Aelred of Rievaulx: The Mirror of Charity
Where, I ask, do all these organs in the church
come from, all these chimes? To what purpose, I ask you, is the
terrible snorting of bellows, more like a clap of thunder than the
sweetness of a voice? Why that swelling and swooping of the voice?
One person sings bass, another sings alto, yet another sings soprano.
Still another ornaments and trills up and down on the melody. At
one moment the voice strains, the next it wanes. First it speeds
up, then it slows down with all manner of sounds. Sometimes - it
is shameful to say it is expelled like the neighing of horses,
sometimes manly strength set aside, it is constricted to the shrillness
of a womans voice. Sometimes it is turned and twisted in some
sort of artful trill. Sometimes you see a man with his mouth open
as if he were breathing his last breath, not singing but threatening
silence, as it were, by ridiculous interruption of the melody into
snatches.(1) Now he imitates the agonies
of the dying or the swooning of persons in pain. In the meantime
his whole body is violently agitated by histrionic gesticulations
contorted lips, rolling eyes, hunching shoulders and
drumming fingers keep time with every single note. And this ridiculous
dissipation is called religious observance. And it is loudly claimed
that where this sort of agitation is more frequent, God is more
honourably served. Meanwhile ordinary folk stand there awestruck,
stupefied, marvelling at the din of bellows, the humming of chimes
and the harmony of pipes. But they regard the saucy gestures of
the singers and the alluring variation and dropping of the voices
with considerable jeering and snickering, until you would think
they had come, not into an oratory, but to a theatre, not to pray
but to gawk.
sound should not be given precedence
over meaning, but sound with meaning should generally be allowed
to stimulate greater attachment. Therefore the sound should be so
moderate, so marked by gravity that it does not captivate the whole
spirit to amusement in itself, but leaves the greater part to the
meaning. Blessed Augustine, of course, said, The soul is moved
to a sentiment of piety on hearing sacred chant. But if a longing
to listen desires the sound more than the meaning, it should be
censured. And elsewhere he says, When the singing delights
me more than the words I acknowledge that I have sinned through
my fault, and I would prefer not to listen to the singer.
Aelred of Rievaulx: The Mirror of Charity,
bk. II, ch. 23: The vain pleasure of the ears, tr. E.
Connor, (Kalamazoo, 1990), pp 209-212.