Preacher Forum Freed-Hardeman University 1991 Bill Swetmon on Gregory of Nyssa

Bill Swetmon: Preachers Forum 1991 mishandles Gregory of Nyssa to prove that PSALLO authorizes instrumental music. Many careless promoters of instrumental music in non-musical churches still rely on this forum so that "opinion" becomes a command.

See Tom Burgess and more data on PSALLO as a WARFARE and not a MUSICAL word.

This will connect you to the UNholy trinity of those who use ANTI-instrumental music as a curse word.

During the 1991 preachers forum at Freed-Hardeman University, "neutral"-instrumental music speaker, Bill Swetmon, makes many arguments which do not get answered. As a result, the book published as a result of the Preacher Forum is still used as an authority to prove that God permits, nay demands, that we sing with a harp. I will try to restrict this paper to telling the rest of the story from history and from Josephus who is Swetmon's authority:

Bill Swetmon notes that "Some think that the verb has its original signification of singing with an instrument. this is the dominant sense in the Septuagint, and both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa define a psalm as implying instrumental accompaniment; and Clement of Alexandria, while forbidding the use of the flute in th Agapae, permitted the harp." (p. 28)

He quotes Vincent to say:

"The noun psalmos 'psalm' (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, 1 Cor 14:16) which is etymologically kin to thisi verb psallo, is used in the New Testament of a religious song in general, having the character of an Old Testament Psalm. Some think that the verb has its original sense in the Septuagint, and both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa define Alexandria, while forbidding the use of the flute in the Agapae, permitted the harp (Vincent, vol. 3, p. 269)

As late as the fourth century, Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, gave this definition of psalm:

"There is a distinction between psalm, ode, praise, hymn, and prayer. A psalm is the melody of a musical instrument; and ode is a melodious expression made by the mouth with words.

A little later in the same treatise he wrote:

"The psalterion is a musical instrument making its sound from the upper parts of iits construction and the music from this instrument is called a psalm." (p. 29)

Fragments from Hippolytus:

On: The book of Psalms contains new doctrine after the law of Moses.

And after the writing of Moses, it is the second book of doctrine.
Now, after the death of Moses and Joshua, and after the judges, arose David,
who was deemed
worthy of bearing the name of father of the Saviour himself;

and he first gave to the Hebrews a new style of psalmody, by which he abrogates the ordinances established by Moses

with respect to sacrifices, and introduces the new hymn and a new style of jubilant praise in the worship of God;

and throughout his whole ministry he teaches very many other things that went beyond the law of Moses.

This was the fulfillment of prophecy. At Mount Sinai Israel rejected The Book of the Covenant of Grace by returning to the musical worship of the Egyptian triad. The ten commandments were "broken" and never restored other than a guard against Canaanite idolatry. The nation was conditionally sentenced to captivity and death into Babylon. When they "fired" God and demanded a king like the nations He understood that it was so that they could 'worship like the nations.' More so to Israel than Judah, God gave them kings in His anger and took them away in His anger.

The kingdom, king, monarchy and mandatory sacrificial rituals was prophesied by God as their wish for self-destruction. He even warned that the king would take the young girls for his own uses and the young boys to make "instruments of chariots" which from the surrounding nations we know included musical instruments.

This book of Psalms before us has also been called by the prophet the "Psalter," because, as they say,

the psaltery alone among musical instruments gives back the sound from above when the brass is struck, and not from beneath,

after the manner of others. In order, therefore, that those who understand it may be zealous to carry out the analogy of such an appellation, and may also look above,

from which direction its melody comes-for this reason he has styled it the Psalter.

For it is entirely the voice and utterance of the most Holy Spirit.

The Psalms which contain instruments are judgmental: when God "sings" or "pours out His Spirit" the songs are often called BURDENS where nothing good is ever attributed to the sacrificial system which was a repudiation of God in Christ:

Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 1 Pet 1:11

Hippolytus continues using the Nyssa formulation:

6. It is likely, also, that a similar account is to be given of the fact, that David alone of the prophets prophesied with an instrument, called by the Greeks the "psaltery," and by the Hebrews the "nabla," which is the only musical instrument that is quite straight, and has no curve.

And the sound does not come from the lower parts, as is the case with the lute and certain other instruments,

but from the upper. For in the lute and the lyre the brass when struck gives back the sound from beneath.

But this psaltery has the source of its musical numbers above, in order that we, too, may practise seeking things above,

and not suffer ourselves to be borne down by the pleasure of melody to the passions of the flesh.

Jesus, the Branch and shoot, would be the SPIRITUAL David and it was proper that He pour out judgmental songs on CARNAL instruments as Jesus would be MOCKED by musicians MOCKING Him to make Him "prophesy."

And I think that this truth, too, was signified deeply and clearly to us in a prophetic way in the construction of the instrument, viz., that those who have souls well ordered and trained, have the way ready to things above.

And again, an instrument having the source of its melodious sound in its upper parts, may be taken as like the body of Christ and His saints-the only instrument that maintains rectitude; "for He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth."

This is indeed an instrument, harmonious, melodious, well-ordered, that took in no human discord, and did nothing out of measure, but maintained in all things, as it were, harmony towards the Father; for, as He says: "He that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: He that cometh from heaven, testifies of what He has seen and heard."

7. As there are "psalms," and "songs," and "psalms of song," and "songs of psalmody," it remains that we discuss the difference between these.

We think, then, that the "psalms" are those which are simply played to an instrument,

without the accompaniment of the voice, and (which are composed) for the musical melody of the instrument;

and that those are called "songs" which are rendered by the voice in concert with the music;

and that they are called "psalms of song" when the voice takes the lead, while the appropriate sound is also made to accompany it,

rendered harmoniously by the instruments; and "songs of psalmody," when the instrument takes the lead, while the voice has the second place, and accompanies the music of the strings.

And thus much as to the letter of what is signified by these terms. But as to the mystical interpretation,

it would be a "psalm" when, by smiting the instrument, viz. the body, with good deeds we succeed in good action though not wholly proficient in speculation;

and a "song," when, by revolving the mysteries of the truth, apart from the practical, and assenting fully to them,

we have the noblest thoughts of God and His oracles, while knowledge enlightens us, and wisdom shines brightly in our souls; and a "song of psalmody," when, while good action takes the lead, according to the word,

We are left with a disadvantage: we don't know where this quote came from. An extensive search of the Fathers yields no such quotation.

Secondly, if we had the passage in context we might find that the quotation means just the opposite as with other quotations made at this forum.

Thirdly, if a psalm is the sound which comes from the psalterion then is it also a song sung with instrumental accompaniment. The speaker follows up with: "Doesn't it seem logical" to make his point.

Comments about Basil A.D. 360

In the beginning The Hexaemeron

7. Among arts, some have in view production, some practice, others theory.27 The object of the last is the exercise of thought, that of the second, the motion of the body.

Should it cease, all stops; nothing more is to be seen.
Thus dancing and music have nothing behind; they have no object but themselves.

Letter II

From Reply to Gregory Nazianzen.


[Gregory had written to inquire about Basil's manner of life in his monastic retreat.]

"I am ashamed to write. For, although I have left behind me the diversions of the city as the cause of innumerable evils, I have not yet been able to leave myself. I am like those voyagers who are not accustomed to the sea; the motion of the vessel which bears them gives them an unendurable sickness; for, on quitting the land, they have not left upon shore the bile and the humors with which their stomachs are surcharged.

That is precisely my case. So long as we bear about the germs of disease, we are everywhere subject to like disturbances. I have not found great fruits in my solitude. But what we are to do, and how we are to begin to be firm in the footsteps of him who has pointed out the way of salvation -- for he said,

'If any one will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me' -- is this: We must try to have a peaceful spirit. [Being ensnared by the world,]

The only escape is separation from worldly things. What I call flying from the world is not merely to separate one's self from it in body, but to detach all one's affections; to be without country, home, business, society, property; to be poor, unoccupied, unsociable, untaught in human sciences, prepared to receive in the heart the canons which spring from the divine teachings.

Now, for this, it is necessary to begin by destroying in one's mind all anterior prejudice.

You can not impress upon wax new characters
until after you have effaced the old:

so divine instruction can not have place in a heart preoccupied by all the ideas which come from one's habits.

To this end the desert is of the greatest benefit to us, soothing our passions and giving the reason the calm necessary for altogether rooting them out from the soul. For as wild animals, being stroked down, are easily controlled, so the lusts and passions and fears and pains,

the venomous evils of the soul, soothed by quietude,
and not exaggerated by
continual rousing, are easily restrained by the power of the mind.

The place should be such as this, far from all intercourse with human beings, where the pious exercises of the religious life are not interrupted by anything without. The exercise of piety feeds the soul with divine reflections. What, then, is more blessed than to imitate upon earth the life of the angels:

to rise at dawn to prayer and to the praise of the Creator in hymns and songs;
then as the sun shines clearly, and work is undertaken,
prayer going side by side with it, to season the labors with hymns as with salt?
For the consolation of hymns confers a cheerful and untroubled state of the soul.

Quiet, then, is the beginning of the cleansing of the soul; the tongue not uttering the things of men, the eyes not beholding the fine complexions and symmetry of bodies,

the hearing not breaking down the strength of the soul
through melodious strains conducive to pleasure,
nor through the words of
facetious and jesting men,
which especially have the effect of impairing the vigor of the soul.

For, not dissipated by things without, and not called away by the visible things of the world, the soul turns back upon itself; it elevates itself by its own efforts to the thought of God.

Enlightened by his beauty, it forgets its own nature; it is not anxious, then, about food, is not weighed down by care for dress.

Disengaged from earthly anxieties, it gives over its entire being to the possession of immortal good, whereby it may continually maintain self-control, manly vigor, righteousness, prudence, and the other virtues of this sort -- everything which makes for life, and leads one into the right way.


"But considerable prominence was given to the hymns by the Gnostic, Bardesans, who composed a psalter of 150 psalms. However, the 59th canon of the Synod of Laodicea, 360 A. D., enjoined that 'No psalm composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the Church, but only... the Canonical Books of the OT and NT." Int Std Ency., p. 2494

"In competition with pagan musical art, congregational singing began to wane. Basil states that he had 'the Psalms rendered by skillful presentors after the manner of the triumphal Odes of Pindar,

the congregation joining at the closing verse, with the accompaniment of lyres." Int Std Bible Ency., p. 2494A

This might agree with the word "Selah" in the Psalms which was probably a signal for the singers to cease and give time for the contemplation of the message. The response and strum of the lyre would mark ther terminus of the song rather than an accompaniment.

The quotation of Swetmon is similar to one from Augustine (AD 400):


By first defining the meaning of "psalm" in the Old Testament, Augustin defines the "melody" or psalm part in Christian worship as singing with the heart (psalming with the heart) and living outwardly in agreement to the inward "singing." The carnal, literal instruments used under the Law of Moses during animal sacrifices and under a lost kingdom, have been replaced with "making melody in the heart."

2. For a "Psalm" is a song, not any kind of song, but a song to a psaltery. A psaltery is a kind of instrument of music, like the lyre and the harp, and such kinds of instruments, which were invented for music.

He therefore who singeth Psalms, not only singeth with his voice, but with a certain instrument besides, which is called a psaltery, he accompanieth his voice with his hands. Wilt thou then sing a Psalm?

Let not thy voice alone sound the praises of God;
......but let thy works also be in harmony with thy voice.

To please then the ear, sing with thy voice;
......but with thy heart be not silent, with thy life be not still.

Thou devisest no fraud in thy heart: thou singest a Psalm to God.

When thou eatest and drinkest, sing a Psalm:
not by intermingling sweet sounds suited to the ear,

but by eating and drinking moderately, frugally, temperarely: for thus saith the Apostle, "whether ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

Augustin is speaking of Colossians where the outward activity is speaking the word of Christ (and when you eat your meal - not a religious Agapae you might sing what pleases your ears) while the melody and grace and true singing is in the heart:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Colossians 3:16

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Colossians 3:17

If by immoderate voracity thou exceedest the due bounds of nature, and gluttest thyself in excess of wine,

however great praises of God thy tongue sound,
yet thy
life blasphemeth Him.

After food and drink thou liest down to sleep: in thy bed neither commit any pollution, nor go beyond the license given by the law of God: let thy marriage bed be kept chaste with thy wife: and if thou desire to beget children, yet let there not be unbridled sensuality of lust: in thy bed give honour to thy wife, for ye are both members of Christ, both made by Him, both renewed by His Blood: so doing thou praisest God, nor will thy praise be altogether silent.

What, when sleep has come over thee? Let not an evil conscience rouse thee from rest: so doth the innocence of thy sleep praise God.

After noting that praising should break the heart of the worshiper, Augustin notes that:

11. "Begin to the Lord in confession" (ver. 7). Begin with this, if thou wouldest arrive at a clear understanding of the truth. If thou wilt be brought from the road of faith to the profession of the reality, "begin in confession.

"First accuse thyself: accuse thyself, praise God.
What after confession? (adomonish self, Col 3:16)

Let good works follow. "Sing unto our God upon the harp." What is, "Upon the harp"? As I have already explained,

just like the Psalm upon the psaltery, (Just like means that this is a parable)
so also is the "harp:" not with voice only, but with works. (The harp is a parable)

Augustin repeats the teaching of Paul: The external act is teaching (speaking) but the totally internal singing is in the heart:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing (with grace in your hearts) to the Lord. Colossiana 3:16KJV

In Psalm CXLIX.

4. "Let them praise His Name in chorus" (ver. 3). What meaneth "chorus"? Many know what a "chorus" is: nay, as we are speaking in a town, almost all know. A "chorus" is the union of singers. If we sing "in chorus," let us sing in concord. (This was always unison) If any one's voice is out of harmony in a chorus of singers, it offendeth the ear, and throweth the chorus into confusion.

If the voice of one echoing discordantly troubleth the harmony of them who sing, (Melody creates discord or dissonance)

how doth the discord of heresy throw into confusion the harmony of them who praise.

The whole world is now the chorus of Christ. The chorus of Christ soundeth harmoniously from east to west. "Let them sing a psalm unto Him with timbrel and psaltery."

Wherefore taketh he to him the "timbrel and psalter)"?

That not the voice alone may praise,
but the works too. When timbrel and psaltery are taken, the hands harmonize with the voice.
So too do thou, whensoever thou singest "Halleluia," forth thy bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the stranger:

then doth not only thy voice sound,
...... but thy hand soundeth in harmony with it, for thy deeds agree with thy words.
...... Thou hast taken to thee an instrument, and thy fingers agree with thy tongue.

Nor must we keep back the mystical meaning of the "timbrel and psaltery."

On the timbrel leather is stretched, on the psaltery gut is stretched;
on either instrument the flesh is crucified.

How well did he "sing a psalm on timbrel and psaltery," who said, "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world"?

This psaltery or timbrel He wishes thee to take up, who loveth a new song, who teacheth thee, saying to thee, "Whosoever willeth to be My disciple,

let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Let him not set down his psaltery, let him not set down his timbrel,

let him stretch himself out on the wood, and be dried from the lust of the flesh.

The more the strings are stretched, the more sharply do they sound. The Apostle Paul then, in order that his psaltery might sound sharply, what said he?

"Stretching forth unto those things which are before," etc. He stretched himself: Christ touched him; and the sweetness of truth sounded.

Augustin, as do all of the ancient writers, uses literal musical instruments to define what the pagans or lost Jews would do.

"The majority of Christian monks in Egypt and Palestine championed organized choral chant, often in the face of a sternly opposed authority. When all historical circumstances are taken into account, there can be no doubt that the tremendous expansion and refinement of Christian chant before Pope Gregory was due to the intensive and continuous musical activities of the monks.

The musical endeavors of the monastic orders came to fruition in the West, however, and deteriorated in the Near East.

This paradoxical fact is probably due to the specific musical traditions and predelections of the various, recently Christianized nations of the East.

Perhaps Augustine may be considered the pivotal figure in this development. By birth and inclination a Semite, he was won over to Western culture and views in the field of music. He was the last exponent of a uniform musical tradition within the church.

Soon after his death, the regional-ethnic forces of Gentile Christianity caused the split in the liturgico-musical developments of the Eastern and Western churches.

While the former remained essentially stagnant in liturgical chant, the latter became the main agent in the gigantic development of Western music." (Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, p. 469).

Plato: Apology of Socrates and Crito crito,17.2 speaking directly to the charismatic prophesying being practiced by the women in Corinth:

hoi korubanti˘ntes: here a species of madness seems to be indicated,

under the influence of which men
imagined that they heard the flutes
that were used in Corybantian revels.
and the song of the bacchanals in Eur. Bacch. 123-127,
Corybantes, wearing helms three-rimmed,
Stretched skins to make my drum's full round;
Then they, in hollowed caves, lithe-limbed,
With drums, and, with the flute's shrill sound
Full Phrygian, bacchic ditties hymned.

This is Paul's meaning of "clanging brass and tinkling cymbals" which, in church, was equated to speaking in tongues.

Kenneth Sublett

Musical Worship Index

Home Page


Counter added 12.01.04 1683

<img src="cgi-bin/Count.cgi?df=piney/counter_MuNyssaDLC.html.dat">