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Calvin on Singing

October 4, 2007

“We do not condemn words or singing, but rather greatly commend them, provided the feeling of the mind goes along with them. For in this way the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects, unless various means are used to support them. …

And certainly if singing is tempered to a gravity befitting the presence of God and angels, it both gives dignity and grace to sacred actions, and has a very powerful tendency to stir up the mind to true zeal and ardor in prayer. We must, however, carefully beware, lest our ears be more intent on the music than our minds on the spiritual meaning of the words. Augustine confesses that the fear of this danger sometimes made him wish for the introduction of a practice observed by Athanasius, who ordered the reader to use only a gentle inflection of the voice, more akin to recitation than singing. But on again considering how many advantages were derived from singing, he inclined to the other side.  If this moderation is used, there cannot be a doubt that the practice is most sacred and salutary. On the other hand, songs composed  merely to tickle and delight the ear are unbecoming the majesty of the Church, and cannot but be most displeasing to God.”

   -Calvin, Institutes, III. 20, 31…32.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2007 5:51 pm

    “the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects, unless various means are used to support them.”

    EXACTLY!

    And people are always telling me that the French are never good for anything…

  2. Egana permalink
    October 7, 2007 6:01 pm

    “For in this way the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects, unless various means are used to support them. …”

    that’s why I have the sermon CD qued up in my kitchen cd player, so that I can remind myself of God and not get distracted by my own stupid, frivolous, worthless thoughts. I’m constantly amazed at how innane I can be on my own.

    but thanks be to God, that he is changing me to become more and more like his own awesome son. I get pretty sick of myself, its really comforting to find Him in there, too, being amazing, being powerful, being faithful, being patient, and working out his perfect will even when I am so stubborn and resistant. I am glad he has the power to change me.

    I also started keeping last years’ Ladies retreat songbook on my livingroom table, so I coud pick it up and sing when I wanted to. But it got lost in a whirlwind weekend, and is now hiding somewhere underneath a pile of junk. This blog post reminds me to go and find it and put it out where I can use it again. It is hard to come up with the songs out of my own memory, but with the songbook there, I can remember and sing and be refreshed.

  3. ebenezers permalink
    October 8, 2007 8:16 pm

    I wasn’t going to comment on this well-written quote, but after reading it a few times thought I would share a (sad) story:

    We went to a church that had very contemporary worship; a lot of praise choruses and the like. We dealt with it okay, although were disheartened by the sorry lack of the rich, meaningful words of hymns. Then one Sunday morning (it happened to be during Advent season), right before the preaching of the Word, the song guy (I won’t even call him a “worship leader” because it would sully the title) led the congregation in a rousing rendition of “Feliz Navidad.” Ughh.

    I think Calvin is dealing with a personal aspect of worship in this quote (making sure my own mind is focused and engaged in worship, not just my lips), but I also think that perhaps churches can help believers in this area during corporate singing.

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