Deacon Greg Kandra is again bemoaning alterations to Christmas carol texts over at Aleteia: “Hark! The Hymn Has Been Re-Written!”
Much of the time there is a price to pay for altering hymn texts – sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. A judgment is involved whether the price is worth the gains in another department. We live in a world where goods often enough compete with each other.
And of course it’s possible that an alteration is an improvement in every category – poetic beauty, theological profundity, inclusiveness, and so forth.
And I hope everyone knows that hymn text have been altered throughout history – no one I know sings the original “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings” today. Charles Wesley changed his own texts throughout his life, and someone has been changing some familiar texts all the way down the centuries.
But still. Some changes are infelicitous and could have been handled differently. It’s not an exact science, but some decisions are more defensible than others on theological and artistic grounds.
Here is a summary of the changes Deacon Kendra discusses – the original and what it became. Let’s have a good Pray Tell discussion – what do you think works best in these changes, and what perhaps could have been handled in another way?
(And it should go without saying, but: please, everyone, keep it charitable and respectful. We’re talking about the birth of our loving Savior, for heaven’s sake!)
1. “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” to “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice.”
2. “Peace on the earth, good will to men” to “Peace on the earth, good will to all.” (from “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.”
3. “Pleased, as man, with men to dwell / Jesus, our Emmanuel!” to “Pleased, as man with us to dwell / Jesus, our Emmanuel!” (from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)
4. “Mild he lays his glory by / Born that man no more may die /Born to raise the sons of earth / Born to give them second birth.” to “Mild he lays his glory by / Born that we no more may die /Born to raise us from the earth / Born to give us second birth.” (from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)
Be sure to look at Kendra’s commentary – he raises some good points, but I trust that not everyone will agree with all of them.