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CALVIN ON SINGING

CALVIN ON SINGING

 

 

The following quotations are from John Calvin ‘s prefaces to collec­tions of psalms published in Geneva in 1542 and 1543.

 

1542: As for the public prayers, there are two kinds: the one made with the word only, and the other with song. And this is not a thing invented a short time ago. For from the first origin of the church, this has been so, as appears from the histories. And even St. Paul speaks not only of praying by mouth, but also of singing. And in truth we know from experience that song has great force and vigor to arouse and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal.

 

1543: Now among the other things which are appropriate for recreating man and giving him pleasure, music is either the first or one of the principal, and we must value it as a gift of God deputed to that use. [We need] to have songs not only seemly, but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to and praise God, to meditate on His works in order to love, fear, honor, and glorify Him. Now what St. Augustine says is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God unless he has received them from Him. Wherefore, when we have looked thoroughly everywhere and searched high and low, we shall find no better songs nor more appropriate to the purpose than the psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit made and spoke through him. And furthermore, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts the words in our mouths, as if He Himself were singing in us to exalt His glory.... As for the rest it is necessary for us to remember what St. Paul says, that spiritual songs can be sung truly only from the heart. Now the heart requires intelligence, and in that (says St. Augustine) lies the difference between the singing of men and that of the birds. For a linnet, a nightingale, a parrot may sing well, but it will be without understanding. Now the peculiar gift of man is to sing knowing what he is saying. After intelligence must follow the heart and the affection, which is impossible unless we have the hymn imprinted on our memory in order never to cease from singing.

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