Baptizing the Pagan Organ Print
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 14 March 2007 16:16

In light of the vigorous discussion of the dilemma of contemporary Catholic praise and worship here over the past two days, I found this interesting:

From the July, 1996 issue of Speculum, the journal of the Medieval Academy of America comes this fascinating review of The Organ in Western Culture, 750 - 1250 by Peter Williams (Cambridge University Press)

"The organ's status as a fixture of western churches, Catholic and Protestant alike, is centuries old. . . this situation ranks among the more remarkable, even ironic accidents of history. Direct ancestors of the modern organ . . .were known to the Mediterranean world long before the birth of Christ. But the social settings for those instruments in Roman times were those the early Christian Church was most determined to reject: wedding feasts with their suggestive dancing; night serenades, games, and imperial ceremonies."

so "How did the organ become accepted by the Church?"

William's answer: it is very complicated and much "common knowledge" on the subject is anachronistic and without foundation.

As has happened throughout history, secular gifts can and are adapted for use by the Church in her worship and mission in remarkably creative ways. After all, as Wesley famously quipped: "Why should the devil have all the good music?"

Oswald Sorbino's response:

"How interesting! The excerpt sounds like a description of the way many rigorists describe why the guitar or the piano or the drums should never be used in the liturgy. What happened to the sensual, pagan organ? It was baptized!

No surprise: Christ came to transform all things, and so He did and does. That is why the Church makes no hard and fast prohibitions as to musical instruments but leaves the decision to the discretion of the bishops based on the evolving standards of common opinion and usage, which are, obviously, by their very nature changeable.

Newman noted (my paraphrase) that to be immersed in history was to cease to be a Protestant. To read history is to cease to be a fanatical rigorist when it comes to liturgical musical instruments. I think the two mentalities: the historically Protestant and the rigorist mentalities are indeed related--both tend to deify and reify one partial aspect that they have abstracted from a complex reality, as the Donatists schismatics combatted by St. Augustine in the fourth century, did. "

Oswald is currently a student at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I have been invited to speak to the students in the New Evangelization program at Sacred Heart this fall. Perhaps I'll have a chance to meet a fellow blogger there!