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Hymns of the Eastern Church
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S. Theophanes

A.D. 759—A.D. 818.

S. Theophanes, who holds the third place among Greek Church-poets, was born in 759, his father being Governor of the Archipelago. Betrothed in childhood to a lady named Megalis, he persuaded her, on their wedding-day, to embrace the monastic life. He retired to the monastery of Syngriana, in the early part of the reign of Constantine and Irene. From the fiftieth year of his age he was nearly bedridden; but his devotion to the cause of Icons marked him out as one of the earliest victims of Leo the Armenian, who, after imprisoning him for two years, banished him to Samothrace. On the third day after his arrival in that inhospitable region, worn out with sufferings and sickness, he departed this life: A.D. 818. He is chiefly famous for his History, with which we have now nothing to do. With the one exception of S. Joseph of the Studium, Theophanes is the most prolific of Eastern Hymnographers; and in his writings we first see that which has been the bane and ruin of later Greek poetry, the composition of hymns, not from the spontaneous effusion of the heart, but because they were wanted to fill up a gap in the Office-book.

Because the great festivals and the chief Saints of the Church had their Canon and their Stichera, therefore, every martyr, every confessor, who happened to give his name to a day, must have his Canon and Stichera also, just for uniformity. How different the Latin use, where not even the Apostles have separate hymns received by the whole Church, but supply themselves from the Common! Hence the deluge of worthless compositions that occur in the Menaea: hence tautology, repeated till it becomes almost sickening; the merest commonplace, again and again decked in the tawdry shreds of tragic language, and twenty or thirty times presenting the same thought in slightly varying terms. Theophanes, indeed, must be distinguished from the host of inferior writers that about his time began to overwhelm the Church. Many of his subjects are of world-wide interest. The Eastern martyrs, whom he celebrates, are, for the most part, those who have won for themselves the greatest name in the annals of history. But still we find him thus honouring some, of whom all that can be said is, that they died for the Name of CHRIST. And though the poet brings more matter to his task than do others, many long stanzas, that keep pretty close to their subject, concerning a Saint of whom there is nothing especial to say, must become tedious.

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