Clement on the music wars (an excerpt)

The battle over music in the church is an old, old battle. Calvin R. Stapert writes about it in his book, A New Song for an Old World. We publish an excerpt here:

“Clement [of Alexandria] affirms music that he describes as sober, pure, decorous, modest, temperate, grave, and soothing, over against music he describes as licentious, voluptuous, frenzied, frantic, inebriating, titillating, scurrilous, turbulent, immodest, and meretricious. Here are three typical examples:


“Burlesque singing is the close friend of drunkenness. . . . For if people occupy their time with pipes, and psalteries, and choirs, and dances, and Egyptian clapping of hands, and such disorderly frivolities, they become quite immodest and intractable, beat on cymbals and drums, and make a noise on instruments of delusion. . . . And every improper sight and sound . . . must by all means be excluded; and we must be on guard against whatever pleasure titillates eye and ear, and enervates the soul. For the various spells of the broken strains and // plaintive numbers of the Carion muse corrupt men’s morals, drawing to perturbation of mind, by the licentious and mischievous art of music. [The Instructor II; p. 248]

“[L]et amatory songs be banished far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. . . . For temperate harmonies are to be admitted; but we are to banish as far as possible from our robust mind those liquid harmonies, which, through pernicious arts in the modulations of tones, train to languor and scurrility. But grave and modest strains say farewell to the turbulence of drunkenness. Chromatic harmonies are therefore to be abandoned to immodest revels, and to florid and meretricious music. [The Instructor II; p. 249]

“Music is then to be handled for the sake of the embellishment and composure of manners. For instance, at a banquet we pledge each other while the music is playing; soothing by song the eagerness of our desires and glorifying God for the copious gift of human enjoyments, for His perpetual supply of the food necessary for the growth of the body and of the soul. But we must reject superfluous music, which enervates men’s souls, and leads to variety,—now mournful, and then licentious and voluptuous, and then frenzied and frantic. [Miscellanies VI; pp. 500-501]”

Calvin R. Stapert, A New Song for an Old World (Eerdmans, 2007), 54-55.