Bishop Athanasius – Ad Marcellinum 27

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Such then is the character of the Book of Psalms, and such the uses to which it may be put, some of its number serving for the correction of individual souls, and many of them, as I said just now, foretelling the coming in human form of our Saviour Jesus Christ. But we must not omit to explain the reason why words of this kind should be not merely said, but rendered with melody and song; for there are actually some simple folk among us who, though they believe the words to be inspired, yet think the reason for singing them is just to make them more pleasing to the ear! This is by no means so; Holy Scripture is not designed to tickle the aesthetic palate, and it is rather for the soul’s own profit that the Psalms are sung. This so chiefly for two reasons. In the first place, it is fitting that the sacred writings should praise God in poetry as well as prose, because the freer, less restricted form of verse, together with the Canticles and Odes, are cast, ensures that by them men should express their love to God, with all the strength and power they possess. And, secondly, the reason lies in the unifying effect which chanting the Psalms demands such concentration of a man’s whole being on them that, in doing it, his usual disharmony of mind and correspondingly bodily confusion is resolved, just as the notes of several flutes are brought by harmony to one effect; and he is thus no longer found to be thinking good and doing evil, as pilate did when, though saying, “I find no cause of death in Him,” he yet allowed the Jews to have their way; nor desiring evil though unable to achieve it, as did the elders in their sin against Susanna—to say again, to commit adultery then do it no longer, it is to steal then you no longer steal, to murder then you no longer murder nor blaspheme.