Importance, strength and power of spiritual music
in the present-day world
MgA. Jan Vrkoč /CZ/ - composer, music writer
“Through the Holy Spirit God is present to us.
Without him, God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
The Gospel is a dead letter,
The Church is simply an organization,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission is a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy is no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality.”
(Ignatios IV.) *1
For years we have attempted at FORFEST to define spiritual music. There is a difficulty with spiritual music. It has always been difficult to distinguish and to define which music is spiritual and which music is not. Searching around the essence of spiritual music has always seemed ridiculous to me. After all, I consider “spiritual” music to be touched by “the Spirit” that bears the signs of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. It has always been crystal clear to me. Unfortunately, the description is not understandable enough to everyone. Obviously, it is difficult to determine whether a particular music carries the “seal of the Spirit” or not. It also appeared that Christians have a different understanding of inspiration from the Holy Spirit than other religions. And the atheists have a completely different idea. The Jewish Old Testament: “Spirit of God, who hovered over the waters” (cf. Gen 1: 2) *2 is probably something different from the Christian Holy Spirit who dwells in the heart of God's servants... (cf. 1 Cor 3: 16-17). *3
Personally, I will remain by the Christian faith. I am not interested in other perceptions, but I am very much interested in the Christian Spirit. I am greatly interested in Christian spiritual music, preferably composed by musicians, who are Christians. But – the religion of musicians is not always straightforward: for example, let's look at Bach, he wrote the Catholic Hohe Messe, but he was a Protestant...; and take notice how much Christianity influenced the work of the Jewish composers Mendelssohn or Mahler...? How is it possible?
Let's have a look. What is the Christian Holy Spirit that affects the whole Christian world? I have already mentioned that the Old Testament Spirit of God, which hovered above the waters of creation, is apparently something other than the Christian Spirit, the Holy Spirit, which is the inspiration of the whole Christian culture. What is the core of the matter? It seems that every Christian should know, carry inside and understand this Holy Spirit to such an extent that he can answer without difficulty the fundamental question: Do we know the Holy Spirit?
1. The spirit of Christianity speaks to man from within, He is the spirit of “inwardness.” We all know how it operates. He advises us to live as a Christian and “be holy”. He does not speak to us from the outside, but from the inside! After all He is in our heart, in our conscience. Tomáš Špidlík describes it interestingly:
“... In the life of saints, the so-called distinction of spirits was of particular importance. They have laid down different rules for a man to become familiar in this area. Of the many rules, let us remind ourselves of how the authors have tried to distinguish thoughts that come 'from the outside' from those that come 'from the inside'. The outer ones are very abundant and have an external source: some visible object, heard story, an item read from a book, or the influence of someone we talked to, who instigated some thought or image. These thoughts are different from those that come from within, priests find out. Their brilliance convinces the old monks that it is the Holy Spirit himself, who lives in the heart and makes his voice heard 'in the castle within ourselves', appears as some rooms full of enlightenment. Syrian writers often talk about it and describe this experience with a metaphor. They say: 'The heart resembles a fountain; if it is pure, the sky is reflected in it. In the same way a pure heart reflects divine thoughts'” *4
Let us realize that nothing by itself has any value before God's face. God values relationships. It is written “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Lk 17, 21) *5 Therefore a work of art is worthless just because of its original and effective external form, but it is important that it remains true to its fundamental hidden purpose and through it resonates in the hearts of others. It is quite obvious in art that the Spirit speaks from within the artist towards other people. Such an artist who would just copy an external pattern would quickly be called an epigone. For a composer, the number one rule, is “a growth from within”, as LeošJanáčsaid. It is also important for a musician, painter, writer, scientist and for anyone else who creates something. Christian culture is therefore created from within and can only be created by an unyielding Christian soul.
2. Another symbol of the Holy Spirit is love. The spirit of Christianity is the spirit of love. Christians do not believe in a culture without love. They do not believe in the consumer culture, the culture of death, as Pope John Paul II reminded us. The Gospel mentions this quote that Jesus spoke: “I have come to ignite the fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49) *6 Doesn´t Jesus speak in this place in the Gospel about fire as a hearth of love, isn´t this fire love itself?
It is a great commitment for the composer. Spiritual music must be penetrated by the fire of love. In fact, we understand this by listening to Bach, Mozart, Dvořák and other renowned names. How much love these composers managed to instill in their sheet music!
It turns out that every art without love does not seem to have a great spiritual value. It is obviously incomplete, imperfect. As it is written in the First Book of Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13: 1-2) *7
3. The third symbol of the Holy Spirit is a real knowledge. Christianity brings knowledge, it is a spirit of deep perception and understanding of often even invisible facts. “We only see properly with the heart. What is important is invisible to the eyes”, says Exupéry. *8
“Plato claimed that human intellect is divine in nature, and therefore he can experience unlimited beauty. Christians correct this view. We are not able to rise upwards by our nature, but by grace, which is through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. But Plato understood very well that a man living on this earth, especially if he is young, needs to see the heavenly ideal before his eyes in order not to get stuck in impurity. Try to have the ideal, constantly in front of you, educators preach. But all admonitions will be in vain if the light of the Holy Spirit is missing.” *9
Man has the ability of subtle distinction, perception that enables him to see God as a goodness and to experience all divine in this world. It is a great gift, but not everyone can appreciate it and enjoy it.
Let us consider how many wonderful and inspiring compositions have been handed down to us by Baroque composers. But today only few people listen to them. Surprisingly, many more people listen a dull mainstream through their headphones, but that will not lift us up to God. Isn't it a pity?
“Dostoevsky tells the old legend of the crystal palace. It was built by a scientist. For the construction, he permitted to use only what was proven, clear and reasonable. What was mysterious was thrown away as an unworthy object. The scholar moved into the new house and was proud of it. He boasted of the clarity, the translucency that surrounded him. But soon he got bored, because there were two things missing that make us rejoice in life: freedom and love. These two things can never be 'clear'.
(...) The theologian Paul Florensky teaches that there are two different ways of knowledge. Knowledge of things and knowledge of people. By objects we first perceive what is obvious, clear, then proceed to the less clear, while logically thinking. In the end, there are only clear assumptions that we do not trust much. In other words, we are building a 'crystal palace'.
But how to cognize infinite facts perfectly? A completely different situation occurs when we meet people. These are never 'clear'. Their hearts, their intentions are never obvious. There is no other approach but to trust them at first. Only later, after some time when we live in intimate relationship with them, will they reveal themselves and they can be recognized by returning their trust to us. ” *10 This way the Holy Spirit teaches us and leads us to knowledge.
4. Another sign of the Holy Spirit: a Christian who creatively fulfills a suitable form. The spirit of Christianity is the spirit of creative fulfillment of form. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5: 17) *11
Let's take an example: In the history of music we see that the most authors seem to be defined by one area in their work, sticking to what they are best at. Very few can devote themselves to different genres, each author seems to specialize in his “own”: Rossini or Wagner wrote only operas but did not write symphonies. Chopin did not write operas but piano compositions, Paganini did not devote himself to operas, and Liszt did not write solo for violin. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit that had previously determined the musicians' field of calling, which surely inspired them and sanctified their efforts to excel in their entrusted talent. But then there are exceptions, versatile musicians who write music in a wide range. These are the greats, such as Purcell, Bach, Mozart, Dvořák or Martinů, more recently Hindemith, Messiaen...
5. And the last, important sign of the Holy Spirit: The spirit of Christianity is the spirit of improving, constant learning. “Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Mt 5: 48) *12
“A Christian has before his spiritual eye God's perfection, by which he measures all earthly things and situations in life. He perceives God's perfection and strives badly to improve. The spirit of Christianity turns a believer to God in heaven and to God's work on earth.” *13
This is precisely the uniqueness of the Holy Spirit. The people from the Old Testament did not have this ideal before their eyes, and the atheist has nothing at all to compare with. Only Christians have this privilege. The Holy Spirit brings Christianity into the family life, ministry, education, politics, art and science.
“We often hear the statement: 'artists express themselves in their work.' But artists disagree with this definition. When they create, they want to express something that already came as an inspiration. The ancient Greeks spoke of the Muses and saw in the inspiration a mysterious divine voice. The artist feels he is forced to accept the voice, willingly identifies with the voice and wants to cooperate with it. The voice speaks invisibly, and the artist wants to give the voice a visible, concrete form in painting, sculpture, poem, music... It's not easy at all. The artist suffers, is obsessed with the voice, forced to listen to him. If inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit, then it does not come 'from outside', because the Holy Spirit is the 'soul of our soul', it belongs to our 'self'.” *14
In the introductory motto we stated: “Through the Holy Spirit God is present to us.” Let me make a paraphrase: “Spiritual music itself is God's presence.” The music is so powerful that it brings us closer to the living God. Let's always have high ideals!
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love...”
1. Statement of Patriarch Ignatius IV. on the World Council of Churches (WCC) Fourth Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden, 1968
2. Bible, Gen. 1: 2: “But the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Ecumenical translation, edited by the Czech Biblical Society, Prague 1985)
3. Bible, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Don´t you know that you yourselves are God´s temple and that God´s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
4. Špidlík, Tomáš: Holy Spirit... do you know him? p.15, published by the Conference of Higher Religious Superiors, Prague 1997
5. Bible, Lk 17: 21
6. Bible, Lk 12:49
7. Bible, 1 Cor 13: 1-2
8. Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de, Little Prince, p.44, Prague 1989
9. Špidlík, Tomáš: Holy Spirit... do you know him? p.20
10. Špidlík, Tomáš: Holy Spirit... do you know him? p.23
11. Bible, Mt 5:17
12. Bible Mt 5:48
13. Ilyin, Ivan Alexandrovich: Fundamentals of Christian Culture, p.34, published by Refugium, Velehrad-Roma, Ltd. 1997
14. Špidlík, Tomáš: Holy Spirit... do you know him? p. 28
(Translated by Petra Jones)