Today we have a combination of ancient and modern. The words to “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” were written around the 4th cent., the tune was composed in the 17th cent., but the combination of both as we know it today was not until 1906. Ralph Vaughan Williams gets the credit for the final product, and while he is another one of those names whose association always signals something great, in this case he was working with truly excellent resources. The tune “Picardy” comes from a popular French folk song, and the lyrics date back all the way to the Divine Liturgy of St. James.
That liturgy is still sung by certain Christian churches in the East, and a few of them even maintain that it dates all the way back to James the brother of Christ, the bishop of the church in Jerusalem. This would make it of apostolic origin, but their claim seems overreaching. One obvious objection is the language. You’ll find the beautiful line, “the triune light of the Godhead, which is unity subsisting in trinity, divided, yet indivisible: for the Trinity is the one God Almighty,” which also indicates the Nicene character of the theology. While pre-Nicene Christians shared the substance of the theology, much of this terminology did not actually exist prior to the 3rd cent. The anaphora (the consecration of the bread and wine) also shows historical development from the catechisms of Cyril of Jerusalem and older Egyptian prayers. So most scholars agree that this indicates a 4th cent. origin. Still, that’s not too shabby. How old is your liturgy? Continue reading