Our Love, Crucified
I've told my students that if they hear me singing a hymn in Welsh as I walk down the street, they are to consider it within the bounds of possibility, but if they see me walking into a museum of modern art, they should call for an ambulance, because something must be terribly wrong.
Yet I think there is something worse than modern art with all its obtuseness, ugliness, and offense to the human and the divine. It is the sacred, vandalized. Which would you find less tolerable? A gallery of Picasso's paintings in his cubist stage, or a modernized Sistine Chapel, with smiles painted in on all the faces of Michelangelo's Last Judgment, and the devils and the damned whited out?
Most current Christian hymnals are like that, alas. It is by no means easy to uncover exactly what a badly vandalized or abbreviated hymn once said. I understand editors are sometimes squeezed for space, so they choose to omit stanzas that can be left out without doing violence to the whole. Still, that should be a last resort. As for revision, everything that editors have done since 1965, almost without exception, has been stupid, ungrammatical, sloppy, vague, or treacherous. Thus, most Christians in English-speaking nations do not know what they are—and are not—singing.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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