An Analysis of the Ancient Church Fathers on Instrumental Music

As the early church grew out of and confronted the cultures surrounding it, there was a need for discernment and teaching. Many of its members had come from Greek and Roman paganism. Others had come from Judaism and there was variation with what was culturally acceptable.

The early church fathers tried to distinguish between what was acceptable musically and what was not.  There are two early writings dealing completely with music, but neither focus on musical instruments. Niceta of Remesiana has one sermon on hymnody and the act of singing.  Augustine’s volume, De Musica, is a theoretical and philosophical understanding of music.  Apart from these two sources, references to music are couched in writings about other topics, possibly indicating that “music was not something early Christians thought about in isolation. It was involved in their thinking on everything.”[1]

During the first five centuries, the line of acceptability fell between vocal and instrumental music. To contemporary authors this means different things. Werner argues all of the church fathers found vocal music more pleasing to God than instrumental.[2] Price argues that there were no musical instruments in the churches.[3]  Squire indicates that instruments were allowed.[4] It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate, through a survey of sources from the first five centuries, that the early church fathers generally regarded musical instruments as inappropriate.  Further, an analysis of the cultural and religious influences on their positions will show that even the church fathers were affected by the cultures around them.


The paper is by David VanBrugge, an M.Div. student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of his interests is the relationship between Reformed theology and the arts, particularly as it can be used in apologetics.

To continue reading his essay, click here.

[1] Calvin R. Stapert, A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 3.

[2] Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge: The Interdependence of Liturgy and Music in Synagogue and Church During the First Millennium (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), 336.

[3] John Price, Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God, a Theological, Historical and Psychological Study (Avinger, TX: Simpson Publishing, 2005), 82.

[4] Russel N. Squire, Church Music: Musical and Hymnological Developments in Western Christianity (St. Louis, MO: Bethany Press, 1962), 41-42.







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