Friday Fathers #3 – St. Eusebius of Caesarea on Peter and Paul

Today we look at St. Eusebius of Caesarea’s important work “Church History.” In Book II, Eusebius follows the history of the early Church and the aftermath of the public ministry of Christ, including giving us some interesting details about Jerusalem, Rome, and all sorts of things. The work is valuable for its vast descriptions of the goings-on of the entire Mediterranean and the lives of the Apostles and their first successors, but since I return to Rome Sunday, today we are lasering in on Peter and Paul, with chapters 14, 15, 22, and 25 from Book II.

Chapter 14

1. The evil power, who hates all that is good and plots against the salvation of men, constituted Simon at that time the father and author of such wickedness, as if to make him a mighty antagonist of the great, inspired apostles of our Saviour.

2. For that divine and celestial grace which co-operates with its ministers, by their appearance and presence, quickly extinguished the kindled flame of evil, and humbled and cast down through them every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

3. Wherefore neither the conspiracy of Simon nor that of any of the others who arose at that period could accomplish anything in those apostolic times. For everything was conquered and subdued by the splendors of the truth and by the divine word itself which had but lately begun to shine from heaven upon men, and which was then flourishing upon earth, and dwelling in the apostles themselves.

4. Immediately the above-mentioned impostor was smitten in the eyes of his mind by a divine and miraculous flash, and after the evil deeds done by him had been first detected by the apostle Peter in Judea, he fled and made a great journey across the sea from the East to the West, thinking that only thus could he live according to his mind.

5. And coming to the city of Rome, by the mighty co-operation of that power which was lying in wait there, he was in a short time so successful in his undertaking that those who dwelt there honored him as a god by the erection of a statue.

6. But this did not last long. For immediately, during the reign of Claudius, the all-good and gracious Providence, which watches over all things, led Peter, that strongest and greatest of the apostles, and the one who on account of his virtue was the speaker for all the others, to Rome against this great corrupter of life. Clad in divine armor like a noble commander of God, He carried the costly merchandise of the light of the understanding from the East to those who dwelt in the West, proclaiming the light itself, and the word which brings salvation to souls, and preaching the kingdom of heaven.

Chapter 15

1. And thus when the divine word had made its home among them, the power of Simon was quenched and immediately destroyed, together with the man himself. And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark.

2. And they say that Peter — when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done — was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias. And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so does Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)

Chapter 22

1. Festus was sent by Nero to be Felix’s successor. Under him Paul, having made his defense, was sent bound to Rome. Aristarchus was with him, whom he also somewhere in his epistles quite naturally calls his fellow-prisoner. (Colossians 4:10) And Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, brought his history to a close at this point, after stating that Paul spent two whole years at Rome as a prisoner at large, and preached the word of God without restraint.

2. Thus after he had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom. In this imprisonment he wrote his second epistle to Timothy, in which he mentions his first defense and his impending death.

3. But hear his testimony on these matters: At my first answer, he says, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

4. He plainly indicates in these words that on the former occasion, in order that the preaching might be fulfilled by him, he was rescued from the mouth of the lion, referring, in this expression, to Nero, as is probable on account of the latter’s cruelty. He did not therefore afterward add the similar statement, He will rescue me from the mouth of the lion; for he saw in the spirit that his end would not be long delayed.

5. Wherefore he adds to the words, And he delivered me from the mouth of the lion, this sentence: The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, (2 Timothy 4:18) indicating his speedy martyrdom; which he also foretells still more clearly in the same epistle, when he writes, For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

6. In his second epistle to Timothy, moreover, he indicates that Luke was with him when he wrote, but at his first defense not even he. Whence it is probable that Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles at that time, continuing his history down to the period when he was with Paul.

7. But these things have been adduced by us to show that Paul’s martyrdom did not take place at the time of that Roman sojourn which Luke records.

8. It is probable indeed that as Nero was more disposed to mildness in the beginning, Paul’s defense of his doctrine was more easily received; but that when he had advanced to the commission of lawless deeds of daring, he made the apostles as well as others the subjects of his attacks.

Chapter 25

1. When the government of Nero was now firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe.

2. To describe the greatness of his depravity does not lie within the plan of the present work. As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man’s extraordinary madness, under the influence of which, after he had accomplished the destruction of so many myriads without any reason, he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths.

3. But with all these things this particular in the catalogue of his crimes was still wanting, that he was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.

4. The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes as follows: Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.

5. Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.

6. It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid:

7. But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.

8. And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time. I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.

Friday Fathers #2 – St. Ambrose on Modesty

Today we continue our weekly series in patristics with a blunt, interesting, and helpful set of chapters (18-20) from Book II of St. Ambrose of Milan’s work “On the Duties of the Clergy.” In this text, he not only lays out what clerics should aspire to in their moral life and ministry, but he gives a thorough treatment of the virtues in general, applicable to anyone. However, in this section the Saint is concerned primarily with some special aspects of temperance, namely, modesty, including in view of chastity and prudence.

St. Ambrose, pray for us!

Chapter 18

67. Lovely, then, is the virtue of modesty, and sweet is its grace! It is seen not only in actions, but even in our words, so that we may not go beyond due measure in speech, and that our words may not have an unbecoming sound. The mirror of our mind often enough reflects its image in our words. Sobriety weighs out the sound even of our voice, for fear that too loud a voice should offend the ear of any one. Nay, in singing itself the first rule is modesty, and the same is true in every kind of speech, too, so that a man may gradually learn to praise God, or to sing songs, or even to speak, in that the principles of modesty grace his advance.

68. Silence, again, wherein all the other virtues rest, is the chief act of modesty. Only, if it is supposed to be a sign of a childish or proud spirit, it is accounted a reproach; if a sign of modesty, it is reckoned for praise. Susanna was silent in danger, and thought the loss of modesty was worse than loss of life. She did not consider that her safety should be guarded at the risk of her chastity. To God alone she spoke, to Whom she could speak out in true modesty. She avoided looking on the face of men. For there is also modesty in the glance of the eye, which makes a woman unwilling to look upon men, or to be seen by them.

69. Let no one suppose that this praise belongs to chastity alone. For modesty is the companion of purity, in company with which chastity itself is safer. Shame, again, is good as a companion and guide of chastity, inasmuch as it does not suffer purity to be defiled in approaching even the outskirts of danger. This it is that, at the very outset of her recognition, commends the Mother of the Lord to those who read the Scriptures, and, as a credible witness, declares her worthy to be chosen to such an office. For when in her chamber, alone, she is saluted by the angel, she is silent, and is disturbed at his entrance, and the Virgin’s face is troubled at the strange appearance of a man’s form. And so, though she was humble, yet it was not because of this, but on account of her modesty, that she did not return his salutation, nor give him any answer, except to ask, when she had learned that she should conceive the Lord, how this should be. She certainly did not speak merely for the sake of making a reply.

70. In our very prayers, too, modesty is most pleasing, and gains us much grace from our God. Was it not this that exalted the publican, and commended him, when he dared not raise even his eyes to heaven? (Luke 18:13-14) So he was justified by the judgment of the Lord rather than the Pharisee, whom overweening pride made so hideous. Therefore let us pray in the incorruptibility of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, (1 Peter 3:4) as St. Peter says. A noble thing, then, is modesty, which, though giving up its rights, seizing on nothing for itself, laying claim to nothing, and in some ways somewhat retiring within the sphere of its own powers, yet is rich in the sight of God, in Whose sight no man is rich. Rich is modesty, for it is the portion of God. Paul also bids that prayer be offered up with modesty and sobriety. (1 Timothy 2:9) He desires that this should be first, and, as it were, lead the way of prayers to come, so that the sinner’s prayer may not be boastful, but veiled, as it were, with the blush of shame, may merit a far greater degree of grace, in giving way to modesty at the remembrance of its fault.

71. Modesty must further be guarded in our very movements and gestures and gait. For the condition of the mind is often seen in the attitude of the body. For this reason the hidden man of our heart (our inner self) is considered to be either frivolous, boastful, or boisterous, or, on the other hand, steady, firm, pure, and dependable. Thus the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul.

72. You remember, my children, that a friend of ours who seemed to recommend himself by his assiduity in his duties, yet was not admitted by me into the number of the clergy, because his gestures were too unseemly. Also that I bade one, whom I found already among the clergy, never to go in front of me, because he actually pained me by the seeming arrogance of his gait. That is what I said when he returned to his duty after an offense committed. This alone I would not allow, nor did my mind deceive me. For both have left the Church. What their gait betrayed them to be, such were they proved to be by the faithlessness of their hearts. The one forsook his faith at the time of the Arian troubles; the other, through love of money, denied that he belonged to us, so that he might not have to undergo sentence at the hands of the Church. In their gait was discernible the semblance of fickleness, the appearance, as it were, of wandering buffoons.

73. Some there are who in walking perceptibly copy the gestures of actors, and act as though they were bearers in the processions, and had the motions of nodding statues, to such an extent that they seem to keep a sort of time, as often as they change their step.

74. Nor do I think it becoming to walk hurriedly, except when a case of some danger demands it, or a real necessity. For we often see those who hurry come up panting, and with features distorted. But if there is no reason for the need of such hurry, it gives cause for just offense. I am not, however, talking of those who have to hurry now and then for some particular reason, but of those to whom, by the yoke of constant habit, it has become a second nature. In the case of the former I cannot approve of their slow solemn movements, which remind one of the forms of phantoms. Nor do I care for the others with their headlong speed, for they put one in mind of the ruin of outcasts.

75. A suitable gait is that wherein there is an appearance of authority and weight and dignity, and which has a calm collected bearing. But it must be of such a character that all effort and conceit may be wanting, and that it be simple and plain. Nothing counterfeit is pleasing. Let nature train our movements. If indeed there is any fault in our nature, let us mend it with diligence. And, that artifice may be wanting, let not amendment be wanting.

76. But if we pay so much attention to things like these, how much more careful ought we to be to let nothing shameful proceed out of our mouth, for that defiles a man terribly. It is not food that defiles, but unjust disparagement of others and foul words. These things are openly shameful. In our office indeed must no word be let fall at all unseemly, nor one that may give offense to modesty. But not only ought we to say nothing unbecoming to ourselves, but we ought not even to lend our ears to words of this sort. Thus Joseph fled and left his garment, that he might hear nothing inconsistent with his modesty. (Genesis 39:12) For he who delights to listen, urges the other on to speak.

77. To have full knowledge of what is foul is in the highest degree shameful. To see anything of this sort, if by chance it should happen, how dreadful that is! What, therefore, is displeasing to us in others, can that be pleasing in ourselves? Is not nature herself our teacher, who has formed to perfection every part of our body, so as to provide for what is necessary and to beautify and grace its form? However she has left plain and open to the sight those parts which are beautiful to look upon; among which, the head, set as it were above all, and the pleasant lines of the figure, and the appearance of the face are prominent, while their usefulness for work is ready to hand. But those parts in which there is a compliance with the necessities of nature, she has partly put away and hidden in the body itself, lest they should present a disgusting appearance, and partly, too, she has taught and persuaded us to cover them.

78. Is not nature herself then a teacher of modesty? Following her example, the modesty of men, which I suppose is so called from the mode of knowing what is seemly, has covered and veiled what it has found hid in the frame of our body; like that door which Noah was bidden to make in the side of the ark; (Genesis 6:16) wherein we find a figure of the Church, and also of the human body, for through that door the remnants of food were cast out. Thus the Maker of our nature so thought of our modesty, and so guarded what was seemly and virtuous in our body, as to place what is unseemly behind, and to put it out of the sight of our eyes. Of this the Apostle says well: Those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary, and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. (1 Corinthians 12:22-23) Truly, by following the guidance of nature, diligent care has added to the grace of the body. In another place I have gone more fully into this subject, and said that not only do we hide those parts which have been given us to hide, but also that we think it unseemly to mention by name their description, and the use of those members.

79. And if these parts are exposed to view by chance, modesty is violated; but if on purpose, it is reckoned as utter shamelessness. Wherefore Ham, Noah’s son, brought disgrace upon himself; for he laughed when he saw his father naked, but they who covered their father received the gift of a blessing. (Genesis 9:22) For which cause, also, it was an ancient custom in Rome, and in many other states as well, that grown-up sons should not bathe with their parents, or sons-in-law with their fathers-in-law, in order that the great duty of reverence for parents should not be weakened. Many, however, cover themselves so far as they can in the baths, so that, where the whole body is bare, that part of it at least may be covered.

80. The priests, also, under the old law, as we read in Exodus, wore breeches, as it was told Moses by the Lord: And you shall make them linen breeches to cover their shame: from the loins even to the thighs they shall reach, and Aaron and his sons shall wear them, when they enter into the tabernacle of witness, and when they come unto the altar of the holy place to offer sacrifice, that they lay not sin upon themselves and die. (Exodus 28:42-43) Some of us are said still to observe this, but most explain it spiritually, and suppose it was said with a view to guarding modesty and preserving chastity.

Chapter 19

81. It has given me pleasure to dwell somewhat at length on the various functions of modesty; for I speak to you who either can recognize the good that is in it in your own cases, or at least do not know its loss. Fitted as it is for all ages, persons, times, and places, yet it most beseems youthful and childish years.

82. But at every age we must take care that all we do is seemly and becoming, and that the course of our life forms one harmonious and complete whole. Wherefore Cicero thinks that a certain order ought to be observed in what is seemly. He says that this lies in beauty, order, and in appointment fitted for action. This, as he says, it is difficult to explain in words, yet it can be quite sufficiently understood.

83. Why Cicero should have introduced beauty, I do not quite understand; though it is true he also speaks in praise of the powers of the body. We certainly do not locate virtue in the beauty of the body, though, on the other hand, we do recognize a certain grace, as when modesty is wont to cover the face with a blush of shame, and to make it more pleasing. For as a workman is wont to work better the more suitable his materials are, so modesty is more conspicuous in the comeliness of the body. Only the comeliness of the body should not be assumed; it should be natural and artless, unstudied rather than elaborated, not heightened by costly and glistening garments, but just clad in ordinary clothing. One must see that nothing is wanting that one’s credit or necessity demands, while nothing must be added for the sake of splendor.

84. The voice, too, should not be languid, nor feeble, nor womanish in its tone — such a tone of voice as many are in the habit of using, under the idea of seeming important. It should preserve a certain quality, and rhythm, and a manly vigor. For all to do what is best suited to their character and sex, that is to attain to beauty of life. This is the best order for movements, this the employment fitted for every action. But as I cannot approve of a soft or weak tone of voice, or an effeminate gesture of the body, so also I cannot approve of what is boorish and rustic. Let us follow nature. The imitation of her provides us with a principle of training, and gives us a pattern of virtue.

Chapter 20

85. Modesty has indeed its rocks — not any that she brings with her, but those, I mean, which she often runs against, as when we associate with profligate men, who, under the form of pleasantry, administer poison to the good. And the latter, if they are very constant in their attendance at banquets and games, and often join in jests, enervate that manly gravity of theirs. Let us then take heed that, in wishing to relax our minds, we do not destroy all harmony, the blending as it were of all good works. For habit quickly bends nature in another direction.

86. For this reason I think that what ye wisely do is befitting to the duties of clerics, and especially to those of the priesthood— namely, that you avoid the banquets of strangers, but so that you are still hospitable to travelers, and give no occasion for reproach by reason of your great care in the matter. Banquets with strangers engross one’s attention, and soon produce a love for feasting. Tales, also, of the world and its pleasures often creep in. One cannot shut one’s ears; and to forbid them is looked on as a sign of haughtiness. One’s glass, too, even against one’s will, is filled time after time. It is better surely to excuse oneself once for all at one’s own home, than often at another’s. When one rises sober, at any rate one’s presence need not be condemned by the insolence of another.

87. There is no need for the younger clergy to go to the houses of widows or virgins, except for the sake of a definite visit, and in that case only with the elder clergy, that is, with the bishop, or, if the matter be somewhat important, with the priests. Why should we give room to the world to revile? What need is there for those frequent visits to give ground for rumours? What if one of those women should by chance fall? Why should you undergo the reproach of another’s fall? How many even strong men have been led away by their passions? How many are there who have not indeed yielded to sin, but have given ground for suspicion?

88. Why do you not spend the time which you have free from your duties in the church in reading? Why do you not go back again to see Christ? Why do you not address Him, and hear His voice? We address Him when we pray, we hear Him when we read the sacred oracles of God. What have we to do with strange houses? There is one house which holds all. They who need us can come to us. What have we to do with tales and fables? An office to minister at the altar of Christ is what we have received; no duty to make ourselves agreeable to men has been laid upon us.

89. We ought to be humble, gentle, mild, serious, patient. We must keep the mean in all things, so that a calm countenance and quiet speech may show that there is no vice in our lives.

Sing to the Lord a New Song – in an Old Way?

“I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord.” But if you can’t figure out what that chord was, maybe just try singing. God made your voice, after all.

With roots going back to ancient Judaism, singing is an integral part of Christian worship. St. Paul tells us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph 5:17-19). One would guess that musical instruments would be helping to make this melody, adding another musical layer and aiding proper pitch, tempo, and rhythm.

Aulos_player_Louvre_G313
Aulos Player

However, the Fathers of the Early Church came down very hard against the use of any musical instruments in the liturgy. For example, St. John Chrysostom says rather forcefully that “where aulos-players are, there Christ is not.” By exploring their reasons, we’ll uncover some theological underpinnings to the Church’s use of chant in her liturgy.

Hebrew
Hebrew Psalter, 15th century AD

Jewish Roots

“Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:3-6)

Although the Temple at one point was known for its loud instruments, Judaism itself cast aside musical instruments in the wake of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. When the Romans left Jerusalem devestated, the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire abandoned their harps and lutes, as they had once done in the Babylonian Exile 600 years prior:

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion; on the poplars that grew there we hung up our harps. For it was there that they asked us, our captors for songs, our oppressors, for joy. “Sing to us,” they said, “one of Zion’s songs.” O how could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil? (Psalm 137: 1-4)

Like the Babylonian Exile, the destruction of the Temple fundamentally changed Jewish worship, and the “lute and harp” lost out.

Another reason musical instruments lost out was that pagan cults were known for playing musical instruments. And since the early Jews had a real fear of obfuscating the sacred and the profane, the association of musical instruments with paganism was enough to render musical instruments unclean.

When the Early Church looked for guidance in how to conduct their worship, they seemed to follow suit. But the Church Fathers didn’t stop with just condemning the use of musical instruments in the liturgy of the Church; they went on to condemn them in other aspects of secular life. For example, St. John Chrysostom calls musical instruments “the devil’s great heap of garbage.” St. Augustine adds: “The pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.”

Because of this great aversion to musical instruments, early Christian liturgical music was exclusively vocal. The liturgy would be sung but only in a subdued fashion, using a form of singing called “cantillation” that resembled speech more than song.

Clement
St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 AD)

Patristic Interiorization

“He who sings, prays twice” – this aphorism often attributed to St. Augustine is actually a distillation of his commentary on Psalm 73:

For he that sings praise, not only praises, but only praises with gladness; he that sings praise, not only sings, but also loves him of whom he sings. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving.

Perhaps better distilled as “Only the lover sings,” singing adds to our praise the element of love, the internal disposition of the heart. The act of singing, involving the mechanisms of the human voice, expresses that love of God or, even, is that love of God. Something much more profound is happening in the song of the lover than a mere doubling of prayer.

But what about musical instruments?

Although Jewish and Christian worship changed, the Old Testament did not. How did the Early Church contend with the many instances of musical instruments in the Old Testament?  The Church Fathers interiorized the external musical instruments featured in the psalter. Chief among the Church Fathers in that area, St. Clement of Alexandria writes on Psalm 150:

The Spirit, to purify the divine liturgy from any such unrestrained revelry, chants: ‘Praise Him with sound of trumpet,’ for, in fact, at the sound of the trumpet the dead will rise again; ‘praise Him with harp,’ for the tongue is a harp of the Lord; ‘and with the lute, praise Him,’ understand the mouth as a lute moved by the Spirit as the lute is by the plectrum; ‘praise Him with timbal and choir,’ that is, the Church awaiting the resurrection of the body in the flesh which is its echo; ‘praise Him with strings and organ,’ calling our bodies an organ and its sinews strings, for from them the body derives its coordinated movement, and when touched by the Spirit, gives forth human sounds; ‘praise Him on high-sounding cymbals,’ which mean the tongue of the mouth, which, with the movement of the lips, produces words.

Far removed from the “unrestrained revelry” of pagan culture, the human voice alone sufficed for authentic praise of God. All the references to musical instruments are made into allegories for the human body, each signifying different aspects of our physical anthropology.

But more than just our bodies, God made the whole human person – body and soul – in His image, capable of praising Him in melodious song. The early monk Cassiodorus writes that “the notes previously observed as issuing from musical instruments are now seen to emanate from the rational bodies of men.” Connecting this to the Incarnation, St. Clement of Alexandria writes:

The Word of God, scorning the lyre and cithara as lifeless instruments, and having rendered harmonious by the Holy Spirit both this cosmos and even man the microcosm, made up of body and soul – he sings to God on his many-voiced instrument and he sings to man, himself an instrument: “You are my cithara, my aulos and my temple,” a cithara because of harmony, and aulos because of spirit, and a temple because of the word, so that the first might strum, the second might breathe, and the third might encompass the Lord… The Lord made man a beautiful breathing instrument after his own image; certainly he is himself an all harmonious instrument of God, well-tuned and holy, the transcendental wisdom, the heavenly Word.

The Word of God became flesh – with human lungs, lips, tongue, and voice – and continued his eternal praise of the Father, now as one of those “beautiful breathing instruments.”

The definitive departure from “lifeless” Davidic musical instruments made room for such interpretations of the psalms. With this anthropologizing and allegorizing of the psalms with the elevated anthropology of the Incarnation, we have the beginnings of a theological foundation for liturgical chant.

Theology of the Unassisted Voice

When the Word became human flesh in the Incarnation, the study of human nature became a study of God – anthropology became a theology. Likewise, the study of the human voice reveals in some way the mystery of Christ. According to Dom Mark Kirby, the human voice in the Church’s liturgy prepares “in a kind of renewal of the mystery of the incarnation, an acoustical body for the Divine Word” (“The Psalmody of the Divine Office,” 17-18). In this way, liturgical chant is a participation in Christ’s mediation to the Father, as manifested in the Incarnation.

Here (with some help from Dom Kirby) are some theological musings on several aspects of the unassisted human voice.

Breathing: Within the Trinity, “the breath of God is indissociable from the word of God, and the word of God cannot be uttered save in a communication of the breath of God.” (“Toward a Definition of Liturgical Chant,” 15). Breathing thus images the action of the Holy Spirit in singing. In a cappella singing, pauses for breathing are left unfilled and exposed. Through the breathing necessary for supported singing, “the human person, fully alive, expresses likeness to God. Breath, life, and word constitute an inseparable triad in the divine economy of creation and redemption” (Ibid.). Together, the co-incidence of breath and word resonate in the human heart, the inner sanctuary of the temple of one’s body, where one prays to the Father in secret (Matt 6:6).

Memory: Unlike visual art which is stretched spatially, music is stretched temporally, requiring the human memory to link words across time into a coherent discourse. “Liturgical chant,” according to Dom Kirby, “being heightened discourse, engages the memory of both singer and hearer, becoming a disclosure, in time, of the timeless mystery, a contemplative unfolding of the Word” (“Toward a Definition of Liturgical Chant,” 14).

Communion: The prayer of the Christian is never solitary; every prayer is uttered in union with Christ and in communion with His Church. Chant captures this aspect of communion. The propers, antiphons, and psalmody chanted in the sacred assembly make present that communion of persons, all praying ecclesially with the voice of the Church. Chanting the prayer of the Church together leads to a uniformity without homogenization, a unity without loss of identity – each unique voice aids the others in a common song of praise. Even when chanted alone, the prayer of the liturgy is united with the prayers of all the faithful from the rising of the sun to its setting, stretching throughout space and time.

Disposui
16th Century Chant Manuscript – Psalm 89: “I have made a covenant with my elect: I have sworn to David my servant. Alleluia.”

Silence: Chant begins and ends with silence: “the context of liturgical chant is, before and after anything else, silence. It originates, with the word, in silence. Like the Word, it ‘springs from the silence’” (Ibid., 20). More than merely assisting prayer, chant is prayer. In fact, chant is a participation in the highest prayer of Christ’s mediation to the Father. As such, chant should not feel rushed or busy, but must rather be irrigated with silence. The pockets of silence are little Mount Horebs wherein we hear the “still small voice” of God (1 Kg 19:12). This prayer does not need musical instruments filling in the gaps of singing and supporting the sound of the human voice with additional melodic layers. Rather, in liturgical chant, the exposed and vulnerable human person encounters the Father most authentically in silence.

What Next?

In chant, the human voice alone carries the word and expresses the fullness of the human person – body and soul. Chanting the text without accompaniment, one’s voice, one’s prayer – one’s whole person – is exposed to God. Chant is thus a full, conscious, and active participation in the prayer of the Church in the liturgy.

As the Church spread throughout Europe and the influence of paganism began to wane, musical instruments lost their negative associations. No longer seen as “the devil’s heap of garbage,” the Church began to reintroduce instruments into worship. With a little help from Charlemagne, the pipe organ became a prominent feature of medieval churches. As a “breathing” machine operated by bellows, the pipe organ was seen as an appropriate mechanical approximation of the human voice.

Vouet,_Simon_-_Saint_Cecilia_-_c._1626
St. Cecilia (d. 230) anachronistically depicted playing the organ

But before the organ became a staple of church construction, the initial vacuum created by the Church Fathers’ opposition to musical instruments was filled by a theology of the unaccompanied human voice. Even though the Church no longer fears a connection to pagan worship, it was that initial aversion that occasioned the development of a robust theology of the unaccompanied voice – a theology whose praises are often unsung.

Such a theology became the basis for the great depositum orandi – deposit of prayer (to coin a phrase) – in Gregorian Chant. To this day, Gregorian chant is still “specially suited to the Roman liturgy” and “should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 116).

Like the Early Church, the negative cultural associations of some contemporary genres of music ought to be taken into account in developing liturgical music fitted for the worship of the Father through, with, and in the incarnate Son. But more importantly, we ought not to turn our back on the larger theology of chant rooted in the Incarnation.

 

Post by: Deacon Peter Gruber, C.O.

 

Main image: The Worcester Psalter
The Initial of Psalm 97