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Ancient & Modern: a review


Ancient & Modern: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship (2013).

My copy of Ancient & Modern: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship (2013) has just arrived. It is the ninth edition of what is the most enduring and popular lineage of hymnals in the Church of England. We currently use Common Praise (2000, the eighth edition of A&M), in the College Chapel. My former churches have used Sing Glory (1999), Ancient & Modern New Standard Edition (1983) and New English Hymnal (1986) as their main hymnbooks, which is progress of sorts! Unlike some churches, the Church of England has never had an official hymnbook, but the Ancient & Modern stable comes closest to a standard.

For some background and a couple of thoughts about hymnals in the 21st century, see Ancient & Modern: history and future.

Ancient & Modern has 847 items: the largest inventory in this hymnbook’s history, beating the 779 hymns of the Standard Edition (1916 & 1920). Not all of these are hymns, some are liturgical songs and ‘short chants’. It is not too much of a surprise that this is an increase on the 628 hymns of Common Praise. However, seeing that the intermediate supplement Sing Praise (2010) has 330 entries, there has been a bit of a cull. I guestimate that around 150 hymns in Common Praise have been cut (inexplicably, the cloying ‘In a world where people walk in darkness’ (CP 476, AM9 677) has survived!). I confess to some alarm that so many hymns that were thought necessary of inclusion 13 years ago have proved disposable. It makes me wonder how many of the current volume will last as long. The proprietors actually suggest that those who already have Common Praise should make the lesser investment in Sing Praise rather than switching directly to the new edition. I believe, though, that would mean that there would be around fifty or more items in the ninth edition that those with the two previous volumes would be missing.

Physically, the full-music editions of the two hymnals, eighth and ninth editions, are about the same size. Although this is perhaps due to my old Common Praise being stretched with use, the paper used for the ninth edition is clearly thinner, yet this has not lead to a reduction in print quality. Unlike some poorly produced editions of Hymns Old & New (nothing to do with Ancient & Modern), verso print does not obviously show through on the recto, and vice versa. The same typesetter and music engraver, the laudable Andrew Parker, worked on the two editions, yet there has been progress toward a brighter, clearer printing. Music and textual credits have been moved to the bottom of the page, into space, allowing for a little more information to be given. For the three translations of Phos hilaron are given their Greek title in Greek script: a nicely revived tradition that flatters the singer. These three are John Keble’s text set to John Stainer’s Sebaste at 17, Christopher Idle’s more recent offering at 18 and Robert Bridges’s at 20, with the latter being the preferred translation of the rival English Hymnal tradition.

It would take 2½ years to sing through all 847 items without repeating one, given four hymns every Sunday morning and three in the evening. Of course, there are always going to be some hymns that are not to the taste of clergy, musicians and congregations, and others that are repeat favourites. Some of the liturgical items might be used week in, week out, or not at all.

The arrangement of the hymns follows the tried and tested pattern of the A&M stable: the diurnal of morning and evening, the seasons of the church year, saints’ days, a few service themes and the lucky dip of ‘Hymns throughout the Year’ (the odd name of the category used in Common Praise) or ‘General’ (the more sensible title in the ninth edition). The ninth edition’s categories are a joy: after the saints’ days, there are decent selections of hymns for Christian initiation, marriage, and funerals and the departed. Then there are selections of hymns chosen for use in a generalised sequence of sections of church services: gathering, penitence, the word of God, canticles and affirmations of faith, prayer and intercession, Holy Communion, and sending out. These mix hymns with liturgical texts, like the three modern Kyries (370–2) in the penitence category; the first is that from James MacMillan’s Mass of the Blessed John Henry Newman. The word category begins with the traditional sixth-mode Alleluia (374), and goes on to provide an Alleluia setting by Bernadette Farrell (376) and James Walsh’s Pilgrim’s Alleluia (377) — I am left to wonder why the Stanbrook Abbey hymn ‘Bright as fire in darkness’ intrudes at 375. There is also a Marty Haugen song that can be used as an Alleluia at 385, demonstrating the problem that items are arranged mainly in alphabetical order within categories rather then rational groupings. Thankfully the metrical Magnificats and other canticles are grouped together. The category for prayer and intercession includes a number of simple, modern chants that can be used as sung responses to supplications. It is not necessarily obvious, but four metrical settings of Gloria in excelsis Deo (413–16) are in the Holy Communion category, followed by two settings of Sanctus (417, 418) and one Agnus Dei (419). The 61 items in this category could really have done with a finer level of grouping within the category.

The later categories of themes — the church’s ministry and mission, wholeness and healing, sorrow and lament, creation and the environment, justice and peace, and national and remembrance — are welcome, if still slightly thin. Even with all of these categories, there are still 246 ‘general’ hymns (29 % of the inventory). Still, this is an improvement on the like category of 265 hymns in Common Praise (42 %). There are hymnals, like Mission Praise, Sing Glory and Hymns Old & New, that take the unimaginative approach of arranging all their entries in alphabetical order of their textual incipits (though I do remember some old copies of Mission Praise took a unique approach to the alphabet!). Given a decent index, and the ninth edition has indexes aplenty (read on if you, like me, sadly spend more time in hymn indexes than with the hymns themselves), it makes sense to organise things by sensible categories and relationally. Thus, I am sure the compilers saw the need to keep the lucky dip to a minimum, recognising it as a sign of methodological laxity. A rough grouping of these hymns by theological themes would have been a welcome change, alongside better grouping of items within the other categories. The group of 17 ‘short chants’ at the end, mostly from Taizé and Iona, alongside some in other categories, will be a welcome addition in many churches.

The indexes include the now standard and practical parade of biblical index, hymn suggestions for each Sunday and major feast, alphabetical index of tunes, metrical index of tunes, index of composers, index of authors, and the index of first lines and tunes. Alongside these there is a list of hymns ‘suitable for all-age worship’ that some might use, but also a particularly handy thematic index that lists hymn numbers appropriate to a wide range of theological and other themes. Some of these (e.g. marriage) exactly reproduces a category, adding the belt to the braces. Yet this extra index shows an appropriate response to the problem of categories: what to do with those items that fit multiple categories. It also allows for themes that are too vague to have been categories (e.g. water).

The influence of Hymns Old & New (first Anglican Edition in 1986, with the popular New Anglican Edition a decade later, now superseded by others) can be seen in the ninth edition. Although Hymns Old & New has had major flaws in its musical arrangements and production quality, it brought together favourite hymns with choruses, praise songs and chants. Its coup was to provide what many churches wanted. Starting with Sing Praise, the Ancient & Modern tradition began to incorporate this wider repertoire, and the ninth edition includes symbols for guitar chords above the music for some items, thankfully not following Hymns Old & New in providing them for all items, even where they conflict with the musical arrangement.

For controversialists, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty‘s ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’ is included (678), with its words ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ in the second verse. Whereas some have rewritten the line, Getty has, understandably, refused to allow it to be used with an altered text. While American Presbyterians have recently decided to omit the hymn because of that line, it now makes Ancient & Modern look doctrinally brave/timid for including it.

For some background and a couple of thoughts about hymnals in the 21st century, see Ancient & Modern: history and future.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

13 thoughts on “Ancient & Modern: a review

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  6. I’m glad to hear the hymn, “In Christ alone my hope is found,” was included, and still contained the line, “the wrath of God was satisfied.” I think that one is particularly beautiful just the way it is. I’ve heard of the controversy here in the states, but my denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) still sings it in the original language of the author. You have an enjoyable blog. Thanks for sharing. 😀

    • Thank you for your thoughts. As I said, I cannot work out whether the proprietors of Ancient & Modern were being brave or timid by including this hymn unaltered; that is whether they include it because they believe in it, or include it just because it’s popular. If I had to guess, I would suspect timidity of the latter. Hymns are an important place for us to receive theology, so it is important that we think about what they are saying. This line exhibits one of the many ways that the Bible describes the atonement. It is not even among the most used descriptions of atonement, yet it has had a prominent place in the beliefs of some Christians. I believe that the prominence is a distortion (various Christian groups emphasize different theological threads, and some of these produce their distortions). The problem with doing theology in hymns (and there is a lot of good to be said for theology in hymns too) is that we don’t stop and discuss these one-liners, and, however deep our understanding is, we have to think about what a superficial reading of the line would produce in those without much theological understanding. The superficial reading is something like “God is very angry, but Jesus death made him happy”. This is, I hope, not what the author of that line meant, because it is such a distortion of the truth about atonement, but it is likely to be the way it is read. I would be all for singing it, provided that I could announce to the congregation beforehand what this line means. In many services that would be disruptive, so I would rather not sing it, but in some services, I think that this might be a good teaching point.

      • Oh, I completely agree about the theology present in hymns, and caution against the careless use of them. I know, through the course of my life, I have stood through many a hymn silent, mulling over the meaning of the lyrics. I would hope the proprietors left it in for brave purposes, and to that end. Hymns are part of our worship. They’re part of our exclamations. If we rejoice over the wrath of God being satisfied by the death of His own son, those unfamiliar with the concept should be left with the question, “Why?” When someone asks, they listen a great deal better than when they are told. Reconciliation with our Creator seems to me to be the very heart of Scripture, and His means provided the highest gift. I tend to agree with singing that out, letting it resonate with any heart that understands, and addressing any misunderstandings after wards as they arise.

  7. Dear Mr. Hughes,

    I am still catholic but am going to convert to the Church of England. To be familiar with worship and the hymns, I wanted to buy a hymnal. But I found out that there is not any official hymnal in use. I have just found out that there are two really popular ones:
    I want to ask you now, where the differences between the two hymnals lie and which I – from your point of view – should take.

    Yours Sincerely

    PS: Please excuse me for my occasionally poor style of expression, I am German 🙂

    • Liebe(r) Apfelinsider.

      Ich nehme an, dass Sie in England niedergelassen haben. Wenn Sie nehmen regelmäßig an eine anglikanische Kirche, dann empfehle ich, dass Sie sich vertraut machen mit dem Gesangbuch gab es früher. Anglikanischen Gesangbücher enthalten normalerweise einige Hymnen aus der Zeit vor der Reformation, sowie viele lutherische Hymnen. Natürlich gibt es genügend einheimischen Hymnen als gut. Ich glaube, dass dieser neue Band der Hymns Ancient & Modern hat einen breiten Anklang in der Kirche. Das war schon immer die Tradition dieses Gesangbuch. Die New English Hymnal ist auch eine sehr gute Gesangbuch, aber es ist älter (es sei denn man zählt seine Aufpreis). Es wurde traditionell von der “High Church” und anglo-katholischen Abschnitte der Kirche begünstigt. In der Vergangenheit hatte es mehrere liturgische Musik, und mehr Hymnen für Feste, Heiligen und der Jungfrau Maria. Ich denke, dass die letzte Ausgabe der Hymns Ancient & Modern übereinstimmt dies.

      Best wishes,


      • Dear Mr. Hughes,

        Thank you very much for your fast reply. I was really surprised when I saw your excellent German, but, to do you a favour, I continue in English.
        I am sorry, but I have not moved to England yet. First, I want to make my A Levels and, after that, I want to study Theology in England.
        So, from your point of view, has Hymns Ancient and modern become more catholic ? (in terms of the Virgin Mary and the Sacraments)
        Also, I wanted to ask you whether there is a big difference between Anglican and Roman-Catholic theology (e.g. is the Church of England more contemporary, for example in the teaching about homosexuality?)
        The last question I have got, is concerning the “legitimacy” of the Church of England: Is it a succession of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which just has rejected papal authority or is it more than this?

        Yours Sincerely

        Sören von Delft

  8. Dear Sören,

    I wish you good luck with your exams.

    It would not be wrong to speak of A&M becoming more catholic, and it reflects the move of the church’s mainstream to a light form of ‘liberal catholicism’. Even yet, I think many Anglicans who are not Anglo-Catholic, including the middle-ground, would find too much sacrificial theology or Mariology difficult to digest. Traditionally, the English Hymnal and the New English Hymnal have been the mainstay of Anglo-Catholics. Theologically, the Church of England is quite diverse. It is a church of the Reformation, and, therefore, influenced by early Lutheran and Calvinist theology. Since the 19th century and the pioneering work of Newman, Pusey, Keble and other Tractarians, there has been the growing acceptance of Anglo-Catholicism within the church, which can appear more traditionally catholic than many modern Roman churches. Worldwide Anglicanism only has a rather vague attachment to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and there is no centralised control. The church’s approach to theology, without a regulating magisterium, is more haphazard. Perhaps a more romantic way of describing it would be that theology happens in conversation. Synods consisting of bishops, other clergy and laity govern the dioceses and churches. Whereas in the Roman Catholic Church there is an unspoken rule that some things are not to be spoken about at an official level, like homosexuality and women priests, except in a rather dry restatement of official statements. In Anglicanism, there has to be a discussion, and bishops are continually called to defend the official stance on these hot topics. The Church of England has women priests, and soon will have women bishops, but there are sections of the church that are against women’s ordained ministry, and are somewhat protected. On issues of homosexuality, the church is having a difficult conversation at the moment; the leadership is making strong statements against homophobia, while still limiting the involvement of LGBT clergy. All churches everywhere consider themselves to be legitimate. The official Roman documents declare Anglican churches to be illegitimate, but that is based on the factually incorrect claim that the first Anglican bishops of the Reformation were not in the apostolic succession. The Church of England does not consider itself to have been founded at the Reformation, but to be in unbroken continuity from the mediaeval church. The ancient churches and cathedrals are all Anglican, while the Roman Catholic churches are all recent constructions.

    I hope that answers a few of your questions,


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