Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Uses of Harmony
By Francis Atterbury (16621732)
From Sermon on the Usefulness of Church Music
SUCH is our nature, that even the best things, and most worthy of our esteem, do not always employ and detain our thoughts, in proportion to their real value, unless they be set off and greatened by some outward circumstances, which are fitted to raise admiration and surprise in the breasts of those who hear, or behold them. And this good effect is wrought in us by the power of sacred music. To it we, in good measure, owe the dignity and solemnity of our public worship; which else, I fear, in its natural simplicity and plainness, would not so strongly strike, or so deeply affect, the minds, as it ought to do, of the sluggish and inattentive, that is, of the far greater part of mankind. But when voices and instruments are skilfully adapted to it, it appears to us in a majestic air and shape, and gives us very awful and reverent impressions; which, while they are upon us, it is impossible for us not to be fixed and composed to the utmost. We are then in the same state of mind that the devout patriarch was, when he awoke from his holy dream, and ready with him to say to ourselves: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven.
Further, the availableness of harmony to promote a pious disposition of mind will appear, from the great influence it naturally has on the passions, which, when well directed and rightly applied, are the wings and sails of the mind, that speed its passage to perfection, and are of particular and remarkable use in the offices of devotion. For devotion consists in an ascent of the mind towards God, attended with holy breathings of soul, and a divine exercise of all the passions and powers of the mind. These passions the melody of sounds serves only to guide and elevate towards their proper object: these it first calls forth and encourages, and then gradually raises and inflames. This it does to all of them, as the matter of the hymns sung gives an occasion for the employing them; but the power of it is chiefly seen in advancing that most heavenly passion of love, which reigns always in pious breasts, and is the surest and most inseparable mark of true devotion; which recommends what we do in virtue of it to God, and makes it relishing to ourselves; and without which, all our spiritual offerings, our prayers and our praises, are both insipid and unacceptable. At this our religion begins, and at this it ends; it is the sweetest companion and improvement of it here upon earth, and the very earnest and foretaste of heaven; of the pleasure of which nothing further is revealed to us, than that they consist in the practice of holy music, and holy love; the joint enjoyment of which (we are told) is to be the happy lot of all pious souls to endless ages. And observable therefore it is, that that apostle, in whose breast this divine quality seems most to have abounded, has also spoken the most advantageously of vocal and instrumental harmony, and afforded us the best argument for the lawful use of it: for such I account the description, which he has given us of the devotions of angels and blessed spirits performed by harps and hymns in the Apocalypse. A description which, whether real or metaphorical, yet, belonging to the evangelical state, certainly implies thus much, that whatever is there said to be made use of, may now, under the Gospel, be warrantably and laudably employed.
And in his steps trod the holy martyr Ignatius, who probably saw Saint John in the flesh, and learnt that lesson of Divine love from him, which, after his example, he inculcated everywhere in his epistles; and together with it instils into the churches he writes to a love of holy harmony, by frequent allusions and comparisons drawn from that science, which recur oftener in his writings than in those of any other ancient whatever, and seem to intimate to us that the devotions of the church were set off with some kind of melody, even in those early times, notwithstanding we usually place the rise of the institution much lower.
Would we then have love at these assemblies? Would we have our spirit softened and enlarged, and made fit for the illapses1 of the Divine Spirit? Let us, as often as we can, call into our aid the assistances of music, to work us up into this heavenly temper. All selfishness and narrowness of mind, all rancour and peevishness, vanish from the heart, where the love of divine harmony dwells; as the evil spirit of Saul retired before the harp of David. The devotional, as well as the active part of religion is (we know), founded in good nature; and one of the best signs and causes of good nature is, I am sure, to delight in such pious entertainments.