Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

Nourished by Our Roots - the Rule of Saint Augustine: Day Eight

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Friday, November 13, 2020

Day Eight

2:4. Keep to the prescribed text when you sing; avoid texts which are not suited for singing.

V.       You have made us for yourself, O Lord. [Alleluia].
       Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you.  [Alleluia].


From the sixteenth century until relatively recently English speakers used pretty much one translation of the Bible, the Authorised Version. Over the last 50 - 60 years translations have proliferated with ‘revised’ and ‘new’ versions of some of those versions appearing with alarming frequency. Amidst such a plethora of versions it is easy to look back nostalgically to a time when it was easy to memorise texts of Scripture because only one, familiar version was used. However, our current situation is much closer to that of Augustine’s time than the heyday of the Authorised Version. In North Africa in the fourth century. Numerous Latin versions of the Bible existed. It may be that it is for this reason that Augustine was so keen to stress that worshippers should use the ‘prescribed text’.

Augustine is often claimed to have said that ‘he who sings, prays twice’ although there appears to be no source for this. However, in his Confessions (10, 33, 50) Augustine sheds some light on his view of singing in church which is not nearly so unequivocal:

“Sometimes, again, avoiding very earnestly this same deception, I err out of too great preciseness; and sometimes so much as to desire that every air of the pleasant songs to which David's Psalter is often used, be banished both from my ears and those of the Church itself; and that way seemed unto me safer which I remembered to have been often related to me of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who obliged the reader of the psalm to give utterance to it with so slight an inflection of voice, that it was more like speaking than singing. Notwithstanding, when I call to mind the tears I shed at the songs of Your Church, at the outset of my recovered faith, and how even now I am moved not by the singing but by what is sung, when they are sung with a clear and skilfully modulated voice, I then acknowledge the great utility of this custom. Thus vacillate I between dangerous pleasure and tried soundness; being inclined rather (though I pronounce no irrevocable opinion upon the subject) to approve of the use of singing in the church, that so by the delights of the ear the weaker minds may be stimulated to a devotional frame. Yet when it happens to me to be more moved by the singing than by what is sung, I confess myself to have sinned criminally, and then I would rather not have heard the singing. See now the condition I am in! Weep with me, and weep for me, you who so control your inward feelings as that good results ensue. As for you who do not thus act, these things concern you not. But You, O Lord my God, give ear, behold and see, and have mercy upon me, and heal me, — Thou, in whose sight I have become a puzzle to myself; and “this is my infirmity.”


May the Lord
grant that we may observe all these things with love,
as lovers of spiritual beauty,
radiating by our lives
the sweet fragrance of Christ,
not like slaves under the law
but as free persons
established in grace.
Through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord. 



You can find the full text of the Rule of saint Augustine by clicking here