35 Centuries of Praise: Part 3
Quotations from church fathers of the first six centuries
Clement of Alexandria (150-ca. 215) – The union of many in one, issuing in the production of divine harmony out of a medley of sounds and division, becomes one symphony following one choir-leader and teacher, the Word, reaching and resting in the same truth, and crying, “Abba, Father.” (Exhortation to the Heathen 9)
Tertullian (ca. 160-225) – Our dinner shows its idea in its name; it is called by the Greek name for love (agape)…. If the motive of the banquet is honest, take the motive as the standard of the other proceedings required by our rule of life. Since it turns on the duty of religion, it allows nothing vile, nothing immodest.
We do not take our places at table until we have first tasted prayer to God. Only so much is eaten as satisfies hunger; only so much drunk as meets the needs of the modest. They satisfy themselves only so far as men will who recall that evening during the night they must worship God; they talk as those would who know the Lord listens.
After water for the hands come the lights; and then each, from what he knows of the Holy Scriptures, or from his own heart, is called before the rest to sing to God; so that is a test of how much he has drunk. Prayer in like manner ends the banquet.
Then we break up; but not to form groups for violence nor gangs for disorder, nor outbursts for lust; but to pursue the same care for self-control and chastity, as men who have dined not so much on dinner as on discipline. (Apology 39)
Basil (ca. 330-379) – A psalm is the tranquility of souls, the arbitrator of peace, restraining the disorder and turbulence of thoughts, for it softens the passion of the soul and moderates its unruliness. A psalm forms friendships, unites the divided, mediates between enemies. For who can still consider him an enemy with whom he has sent forth one voice to God? So that the singing of psalms brings love, the greatest of good things, contriving harmony like some bond of union and uniting the people in the symphony of a single choir.
A psalm drives away demons, summons the help of angels, furnishes arms against nightly terrors, and gives respite from daily toil; to little children it is safety, to men in their prime an adornment, to the old a solace, to women their most fitting ornament. It populates the deserts; it brings agreement to the marketplaces.
To novices it is a beginning; to those who are advancing, an increase; to those who are concluding, a confirmation. A psalm is the voice of the Church. It gladdens feast days, it creates the grief which is in accord with God’s will, for a psalm brings a tear even from a heart of stone. A psalm is the work of angels, the ordinance of Heaven, the incense of the Spirit.
Oh, the wise invention of the teacher who devised how we might at the same time sing and learn profitable things, whereby doctrines are somehow more deeply impressed upon the mind. (Homily on the First Psalm 1 & 2).
John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) – [N]othing so arouses the soul, gives it wing, sets it free from the earth… as concordant melody and sacred song composed in rhythm. (On Psalm 41 1).
[No one will] be blamed if he be weakened by old age, or young, or have a harsh voice, or no knowledge at all of numbers [i.e., the theoretical aspects of music]. What is here sought for is a sober mind, an awakened intelligence, a contrite heart, sound reason, and clear conscience. If having these you have entered into God’s sacred choir. You may stand beside David himself.
Augustine (ca. 354-430) – How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the deep chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience. (Confessions 9, 6, 14).