Church Fathers of Music

When I was at the Good Shepherd Institute this past November, I heard a presenter wonder aloud whether there are people we could consider church fathers of music. I’m really struck by the idea. What do you think?

I mean, we are the church of Johann Sebastian Bach! Luther himself was quoted to say that music is the handmaiden of theology. 

You know me. I’d love to get a list going of church fathers of music! The more practical side of me also wishes for something smaller: a handful of musicians I can be sure to get my children acquainted with.

Any ideas? Leads? Caveats? 🙂 And how we would even understand such a category? Must they be text-writers like St. Ambrose? Or would JS Bach count, as he hand selected poetry suitable for worship?

It’s interesting stuff to think about! Please do share your thoughts with me if you’d like any such lists written up.

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2 Responses to Church Fathers of Music

  1. Yes! That’s a very good idea. One way of looking at it might be to talk about Fathers of the Church in general, whether their contribution is textual or musical. In both cases, their contribution could be considered theological—the melodies written by Fathers like Luther and Bach were very much informed by their theology!
    Obviously—and unfortunately—we don’t know exactly what the music of the early Church sounded like, and so we have to concentrate only on the texts. St. Ambrose definitely belongs to those Fathers who worked in Church Music as well as texts. But then so do St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom in the Greek speaking Church, and St. Ephrem in the Syrian Church.
    Have a blessed Christmas!

  2. David J Susan

    Good morning, Mary–thank you for this good idea! A “starting list” of candidates for church fathers (and mothers) of music came to mind right away: 22 hymnists and translators, for example, who have five or more entries in the LSB index (pp. 998-1002). The index of composers and harmonizers that follows suggests even more candidates. A blessed Christmas and Epiphany to you and yours!

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