De Utilitate Cantorum: Unitive Aspects of Singing in Early Christian Thought

Frazer MacDiarmid

In this article, I draw from a number of church fathers who almost unanimously affirm the socially and cosmically unifying power of singing the Psalms. Often tacitly but unmistakably, they draw upon singing as a type of the person of Christ, a participative union of the divine with the human. However, investigation of singing’s “illegitimate” pagan and Jewish heritage illustrates the reason for singing’s ambivalence in the Christian mind. I conclude, however, that singing, employing the human body and its sensory faculties sanctified by Christ, constituted a far more valuable heuristic, pedagogic, and doxological tool in the early Christian centuries than we commonly appreciate today.