i'm a music lover but this bothers me a bit

an article about musical instruments from the viewpoint of the early church fathers


Notice that in the article it was explained that musical instruments were associated with rampant immorality. Kind of like the way older people wrote about early rock and roll (50s and 60s).

yes i know, the thing is, it seems like they thought instruments themselves were evil. why were they not able to separate the neutral instrument from bad practices? we seem to be able to do it better today. for example, with things as yoga and martial arts, where movements are neutral and you can separate them from their spiritual aspects. sounds like church fathers were ex-communicating instumentalists completely if they didn’t give it up. and they were smart men for the most part, surely they could have made the distinction?

I cannot explain why people would see evil in an instrument itself. As always, it is how you use it. The example of rock 'n roll music can also be used earlier. When Jazz came popular in the 40’s a lot of people were against it. It’s like saying pop music is bad. No, pop music isn’t bad, some lyrics are bad (or anti-catholic, if you will).

It seems that when something new becomes popular , a ‘hot’ item, a lot of traditionalists see something bad in it. Because ‘if a lot of people want it, it must be bad’. But not all new or all changes are bad.

A fascinating article. Yes, it is not easy for us to understand how the early church fathers felt about musical instruments, as today we are immersed in music with instruments. While we do have music for voice only (significantly called a cappella, meaning in chapel style), we barely notice when instruments are added.

I gather, from the article, that early liturgical music was more like a melodic and rhythmic adaptation of the spoken word. Melody and rhythm were not an accompaniment but rather an inseparable part of the spoken word. I wonder if wordless voice, either as wordless chant or harmonious accompaniment to the song, was allowed in liturgy, or if it was considered improper in the same way as instrumental music.

I am slogging my way through the Fathers, currently in Cyprian. I have found that there are a lot of things that the early Fathers uniformly or nearly uniformly condemned that we now accept without thinking about them.

Many popes, bishops and saints have spoken against the use of objects and or practices that may have a strong connotation/association with pagan, immoral or something that can obscure sacredness. Many spoke quite forcefully about our need to raise our mind up to God – and to avoid stumbling blocks.

I didn’t have time to read it this morning, so I downloaded it and read it during slack time at work. As a musician, I completely agree with you – it is a fascinating article and worthy of being read by anyone who has any interest in Catholic liturgical music.

how do we reconcile with our ways of living today? are instruments actually wrong?

I can think of two ways to approach that question. First, do musical instruments keep you from loving God. Do they lead you to sin? Second, if there are any hermits or monks who are not exposed to the sound of musical instruments for a long time, do they report that it helps them to better know, love, and serve God?

I think the beliefs and pronouncements of early church fathers with regard to musical instruments were not infallible. I suspect it was only the product of their culture, just like their attitudes toward slavery, or women exposing their arms.

I was raised on classical music, it brings me great joy, and I can’t imagine that it is an evil or bad influence on me. Even so, when I pray at home, I shut off the music. If music is playing in the background, my mind automatically follows it, and I find this distracts me from my prayer. However, I do occasionally sing psalms or hymns in my prayer time.

The flip side of that question is this: If the Church Fathers were wrong about musical instruments, how much else were they wrong about?


They were right on the mark in what they were warning about. Listening and comprehending to the message is the real art at play here.

Until V2, only organs were allowed to be played in churches. Organs were accepted at some point because the way they make music is similar to how humans make music–air passing over something (which seems amusing to me in a quirky way… stm they should have also allowed harmonicas and accordians ;))

More seriously, I think that the pagan society of that time, when they got licentious, they got *really *licentious! Who knows what the music was like; maybe an analogy for us would be a combination of gansta rap and satanic hard rock. Something that would be really revolting to the Christian mind, which would make even the sound of the instruments revolt them.

Additionally, I am reminded of something I once heard about when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. They were complaining about the food and how they couldn’t use garlic and stuff like that, and they wondered whether they might not have been better off in Egypt, where they had been slaves! What I heard was that God wanted them to be mentally and emotionally separated from all the badness of Egypt, so He kept them from those things. He had to go so far as to keep them in the desert for a couple of generations to do it, too.

I can see how the harsh punisments would have also played in: if someone spent a lot of time learning to play an instrument, he’d maybe be tempted to go and be paid for playing at these awful events.

I think that a prohibition at a certain time developmentally of the Church, and socially, would not necessaily constitute a dogmatic Church teaching in anyone’s mind.

If musical instruments were wrong, they would still be prohibited.

When we look at Church teaching, we find that different points are made at different times. I liken it to teaching someone to drive: first you tell the student to move to the right, but when they get too close to the edge of the road, you tell them to move left. Does that mean that you were wrong to tell them to move to the right before?

None of the Church fathers applied evil to the physical devices themselves. Such a concept was not indicated in the article, nor in the quotes from the Fathers themselves.

Rather, they Church Fathers noted an association that was incompatible with the understanding of the Liturgy.

A modern example would be an assault rifle. The device itself cannot be considered to be evil. And there are certainly good uses for an assault rifle. And at times there might be a legitimate reason for having one in one’s possession at Mass.

But a priest or bishop would not act contrary to the Church to issue a general condemnation of the carrying of assault rifles in Mass. And such a condemnation could not be construed as concluding than an inanimate object is evil, or could not be used for good purposes, or even that it’s possession at Mass would be totally prohibited.

not entirely true, parts of the articles did say that they thought instruments themselves were evil. and then there’s that quote about where an instrumentalist was, christ was not

that is something i have been worndering for a while now. do you have an answer?

No, I don’t, or more specifically, I’m not at the point yet where I’m about to start second-guessing our contemporary Church leaders and touting a return to 3rd-century standards.

Full disclosure: I am slowly slogging my way through the 37-volume set of the Church Fathers. I am currently in Volume 5, reading Cyprian. There’s a bunch of stuff that he railed against that is common behavior among Catholics in our times, and another bunch of stuff that he required that is unheard of today.

A few thoughts:

  1. I think part of the answer may lie in the way instruments were used. Are we to assume that people would play the kathara only at these wild Bacchanales, there would be no other place to play them? They certainly weren’t played at religious services, so maybe the Church Fathers wondered “why would you even waste your limited time on Earth learning such trash, especially if you are a Cantor (presumably someone who was to be an example of Christian living)”.
  2. Was a cantor a form of minor order, as it was in later centuries?
  3. I don’t think that in those centuries there was a concept of “art music”, like there is in Western classical tradition.
  4. I know that Aristotle had ideas about music, and that good music was indicative of a good society, etc. Maybe the Church Fathers figured that bad music (instrumental music) was indicative of a bad character.
  5. I recall reading writings by Benedict XVI (before he became pope) about the 2 directions we could be drawn to in music the “Apollonian” and “Dionysian.”

Sorry, but you can definitely not separate the spiritual aspect of yoga and pretend they are just movements. At it’s essence, each yoga positions represent deities/pagan gods aka demons that are meant help to open your shakras. and unknowingly you are placing your self/soul at risk. the second we believe that yoga moves are OK, Satan has got an upper hand. ignorance in the matter will not keep anyone safe. Satan does not stop working just because we don’t see him, does he. If we were to go to India and tell a yoga master that we just practice the moments and avoiding the spiritual part… I am sorry to say, but he will laugh in our faces. And tell it to people who in fact only practice the positions and movements and need deliverance prayers and they do the bacon dance on the floor… “but they are just movements”. It’s a pagan religious practice period, which ever ways you turn it and look at it and is not compatible with our Catholic faith. Period. As for Martial Art, I don’t know enough on the subject, just that my wife was a karate black belt and left for the spiritual aspect… it was bad for here soul. Let’s not be naive and stick to what we know. What Would Jesus Do. God Bless:thumbsup:

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