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RICHARD FARNWORTH AND THOMAS ATKINSON: THE EARLIEST QUAKER WRITERS ON SACRED MUSIC Thomas F. Taylor Many of the religious tracts written by the first Quakers included statements rejecting the liturgical practices of the established churches, principally the Church ofEngland and Calvinist churches. To members of the Society of Friends the spiritual essence of an act was important, and the "doing" itself was empty and idolatrous if hearts and minds were not fully engaged. Music wasjust one ofthose church activities which did not seem to be "in the spirit." Other practices in which the Quakers had experienced neither spiritual content nor Biblical precedent were infant baptism, the holy sacrament , the collection of tithes and a paid, overeducated clergy. However , the vigor with which Friends spoke and wrote against music, and the rage their attitude created among churchmen, helped to establish a special connection between anti-musical attitudes and Quakers in the popular mind. A study ofthe Quaker tracts written in 1653, the first year in which they were published, reveals which of the earliest Quaker leaders were most concerned about music, and what the religious issues were that led them to move the Society of Friends away from the practice of music. Friends were by no means the first nor were they the only people to show concern about the free practice of music, secular or sacred. An attitude of caution regarding music has its recorded beginning at least as early as Plato's Republic in which he warns: "For a change to a new type ofmusic is a change to beware of as a hazard of all our fortunes. For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions."1 A similar fear of music's power to effect moral corruption continued into the Christian era. In his Confessions St. Augustine lamented that with musical settings of religious texts he floated "between peril of pleasure, and an approved profitable custom: . . . And yet again, so 1 . See Plato, The Republic, 424b-c, in Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin, Music in the Western World: A History in Documents (New York, 1984), 8. 83 84Quaker History oft as it befalls me to be more moved with the voice than with the ditty, I confess myself to have grievously offended: at which time I wish rather not to have heard the music. See now in what a state I am! "2 Poor Augustine! To him, the sacred text (ditty) was ofprimary importance, and if the music drew attention away from it by being too enticing, then the music had overstepped its bounds. Jean Calvin was also wary about the power of music, reminding his readers that "the early doctors of the Church often complain that the people of their times are addicted to dishonest and shameless songs, which not without reason they call mortal and Satanic poison for the corruption of the world. "3 Calvin then states his guideline to avoid such a poisoning, even in sacred music: "It is to have songs not merely honest but also holy." It is to the Book of Psalms that the Calvinists then turned; songs received from God by one so hallowed as David could not be corrupt or immoral. Thus the book of Psalms became the sole source for Calvinist congregational and "recreational " song, the texts set in rhyme and meter so they could be more easily sung by non-musicians. Any type of secular song, such as those referred to as "dishonest and shameful" in the Psalter above, were banned. Some radical Puritans, Congregationalists and other separatists in England took the scruple against music in church even further than did the majority of Calvinists. To them set prayer or a predetermined liturgy was to deny the possibility of the Holy Spirit leading the religious act. John Owen (1616-1683), a Church of England clergyman turned Congregationalist and a staunch supporter of religious liberty, wrote in Twelve Arguments against any Conformity to Worship not ofDivine Institution that liturgical worship "was in its first contrivance, and hath been in its continuance, an Invention and Engine to defeat, or render useless the Promise of Christ unto his Church, of sending...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 83-101
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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