Jun 2, 2024

3rd Century Hymn


My original baseball card collection is likely buried deep in an Ohio landfill. My mom threw away my cards while cleaning my room out after I left home. Really, Mom? You trashed my Mickie Mantle’s rookie card! She felt so remorseful about it later that she kept buying me old cards to assuage the guilt. If you want to discover ancient treasure, what better place to search for it than trash dumps? In 1897, two British graduate students led an expedition to an abandoned desert town called Oxyrhynchus (pronounced Oxy-reen-kus), located 100 miles southwest of Cairo, Egypt. Several fragments of early papyrus manuscripts had been found buried in the sand. They calculated the location of the town dump, commenced digging, and unearthed more than 500,000 ancient papyrus fragments. Researchers are still piecing together the fragments. They found ancient remedies for hemorrhoids and hangovers as well as a contract for a wrestler who agreed to fix a match for a fee. Since papyrus was expensive, people wrote on both sides. Another fragment recorded a corn delivery on one side and an ancient hymn on the reverse side. It’s the oldest known Christian hymn, dating back to the 3rd century, complete with lyrics and a tune. The hymn follows the pattern of the Psalms in invoking God’s works of nature (stars, mountains, seas, and rivers) in worshipping God. The Biblical word “Amen,” meaning “so be it,” is frequently invoked in the hymn. Its use in triplicate form adds emphasis to the praise. The hymn makes specific mention of the Trinity and closes with the words, “power, praise, honor, eternal glory to God,” which mirror Revelation, “Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!” (Rev. 7.12). We join with the early church in praising God:

May none of God’s wonderful works keep silence,night or morning,
bright stars,
high mountains,
the depths of the seas,
sources of rushing rivers:
may all these break into song as we sing
to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May all the angels in the heavens reply:
Amen! Amen! Amen!
Power, praise, honor,
eternal glory to God,
the only giver of grace.
Amen! Amen! Amen!

Michael A. G. Haykin, “Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debate: Context, Contours and Ressourcement”

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.