Scott Aniol on The Age of Enlightenment’s Impact on Worship Music in the Church

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.

One important philosophical shift that occurred as a result of the Enlightenment and had significant impact on broader culture was the emergence of the naturalistic category of “emotion.”

When theologians and philosophers prior to the Age of Reason spoke about human sensibilities, they used nuanced categories of “affections of the soul,” such as love, joy, and peace, and “appetites (or passions) of the body,” like hunger, sexual desire, and anger. This conception of human faculties appears all the way back in Greek philosophers, who used the metaphors of the spankna (chest) to designate the noble affections and the koilia (belly) for the base appetites. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul employed such categories as well, urging Christians to put on the “affections” (splankna) of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col 3:12) and describing enemies of Christ as those whose “god is their belly (koilia)” (Phil 3:19).

This way of understanding human sensibility dominated Christian thought and philosophy from the Patristic period through the Reformation. The affections were the core of spirituality and were to be nurtured, developed, and encouraged; the appetites, while not evil (in contrast to Gnosticism), must be kept under control lest they overpower the intellect. Theologians believed that the Bible taught a holistic dualism where material and immaterial combined to composed man; thus, while the body and spirit are both good and constantly interact and influence one another, and physical expression is part of the way God created his people, biblical worship should aim at cultivating both the intellect and affections as well as calming the passions.

With music in worship, for example, second-century theologian Clement of Alexandria argued, “We must abominate extravagant music, which enervates men’s souls, and leads to changefulness — now mournful, and then licentious and voluptuous, and then frenzied and frantic.” Rather, the church’s hymnody should employ “temperate harmonies.” Likewise, Augustine later insisted that while the affections were at the core of Christian religion, the passions must be controlled by reason, Thomas Aquinas likewise maintained a distinction between the soul’s affections and the body’s passions, and sixteenth-century Reformers such as Calvin agreed, considering worship to consist centrally of pious affections, while yielding entirely to “fleshly desires” was sin.

In contrast to this premodern way of thinking, the purely naturalistic environment of the Enlightenment created a new psychological category philosophers called “emotion”—non-cognitive, purely physical, involuntary feelings.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Scott Aniol