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The Song of the Seraphim: Paradise Lost and Restored (Part III)

Posted by Steve Turley ● Jun 15, 2015 8:47:54 AM

In our last post, we discovered the significance of the church’s unique musical soundscape: the melodies of the church revealed the re-unification of heaven and earth in Christ. The harmony of the cosmos which Adam originally heard with the songs of the seraphim in paradise has been restored in Christ, and is now sonically manifested in the music of the church.

We come now to the third and last part of this series on the redemptive vision of music, which involves the re-enchanting commission of the church.

Re-enchanting the World

Having come down from heaven (John 6:38), Christ brought with him the sounds of heaven, the song of the seraphim, quite literally the music of God, to re-enchant the earth with his heavenly glory and thereby reunite heaven and earth in a symphony of redemption. It was this redemptive narrative that seems to have profoundly shaped the soundscape of the early church, which believed that it was the commission of the church to re-enchant the world with the soundscape of heaven, thus witnessing audibly to the reunification of heaven and earth in Christ.

One particularly poignant example of this comes from Bishop Ambrose of Milan (337-397AD), who plays on the connection between the Latin word canticum (chant) and incantator (enchanter) in his response to the music of the pagan cult when he writes:

Many provoke the church, but the charms (carmina) of the soothsayer’s art are not able to harm her. Those who enchant (incantatores) avail not where the chant (canticum) of Christ is sung (decantatur) daily. The Church has her own enchanter (incantatorem), the Lord Jesus, by whom she has voided the spells of the magical charmers and the venom of serpents. (Hexaemeron IV, 8.33)[1]

The music of the church ‘voids’ the perverted harmonies of the world with a new harmony, a cosmic symphony between heaven and earth revealed in Christ. It is this Christocentric melody that is to permeate every square inch of the world in order to prepare time and space for its future transfiguration when Christ returns.

This for me is why teaching our children to sing is so crucial to cultivating them in the Christian faith. The bouquet of sound that surrounds us as we sing together the fragrant harmonies of a psalm, hymn, or chant awakens us to the restored harmony between heaven and earth returned to us in Christ. Ambrose writes:

A psalm joins those with differences, unites those at odds and reconciles those who have been offended, for who will not concede to him with whom one sings to God in one voice? It is after all a great bond of unity for the full number of people to join in one chorus. The strings of the cithara differ, but create one harmony (symphonia). The fingers of a musician often go astray among the strings though they are very few in number, but among the people the Spirit musician knows not how to err. (Explanatio psalmi 1,9)[2]

I believe Ambrose. I believe that in singing our sacred songs we are indeed participating in the unifying cosmic sounds of the Holy Spirit which are even now recalibrating time and space around Christ.

Come thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,

Tune my heart to sing they grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,

Sung by flaming tongues above;

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,

Mount of God’s unchanging love.

At the end of the meal we traditionally refer to as the Last Supper, we are told that Jesus and the disciples went to the Mount of Olives “after singing a hymn” (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26). There has been much conjecture as to what precisely that hymn was, many opting for the Hallel or Psalms 113-118 which was sung traditionally at the Passover meal. I’m not so interested in the song selection per se. Rather, I can’t help but hear that hymn as a sonic gateway into the garden to which Jesus and his disciples subsequently journeyed, a gateway that led the disciples – and through them the whole world – to encounter a cross bridging the cosmic chasm between heaven and earth, and as such, returning us to the Tree of Life.

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[1] Cited in Carol Harrison “Psalms revisited,” n.p.

[2] Cited in Harrison, “Psalms revisited,” n.p.

Featured image credit: © 2008 Herry Lawford, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Topics: music, blog, Paradise restored, Patristic theology, Patristics

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