Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Trinity and Ultimate Harmony [And what's 'diapason'??]

'From harmony, from heavenly harmony, 
This universal frame began:  
From harmony to harmony 
Through all the compass of the notes it ran, 
The diapason closing full in Man.'

- John Dryden (1687), put to music in Handel's Ode to St. Celia's Day.

So, I have been listening to Handel. For this I completely 100% blame Mike Reeves.  If you are not familiar with this fellow, check out some of his stuff on the Theology Network website.

I have been listening to his series of talks on the Trinity this week - the best food my mind and soul have had for a long long while. It was like the theological equivalent of having a good beef roast dinner, (with yorkshire puddings, crispy roast potatoes and all the kinds of veg you can imagine!), followed by some kind of chocolate gateaux. Bearing in mind I am in the land of rice meals 3 times a day, imagine how EXTRA special [theologically!] this means!! Please immediately download these talks from the Theology Network site, you won't be disappointed.

Anyway, there were many, many applications and observations that he brought out from the fact that we have a Triune God, not least the fact that we are made to be in community (and thus helping me to see difficult interactions I have had to have with people this week as an opportunity to celebrate the Trinity!). There's lots I am still processing and thinking through, but the subject of this post is something Mike said almost as an aside at the end of the 3rd talk, about the Trinity giving us the pattern for harmony.
'If there's only one ultimate reality there's no conception of ultimate harmony and so harmony isn't an intrinsically good thing, and therefore you don't have it!' he says. Trinitarian Christianity on the other hand, he points out, has always had a 'love affair' with music.

It was to highlight and celebrate this that Mike played a clip of Handel's 'Ode to St. Cecilia's Day' in his talk!
[I had to look up the word 'diapason' though as that one was not in my vocabulary! Here is what I found:]

di⋅a⋅pa⋅son /ˌdaɪəˈpeɪzən, -sən/ Show Spelled Pronun[dahy-uh-pey-zuhn]:
 noun, Music. a full, rich outpouring of melodious sound

Isn't that wonderful!? The words drip Trinitarian theology, such as was recovered in the reformation; the theology which would be the fuel for the fires of such joyful, harmonious musical expression as Handel brought to them. Harmony of three persons, spilling over into words and music.

In contrast to this, the music scratched out on the dry, dusty parchments of the pre-reformation era, were as monotone as the remote, philosophical monadic divine-entity that their thinking venerated. When you replace the true, Trinitarian God of the Bible with this empty, vague concept of God being some sort of a 'divine essence', it is not surprising that music loses its harmony. To give us an idea of the kind of music he was referring to, Mike challenged us to put on a Gregorian chant....and dance to it!!

Lets read John Dryden's words again, and taste their Trinitarian flavour!

'From harmony, from heavenly harmony, 
This universal frame began:  
From harmony to harmony 
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.'

'We worship a God who is a harmony of three persons' - Mike Reeves

And so it is that I bought my first ever piece of classical music - in celebration of Trinitarian harmony!


peterdray said...

love it!

Mike did a similar thing at New Word Alive last year. Linda and I still chuckle at thinking of how Mike put up a picture of Bach wearing sunglasses showing how cool he was in letting theology inform his musicianship!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog doing research on "Dryden and the Trinity," and I was saddened by your unhumble comments. Firstly, Dryden, when he wrote "Celia," was a fervent, pious, loving Traditional Catholic, and he had come to regard the Reformation as the worst evil history had ever seen. Secondly, Dryden, modeling himself on Traditional Christianity, takes very seriously the command that flows out of the Trinity, namely that the loving bond between the Three Persons is undivided and non-dissoluble, i.e., forever and maintained under any condition. Community, in other words, is all inclusive, not conditional (i.e., it includes, not excludes, Palestrina and Gregorian chant). Dryden, upon handing himself over to Traditional Christianity, admits that he was now for the first time ever capable of true love. Before becoming a Catholic, he hated Catholics; after he converts he loves Catholics and non-Catholics adn atheists alike because his new religion commands him to; because the Trintiy that he worships, and Christ who is the enfleshment of the Trinity, and of a love that commands you to go not where you want to go, but to where you "do not wish to go." Read the last chapter of John. Love is not about what's right or appealing to you; Love is love, that which takes you out of your comfort zone (into Gregorian Chant even).

Your "separating" yourself from pre-Reformation Christendom; joking about the un-cool nature of Gregorian chant--these "separations" and "divisions" seem to me exactly the opposite of what Trinitarian Love is: an unbreakable, undivided bond of communion even unto the spirit of readiness to take the path of suffering and humiliation (the opposite of pride).

These words must apply to any Catholic, any Traditioanl Christian, too, who is too comfortable (i.e., not aware of the massiveness of Trinitarian Love) in his faith and who divides himself in any way whatsoever from those who are unlike him. The bond of communion is forever and unconditional. "We" need to be united, otherwise "He" wins with by means of disunity.

Alison Joy Young said...

Hi there, thank you for stopping by and for taking time to comment. Apologies if it seems I have got any facts wrong or misrepresented anything! My aim with this post was simply to share my newfound excitement about the fact that appreciating Trinitarian harmony can make us appreciate harmony in music too! My aim was not to criticise Gregorian chants or to cause divisions, but simply to note that for the most part, where Trinity is lost in theology, harmony is also lost in music. I didn’t say that I don’t personally like Gregorian chants or that they are ‘uncool’, just that they do not reflect Trinitarian harmony. I have no doubt there are exceptions, but this post was really only an aside to the much bigger implications of Trinity, and I wrote about this because it captivated me and gave me a new appreciation for some music I have never been interested in before.

I appreciate your point that embracing difference is part of living out Trinitarian love (which was actually also my point) - of course Christian love must flow out to all, (regardless of who they are, what they think, believe, look like…etc). But my point was that the mistake we often make is that we use ‘love’ as a means to flattening out difference, not celebrating it. Who has never heard this statement: ‘well we all worship the same God really!’? Such is the attempt to flatten out the differences between religions – Christian, Jew, Muslim….we all have the same God, now lets put aside our differences and love each other’ Absolutely not! For the Christian, any God who is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Trinity, is simply not the same god, and to say that we all believe basically the same thing is not an expression of Trinitarian harmony, but false unity. Yes, lets love deeply and diversely, and not ‘separate ourselves’ from people, but lets not pretend we all believe the same thing and so forsake true harmony.

That said, I am sorry again if anything I said was perceived as snide or below the belt. This was not my intention and I regret that you were saddened by my post.