Let's look again at the wisdom of Augustine, a fifth century Christian who many regard as the most important figure in the history of the church. As we related last time, Augustine struggled over the use of music in the church.
As a pastor and a bishop, he understood that music had the power to inspire the Christian's faith to great heights, and he himself was personally moved by music. Yet, he feared that music would draw people away from God by a love of personal pleasure. Needless to say, we still struggle with this today.
In De Musica, a treatise Augustine wrote on the theoretical and ethical nature of music, he deals with this issue in greater depth. He posits that God gave to all men the ability to distinguish "good music from bad," that is, music which promotes an ethical (moral) view of life rather than music that is simply aesthetically pleasing.
For Christians, Augustine believed that the responsibility of music was even greater; it must transcend morality and take them to the "truth of God." Hence, Augustine was espousing the view of St. Paul in Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs..." (My emphasis)
Augustine looked at music as a means for directing the mind to God's truth. Music affects the emotion, but its ultimate goal is to guide the mind into, as Augustine says, "a Divine pattern of living." He taught that music must always be examined to insure that it is "not leading to the power of sensuality, but to true spiritual character."
Can we live in the light of Augustine's rigorous musical practice? Since we have so linked the sacred with the secular in the early part of the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Because the sensual seems to dominate almost all our experience, even the most basic of our decisions are colored by our love of emotion.
But, Augustine believed that "song must never be light nor frivolous, that it have weight and majesty." This is wise spiritual advice for us today.
One of the very best ways to follow Augustine's teaching regarding "true spiritual character" is to sing great hymns of the faith, hymns that are filled with deep theology and the truth of God. As we sing hymns, our emotions and our minds are united - and our thoughts become His thoughts. In so doing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to say, do and be what God Himself wants us to say, do and be!
To God be the Glory!