Christmas hymns we have looked at key figures in the history of Christian hymnody and now we move a century down to another pivotal figure: Anatolius of Constantinople (died 458). Anatolius is a significant figure just about anyway one slices Christian history (even apart from his impact on hymnody). He became bishop of Constantinople in 449 three years before the Council of Chalcedon (451) that has been seen as a turning point in the history of Christian thought (for good or ill). But his contributions in those matters are a different post altogether. In terms of practical worship Anatolius was a key figure in ushering in what may be called the classical period of Greek or Byzantine hymnody. He accomplished this by being something of a musical rebel. He rebelled against what was thought of as the "tyranny" of classical meter and created a new path . . . ironically as with so many other breakthrough's Anatolius' style also became to viewed as tyrannical centuries later. Anatolius wrote some truly beautiful hymns for the church two of which focus upon the Incarnation are reproduced below: "For Christmas" and "In Bethlehem."
A great and mighty wonder!
A full and holy cure!
The Virgin bears the Infant,
With Virgin-honor pure!
The Word becomes Incarnate
And yet remains on high:
And cherubium sing anthems
To shepherds from the sky.
And we with them triumphant
Repeat the hymn again:
'To God on high be glory,
And peace on earth to men!'
While thus they sing your Monarch,
Those bright angelic bands,
Rejoice, ye vales and mountains!
Ye oceans, clap your hands!
Since all he comes to ransom,
By all be he adored,
The Infant born in Bethlem,
The Saviour and the Lord!
And idol forms shall perish,
And error shall decay,
And Christ shall wield the scepter,
Our Lord and God for aye."
In Bethlehem is he Born!
Maker of all things, everlasting God!
He opens Edens gate,
Monarch of ages! Thence the fiery sword
Gives glorious passage; thence,
The severing mid-wall overthrown, the powers
Of earth and heaven are one;
Angels and men renew their ancient league,
The pure rejoin the pure,
In happy union! Now the virgin-womb
Like some cherubic throne
Containeth Him, the Uncontainable:
Bears him, whom while they bear
The seraphs tremble! bears him, as he comes
To shower upon the world
The fullness of his everlasting love!
My personal favorite of Anatolius is his "On Christ Calming the Storm" which I might share sometime in the future. What is evident from these hymns and the ones in previous posts is that the Church, even when she was less than God intended, could sing some wonderful theology. In fact when one digs in Greek sources it will not take long to discover that for Greek Christians theology is worship. They even define it as such explicitly. No one can study scripture and come to a "sound" understanding (according to them) unless he/she first bows the heart and head in humble worship. And you know what . . . that is probably not far from the mark. Hope you enjoy the hymns, they are among the greatest of the great and are still sung in Greek churches after fifteen hundred years.