Sunday, 20 October 2013

Ann Griffiths' hymns

Tom Schwanda of Wheaton College, Illinois, was in Durham this week past, in part to discuss the volume of essays on Puritanism and the emotions which he and I are incubating, but also to deliver a paper on eighteenth-century evangelical spirituality to Durham's Ecclesiastical History seminar.

Much of the paper was about hymnody, which he argued came, in the 18th century, to replace the vast Puritan manuals of pious practice that had dominated the 17th: which does a lot to explain how Protestantism broke out from its literate ghetto in that period. Some of the hymns were familiar; others not so. In particular, he introduced us to the work of the Welsh poet and hymn-writer Ann Griffiths (1776-1805), whose works were only translated into English in the 20th century and remain obscure. Undeservedly. Consider this, from her hymn XIV (in the translation of H. A. Hodges):

Earth cannot, with all its trinkets,
Slake my longings at this hour;
They were captured, they were widened,
When my Jesus showed his power.
None but he can now content me,
He, the Incomprehensible;
O to gaze upon his Person,
God in man made visible.

I am not sure I have ever seen so moving or economical a description of one of the core evangelical experiences: that submitting your desires to Christ not only satisfies them, but also intensifies them. A project at Cardiff is now making Griffiths' work more widely available and encouraging study of her as an important figure in the history of evangelicalism: more power to them.

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