Category Archives: hymns

Bede’s Cosmological Hymn

One of the gems in the new edition of Bede’s On the Nature of Things and On Time, is the first translation and publication of Bede’s cosmology hymn. It doesn’t appear to have a very set title. Wallis and Kendall refer to it as the ‘Hymn of the Six Ages’, but the edition actually titles it the ‘Hymn of the Work of the Six Days of Creation and Six Ages of the World’. Descriptive but not very catchy. Derek over at St Bede’s Breviary may be interested to know that Wallis and Kendall assert that this hymn is the only one of Bede’s hymns written for the daily office.

Bede’s hymns are poems that were sung. There his no indication of  a chorus. We know he modeled his poetry on the many forms of hymns found in psalms.

This poem has 28 stanzas that together wrap up Bede’s views of the “ages of fleeting time”. There are 6 pairs of stanzas that link a day of creation with an age of time with four stanzas for the sixth day/age. There are introductory stanzas and descriptions of two ages to come. Here are perhaps the critical four stanzas (13-16):

On the sixth day was created

Man, who, displaying

The image of his Creator

Would live blessed forever.


The most high Creator of all,

By whom man was created

In the Sixth Age was created

A man, the Son of God.


As he sleeps, the splendid

Wife of Adam is formed,

Obtaining bone from his bones,

Flesh from his flesh.


Now the splendid bride is born

To Christ from his very flesh

And by the mystery of his blood

as he sleeps on the cross.


The bride is of course the church, known from ancient times as the body of Christ. Its not very easy to see Bede’s poetic patterns here in part because it was written in Latin. Kendall and Wallis assure us that the pattern is also found in some of Bede’s other genuine poems and fits within classical iambic dimeters. Bede’s style fits within what he described in his The Art of Poetry.


Kendall, Calvin B and Wallis, Faith. (2011). Bede: On the Nature of Things and On Times. Translated Texts for Historians Series. Liverpool University Press.


Oldest Christian Hymn?

So I was reading my EfM material this past week and I came across something rather startling. They point out a Christian hymn embedded within Colossians (1:15-20). So if Paul’s letters are our oldest surviving New Testament works, then would it not follow that a hymn embedded within Paul’s letter is the oldest hymn? If this is true then why isn’t this section better known? I don’t get it. This is the first time I’ve heard of these lines as being a hymn.

He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn of all creation;

for in him all things in heaven and earth were created,

things visible and invisible,

whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers —

all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself was before all things,

and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church.

he is the beginning,

the firstborn of the dead,

so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,

whether on earth or in heaven,

by making peace through the blood of the cross.

They note that this is a triptych form. The separation between the stanza doesn’t show up in the html. The first two stanzas contrast firstborn of creation with firstborn of the dead and it is pulled together in the third stanza. They suggest that ‘through the blood of the cross’ may have been added to the end to make it more explanatory. The EfM materials discussed that “If Christ is God’s agent in redemption, Christ is also God’s agent in creation.” Found first here – if this hymn is from Paul’s time or earlier – and last in the introduction to John’s Gospel?

So is Paul incorporating an early Christian hymn or has a hymn been later inserted? EfM notes that the letter suggests that Paul was not personally known among the Colossians, so I wonder if he inserted a hymn that might be familiar to them to help ease his way into the letter? Perhaps its a hymn that Epaphras who had preached in to the Colossae and was in prison with Paul had sung it in their cell. Presumably Epaphras is who prompted Paul to write.

Comments welcome….