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.

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