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St. Paul

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

1 Cor 14:15  What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.


St John Chrysostom (345-407)

Patron of preachers and great orator, moralist

Source Readings in Music History From Classical Antiquity to the Romantic Era

Oliver Strunk

Norton: New York, 1950

... Inasmuch as this kind of pleasure is thoroughly innate to our mind, and lest demons introducing lascivious songs should overthrow everything, God established the psalms, in order that singing might be both a pleasure and a help. From strange chants, harm, ruin, and many grievous matters are brought in, for those things that are lascivious and vicious in all songs settle in parts of the mind, making it softer and weaker; from the spiritual psalms, however, proceeds much of value, much utility, much sanctity, and every inducement to philosophy, for the words purify the mind and the Holy spirit descends swiftly upon the mind of the singer. For those who sing with understanding invoke the grace of the Spirit.


St. Augustine (384-430)

...But yet for all this, that those airs may together with these words (by virtue of which they receive life) gain full admission with me, do they aspire to be entertained into a place of no mean honor in this heart of mine, nor can I scarce afford them a room befitting for them. For sometimes forsooth, do I seem to myself to attribute more respect unto them that is seemly; yea, even whilst together with those sacred ditties I perceive our minds to be far more religiously blown up into a flame of devotion, when as these ditties are thus sung, than they would have been had they not been so sung: yea, and I perceive withal, how that the several affections of our spirit, have their proper moods answerable to their variety in the voice and singing, and by some secret association herewith they be stirred up....

Thus float I between peril of pleasure, and an approved profitable custom: inclined the more (though herein I pronounce no irrevocable opinion) to allow the old usage of singing in the Church; that so by the delight taken in by the ears, the weaker minds be roused up into some feeling of devotion. And yet again, so oft as it befalls me to be more moved with the voice than with the ditty, I confess myself to have grievously offended: at which time I wish rather not to have heard the music....


Boethius (480-524 AD)

Roman Statesman, philosopher, mathematician. Author: De institutione musica.

...For this reason Plato holds that any change in music of right moral tendency should be especially avoided, declaring that there could be no greater detriment to the morals of a community than a gradual perversion of chaste and modest music. For the minds of those hearing it are immediately affected and gradually go astray, retaining no trace of honesty and right,--- if either the lascivious modes implant something shameful in their minds, or the harsher modes something savage and monstrous... For discipline has no more open pathway to the mind than through the ear. When by this path rhythms and modes have reached the mind, it is evident that they also affect it and conform it to their nature.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions -- to pass over the animals -- which govern men as masters or, more often, overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found -- at least, not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate -- and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel me to evil or good? -- what more effective means than music could you find?

And you, my young friend, let this noble, wholesome, and cheerful creation of God be commended to you. By it you may escape shameful desires and bad company. At the same time you may by this creation accustom yourself to recognize and praise the Creator. Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature, which would and should praise God its Maker with this gift, so that these bastards purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God, the enemy of nature and of this lovely art.


John Calvin (1509-1564)

...And in truth we know by experience that song has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. It must always be looked to that the song be not light and frivolous but have weight and majesty, as Saint Augustine says, and there is likewise a great difference between the music one makes to entertain men at table and in their homes, and the psalms which are sung in the presence of God and His angels....

...Now among the other things proper to recreate man and give him pleasure, music is either the first or one of the principal, and we must think that it is a gift of God deputed to that purpose. For which reason we must be the more careful not to abuse it, for fear of soiling and contaminating it, converting it to our condemnation when it was dedicated to our profit and welfare. Were there no other consideration than this alone, it might well move us to moderate the use of music to make it serve all that is of good repute and that it should not be the occasion of our giving free reign to dissoluteness or of our making ourselves effeminate with disordered pleasures and that it should not become the instrument of lasciviousness or of any shamelessness. But there is still more, for there is hardly anything in the world with more power to turn or bend, this way and that, the morals of men, as Plato has prudently considered. And in fact we find by experience that it has a secret and almost incredible power to move our hearts in one way or another.

Wherefore we must be the more diligent in ruling it in such a manner that it may be useful to us and in no way pernicious. For this reason the early doctors of the church often complain that the people of their times are addicted to dishonest and shameless songs, which not without reason they call mortal and Satanic poison for the corruption of the world. Now in speaking of music I understand two parts, namely, the letter, or subject and matter, and the song, or melody. It is true that, as Saint Paul says, every evil word corrupts good manners, but when it has the melody with it, it pierces the heart much more strongly and enters within; as wine is poured into the cask with a funnel, so venom and corruption are distilled to the very depths of the heart by melody. Now what is there to do? It is to have songs not merely honest but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to God and praise Him, and to meditate upon his works in order to love, fear, honor, and glorify Him....

...But may the world be so well advised that instead of the songs that it has previously used, in part vain and frivolous, in part stupid and dull, in part foul and vile and consequently evil and harmful, it may accustom itself hereafter to sing these divine and celestial hymns with the good King David. Touching the melody, it has seemed best that it be moderated in the way that we have adopted in order that it may have the weight and majesty proper to the subject that may even be suitable for singing in church, according to what has been said.


John Cotton (1584-1652)

Congregational patriarch, teacher of the Church at Boston, and one of the thirty clergy responsible for the 1640 Bay Psalm Book.

From the Preface: ...and verily as their sin is exceeding great, who will allow Davids psalmes (as other scriptures) to be read in churches (which is one end) but not to be preached also (which is another end) soe their sin is crying before God, who will allow them to be read and preached, but seeke to deprive the Lord of the Glory of the third end of them, which is to sing them in Christian churches.


Pius X (1835-1914)

Instruction on Sacred Music from Motu proprio, 1903

Sacred music must therefore eminently possess the qualities which belong to liturgical rites, especially holiness and beauty, from which its other characteristic, universality, will follow spontaneously. It must be holy, and therefore avoid everything that is secular, both in itself and in the way it is performed. It must really be an art, since in no other way can it have on the mind of those who hear it that effect which the church desires in using in her liturgy the art of sound.


B.F. White and E.J. King

from The Sacred Harp, 1860 [1st, 1844]

All affectation should be banished, for it is disgusting in the performance of sacred music, and contrary to that solemnity which should accompany an exercise so near akin to that which will, through all eternity, engage the attention of those who walk in climes of bliss...

The great Jehovah, who implanted in our nature the noble faculty of vocal performance, is jealous of the use to which we apply our talents in that particular, lest we use them in a way which does not tend to glorify his name. We should therefore endeavor to improve the talent given us, and try to sing with the spirit and with the understanding, making melody in our hearts to the Lord.


Ralph Vaughan Williams

R.V.W. Preface, <i>The English Hymnal</i>, New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933, at xiv.

"The committee believe that many clergymen and organists are now realizing their responsibility in this matter, and will welcome a tune-book in which enervating tunes are reduced to a minimum. The usual argument in favour of bad music is that the fine tunes are doubtless "musically correct", but that the people want "something simple". Now the expression "musically correct" has no meaning; the only "correct" music is that which is beautiful and noble. As for simplicity, what could be simpler than "St. Anne" or "The Old Hundredth", and what could be finer?

It is indeed a moral rather than a musical issue. No doubt it requires a certain effort to tune oneself to the moral atmosphere implied by a fine melody; and it is far easier to dwell in the miasma of the languishing and sentimental hymn tunes which so often disfigure our services. Such poverty of heart may not be uncommon, but at least it should not be encouraged by those who direct the services of the Church; it ought no longer to be true any where that the most exalted moments of a church-goer's week are associated with music that would not be tolerated in any place of secular entertainment.


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