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Jeremy S. Begbie

Music in God's World

For the Christian, the physical world we inhabit can never be seen as just there, a naked fact, to be treated as a neutral boundary or (worse) as something that is basically an impediment to a fulfilling life. The cosmos did not have to be. It is made freely, without any prior constraint or necessity superior to God's nature or will. It is given, and given in the rich sense: as an expression of divine love, the love that is God's own trinitarian life.

In his book Classical and Christian Ideas of World Harmony, Leo Spitzer puts his finger on the decisive issue here in the context of a discussion about music as a metaphor of the cosmos. "According to the Pythagoreans," he says, "it was cosmic order which was identifiable with music; according to the Christian philosophers, it was love. And in the ordo amoris ('loving order') of Augustine we have evidently a blend of the Pythagorean and the Christian themes: henceforth 'order' is love." There is a huge difference between regarding the harmony in which musical sounds are grounded as simply a bare fact or as an outpouring of love.

Music making and music hearing are ways we engage the physical world. Even in the case of electronically generated music, the body is often involved through, say, a keyboard, and patterns of vibrating air are mediated through physical speakers. The physical things we involve ourselves with in music have ultimately arisen through the free initiative of God's love—they are part of the ordo amoris. To treat them as given in this full sense has a series of radical implications for understanding music. The most basic response of the Christian toward music will be gratitude. This does not mean giving unqualified thanks for every bit of music we hear, but it will mean being thankful for the very possibility of music. It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call "matter" that ...

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