The Music of the Church

Adult Sunday School – Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church

Spring 2002


Class #4  (5/19/2002) – Mr. Bill Hoover


I.          Review of Last Week (Hebrew Psalms)


A.      Additional Observations (not discussed on 5/12)

1.       Choirs are OK if used properly

a.       The corps of singers mentioned in I Chr 15 and 25 were, in effect, a choir (or choirs).  Probably, they bolstered congregational singing and also sang by themselves at times.

b.       Therefore there is precedent for “special music,” i.e., choir-only selections such as offertories, anthems, etc.  But care must be exercised:

1)       Choir selections should fit with the flow and tone of the service and not distract.  They should fit the sermon and liturgy content as much as possible.

2)       The choir should not displace congregational singing by performing too many selections.  (That’s why our choir typically only sings once, at the Offertory.)

3)       The selections, deportment, and even physical placement of the choir should facilitate worship, not entertainment

a)       Cheesy music and glitzy accompaniment tapes have no place in worship.

b)       Our choir loft is in the rear so that you are not tempted to gawk at them or clap for them.  And by singing from behind you, facing the same direction as you, they bolster your singing during the hymns.  They represent you when singing to the Lord; they are not facing you to sing to you.

c.        The best use of the choir is to bolster congregational singing – strengthening the  harmony, adding descants, doing antiphonal singing with the congregation, etc.  The special anthems should be “gravy.”

2.       The Psalms were central to OT worship from time of David on, and have been central in Christian worship ever since

a.       Chanted Psalms - during early and medieval church eras

b.       Psalters – many were developed from 1500s to present

c.        Psalm-based hymns

d.       Today we are losing (in some circles) and recovering (in other circles) the tradition of singing and/or chanting entire Psalms

3.       Hebrew Psalm music was not necessarily what we typically picture today.

a.       “Hava Nagila”-style music is Eastern European national music (picture Hungarian dances).

b.       Because the Hebrew Psalms are textual lines of varying length, they may well have been chanted.  Rhythmic, fixed-meter tunes wouldn’t have supported the Psalm texts, would they?


II.        The Early Church (30-500 AD) and Early Middle Ages (500-1000 AD)


A.      Not much data about the music between Hebrew Psalms and 1000 AD – big gap.

1.       The Sacred Bridge


B.      Synagogue worship at the time of Jesus – chant?

1.       Apostolic-era church songs probably based on synagogue tradition – first believers were Jews


C.      Hymns of the early church

1.        “Hymn” = the text, not the tune

2.       Often written to combat heresy – hymnody is powerful!

3.       Ambrose of Milan (340-397 AD)

a.       See Index of Authors (p. 691) – Ambrose wrote hymns #56, 165, 339*

[*Hymn numbers are from Trinity Hymnal, 1961]

b.       Author (and translator if approp.) is at top left of each hymn

1)       Luther translated #165 from Latin into German

2)       John Mason Neale translated #339 (and many others; see Author index) from Latin into English

c.        Ambrosian chant –precursor to Gregorian chant

4.       Aurelius Prudentius (348-413 AD) - #122 (J. M. Neale translated)

5.       The Lorica – “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”

a.       Patrick (389-461 AD) – born in Britain, captured by pirates at age 16 and sold as a slave in Ireland, where he was converted.  He escaped back to Britain, but later returned to spend his life bringing the Gospel to the pagan Irish who had never heard it.  Planted over 300 churches and baptized 120,000 people.  Largely responsible for the Christianization of Ireland.

6.       Anatolius, 7th century - #342, 513 (J. M. Neale translated)

7.       John of Damascus, 8th century - #197, 200 (J. M. Neale translated)

8.       Joseph the hymnographer, 9th century - #284 (J. M. Neale translated)

9.       Theodulph of Orleans (c. 820) - #173 (J. M. Neale translated)

a.       “c.” or “ca.” = circa (= approximate date)


III.      The Later Middle Ages (1000-1400 AD)


A.      Medieval = “Middle Era”

1.       In between the fall of Rome (476 AD) [end of the ancient world] and the Renaissance [beginning of the modern world]

a.       Renaissance (beginning ca. 1400) ushered in new interest in art, science, learning; many changes in philosophy, art, music, architecture, etc., ending the Medieval system

B.      Split between Western and Eastern halves of Roman empire (and Church!) which began ca. 300 AD (to better govern the burgeoning empire) was completed by 1000 AD.

1.       Eastern (“Byzantine”) empire centered in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey; once known as Byzantium), the capital founded by emperor Constantine

a.       The Eastern church became known as the Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc.)

2.       Western empire & church centered in Rome (hence the Roman Catholic Church).

a.       “Western” Church, “Western” Music, “Western” Civilization

b.       Source of all Protestant church branches, etc.

C.      Gregorian Chant (also called Plainsong – see hymn #147)

1.       Single melodic line, unaccompanied

2.       Smooth steps, with undulating rise and fall

3.       Various treatment of syllables, depending on text

4.       Latin, sung by choirs

5.       Foundation of all Western Church music – Chant: The Sacred Bridge?!

D.      The Music of the Roman Rite

1.       Gloria, Sanctus (Holy, Holy), Credo (Creed), Alleluia, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), etc.

2.       Set by all major composers – even Bach

D.      Still a part of most liturgical worship services in various traditions