Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Reformation Humanism as Ecumenism

Even though Luther mistakenly refused unity with the Reformed, Reformational humanism continued as a medium in which Protestant Christians of various confessional allegiances exerted influence on one another. One example of this phenomenon is the popularity of George Buchanan’s Latin poetic paraphrases of the Psalms.

A German schoolmaster by name of Kochhaff who latinized his name to Chytraeus (1543-1598) published in 1585 an enormously successful annotated edition of Buchanan’s Psalm translation, his annotations and thirty differente melodies, one for each of the meters that Buchanan used, being separately bound and sold together with Buchanan’s text. The melodies set for four voices were partly collected from other composers and partly ad hoc composed by Statius Olthovius of Osnabrück, who served as choirmaster at the Rostock Latin School where Kochhaff taught, before he became rector of the Gymnasium in Bremen. In the ponderously written, but interesting, forward Nathan Chytraeus justifies his undertaking by telling that in 1579, when the curriculum of the Latin school in Rostock had been established, it had pleased the authorities to order that Buchanan should be read in the highest class so that the students would learn “veram pietatem, & linguae Romanae puritate, varias etiam carminum, maxime Lyricorum, dimensiones.” Nothing could have suited Chytraeus better. He  had already privately expounded Buchanan’s Psalter to his own students….His students like so much to sing these Psalms that before and after the exercitia scholastica they are wont to sing them in perfect four-voice harmony without any notes. In fact, many carry the entire Psalter in their memory through this singing practice. The special beauty of this is also that once they know the melodies that Olthovius gave them they can with equal ease learn the Horatian Odes after which Buchanan fashioned his translation. For Chytraeus, Horace stands on the same level with Buchanan. The student should know both by heart. (Johannes A. Gaertner, “Latin Verse Translations of the Psalms: 1500-1620,” Harvard Theological Review 49 (1956): 271-305 [quotation from 290])

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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