July 24, 2017

“A New Song for an Old World” (Excerpt 6)

More excerpts from Calvin R. Stapert’s book, A New Song for an Old World. Previous excerpts: OneTwoThreeFourFive

The purpose of this series is to open our eyes to the similarity between conservative or fundamentalist views of modern music debates and the views of ancient church leaders. The similarities are striking.

“I have quoted above James McKinnon’s characterization of their [the church fathers] polemic against it [some of the pagan music that surrounded them]: their response is characterized by ‘vehemence and uniformity.’ That uniformity is especially striking considering how different those writers were in other respects. Whether they were Greek-speaking or Latin-speaking, pre- or post-Constantine, conciliatory or antagonistic toward pagan learning, lifelong Christians or converts—whatever their background or personality, they agreed that Christians should distance themselves from some of the music of the surrounding culture.”

Calvin R. Stapert, A New Song for an Old World (Eerdmans, 2007), 131.

After several pages of noting the ecstatic music of certain religious ceremonies and the sensual music that accompanied ceremonies, theater performances, etc. Stapert notes,

“The early Christian writers aimed no polemic at the nobler art music or the folk music of their day. Had they been opposed to it, they would no doubt have spoken against it. Their denunciations of music were not general; rather, they were aimed at a few well defined targets: the music of the popular public spectacles, the music associated with voluptuous banqueting, the music associated with pagan weddings, and the music of pagan religious rites and festivities. As we have already seen, they were not alone in their denunciations. They joined their voices with those of pagan Romans who were painfully aware of the decay of their civilization.”

Calvin R. Stapert, A New Song for an Old World (Eerdmans, 2007), 145.

St. Basil objects to the “bacchanalian music of pagan religious rites, the theater, weddings, and orgiastic parties.” He says of this music, “The passions born of illiberality and baseness of spirit are naturally occasioned by this sort of music.” In contrast, he approves of Psalms. But he does not reject all non-Christian music, for he also praises Dorian music connected with Pythagoras.

Calvin R. Stapert, A New Song for an Old World (Eerdmans, 2007), 149-50.


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