Friday, January 22, 2016

Church Fathers on Psalmody

The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings, “Praise Him with the sound of trumpet;” for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead. “Praise Him on the psaltery;” for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. “And praise Him on the lyre.” By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. “Praise with the timbrel and the dance,” refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin. “Praise Him on the chords and organ.” Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices. “Praise Him on the clashing cymbals.” He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips. Therefore He cried to humanity, “Let every breath praise the Loan,” because He cares for every breathing thing which He hath made. For man is truly a pacific instrument; while other instruments, if you investigate, you will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up amours, or rousing wrath. … The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honour God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies; that by such strains they might raise their dejected minds...For the psalm is a melodious and sober blessing. The apostle calls the psalm "a spiritual song"...But let amatory songs be banished far away, and let our songs be hymns to God.— Clement of Alexandria (AD 190), The Instructor, Book II, Chapter IV

 “Of old at the time those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days… We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.”
— Eusebius (AD 325), Commentary On Psalms, 91:2-3

"He devised for us these harmonious melodies of the psalms, that they who are children in age or even those who are youthful in disposition might to all appearances chant but, in reality, become trained in soul. For, never has any one of the many indifferent persons gone away easily holding in mind either an apostolic or prophetic message, but they do chant the words of the psalms even in the home, and they spread them around in the market place, and if perchance someone becomes exceedingly wrathful, when he begins to be soothed by the psalm, he departs with the wrath of his soul immediately lulled to sleep by means of the melody."
— Basil the Great (c.330-379) bishop of Caesarea

"No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments."
— Synod of Laodicea (343-381), canon LIX

"The grace of the Holy Ghost hath so ordered it, that the Psalms of David should be recited and sung night and day. In the Church’s vigils—in the morning—at funeral solemnities—the first, the midst, and the last is David. In private houses, where virgins spin—in the monasteries—in the deserts, where men converse with God—the first, the midst, and the last is David. In the night, when men sleep, he wakes them up to sing; and collecting the servants of God into angelic troops, turns earth into heaven, and of men makes angels, chanting David’s Psalms."
— John Chrysostom (c.347-407) bishop of Constantinople

"The notion that finds in these terms—‘Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs’—a warrant for an uninspired Hymnology in the matter of the Church’s praise, has been exploded hundreds of times. In the Septuagint version of the Old Testament Scriptures, with which the Ephesians and Colossians were familiar when the Apostle wrote these words, there were various titles prefixed to the Psalms. The titles of 107 were psalmos (Psalm) or ode (Song), or both psalmos and ode. Taking the title Alleluia as equivalent to humnos (as the best critics do), 26 come under the description of humnoi (Hymns). When the Apostle used these titles—psalmoi kai humnoi kai odai—those to whom he wrote knew at once that he referred to the Inspired Collection, which may be designated Book of Hymns, or Book of Songs, as well as Book of Psalms (Sepher Tehillim). Spiritual (pneumatikais) means guided, or inspired, by the Spirit. Instead of prefixing spiritual to Songs, as if it were to be limited only to the Songs, the translation should rather run—‘In Psalms, and Hymns, and Songs, inspired by the Spirit,’ understanding ‘inspired by the Spirit’ to refer, in harmony with the idiom of the original, to all three. That these terms are used of the Psalms, and of the Psalms alone, is the opinion of … Beza, Owen, Ridgley, Gill, Bloomfield, Horne, MacKnight, Edwards, etc. Josephus alludes to the Psalms under the name of ‘Songs and Hymns.’ In the Apostolic Canons they are called ‘the Hymns of David.’ They are spoken of in the Talmud as ‘Songs or Praises and Hymns.’ Augustine vindicated the use of the Psalms in worship against ‘one Hilary, who took every opportunity of loading with malicious censures the custom that Hymns from the Book of Psalms should be sung at the altar.’ And in the fifth century Cassian (c.360-435) writes, ‘The elders have not changed the ancient custom of singing Psalms. The Hymns which were sung at the close of the night vigils, namely, the 50th, 62nd, 89th, and 148th Psalms are the same Hymns which are sung at this day."
— James Kerr

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