By Kemper Crabb
Christians have always seen parts of the Creation as symbols of God. Well they should, since the Bible teaches that this was one of the reasons God made the world: to reveal Himself to men.(On Reliquarium: Part Two)We can see this in places like Romans 1:18-20 -
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…
and Psalm 19:1-4 –
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world…
A realization that God has made the things that exist precisely in order to symbolize and reveal Himself causes believers to see the world differently, and parts of the world, especially parts that are important to their faith, become loci of devotion, things whose very existence act as reminders of, and engagements with, the Presence of God.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, especially since most people were illiterate, relics (articles of clothing or other possessions, or even the remains of those of holy life who had died in the Faith) became such focuses of devotion, reminders that God was real and worked in the lives of believers not just in the long-ago Biblical times, but also in the present life and ongoing experiences of Christians still living.
These relics were frequently kept in caskets or containers known as reliquaries, to preserve and simultaneously reveal these relics to believers across time.
With the advent of the Reformation, however, came a change in attitude amongst the Protestants in reaction to what they considered to be a far-too-deeply-developed devotion to these objects, and they deliberately distanced themselves from what they saw as a form of devotion that was an intrinsic part of what they were seeking to reform (Reformation, right?).
People being what they are, however, and the world being exactly what Scripture says it is, that vacuum of secondary objects of devotion was soon filled with creations more suited to the aims and goals of the Reformation: hymns.
In the Medieval Church, the laity, the non-clerical worshippers, didn’t sing in the services in church. That was a task done by either clerics (priests or monks or other ordained ministers) or by other specially-trained lesser clerics. The people simply listened.
Part of the reform wrought by the Protestants was a restoration of worship in song by the congregation as well as the ministers and choir. The Reformation brought a spate of composing hymnists who labored to write songs suited for congregational worship, hymns which both celebrated God and His Works and which also taught Biblical doctrine in forms both accessible to worshippers in their native tongues (prior to this, all songs were in Latin, which very few understood) and which were memorable melodically and lyrically.
These were songs even the illiterate could learn and utilize themselves in God’s worship (though the Reformers labored mightily to educate their people to read, as well). As ongoing, regular elements of believer’s worship, elements which allowed them to become integral parts of public worship, these hymns themselves soon became objects through which the Protestants could focus their devotion, and the hymns filled the space in life formerly occupied by relics.
The hymns were, for Protestant believers, the new relics, new, highly accessible portals and foci through which their devotion and worship of God could be evoked and poured.
In light of all this, it occurred to me that a collection of such post-Reformation hymns would itself be a kind of reliquary, a reliquary of hymns. In Latin, the word is reliquarium. This is the origin of the title of my collection of performed hymns: Reliquarium.