Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"The Pillar Of The Church"

"Thus as in music there is a plectrum, so the man becoming himself a stringed instrument and devoting himself completely to the Spirit may obey in all his members and emotions, and serve the will of God. The harmonious reading of the Psalms is a figure and type of such undisturbed and calm equanimity of our thoughts. For just as we discover the ideas of the soul and communicate them through the words we put forth, so also the Lord, wishing the melody of the words to be a symbol of the spiritual harmony in a soul, has ordered that the odes be chanted tunefully, and the Psalms recited with song. The desire of the soul is this—to be beautifully disposed, as it is written, Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing praise. In this way that which is disturbing and rough and disorderly in it is smoothed away, and that which causes grief is healed when we sing psalms. Why are you sad, O my soul, and why do you trouble me? That which causes stumbling will be discovered, as it says, But my feet were almost overthrown.

When they chant in this way, so the melody of the phrases is brought forth from the soul’s good order and from the concord with the Spirit, such people sing with the tongue, but singing also with the mind they greatly benefit not only themselves but even those who are willing to hear them. Blessed David, then, making music in this way for Saul, was himself well pleasing to God, and he drove away from Saul the troubled and frenzied disposition, making his soul calm. The priests who sang thus summoned the souls of the people into tranquility, and called them into unanimity with those who form the heavenly chorus. Therefore the Psalms are not recited with melodies because of a desire for pleasant sounds. Rather, this is a sure sign of the harmony of the soul’s reflections. Indeed the melodic reading is a symbol of the mind’s well-ordered and undisturbed condition. Moreover, the praising of God in well-tuned cymbals and harp and ten-stringed instruments was again a figure and sign of the parts of the body coming into natural concord like harp strings, and of the thoughts of the soul becoming like cymbals, and then all of these being moved and living through the grand sound and through the command of the Spirit so that, as it is written, the man lives in the Spirit and transforms the deeds of the body. For thus beautifully singing praises, he brings rhythm to his soul and leads it, so to speak, from disproportion to proportion, with the result that, due to its steadfast nature, it is not frightened by something, but rather imagines positive things, even possessing a full desire for the future goods. And gaining composure by the singing of the phrases, it becomes forgetful of the passions and, while rejoicing, sees in accordance with the mind of Christ, conceiving the most excellent thoughts."

(A Letter of Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms, in Athanasius, tr. Robert C. Gregg, Paulist Press, 1980.)

1 comment:

John-Julian, OJN said...

And, of course, he's talking about Gregorian chant—not Hymnal 1982! (grin)