Did Augustine Hate Music?

Simple Answer: No

Who:  Augustine was a Bishop/Monk/Philosopher in late antique Africa who wrote so prolifically that he became one of the most influential scholars of all time.  Somewhere, there’s a college professor talking about him right now.

Background:  Poor Augustine has been accused of every kind of evil by modern historians, and he’s not even around to defend himself!  He died in 430 a.d. after writing millions of words about his Christian faith and a remarkable amount of his work is extant.  The problem is that no one bothers to read his work very well because there’s so much of it.  (Or, because they’re lazy.)  I’ve read plenty of “serious” Augustinian scholarship written by authors who clearly didn’t know the saint’s work very well and were only accusing him of things so they could make a name for themselves.  (That sort of thing is all too common in academia, and Augustine seems to be everyone’s favorite punching bag.)

Accusation: In recent years, Augustine has been accused of saying that music was a sin.  Why?  Because he once said that he could enjoy church music so much that he would forget to appreciate God and, instead, just appreciate the music.  Of course, he follows this up by saying that well-performed music is pleasing to God and good for the whole church (he was a much more reasonable person than most scholars will admit), but that’s not the part people remember.  (If you don’t believe me, just read his Confessions.)  Even though the truth of this is obvious to even the most casual reader, in some circles it’s considered common knowledge that Augustine wanted to ban music for good.  That would have been quite a shock to Augustine, who once wrote the following:

But when brethren are assembled in the church, why should not the time be devoted to singing of sacred songs, excepting of course while reading or preaching is going on, or while the presiding minister prays aloud, or the united prayer of the congregation is led by the deacon’s voice? At the other intervals not thus occupied, I do not see what could be a more excellent, useful, and holy exercise for a Christian congregation.

So, let’s let Augustine off the hook for this one.  He loved music, and he wanted to hear talented musicians making good music in his churches.

(More information about his hymnology can be read here.)

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)