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On Religious Themes in Music

No Comments Sunday, November 10th, 2013


Music’s appeal is in its power to evoke emotions. The possibilities span the whole range of human emotions, but possibly the most powerful is the sensus pulchritudinæ, the sense of beauty. The sense of beauty, in its turn, is so forceful and persistent because it can be stimulated in two different ways: the logos and the pathos, corresponding roughly to the intellect and the emotions, respectively.

The pathos is immediately and viscerally recognizable. The logos takes study. Ideally, the pathos should point the logos in a fruitful direction, and the logos in turn should sensitize the pathos to things it couldn’t see before. It is as inhuman to dwell forever in pathos as to abandon it for logos.

Art – and music in particular – is a medium of the pathos. A primarily logos-based appeal won’t translate well. For example, the sort of beauty I find in economics (of which I’m a student) is better expressed in treatise than in song. An album about macroeconomic fluctuations would have a difficult time hitting the sensus pulchritudinæ. Similarly, as beautiful as the study of physics reveals the universe to be, a song about the wave-particle duality would be more an entertaining novelty than a true appeal to the sense of beauty.

(Incidentally, there are very good rap videos on both subjects. One might gather from this that the easiest way to translate logos directly into pathos is by wrapping it in a layer of irony, a pathos quite far removed from the sense of beauty.)

On the other hand, there are a number of themes which can appeal directly to the sense’s pathos. I’ve been greatly inspired by innumerable musicians who are inspired by nature. Nature is something which can be immediately and viscerally appreciated. But once it hits logos, you’ve moved into biology. I don’t know of any nature-inspired bands made up of biologists (Botanist, maybe?). Cultural heritage and nationalistic pride is another appeal to pathos which inspires a lot of musicians. But once that hits logos, you’ve moved into political science or anthropology. In both cases the logos is something different from the pathos that inspired it.

Christianity, on the other hand, is present as fully in its logos as in its pathos. C.S. Lewis once remarked in a letter to Sheldon Van Auken that “It is only Christianity which compels a high-brow like me to partake in a ritual blood feast, and also compels a central African convert to attempt an enlightened universal code of ethics.” This is the unique power of the sacred, that its hymns and its theology stand side by side on Sunday. On what other subject can the man of system commune with the man of song?

To focus the intellect on the subdued melancholy of nature is to smother it. Like most pleasant feelings, it is a fragile thing which must be enjoyed in the moment. Nationalism, certainly, collapses under sustained reflection. Economics and the natural sciences on the other hand, as beautiful as they are, cannot be appreciated without sustained reflection, making them inaccessible for most people. It is only Christianity which can stir both the bowels and the brain. It is the only pathos which doesn’t reach a dead end at the intellect.

Religious-themed music has, unfortunately, largely given up on communicating the sense of beauty, in favor of other pathoses ranging from gratitude to fun. There is, of course, nothing wrong with these, nor with the music that appeals to them. But it is the sense of beauty in particular which characterizes the profoundest art, and it is this sense to which Christianity, more than any other potential theme, is uniquely well suited to appeal.

Semper Reformanda Released!

No Comments Friday, April 26th, 2013


You can listen to it online, or download it in 192k MP3 or FLAC.

Enjoy the music, tell your friends, and upload to your favorite pirate site!

Why Soli Deo Gloria?

No Comments Friday, February 22nd, 2013


The final of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.

Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone – is probably the most famous of the Solas, thanks in no small part to its use in the signatures of artists like Bach and Handel. It is no accident that this particular Sola should be the one to adorn creative works, nor that it should be the capstone to all of all the Solas, for it summarizes the purpose of the whole set. Why scripture alone? For therein the glory of God is revealed. Why Christ alone? For thereby God set forth the crown jewel of his glory in creation. Why grace alone? That God alone may be glorified. Why faith alone? That the glory of God may be not merely displayed but apprehended.

But what is the glory of God? Moses once asked to see it. God granted his wish and responded, “I am the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Exodus 34:6-7) “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” The glory of God is the apprehension of his goodness and transcendent grandeur.

Who else might glory go to? First of all to ourselves. Sola Gratia and Sola Fide are meant to divest us of this. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, as the Catholic Church believed, to Mary and a pantheon of departed saints. The mediator between God and man is a glorified role, but as Solo Christo taught, “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) The whole of scripture, and thus the five Solas, are concerned primarily with establishing the transcendence and the glory of God, over and apart from that of any creation.

This is particularly relevant to the creative work, which all too easily becomes a vehicle for self-indulgence – especially in the bombastic realms of metal. In Bach’s own time the ornate and bombastic baroque style offered a similar temptation. But “all flesh is like grass, and its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) Soli Deo Gloria establishes purpose in particular actions, in one’s life as a whole, and in the entirety of history.

Why Sola Fide?

No Comments Wednesday, February 13th, 2013


The fifth of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.

Sola Fide – justification by faith alone – is closely connected to Sola Gratia. So much so that the phrase commonly runs “salvation by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But the prepositions there are important. If we were saved with grace and faith, neither of them would be “alone” anymore. We’d have three Solas and a Duo, and what’s worse, another synergistic soteriology.

This post is coming to you, presumably, through the screen of a computer. That screen is necessary for you to be able to read it. But that screen didn’t really cause this post to exist. In the same way, faith is the only way to lay hold of saving grace. But the faith did not merit the grace or cause it to come. Indeed, the faith was given by that same grace.

“Gospel” in the original Greek is EvangelionEu-, meaning good, and -angelion, message. Sola Fide is why the news is good. After the doctrine of total depravity, Sola Gratia is all well and good, but how is that grace laid hold of? How does one become oriented toward the Good? By faith alone – that is, by a desire for God, the Summum Bonum. One is declared righteous before the good works start, and independently of them. This is justification, and it is brought about by faith alone.

That said, one’s desire “manifests itself only in the reality of action“, which is only to say that justification is always followed by sanctification. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). But faith is not aided by works; rather, it leads to them.

This is why pictures of God as dictator are nonsensical. God does not coerce belief – meaning he does not impose it upon the will, for that is no belief at all – but it’s not quite right to think here of “persuasion” as the alternative either. Yes, God’s self-revelation of his goodness is persuasive, but irresistibly so. Our wills are naturally oriented toward what we think of as good, so the gift of faith is nothing else than belief in a factual proposition – or rather, a definition: God is Good.

Why Sola Gratia?

No Comments Monday, February 11th, 2013


The fourth of six posts on the doctrine behind the new album.

Sola Gratia – salvation by grace alone. But salvation from what? To answer that, let’s take a detour through a related doctrine – total depravity.

Total Depravity is usually stated something like “human nature is inherently bad”. This isn’t a great way to put it, since “Human Nature” can be taken several different ways. A better way of stating it is that human nature is corrupted, meaning that, left to its own devices, it is totally unable to attain ultimate Good for itself.

The Roman Catholic doctrine of Luther’s day (and, arguably, to this day) was synergistic. It imagined God looking down, finding a little tiny bit of good in someone, and growing it by his grace. Salvation was thus something you could be cajoled into, if you can just get that first little bit of good into someone. Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Catholic Church, even stated it explicitly: “lawmakers [can] make men good by habituating them to good works.”

Sola Gratia, however, is monergistic: God doesn’t look for anyone with a small orientation to the Good, because there isn’t anyone. Rather, God himself instills that orientation – and always finishes what he starts (cf. Philippians 1:6). There’s nothing in us for God to work with, so he creates it, ex nihilo and unilaterally. Not against our will, but prior to it. The desire for Good is a gift of God – that desire is grace.

What this means is that salvation is totally supernatural. Not even 99% with a little kernel of our own natural good, but 100% supernatural. This, in turn, means – since salvation is entirely a work of God – that you can’t stack the deck for someone’s salvation. In other words, you can’t make someone else more likely to be saved by altering his environment. Now we can – and are indeed commanded to – be instruments of grace through evangelism. But the old idea of Compelle Intrare – “compel to enter [the Church]” in order that good habits might be established – is exploded.

The great sociologist Max Weber noted “the fundamentally anti-authoritarian tendency of the doctrine, which at bottom undermined every responsibility for ethical conduct or spiritual salvation on the part of [the institutional] Church or State as useless.” Likewise, C.S. Lewis observed that “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” Sola Gratia, with its pessimistic view of the goodness of man, might initially seem to be a dismal doctrine. But it comes not only with the good news of God’s grace to salvation, but also with the more immanent effect of sweeping away any justification for the moralizing tyranny which lay over Europe since even before the rise of Christendom.