There’s a lively discussion on Vox Nova’s chant thread. One commenter, “Ut videam,” plays the anti-Gnosticism card this morning. Exactly to what this is a response, I’m not sure. My point on the thread was that an absolute faithfulness to the given liturgical or Scriptural text is ideal for chant and other music that doesn’t need to paraphrase the text in order to utilize it for music.
Back to gnosticism. When pressed for examples of a “clear agenda” in contemporary music, Ut videam quoted:
Sing a new church into being.
Let us build the city of God.
After all… not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away, but here in this place the new light is shining. Now is the kingdom! Now is the day!
In other words… the agenda is the good old Gnostic heresy of immanentizing the eschaton.
In other words, the same old scapegoats of proof-texting. Or cherry-picking texts over which the tongue stumbles.
The first line is from a hymn that places the agency of grace with God, “Summoned by the God who made us,” a rather inconvenient point for detractors.
The second line comes from a hymn that paraphrases passages describing God’s leadership from darkness to light in Isaiah and 1 John. The context is clear enough that God inspires human beings to respond to grace, and the line following, “May our tears be turned into dancing,” seems to put the whole refrain in context of a hopeful prayer.
Critics of “Gather Us In” seem to miss the direct second-person address in the second half of every verse. The title itself echoes the prayer.
Blogger Henry Karlson has more the measure of such complaint:
And where do we see the idea that the early Church rejected a realized eschatology? For indeed, we find Scripture has several passages which represent such a view — indeed, the kingdom of God is at hand.. it is here.. it is within… is found throughout Scripture, and Jesus said there would be those who see it in glory (the cross and resurrection). The denial of the immanent aspect of eschatology is very gnostic in orientation, because this is a denial of the flesh, a denial of the world, and a denial of the relationship between Christ and the World which is found at the Cross.
I’ve mentioned several times that publishers often discourage composers from making use of an exact text in composition. A few alterations enable the escape from delivering half the royalties to the USCCB. If there is an error in that kind of practice, I don’t think it’s gnosticism. Lacking any national, regional, or diocesan direction from bishops or a bishop, we remain in a state of affairs in which just about anything goes for church music. Many music directors successfully navigate the waters of heresy. The situation might be far worse were there no Catholic music publishers on the scene and everyone was using home-made songs without even an editorial board’s view to make adjustments before publication.
There is, of course, a favorite conspiaracy theory trotted out:
Post-Vatican II, however, chant has been actively suppressed by those hostile to the liturgical tradition of the Church. I contend that this is the chief reason for its relative absence from our churches today …
More likely that chant never took root in pre-conciliar parishes. And where it did, it might have been a performance vehicle–that’s how the Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos promoted it. More likely it was a disinterest in music conservatories to early music in general–something that didn’t begin to see correction until the 80’s. More likely, conservatories at Catholic universities emphasized other forms of classical music. More likely, publishers indeed saw chant as part of a musical firmament they offered–it just wasn’t front and center as a moneymaker.
Ultimately, chant will rise or fall on its musical merits as interpreted by parish musicians. The Latin versus vernacular debate will affect the outcome somewhat. Access to repertoire has never been greater. Will the training of chant leaders and teachers be up to the task? Let’s see.