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the Temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord ; because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel.
And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra, iii. 10, 11.) Now, it is remarkable that the very same form of praise was used on the introduction of the Ark into the oracle by King Solomon at the consecration of the First Temple. “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord saying, For He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever," The practice, then, of alternate chanting may fairly be considered as ancient as any regular institution of ceremonial worship. It formed certainly a part of the Temple, and, to all appearance, of the Tabernacle, Service ; while the song of Moses and Miriam carries us back to yet more distant times, and was itself probably the remnant of earlier, as it is has become the precedent of later, usage.
Nor shall we wonder to find this method of psalmody adopted into a ritual which was founded on Divine revelation, and framed according to a heavenly pattern, seeing that the prophet Isaiah was permitted to contemplate, in a vision, the angels, as they stood crying “one to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His
* Is. vi. 2, 3.
A like sight is believed to have been vouchsafed in Christian times to S. Ignatius, the disciple of S. Peter, and his successor in the see of Antioch, who has accordingly been esteemed as the founder of the Antiphonal Chanting in the Catholic Church. Independently, however, of any such visible and express sanction of the practice, its known antiquity and prominence in the Mosaic Service of praise would alone give it a claim upon the dutiful reception of the early Christians. S. Paul makes mention twice* in his Epistles of the three kinds of sacred song which are in use among us at this very day, Psalms, Hymns, and Canticles. Moreover, that there were authorized psalms in the days of the Apostles, and, again, that individual members of congregations took part in the regular psalmody of the Church, appears from the censure passed upon the Corinthian Christians in 1 Cor. xiv. 26.
But, indeed, to say that the Psalms of David were in use at all in the Church of the Apostles, is almost the same with admitting the Apostolic authority of the antiphonal mode of recitation. For, as a learned writer has abundantly shewn,t the very structure and composition of the Psalms themselves is such as to imply distribution of parts. This is evident, at first sight, from such a Psalm as the 136th, where the latter half of each verse is plainly intended to be
to the former. And the same observation applies partially to the 118th Psalm. Who, again, can doubt that a Psalm like the 24th, which consists almost wholly of question and answer, is most fitly distributed between two divisions of a quire, or between the Priest and congregation ? Again, one Psalm (the 107th) repeats four times the same words ; while another
* Eph. v. 19; Col. ii. 16. † Bedford's Temple Service.
sung in the
(the 62nd) repeats twice a verse of praise proper for a chorus.
In the 20th Psalm the first four verses contain blessings alternately pronounced upon each other by Priest and people, answering to the Catholic form of reciprocal benediction, “ The Lord be with you.”—“ And with thy spirit.”
Next comes a chorus of the people, “ We will rejoice in Thy salvation," &c. followed by a verse for the Priest, and this, again, by a final chorus of respondents. Some Psalms again, like the 135th and 150th, speak of praising God by particular persons, or instruments of music, and conclude with a general exhortation ; the former verses being apparently divided between different portions of a quire, and the conclusion chanted in common.
A farther and very strong corroboration of this view of the ancient method of psalmody is in the fact that the Hebrew verb which, in Exod. xxxii. 18, Numb. xxi. 17, Ps. cxlvii. 7, and other places, is translated “sing,” means properly, “ to answer.”
That the Psalms of David, then, were (in the Temple Service, at least,) not read, but sung, or chanted, and that they were intended for alternate recitation, may be fairly assumed ; though it is still a question into what portions they were actually divided. In the primitive Church it was customary for the people to respond, not in the whole verse, but in the latter clause of it only, hence called an “ acrostick ;" and at other times the precentor alone chanted all the Psalms except the last, which the rest of the singers recited in chorus.* The former of these modes, by which single verses were split into corresponding sentences of praise or benediction, is represented among ourselves at this day by what are called the “suffrages," after the Creed and Lord's Prayer in Morning and Evening Service, which are, for the most part, verses of the Psalms thus divided.
* Bingham's Antiq. lib. xiv. c. 1.
Although the practice of antiphonal psalmody was probably known in the days of the Apostles, it does not seem to have been reduced to system, and finally established in the Church, till the middle of the fourth century, when Flavian and Diodore, monks of Antioch, and afterwards bishops, the one of that see, the other of Tarsus, are said to have employed it, with singular success, to counteract the influence of the Arian heresy. In the Eastern Church, it was introduced by S. Basil, at Neocæsarea, about the middle of the fourth century ; and by S. Chrysostom, about half a century later, at Constantinople. By both of these great Fathers of the Church it was used, as by Flavian at Antioch, for the protection of Catholic Truth, and the consolation of Catholic hearts, against the disturbing inroads of heretical error. By the heretics themselves the psalmody of the Church was variously treated ; by Arius it was profanely counterfeited, by Sabellius decried as wanton innovation. In answer to the latter charge, S. Basil pleads the precedent of numerous Eastern Churches, and thus bears incidental testimony to the prevalence, or, as we may say without any doubt, the universality, of the practice in his time.
It may be added, that the very early use of the antiphonal chant in the Christian Church is intimated by a heathen writer. Pliny, in his celebrated letter to the Emperor Trajan, describes the Christians of Pontus and Bithynia as chanting a hymn to our Lord “among themselves in turns,” (secum invicem).
In the Western Church, the antiphonal chant was introduced at Rome by Pope Damasus towards the close of the fourth century, and, rather before that
time, at Milan by S. Ambrose. The latter bishop, indeed, is famous in ecclesiastical history for the wonders which he wrought, by the help of antiphonal psalmody, in quieting the excited feelings of the populace, who sided with him in his resistance to the impious demands of the Arian Empress Justina.* S. Augustine speaks in more than one place of his “Confessions” of the power of the Ambrosian chant as heard by him at Milan. It is an old tradition of the Church, that the Te Deum was the work of these two great saints, S. Ambrose and S. Augustine, and that it was composed for the baptism of the latter. Of the hymns and psalms sung on that occasion S. Austin speaks in these glowing terms :
“How many tears I shed during the performance of Thy hymns and chants, keenly affected by the notes of Thy melodious Church! My ears drank up those sounds, and they distilled into my heart as sacred truths, and overflowed thence again in pious emotion and gushed forth into tears, and I was happy in them.”
In another place, he is almost disposed to contrast the chants of S. Ambrose with the simpler and severer tones of S. Athanasius, to the advantage of the latter.
“Sometimes, from over jealousy, I would entirely put from me and from the Church the melodies of the sweet chants which we use in the Psalter, lest our ears seduce us; and the
way of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, seems the safer ; who, as I have often heard, made the reader chant with so slight a change of note, that it was more like speaking than singing. And yet, when I call to mind the tears I shed when I heard the chants of Thy Church in the infancy of
* See Fleury's Eccl. History, Oxford Translation, book xviii. c. 46; and “ Church of the Fathers,” c. 2.