26 Nov 2021

Psalms and Proverbs: why?

For many years now publishers have marketed New Testaments as independent volumes, often with the Psalms appended. There is evidently demand for such books, as they are considerably smaller in size than a complete Bible and thus more portable. The drawback is that, because the Scriptures tell the story of our redemption in Jesus Christ, we are getting only the final chapters of a much longer narrative. Owners of a New Testament are assumed already to know the earlier story and can thus make sense of a volume beginning with the coming of Christ into the world.

The addition of the Psalms to such a volume makes liturgical sense, especially when seen against the backdrop of the traditional one-year lectionaries used for centuries in both western and eastern churches. A look at the Book of Common Prayer's lectionary reveals the generous use of epistle and gospel readings for every sunday of the ecclesiastical year and, of course, the complete Psalter of Miles Coverdale, but very little from the Old Testament. One-year lectionaries have been used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox churches, with preaching typically based on the gospel lesson for the day. Hence the publication of New Testaments with the Psalms fits into a traditional liturgical pattern familiar to most Christians.

25 Nov 2021

Comissão Brasileira de Salmodia

I have placed a link in the right sidebar to the Comissão Brasileira de Salmodia (Brazilian Commission of Psalmody, or CBS). This is a translation of the introductory paragraph on the front page:

CBS is a committee made up of reformed and confessional members of Christ's Church. We believe that the psalms should be sung by God's people scattered over the face of the earth, and we intend to contribute to their use among Portuguese-speaking Christians.

Judging from the list of Psalms, two things are apparent. First, not all the Psalms have yet been completed, and, second, there is more than one version of some of the Psalms. I will add a third to this: CBS's version of Genevan Psalm 150 appears to have borrowed my use of the double Alleluias for the two eight-syllable lines in each of the two stanzas.

2 Nov 2021

The secret weapon of the Reformation

In the run-up to Reformation Day, Johan van Veen posted this article in Dutch: Het geheime wapen van de Reformatie, or The secret weapon of the Reformation. This is adapted from the google translation into English:

For several months I have been immersed in a thorough book on The Reformation, written by the British historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. It's a thick book – more than 700 pages plus an extensive notes apparatus . . . . I recently came to a section in which he deals with the troubles of France in the last decades of the 16th century. He shows how "ordinary believers" – he calls them laymen – got moving. Writings such as the Bible and Calvin's Institutes played a role in this . . . but those books were thick and expensive and therefore not widely distributed. He therefore seeks the explanation elsewhere: the Psalter. He even calls the rhymed psalms the "secret weapon" of the Reformation, not only in France, but wherever the Reformed brought new vitality to the Protestant cause.

1 Nov 2021

The Alter Psalter

I have recently acquired a copy of this book, which I will be using in my prayers during November. Stay tuned for a review in December.



Reformation Day

Five-hundred four years ago yesterday, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, thus setting off the Reformation. Here is Martin Luther's free paraphrase of Psalm 46, Ein' Fest Burg, which we know in English as A Mighty Fortress:



29 Oct 2021

Charlotte Yonge and the Prayer Book Psalter

I recently finished reading Charlotte Mary Yonge's novel, The Heir of Redclyffe, published in 1853 and an influential example of early Victorian sentimental piety. I've written a brief review here: A Novel Conversion, to which I've linked on my other blog. For our purposes here, I thought I would alert readers to a wonderful passage illustrating the influence of the Book of Common Prayer's Psalter on the novel's characters:

There is only one thing wanting,’ said Amy. ‘You may sing now. You are far from Philip’s hearing. Suppose we chant this afternoon’s psalms.’

It was the fifth day of the month, and the psalms seemed especially suitable to their thoughts. Before the 29th was finished, it was beginning to grow dark. There were a few pale flashes of lightning in the mountains, and at the words ‘The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness,’ a low but solemn peal of thunder came as an accompaniment.

‘The Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.’

The full sweet melody died away, but the echo caught it up and answered like the chant of a spirit in the distance—‘The blessing of peace.’

The effect was too solemn and mysterious to be disturbed by word or remark. Guy drew her arm into his, and they turned homewards.

The passage's allusion is to the 30-day scheme for praying through the Psalms in the Prayer Book, which prescribes Psalms 27-29 on the fifth of every month. Many Christians have followed this pattern for generations, and I highly recommend it to readers of this blog. There is no substitute for the biblical Psalter in our daily prayers.

Sidney's debt to Geneva

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was one of the vaunted heroes of the Elizabethan age who died in battle against Spain in the Netherlands at an altogether too young age. Born to an aristocratic family, he was elected a member of Parliament at the tender age of 18 and distinguished himself in public life and as a poet, being knighted by the Queen in 1583, three years before his death at age 31. Like many literary figures of the modern era, he set the biblical Psalms to verse, completing 43 of them, with the remainder eventually finished by his gifted sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621). Together they are known as the Sidney Psalms, of which so eminent a poet as George Herbert (1593-1633) spoke highly.

Sir Philip's Psalms can be found here, and a perusal of this collection reveals that several, though by no means all, can be sung to their proper Genevan melodies. The very first Psalm is one of these:

He blessed is who neither loosely treades
The straying stepps as wicked counsaile leades;
Ne for badd mates in waie of sinning wayteth,
Nor yet himself with idle scorners seateth;
But on God's lawe his harte's delight doth binde,
Which, night and daie, he calls to marking minde.

Another is Psalm 42, whose Genevan tune is well known even outside the Reformed tradition:

As the chased hart, which brayeth
Seeking some refreshing brook,
So my soul in panting playeth,
Thirsting on my God to look.
My soul thirsts indeed in mee
After ever living Thee;
Ah, when comes my blessed being,
Of Thy face to haue a seing.

A brief survey of the hymnals in my library reveals no texts by Sir Philip, with the sole exception of Cantus Christi 2020, which carries his metrical versification of Psalm 31, titled All, All My Trust.

14 Oct 2021

Dreaming the Psalms

Last week I dreamt that I was listening to a choir sing Genevan Psalm 150 to Claude Goudimel's arrangement. In the dream I thought it was beautiful but concluded that I preferred Zoltán Kodály's arrangement. Listen to both and decide for yourself:

Goudimel:


Kodály:


6 Oct 2021

Psalm 22 in Hungarian

The Hungarians have done so much over the centuries to maintain the heritage of Genevan Psalmody, even during the four decades of the communist era. Here is Judit Lengyel singing Psalm 22, accompanied by a string ensemble.



14 Sept 2021

At last!

Christian Courier has published the story of my recently completed Genevan Psalter project: At last! An excerpt:

This more systematic method enabled me to work through the remainder of the Psalms at a faster pace than I had anticipated. Thus, by the middle of August, I had completed the remaining unfinished psalms, at last reaching 150, thereby exceeding the target I had set for myself in the Reid Trust proposal.

The result of my efforts is not literary elegance. Some of the Psalms are rhymed, but not all. In fact, reading some of them without the music will not suggest that we have crossed from prose into verse, but they definitely fit the Genevan tunes, conforming strictly to their somewhat irregular metres.

What will I do with all this? I hope to find someone to publish my collection so as to disseminate knowledge of the Genevan Psalter, not only among English-speaking Reformed Christians, but among other Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical use of the biblical Psalter.

Read the entire article here.

11 Sept 2021

Psalm 35

 I've been thoroughly taken with the Genevan tune for Psalm 35. Here is yet another performance of this psalm by the La Capella Reial De Catalunya:

8 Sept 2021

19 Aug 2021

Genevan Psalter interview

This morning I was interviewed by the Rev. Uriesou Brito, pastor of Providence Church, Pensacola, Florida, on the subject of my recently completed Genevan Psalter project:



18 Aug 2021

Updated project page

I have now updated my page, now titled, GENEVAN PSALTER PROJECT (1985-2021), to account for the completion of my 36-year-long project to set the Psalms to verse. The link can also be found in the right sidebar.

13 Aug 2021

Genevan Psalter Project: A complete first draft

This week I completed something begun three and a half decades ago. I now have written metrical texts for all 150 Psalms set to their proper melodies in the 1562 Genevan Psalter. The work took thousands of hours to complete, most of which were scattered over the years from 1985 to this year, when a grant from the Reid Trust enabled me to accelerate my work and to complete a first draft over the past two months. A full introduction to the Genevan Psalter can be found here: THE GENEVAN PSALTER: INTRODUCTION and in the sidebar to the right. However, for this collection, which includes the tunes and texts only, I have written a far briefer introduction, which, in its current form, I post below:

Ainsworth's debt to Geneva

Within the larger communion of Reformed churches, there are two principal traditions of metrical psalmody, as we have noted before:

1. The Genevan tradition, beginning in 1539 in Strasbourg and culminating in the publication of the full Psalter in 1562. This tradition is characterized by a wide variety of metrical patterns, syncopated rhythms, and simple tunes dependent on western chant and the church modes. The Genevan tradition is associated with the continental Reformed churches, especially in the Netherlands and Hungary, but also in the churches founded by immigrants from these countries in North America, South Africa, and Australia. 

2. The Anglo-Celtic tradition, beginning with the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter, also published in 1562, which would be carried on in the Tate & Brady (1696), the Scottish Psalter (1650), and the Bay Psalm Book (1640) in North America. The influential 1912 Psalter stands in this tradition, which is dominated by a very few regular metres, such as common metre (CM and CMD: 8 6 8 6), long metre (LM and LMD: 8 8 8 8), and short metre (SM: 6 6 8 6). The Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal stands largely in this tradition, although the various editions have included Genevan tunes as well.

4 Aug 2021

Fanfare and Psalm 35

For some reason the tune to Psalm 35 has stuck in my head since I set the text to verse last month. It almost sounds as if it could accompany a march, although the time signature, if it had one, would be 7/4, meaning one would have to begin each line with a different foot. I rather like the following anonymous fanfare succeeded by a performance of Psalm 35 sung in French. Exquisite!



3 Aug 2021

The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant, revisited

Nearly three years ago I posted on The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant, noting the similarities between the ancient chant Victimae paschali laudes and the Genevan tune for Psalm 80. Now a member of the Lovers of Metrical Psalmody Facebook group has alerted us to another apparent borrowing. Listen to the Conditor alme siderum below:


Now listen to Ernst Stolz's rendition of Psalm 141:


During my first two years at the University of Notre Dame, I would regularly attend the sunday evening ecumenical vespers at the Sacred Heart Church on campus. Near the beginning of the service, we would sing Creator of the Starry Night, an English translation of the Latin hymn, to a modified version of the proper melody. I had not noted the similarity to the Psalm 141 tune until now. Incidentally, Psalm 141 is also used at evening prayer, and I believe we sang this as well at Sacred Heart Church, but to a different tune.

23 Jul 2021

Liturgy and archaic language

In light of the recent Motu Proprio of Pope Francis limiting the use of the extraordinary form of the Latin mass, I thought I would repost something I wrote for First Things a dozen years ago: Liturgy and archaic language. An excerpt:

I myself am of two minds about updating liturgical language. As an heir of the Reformation, I believe it is generally best for Christians to worship in a language they can easily understand. Even the most conservative protestant congregations have largely abandoned the King James Version of the Bible, substituting instead the New King James Version or possibly the English Standard Version. Most other churches now use the NIV or the NRSV. There is good reason for this, since we all should wish to see God’s word proclaimed in comprehensible form.

At the same time, it would be a pity if English-speakers were to lose their grasp of the Elizabethan forms altogether. Who would the Copts be if they were to lose their ancestral Coptic language? Or the Maronites without Aramaic? Without Church Slavonic would Russians be forced to change, say, the cities of Volgograd and Kaliningrad to Volgogorod and Kaliningorod, just so people could continue to understand their meaning?
Read the entire piece here.

Henry Ainsworth's Psalter

The Ainsworth Psalter is not well known today, even among aficionados of metrical psalmody. It was brought to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 by the Pilgrims, separatists fleeing persecution in England who had previously fled to the Netherlands. It was published in 1612 and used a limited number of Genevan melodies to which all 150 Psalms were sung. It did not endure over the long term, and their descendants eventually adopted the Bay Psalm Book (1640) of the Puritans. Here is a brief lecture on the Ainsworth Psalter by Prof. R. Allen Lott of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:


21 Jul 2021

Genevan Psalter project: interim report and what makes a strong melody

As I've written elsewhere, the Standford Reid Trust awarded me a grant to continue my decades-old Genevan Psalter project, with three principal aims:

  1. to order recording equipment;
  2. to record at least 15 of the Genevan Psalms to post on my YouTube channel; and
  3. to versify at least 30 Psalm texts so they can be sung to their proper Genevan tunes.

With the COVID-induced lockdowns ending only recently, I have not yet had the opportunity to shop for the needed equipment. However, I am making rapid progress on fitting the Psalms to their Genevan tunes, and I actually expect to complete all 150 Psalms within the year, which I had not anticipated when I wrote my proposal. This is why I have not posted here in a few weeks. I have come up with a rather effective method for doing this, and at present I now have only 31 Psalms remaining to be versified. Psalms 1-56 now stand completed, although I will continue to edit the collection once it is finished before seeking publication.

25 Jun 2021

Restoring the rhythm of the Psalms

My monthly Christian Courier column is devoted to the Psalms once again: The Genevan Psalms: Restoring the rhythm of the Psalms. An excerpt:

Two months ago in this space I recounted the story behind my longstanding interest in the biblical Psalter and its liturgical use. In the mid 1980s I came across the Genevan Psalter, with which I had previously not had much contact. My childhood church sang largely from the 1912 Psalter, with a very few Genevan melodies included, such as the ubiquitous Psalm 134, renumbered OLD HUNDREDTH in the 1650 Scottish Psalter.

It wasn’t until age 30 that I discovered the riches of the Genevan Psalms. To my surprise, I found that I had already had a copy of them in Czech which I had acquired at an antiquarian bookshop in Prague a decade earlier. Published in 1900, during the last decades of Habsburg rule, it contains the versifications of Jiří Strejc, a member of the Unitas Fratrum, the heirs of the 15th-century Hussites.

I was quite taken with the Genevan tunes, whose metrical structures are much less regular than those of the psalters used in the English-speaking world. Their rhythms are occasionally syncopated in the style of Renaissance madrigals. Although generations of Dutch Reformed Christians became accustomed to singing them in agonizingly slow even notes, they were originally sung in the spirit of dance tunes, famously leading Queen Elizabeth I to deride them as “Genevan jigs.”

Read the entire article here.

16 Jun 2021

Holladay on the Psalms

The late William L. Holladay (1926-2016) was professor of Old Testament at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston. In 1993 he published a marvellous book, The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses (Augsburg Fortress). I purchased this book eleven years ago, and, while I read bits and pieces of it afterwards, only now have I got round to reading it from cover to cover. Indeed it is one of the most extensive books in English about the biblical Psalms, covering everything from authorship, sources, compilation, canonization, and liturgical use by Jews and Christians over the centuries. A full review of this encyclopaedic treatment would require more space than I can give to it, but I think it worthwhile to highlight some of the more interesting elements that make it such a rich treasure of information.

6 Jun 2021

Psalm 47: David's Psalter in English

As far as I know, the 150 metrical Psalms of Jan Kochanowski and Mikołaj Gomółka have never before been rendered in English. The Psałterz Dawidow was first published in 1579 and is a beloved component of the Polish musical heritage. It is virtually unknown outside of Poland but deserves more exposure in the rest of the world. Here is my own attempt to disseminate knowledge of this psalter. The English versification is my own. English text © 2019 David T Koyzis.

Yesterday this was played at the online anniversary event celebrating a quarter of a century of Global Scholars Canada, of which I have been a member since 2019.



22 May 2021

Owen Jones' Victoria Psalter

What better way to spend Victoria Day weekend than to page through a copy of Owen Jones' The Psalms of David, "with permission dedicated to Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria," also known as the Victoria Psalter. Jones (1809-1874) was an architect and ornamental designer who served as a superintendent of works at the Great Exhibition of 1851. His 1856 Grammar of Ornament had an influence on subsequent architects and designers in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1862 he published the Victoria Psalter, a chromolithographed illuminated psalter with colours limited to red, blue and gold. The text of the Psalms is that of Miles Coverdale's translation, as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The 150 Psalms are divided into 30 groups so as to be said or sung over a 30-day period. Each day is further divided into two for morning and evening prayer. The Psalm at the beginning of each group is preceded by a simple chant tone.

16 May 2021

Critical Psalm Theory

Carl R. Trueman mentions the Psalms in something he wrote a few days ago concerning Critical Race Theory (CRT): Critical Psalm Theory. I will not address the controversy over CRT here, but I find the article of interest in part because of its relevance to the liturgical use of the imprecatory Psalms, namely, those calling down God's wrath on his enemies. With reference to the terrifying final verse of Psalm 137, Trueman weighs in here:

The Psalmist knows that the Babylonians have razed Jerusalem to the ground, massacred Jewish children, and carried the Israelites off into exile (2 Kings 8:12; Nah. 3:10). These are facts of which, as an exile, he is well aware. And, brutal as the closing verse is, the Psalmist is speaking in a manner consistent with the biblical metanarrative concerning the ultimate fate of all those who defy God (Isa. 13:16; Hosea 13:16). For sure, the psalm is a cry of shocking, horrifying agony, but it is connected to the known facts of the case interpreted through the covenantal metanarrative. The lament does not assume anything that the Psalmist does not certainly know to be true.

Our pain, however real it is, however unjust its cause, however evil its effect, does not give us license to express ourselves in any way we choose. I have written numerous times on the church's pressing need to learn to lament; but Christian lamentation must never be divorced from the facts interpreted through the metanarrative of God’s dealings with his people. As the Psalmist himself declares, “Be angry, and do not sin”—a verse picked up in the Pauline epistles (Eph. 4:26). And slander and the spreading of false or inaccurate stories, even in a “hot affective reflection,” are still sins (Exod. 20:16; Exod. 23:1; Prov. 14:25; Matt. 19:18).

Read the entire article here.

14 May 2021

De Nieuwe Psalmberijming

Last month a new Dutch versification of the Psalms was published: De Nieuwe Psalmberijming. As far as I know, there have been four major Dutch metrical psalters over the centuries: (1) that of Pieter Datheen of 1566; (2) the Statenberijming of 1773; (3) the Niewe Berijming of the Interkerkelijke Stichting voor de Psalmberijming [Interchurch Foundation for Psalm Versification] of 1968; and now (4) De Nieuwe Psalmberijming of 2021, produced by the Stichting Dicht bij de Bijbel [Close to the Bible Foundation].

Naturally languages change over time, and idioms once understood by earlier generations fall out of use and are replaced by others. Hence the translation of the Bible and other liturgical texts is a constant need for each generation. At times languages change quickly, as English did from the time of Chaucer in the 14th century to the 16th century when the first "modern" translations of the Bible were produced. At other times languages change incrementally, and liturgical texts may play a role in stabilizing them for many centuries, as did the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

13 May 2021

Versification headaches

Setting the Psalms to verse isn't so easy either.



12 May 2021

"Kleszczmy rękoma" (Psalm 47) Mikołaj Gomółka

Here is a performance of Psalm 47 from the 16th-century Polish David's Psalter, by Jan Kochanowski and Mikołaj Gomółka. Sung by the "Tibi Domine" Choir at St. John's Church in Gdańsk in 2017.

After 5 June I will be posting an English version of this which I recorded a few days ago. As far as I know, this is the first time that anyone has come up with an English-language rendition of this beautiful metrical psalm. Stay tuned.

7 May 2021

My Rock and my salvation: links

Here are the links to my posts as I have explored the reluctance of the Septuagint and related texts to use the rock metaphor for God in translating from the Hebrew:

My Rock and my salvation: the Septuagint's skittishness

My Rock and my salvation, 2: Coverdale and the Vulgate

My Rock and my Salvation, 3: The New Coverdale Psalter

My Rock and my salvation, 4: the Targums

My Rock and my salvation, 5: a Hellenistic taboo?

I am grateful to my dear friend and colleague, Al Wolters, for the guidance he has given me in my journey of exploration in a field which is admittedly not my own. I am sure there is considerably more to say on the subject, but for the moment I will leave it aside, unless something else of significance comes to my attention.

6 May 2021

My Rock and my salvation, 5: a Hellenistic taboo?

Wolters alerted me to this quotation from Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), pp. 95-96:

It is interesting that while the Greek translators did not avoid these [anthropomorphic] metaphors in a systematic fashion, they were consistently reluctant to refer to God as a rock. Mostly in the Psalms, but also in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Habakkuk, the Hebrew text sometimes speaks of God as a rock or stone, a figure that likens God to a fortress, a secure place of refuge. For instance, consider Psalm 18:13, 46:

4 May 2021

My Rock and my salvation, 4: the Targums

I am still puzzling over the Septuagint (LXX) translators' reluctance to translate the rock metaphors from Hebrew into Greek, substituting for them such words rendered in English as strength and helper. This metaphor is also absent from the Latin Vulgate and, with one exception, from Miles Coverdale's Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer. It occurred to me that perhaps the LXX translators had access to a lost Hebrew manuscript that had already made these substitutions. But there's another possibility.

After the Babylonian exile, Jews ceased to pronounce the divine name, יהוה, often rendered YHWH in the roman alphabet. When they came to this name in the biblical text while reading, they would orally substitute אֲדֹנָי‎, (Adonai) or LORD. Accordingly, the LXX translated the divine name with the Greek word Κύριος (Kyrios).

3 May 2021

Medium as message: Boersma

First Things has published an article by Hans Boersma that we would do well to read and ponder: The Liturgical Medium is the Message. Arguing that changing the medium of worship effectively alters the message, Boersma comments on the tradition of metrical psalmody: "When traditional Calvinist churches switch from the Genevan Psalter to worship songs, it’s not just the form that changes. Calvinism itself is doomed at that point. . . . The Genevan Psalter has the five points of Calvinism baked into its tunes; even the organ is indispensable in conveying that God is sovereign and puny creatures are not."

Boersma holds the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nasthotah House, near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He appears once to have been affiliated with the Gereformeerde Kerken (Vrijgemaakt) in the Netherlands and the Canadian Reformed Churches but may now be an Anglican. Read about him here.

Psalm 141: Let My Prayer Arise

Here is a haunting performance of Psalm 141 (LXX 140) sung in Russian from two years ago. Judging from the comments below the video, it has the capacity to move even the unbeliever.



1 May 2021

Praying the Psalms

Christian Courier has posted my April column at their website: Praying the Psalms: Embracing the liturgical heritage of the global church. Here is an excerpt:

As a young man living and studying in Minnesota, I accidentally stumbled upon a form of prayer extending back to the early church and into biblical times. I was browsing in the bookstore of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul and found a red paper-bound volume titled The Daily Office, with a lengthy subtitle: “Matins and Vespers, Based on Traditional Liturgical Patterns, with Scripture Readings, Hymns, Canticles, Litanies, Collects and the Psalter, Designed for Private Devotion or Group Worship.” A compact book, it nevertheless had nearly 700 pages, packed with scripture, psalms, hymns and prayers organized around the church year. I purchased the book and began to pray according to the patterns laid out in its pages. It ended up changing my life and my relationship with God.

Read the entire article here.

My Rock and my Salvation, 3: The New Coverdale Psalter

Coverdale
Generations of Anglicans are familiar with the cadences of Miles Coverdale's Psalms, about which I wrote last month: My Rock and my salvation, 2: Coverdale and the Vulgate. If you take a look at the online Book of Common Prayer (2019) for the Anglican Church in North America and go to the Psalter section, beginning on page 270, you will find something interesting relevant to the rock metaphors for God. In most cases where they occur, the rock metaphors have been returned to the Psalms, except for Psalms 62, 95, and 144:

Psalm 62: 2: "He is my strength and my salvation . . ."

Psalm 62:6: "He truly is my strength and my salvation . . ."

Psalm 95:1: ". . . let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation."

Psalm 144:1: "Blessed be the LORD my strength . . ."

Psalm 144:2: "My hope and my fortress . . ."

Why the revisers left these texts alone I cannot say, but I suspect that, in the case of Psalm 95 (Venite), the text is so familiar to worshippers that they decided to let it stand in the form they had come to love. The New Coverdale Psalter is available as a separate volume here.

30 Apr 2021

Psałterz Poznański on TV

Psałterz Poznański made it to Polish television three years ago. Andrzej and Agata Polaszek appear on TV MAX performing and discussing their project. Agata sings Psalms 2, 27, 5, 23, 6, and 9. Very nice indeed! Naprawdę bardzo ładnie!


Psałterz Poznański: Psalm 16

Our friends in Poznań, Poland, have posted another performance of Genevan Psalm 16 in their own language: Psalm 16: Chrystus zmartwychwstał! Here is Google's translation of the text below the title:

Psalm 16 appears in the book of Acts (Acts 2: 22-32) as a prophetic announcement of the Resurrection:

"Men of Israel! Listen to these words: Jesus of Nazareth, the man whom God has authenticated among you by extraordinary deeds, miracles and signs that God worked among you through him, as you know it, when, according to the divine decree and plan, he was handed over to you they crucified the wicked and killed them; but God raised him up, loosing the bonds of death, for it was impossible for him to be defeated by death. For David says of him: I had the Lord always before my eyes, for he is at my right hand, lest I stumble. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue rejoiced, and also my body will rest in hope, for you will not leave my soul in the abyss, and you will not allow your saint to see corruption. (You made me know the ways of life, You will fill me with bliss through Your presence. My brothers and sisters, I am permitted to speak to you openly, Patriarch David, that he died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. that God had promised him by an oath that his fleshly offspring would sit on his throne, he said, having foreseen this, of Christ's resurrection, that he would not remain in the abyss, nor would his body see corruption.
Below the audio file we see links to the Polish-language text and to the music, along with different versions of guitar chords for each.

27 Apr 2021

The ESV Psalter

This past weekend I was surprised to see a package from Amazon outside our front door. I opened it and was delighted to see a gift from one of my closest friends: a small volume titled simply The Psalms, published by Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, USA, and containing the English Standard Version of the biblical Psalter. Its cover is cloth over board. The pages are thicker than the india paper typically used in volumes of the full Bible, and the font is larger too, making for easy reading, especially for older people. It comes in a board case, as seen in the photographs below:

19 Apr 2021

The Seedbed Psalter

While the singing of metrical Psalms is often associated with the Reformed tradition, Christians in other traditions are making an effort to recover psalm-singing in their own churches. One such effort is the Seedbed Psalter, which comes out of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. Julie Tennent and her husband Timothy are the principal compilers of this collection. Julie is an organist, pianist, and composer. Timothy is president of Asbury Theological Seminary, the largest North American seminary standing in the Wesleyan tradition. Julie has done the bulk of the work connected with the Seedbed Psalter.

The genius of the Seedbed Psalter is that, while it does come in a hard copy volume (shown at right), it is largely an online resource enabling the user to choose amongst a variety of texts and settings covering all 150 Psalms. Right on the front page we read the following:

15 Apr 2021

My Rock and my salvation, 2: Coverdale and the Vulgate

Miles Coverdale
In my last post I examined all the uses in the Psalms of the metaphor rock to refer to God, comparing a standard English translation (RSV) with a recent English translation of the Septuagint (LXX) (NET). As it turns out, Miles Coverdale's 16th-century translation of the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer does virtually the same thing, with one exception. A little digging reveals that Coverdale based his translation on the Latin Vulgate then in use in those churches in communion with Rome. 

The Vulgate appears to follow the LXX's skittishness in referring to God as Rock, but Augustine insists that Jerome translated his Latin Old Testament directly from the Hebrew. Nevertheless, Jerome's initial translation of the Psalms was from the LXX. Could there have been a Hebrew version of the Psalms now lost to us that formed the basis of both LXX and Vulgate versions? Might this Hebrew version have already shunned the rock metaphor? I won't venture a guess, as I am not especially competent to do so. But I will point out that my personal copy of the Latin Vulgate Bible has two columns for the Psalms: one for the traditional Clementine Vulgate and the other for a newer Latin translation authorized by Pope Pius XII in 1945, the latter of which recovers the rock metaphors for God. Oddly enough, Coverdale's translation does assert that "the Lord is my stony rock" in Psalm 18:1, but that is the single exception.

14 Apr 2021

My Rock and my salvation: the Septuagint's skittishness

One of the peculiar features of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament (LXX) is the translators' reluctance to use the metaphor of rock to refer to God. There appears to be no scholarly consensus as to why this is, although there are plausible explanations. Perhaps the Alexandrian Jews had ceased to use these metaphors as they read aloud the text, much as post-exilic Jews were substituting Adonai (LORD) whenever they saw the divine name for God, YHWH. Living amongst pagans, Alexandrian Jews might have been especially sensitive about language used for God so as not inadvertently to tempt their neighbours into idolatry. When I mentioned this peculiarity of the LXX to my late father, who grew up speaking Greek in Cyprus and had studied Koine Greek, without missing a beat he responded that this was because the idols of the pagans were made of stone, which made the rock metaphor off limits to believers. I cannot, of course, judge the validity of his claim, but I assume this reflects teaching in the Orthodox Church in which he grew up.

13 Apr 2021

Watts' quirky paraphrases

One of the difficulties of metrical psalmody is that, as the text becomes more literal, its expression becomes less straightforward and downright awkward. Sternhold & Hopkins, Tate & Brady, and the 1650 Scottish Psalter are examples of this phenomenon. The irony is that this apparent literal rendering sacrifices not only art but also comprehensibility, the latter of which, of course, is the whole point of a good translation. This explains why Isaac Watts' psalm paraphrases became so popular in their day. People in the pews were happy finally to sing something they could understand.

However, Watts was notorious for importing into his paraphrases things absent from the original texts. For the most part this consisted of his explicit mention of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the messianic Psalms. The most famous example of this is probably his paraphrase of Psalm 72: Jesus Shall Reign, Where'r the Sun. But a member of the Lovers of Metrical Psalmody Facebook group alerted us to another quirky paraphrase that brings out, not a messianic emphasis, but a nationalist one! Here is Watts' version of Psalm 67:

12 Apr 2021

New Psalter: Psalms for the Church

After a dearth of psalm-singing in Protestant churches for some two centuries, more denominations than ever are producing sung psalters for their congregations. However, it is unusual for a single congregation to produce a complete metrical psalter for its members. One of these is Cantus Christi 2020, which I reviewed last year, the work of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho. The most recent is New Psalter: Psalms for the Church, compiled by Grace Music, the music ministry of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida, USA. I am unable to find membership statistics, but, judging from the number of staff the church employs and its ability to create its own sung psalter, I assume it is a fairly large congregation. Furthermore, few churches would be able to support a rhythm band, an orchestra, three voice choirs, and a handbell choir. The congregation is nearly a century old and started out as a Methodist church, although it is now an independent congregation.

6 Apr 2021

Seeing Christ in the Shape of the Psalms

The Gospel Coalition has just published this article by an Irish biblical scholar named Davy Ellison: Seeing Christ in the Shape of the Psalms. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Luke 24 arguably contains the greatest Bible study ever. Jesus explains how the prophets spoke of him and how everything written about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:25–27, 44). (“Psalms” here most likely refers to Scripture’s poetry and wisdom literature). Nevertheless, the point is clear throughout Luke 24—in Jesus’s mind, the 150-part Psalter clearly testifies to him.

But we can be more specific about the Psalter. There is a growing consensus in Psalms scholarship that the Psalter has an intentional shape—that editors and compilers arranged the individual psalms in the order we have them for a particular purpose.

I want to give a glimpse of the Psalter’s five books, and in doing so show how the overall shape encourages its readers to hope for a new Davidic king. In doing so, it does exactly what Jesus says it did—it preaches him.

Read the entire article here.

The decline of psalm-singing: the rosary, revisited

Ten years ago I published a post about how the rise of the rosary in the western church paralleled a decline in praying through the biblical Psalter: The decline of psalm-singing: the rosary. Here is more on the subject: Rosary since Vatican II. One would have thought that the Second Vatican Council might undertake to recover the discipline of praying through the Psalms in preference to the endless repetitions of the rosary that were developed as a substitute to accommodate the illiterate. Assuming the accuracy of this article, the Council appears largely to have ignored the rosary, which is unknown in the eastern churches and developed quite late in the west.

What does the Bible have to say? Well, obviously it makes no mention of a rosary, but it does contain the 150 Psalms, which constitute the prayer book of God's people. I strongly believe that the Psalms, along with other biblical canticles from both Old and New Testaments, must take precedence over other post-biblical hymns in our liturgies, as well as in our daily personal prayers.

30 Mar 2021

Concert 'Le psautier huguenot' par la Mission Timothée

This concert was put on three years ago by Mission Timothée to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Shortly thereafter it was posted here: Concert "Le psautier huguenot" par la Mission Timothée.


Here is a directory of the songs sung, including nine of the Genevan Psalms:

29 Mar 2021

The Psalter According to the Seventy of Saint David the Prophet and King

Several years ago I acquired a copy of The Psalter According to the Seventy of Saint David the Prophet and King, a lengthy title describing an English translation from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Psalter for liturgical use. Published in 2007, it was originally released in 1974 and is available in a newer edition also containing the Nine Odes familiar to Orthodox Christians.

The Septuagint was the first translation of what we call the Old Testament into a foreign language, in this case Greek. The Septuagint, often abbreviated to LXX, would have a massive influence among Jews in the Hellenistic world in the centuries before Christ and among Christians, beginning with the apostles themselves. When the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, virtually all such quotations are from the LXX, which sometimes varies from our extant Hebrew texts.

27 Mar 2021

Third Mode Melody, by Thomas Tallis

I recorded this last year and have just posted it on my YouTube channel: Third Mode Melody, by Thomas Tallis. The tune is from Archbishop Matthew Parker's Psalter of 1567 and was originally a setting for Psalm 2. This tune became the basis for Ralph Vaughan Williams' transcendently beautiful Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and Fisher Tull's Sketches on a Tudor Psalm (1971). It is in the phrygian mode, one of the church modes, which means that on the white piano keys one would begin at E and end at E an octave higher without using the black keys. The melody is sometimes called the THIRD TUNE, because it was the third of nine in Parker's collection. It's also called THIRD MODE MELODY, because the phrygian mode is the third, if one begins with the ionian and dorian modes. I believe this simple tune is one of the most haunting pieces of music ever written.


In the Christian Reformed Church's grey Psalter Hymnal David J. Diephouse's versified text for Psalm 62 is set to this tune. In Cantus Christi the 1912 Psalter's text for Psalm 63 is set to this tune. 

I am still learning and hope eventually to be able to produce more professional-looking and sounding videos. In particular, you will need to increase the volume a bit to hear this.

26 Mar 2021

Sing the 'Mean' Psalms

We keep returning to the imprecatory Psalms, as various readers have articulated their own approaches to the "problem" they present for liturgical use. Now Peter Leithart weighs in with the following post at First Things: Sing the "Mean" Psalms. An excerpt:

Singing the “mean” psalms is thus part of the church’s mission. These psalms arouse a hunger and thirst for justice, as we take up the prayers of the destitute as our own. They expand the scope of our prayers. We may not be under threat, but these psalms keep before us the daily dangers of persecuted brothers and sisters. Imprecatory psalms ground us in the real world, counteracting our instinct for over-spiritualized, anodyne, Pollyannaish piety. They’re a form of church discipline, as we ask Jesus to uproot liars and predators from his field, the church.

In the course of the article, Leithart cites my friend Trevor Laurence, who has published my own writings at Cateclesia Forum, which just yesterday posted this: The Virtual Illusion: Social Media’s Uneasy Relationship with Real Community.

25 Mar 2021

Psalm 150, De L' Estocart

The following performance of Genevan Psalm 150 uses the arrangement of Paschale de L'Estocart and my own English text, albeit an earlier form of the text before I revised the last two lines of the second stanza.

A lovely performance indeed. Unfortunately, the person who made the recording, Stephanie Martin, neglected to credit the author of the text. I contacted her several years ago and asked her to do so, but she obviously did not, not even on her YouTube channel. Perhaps the next step is to contact Warner Chappel Production Music, which published the recording.

23 Mar 2021

Benjamin Williams, Book of Psalms

Google Books has posted a copy of Benjamin Williams' Book of Psalms as Translated, Paraphrased, or Imitated by some of the most eminent English Poets, which include Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, whose "New Version" Psalter was published in 1696, and the great hymn writer Isaac Watts. This scanned volume was published in 1781 in Salisbury, England, and even includes the price of four shillings.

What is notable about this volume is a preface by the editor titled, "A Dissertation on Scripture Imprecations," undertaking to grapple with the darker texts in which the psalmist calls God's wrath down on his enemies. Williams takes a quite different approach to what I have written here: GOD AS JUDGE: PRAYING THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS. He believes that the imprecations in the Psalms are largely the work of faulty translators of the original Hebrew text, in which the imperative mood is routinely substituted for the future tense. The original authors were simply predicting what would happen to the wicked rather than wishing it upon them. I am no expert in Hebrew, but given that this was written nearly two and a half centuries ago and that no credible biblical scholars that I am aware of seem to have adopted this interpretation since then, we are probably justified in viewing this as an interesting example of someone struggling with texts that made him uncomfortable.

Not surprisingly, then, Williams used Watts' abbreviated and christological versification of Psalm 109, omitting the lengthy imprecations altogether and ending thus:

Their Malice rag'd without a Cause,
Yet with his dying Breath
He pray'd for Murd'rers on his Cross,
And blest his Foes in Death.

Let not his bright Example shine
In vain before our Eyes;
May we like him to Peace incline,
And love our Enemies.

15 Mar 2021

Genevan Psalter: lecture and performance

We badly need a translation from Hungarian of what looks to have been a fantastic lecture: Dr. Vas Bence: Genfi zsoltárok - Kórus- és lantfeldolgozások a XVI. században. Translation: Dr. Bence Vas: Geneva Psalms - Choral and Lute arrangements in the 16th century. Even if you cannot understand Hungarian, you can still enjoy the performances of Psalms 6, 5, 143, 77, 40, and 80 for choir, vocal solo, and guitar.



12 Mar 2021

David R. Erb: Psalm 43

During a visit to New Saint Andrews College in 2018, I was privileged to meet and spend time with musician and composer David R. Erb, who writes through-composed renditions of the Psalms. Here is his version of Psalm 43:



10 Mar 2021

Howard Green: Psalm 1

Here is another beautiful rendition of the first Psalm: Blessed is the man. Oddly, it ends on the fifth rather than the tonic.



9 Mar 2021

Kohlhase's Psalm 48

Here is Karl Kohlhase's version of Psalm 48:



25 Feb 2021

Psalms 27 and 82: Nathan George

Nathan George again, performing Psalms 27 and 82:




24 Feb 2021

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

The Genevan Psalm tunes have sometimes been paired with other biblical texts. A particularly familiar such pairing, often sung during Advent, is Comfort, Comfort Ye My People, a versification of the first verses of Isaiah 40 set to the tune for Psalm 42. This is also sung by Nathan George and family and was posted in December of last year. This is one of those remote pandemic recordings with instrumentalists located in different parts of the world.



Gently Gently: Psalm 6

Here is a compelling paraphrase of Psalm 6 set to music and performed very nicely indeed. The artists are Nathan Clark George and family.



22 Feb 2021

Grant on the imprecatory psalms

My wife, a professional biblical scholar by trade, recently pointed me to this article by Jamie A. Grant: Crisis, Cursing and the Christian: Reading Imprecatory Psalms in the Twenty-First Century (Foundations: No.74 Spring 2018). Here is an excerpt:

Clearly, at least within contemporary Western brands of Christianity, we are uncomfortable with the imprecations. In most of our lectionary traditions, imprecatory voices are not read, and the same is true in traditions where psalms are sung. Equally clearly, many interpreters are sceptical about the continued validity of such expressions in the Christian era. What, therefore, are we to do with psalms such as Psalm 69 that calls for the death of enemies or Psalm 137 that appears to eulogise the killing of babies? While remaining troubled by these voices in Scripture, many Christian readers are instinctively cautious about removing, either literally or functionally, sections of Scripture simply because they make us uncomfortable or because they are difficult to understand. So, the question remains: should we, can we, adopt such words as our own in our experience of worship? . . .

19 Feb 2021

Karl Kohlhase's Psalter

Once again these are not metrical Psalms as such, but Karl Kohlhase's arrangements and performances of the Psalms definitely merit attention. His YouTube channel can be found here. Unlike some versions of the Psalms, I believe that these might be mastered by a congregation with a little assistance and practice, especially due to their regular rhythms and repeated musical themes. Here is a small selection:

Psalm 2:


18 Feb 2021

Psalm Choir sings Koyzis: Psalm 134

The tune for Genevan Psalm 134 was paired with the long-metre (LM) text for Psalm 100 from the Scottish Psalter in the 17th century and is thus familiar to generations of Christians as OLD ONE HUNDREDTH. Many years ago I arranged the tune, and here it is performed by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir and returned to Psalm 134:



17 Feb 2021

Jason Silver's Psalter

One of the joys of keeping a blog such as this is discovering new talent to share with others. Jason Silver maintains a YouTube channel devoted to the Psalms and other Scripture songs. His have many of the characteristics of metrical psalms, including a consistent rhythm and repeated themes. But the words are straight from Scripture with no attempt to compress them into artificial metre and rhyme. Here are a few samples in different musical styles, ranging from movie western to Celtic:

Psalm 1:

Celebrating the Psalms Through Lent

During Lent our congregation is Celebrating the Psalms Through Lent. For each day click on the appropriate numbered link and hear our members reciting the entire book, concluding with the final Psalms of praise on Easter. Today we hear our own Mary Edwards read Psalm 1-4. Join us for our Lenten journey.

16 Feb 2021

Bluegrass Psalms

The following was posted by a marvellous musical group called the Hillbilly Thomists: Our Help Is in the Name of the Lord. It's a composite of several Psalms, including numbers 40, 70, 69, 124, and a few others. The Hillbilly Thomists are an ensemble of Dominican Friars who took their somewhat whimsical name from Flannery O'Connor's self-description. This song is from their new album, Living for the Other Side, available on their website.



15 Feb 2021

Another Catholic (and an Orthodox Christian) on the imprecatory psalms

I am in a Facebook group devoted to the Breviary and Divine Office, which includes mostly Roman Catholics and Anglicans but also other Christians interested in the ancient cycle of daily prayer of which the biblical Psalms play a central role. One of the members posted this article by Peter Kwasniewski: The Omission of “Difficult” Psalms and the Spreading-Thin of the Psalter. The author charges that church officials have unduly expurgated troubling scripture passages from both the Psalter and the lectionary readings of scripture at the celebration of the mass. But what I wanted to call attention to is the long quotation by Orthodox priest Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in one of the footnotes:

The real problem . . . is not with the psalm, but with ourselves. We modern Christians are far too disposed to establish our personal sentiments, our own spontaneous feelings, as the standard for our prayer. Thus, if the words of a particular prayer (in this case, a psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit) express emotions and responses with which we do not “feel” comfortable, we tend to think that we are being insincere in praying it. Contemporary Christians have made a virtual fetish of spontaneity in worship, and sincerity nowadays is measured by pulse rhythm. One would think that our Lord had said: “I have come that you may have sincere and heartfelt emotions, and have them more abundantly.”

I Know Whom I Have Believed: a beloved mistranslation

In addition to the Psalms, Christians have sung other parts of Scripture as well down through the centuries. Here is one such song familiar to generations of protestants raised in revivalist circles. I associate this song with the Baptist church in my mother's hometown in Michigan where she and my father were married and which we attended during lengthy visits with relatives when I was a boy. We sang this song yesterday in church.

Although the stanzas are not from the Bible, the chorus is straight out of 2 Timothy 1:12 in the King James Version:

. . . for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day.

9 Feb 2021

Franz Liszt, Psalm 42

The 19th-century Hungarian composer Franz (Ferenc) Liszt composed his own arrangement of Genevan Psalm 42. Listen to this recording of Wolfgang Weller performing this piece on the piano:



8 Feb 2021

Kent Dykstra's Psalms

Kent Dykstra maintains a YouTube channel worth checking out: Kent Dykstra. Here we find Dykstra's arrangements of several Genevan Psalms for string orchestra. Here are a few samples, beginning with Psalm 2:

 

Psalm 8:

 

Psalm 96:

 

Check out Dykstra's channel for more. On Facebook check out his Praise Him with Stringed Instruments page.

3 Feb 2021

Psalm 24: new tune needed?

This psalm from the RPCNA's Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 24, is nicely sung, and the text is fine. Give it a listen here:

All the same, most Christians will find the familiar William Howard Doane tune distracting, as it is nearly universally associated with Fanny Crosby's beloved To God Be the Glory. Some tunes can be appropriately matched with multiple texts, as the success of Scotland's split-leaf psalters testifies. However, when a tune is so thoroughly associated with a given lyric, it may need to be passed over when new metrical psalters are being compiled. This is a good reason why Brian Wright's Anatomy of the Soul project is so compelling.

2 Feb 2021

Praying the Psalms

The new issue of First Things carries a wonderful article by Robert Louis Wilken: Praying the Psalms. An excerpt:

Praying the psalms, then, is a means of kindling love—a truth that St. Bonaventure saw with blinding clarity. If you ask how one can know God, wrote Bonaventure, seek the answer in God’s grace, not instruction; desire, not intellect; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light but the raging fire that will bear you aloft.

In a striking passage in book 9 of the Confessions, Augustine recalls meditating on Psalm 4. He was staying at a friend’s villa near Milan while preparing for Baptism: “My God, how I cried to you when I read the Psalms of David, songs of faith, utterances of devotion which allow no pride of spirit to enter in . . . how they kindled my love for you.” They are sung all over the world, says Augustine, and there is no one “who can hide himself from your heat” (Ps. 19:6). He wished that ­others were nearby “watching my face and hearing my cries, to see what that psalm had done to me.”

When I first read that passage years ago, I was brought up short by the word “done.” Doing is not something we attribute to prayer; it implies action, not meditation. But praying the psalm did something to Augustine. The feelings expressed by the psalmist became his feelings. When the psalms are prayed, they don’t simply express something; they effect something, like an oath of office, or a couple’s wedding vows, or the words of consecration. The language is performative. Again, Augustine: “If the psalm is praying, pray yourselves; if it is groaning, you groan too; if it is happy, rejoice; if it is crying out in hope, you hope as well; if it expresses fear, be afraid. Everything written here is like a mirror held up to us.”

First Things allows nonsubscribers to read three free articles per month. Let this be one of them.