Nov 24, 2014

Pilgrimage complete: Psalm 150


Our friend Ernst Stolz has completed his three-year recording pilgrimage through the Genevan Psalter, leaving us with a wonderful collection of inestimable value. Here are his final three recordings:








Gefeliciteerd, Mijnheer Stolz! Congratulations on this tremendous achievement. Now perhaps you might consider also recording the two Lukan canticles sung in 16th-century Geneva: the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis.

Oct 26, 2014

Nahum Tate: reviser of Shakespeare and versifier of Psalms


Last week our family saw King Lear at the Stratford Festival here in Ontario. This is undoubtedly the Shakespeare play I know best, having seen more than one version of it over the decades. Everyone knows that it's a tragedy, although the Immortal Bard's source material apparently had the king's youngest daughter inheriting his realm at the end. While researching the play, I discovered something fascinating that's relevant to this blog: What did Nahum Tate do to Shakespeare?

The son of a clergyman, Nahum Tate was an Irish poet and lyricist. As well as penning his own works, Tate turned his hand to 'adapting' a number of Elizabethan dramas, including some of Shakespeare's. . . .

Tate's version of King Lear, titled The History of King Lear, is drastically different from Shakespeare's. For one thing, it is not a tragedy. Tate felt, and many agreed with him, that the ending of King Lear was just too sad to bear. So, he replaces Lear on the throne and doesn't kill off Cordelia.

In addition to adapting Shakespeare's plays, Nahum Tate collaborated with Nicholas Brady to produce the Tate and Brady "New Version" metrical psalter (1696), the second psalter to be used in England after the Sternhold and Hopkins, and the last to be used before someone decided that metrical psalmody was best left to the Scots.

Aug 29, 2014

A bus blessing from the Psalms


The other day I was riding the city bus to work. Another passenger, just before he got off the bus, turned to the rest of us and said, "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." Then he left the vehicle.

I had two reactions. First, I suddenly had the Genevan tune for Psalm 118 running through my head. (This won't surprise people who know me well.) Second, I was pleased that someone was willing to begin his day with a heart of gratitude and was willing to impart something of this to his fellow passengers. How many of us would have the courage – or effrontery – to do something similar?

Aug 27, 2014

One hundred years later: the Psalms and the First World War


Everyone knows how it all started. It was the end of June in 1914. Tensions had been building for decades among the rival European powers. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, when he and his wife were assassinated by a Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. Vienna’s annexation of that province six years earlier had nearly led to war then, but now the real thing was only one month away. When the dust had cleared and the war was over four years later, some sixteen million people had died, and the world was never the same again. Ancient empires fell, with kings and emperors toppled from their thrones and exiled. Entire populations were cruelly uprooted from their homes, simply because they happened to live on the wrong side of arbitrary boundaries set during and after hostilities had ended.

Nearly four decades ago, I visited Prague, the capital of what was still communist-ruled Czechoslovakia and, before the First World War, part of Austria-Hungary. During my time there, I purchased in an antiquarian bookshop a Czech-language New Testament and Psalms published in 1845 for “Evangelical Christians of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions,” that is, for Lutheran and Reformed Christians. The print was in the old German black letter font, and even some of the spelling was obsolete.

It was not until seven years ago that I noticed something interesting about the Psalms in this volume. An early owner of the book, whose surname was Lány, read through the Psalms at the pace of approximately one psalm per day (except, of course, for Psalm 119), taking time to mark the date at the top of each. He started with Psalm 1 on “1./8.”, or the 1st day of August 1914, and continued until he read Psalm 150 on “18./I. 1915,” that is, the 18th of January 1915.

I am convinced that the timing of his praying through the Psalms was not accidental.

Read the complete article here.

Aug 1, 2014

Psalm 24 in Frisian


Here is a link to a pdf copy of Lof Fen Alle Tiden: Psalmen, Gezangen, en Lieten, published in 1934, containing, among other things, several of the Genevan Psalms in the Frisian language. Frisian is a west Germanic language spoken in the north part of the Netherlands and into the far northwest part of Germany, including the Frisian Islands. Linguists have identified Frisian as the closest relative to English and Broad Scots, and there are persistent rumours that Frisians can read Beowulf in the original. Here is the Frisian versification of Psalm 24, whose first line bears an obvious resemblance to English expression, "The wide world is God's domain":

De wide wrald is Gods domein,
De rike ierd fen ein to ein,
Mei al hwa 't hjir hjar wenplak founen;
Hwent Hy, Hy joech se stal en ste,
Hy lei yn 't hert fen de iiv'ge se,
Fen stream en wetterfloed hjar grounen.

Heevje op, o poarten, heevje 't haed,
En iiv'ge doarren, breedzje 't paed,
Lit yn, lit yn de Foarst der eare!
Hwa dochs dy kening weze mei?
't Is Hy, geweltich yn Syn wei,
Geweltich yn 'e striid — de Heare.

Heevje op, o poarten, heevje 't haed,
En iiv'ge doarren, breedzje 't paed,
Lit yn, lit yn de Foarst der eare!
Hwa dochs dy Kening weze kin?
De God fen ierde' oanbigjin;
Det is us Kening, det us Heare.

Jun 20, 2014

More from Sing a New Song


I couldn't resist reposting the remainder of the videos from the Free Church of Scotland's website. They deserve a wide distribution amongst those who love to sing the Psalms.

Note that the tune for Psalm 16 (or OLD 134TH) seems to be adapted from Genevan Psalm 101. And, of course, OLD 100TH is the Genevan tune for Psalm 134.








Jun 17, 2014

Sing a New Song: the 'Wee Free'


The Free Church of Scotland has posted a number of highly appealing videos featuring personal testimonies of God's grace, choral/congregational renditions of the Psalms, and beautiful footage of the Scottish landscape. These are excerpts from a DVD titled, Sing a New Song, available from the Free Church Bookshop.





Jun 15, 2014

New Zealand sings to the Lord


A few days ago I received a copy of the new psalter and hymnal published by the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, titled, Sing to the Lord. The RCNZ appears to have only 19 congregations, which makes it all the more impressive that such a small denomination should produce so high quality a collection. It is similar in feel to the various editions of the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal, with the psalter texts based largely on the 1912 Psalter of the former United Presbyterian Church in North America.

The Psalms are numbered 1 through 150, with some psalms boasting more than one versification. When this occurs, the Psalm number is generally followed by A or B. Some Psalms are too long to be sung to a single tune, such as Psalm 119, where each of the Hebrew letters is given a different metrical treatment and tune. Somewhat to my surprise, given the Dutch origins of the RCNZ, only 14 of the Genevan tunes are used in this collection. These are Psalms 6, 25, 42, 47, 65, 68, 77, 81, 105, 116, 118, 124, 134 and 150.

Unlike especially the grey Psalter Hymnal and the Dutch Liedboek voor de Kerken, Sing to the Lord does not have a separate section for Bible songs or canticles. These are included in the second section, titled simply "Hymns" and are arranged topically. For example, my own text, Christ Who Is in the Form of God, based on Philippians 2:6-11, is included under the subsection "God the Son." Nor is there any effort to organize the hymns according to the church year. Nevertheless, there is an Index of Bible Songs (813-814), as well as a Topical Index (815-842) in which the feasts and seasons of the ecclesiastical calendar are matched with appropriate psalms and hymns.

At the beginning of the volume is a section containing the Lord's Prayer, the three Ecumenical Creeds and the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Reformed confessions are absent, as are the various liturgical forms found in similar collections serving the churches. This volume is already fairly hefty, so perhaps these resources are found in a separate volume.

The Reformed Churches of New Zealand are part of the International Conference of Reformed Churches and are in communion with the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Vrijgemakt), among others.

Jun 9, 2014

To renew creation: Psalm 104 and the promise of Pentecost


There is an ancient tradition tying Psalm 104 together with the celebration of Pentecost, the day the church celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit, an event recorded in Acts 2:1-36.

Psalm 104 begins exactly the same way as the immediately preceding psalm: “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” And like Psalm 103, it too ends with the same summons to praise the LORD. In between the opening and closing verses, however, the two psalms follow different paths.

Psalm 103 appears to have been written for a particular occasion, prompting the writer to offer thanksgiving to God. Perhaps the psalmist had recovered his health after suffering illness (verses 3-5). Or he may have received forgiveness for a sin committed and was grateful to God for his unexpected and unmerited mercy (verse 10). In the Reformed churches Psalm 103 is often sung as a thanksgiving psalm after the reception of the Lord’s Supper, a usage dating back to 16th-century Geneva.

By contrast, Psalm 104 is a more general hymn of praise to God as creator. At least one commentator has noted the similarities between this psalm and the first chapter of Genesis, which portrays God calling into being the sky, the sea and the land, and then filling these places with the appropriate living creatures. Yet while Genesis 1 sees creation as a completed work followed by Sabbath rest, the one-hundred fourth Psalm views it from a different angle: here creation is ongoing, reminding the reader that everything that exists is utterly dependent on God, whose faithful care for what he made is continual.

Remarkably, human beings are not explicitly mentioned as products of God’s creative activity but are mentioned almost in passing at several points. For example: “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts” (14-15).

What then does all this have to do with the Holy Spirit? The single reference comes in verse 30: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” But is that one verse sufficient to make this a Pentecost psalm? The church in its wisdom has said yes, and for good reason.

To be sure, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as recounted in Acts, is bestowed initially on the apostles and is manifested in their sudden ability to communicate the gospel in the multiple languages of the people present in Jerusalem that day. Yet Romans 8:22-24 tells us that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Our redemption as God’s children does not remove us from creation; it is, rather, bound up with the renewal of the entire creation, of which we are part. The cosmic scope of redemption in Jesus Christ and renewal in the Holy Spirit is beautifully set forth in Psalm 104, which is thus fittingly sung on Pentecost.

To mark this occasion in the church calendar I here present readers with two stanzas of my own recently-completed metrical versification of this psalm, to be sung to the proper Genevan tune, covering verses 27-34 in the standard English translations:

All creatures look to you for sustenance;
and in due course you give them nourishment.
What you bestow on them they gather gladly;
your open hand has given to them freely.
They are in terror when you hide your face;
when you deprive of breath, they leave this place.
You send your spirit to renew creation
and to the earth bring life and your salvation.

Now may the glory that the LORD displays
endure for ever and for endless days.
May he delight in what his hands have fashioned,
who sparks volcanoes and the earthquake's passion.
All of my life I'll sing to praise the LORD;
while I draw breath, my God will be adored.
May he be pleased to hear my meditation,
for in the LORD I find my jubilation.

Let us then echo in our hearts and with our voices the final words of this psalm: “Praise the LORD!”

David T. Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College and is the author, most recently, of We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (Pickwick Publications, 2014). This article appeared in the 9 June issue of Christian Courier under the general title, "Principalities & Powers".

May 30, 2014

Singing the Psalms: on public transportation


I don't know whether this is a church group, but can you imagine the responses if passengers on an ordinary city or inter-city bus broke into Gaelic psalmody? People generally line up for the bus, but very few indeed line out in the bus.

May 29, 2014

The Niagara Psalter: Psalm 47


On this Ascension Day I have posted one more selection from my growing Niagara Psalter collection: Psalm 47, which is a joyous celebration of God's kingship over, not only his own people, but all the nations of the earth and the symbols of their power. The text has obvious relevance to today's observance, namely, the formal end of Jesus' earthly ministry and his enthronement at the right hand of God the Father, where he reigns as king and intercedes on our behalf and from whence, as the Creed puts it, "he shall come to judge the living and the dead." I have named the tune PLAUDITE, from the Latin Vulgate translation of this Psalm. It is in the ionian mode, and the text is unrhymed:

Peoples, clap your hands together;
shout to God with songs of joy!
For the LORD Most High is awesome,
great king over all the earth.
He subdued the pagan peoples,
put them underneath our feet,
gave their land to us as promised,
Jacob's pride bestowed in love.

God goes up as shouts of triumph
follow him in his ascent,
With the sound of blasting trumpet,
see the LORD ascend on high.
Sing your praise to God, sing praises;
praises sing to God our King.
For of earth our God is Ruler;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

God reigns over every nation;
God is seated on his throne.
All the princes of the peoples
gather in his presence now
as the people who inherit
what God promised Abraham.
For the shields of earth are God's, who
is exalted and most high.

May 20, 2014

Psalm 130: Stolz on the home stretch


Our friend Ernst Stolz has now reached Psalm 130 in his steady march through the Genevan Psalms. Only twenty more to go.

May 17, 2014

Update: Psalms 101 and 104


I have added two more Psalms to my Genevan collection, Psalms 101 and 104, making for a cumulative total of 85.

Psalm 101 may have been a coronation Psalm for the Davidic monarch, who swears thereby to uphold justice and to root out wickedness within his kingdom. It is perhaps ascribed to David himself or, alternatively, it may simply be of or about David, following the heading in the Septuagint. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon believes that its applicability extends beyond the political and into the private household, whose integrity requires proper governance along godly patterns. According to Matthew Henry, this psalm teaches that all charged with authority, presumably in any setting, are "to use it so as to be a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to them that do well." As with so many of the Davidic psalms, Psalm 101 may be seen to find its ultimate fulfilment in the person of the coming Messiah, Jesus, who will pronounce final judgement on the wicked and salvation for the righteous and whose kingdom will have no end.

Here are the first three stanzas in my versification, covering verses 1-4 in the standard prose translations:

Of justice and fidelity will I sing;
to you, O LORD, my songs of praise will I bring,
and to your righteous ways I'll firmly cling.
When will you come?

Integrity shall be the path I pursue;
within my house I vow to give all to you.
I will not place whatever is untrue
before my eyes.

I hate the deeds that faithless people perform;
to all their evils I will never conform.
My heart will not let wicked ways deform,
but shun all sin.

The poetic metre is 11.11.10.4 and the versification follows an a-a-a-b rhyming scheme. The melody is in the hypoionian mode, which is roughly equivalent to what we would call a major key.

Psalm 104 is traditionally associated with Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the church. I will have more to say about this psalm as we get closer to this feast day.

Apr 18, 2014

The Cithara Sanctorum


Here is more information about The Cithara Sanctorum, which recorded the performance of Psalm 22 posted earlier:

Mission Poland - Cithara Sanctorum from Miwaza Jemimah on Vimeo.

Psalm 22


This performance of Genevan Psalm 22 in Polish was posted just ahead of today's Good Friday observance.


Here in Polish is the information posted by The Cithara Sanctorum:

Wykonanie Psalmu 22 według Psałterza Poznańskiego.
Agata Polaszek & Mate.O.

Agata Polaszek: śpiew, gitara klasyczna, lira korbowa, psalterium
Mate.O: śpiew

Tekst: Tomasz Kruczek - Psałterz Poznański, 2013
Melodia: Psałterz Genewski, wydanie z roku 1562
Aranżacja: Agata Polaszek
Nagranie: Mate.O
Mix: Mirek Stępień
Foto: Mate.O

The google translator has given us the following:

Performance of Psalm 22 from the Psalter Poznanski.
Agata Polaszek & Mate.O.

Agata Polaszek: vocals, guitar, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery
Mate.O: singing

Text: Thomas Kruczek - Psalter Poznanski, 2013
Melody: Geneva Psalter, edition of 1562
Arrangement: Agata Polaszek
Recording: Mate.O
Mix Mirek Stepien
Photo: Mate.O

The Cithara Sanctorum's website is posted here.

Mar 31, 2014

The Niagara Psalter


I have finally come up with a title for my second psalter project: the Niagara Psalter. I chose it because we live atop the Niagara escarpment, which cuts through Hamilton and the entire Niagara peninsula.

The origins of this project extend back to the 1980s when I began to set a few of the biblical Psalms to verse. Psalm 137 may have been the first, although a very loose paraphrase of Psalm 25 either preceded or came shortly thereafter. In 1985 I came into contact with the tunes of the Genevan Psalter and was utterly captivated by this 16th-century psalter. For the next nearly thirty years I undertook to come up with fresh English-language texts to which these tunes could be sung. Shortly before the turn of the century, I began arranging these tunes to accompany the new texts, the results of which are posted at my Genevan Psalter website.

In late summer of 2013 I began a new metrical psalter project prompted primarily by a bout with depression and secondarily by a desire to enter the annual psalm contest sponsored by Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This quickly took off and, over the following months, I managed to produce more than forty metrical psalms set to fresh tunes. For all their beauty and sturdy durability, the Genevan Psalms were originally written for the French language, and the drawbacks quickly become evident in trying to fit the tunes to English texts. In 2012 I attempted a revision of my Psalm 29 text from some years earlier, trying mightily to capture the seven occurrences of qol Adonai, the “voice of the LORD,” in English, which had not appeared consistently in my earlier versification of the text. Later that year I undertook a fresh versification using a different metre entirely. The expression, “the voice of the LORD,” suggests a more dactylic metrical structure, which I used for the tune I came up with for my new text.

These then are the principles undergirding this new project, which I anticipate will lead to a book about my own personal pilgrimage through the biblical Psalms:

1. Rather than the tunes dictating the texts, this project has the texts determining the tunes. These versifications have generally started with one of the major English translations of the Bible, such as the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version or the English Standard Version. Reading a Psalm in one or more of these has usually suggested to me a metrical structure and a length for each line.

2. Unlike most hymnic songs or metrical psalms, not all of the stanzas here are of equal length, reflecting the grouping of thoughts in the original texts. A metrical psalm that generally has, say, four lines per stanza may occasionally require a stanza of five or six lines, in which case I have simply repeated the last one or two musical lines to accommodate the longer stanza. Partial stanzas are often found in the Genevan psalters, but not in those standing in the English and Scottish traditions.

3. Unlike the English and Scottish psalters, which make disproportionate, if not exclusive, use of common metre (CM) or double common metre (CMD), this psalter makes use of a variety of metres while not neglecting common and long metres. This makes for a certain similarity to the Genevan Psalter. Unlike the latter, however, I have made an effort to avoid odd-numbered lines in individual stanzas (e.g., five or seven lines per stanza), which tend to mask the parallelism in the original Hebrew texts. The metrical structures of my tunes are also somewhat more symmetrical than many in the Genevan corpus.

4. Some of the versified texts are rhymed, while others are not, if rendering them as such would seem to do violence to the translated prose texts.

5. The tunes in this new psalter, like those of the Genevan Psalter, make use of the traditional ecclesiastical modes. I have made an effort to choose a mode for the tune that in some fashion reflects the emotional feel of the text. Psalms 22 and 88, for example, have tunes in the phrygian mode, while many more tunes are in the dorian, hypodorian, mixolydian or hypomixolydian modes, which accommodate more thematic and emotional diversity.

6. As best as I am able, I have tried to compose tunes that will be singable by ordinary people but that also have some interesting twists in tonality. This means that the tunes do not keep strictly to a particular mode but may shift, for example, between mixolydian and ionian modes within the same melody.

7. Unlike the Genevan tunes, my tunes generally employ time signatures and bar lines. A slight majority of tunes use triple metre, i.e., 3/4 or 6/8 time, with 4/4 time coming next. A very few tunes alternate between time signatures. Once again, the English texts have usually influenced my choice of time signature.

8. The tunes for these texts contain no melismata in the melody line, that is, more than one note assigned to a single syllable, to facilitate greater ease of singing. Two of my texts, namely those for Psalms 51 and 137, were previously published in a hymnal back in 1989. I have now come up with fresh tunes for both, because the previous tunes contained numerous melismata, which I have sought to avoid. In this too my collection has something in common with the Genevan corpus, which uses very few melismata.

9. The names I have thus far chosen for the tunes are taken from areas I have lived, especially the Hamilton, Ontario, and DuPage County, Illinois, regions, although some represent a theme in the psalm itself.

This is, of course, an ongoing project which could follow one of a number of possible paths over the next few years. At this point, as mentioned above, I plan to write a book about my personal pilgrimage through the Psalms, but I may find a way to publish separately a collection of my sung psalmody as well.

I have now posted nine Psalms in this series on my website, including Psalms 8, 23, 29, 51, 95, 98, 130, 137 and 150. Clicking on the title of each psalm will bring up an mp3 file of the music. Scores are posted for Psalms 23 and 29. Thus far there are 45 sung psalms in this collection, of which I have now posted a representative sample.

Mar 30, 2014

Psalm 140


For the first time in not quite a year I have made another addition to my online collection of Genevan Psalms. This latest effort is Psalm 140, one of the so-called imprecatory Psalms that calls down God's wrath on the wicked. The imprecatory Psalms are sometimes an embarrassment to Christians, who may find themselves uncomfortable with references to God's anger and judgement. After all, does not Jesus command us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies? Do these commands not supplant the harsher logic of the old covenant? In fact, however, Psalm 140 and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount are not in conflict with each other, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out:

The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God.

Furthermore, in no way can we truly access the mercy of God if we do not first recognize that God is a God of justice who rightly judges sin. Only when we bring ourselves to fear God's righteousness can we freely accept his forgiving grace in our own lives. If we dare to rush too quickly into God's mercy, bypassing his justice, we are left with a permissive god of our own making, not the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Grace then becomes "cheap grace," as Bonhoeffer famously labelled it.

The melody to this Psalm is in the Hypoionian mode, or what we nowadays would call a major key. The score is posted here. The Decalogue is also set to this tune in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter. The text is my 83rd Genevan versification, and it is unrhymed.

Incidentally, I might point out here that the 11-month gap between my versification and arrangement of Psalms 66 and 140 has been due to two factors:

First, I have been preoccupied recently with preparations for the publication of my most recent book, We Answer to Another. which was released just over two weeks ago.

Second, since September of last year I have been working on a second psalter project, with psalm versifications set to original melodies of my own composition. Although I have thus far posted only two of these on my website, Psalms 23 and 29, I have actually written forty-five fresh metrical psalms to be sung to a slightly fewer number of tunes. This too is an ongoing project for which I have not yet come up with a satisfactory title.* I plan to post a few more of these at some point in the near future, along with a description of the principles undergirding this project.

* My tongue-in-cheek working title for this growing collection is Psalms of David (Koyzis).

Mar 19, 2014

Book published: We Answer to Another


My new book is finally out. We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God is now available from Pickwick Publications. It is also available from amazon.com, although it is listed as temporarily out of stock, undoubtedly because they have not yet received copies of the book. Thus far it is not listed on amazon.ca, but I will let Canadian readers know when it appears there. In the meantime, your best bet would be to phone the publisher at 541-344-1528 or email them at orders[at]wipfandstock[dot]com.

Here is the description of the book from the back cover:

The quest to escape authority has been a persistent feature of the modern world, animating liberals and Marxists, Westerners and non-Westerners alike. Yet what if it turns out that authority is intrinsic to humanity? What if authority is characteristic of everything we are and do as those created in God's image, even when we claim to be free of it? What if kings and commoners, teachers and students, employers and employees all possess authority?

This book argues that authority cannot be identified with mere power, is not to be played off against freedom, and is not a mere social construction. Rather it is resident in an office given us by God himself at creation. This central office is in turn dispersed into a variety of offices relevant to our different life activities in a wide array of communal settings. Far from being a conservative bromide, the call to respect authority is foundational to respect for humanity itself.

Here are endorsements:

"In this timely and highly valuable book, Koyzis exposes the problems and points the way to solid, balanced answers. The subtitle of We Answer to Another sums it up: 'Authority, Office, and the Image of God.' Humans have been created in the image of God and called to serve the Creator—the One to whom we are ultimately accountable. To exercise a responsibility is to hold an office of real authority as servant-stewards of one another. We can thus participate in holding one another accountable to the responsibilities of those offices. Sound old-fashioned? It's the most contemporary word of wisdom we and our neighbors throughout the world need to hear today!"
—James W. Skillen, President Emeritus, Center for Public Justice

"Liberal societies, regarding themselves as premised on the generative moral autonomy of the individual, have a constitutive problem with authority—freedom needs no justification, only authority. In this highly illuminating, wide-ranging, and exceptionally clear book, David Koyzis shows how this view not only destabilizes authority but actually diminishes our humanity. Authority is not autonomy but 'responsible agency,' exercised individually and corporately in many diverse human settings—'offices'—that arise from our being created in God's image. Recovering authority as 'answering to another' makes us more, not less, human."
—Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

Update: The book is now available on amazon.ca.

Mar 4, 2014

Selected Psalms or all 150?


Two of the smaller Reformed denominations are collaborating on producing a psalter hymnal: the United Reformed Churches (URC), which originated in a split from the Christian Reformed Church two decades ago, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), which broke in 1936 with the former Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, now part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Because both are highly confessional denominations, it is not unusual that they would work together on this project.

However, I am somewhat surprised to read this from the Rev. Donald M. Poundstone, a retired OPC minister: Do We Really Need a Psalter-Hymnal? Defending the OPC's Trinity Hymnal (I myself grew up with the first 1961 edition), he writes:

Trinity Hymnal contains a marvelous, albeit imperfect, collection of hymns and psalms. . . . What precious, enduring truth revealed in the Old Testament is missing from this catalog and thus absent from our current hymnal? . . .

One member of the Psalter-Hymnal Composition Committee wrote of his conviction that God nowhere directs his people—either in the Old or the New Testament—to sing all the biblical psalms in worship. This view has been the overwhelming consensus within the OPC since her founding, and I concur in it. But a few years ago, without concerted or church-wide discussion, the General Assembly suddenly decided to abandon this consensus. This is what I mean by speaking of the Psalter-Hymnal project as a radical one. A founding member of our church recently called it “revolutionary”!

Rather than embracing the “total psalmody” view of a Psalter-Hymnal, I’m convinced we ought to continue our venerable practice of using carefully selected metrical psalms, psalm versions, and paraphrases for sung praise and prayer in our corporate worship, along with scripturally faithful hymns.

Why? Briefly—and maybe too bluntly—not all the psalms as originally written are suitable for corporate Christian praise and prayer. . . .

The Old Testament points us to Christ. But the Psalms, and the rest of the Old Testament, were written before the incarnation of the uncreated Son of God, prior to his earthly life and ministry of humble obedience and love, and before his death on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, his glorious resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. Our Lord Jesus, both in his teaching and in his way of life, revealed the fullness of God’s will for us.

The Rev. Peter J. Wallace, another OPC minister, quite adequately responds to Poundstone here: Why Should We Sing All 150 Psalms? Here's Wallace:

It is true that the Psalms are the songbook of an obsolete covenant—in the same sense that the Ten Commandments are the law of an obsolete covenant—and the whole Old Testament itself is an obsolete covenant! And yet, Paul writes that “all Scripture [the whole obsolete testament] is breathed-out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Furthermore, there is not a single sentiment in the Psalms that is not echoed in the New Testament as well. . . .

Why should we sing all 150 psalms? Because it is right and proper to sing God’s word back to him. This is why our congregation sings versions of Deuteronomy 6, Habakkuk 3, Jonah 2, Joel 2, Zephaniah 3, Zechariah 9, Micah 7, and the songs of Daniel, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Hannah, Deborah, and Moses (Ex. 15). Too often we assume that the songs of the church are “prayers,” but in fact, the songs of the church may also be where the church takes up the Word of God on our lips and sings it back to him. After all, many psalms are not “prayers,” but recitations of the mighty deeds of God. Singing is not just the “prayers of the people,” but also the admonition of the Word of God!

I would add two historical reasons to the biblical ones adduced by Wallace.

First, there is evidence that the early church followed the synagogue in singing through the biblical Psalms on a regular basis, although the practice would come eventually to be limited to the monasteries. The Rule of St. Benedict prescribes the singing of all 150 Psalms each week for the members of the monastic community: "Let him take care, however, above all that each week the entire Psalter of one hundred fifty psalms be recited and be always begun anew at the Night Office on Sunday." St. John Chrysostom similarly enjoins the singing of the Psalms:

If we keep vigil in church, David [the author of the psalms] comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last and central. In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary; in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep. David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.

Both Sts. John Chrysostom and Benedict are obviously heirs of the new covenant, yet they continued the historic pattern of singing through the entire psalter on a regular basis and urged others to do so as well.

Second, during the 16th century the Reformers in Geneva, Strasbourg, Scotland and England undertook to render all 150 Psalms in singable form. By 1562 Christians in continental Europe and England had complete psalters in the Genevan and the Sternhold & Hopkins collections respectively. Not only is there no indication that Calvin, Bucer and others were content with limited Psalter selections in their liturgies; they expended a great deal of effort in producing a complete sung psalter — one that would be translated into German, Hungarian, Czech and other languages before long. When Sternhold & Hopkins was supplanted by Tate & Brady's New Version Psalter at the end of the 17th century, it was replaced, not by selected favourites, but by a complete metrical psalter containing, yes, all 150! No one would have thought to question this. From the outset, moreover, the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer divided the entire Psalter so that it could be sung at morning and evening prayer over a 30-day period.

Anyone arguing for "our venerable practice of using carefully selected metrical psalms, psalm versions, and paraphrases for sung praise and prayer in our corporate worship" does so against the weight of considerable historical evidence to the contrary.

Feb 18, 2014

Psalm 116


Our friend Ernst Stolz continues his steady recording pilgrimage through the Psalms. Last week he posted this exquisite performance of an exquisite melody:

Dec 20, 2013

‘To you belong all the nations’


Although the biblical Psalms are a product of the old covenant, for centuries the Christian Church has sought and found Jesus Christ in its historic song book. A number of Psalms have been designated messianic in character, including Psalms 2, 22, 30, 69, 72, 110 and 118. This is due either to their explicit reference to the LORD’s Anointed (Messiah) or to their anticipation of an event related to Jesus’ life, suffering or death.

Psalm 82 is not always placed in this category, although it does anticipate God’s judgement over the nations of earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Revised Standard Version, the Psalm begins, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” The footnote to this verse in the New Oxford Annotated Bible tells the reader: “Making use of a conception, common to the ancient Near East, that the world is ruled by a council of gods, the poet (presumably a priest or temple prophet) sees, in a vision, the God of Israel standing up in the midst of the council and pronouncing judgment upon all other members.”

Such an interpretation owes much to an evolutionary worldview which treats religion as merely an artifact subject, like all other products of human culture, to growth and development. Within this worldview, the ancient Israelites’ primitive polytheism developed under various influences into henotheism (in which YHWH is chief among the gods) and finally into monotheism (no God but YHWH) around the time of the Babylonian exile. By contrast, the biblical narrative itself portrays the Israelites repeatedly abandoning fidelity to the one true God and worshipping false gods for which they were punished throughout their history.

There is another interpretation of Psalm 82 less beholden to this evolutionary worldview. The translators of the New International Version place “gods” in inverted commas, as if to indicate the improper assumption of divine status by these beings. But who are these beings? I believe a good case can be made for their identity as earthly rulers who have come to esteem themselves as gods.

The key to this can be found in verses 2-4: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” All of these imperatives are ordinary tasks undertaken in the course of political rule. The setting is not a mythological council of gods, but the one true God calling those to whom he has given political authority to do justice as they discharge the weighty responsibilities of office.

A decade and a half ago, I set Psalm 82 to verse to be sung to the proper Genevan melody. My own versification draws on the interpretation set forth above:

Judging among divine pretenders,
in council God his verdict renders:
“How long,” says he, “shall wickedness
be favoured over righteousness?
Give justice to the poor and needy,
rescue the helpless from the greedy.
Treat widows as is right and fair,
defend all orphans in your care.

“Blindly you grope about and stumble,
while earth's foundations start to crumble.
Gods you may think yourselves to be,
yet you shall taste mortality.
Like earthly kings whose days are numbered,
death's claim on you will not be cumbered.”
Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
to you the nations owe their birth.

During Advent and Christmas we do well to pray Psalm 82 acknowledging that its ultimate fulfilment is in the person of Jesus Christ, who, in the words of Isaiah 9:7, will sit upon the throne of David and establish his kingdom of righteousness and justice for ever.

David T. Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College. His next book, We Answer to Another: Authority, Office and the Image of God, is forthcoming from Pickwick Publications.

Dec 4, 2013

Review: Old Paths, New Feet


Last evening I was privileged to talk by phone with Chris Reno, who, along with Jordan Brownlee and others, is part of the group Brother Down. Chris teaches English at a christian secondary school and is a member of Trinity Covenant Church in Aptos, California. This congregation is part of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. According to Reno, the group's name was taken from Genesis 43:7:

They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”
A decade ago the group produced another album called To the Black Land.

This most recent album is called Old Paths, New Feet, a reference to a new generation rediscovering ancient liturgical resources. The texts are from Cantus Christi, a psalter and hymnal widely used within the CREC.

In response to my question as to the style of their music, Reno said he is hard-pressed to come up with a single description, but admits the influence of Ghoostly Psalms, Celtic music and Mumford and Sons. The project was spearheaded by Douglas Wilson as part of a Psalm-Off contest two years ago.

Having listened to the album, I am most favourably impressed with what I've heard. The quality of the recordings is most professional, and the instrumentation is very good indeed. Reno spoke highly of Brownlee's musical gifts, especially his ability to pick up new instruments such as the banjo on short notice. Perhaps Celtic folk rock would characterize the group's unique style. The album is produced by Canon Press's Bultitude Records and is available for download from amazon.com. As I mentioned earlier, eight of the psalms are Genevan in origin (Psalm 100 is set to the tune for Psalm 134, a match that goes back to the 1650 Scottish Psalter), one is from Thomas Tallis and the other by Johann Graumann and Hans Kugelmann.

I strongly recommend this wonderful blending of 16th-century tunes and 21st-century musical styles, which comes in time for the Christmas gift-giving season.