An Early Christian Eucharistic Hymn Fragment (and a video!)

Last year, I ran across an interesting essay in ZAC (Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum) by Thomas Scott Caulley that discussed a fragment of an early Christian hymn in P.Bodmer XII. The hymn followed Melito of Sardis’ Paschal Homily in the codex, and thus was often (mistakenly according to Caulley) attributed to Melito. While it may be only a part of a larger hymn, Caulley thinks it best to describe it as an excerpt, since it is self-contained.

Here’s the hymn
(reconstructed text):
Ὑμνήσατε τὸν πατέρα οἱ ἅγιοι,
ᾄσατε τῇ μητρὶ παρθένοι.
Ὑμνοῦμεν, ὑπερυψοῦμεν, ἅγιοι.
Ὑψώθητε, νύμφαι καὶ νυμφίοι,
ὅτι ηὕρατε τὸν νυμφίον ὑμῶν Χριστόν.
Εἰς οἶνον πίετε, νύμφαι καὶ νυμφίοι.

Translated:
Sing a hymn to the father, O holy ones!
Sing to the mother, O virgins!
We, the holy, sing a hymn, we highly exalt [them].
You were exalted, O brides and grooms,
Because you found your bridegroom, Christ.
Drink the wine, brides and grooms!

Caulley believes the imagery here is meant to evoke the eschatological banquet, or “marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19.9); it probably reflects a Eucharistic setting. While some have seen the reference to the “mother” as an instance of early Marian piety, the church as mother is more likely the referent, or perhaps the Spirit. Caulley thinks a Syrian provenance (and a Syriac Vorlage) is likely, given that the imagery of the hymn is found elsewhere in early Syrian traditions.

By the way, there are several good examples of itacism in the actual text of the hymn, including ΑΓΕΙΟΙ (x2), ΥΨΩΘΗΤΑΙ, and ΟΤΕΙ. Also note the nonstandard ending of ηυρατε.

Now, for the good stuff. My TA did a bit of research on ancient Greek music and put this to a tune. Watch the YouTube video here and enjoy!

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About Daniel R. Streett

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Houston Baptist University
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