December 18, 2017

“A New Song for an Old World” (Notes & Excerpt 7)

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

The church’s music was influenced by Jewish temple music. (Stapert, 152-153)

“Jewish psalmody was word-oriented, a characteristic that set it apart from the music of the sacrificial rites of the Israelites pagan neighbors. Pagan sacrificial music typically featured the frenzy-inducing sound of the loud double-reed instruments and the rhythms of orgiastic dancing. Words were superfluous.”

Stapert, 153

Scholars typically assume that early church music arose out of the synagogue, but Stapert notes that there is little evidence for Psalm singing in the synagogue before the fall of the temple.

He thinks early church music came from sacred music sung in Jewish households—music that was also later used in synagogues as well. (Stapert, 154-57)

Turning to some thoughts from Augustine on music:

“In On Christian Doctrine, for example, he says that Christians ‘should not turn to their [the pagans’] theatrical frivolities to discover whether anything valuable for spiritual purposes is to be gathered from their harps and other instruments.’”

Stapert, 181 citing On Christian Doctrine, 2.18.28.

In chapter 11 Stapert has a helpful chapter on the ordering of loves in Augustine. This is how he understands Augustine’s sayings in the Confessions about the sin of loving beautiful sacred music (among other things) too much. It is not that earthly things like music are not to be loved, but if they are loved for their own sake rather than as vehicles to love God it is sin. Thus beautiful music can be dangerous in that it draws the mind from God to the music in worship (in this section Stapert also deals with the danger Augustine notes in giving more attention to style than to the truth of the content.

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