A Few Quotes from the Early Fathers on Hymns

A favorite volume of mine is David Bercot’s Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Hendrickson, 1998).  In this handy volume, Bercot topically compiles short quotations and somewhat lengthier excerpts from the pre-Nicene fathers. A work such as this will not, of course, provide the reader with a comprehensive understanding of what the early church fathers thought regarding specific topics — the reader’s exposure to their thought is limited to the particular quotations (and even the particular fathers) which Bercot has seen fit to include — but the work is valuable nonetheless as an introductory exposure to how an earlier generation of Christians thought about particular issues.  And this sort of exposure is of prime importance, as C. S. Lewis reminds us.

Under the topic of “hymns,” here are a few of his choices (p. 348).

All of our women are chaste.  And the maidens at their work sing of divine things more nobly than that woman of yours.  (Tatian, c. 160)

Let love songs be banished far away.  But let our songs be hymns to God. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)

We cultivate our fields, praising.  We sail the sea, singing hymns. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)

An unworthy opinion of God preserves no piety — whether in hymns, discourses, writings, or dogmas. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)

[At the Christians’ agape feasts:] After washing the hands and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God–either one from the Holy Scriptures or one of his own composing. (Tertullian, c. 197)

And under the topic of “music, musical instruments” (pp. 467-68)

By music, we harmoniously relax the excessive tension of seriousness. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)

We must reject frivolous music, which weakens men’s souls. (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195)

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