Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.8: the 1542 Epistle to the Reader

In the last post, mention was made of the fact that Calvin says scarcely little about music or song in the 1541 Ecclesiastical Ordinances. As Garside observes, only two sentences about song can be found, and these are tucked away in the middle of a paragraph devoted to marriage. The point was made that Calvin’s intention was to take up the subject of worship song separately and in an entirely different format. That new format is found in the 1542 Epistle to the Reader in his order for worship for Geneva. This 193 word statement would be enlarged upon and revised over the next year, and incorporated into a couple of different works, but in seed form, there are some very significant thoughts expressed about music and song in this current work which further chart out Calvin’s maturing thought.

The title of this new work setting forth the liturgical order for Genevan worship is itself instructive, The Form of Prayers and Ecclesiastical Songs, with the manner of administering the sacraments and consecrating marriage according to the custom of the ancient Church. Of particular importance for our purposes is that within the body of this work Calvin identifies three ordinances which constitute public worship: preaching, public prayers, and the administration of the sacraments. For the first time in Calvin’s writings about song, we see that he places song, an element of worship, under the rubric of public prayer. Expounding upon this rubric of public prayer he writes that prayers are of “two kinds: the one made with the word only, the others with song.”  With respect to this apparently new liturgical development of subsuming worship song under the rubric of prayer Calvin explains that it “is not a thing invented a short time ago” (p.17). So what does he mean by all this?

Garside explains that Calvin is essentially introducing his theology of music and song to the public for the first time. Prior statements made about the role of song had only been made in private communications to the council of Geneva. In presenting this liturgical work to the broader church community in Geneva, it was necessary to offer some explanation of why song and prayer were joined together. The first point he wants to make about song in general is already signaled in the title of the 1542 Genevan order of worship, tucked away at the very end in the prepositional phrase “according to the custom of the ancient church.”  Calvin’s primary explanation for the introduction of song as a form of prayer in worship is expressed in two succinct sentences in the Epistle: for from the origin of the Church this has been so, as appears from the histories. And even as Saint Paul speaks not only of praying by mouth, but also of singing (p.17). In other words, to “sing prayers” was to follow the custom and practice of the early church, and in turn, that was to embrace and follow a practice which was founded upon the authority of Scripture.

 An additional insight into Calvin’s developing thought about song in worship is unveiled in the Epistle where he breaks new ground in commenting about the nature of worship music itself. With respect to music Calvin writes, “And in truth, we know from experience that song has great force and vigor to arouse and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal” (p.17). Garside makes the point that this marks a tangible movement forward in Calvin’s understanding since in the 1537 Articles his remarks were limited to the content of song, while in the 1542 Epistle his remarks branch out and cover new ground, taking into consideration the topic of music in general. This new insight about music seems to be have been generated and born out of his own experience of congregational singing in Strausburg. In 1537 Calvin could only propose song on the basis that the content of the songs (psalms) themselves could be “most expedient for the edification of the church.” Now however, in 1542, having experienced the “feeling” generated by hearing the whole congregation sing aloud in worship, Calvin speaks of music’s “emotional power.”

The concept of music’s inherent power to move the emotions was a matter of great concern for Calvin. He was not at all interested in moving the emotions for the sake of having an emotional experience. In other words, he was not “sanctifying” the mere experience of emotional uplifts, or any and every form of emotional manipulation. Rather, he was speaking to the benefit and blessing of a certain kind of spiritual vigor kindled in the heart by a peculiar kind of music. This fact is born out by a clarifying comment found subsequently in the Epistle: there must always be concern that the song be neither light nor frivolous, but have gravity (pois) and majesty (maieste), as Saint Augustine says” (p.18). Interestingly, Garside points out that neither “gravity” or “majesty” or their equivalents are found in the passage from Augustine that Calvin quotes. Instead, it seems that these two qualities of music are unique and original to Calvin himself.

In searching for an objective handle to sort of grasp hold of what Calvin has in mind by “gravity” and “majesty,” Garside proposes that a final comment in the Epistle provides a helpful starting point for analysis. Distinguishing between the quality of “sacred” and “secular” music, Calvin says, “And thus there is a great difference between the music which one makes to entertain men at table and in their homes, and the psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and His angels” (p.19). Apparently, there is music which is directed to men (music "at table" and "in home"), and it is for the purpose of entertaining, and then, there is music directed to God (sung in Church), and it is uniquely suited for the worship of His glorious and eternal being. It is obvious from the context and tenor of Calvin’s remarks that it would be wrong to seek to inflame the emotions by the use of song and music which is purely for man’s entertainment (which is obviously the nature and character of all revivalistic and contemporary worship music ). For Calvin, only songs of a unique and specific quality (Psalms) combined with tunes which are appropriately grave and majestic can meet the rigid qualifications of worship song which is truly worshipful to the Lord. These comments then, contained in the 1542 Epistle, truly do mark out a significant leap forward in Calvin’s theology of music, and according to Garside, signal the beginning of “the sacred style” which would subsequently come to characterize the melodies of the Genevan Psalter.

The next post will take up Calvin’s remarks about song contained in the 1543 edition of the Institutes.   

Monday, August 29, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of music pt.7: the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541

Sometimes in life you learn things the hard way and end up having to admit that you were just plain wrong. Individual people learn this lesson and cop to it all the time, it is rare however for politicians to learn that lesson and be as forthright. There is an example from history where this did happen, at least partially, and that is found in the case of the Genevan council with respect to Calvin’s dismissal. In 1538, in the heat of personality conflicts, Calvin and Farel stared down the town council and refused to give in to their politically motivated demands. The council called Calvin and Farel’s bluff, eventually bouncing them out of town just after the Easter service. While Calvin was happy to leave and settle down somewhere else to the life he always dreamed of, the council in Geneva began to reconsider, realizing they had made a big mistake. After gulping down a heaping serving of humble pie, the council decided to bring Calvin back on board and Calvin reluctantly agreed to return.

So what did Calvin do when he returned to his old stomping grounds in Geneva? Well, he did exactly what a man like Calvin always does, he picked up right where he left off before. On September 13, 1541, he reentered Geneva, met with the town council, and started pushing immediately for the adoption of his church order. Evidence of partially changed circumstances emerged as the town council refused the opportunity to balk at Calvin’s proposal and passed his Ecclesiastical Ordinances in November of 1541. These Ordinances reflected a continuity in tenor and even wording with the Articles of 1537, as the basic guiding principle of both was the principle that the church was obligated to conform to Scripture and the practice of the ancient church.

When it came to the issue of music, there was a difference between the Ordinances of 1541 and the Articles of 1537. In the former, music is hardly even mentioned. Garside speculates that what accounts for that is Calvin’s determination to take up the subject of music separately. That decision is reflected in the fact that “there are only two sentences devoted to the subject, and even their position is peculiar” (16). Tucked away in the middle of a paragraph on marriage are the following two sentences:
It will be good to introduce ecclesiastical songs, the better to incite the people to prayer to and praise God. For a beginning the little children are to be taught; then with time the church will be able to follow (16).
Though these sentences are similar in content with the Articles they say little about the nature of worship song and they seem to shift the subject from worship to children’s education. The odd thing about the latter is that there were no city schools for the children to go to in order to be taught. Raising the prospect of children’s education, and education in music at that, is surely a good thing, but the very wording of the Ordinances suggests that a future communication would be needed to clarify the content and role of music in the public worship of the Genevan churches.

Next, attention will focus on one of the most significant statements Calvin ever made about music and worship song in the 1542 Epistle to the Reader for his order of worship for Geneva.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.6: The Strasbourg pastorate

Before pressing on to survey Calvin’s pastoral stay in Strasbourg, we should take a moment to set up the context by reviewing  the principles of worship which had prevailed there for the past 15 years or so. In 1524 Bucer spelled out his Protestant understanding of the regulatory principles and practices of Christian worship in a book entitled Justification and Demonstration from Holy Scripture. Two themes emerge from this work which are particularly relevant to our concerns. The first is the emerging concept of the regulative principle of worship. With respect to the content of worship song, Bucer explains that “in the congregation we do not use songs or prayers which are not drawn from Holy Scripture.” It is evident that Bucer makes a concrete connection between theory and practice as he spells out the standard for songs sung in public worship. The second theme which is evident in Bucer’s early views on worship is the use of the church fathers and early church worship as a guide for applying apostolic principles of worship.  This principle is evident as he takes a swipe at Zwingli in these remarks, “those who decry the use of song in the congregation of God know little either about the content of Scripture or about the practice of the first and apostolic churches and congregations, which always praised God with song” (12). Again, in the 1530 Tetropolitan Confession (written by Bucer) Garside notes that “Scripture and the Fathers continued to be the norm for evaluation of the liturgy” (12). So a regulative principle of worship which requires Biblical warrant for worship practices and the use of the early church and the Fathers as a guide to applying this regulative principle mark out two dominant characteristics in Bucer’s theory and practice of Christian worship, which of course were given expression in the Strasbourg liturgy which Calvin encounters as he arrives in 1538.

It was into this context of careful reflection on worship, that Calvin came to serve as pastor to French refugees the latter part of 1538. Calvin’s early correspondence from Strasbourg indicates that the prevailing liturgical practices were shaping and influencing his thoughts on worship. A profound indicator of this influence is the publication of a French psalter in 1539 edited by Calvin himself and modeled on the Strasbourg Psalter. Garside argues for more than a mere editorial role for Calvin in the construction of this psalter, as he makes the case that more than a handful of the psalms had been rhymed by Calvin himself. Another piece of evidence that indicates the influence of the Strasbourg liturgical practices on Calvin's thinking is found in the 1539 edition of the Institutes published there. Garside juxtaposes Calvin’s comments in the chapter on prayer contained in the 1536 edition and those made in 1539, siezing on a slight revision made in the latter version as evidence of a significant advance in Calvin’s thinking about the role of song in worship. In the previous edition (1536) Calvin expressed the opinion that he did not “condemn speaking and singing provided they were associated with the hearts affection and serve it” (hardly a ringing endorsement of congregational singing) while in the 1539 edition he inserted between “singing” and “provided” the following phrase:  but rather strongly commend them (13). Another revision occurs where Calvin deleted the phrase “serve it,” as was expressed in 1536, removing the notion that song had a mere servile role in worship. Garside suggests that these slight modifications in the 1539 Institutes, written as they were in Latin, which means they were available to a wide reading audience, form a permanent record of Calvin’s views on worship song and set in motion the emergence of the liturgical principles of Strasbourg as the standard for the next few hundred years of Reformed worship which would eventually erode and give way under the weight of popular revivalism. 

In our next post we will examine the 1541 Ecclesiastical Ordinances submitted by Calvin to the Genevan council.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt. 5: the influence of Bucer

Thus far in our quest to understand the historical development of Calvin’s view of psalmody, led of course by Dr. Garside every step of the way, we have seen that a crucial pivot in Calvin’s views on song in worship occurred somewhere between the middle 1536 and early 1537. The baseline for dating and charting his rather significant change in thinking is the difference in tone and character of the remarks about song in worship in the 1536 Institutes, and the proposal of psalmody in worship to the Geneva Council in the Articles of 1537. Obviously whenever thinkers of Calvin’s caliber make large leaps in their thinking, it presents a problem for the intellectually curious to seek to unravel. In this installment of our series on Calvin’s view of psalmody, we are to going to walk through the unfolding steps in Garside’s analysis of Calvin’s developing views on song in worship in order to get a handle on what led Calvin to experience such a significant change.

At this time in the Reformation era (the 1530’s) there were essentially only a handful of serious players who could have exercised any substantial influence on Calvin’s thought, and, included among those, are Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer. Luther of course, had no objection to song in worship from the outset. It is safe to say that the Lutheran and the Reformed wing of the Reformation really had little in common when it came to public worship, except perhaps a shared common desire to rid worship of the most profane and idolatrous elements of Romish practice. Other than that, there is not much affinity in their respective positions on worship. That means, it is more than reasonable to rule out any influence of Luther on this area of Calvin’s view of song in worship.

Zwingli had for about the space of ten years made the most public noise about Reformation among those who would later become known as the “reformed.” Clearly, Zwingli was opposed to much of what passed as worship, at least as he understood Roman worship from his experience in the church. As early as 1519, Zwingli altered liturgical practice by making expository preaching the center piece of worship in Zurich. By 1523, he had come to the conclusion that song was to be subsumed under the rubric of prayer. Reasoning from Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees’ model of public prayer recorded in Matthew 6:6, Zwingli argued that prayer was to be silent. It is evident from his Apology on the Canon of the Mass that he found further support and confirmation of his view of silent prayer from Ephesians 5:19 where Paul commands prayer from the heart. His conclusion was that since song was to be made in the heart, then it certainly could not be audible (a view that Bucer will challenge). In 1525, Zwingli’s views on worship song were formally instituted in Zurich and the “barborous mumbling” (worship song) was removed from the churches (p.11).

Turning from Zwingli to Bucer, we see a slightly different understanding of song in worship. It is fair to say that Bucer was not too keen on Zwinlgi’s argument about silent prayer.  Instead, Bucer defended the role of song in worship as early as 1524 in his Justification and Demonstration from Holy Scripture. This work not only proposes suggestions for where song is to be appropriately used in the course of the liturgy, it also defends congregational singing in the final chapter. Bucer takes his stand on the Pauline corpus and argues that it would absurd for Paul to command Christians to edify one another by following prescribed rules in worship, if those very rules commanded worshipers to sing and pray silently in their hearts! Beyond that, the center piece of Bucer’s argument for singing in worship is found in his appeal to the model of Christ who sang the Psalms out loud with the disciples after instituting and partaking of the first Lord’s Supper. Scripture not only commended singing in worship, it virtually commanded it since Jesus established the New Covenant sacrament of the Supper as a permanent ordinance, commanding its regular use; so, who then could reasonably argue against singing the Psalms in response to the Supper, if Jesus himself sang them at the conclusion of the first celebration of the Supper? In addition to making a purely Biblical defense of song in worship, Bucer added to it the practice of the early church and the testimony of the Fathers. Not that the Reformed church was bound to follow every practice of the Fathers and the ancient church, but, the church legitimately could receive guidance and direction in matters of worship from the early church and the Fathers when and where their practices conformed to the Biblical model. And for Bucer, it was clear that in this particular matter they did.

The question which now needs to be asked, and, in turn, answered, is did Calvin have access to the views and practices of Zwingli and Bucer, and whether his writings betray an influence of their views upon his own thinking? As a matter of fact, it is difficult to establish a clean paper trail here which would provide a definitive answer, but Garside takes the very strong position that Calvin indeed had either read Zwingli and Bucer, at least in translation, or, had at least been informed about their practices through word of mouth testimony. It may just be a real possibility that each had influence upon Calvin in their own turn. Garside points out that the 1536 Institutes show an inclination towards  Zwingli’s view of prayer, especially in his exposition of Matthew 6:6, while the Articles of 1537 betray the hand of Bucer.

What then, caused the change from a decidedly more Zwinglian approach to a more Bucerian view of song in worship. At this point, my read of Garside is that he claims the pivot was not as much intellectual as it was experiential. When Calvin arrived in Geneva in the autumn of 1536, he complained that the prayers of the Genevan’s were “cold.” Garside explains that Calvin is probably reacting to the fact that when he arrived in Geneva there was no music worship at all since Farel had abolished it from the liturgy (p.14). It seems like Calvin experienced a sort of renaissance in his thinking by actually experiencing what life would be like without worship song, and he found it lacking indeed! After enduring several months of songless worship Calvin submitted a proposal for change in worship practice in the Articles of 1537. What Calvin proposed would not, at least at this time, be approved in Geneva. By early 1538, not only would Calvin not yet be enjoying the proposed change in worship, he also found himself in the position of being banished from Geneva by the city council. On account of his refusal to endorse the arrangement which would cement political ties between Geneva and the Swiss city of Bern by implementing liturgical reform that would make these two cities uniform in their worship, Calvin and Farel were given their "pink slips" and were bounced out of Geneva (p.14).

In spite of the turbulence experienced by Calvin and Farel, a silver lining would emerge in the clouds as a result of their banishment from Geneva.   Upon their dismissal from Geneva, both Calvin and Farel went straight to Bern in order to give an account of the fallout in Geneva. From there, they went on to a local synod meeting at Zurich in early May of 1528 where something of a tectonic shift occurred. There, Calvin and Farel presented 14 articles for consideration, and among those, article 13, was a requirement to sing psalms in public worship. The synod unanimously approved these articles, including article 13, and just a couple of months later the city of Bern changed course from a Zwinglian policy of no congregational singing to one of exclusive psalmody in June of 1538. Ironically the unintended consequences of the Bernese political arrangement with Geneva left Calvin without a pastoral call, while at the same time, it triggered a massive change in policy among the Swiss churches which signaled a decisive shift away from the policies of Zwingli toward the new views of Calvin (Bucer!) on worship song.

Next time, we will survey Calvin’s pastorate in Strasbourg. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.4: the Articles of 1537

The rise of twitter signaled a massive shift in 21st century communication theory and practice with its implicit declaration that if one cannot say what they think in 140 characters,  then what they have to say is probably not worth saying in the first place. A similar shift in the theology of Reformed church music took place in 1537 when Calvin took only 146 words to lay the foundation for his conception of the role and significance of the psalms in public worship. As noticed in a previous post, just a short year earlier, in 1536, Calvin had little to say about the role of music in worship. At most, Calvin could only conceive of a small role for song as a part of the observance of the Lord's Supper. This very underdeveloped and embryonic conception of worship song marks the point of departure for evaluating Calvin's maturing views on congregational singing.

It is clear however that by 1537, the place and role of song in worship had grown much larger in Calvin's thinking. While in1536 song had a minor, if not optional role in public worship, by 1537 the psalms took on a significant and even necessary role in public worship. That massive leap forward in Calvin's thinking about the place of psalms in public worship is expressed in the following 146 words contained in the Articles of 1537:

The other matter is the psalms which we wish to be sung in the church as we have it from the example of the ancient church and also the testimony of Saint Paul, who says that it is good to sing in the congregation with mouth and heart. We are not able to estimate the benefit and edification which derive from this until after having experienced it. Certainly at present the prayers of the faithful are so cold that we should be greatly ashamed and confused. The psalms can stimulate us to raise our hearts to god and arouse use to an ardor in invoking as well as in exalting with praises the glory of His name. Moreover by this one will recognize of what advantage and consolation the pope and his creatures have deprived the church, for he has distorted the psalms, which should be true spiritual songs, into a murmuring among themselves without any understanding (10).

 Expounding on Calvin's views expressed here, Garside explains that, "In the space of a mere 146 words Calvin presented the council with a statement which constituted nothing less than the foundation for his theology of music" (10). 

Several items are worthy of notice and some elaboration. First, Calvin grounds the use of psalms in worship on the model of the ancient church. He does not elaborate on the practice of the ancient church, he merely asserts it, as if it were a matter of common knowledge, and in need of no defense whatsoever. Second, in just a breath later, Calvin commends the psalms for use in public worship since they are commended by the by the apostle Paul himself. Of particular interest in Calvin's appeal to Paul is that he has in mind Paul's remarks in Colossians 3:16. That much is evident from the claim that Paul urged psalms to be sung with "mouth and heart"indicating that he has in view the Pauline admonition to sing "with grace in the heart to the Lord."This appeal to Colossians 3:16 is intriguing since most contemporary Reformed opponents of exclusive psalmody argue that this passage has in the first instance nothing to do with public worship, and in the second, based upon Calvin's commentary on Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, that Paul is actually prescribing man made compositions which have a mere spiritual quality. It is clear from Calvin's remarks here that these contemporary advocates of hymnody and praise songs have not read Calvin in sufficient breadth or depth. Third, Calvin advocates for the use of psalms because they glorify God by promoting profound spiritual edification: the psalms can stimulate us to raise our hearts to God and arouse us to an ardor in invoking as well as in exalting with praises the glory of His name (10). This remark echoes and builds on views already expressed in the 1536 Institutes where Calvin insists that acceptable and pleasing prayer to God must join heart and mouth together lest prayer degenerate into mere Pharisaical lip service. Fourth and finally, Calvin takes a thinly veiled swipe at the use of papal choirs in public worship when he says that the singing of psalms by the congregation will expose the "advantage and consolation the pope and his creatures have deprived the church (of), for he has distorted the psalms...into murmuring among themselves without any understanding." Garside illuminates this statement by Calvin as he explains that Calvin is taking aim at the singing of priests in Latin during public worship. In other words, Calvin is seeking to restore congregational singing to the church by returning the duty of praise to the congregation from the hands of the professionals and by requiring the psalms to be sung in the native tongue of the worshipers.

With these four distinct developments in view, it is not hard to see how these remarks in the Articles of 1537 mark a watershed moment in Calvin's theology of music and song in public worship. These 146 words signal that a reformation in worship is afoot in Calvin's thought and they portend the peculiar character of Reformed worship which prevailed in the churches for the next few hundred years until the riches of this Reformed birthright was traded in for a mess of revivalistic pottage.  For the moment however, it is good to imbibe the spirit and quality of this robust theology of worship and song.

In the next post, we will examine the influence of Bucer on Calvin's developing view of song in worship.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.3: the 1536 Institutes

In the previous analysis of the Articles submitted to the Genevan Council in 1537 by Calvin, it was noted that congregational psalm-singing was presented as "essential for Christian worship" (8). This ground staked out by Calvin in the 1537 Articles marks out new territory in Calvin’s expressed views about song in public worship. Evidence to support that conclusion is presented by Garside from the 1536 Institutes. At the end of the fourth chapter of this same work, in discussing the proper administration of the Lord’s Supper, Calvin explains:

either psalms should be sung or something be read, and in becoming order the believers should partake of the most holy banquet, the ministers breaking the bread and giving the cup. When the Supper is finished, there should be an exhortation to sincere faith and confession of faith, to love and behavior worthy of Christians. At the last, thanks should be given, and praises sung to God (9).

According to Garside this is the first and only “unequivocal” set of instructions on music and congregational song in the 1536 edition of the Institutes. This single passing and underdeveloped set of remarks constitutes a loud silence on behalf of Calvin, since he wrote them while in Basel and undoubtedly must have been aware of the fact that German versions of the psalms had been sung in public worship for at least ten years (9). A fair and reasonable judgment to make about these instructions is that Calvin's views on music and song in worship are embryonic at this point and this matter has not yet begun to crystallize in his thoughts. These first published remarks of Calvin about music and song then, form a historical baseline which is of great assistance in charting and evaluating the progressive development of Calvin’s thinking about the role and significance of song in public worship.

Before leaving the 1536 Institutes it is worth singling out a few more remarks Garside makes about views expressed in chapter 3 of this work. A significant component part of Calvin’s view of prayer expressed here,  which recurs subsequently and interlocks with his views on public prayer (congregational singing), concerns the quality of prayer, that is, it must be sincere and heartfelt. As Garside seeks to draw out Calvin’s views on the nature of private, individual prayer, he cites a number of statements made by Calvin which highlight this specific quality including, “unless voice and song spring from deep feeling of heart, neither has any value or profit in the least with God,” “we do not here condemn speaking and singing  provided they are associated with the heart’s affection and serve it,” and finally, “the tongue without the heart is unacceptable to God” (8,9). Again, it will be important to keep these remarks close at hand, because they will find expression in Calvin’s subsequent remarks about the role and rule for music and song in public worship.

In the next post, more careful examination and analysis of Calvin's views expressed in the 1537 Articles will be given.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.2

B.B. Warfield once made the pithy and insightful observation that the very genius of Calvin’s reforming activity is that upon finding Protestantism an unruly mob, he organized it and turned it into a disciplined army. Perhaps Warfield was reflecting on Calvin’s 1537 Articles when he made that statement. Several months after accepting Farel’s call to serve Geneva and to lead the Reformation there, Calvin submitted a set of ordinances to the city council of Geneva for their approval and implementation. These ordinances were designed to order and regulate both church and society, marking the first concrete steps toward structuring Geneva’s civic and church life according to the gospel. Four proposals formed the backbone of Calvin’s attempt to bring order to Geneva: church discipline, psalm-singing in public worship, catechizing the youth, and reform of marriage statutes.

Much could be said about the each of these four areas of emphasis. Of particular interest for our purposes is the second ordinance which institutes the singing of psalms in public worship. Standing on its own, this ordinance gives the impression that congregational singing of the psalms is of the well-being of the church. On further analysis, it would appear that it is all of that and more. Garside quotes from Calvin where he gives expression to the rationale of this ordinance:

Furthermore it is a thing most expedient for the edification of the church to sing psalms in the form of public prayers by which one prays to God or sings His praises so that the hearts of all may be aroused and stimulated to make similar prayers and to render similar praises and thanks to God with a common love.

Commenting on Calvin’s commendation of congregational psalm-singing as “a thing most expedient for the edification of the church,” Garside says that for Calvin, psalm-singing is not “an indifferent matter” rather, it “was essential for public worship.” In other words, psalm-singing is of the essence of public worship, apart from which, God cannot be rightly worshiped. This foundational conviction, Garside explains, is the origin of Calvin’s theology of music.

In the next post, we will examine Garside’s analysis of Calvin’s remarks found in the 1536 edition of his Institutes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Charles Garside on Calvin's view of Psalmody pt.1

In the following series of blog posts I will be outlining Dr. Charles Garside’s very historically illuminating study on Calvin’s theology of worship song entitled, “The Origins of Calvin’s Theology of Music: 1536-1543.” This study was presented in the summer of 1979 to “The American Philosophical Society,” the oldest scholarly journal in America, which reaches back to 1769. To the best of my knowledge, the historical work produced here by Gardside, relating to the development of Calvin’s thinking on worship song, has not been exposed or refuted as false and inaccurate. Therefore, this historical analysis provides invaluable information about not only Calvin’s views on public worship song, but also, by extension, a baseline to help evaluate the worship views of subsequent 16th century Reformed thinkers and ecclesiastical practice.

What made this particular study so useful for scholarly research and understanding concerning the factors contributing to the development of Calvin’s views on worship song, was that it plugged a hole in Calvin studies relating to Calvin’s theology of song. As Garside points out., since the late 19th century and going on into the mid 20th, a number of outstanding studies on Calvin’s view of song had emerged in the scholarly literature. Felix Bouvet published a work surveying the history of the Hugenot Psalter in 1872, in the later 1870’s Orentin Douen produced a two volume work, massive in scope, which attempted to critically analyze Calvin’s view on music, while Leon Wencilius presented valuable research on Calvin’s view on the arts in general in 1932, then Pierre Pidoux published a critical edition of the Genevan Psalter in 1962, and finally, Walter Blankenburg generated a wide ranging body of research which aimed at producing a panoramic view of the milieu of the Psalter as a whole.

What this massive compilation of research established was that psalm-singing formed something like a badge of identity for 16th century Reformed Christians; what this research had not yet established was the chronological development of Calvin’s views on worship song. More  specifically, Garside narrows the focus of his historical investigation to the events and factors which account for the shape and solidification of Calvin’s theology of worship music and song between 1536 to 1543. The historical investigation is bracketed on one end by Calvin’s scant and underdeveloped remarks about worship song in the 1536 Institutio and the rather enlarged and substantive remarks about the matter in the 1543 preface to the Genevan Psalter on the other.

I bring this first post on Garside’s publication to a conclusion by quoting Garside’s summation of Calvin’s matured and developed view on worship song:

Calvin’s vernacular psalmody in the last analysis is nothing other than a formulation, in uniquely musical terms, of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. Thus from its inception Calvin’s theology of music in its textual dimension was Scriptural. The Psalter was conceived, and always would be considered by him, as an indispensable instrument for the prosecution of his ministry of the Word of God to the city of Geneva and the wider world beyond (p.29).

Four distinct factors converge to form the basis of Calvin’s views on worship song, which in turn will be the lines of investigation developed by Garside and explored in subsequent posts: pastoral concerns, historical considerations, Augustinian theology, and a 16th century humanistic philosophy of music.

I trust that you will find the forthcoming posts informative, interesting, and edifying.