Saturday, August 6, 2016

John Brownlie

Scottish scholar John Brownlie was born today in 1859, in Glasgow. After attending the university there and the Free Church College (now the Edinburgh Theological Seminary), he was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow in 1884. He served as both associate minister and later senior minister of the Free Church in Portpatrick, where he spent most of his life.

Brownlie believed that the Orthodox churches of "the East" had much to offer the "Western" churches of his day and he is best known for his hymn translations, mostly from Greek sources (though he also translated Latin texts from the Roman Catholic tradition).

In the supplement to the Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) by John Julian, Brownlie's hymns are said to show "all the beauty, simplicity, earnestness, and elevation of thought and feeling which characterize the originals." The following year, Brownlie was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by Glasgow University (his alma mater) for his accomplishments in hymnology.

Here on the blog we have already seen his Advent hymn The King shall come when morning dawns, a text for which no Greek original has been traced, apparently an original text by Brownlie. Today's hymn in Brownlie's translation is from Hymns of the Russian Church (1920), and is based in part on well-known scripture verses Matthew 7:7-8. In the introduction to the book (worth a read), Brownlie explains how the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church are one and the same, and how these hymns descended from Greek originals. From the introduction's concluding lines about the hymn texts offered:

"May they be as a gift from a deeply suffering Church to many sad hearts in our own land -- saddened by the events of the cruel war from which we have just emerged... If the comfort which many of them breathe should help to soothe the wounds of our sorrow, the Church from which is proceeds will only be continuing the office which she has so nobly fulfilled to her own suffering people during the past six centuries, and which she herself so sorely needs in these days of oppression and bloodshed."

Ask, and your prayer with arrow's speed
Shall bear to God your present need;
And for your help from heaven shall bring
Love's best, and gracious offering.

Seek, and the grace of God most kind
Your thirsting soul shall surely find;
Light shall break forth, and treasures rare
Shall sparkle round you, everywhere.

Knock, and the gate of God shall spring
Wide, for your soul's free entering,
And in the bliss by pilgrims shared,
You shall receive a place prepared.

Rest in your God, in quietness rest,
God is your Friend, and loves you best;
Heaven has a store, its wealth endures,
Have faith in all God's grace secures.

Greek (date unknown)
tr. John Brownlie, 1920; alt.
Tune: HEBRON (L.M.)
Lowell Mason, 1830

Brownlie also wrote Hymns and Hymnwriters of The Church Hymnary (1899), a companion to The Church Hymnary (1898), a popular book in the Presbyterian and Free churches of Scotland.

It's interesting to note that Brownlie's work in translating Eastern hymns can be seen as a continuation of the work of John Mason Neale, who died today on Brownlie's birthdate in 1866 (and who is commemorated tomorrow on the Episcopal calendar of saints).

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