Early Christians and Music

February 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Most of the early Christian writers speak negatively about musical instruments, as can be seen from the quotations that follow. Many of these quotations do not pertain directly to church music. The reader can decide for himself or herself the applicability of these quotations to the issue of using musical instruments in worship. All of the quotations are from the Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, under “Music.” These quotations are used by permission.

Justin Martyr (A.D. 150)

Your [pagan] public assembles I have come to hate. For there are excessive banquets and subtle flutes that provoke people to lustful movements. ©

Irenaeus (A.D. 180)

Of such persons, too, the Spirit has spoken through Isaiah: AThey drink wine with harps, tablets, psalteries, and flutes. However, they do not regard the works of God. ©

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 190)

If people occupy their time with pipes, psalteries, choirs, dances, Egyptian clapping of hands, and such disorderly frivolities, they become quite immodest. …Let the pipe be resigned to the shepherds, and the flute to the superstitious ones who are engrossed in idolatry. For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from the temperate banquet. …Man is truly a peaceful instrument. However, if you investigate, you will find other instruments to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, kindling up passion, or rousing wrath. …The Spirit, distinguishing the divine service from such revelry, says, APraise Him with the sound of trumpet. For with the sound of the trumpet, He will raise the dead. APraise him on the psaltery.@ For the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. AAnd praise him on the lyre.@ By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit. ©

The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by whom we honor God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, trumpet, timbrel, and flute. For those expert in war and scorners of the fear of God were inclined to made use of these instruments in the choruses at their festive assemblies. …Yet, even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame. You will imitate the righteous Hebrew king in his thanksgiving to God. …Nevertheless, let love songs be banished far away. But let our songs be hymns to God. ©

As an example of music, let us produce David, both playing and prophesying, melodiously praising God. Now the Enarmonic suits best the Dorian harmony; and the Diatonic, the Phrygian. …Music then, is to be studied for the sake of the embellishment and composure of manners. For instance, at a banquet, we pledge each other while the music is playing. By song, we soothe the eagerness of our desires, and we glorify God for the copious gift of human enjoyments. …How­ever, we must reject frivolous music, which weakens men’s souls. ©

Tertullian (A.D. 197)

The [theater and the arena] resemble each other also in their ceremony, having the same proces­sion to the scene of their display from temples and altars, and that mournful profusion of incense and blood, with music of pipes and trumpets. ©

If [Mercury] also first strung the chord to give forth melody, I will not deny–when listening to David–that this invention has been in use with the saints and has ministered to God. ©

Novatian (A.D. 235)

One imitates the hoarse, warlike clanging of the trumpet. Another with his breath blowing into a pipe regulates its mournful sounds. …Why should I speak of…those great tragic vocal ravings? Why should I speak of strings set vibrating with noise? Even if these things were not dedicated to idols, they should not be approached and gazed upon by faithful Christians. ©

Arnobius (A.D. 305)

Did He send souls so that beings of a sacred and majestic race should practice singing and piping here? Did he send them so that they would swell up their cheeks in blowing the flute? Or, that they would take the lead in singing impure songs and raising the loud clamor of the castanets?  ©