Above: A Map of France, 1741
Image in the Public Domain
CHARLES COFFIN (OCTOBER 4, 1676-JUNE 20, 1749)
Roman Catholic Priest and Hymn Writer
He is one of the few French hymn writers whose poems have become a part of the worship material of America.
–William Chalmers Covert and Calvin Weiss Laufer, eds., Handbook to The Hymnal (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1935), page 517
Father Charles Coffin, born in Buzancy, France, in 1676, received his education at Duplessis College of the University of Paris. In 1701 he joined the faculty of the College of Doirmans-Beauvais of that university. Eleven years later our saint became the Principal of the College. In 1718 Father Coffin became Rector of the University of Paris, a position he held for five years before reverting to Principal of the College of Doirmans-Beauvais. Those are particulars, mostly of Coffin’s academic career, but not very interesting relative to what follows.
Our saint wrote hymns, some of which exist in English translation. Perhaps the best summary of Father Coffin’s hymns is that they were
direct and fitted with the spirit of grace.
–Fred L. Precht, Lutheran Worship: Hymnal Companion (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1992), page 575.
I have added translations of some of those graceful hymns to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.
Here is the Yattendon Hymnal (1899) translation of a Coffin masterpiece:
Happy are they, they that love God,
Whose hearts have Christ confest,
Who by His Cross have found their life,
And ‘neath His yoke their rest.
Glad is the praise, sweet are the songs,
When they together sing;
And strong the prayers that bow the ear
Of heaven’s eternal King.
Christ to their homes giveth His peace,
And makes their loves His own;
But, ah what tares the evil one
Hath in His garden sown!
Sad was our lot, evil this earth,
Did not its sorrows prove
The path whereby the sheep may find
The fold of Jesus’ love.
Then shall they know, they that love Him,
How all their pain is good;
And death itself cannot unbind
Their happy brotherhood.
And here is the John Chandler (1806-1876) translation of an Advent hymn:
The advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.
The everlasting Son
Incarnate deigns to be;
Himself a servant’s form puts on
To set his people free.
Daughter of Sion, rise
To meet thy lowly King,
Nor let thy faithless heart despise
The peace he comes to bring.
As Judge, on clouds of light,
He soon will come again,
And all his scattered saints unite
With him in heaven to reign.
Before the dawning day
Let sin’s dark deeds be gone;
The old man all be put away,
The new man all put on.
All glory to the Son,
Who comes to set us free,
With Father, Spirit, ever One,
Through all eternity.
Coffin, who composed Latin poems, published some of them in 1727. Nine years later, at the command of the Archbishop of Paris, Coffin prepared the Paris Breviary, which contained most of his hymns. The Archbishop favored replacing old Latin hymns with new Latin hymns. (If one is to discard the old in favor of the new, Charles Coffin compositions are the way to go.) Also in 1736, our saint published Hymni Sacri Auctore Carolo Coffin, containing about a hundred hymns. A posthumous two-volume set of his complete works followed in 1755.
There was an unfortunate and needless shadow–one which commends Father Coffin in my mind–at the end of his life. This holy man received neither the last rites nor a Christian burial because a certain priest, citing church politics, denied them. Our saint had, along with many other French clergymen, objected the papal bull Unigenitus (1713). Pope Clement XI condemned Jansenism, a movement within the Roman Catholic Church, as heretical.
Many papal bulls were, partially or entirely, bull. Unigenitus was certainly at least partially bull (less so if one is of a Reformed perspective and more so if one leans toward the Wesleyan-Arminian end of the spectrum). The document condemned a long list of Jansenist assertions as heresies. Among these were the following:
- There is no role for human free will in salvation.
- It is both necessary and useful for all sorts of people to study the Bible.
- It is harmful to laity not to study the Bible.
Our saint found parts of the papal bull unacceptable and said so. This made him a political hot potato at the end of his life, unfortunately. But I praise God that such a talented and courageous man lived.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 13, 2014 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME
THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF HUBERT HUMPHREY, UNITED STATES SENATOR AND VICE PRESIDENT
THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW
Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,
thank you for those (especially Charles Coffin)
who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.
May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Chronicles 25:1-8
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR
THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN