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Monday, December 31, 2012

Saint Athanasius: To praise God tunefully

Saint Athanasius (Public Domain)
Saint Athanasius I of Alexandria is considered to be a Great Doctor of both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.  Protestants call him "Father of the Canon."

He authored a number of works which are still in existence today. Perhaps the most famous is his biography of Anthony the Great (a Desert Father leader), which helped monasticism to spread throughout Western Europe.  Some of the works are epistles, such as his well-known Letter of St. Athanasius to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms.

In this letter to Marcellinus (a physically-ill, but spiritually-strong friend), Athanasius waxes eloquently about the Psalms (which both correspondents have been devotedly studying).  Athanasius introduces the topic by stating that a "certain studious old man" had once taught him much about the Psalter.  He then proceeds to pass this "old man's"
(whom many think is Athanasius himself) wisdom on to Marcellinus.

One of Athanasius' main points is that the Psalms were meant to be sung.  He quotes from James 5:13 in support of this practice:  Is any among you happy?  Let him sing!  Nevertheless, the "old man" cautions:  Holy Scripture is not designed to tickle the aesthetic palate, and it is rather for the soul's own profit
that the Psalms are sung.

Saint Athanasius goes on to explain that "the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit…"  "To praise God tunefully" should therefore reflect "a peaceful and well-ordered heart" rather than an entertaining display of personal artistry.


Copyright December 31, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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