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The Meaning of the Patristic Polemic Against Musical Instruments

by James McKinnon


This article was taken from James McKinnon’s The Temple, the Church Fathers and Early Western Chant. It originally appeared in in Current Musicology in 1965.

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The Temple, the Church Fathers and Early Western Chant

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Current Musicology, 1965

The antagonism which the Fathers of the early Church displayed toward instruments has two outstanding characteristics: vehemence and uniformity.

This vehemence is truly striking. "Where aulos-players are, there Christ is not" (PG 62:389), said St. John Chrysostom (died 407), and on another occasion he referred to cymbals and auloi along with dancing, obscene songs, and drunkenness as "the devil's heap of garbage" (PG 61:103). Rhetorical outbursts by Church Fathers like Chrysostom were accompanied by strict ecclesiastical legislation. There was a widespread legal tradition that denied baptism to autos and kithara players unless they renounced their trade,1 and a fourth-century Alexandrian law set excommunication as the penalty for a cantor who learned to play the kithara:

If an anagnost [cantor] learns to play the kithara, he shall confess this. If he does not return to it, his punishment shall be for seven weeks' duration. If he persists, he shall be dismissed and excluded from the church (Canones Basilii 74).

The vehemence of the polemic against instruments is primarily accounted for by the association of musical instruments with sexual immorality,2 an issue on which third- and fourth-century Church Fathers were extremely sensitive. This was especially true of fourth-century Fathers like Chrysostom and Jerome who wrote after the political establishment of Christianity and were thus confronted with the moral problems posed by mass conversions. Instruments were also associated with pagan rites, which helps to explain the antagonism towards them expressed by the third-century Fathers in particular. The polemical writings of Tertullian, Arnobius, and Novatian reflected the bitterness of that century of severe persecutions. Yet even then it was the association of instruments with prostitution, luxurious banquets, and the obscenities of the theatre that provided the major emotional impetus for the patristic condemnation.3 Arnobius, for example, wrote:

Did God send souls [to earth] so that these members of a holy and noble race should here practice music and the arts of the piper. . .that they should sing obscene songs. . .? Did he send them so that as males they become pederasts and as females they become harlots, harpists, and kitharists, giving their bodies for hire? (Adversus nationes II:42).

If the casual reader of patristic denunciations of musical instruments is struck by their vehemence, the systematic investigator is surprised by another characteristic: their uniformity. The attitude of opposition to instruments was virtually monolithic even though it was shared by men of diverse temperaments and different regional backgrounds, and even though it extended over a span of at least two centuries of changing fortunes for the Church. That there were not widespread exceptions to the general position defies credibility. Accordingly, many musicologists, while acknowledging that early church music was predominantly vocal, have tried to find evidence that instruments were employed at various times and places. The result of such attempts has been a history of misinterpretations and mistranslations.4

The assumption that there must have been exceptions to the general rule of vocal performance seems founded on the basic misconception that there was a controversy over the use of instruments in the early Church. This reasoning implies, if not expresses, the following familiar line of argumentation.5 It is frequently asserted, and with good logic, that ecclesiastical criticism of or legislation against any particular abuse implies the existence of that abuse. Thus, if a 13th-century Council forbade goliards to sing tropes upon the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (Mansi 33:33), it is probable that this is precisely what some goliards were doing. Similarly, if Chrysostom found it necessary on numerous occasions to forbid exciting instrumental music and the singing of obscene songs at weddings, we may reason that certain Christians were perpetuating these pagan practices. Now a careful reading of all the patristic criticism of instruments will not reveal a single passage which condemns the use of instruments in church. The context of the condemnation may be the banquet, the theater, or the festivities accompanying a marriage, but it is never the liturgy.

For example, Clement of Alexandria (died before 215), under the chapter heading "How to Conduct Oneself at Banquets" wrote:

If people spend their time with auloi, psalteria, dancing and leaping, clapping hands like Egyptians, and in other similar dissolute activities, they become altogether immodest and unrestrained, senselessly beating on cymbals and drums, and making noise on all the instruments of deception. Obviously, it seems to me, such a banquet has become a theater of drunkenness (PG 8:440).6

Tertullian (died after 220) told Christians that they were to hate the instruments of the theater:

That immodesty of movement and dress which especially characterizes the theater is consecrated to Venus and Bacchus, both of whom are wanton, the one by her sex, the other by his robes. What is taking place in voice and song, and by instruments and lyres, is at the service of Apollos and Muses and Minervas and Mercuries. You must hate, 0 Christian, those objects whose authors you execrate (PL 1:717).7

Chrysostom in particular stressed instruments in his harsh criticisms of marriage celebrations:

Auloi, syrinxes and cymbals, and drunken leaping, and the other contemporary disgraces were entirely absent then [at the wedding of Jacob and Rebecca]. But now among us they dance and sing this hymn to Aphrodite. . .and hymns full of obscenity on the very wedding day (PG 51:210).8

One might be tempted to make the simple logical distinction that the Church Fathers were not condemning the instruments themselves but rather their abuse. Nevertheless, it should be obvious from the passages just quoted that the Fathers made no such distinction. Clement blamed the debasement of the banquet on the instruments, not vice versa; Tertullian said that instruments were to be hated, not that they were merely neutral symbols of the pagan deities; and Chrysostom said that auloi and syrinxes were contemporary disgraces, not that they often appeared in conjunction with certain contemporary disgraces. The same way of thinking can be observed in most patristic references to instruments. Therefore, to argue that instruments might have been tolerated if disassociated from evil circumstances and baptized, so to speak, for use in the liturgy may be logical in the abstract but is incompatible with the real attitude of the Church Fathers. To them the instruments were evil in themselves.

What ought to interest the music historian about the three passages is that the instruments appear in situations outside the church, not within. The patristic polemic against instruments was a matter of morality, not of liturgy, which explains why it was so uniform. One expects diversity of usage in external liturgical practices, but uniformity of attitude on a basic moral issue. Thus, both the uniformity and the vehemence of the patristic attitude are due to the fact that the Church Fathers' opposition to instruments was a moral issue, specifically an issue closely related to their views on sexual immorality.

The implication for the performance of early Christian music is obvious. Not only was it predominantly vocal, but it was so exclusively vocal that the occasion to criticize the use of instruments in church never arose. The truth of this will be more fully appreciated after an inquiry into the origins of Christian song.

The absence of instruments in the Christian liturgy has been interpreted by some liturgical historians as a conscious rejection of the instrumental cult music of Israel, but a close look at the transition from Jewish to primitive Christian worship reveals an altogether different situation. The unaccompanied psalmody and the cantillation of Scriptural readings which constituted the earliest Christian liturgical singing was a continuation of the practices of the Synagogue. Unlike the Temple, the Synagogue made no use of instruments in its unique service of Scriptural readings, discourse, prayers, and psalmody. The primitive Christians while carrying on the rite of the Synagogue had no thought of opposing the instruments of the Temple, but simply continued a form of worship which happened to have no need of cult instruments. Similarly, the Synagogue had not dispensed with instruments out of opposition to the instruments of the Temple, nor, as Eric Werner maintains, out of opposition to the instruments of the Hellenistic cults (1959:334-35).9 Rather the typical cult functions of instruments in antiquity—accompanying sacrifice or orgiastic dance—were irrelevant to the revolutionary rite of the Synagogue. The service of the Synagogue was revolutionary and unique because it consisted in reading and meditating upon a book rather than in the primitive rites of bloody sacrifice, orgiastic dancing, incantation, and divination, all of which employed instruments. Conscious opposition to instruments came later in both Judaism and Christianity. It resulted from an inevitable comparison between a rite that did not use instruments and the pagan or gentile rites that did. And in the case of Christianity the issue of sexual immorality contributed to and even overshadowed the motivations stemming from a comparison of cults.

Christianity inherited the psalmody of the Synagogue and fostered it with remarkable enthusiasm. Paul said "when you come together each of you has a psalm" (1 Cor. xiv:26), and Ambrose three hundred years later called a psalm "the blessing of the people. . .the applause of all, the language of the assembly, the voice of the Church, the melodious confession of the faith, the devotion full of authority, the joy of freedom, the cry of rapture, the echo of bliss" (PL 14:968). Note that during the first two centuries of this development there was only praise for psalmody and no mention of the instruments of pagan society or cult.10 The Christian attitude developed independently; it was not a reaction to pagan cults or to anything else.

A doctrine of opposition to instruments did not develop until the third and fourth centuries. By then Christians were comparing their spiritual worship to pagan cults. But more important was the rise of asceticism in both the East and the West. Patristic asceticism was particularly severe with respect to sexual matters which, as we have seen, accounts for the vehemence of the opposition to instruments. Now it is not at all surprising that eventually certain Church Fathers placed Christian psalmody in rhetorical juxtaposition to the immoral instrumental music of pagan society. Among the several fourth-century examples of this is a passage by Ephraem of Nisibis, the famous Syrian composer of Christian hymns:

Today, to all appearances, they sing psalms as God has ordained, and tomorrow they will eagerly dance as taught by Satan. . .Let it be far from you that today you listen attentively to the reading of the divine Scripture as one loving Christ, and that tomorrow you listen to lyre‑playing as a criminal and a hater of Christ (Quoted by Quasten 1930:140).

It is evident that Ephraem was not speaking out against instruments in church, but rather contrasting the Scriptural readings and psalmody of the Christian liturgy with the lyre-playing and dancing that takes place on occasions of forbidden amusement. A distinction between two separate locations, implicit in Ephraem's remarks, is made clear in a passage from Chrysostom, who contrasts the table of the dissolute rich with that of poor monks:

There indeed are auloi and kitharas and syrinxes, but here there is no dissonant music:. but what is here? hymns and psalms. There the demons are hymned, here the Lord God of all (PG 62:306).

Similarly, Ambrose was criticizing those who go to eating and drinking places instead of gathering in church to praise God when he wrote: "hymns are now being proclaimed, and you take up the kithara? The psalms are being sung, and you grasp the psalterium or the tympanum?" Already in the morning, Ambrose continued, they wander about seeking wine in taverns instead of coming together to greet the Sun of Justice (PL 14: 751-52).11 This series of passages contains no hint of a controversy over instruments in church, but it does confirm the impression that psalmody is essentially different from the contemporary music that employs instruments.

The patristic passage that might be construed more easily than any other as a condemnation of instruments within church is found in the Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos of Theodoret of Cyprus (died around 466). The text poses the question whether or not singing in church is a continuation of a concession granted by God to the immaturity of the Jews under the Old Law. The reply begins:

It is not singing in itself which is characteristic of immaturity, but singing to lifeless instruments and with dancing and rattles. Therefore, the use of these instruments is excluded from the song of the churches, along with other things which characterize immaturity, and there is simply the singing itself (PG 6:1353).12

A superficial reading of the passage might prompt the conclusion that Theodoret had in mind a controversy over the use of instruments in some contemporary Christian church. However, the instruments he mentions are the instruments of the Old Testament which is clear not only from the explicit reference to the Old Law in the text of the question itself, but also from several other patristic passages referring to how God tolerated the use of instruments by the Jews because of their spiritual immaturity.13 The Church Fathers constantly commented upon the Old Testament which was for them the inspired word of God, and thus were forced to reconcile their own antagonism toward instruments with the embarrassing fact that God allowed instruments in the worship of the Temple. Most Church Fathers avoided the issue by interpreting the instruments of the Old Testament according to the method of allegorical exegesis. But the exegetes of the School of Antioch, of which Theodoret was a member, were compelled to confront the issue directly because they adhered to a more literal and historical type of exegesis. Their explanation took the form of a sort of theory of religious evolution by which the immature (nepios) Jews were allowed certain material aids for their piety, such as the practice of bloody sacrifice and the use of instruments, both of which are incompatible with the spiritual worship of the New Testament. As Isidore of Pelusium (died around 435), another member of the Antiochene School, expressed it: "If God accepted even sacrifice and blood because of the immaturity of men at that time, why are you surprised at the music of the kithara and the psalterium?" (PG 78:628).

Writing at about the same time in the West, Niceta of Remesiana (died after 414), in his remarkable sermon De psalmodiae bono, gave an explanation similar to that of the Antiochene exegetes:

Only what is material [from the Old Testament] has been rejected, such as circumcision, the sabbath, sacrifices, discrimination in foods; and also trumpets, kitharas, cymbals, and tympana, which now understood as the limbs of a man resound with a more perfect music. Daily ablutions, new moon observances, the meticulous inspection of leprosy, along with anything else which was temporarily necessary for the immature are past and over with. But whatever is spiritual [from the Old Testament), such as faith, devotion, prayer, fasting, patience, chastity, and psalm-singing has been increased rather than diminished.14

Obviously Niceta, like Theodoret, was not referring to a profanation of the Christian liturgy by instruments; rather he was comparing their absence under the New Law with their use under the Old Law.

There is one more rhetorical device certain Church Fathers used when referring to instruments. They spoke of an otherwise laudable institution being transformed by the presence of instruments into the hated theater. For example, Isidore of Pelusium interpreted the word carousal (komos), which appears in Paul's epistle to the Galatians (v. 21), in the following manner:

That is a carousal, my dear friend, where intoxicating aulos and prolonged drinking arouse passion and change the symposium into the obscene theater, as cymbals and other instruments work a magical fraud upon the guests (PG 78:433).15

According to Isidore the noble symposium of classical Greece has been transformed by instruments into a carousal which is no better than the theater. Chrysostom warned against the marriage ceremony being changed into a theatrical performance (PG 62:387), and Gaudentius of Brescia (died after 405) predicted the same fate for the home which admitted instruments: "Where the lyre and the tibia sounds, where every type of musician makes noise along with the cymbals of the dancers, those houses are unblessed and in no way different from the theaters" (PL 20:890).

It is significant for my argument that no Church Father ever complained of the church being turned into a theater. If it had ever occurred to Christian communities of the third and fourth centuries to add instruments to their singing, indignation over this would have resounded throughout patristic literature and ecclesiastical legislation. One can only imagine the outburst the situation would have evoked from, say, Jerome or Chrysostom. There is a striking contrast between the situation in the patristic era and in the early 16th century when there were exceptions to the predominantly vocal character of liturgical music. Erasmus, for instance, excoriated instrumental music very much in the tradition of the Church Fathers but with one significant addition. According to him one's ears were assailed with instrumental music "even in the holy temple just as in the theater!" (1705:731).16 That no similar complaints can be found among the numerous patristic references to instruments is the strongest possible evidence that they simply were not used in the early church.

Those controversies involving liturgical music that did actually take place are reported in patristic literature because the liturgy was at the very center of early Christian life. There were, for example, some fourth-century Christians, possibly influenced by Neoplatonism, who thought that the psalms should be recited rather than sung, or at least sung in a manner that eschewed pleasant melody, although the majority maintained the traditionally positive attitude towards psalmody.17 There was an important fourth-century controversy over the use of non-Biblical hymns and also considerable disagreement over whether or not women in the congregation ought to sing aloud. But the issue of instruments in church was never raised. Musicologists have therefore made a fundamental mistake in thinking of the patristic polemic against instruments as part of a struggle to keep the liturgy free of them. That struggle came later, probably much later than is generally assumed.

Music historians ought to conceive of the psalmody of the early Christian Church not as a method of performance that excludes instruments but as a particular type of music for which instruments were stylistically irrelevant. The song of the Synagogue and the early Church was, as Walter Wiora observes, the only cult music of antiquity that did not use dancing, instruments, and regular meter (1961:75), three elements that have always been closely related both in the music of antiquity and in later Western music.18 In being free from these elements, psalmody was as unique musically as the rites of the Synagogue and of early Church were unique liturgically from the normal ancient and primitive cultic types such as animal sacrifice and orgiastic dancing. This is not to say that psalmody was not influenced melodically by contemporary Roman and Hellenistic music; in fact it seems reasonable to assume that it shared a sort of tonal common denominator with all the music of the Mediterranean area. But its prose-like rhythm and its dissociation from dancing and instruments were sufficient to isolate it stylistically. There is also the testimony of the Fathers who unreflectingly referred to psalmody again and again as a distinct kind of music. It is revealing that the term "musica" was very rarely used with reference to Christian song; "psalms" and "hymns" were the normal terms.19

For all practical purposes the death of Augustine in 431 signals the close of the creative period of early Christian musical thought. After him there was not a gradual decline of originality but a sharp drop. For the Middle Ages the outstanding authorities on liturgical music were fourth-century Church Fathers such as Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Basil and Chrysostom, with Benedict and Gregory playing a somewhat intermediary role.20 The influential ecclesiastical scholar Rhabanus Maurus (died 856), for example, ,simply quoted the Fathers verbatim when discussing liturgical music (PL 112: 117, 454; 107:362). This reflects the overwhelming dominance of patristic thought in the early Middle Ages. Eventually, the scholasticism of the high Middle Ages overshadowed the patristic influence. Yet the patristic tradition remained an important secondary stream of thought throughout the late Middle Ages; flourishing especially among mystical groups and having an important revival among the reform-conscious Christians of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The great influence of the Church Fathers on the Middle Ages suggests that conditions at the close of the patristic era are of crucial importance for subsequent centuries. With regard to musical instruments the situation was characterized by two related but distinct features. First, an intense moral antipathy for musical instruments was sufficiently common in patristic literature and in ecclesiastical legislation to justify our calling it a doctrine. Secondly, instruments were in practice absent from liturgical music. To trace the doctrine and the practice through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, and to follow the changing relationship between the two would be the fitting subject for a book, not for the closing remarks of an article.

Yet, with respect to the doctrine it is safe to say that it was remarkably persistent without trying to specify just how persistent it was. The early Christian refusal to baptize instrumentalists reappears in the medieval doctrine that jongleurs are ministers of Satan with no hope of salvation (Honorius, PL 172:1148). The familiar warnings against the immodest entertainments at which instruments were prominent were heard again and again.21 However, the following regulation from the Council of Sens in 1528 reveals a significant change: "We prohibit actors or mimes to enter the church for playing on the tympanum, lyre, or any other musical instrument; let them play their instruments neither in 'nor near the church" (Mansi 32:1190). Even if they had not penetrated the choir screen and entered the sanctuary where the actual liturgical singing took place, the jongleurs were, evidently doing some playing in church by this time. It has yet to be shown whether there are similar criticism of instrumentalists in church prior to this time.22

More important than the doctrine of opposition to instruments is the absence in practice of instruments from the early liturgy. It is an axiom of the history of religion that rites are extraordinarily conservative; they carefully preserve the externals of cult long after the ideas originally associated with them are forgotten. In the dynamic society of the Western Middle Ages liturgical developments were inevitable, but they did not take place unnoticed. The complaints of those who considered any modification of ancient forms to be sacrilegious and the enthusiasm of the innovators assured that the event was documented. Therefore, it cannot be gratuitously assumed that instruments were freely employed in the medieval liturgy. It is better to suppose that the early Christian practice continued and to require positive evidence for any exceptions or new developments. Musical innovations such as polyphony, sequences, and the organ are documented well enough to show that they did take place. But one still awaits positive documentary evidence supporting the widely held assumption that a great variety of instruments were freely employed without clearly defined functions in the medieval liturgy.23


1954 Singstil and Instrumentalstil in der europäischen Musik. In Bericht fiber den Internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress. (Barnberg, 19531. Kassel, pp. 223-40.
1957 Were Musical Instruments Used in the Liturgical Service during the Middle Ages? The Galpin Society Journal 10:40-56.
1705 Desiderii Erasmi Opera Omnia. Leiden. Vol. 6.
1926 Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami. P.S. Allen and H.M.
Allen (Eds). Oxford. Vol. 6.
1910 Les Jongleurs en France au Moyen Age. Paris.
1945 Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum. Paderborn. Vol. 1.
1964 Voices and Instruments in Christian Worship. Clifford Howell (Trans). Collegeville, Minn.
1774 De cantu et musica sacra a prima ecclesiae aetate usque ad praesens tempus. St. Blaise. 2 vols.
1677 Divi Aelredi Rhievallensis. . .Opera Omnia in Maxima Bibliotheca Patrum. Lyons. Vol. 32, pp. 1-165.
1965 The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University.
1759-1927 Sacrorum conciliorum nova collectio, 59 vols. Mansi published 31 volumes at Venice before his death in 1769. Various editors publishing in several cities completed the work and extended it so as to include the first Vatican Council (1870).
PG Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Graeca. Paris. 161 vols., 1857- 66.
PL Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina. Paris. 217 vols., 1879- 89.
1633 Histrio-Mastrix: The Players Scourge or Actors Tragaedie. London.
1930 Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der heidnischen Antike und der christlichen Fruhzeit. Munster.
1950-60 Patrology. Utrecht. 3 vols.
1955 Fruhchristliche Musik. In Friedrich Blume (Ed). Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Kassel, Vol. 4, cols. 1036-64.
1923 Niceta of Remesiana II: Introduction and Text of De Psalmodiae Bono. The Journal of Theological Studies 24:225-52.
1959 The Sacred Bridge. New York.
1961 Die Vier Weltalter der Musik. Stuttgart.


1. Constitutiones Apostolorum VIII:31; Epiphanius PG 42:829-32; Canones Hippolyti 12.

2. The theme had already appeared in classical literature; see Sallust Bellum Catalinae 25:1-3; Lucian De saltatione; Livy 39:vi.7. But the Church Fathers went far beyond the classical authors in the intensity of their concern with the sexual morality and in the explicitness with which they singled out the musical instruments for condemnation.

3. Johannes Quasten in his generally excellent study (1930: 108, 174) has contended that the Fathers condemned instruments primarily because of their association with pagan rites rather than with immorality. The assertion is incompatible with the obvious meaning of the patristic passages. In addition to the passages quoted see Gregory of Nyssa PG 37:1438; Pseudo-Basil PG 30:381; Chrysostom PG 60:300.

4. A misunderstanding of the Church Fathers' allegorical exegesis of the instruments of the Psalms accounts for most misinterpretations; see McKinnon 1965: Chapter VI. With respect to mistranslations, see Quasten (1930: 105-106) where he deals with certain mistranslations which appeared in numerous German histories of music from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A recent mistranslation is that of Bruno Stäblein, who takes cum palmis to mean with psalms  rather than with palm branches (1955:1047).

The only genuine exception to the universal patristic position is Clement of Alexandria's apparent toleration for the lyre and kithara (PG 8:444). Whereas the passage may be allegorical, it may equally well be taken literally. If it was meant to be a real toleration of these instruments, it was intended for extra-liturgical devotion rather than for liturgical singing and probably to accompany a non-Biblical metrical hymn rather than a psalm. See McKinnon 1965:Chapter III, and also the discussion of Synesius of Cyrene in Chapter IV.

5. See, e.g., Stäblein (1955:1047), and also Joseph Gelineau (1964:150). The latter generally shows a high degree of sophistication when dealing with patristic sources.

6. For other passages involving instruments at a banquet see Pseudo-Basil, PG 30:372-81; Chrysostom, PG 62:306; Isidor of Pelusium, PG 78:433; Ambrose, PL 14:751; Jerome, PL 22:874. For the Old Testament background of this patristic theme see Isaiah v:11-12. For a rabbinical passage similar to the patristic passages, see Sotah 48a.

7. For additional references to instruments and the theater see Novation (Pseudo-Cyprian), De spectaculis; Gregory of Nazianzus, PG 35:708; Augustine, PL 36:279; PL 34:49.

8. See also Chrysostom PG 54:486; PG 60:300; Gregory of Nazianzus PG 37:376.

9. It is unfortunate that Werner's impressive contributions to the important task of demonstrating Judaic influence upon early Christian liturgy and song are marred by insistence on this point, which to my mind actually obscures the positive achievement of the Synagogue. His chief item of evidence that Judaism was antagonistic toward instruments "well before the fall of Temple" (70 A.D.) is a quotation from Book VIII of the Sybilline Oracles, a work universally acknowledged to be Christian, and to date from- the second half of the second century A.D. See McKinnon 1965:Chapter II for a full discussion.

10. For the positive attitude toward psalmody in the first two centuries see Eph. v:18-20; Col. iii:15-17; Justin, PG 6:345-48; Oracula Sybillina VIII, 497-500. Third and fourth century encomiums of psalmody are too numerous
and too well-known to be cited, but a particularly striking one is Cyprian, PL 4:222-23.

11. For other passages presenting a rhetorical contrast between psalmody and pagan instruments see Chrysostom, PG 62:576; Gregory of Nazianzus, PG 35:708; PG 37:376.

12. This treatise was formerly attributed to St. Justin; see Johannes Quasten (1960:549).

13. See Chrysostom, PG 55:494; PG 55:495; Theodoret of Cyrus, PG 80:1996. See also the reference to Isidore of Pelusium below.

14. Translated from the text of C.H. Turner (1923:237). The sermon appears in an outrageously bowdlerized version in Gerbert, Scriptores 1:9-14, where it is attributed to Nicetius of Treves, a sixth-century bishop. In my opinion, the brief sermon offers a balanced summary of the whole attitude of early Christianity toward its music.

15. See also the passage from Clement quoted above.

16. See also Erasmus (1926:420). Any re-evaluation of the Renaissance a cappella question, which has been lying fallow for the past few decades, would have to take into account the revival of the Church Fathers by Christian humanists of the 15th and 16th centuries.

17. We know of this controversy primarily from the refutations written by those maintaining the positive position, e.g., Nicetas, De psalmodiae bono and Augustine, Retractiones, II, 11, Contra Hilarem. Both treat opposition to psalmody as heresy. The less extreme position of Athanasius according to which psalmody ought to be nearly as plain as speech is sympathized with by Augustine but ultimately rejected (Confessions 10:33).

18. See the excellent article by Heinrich Besseler (1954:223-40).

19. The terms were roughly interchangeable and do not correspond to our distinction between Biblical psalms and non-Biblical hymns. In most cases both terms designate what we would refer to as psalms. See, e.g., Chrysostom, quoted in Gerbert (1774 1:64).

20. This refers to the tradition of liturgical music not to the tradition of ars musica, the fourth member of the quadrivium. The distinction, which is of great importance for an understanding of medieval musical thought, has not always been observed by musicologists who understandably tend to concentrate on the so-called theoretical treatises in which the two traditions tend to merge.

21. For several examples, see the compilation in Edmund Faral 1910:272- 327.

22. The supposed denunciation of instruments by the twelfth-century Cistercian Ethelred is frequently quoted in a misleading English translation which appears in William Prynne (1633:280-81). A reading of the original passage, Speculum caritatis, II, 23, Max. Bibl. Pat. 23:118, reveals with certainty only that Ethelred disapproved of the organ and polyphony. What he meant by the phrase tot cymbals is by no means easy to determine.

23. I am not arguing that instruments were never used in the medieval liturgy but only that an understanding of the patristic writings demands a more cautious approach than now prevails. For a highly competent criticism of the evidence normally presented to document the use of instruments, see Edmund Bowles (1957:40-56).

The most common type of evidence is iconographical. Most of this material, the illustrations of the Utrecht Psalter, for example, is a perpetuation of patristic allegorical exegesis, a subject I hope to treat in a forthcoming article.

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