The Rejection of Instrumental Music by the Early Christian Church

One interesting period in the history of instrumental music was its rejection by the early Catholic Church. The church believed that music should serve religion by transmitting thoughts and beliefs of Christianity. Since they claimed only words had the power to do this, vocal and lyrical music was the only acceptable form to be heard in services or prayer. This meant that instrumental music was unable to convey religious thought, and therefore, barred from the church.
This rejection of was not held to a mere banning in church masses. References to many types of instruments in the Book of Psalms were written off as allegories and metaphors. The use of instruments was purposefully erased and separated from any church history or event, although some Christians used instruments in the privacy of their own home to accompany hymns and psalms.
To the church, the use of instruments and the large instrumental concerts and celebrations that occurred in other cultures were seen as pagan rituals that should be condemned and avoided. Vocal music represented a shunning of worldly pleasures and a more soulful mode of music making. It was the type of music that perfectly expressed the church’s dictations about living modest lives in service of the one true god, and sacrificing earthly materials for those of heavenly.
With the focus directed to chant and other vocal styles for over a thousand years by an institution as influential as the Catholic Church, instrumental music did not develop steadily from where the Greeks left off. It is interesting to think about how much the church changed the course of music history and how it might be different today without its actions.
Although instrumental music was mostly ignored for a great period, the theoretical developments of chant and other lyrical styles would eventually be rejoined by and translated back to instruments, and today the church has no such preoccupations about the worthiness of non-vocal music devices.
For better or for worse, the Catholic Church is a big factor in the development of western music in general, and a study of music history needs a keen understanding of this relationship.

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