Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Martial Ethos of Historic Reformed Worship: Psalm-singing for Vigorous Kingdom Service (part 3)

So far in our series of posts about the martial ethos of historic Reformed worship, cultivated as it was by the godly singing of the Psalms, we have noted Dr. Reid’s bold claim that this particular music developed a peculiar resolve in the hearts of Calvinists who were forced to use weapons to defend their lives and promote their liberty. Unlike the Lutherans, who after the Peace of Augsburg (1555) did not have to take up arms to defend themselves against hostile enemies, the Reformed were in a much different position and would spend the next 150 years marching out to battlefields and being marched to the stake to be burnt in the flames for holding to their Calvinistic, Reformed faith. These assertions are simple matters of fact, and Dr. Reid has made the argument that what galvanized the hearts of the Reformed around their cause, trained their hands to fight, and steeled their courage to endure intense persecution, was the singing of the psalms. Beyond that, we have seen that the construction of the Geneva Psalter, which was a life long pursuit of Calvin completed in 1562, left the Reformed with a song book comprised of nothing but the psalms bequeathing a distinct heritage of psalm-singing that would serve as a badge of identity and strengthen their morale in the face of persecution and conflict (p.42). That leads us in this post to address the question of why the Psalms had this effect by expounding the three reasons Dr. Reid furnishes as answers which account for it.
            First, Reid argues that psalm-singing provided the Reformed with a distinct identity (p.43). It appears that this distinctive practice was so prominent among the Reformed that they were derisively labeled as “psalm-singers” by those from without. It is not too difficult to understand how this practice could have served as such vivid and accurate label when we consider that all the rest of the churches of 16th century Europe sang what could be called “sacred music” meaning hymns and canticles accompanied by an organ. Encountering the “strangeness” of Reformed worship (a cappella singing) in that day would have left just as much of an impression upon the casual observer of the peculiarity of the practice, as it would in our church context today which almost entirely dominated by praise and worship music. So, singing of the Psalms had the effect of strengthening the Reformed to face opposition and conflict because it gave them a distinct identity which was as peculiar as it was easy to identify.
            Second, Reid proposes that the identity shaped by psalm-singing produced unity among the Reformed (p.43). The bonds of unity were not only reinforced by sharing in the same practice of worship and the singing of psalms exclusively, it was also cultivated by sharing in a common cause and profession of faith expressed in the psalms. Beyond that Reid points out that the Reformed shared a profound sense of being enlisted in a common battle for the defense and promotion of the kingdom of God even to the point of bearing of arms in battle. Evidence for this form of unity is indicated in the fact that they sang the Psalms in unison as battle songs while they marched in columns toward fields of battle gaining the confidence every step of the way that “no matter what would take place they were on the Lords, i.e., the winning side” (p.43). Not only did the Psalms play a significant role in building up confidence and courageous resolve as the Reformed marched out to battle, they also united their hearts in praise as they gave thanks to the Lord for victory with psalms. So psalm-singing cultivated unity among the Reformed as they rallied together around the common cause of promoting the kingdom of God.
            Third, Reid makes the case that the singing of the psalms had a profound effect upon the Reformed because they were convinced that they could legitimately appropriate them to themselves. A primary point of departure for appropriating the psalms to themselves was by identifying the new covenant church as the continuation of the covenant people of God who were bonded together in covenant with the sovereign Lord. By singing the psalms in worship and in a host of informal contexts they bore witness to this relationship. Hopeful that the psalms would be used for this very purpose Clarence Marot wrote, in his dedicatory address of his own publication of 49 metrical psalms in 1543, that it “would a happy time when prayer would flourish, with the laborer at his plow, the carter in the street, and the craftsmen in his shop singing psalms to ease their work” (p.44). Hostile witnesses provide more than ample evidence that Marot’s wishes were fulfilled as Roman Catholic Claude Haton, wrote in his memoirs the Huguenots sang psalms “to move their hearts” and fellow Catholic M. de Casteleneau observed that the “harmonious and delectable singing stirred the Calvinists to proclaim the praises of the Lord no matter what the circumstances” (p.44). Clearly, even beyond the walls of houses of worship, the Reformed testified to their identity as the covenant people of God as they took His sacred songs upon their lips in praise.

In our next post we will chronicle some of the opposition mounted against the psalm-signing Calvinists by their bitter enemies.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Martial Ethos of Historic Reformed Worship: Psalm-singing for vigorous Kingdom service (part 2)

In thinking about the historic Reformed practice of psalm-singing and how it cultivated the particular effect of a martial ethos, it will be helpful to briefly trace the origin and distribution of the Geneva Psalter which had such a substantial hand in shaping Reformed worship for at least a few centuries subsequent to the Reformation. Although Psalms were being sung as early as the 1520’s among the Reformed, it was Calvin who helped make this practice a badge of identity for the Reformed churches. Taking a middle road between Luther on the one hand, who incorporated hymns and psalms in public worship, and Zwingli on the other, who rejected the use of both instruments and songs altogether in public worship, Calvin proposed the singing of the Psalms a capella by the whole congregation.

To facilitate turning this principle into a consistent practice, Calvin oversaw the editing and publication of a French psalter in 1539, while yet in Strausburg (p.38). Though this first run at producing a psalter was not without its flaws or limitations, it did at least accomplish the objective of putting his principles into practice, not only in his congregation of French refugees, but it also laid the groundwork for the spread and use of the Psalms in the worship of the Reformed churches through the influence it had upon Valerian Poullain, his successor in Strausburg, who then went on subsequently to serve in England and then Frankfurt (p.39). A few short years later, in 1542, having returned to minister in Geneva, Calvin published a new version of the psalter, this time with a preface which explained the rationale for using the psalter in Reformed worship:

And in truth, we know by experience, that singing has great strength and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal.

It is evident from even this brief remark that Calvin saw the inherent power of music to move the soul and viewed the Psalms as the most pure lyrical form to mold pious zeal for holy ends.

Believing the Psalms were best suited to cultivate a true and substantial holy ardor and in view of that seeking to actually compile a psalter complete with musical settings was one thing, pulling it off in practice was quite another. Early on Calvin had put his own hand to translating and arranging metrical versions of the Psalms, but had to admit his own labors were less than satisfactory. By the providence of God, a man named Clement Marot was led to Calvin for just such a purpose. Hands down, Marot was one of the leading French poets of the day. So renowned for his capabilities was Marot that he had access to the court of Francis I, but acquiring his skills for Geneva's project proved to be quite an ordeal. In 1535 Marot had been accused of heresy and fled Paris to seek refuge in the court of Renee of Ferrara where he met Calvin (p.40).  Apparently, someone was able to patch things up between Marot and Francis I because he can be found back in the king’s court by 1538 and was at that time already producing metrical versions of the psalms that even found favor with the king and his court. By 1543, while Marot’s psalm settings were growing in popularity in various pockets of France, they were growing in disfavor with the Roman intelligentsia at the Sorbonne and with the Roman authorities. To escape persecution Marot fled to Geneva where he received a hearty welcome from his old friend John Calvin. Though Marot’s stay in Geneva would not be a particularly lengthy one, he was able to publish a total of 49 metrical versions of the Psalms. Apparently Clement had a knack for crossing swords with people, and before he could finish his work in Geneva he was exiled from the city for inappropriate fraternization with some ladies down at the local pub. After expulsion from Geneva things took a sharp dive southward for Marot as he died suddenly and prematurely in Turin by means of poisoning (p.41).  

With about one third of the psalter arranged for music, Calvin turned to another leading humanist and poet, Theodore Beza, in order to see to it that the work Marot started would be brought to conclusion. From 1549 to 1562 Beza worked steadily to complete the psalter project. Beza, working side by side with musicians such as Franc, Goudimel, and especially, Louis Bourgeouis, was able to produce a psalter that displayed a remarkable artistic touch and was well adapted for popular use.

With production complete, the psalter was ready for distribution, and all indications are that it was a hot commodity as it rolled off the press. Upon completion of the final edition in 1562, the Geneva Psalter was translated into Dutch, German, Hungarian, and English (p.42). For the most part, the new translations attempted to retain the tunes and simply translate and arrange the lyrics to the musical settings. The success of the psalter can measured by its massive popularity as Reid notes, “even Godeau, Bishop of Grasse in 1649, could witness to the popularity and influence of the Huguenot psalm-singing while his own Roman Catholics were either dumb or sang “des chansons deshonnetes” (p.42).  The effect of the psalter was that it unleashed a wave of what Reid calls “popular music” for it had finally put sacred lyrics to tunes that were accessible to the musically untrained. This popular music certainly had unintended consequences, which we will take note of in subsequent posts, but for now I leave us to consider Reid’s preliminary summary of the psalter’s effect:

This was of great importance for it meant that the faithful could now sing together the songs of faith, a practice which was bound to strengthen their morale in the face of persecution and conflict (p.42).

Imagine that being said of Fanny Crosby or CCM songs, or even the trendy new worship songs advertised on one web site which promotes “intimate songs of the heart” that are “sure to capture your heart, and leave you with an enduring sense of His presence, and a hunger for more.” To even consider the question for a moment is to answer it; such pious doggerel does not nourish the heart for even a moment, let alone for the flames of persecution.

With these comments in view I conclude with Dr. Reid’s bold claim for consideration, “certain types of music have power to stimulate to action, even the power to incite hands to war and fingers to fight.”

In the next post we will examine how psalm-singing shaped the Reformed identity and bore witness to their motivation and purpose as they sought to spread the truth and how they sustained them when they faced the fiery flames of persecution.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Martial Ethos of Historic Reformed Worship: Psalm-singing for vigorous Kingdom service (part 1)

Calvinistic worship, that is, worship regulated according to Scripture alone (Heidelberg Catechism Q 96; Belgic Confession article 32), has fostered and cultivated a unique form of piety in the Reformed church in the past. Many examples and testimonies of this distinct form of piety could be cited, but in this new series, I propose the MARTIAL ETHOS produced by Psalm-singing, which characterized militant Calvinism in the 16th and 17th centuries, for consideration. The research I will use to discuss the martial ethos produced by Psalm-singing among the Reformed churches of this period has been generated and published by W. Standford Reid in an article entitled, “The Battle Hymns of the Lord: Calvinist Psalmody of the Sixteenth Century.” Dr. Reid was a professor of history at the University of Guelph and the research presented in this particular essay is found a volume of essays published in 1970 in Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, edited by C.S. Meyer. In the subsequent posts based upon this essay, I propose to examine the following five areas for examination: 1) Psalm singing strengthened the Calvinists to fight, 2) A brief history of Geneva Psalter’s construction –including its distribution in several languages, 3) Reasons why the psalter strengthened the Calvinists, 4) The Roman Catholic opposition to the Psalter and the Calvinist Psalm-singers and, 5) Use of the Psalter of various Calvinistic military campaigns of the 16th and 17th century. As we consider the evidence set forth and make the connection between the singing of psalms and the martial ethos of historical Calvinism, I challenge contemporary Reformed churches to recommit to the exclusive singing of the Psalms and inspired canonical psalms in order that they may reclaim the Calvinistic heritage of fulfilling the Biblical mandate to embrace the roll of the church militant in this age, which it has been shamefully distracted away from through its conscious choice to adorn Reformed worship with the accoutrements of breezy evangelical revivalism and to follow its form of feminine piety.

Dr. Reid begins his essay by claiming that certain types of music have power to stimulate to action, even the power to incite hands to war and fingers to fight. A moment’s reflection upon various kinds of music will easily verify the adequacy of this assertion. Ask yourself, “which performer or group would tend to motivate a soldier for battle more, Barry Manilow or Metallica?” I don’t think anyone who wants to be taken seriously would propose that Barry Manilow is the more obvious selection.  It is obvious that a particular kind of ethos corresponds to these styles of music: Manilow’s music is characterized by a syrupy emotionalism and is thus fitting for cultivating and evoking that response where such moods are desired, and of course, a sort of robust, manly, courageous aggressiveness has characterized the music of James Hetfield and Metallica from their earliest beginnings, and that music is well suited to cultivate and strike similar chords in the hearts of its listeners. That simple exercise then provides common sense confirmation of the assertion made by Reid that certain types of music stimulate certain actions, even martial action.

Next, Dr. Reid points out an obvious fact which is that the Calvinists had to fight their way to Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. To verify the point, one only needs to think for a brief moment about the Huguenot’s, the Dutch, the Scottish Covenanters, Cromwell’s Roundheads, or the “Reformes of the Cevennes,” all who valiantly engaged in battle to defend and promote their deeply held Calvinistic and Reformed convictions. Helpfully, Reid gives at least a brief explanation for why the Calvinists were so often found marching out to battle, and it was not because they happened to be blood-thirsty, maladjusted thugs. It was rather because Calvinists, unlike the Lutherans, were never afforded the same political and religious protections from Rome and its allies, as the Lutheran’s received under the settlement of the 1555 Peace of Augsburg. On account of that lack of protection the Reformed were often savagely persecuted for their faith, and were left with no other option but to resist and fight back.

Interestingly, what Reid points out as characteristic of these Reformed armies who trudged out to the battlefield in the defense of polis and ecclesia is that as they went out to battle “the psalmists’s words seem to have come almost automatically to their lips” (p.36). Beyond that, think for a moment about Reid’s claim which is that it was the Psalms that tipped the balance in the favor of the Reformed as they engaged in battle. It is true, as Reid points out that Reformed forces were often led by a militant aristocracy and funded generously by a wealthy bourgeoisie, but those factors alone cannot account for their military success. Instead of finding the secret of their success in the quality of their leadership or the adequacy of their financial partners, Reid digs down into the hearts of the soldiers themselves, and having peeled back the layers he finds the Psalms there and argues that it was the Psalms which both built up and maintained the morale of the soldiers as they fought (p.37). See that? Calvinist worship, as historically conceived of and practiced by the Reformed churches of the 16th century, led to Kingdom advancement!

As we bring this article to conclusion, it is best to give Reid the last word so we can hear his bold and decisive claims about the all significant role of the Psalms in the 16th and 17th century battles for religious and political freedom from Rome and her allies:

The things that really grabbed the common man, the ordinary Calvinistic soldier, was something much more mundane: his catechetical training and congregational singing of the psalms. More than all the fine theological training, both the catechism and the Psalter entered into the very warp and weft of the humblest members’ lives (p.37).

Well, there we have the main thought Reid proposes for consideration, which is that the Psalms, when repeatedly sung in the congregation, have the power to fashion a certain kind of piety and theological conviction in the heart such that it creates a vast reservoir of motivation and resolve which may be tapped repeatedly and used as fuel to energize “hands to war and fingers to fight” in order that Christ’s kingdom may be defended and advanced for the glory of His name.

Now, let me conclude with a question for my Reformed readers (and I ask this as gently as I can), whose churches long ago sold the precious birthright of Psalm-singing for the pottage of revivalistic hymns and praise songs, are your songs tending to motivate and strengthen you to fight and to defend and to advance the kingdom of God, or do they tend to keep your hands clean from such actions and concerns and focused instead on your prayer closet and personal piety? Of course having spent much of my life in Reformed churches which rejected the Calvinistic and Reformed heritage of Psalm-singing in favor of Watt’s paraphrases, hymns of the Wesley brothers, and Fanny Crosby’s ditties, I am satisfied that I know the answer, but I would like you to consider Reid’s assertion for yourself: certain types of music stimulate to action, even to inciting hands to war and fingers to fight. Try to answer honestly!

Next time we will give a brief history of the Geneva Psalter’s construction –including its distribution in several languages.