Good Vibrations

Did you ever sit in a cathedral or large Catholic church during a High Mass or special service when the entire building was filled with the wonderful sound of a mighty pipe organ? I have, many times. In fact, it was the sound of the organ that helped me endure the lengthy periods of kneeling in enforced silence that made participation in a High Mass a trial for youngsters such as I then was. But, Oh! It was worth almost any price to be carried away on the soaring tones of the mighty organ that filled the loft at Sts.Peter & Paul's church in Norwood, Ohio. It was an experience that touched the soul and made the body vibrate in resonance with the chords of the beautiful music.

And isn't that what organs and brass bands and such are all about? A virtuoso performance on a mighty organ in some great gothic revival cathedral, with its magnificent acoustics, wonderful stained glass windows, beautiful altars and statues of revered beings, is a performance. A show. Something to attract an audience. Something to provide an enjoyable experience that will keep the crowd coming back for more.

1156 'The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.'[SC 112.] The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition: 'Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.' 'He who sings prays twice.'[Eph 5:19 ; St. Augustine, En. In Ps. 72,1: PL 36, 914; cf. Col 3:16.]--Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

Is that what the church is about? Providing entertainment for those who delight in calling themselves Catholics or Christians? The infant Church may not have used music in its worship or, if they did, it would surely have been a capello. The members all were Jews and instrumental music had long played a part in Temple worship, though it was never used in the synagogues. The followers of the Jewish Messiah eschewed the use of musical instruments which they associated with pagan sensuality.

There can be no doubt that originally the music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature. (Emil Nauman, The History of Music, Vol. I, p. 177)

One of the features that distinguishes the Christian religion from almost all others is its quietness; it aims to repress the outward signs of inward feeling. Savage instinct, and the religion of Greece, had employed the rhythmic dance and all kinds of gesticulatory notions to express the inner feelings . . . The early Christians discouraged all outward signs of excitement, and from the very beginning, in the music they used, reproduced the spirit of their religion-an inward quietude. All the music employed in their early services was vocal. --Frank Landon Humphreys, Evolution of Church Music, Charles Scribner's Sons (1896), p. 42).

Have you ever thought about how the infant church worshiped? Did those who believed in the Jewish Messiah gather in great cathedrals filled with the smoke of incense and the sound of orchestral music? Did the officiating priest enter behind an honor guard bearing lit candles and carrying offerings and various accoutrements of worship?

The first Christians were Jews. Their worship likely conformed to traditional Jewish synagogue practice. They would have gathered to discuss the teachings of Jesus and to read the Scriptures. Their interest was in the teachings of Jesus, Whom they believed to have been the Messiah promised them in prophecy. They may have had no great interest in His atoning death and certainly appear not to have been convinced that in His incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection, He had fulfilled the Law and freed men from bondage to it.

The Greek Christians likely were more experiential than their Palestinian counterparts. Viewed as members of a strange cult and living in a less than hospitable religious environment, it seems doubtful they that were willing to hold many public assemblies. We read in Scripture of their meeting in private homes (Acts 2:46, 16:40, 18:7; Philemon 1:2). There are indications (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) that they met on the first day of the week, commemorating the Resurrection, but they may have met more frequently. From Paul's letters, we know they met to partake of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; 11:20-29), a ceremonial community meal reminiscent of the meal Jesus hosted on the night of His arrest, and for a more charismatic type of service that involved singing and thanksgiving, in unknown languages, with interpretation and prophecy (1 Corinthians 14).

We know that these early worship gatherings, at least in the Gentile church, included the singing of hymns and psalms (Ephesians 5:19, vocal thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), prayer (1 Corinthians 11:4,5) and instruction (1 Corinthians 14:26; Colossians 3:16). The Scriptures do not tell us who is to officiate in worship or to administer the Lord's Supper, though it is clear that prophets did play a role in corporate worship (1 Corinthians 14:22-25).

In 112 AD, Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator in Bithynia, sent a letter to Emperor Trajan in which he reported some of the things he had learned--by torturing people accused of being Christians--of what he considered to be a heretical cult. According to his victims,

On an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, not for the commission of any crime but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith and not to deny a deposit when it was claimed. After the conclusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food: but it was ordinary and harmless food. . . (Pliny the Younger, Letter to Trajan, Quoted in Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1947, p. 6)

So, how did the use of musical instruments become such a big part of Catholic worship? Like so many Roman Catholic innovations, it did not happen all at once. Before the bishops of Rome managed to take control of what had been Christian worship, leading lights in the developing church spoke out quite strongly against the use of musical instruments within the church.

Simply singing is not agreeable to children (Jews), but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing.--Justin Martyr, Questions and Answers to the Orthodox, Ques. 107, p. 462 (AD 139), cited by M. C. Kurfrees in Instrumental Music in the Worship (1911)

Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice. Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments even at Christian banquets. St. Chrysostum sharply contrasts the customs of the Christians when they had full freedom with those of the Jews of the Old Testament.--G. Gietmann, Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, Robert Appleton Company (1911), pg. 648-652. w/Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur

Shaff credits the use of organs in churches to Pope Vitalian (657-672), but the first organ definitely known to have been used in a church was not played until the reign of Charlemagne, who ascended to the thorne of the Holy Roman Empire in 768AD.

The use of organs in churches is ascribed to Pope Vitalian (657-672). Constantine Copronymos sent an organ with other presents to King Pepin of France in 767. Charlemagne received one as a present from the Caliph Haroun al Rashid, and had it put up in the cathedral of Aixia-Chapelle... The attitude of the churches toward the organ varies. It shared, to some extent, the fate of images, except that it never was an object of worship... The Greek church disapproved the use of organs. The Latin church introduced it pretty generally, but not without the protest of eminent men, so that even in the Council of Trent a motion was made, though not carried, to prohibit the organ at least in the mass.--Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, pg. 439.)

Pope Vitalian and Charlemagne might have favored the use of musical instruments in the church, but there were plenty in the church hierarchy who did not.

Sir John Hawkins, following the Romanish writers in his erudite work on the history of music, made Pope Vitalian, in A.D. 660, the first who introduced organs into the churches. But students of ecclesiastical archaeology are generally agreed that instrumental music was not used in churches till a much later date; for Thomas Aquinas [Catholic Scholar in 1250 A.D.] has these remarkable words, 'Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may seem not to Judaize.'--McClintock and Strong, Encyclopedia of Biblical Literature, Vol. 6, Harper and Brothers, New York, (1894), pg. 762.)

Protestant churches resisted the introduction of instrumental music into their worship for centuries:.

The organ in the worship is the insignia of Baal! The Roman Catholic borrowed it from the Jews. (Martin Luther)--Ibid.

However, due to the pressure of competition, a retreat from orthodoxy or simply a desire to make church attendance a fun thing, even the Protestant churches began to use instrumental music in their worship:

The custom of organ accompaniment did not become general among Protestants until the eighteenth century. (The New Shaff-Herzogg Encyclopedia, 1953, Vol 10, p. 257)

So, Jews used instrumental music in their Temple observances, but not in their synagogues. Early Christians sang or chanted hymns, as did the medieval Roman Church. Somewhere along the way, a pope or an Emperor decided to enhance the show and introduced instrumental music to the Catholic ritual, albeit in the face of strong and continuing resistance from within the RCC. Then, half a millennium later, Protestants began singing their hymns to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Now, it seems commonplace to think of great banks of organ pipes in the cathedrals and large churches of Catholicism, while some of the Protestant mega-churches are home to symphonic orchestras and huge choirs managed by highly paid "Music Pastors."

Why is the sound of an organ or a brass choir such a big thing in contemporary worship? Does it honor God? Or does it makes us feel good about what we are doing? Or is it simply viewed as "legitimate" Sunday morning entertainment? Perhaps Erasmus, Renaissance Man and ordained Catholic priest, provides a clue:

We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.--Erasmus, Commentary on I Cor. 14:19

A prominent British preacher preferred vocal music:

Charles Spurgeon, renowned nineteenth century Baptist preacher: "We do not need them [musical instruments]. They would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto Him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice. . . . What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it"--Comments on Psalm 42:4, quoted by Jeff Himmel in Instrumental Music in Worship: The Voice of History

Does music, instrumental music, have a place in Christian worship? I don't know that it doesn't, so long as the music does not become the focus and distract worshippers from directing their attentions to God. I am aware of nothing in Scripture that prohibits such music nor, for that matter anything that requires it. I do know that many Psalms contain comments concerning musical matters. The Catholic Church teaches:

1191. Song and music are closely connected with the liturgical action. The criteria for their proper use are the beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly, and the sacred character of the celebration. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

The Bible teaches:

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matthew 22:36-37)

Where do I stand? I reckon that when I am looking to be entertained, I shall buy a ticket and go to the movies or turn on the TV. When I worship the Lord God, it has been my experience that instrumental music and choral singing are more a distraction than an aid to worship.

Wherever you stand on this, let God be served.

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