Early Christian Music Essay
Early Christian Music
Singing is an essential part of worship to God. Even the creation itself was accompanied by the singing of morning stars (KJV, Job 38:7). So, music and singing were a vital part of the Israel and in the Old Testament we may find numerous confirmations of this fact. Jesus Himself sang hymns with His disciples before His sufferings (Matthew 26:30).
During the Apostolic Era, singing in temple and synagogues still united the Jewish nation, and the apostles urged the believers to sing psalms, when anyone is merry (James 5:13), and in his letter to Corinthians, when he mentioned about the order in the congregation, Paul wrote that “everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine …” (1-Corinth. 14:26), where psalm is mentioned first. Psalms became the primary source texts for Christian music and liturgy establishment. Christianity, which originated from the Middle East and had spread throughout the Roman Empire during the first five centuries A.
D. , was founded on the basis of the Jewish religion and, therefore, its key practices, such as the sacrificial concept and worship, are rooted and were formed from the traditions and commandments of the Old Testament. The center of Church singing became Christ, the Lord. Music was not limited by canons or regulations; it was simple and exalted, joining the loving souls. Love to the Savior Jesus Christ was so deep that the first Christians were aware of the tiniest step towards worldly and pagan influence; therefore, pomp and coddle of roman music did not attracted them.
The basis of singing in the early church was music of the Temple in Jerusalem – the chant of words from the Scripture. One was leading, while the whole congregation repeated him. Other Christian singings included: “speaking to [themselves] in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in [their] hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19), which represented a two-part singing by-turn; being filled with the Holy Spirit, Christians were making and singing new songs, like the new song to honor the Lamb in the Revelation of John. Pliny the Younger, the Roman appointee in Bithynia, in his report to the Roman
“Early Christian Music” “Page #2” Emperor 110 A. D. , had found out that the activities of Christians are not anti-social and their meetings are simple and start with singing a hymn of praise to Christ, as God. During the Roman persecution, Christians were forced to make services in catacombs – the walls of these galleries still keep the images of singers and, moreover, the texts of hymns.
Monotonous music of hymns was amazing in its austerity and exaltation at the same time. Musical instruments were not allowed because of their heathen usage. On the first council of Nicaea in 325, the persecuted church became the state one. Therefore, singing and worship, staying monotonous, was supplemented with such chants as Gallican – France, Mozarabic (Visigothic) – Spain, Old Roman, Ambrosian, and Sarum use – England (Norton, 2002) and was influenced by national differences.
The second council in 381 had excluded non-Christian singing, for Christian music, enjoying the freedom for decades, had been loosing its vitality and simplicity. 100 years later, Manlius Severinus Boethius had written a five-volume book on music – De institutione musica (Fundamentals of Music) – where he had concluded writings and findings of Greek authors (Nicomachus, Ptolemy, Pythagoras, Euclid and Aristoxenus).
Boethius had divided music into three categories: musica mundane – described the universe, planets, seasons – music of the spheres; musica humana – described the interrelations of body and soul; musica instrumentalis – described music performed with the help of instrument or voice (Norton, 2002). He claimed that music must be a representation of harmony, knowledge, and order. St. Ambrose and St. Gregory the Great played the most significant role in the development of early Christian music – they have left the patterns, which are now called Ambrosian and
Gregorian chants, though the founders themselves had no intention to establish a canon. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, realized the need to enrich the monotonous hymn’s “Early Christian Music” “Page #3” performance and wrote a number of hymns for his church, which reproduce the psalms of David in verses. He depicted bright images, using a manifold oratorical language of Cicerone, Horatio and Vergilius.
His music was simple and close to folk’s one. He introduced antiphonal singing, known in Jerusalem Temple, which represents a by-turn psalm singing of soloist, while the rest of congregation is refraining (antiphon) the verses. Besides, Ambrose had put a foundation for eight voice chorus in the West. The original form of Ambrosian chant is still kept in native Milan. Pope St. Gregory I, a son of roman Senator, who refused to serve these worldly passions, and, having sold his possessions, entered the St. Andrew’s monastery, became the first monk, who was elected to be the pope.
Being devoted to liturgy, which was aimed at prayer and teaching, he advanced the plain singing as a sacred music and stressed on the importance of church music as an outer manifestation of faith that can raise man’s heart to spiritual level. This form of monophonic chant became a standard of monastery (Office) and public (the Mass) worship, as well as other services, and had been sung by choirs. This very chant had replaced Old Roman chant in Rome and has been revised and developed until the tenth century A. D.
The singing itself started with “halleluiah” – the victorious exclamation of Christians after two and a half centuries of persecution. Its best samples were composed at the end of 5th century (between the invasions of Goths and Lombards), in the epoch of wars, destructions, plagues, famine, disasters – such horrifying that Gregory supposed them to be the signs of the end and presages of the Last Judgment. Yet, this singing is filled with peace and faith for the future. Therefore, the Early Christian Music was written in times of persecutions and hardships and was aimed to inspire and give faith to believers.
That is why the chants and hymns of that time still restore the souls of mankind and are the basis for main services in the most of Christian world. Works Cited: Holy Bible, King James Version. Plume, 1974. Norton, W. “Music in the Early Christian Church”. Concise History of Western Music. 2002. W. W. Norton & Company. 11 Apr 2008 <http://www. wwnorton. com/college/music/concise/ch1_outline1. htm>. Ward, Justine. “The Reform of Church Music”. The Atlantic Monthly 04 1906 1-10. 11 Apr 2008 <http://www. musicasacra. com/publications/sacredmusic/pdf/ward. pdf>.