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Song used in Christian worship, usually sung by the congregation and written in stanzas with rhyme and metre. The term comes from the Greek hymnos (song of praise), but songs in honour of God or the gods exist in all civilizations. Christian hymnody grew out of the singing of psalms in the Temple of Jerusalem. The earliest known Christian hymn dates from c. AD 200. Hymns were prominent in the Byzantine liturgy from early times, and in the Western church they were sung by congregations until the Middle Ages, when choirs took over hymn singing. Congregational singing was reestablished during the Reformation. Martin Luther and his followers were great hymn writers, while the Calvinists preferred setting psalms to music. The compositions of Isaac Watts and John Wesley were notable in English hymnody. The Counter-Reformation led to the composition of many Roman Catholic hymns, and the Roman Catholic church restored congregational singing of hymns after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on hymn, visit Britannica.com.