I come now to say somewhat of the antiquity of musical instruments. But that these were not used in the Christian church in the primitive times, is attested by all the ancient writers with one consent. Hence they figuratively explain all the places of the Old Testament, which speak of musical Instruments; as I might easily show by a 1000 testimonies, out of Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, and many others. I can hardly forbear laughing, when I meet with some of their allegorical interpretations. An instrument with 10 strings, according to them signifies the 10 Commandments, as the unknown author of the commentary upon the Psalms among Jerome’s works, often explains it, in Psalm 32:2, 43:4, etc. But the pleasantest fancy is the explanation of these words: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Psalm 150:4 “That the guts being twisted by reason of abstinence from food and so all carnal desires being subdued, men are found fit for the kingdom of god to sing his praises.” But Chrysostom talks more handsomely.” As the Jews praised God with all kind of instruments; so we are commanded to praise him with all the members of our bodies, our eyes etc.” In Psalm 150. And Clement of Alexandria talks much to the same purpose (Paedagog. lib. 2.c. 4).
Besides the ancients thought it unlawful to use those instruments in God’s worship. Thus the unknown author of a treatise among Justin Martyr’s works.
“Q: If songs were invented by unbelievers with a design of deceiving, and were appointed for those under the law, because of the childishness of their minds, why do they who have received the perfect instructions of grace, which are most contrary to the aforesaid customs, nevertheless sing in the churches just as they did who were children under the law?
A: Plain singing is not childish, but only the singing with lifeless organs, with dancing and cymbals, etc. Whence the use of such instruments and other things fit for children is laid aside, and plain singing only retained.”
Chrysostom seems to have been of the same mind, and to have thought the use of such instruments was rather allowed the Jews in consideration of their weakness, than prescribed and commanded. In Psalm 150. But that he was mistaken, and that musical instruments were not only allowed the Jews, as he thought, and Isidorius of Pelusium (whose testimony I shall mention presently) but were prescribed by God, may appear from the texts of scripture I have before referred to.
Clement, as I have mentioned already, thought these things fitter for beasts, than for men. And though Basil commends, and stiffly defends the way of singing by turns; yet he thought musical instruments unprofitable and hurtful. He calls them, “the inventions of Jubal of the race of Cain.” And a little after he thus expresses himself:
“Laban was a lover of the harp, and of music, with which he would have sent away Jacob: if thou hast told me, said he, I would have sent the away with murder, And musical instruments, and an harp. But the patriarch avoided that music, as being a thing that would hinder his regarding the works of the Lord, and his considering the works of his hands.” (Comment in Is. c.v. p. 956, 957). And a little before, he says thus: “In such mean arts, as playing upon the harp or pipe, or dancing, as soon as the action ceases, the work itself finishes. So that really, according to the Apostle’s expression, the end of these things is destruction.” (Page 955).
Isidore of Pelusium, who lived since Basil, held, music was allowed the Jews by God, in a way of condescension to their childishness: “if God,” says he, “or with bloody sacrifices, because of men’s childishness at that time; why should you wonder, he bore with the music of an harp and a psaltery?” (Epist. lib. 2. ep. 176).
Nay, there are some ecclesiastical officers in the Church of England, who, for their very profession and employment, would have been kept from the communion of the church, except they desisted from it. So we are informed by the Apostolical Constitutions: “if any come to the mystery of godliness, being a player upon a pipe, a lute, or an harp; Let him leave it off, or be rejected.” (Lib. 8. c. 32).
From what has been said, it appears that no musical instruments were used in the pure times of the church. It became Antichristian, before they were received. Bellarmine himself does not deny, they were late brought into the church.”The second ceremony,” says he, “Are the musical instruments, which began to be used in the service of the church, in the time of Pope Vitallian, about the year 660, as Platina relates out of the Pontifical as Aimonius rather thinks (lib. iv. De gest. Francorum, c. 114). After the year 820, in the time of Lewis the Pius.” (De Missa, lib. ii. c. 15. Item, De bon. oper. lib. 1. c. 17).
Dr. N. would hardly have denied, the church of Rome was become Antichristian when they were first brought in; even though we should allow Bellarmine’s first date of them to be the true one. But a Reformed divine may well be ashamed of that antiquity, that does not exceed the rise of Antichrist. But I am fully satisfied both Bellarmine’s dates are false, and that instrumental music in the worship of God, is much later than either of those accounts allow. For as to Platina, he seems to suspect that the truth of what he wrote: “Vitalian,” says he, “being careful about the worship of God, made an ecclesiastical rule, and ordered the singing, with the addition(as something) of organs.” (In Vital). Again, Bellarmine’s Aimonius is not the true Aimonius….
Farther, that these instruments were not used in God’s worship, in Thomas Aquinas’s time, that is about the year 1250, he himself his witness.”In the old law,” says he, “God was praised both with musical instruments and human voices, and according to that Psalm 33. ‘Praise the Lord with harp, Sing on to him with the psaltery, and an instrument of ten strings.’ But the church does not use musical instruments to praise God, lest she should seem to Judaize. Therefore by parody of reason, she should not use singing.” (2a2ae 91, art. 4 and conclus. 4). The like objection is used by our author. But Thomas answers: “as to this objection, we must say, as The philosopher (Lib. 8, Polit). ‘The pipes are not to be used for teaching, nor any artificial instruments, as the harp, or the like: But whatever will make the hearers good men. For these musical instruments rather delight the mind, then form it to any good disposition.’ But under the Old Testament such instruments were used, partly because the people were harder and more carnal; upon which account they were to be stirred up by these instruments, as likewise by earthly promises; and partly because bodily instruments were typical of something.” Upon which place Cardinal Cajetan gives us this comment: “It Is to be observed, the church did not use organs in Thomas’s time. When’s, even to this day, the church of Rome does not use them in the pope’s presence. And truly it will appear, that musical instruments are not to be suffered in the ecclesiastical offices we meet together to perform, for the sake of receiving internal instruction from God; and so much the rather are they to be excluded, because God’s internal discipline exceeds all human disciplines, which rejected these kinds of instruments.” (Cit. Hoffa. Lex. voce. Musica).
If anyone objects the practice of some foreign churches, I answer with Mr. Hickman: “They are laid aside by most of the Reformed Churches; no would they they be retained among the Lutherans, unless they have forsaken their own Luther; Who, by the confession of Eckhard, reckoned organs among the “ensigns of Baal.” That they still continue in some of the Dutch churches, is against the minds of the pastors. For in the National Synod at Middleburg, in the year 1581, and in the Synod of Holland and Zeeland, in the year 1594, it was resolved, that they would endeavor to obtain of the magistrate laying inside of organs, and the singing with them in the churches, even out of the time of worship, either before or after sermons: so far are those synods from bearing with them in the worship itself.” (Apol. p. 139).
The church of England herself had formerly no good opinion of these musical instruments; as may appear by her homilies: “lastly, God’s vengeance hath been, and is daily provoked, because much wicked people pass nothing to resort unto the church; either for that they are so sore blinded, that they understand nothing of God or godliness, and care not with devilish malice to offend their neighbors; or else for that they see the church altogether scoured of such gay gazing sights, as their gross fantasy was so greatly delighted with; because they see the false religion abandoned, and the true restored which seemed an unsavory thing to their savory taste, as may appear by this that a woman said to her neighbor: ‘Alas! gossip, what shall we do now at church, since all the saints are taken away; since all the goodly sites we were wont to have are gone; since we cannot hear the like piping, singing, chanting, and playing upon the organs that we could before?’ But dearly beloved, we are greatly to rejoice and give God thanks, that our churches are delivered out of all those things, which displeased God so sore, and filthily defiled his holy house, and his place of prayer.” (Hom. of the place and time of prayer part 2. p. 131).
A great number also of the clergy in the first convocation of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, earnestly labored to have organs, and that pompous theatrical way of singing laid aside, and missed the carrying it but by one vote, as I observe elsewhere. And in this Archbishop Parker concurred with them, or at least did not oppose them.
—James P Wilson, Notes on Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 4 vol. (Philadelphia, 1815), 4.85–88. Some spelling and punctuation modernized.