How did the early Christians sing? And what did they sing? And what difference does it make to 21st century Christians? We have been dealing with these questions over the past several months. In this essay, and in the next two essays, we look to three giants of the early church for continued guidance. For these men were part of a movement that witnessed an explosion of Christianity that literally changed the world.
It's important to note that in the first 5 centuries of the church, Christian worship was taught carefully from one generation to the next. The music of worship was no exception. John Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine were church leaders who wrote extensively about what Christians were singing at the time and more importantly, how this musical culture shaped their worship, and ultimately, their view of Christ.
We look first to John Chrysostom (c.357-407) who was perhaps the greatest preacher of Christian antiquity. His nickname: "Golden Mouth." Early on, he was drawn to monastic life and while in this life of desert solitude, he practiced such an austere life that he permanently damaged his health. Because of this, he returned to his home town of Antioch where he was ordained a deacon/priest and ministered for over a decade
He flourished as a preacher and commentator on the church. Because of his great oratory (and popularity!) he was called to Constantinople, which was the pinnacle of the church and the Eastern center for the waning Roman empire.
He became, however, a reproach to both clergy and court. Because the popularity of his preaching and his call for personal holiness offended church and political leaders alike, he was banished from Constantinople to a small town near Antioch. His preaching again attracted such a large following, however, that he was banished again to an even smaller locality near the Black Sea, where he died.
Because of his great influence on the church, we quote (only briefly) from his many writings on music in the 4th century church. In his exposition on Psalm 41 he writes: When God saw that the majority of men were slothful, and that they approached spiritual reading with reluctance and submitted to the effort involved without pleasure