Hungarian Reformed Churches: Instruments Are Shadows

It is certain that in the ancient church and in Solomon’s temple, the use of musical instruments was accepted. Now that Christ has come, and together with the ancient priesthood and sacrifice and the representation appertaining to the Law, the use of instruments in churches has vanished like a shadow. For the various instruments of the musicians symbolize the parts and members of the elect, i.e., that the elect must worship the Lord with heart, soul, word and in every way. Thus David mentions every kind of instrument so that man may glorify God with all his strength, mind and members. He must speak and sing in the assembly with delight from the soul. For Paul would not only disapprove of the use of crude instruments, but does not permit in the church incomprehensible human words and singing that lacks edifying force; indeed he calls them mindless that teach and sing in the assembly like barbarians in unfamiliar languages (1 Cor. 14). The fathers teach the same. There is not so much as a reference to the organ in the New Testament, nor of its introduction into the purer church; but it was only introduced in the theatrical masses, as if in obscene sport, by immoral priests to make clowns cut capers. The papal Chronicles attribute its introduction to Pope Vitalian. The resolutions of the councils, together with Jerome, condemn the stentorian noise in churches of persons shouting in theatrical fashion (Amos 5, 6). In the prophets, the Lord prohibits the playing of the harp and organs, and commands that teaching be done with the human voice, not with shadows and tricks. Therefore they do wrong that mumble foolishly before God the canonical hours as if superstitious chattering to themselves something of merit in the process, and who keep an organ in the sacred assembly like papists and others. What my father has not planted will be rooted out (Matt. 15:13). But to say seven times “glory to God” means that we worship God constantly in Spirit and in truth because seven times means many times — without end (Matt 18; Luke 17; Jerome, Augustine, and Hillary on these passages).

—The Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562) in Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., 4 vol. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books), 2.565–66.

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  1. The musical instruments were to “raise sounds of joy” (1 Chronicles 15:16); they were “keliy” (the Hebrew word translated “instruments”), which was a tool, an implement, a vessel for use, just like the keliy prescribed for use in the Tabernacle. It’s very interesting to do a study on that word, and see that the first time it’s used in association with playing music is at David’s appointment of the Levites.

  2. Do you have any thoughts on the exposition of the fourth commandment as given by the Hungarian Confessio Catholica? Would you see the exposition given there as essentially in harmony with Westminster Standards?

    • Yes, I think it’s essentially in harmony but it is different in some respects. The Hungarians, like Geneva, Heidelberg, and the Dutch churches tolerated the so-called “evangelical feast days” and, against the background of Roman calendar, from which they had just emerged they made a point of saying that per se all days are alike but that they kept the “eighth day” or the first day of the week. They rejected servile work but permitted works of mercy and necessity.

  3. Thank you, Dr. Clark. They seem to express a willingness to sanctify a different day of the week and work on the Lord’s Day under certain circumstances when they say, “The elect may correctly celebrate on the sixth day, if they wish, rest from their outward labors and engage in divine works; moreover to work on the Lord’s Day” (p. 643 in Dennison, Vol. 2). Am I understanding the text correctly?

    • Neil,

      I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking. Before I try to reply can you be more specific about what you’re asking? I get the sense that there’s another question behind the question. If so, let’s get that on the table before we proceed.

  4. I’m trying to ask whether their understanding of the Sabbath was as clear-cut and straight-forward as that of the Westminster Confession, (i.e., that “from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath”). When they speak of sanctifying a different day of the week and working on the Lord’s Day, are they saying that the church could possibly choose a different day of the week to sanctify instead of the first day of the week? In other words, are they saying that the church can decide to rest and hold church services on Friday, go to work on Sunday, and consider their worship done on Friday as their Sabbath for the week? That had been my understanding of what they were saying, but I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong many times before.

    • Neil,

      Well, they do explicitly call the Lord’s Day the Sabbath, so that’s suggests that they’re headed in the same general direction. When comparing documents and writers from the 1560s with those from the 1640s, it’s important to remember the relatively different situation. The Divines were writing against a background where the Reformed theology had been developing for more than a century. They were writing against a background where the Roman religious calendar and obligations were no longer in view. Those Englishmen who gathered at Westminster were sitting in a Protestant nation, in the beginnings of a Protestant empire, in the midst of a civil war conducted, in part, to protect their Protestant liberties. In the 1560’s the Reformed were still emerging from Romanism and its religious calendar. The Reformation in Hungary and Geneva is much more precarious. They’re wrestling with different questions and Christian liberty is, because of their setting, more their first concern than the precise ethics of the Sabbath.

      I don’t read them as saying that one of the consequences of saying that all days are per se the same (please note that qualifier which means than they’re pushing back against Romanism and also against the Anabaptist Saturday Sabbatarians, whence the Adventists got their view of the Sabbath) that Sunday is not intrinsically different. There’s a certain dialectical quality in the statement so that each sentence must be taken in light of what precedes and what follows. They recognize the Lord’s Day as the divinely instituted Sabbath but they’re very wary of the Roman calendar (and hundreds of days of obligation) etc. So as soon as they say one thing, they say the other to keep the balance.

      If, however, we remember the differences between their setting and Westminster’s (and ours) then we can understand them more easily. Did they arrive exactly where the divines did? No. The DPW doesn’t say anything about the evangelical holy days. Was there development in the Reformed theology and piety of the Lord’s Day from the 1560s to the 1640s, yes, certainly. Is there a common trajectory? I think so.

      There’s a chapter on this in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

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