Of all the early church fathers (leaders), Augustine (354-430) is perhaps the most renowned. In the history of Christian thought, Augustine is arguably the single most important theologian of the early church. His influence is still felt today and the church is indebted to him for his writing on a wide range of theological issues.
But, we are especially grateful for his perceptive thoughts on the use of music in the church with references to music scattered throughout his voluminous writings. Given the confusing state of music in our culture and the church, Augustine's views on music are instructive and help us as we develop our own philosophy of music.
In his Confessions, he raises an issue at the heart of today's church: the use of music that encourages "sensual pleasure" rather than, as he says, "music that encourages devotion kindled with piety" (holiness).
Augustine could only accept music that was "used with restraint" as opposed to church music that would "inflame the passions." In fact, at one point, Augustine considered banning music completely from the church to protect against the improper enjoyment of it. In the end, however, Augustine could not deny the power of music to "inspire worship." He says,
"when religious texts are sung well, greater religious devotion is inspired: souls are moved...and with a warmer devotion kindled to piety than if they are not so sung."
Thus Augustine loved music, but only if it was used in the proper manner. This sounds harsh to our 21st century ears, but is has been the mode of music for most of the church's history.
We'll continue our look at Augustine's view of music next time. He provides the church with a compelling polemic for music that encourages a high view of God - and reinforces personal holiness. To God be the glory