1. Psalmody in the Bible (§ 1).
  2. Post-Biblical Psalmody (§ 2).
  3. Protestant Psalmody (§ 3).
  4. The Psalm Tones (§ 4).
  5. Origin of Christian Psalmody (§ 5).
  6. History (§ 6).

Psalmody literally signifies the singing of psalms, and hence of hymns in general. In the wider sense of the term it frequently denotes sacred song in distinction from worldly, or church singing as contrasted with secular. More specifically the term is applied to the Breviary (q.v.) in so far as the chanting of Psalms is the main object of that compilation, while in a more technical sense it denotes the liturgical rendering of the Psalms, or portions of them, as prescribed by the Church. Restricting psalmody for the nonce to its literal meaning of Psalm-singing, the history of the liturgical use of the Psalter will here be summarized, reference being made for the origin, authorship, date, and first purpose of the collection to the article PSALMS, BOOK OF.

1. Psalmody in the Bible.

The psalmody of the Old Testament, still overlaid by the ceremonialism of the Mosaic code, is the subject of a clear allusion in the Davidic legislation (I Chron. xxiii. 5, 30), while the dedication of the Temple gave type to the entire service (II Chron. v. 11-13). In the subsequent prophetic books the Psalms emerge at all national crises. Their jubilant refrains ring clear in the prophets (Jer. xxxiii. 11); Amos (vi. 5) recognizes the sacredness of the Davidic music already grown proverbial; and Isaiah abounds in echoes of the Psalter. The New Testament accepts fully the Psalms of the Old Covenant. The Acts institute the apostolic régime, with the Psalter in full view, furnishing Peter's sermon and inspiring Pentecost. Distinct evidence shows that the Psalter was the fixed devotional formulary which wrought the accord, steadfastness, and praiseful spirit on that occasion among the thousands gathered at Jerusalem from many lands. At Corinth the irregular outburst of the charismata (I. Cor. xiv.), when each one, without regard to the other, had his "psalm," received apostolic rebuke. The celebrated passages authorizing New-Testament psalmody are Eph. v. 19 and Col. iii. 16. James (v. 13) urges his scattered Jewish brethren to the use of the Psalms, and Revelation closes the New Testament with quotations from the Psalter. Between Babylon's fall and the millennium a fourfold Hallelujah is sounded (six. 1-8), followed by the declaration that " the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." This must be taken with an earlier statement (iii. 7), where, as in Heb. iv. 7, "David" stands for the Psalms, revealing Jesus as "he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David."

2. Post-Biblical Psalmody.

During the first two centuries A.D. the Psalter retained its position of honor and sanctity. Early Christians were essentially "children of the Psalms," and the Psalms, the Sabbath, and the inflexible confession of Christ were the Biblical chief badges of Christian loyalty A marked change came, however, with the Gnostic Bardesanes (q.v.), who composed a psalter of 150 Psalms modelled on the Old-Testament collection. Aided by his son Harmonius, he set the standard of Syrian music and hymnody. A century later Ephraem Syrus (q.v.), though inferior in originality to Bardesanes, sought to copy and Christianize his hymns, and to reclaim the ground for Christianity. He at least succeeded in securing a large following of admirers, who named him "Prophet of the Syrians" and "Harp of the Spirit," read his writings as Scripture, and welcomed him as the first Christian hymnologist, although, like Bardesanes, he sacrificed the Psalter. The hymn of Clement of Alexandria, "Bridle of colts untamed," ends with the exhortation, "let us praise with Psalms (Psalomen) the God of peace." Through succeeding centuries of persecution the Psalms continued to hold their place, with but trifling exceptions, as the Church's hymnology among the people and the most earnest preachers, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine. Except for the sequences and a few very short hymns, some of them centos of Psalms, these were the universal hymns of the Church. Many refused to sing the hymns and sequences, and the fifty ninth canon of the Synod of Laodicea (360) accord ingly enjoined that "no psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonieal books may be read in the church, but only. the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments" (NPNF, 2 ser., xiv. 158). In the West the Psalms were sung in responses in choir long after Latin had ceased to be vernacular. The eighth canon of the Council of Toledo (653; as given in Labbe, Concilia, vii. 421) ordered that "none henceforth shall be promoted


to any ecclesiastical dignity who does not perfectly know the whole Psalter or the usual canticles and hymns and service of baptism" (ef. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, iii. 99, Fr. transl. iii. 1, p. 291, Eng. transl. iv. 471).

3. Protestant Psamody.

With the Reformation psalmody definitely accentuated its underlying principle-the authority of the Scriptures in all that pertains to faith, worship, and life. Huss first broke ground in the metrical use of the Psalms. As early as 1524 Luther wrote Spalatin to secure poets to prepare them for church uses (St. Louis ed. of Luther, xxa, cols. 582-583), but it was only twenty-three years later that the work was completed (see PSALM MELODIES, FRENCH). So popular was the result that in some instances Roman Catholics also adopted the psalter of Calvin, although the Jesuit Adam Contzen declared that the hymns of Luther and the psalms of Beza killed more than their books did (Politicorum libri decem, Cologne, 1629). In his preface to the edition of 1545 Calvin wrote: "When we sing them (the Psalms), we are as certain that God has put the words in our mouths as if he himself sang within us to exalt his glory" (Opera, ed. J. W. Baum and others, vi. 171). The history of psalmody in England and Scotland is outlined in HYMNOLOGY, IX., § 2. In the English colonies of North America the first hymns sung were Psalms, by the Pilgrim fathers in the paraphrase of Henry Ainsworth and by the Indians in John Eliot's version, and the first book printed in British North America was the Bay Psalm Book (q.v.). The Psalms practically reigned supreme in the colonies until the outbreak of the American Revolution, when various causes opened the way for the hymns of Isaac Watts (q.v.), which were "allowed," not authorized, by the Presbyterian synod at Philadelphia in 1787. This was the first distinct breaking away from the original principle of the Reformation-the Bible only.

In 1719 Isaac Watts made a complete innovation by his Psalms of David, in which, while preserving the name and numbering of the Psalms, he so modified them as to open the way for unrestricted hymnody, his plea being that he would make David speak the language of a Christian, not of a Jew. The decay of real psalmody, combined with other causes, was the preparation for the great popularity of this hymnody. Nevertheless, such critics as James Beattie and Samuel Johnson expressed disapproval, and many others were sorely grieved, while the evangelical Anglican William Romaine, in his Essay on Psalmody (London, 1775) voiced their sentiment in no uncertain language. Never since has the great body of the Church returned to the Reformation attitude regarding psalmody. Previous to Watts, however, English Churchmen and nonconformists alike had been true to the Psalms. The Baptists met the question and furnished some distinct witnesses, such as John Gill (q.v.); and the Quaker Robert Barclay (q.v.) also commended the spiritual singing of Psalms. The great Methodist movement was only indirectly unfriendly to the Psalms. The Wesleys expressed great love for them, and Charles Wesley furnished metrical versions for most of them. Adam Clarke (q.v.) favored the singing of Psalms in the most faithful version, and George Whitefield (q.v.) likewise sympathized with a true psalmody.

The present witnesses for exclusive psalmody do not exceed half a million, scattered in seventeen denominations of Presbyterians, particularly the United Presbyterian body (see PRESBYTERIANS). Their influence, however, is beyond all proportion to their numbers on account of their educational and missionary activity. That a purely Biblical Psalmody is still not an antiquated or obsolescent principle in these churches, but has in them, as in apostolic and immediately post-apostolic times, its representative, without paraphrastic mixture or credal and liturgical sequences, is evidenced by the fact that a new and carefully prepared metrical Psalter is now (1910) in process of publication (see below). This work has been under way for a considerable period and has been the subject of several revisions and overtures in the United Presbyterian body which took the lead in the enterprise and is entrusted with the responsibility for its completion. It has been said that had they, like the Baptists, made duly prominent the distinctive characteristic in which they all agree, they would now have as large a membership. They have allowed themselves, however, rather to follow than lead in the meters and music of their Psalms, and to cling too fondly to catechisms and confessions which glorify prayer and preaching, but ignore psalmody. A "testimony," or formal official expression of opinion, on this subject could never take rank with the original confession; and the failure of the Psalm-singing churches to realize in practise the entire theology of the Psalms accounts in part for their limited success. The new metrical Psalter mentioned above as being in process of publication is the joint work of committees from nine churches (one in Canada), and covers a period of ten years of faithful preparation. It seeks to reproduce the Hebrew verity without paraphrase and with due regard at the same time to poetic structure and musical adaptation.


4. The Psalm Tones.

Musically speaking, psalmody occupies an intermediate position between the so-called accentus, i.e., liturgical intonation or recitative, and the socalled concentus, or elaborated singing (in the sense of the ancient theory of tones). In practise it conforms to the "Psalm Psalm tones" as fixed by the Church. Corresponding to the eight divisions of the octave in ancient music, which are preserved by the Church in her eight church tones, there are eight Psalm tones. These were augmented, in course of time, by a ninth, or "foreign," tone, which is usually treated as a separate tone since opinions differ in regard to its harmonic structure. It occurs in the antiphon Sed nos qui vivimus to Psalm cxiii (Vulgate; A. V. cxiv.--cxv.) in vespers for Sundays, and in the antiphons Martyres Domini and Angeli Domini; while in the Lutheran Church it has come to be the usual tone for the Magnificat and the Aaronic benediction (Num. vi. 24-26). By some this "pilgrim tone" is classed with the first


tone, and by others with the eighth, although it strictly accords with neither, so that it is also termed the "irregular tone." Each Psalm tone is characterized, in the first place, by the tone to be followed in the intonation of the Psalm text in question. This is always the dominant of the given key to which the Psalm tone belongs, and is called the tone of intonation, leading tone, "common tone," or, as a rule, simply "dominant." Again, each Psalm tone is distinguished by the melodic cćsura, which ends the first half of the verse, and which is termed the mediante, middle, medium, or mediatio; as well as by the melodic intonation which ends the entire verse, this terminal phrase being known as the finale, "conclusion," or "cadence." The conclusion of the Psalm tone is not identical with the so-called final tone of the key, nor need it coalesce with the latter tone at all, so that it does not determine the church tone to which the Psalm tone belongs. Each Psalm tone has also a festal and a ferial form. In the latter the preliminary melodic embellishment (initium, inchoatio, intonatio) is omitted, while the mediante is simplified by resolving the ligatures and substituting syllabic chanting. The ferial form is employed on ordinary doubles, Sundays, and semidoubles at prime, terce, sext, none, and compline, as well as on simples and on ordinary week-days, and invariably in the office for the dead. The festal form is used throughout the office on all doubles of the first and second class and on greater doubles; and it is also employed, at least at matins, lauds, and vespers, on ordinary doubles, Sundays, and semi-doubles, as well as in the canticles from the New Testament, the Magnificat and Benedictus. This festal form is characterized by its initium, or "beginning," a melodic embellishment of the introductory note which forms the transition to the recitative, or intonation proper. This festal embellishment, however, is retained for every verse only in the case of the "greater Psalms," or NewTestament canticles, for in the "lesser Psalms," or Psalms of the Old Testament, it is omitted after the second verse. Each Psalm must end with the Gloria Patri, which makes it a prayer of the Christian Church. Complete ritual also demands the antiphon (q.v.), and a distinction is accordingly drawn between the "Psalm without antiphon" (or "direct Psalm"), when the Psalm has no introductory antiphon and is sung without additions and interruptions, and the "Psalm with an antiphon."

5. Origin of Christian Psamody

With the Psalter the Christian Church naturally adopted the traditional mode of psalmody. While the musical details sae obscure, this adoption doubtless involved Christian antiphonal singing as essential to psalmody, being based on the parallelism of Hebrew poetry. A distinction is drawn be tween the responsory, in which the precentor renders the entire Psalm, while the choir or congregation sings a refrain after each verse, an Amen or Hallelujah (cf. Rev. v. 14, xix. 4), some form of praise contained in the Psalm itself, or some such doxology as the Gloria Patri (cf. Apostolic Constitutions, ii. 57 [ANF, vii. 421]: "Let some other person sing the hymns of David, and let the people join at the conclusions of the verses"), and the antiphonal style, in which either the precentor and the choir (or congregation), or two choirs, or the two halves of the choir, alternate in rendering the Psalm (cf. Basil, Ep. ccvii. 3 [NPNF, 2 ser., viii. 247]: "Divided into two parts, they sing antiphonally with one another, . . afterward they again commit the prelude of the strain to one, and the rest take it up ").

To prove that the highly developed music of classic antiquity affected the evolution of antiphonal singing is more difficult, for this involved the adoption of a system of artificial music which strict Christian sensibilities abhorred and mistrusted, possibly implying the use of antiphons sung by many voices or accompanied by instrumental music. In classical music "antiphonal" denoted the consonance of the octave, and the proper antiphon was produced where men and children sang together with voices differing as to pitch. At the same time, in this style of joint choral and polyphonic song appeal could be made to the precedent of the Jewish Temple. The problem was not the introduction of antiphonal singing (in contrast with what was later understood as non-antiphonal song), but the adoption of artistic antiphonal singing in distinction from the simple psalmody of the time. The artistic amplification of liturgical singing after the prototype of the trained choirs of the Greeks is implied, moreover, in the account given by Philo (quoted by Eusebius, Hist. eccl., II., xvii. 22 [NPNF, 2 series, i. 119]) of the ritual of the Therapeutse, which is compared with that of the contemporary Christian worship. Basil the Great likewise states (Epist. ccvii. 3 [Eng. transl. in NPNF, 2 ser., viii. 247]) that he had the Psalms rendered by skilled precentors after the manner of the triumphal odes of Pindar, the congregation joining, at the closing verse, with an accompaniment of lyres.

6. History.

At all events, the liturgical rendering or chanting of the Psalms became the function of a specially trained precentor at a very early date in the Christian Church, if, indeed, this was not the case from the very first, especially as no other practise has been transmitted from the synagogue itself; and the congregation gave only the responses. As the connection of the Church with Judaism became broken, the liturgical forms and modes of Jewish psalmody must have grown strange; yet even when psalmody became transformed under the influence of classical music, its form of expression could be no common and familiar one, but was necessarily a work of art. Psalmody accordingly came to be more and more exclusively the province of duly trained and practised singers, the choir. The fifteenth canon of the Synod of Laodicea (c. 360) prescribes that "no others shall sing in the Church, save only the canonical singers, who go up into the ambo and sing from a book" [NPNF, 2 series, xiv. 132]. In the Greek Church, the Psalms are rendered by the choir in two sections, alternating verse by verse, with or without interpolation of a brief sentence of praise (embolism) as the Psalm proceeds; and in the Roman Catholic Church the proper chanting of Psalms is accounted a test of the good liturgical training of the choir. The antiphon is


to be started by a solo voice, the choir then taking up the chant.

In so far as the Lutheran Church adopted Psalmody, the traditional mode was followed to the extent that the antiphon was led by the choir mater, or by boys (usually two) specially selected and trained. Then came the Psalm itself, rendered, as a rule, antiphonally verse by verse, the whole being concluded by the lesser doxology and the repetition of the antiphon in the choir. The singing was usually without organ accompaniment. Since psalmody thus became the function of the choir, it assumed the character of a performance in vocal music, rather than its proper place as an act of prayer in song on the part of the congregation. With the correct intuition that what the congregation prays in song must speak its own language by text and tune alike, either versified psalters (Theodore Beza and Clement Marot in France, see P MELODIES, FRENCH; Burkhard Waldis, Ambrosius Lobwasser, and Kornelius Becker in Germany; Petrus Dathenus in Holland; William Damon, Nahum Tate, and Nicholas Brady in England; and Giovanni Diodati in Italy) or hymns of a popular character were prepared. In most Protestant regions these hymns came to be a substitute for psalmody, which was still further supplanted by simple reading of the Psalms for purposes of edification. See also SACRED MUSIC.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: On §§1-3: Early treatises are: Germanus, De psalmodić bono; Alcuin, De psalmorum usu; Teraldus, De varia psalmorum atque cantuum modulatione; Dionysius the Carthusian, De modo devote psallendi; J. Morinus, De psalmodić bono (reproduced in Revue bénédictine, xiv. 385 sqq., 1897); J. Bona, De divina psalmodia, chap. 19, Paris, 1663. Consult further: A. H. Francke, Introductio in Psalterium, Halle, 1734; J. van Iperen, Kerkelyke historie van het Psalm-gezang der Christenen, 2 vols., Amsterdam, 1777; G. McMaster, An Apology for the Book of Psalms, Philadelphia, 1818; A. Hahn, Bardesanes Gnosticus Syrorum primus hymnologus, Leipsic, 1819; F. Armknecht, Die heilige Psalmodie, Göttingen, 1855; F. J. Wolf, Ueber die Lais, Sequenzen und Leiche, Heidelberg, 1841; J. Holland, The Psalmists of Britain, 2 vols., London, 1843; G. Hood, A History of Music in New England; with biographical Sketches of Reformers and Psalmists, Boston, 1846; Otto Strauss, Der Psalter als Gesang- und Gebetbuch, Berlin, 1859; Joseph S. Cooper, ed., True Psalmody, Philadelphia, 1859; Austin Phelps, Hymns and Choirs, Andover, 1860; I. Taylor, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, London, 1861; F. E. C. Dietrich, De usu Psalterii in ecclesia Syriaca, Marburg, 1862; A. Hilgenfeld, Bardesanes der letzte Gnostiker, Leipsic, 1864; N. Livingston, Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1635, Glasgow, 1864; J. W. Macmeeken, History of the Scottish Metrical Psalters, Glasgow, 1872; F. Bovet, Histoire du Psautier des Églises réformées, Neuchâtel, 1872; J. J. Goadby, Byepaths in Baptist History, London, 1871; E. O. Douen, Clement Marot et le Psautier Huguenot, 2 vols., Paris, 1878-79; William Binnie, The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use, London, 1870, new ed., 1886; J. S.Curwen, Studies in Worship-Music, 2 series, 3 vols., London, 1880-87; Mrs. A. M. Earle, The Sabbath in Puritan New England, New York, 1891; J. C. Haddon, Literary Materials of the First Scottish Psalter, in Scottish Review, vii (1891), 1-32; C. G. McCrie, Public Worship in Presbyterian Scotland, Edinburgh, 1892; W. H. Parker, The Psalmody of the Church, its Authors, Singers and Uses, New York, 1892; R. Bell, The Story of the Scotch Psalms, in The Scotsman, new series, xix (1898-97), 234-40; J. W. Clokey, David's Harp in Song and Story, with Introduction by W. J. Robinson, a History of the Psalms in all Ages of the Church, Pittsburg, 1898; P. Wagner, Ueber den Psalmgesang im christlichen Altertum (in "Reports" of the International Scientific Congress of Catholics, at Freiburg, 1897); idem, Ursprung and Entwickelung der liturgischen Gesangsformen, Freiburg, 1901; P. Wagner, Ueber Psalmen and Paolmengesang im christlichen Altertum, in Römische Quartalschrift, xii (1898), 245-279; E. Soullier, Les Origines de la psalmodie, Paris, 1901; J. W. Thirtle, The Titles of the Psalms, 2d ed., London, 1905; idem, Old Testament Problems, ib. 1907; R. E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, New York, 1905; C. A. Briggs, Commentary on the Psalms (introduction), ib., 1906; J. McNaugher (ed.), The Psalms in Worship, Convention Papers bearing upon the Place of the Psalms in the Worship of the Church, Pittsburg, 1907; D. F. Bonner, The Psalmody Question: An Examination of the alleged divine Appointment of the Book of Psalms as the exclusive Manual of Praise, New York, 1908; A. R. Whitham, Christian Use of the Psalter, London, 1908; T. Young, The Metrical Psalms and Paraphrases, ib., 1909. On §§ 4-6, consult, besides the rather abundant literature cited under SACRED MUSIC: G. G. Nivers, Dissertation sur le chant grégorien, chap. xiii., Paris, 1683; K. Calvör, De musica ac sigillatim de ecclesiastica eoque spectantibus organis, chap. iii., Leipsic, 1702; F. Armknecht, Die heilige Psalmodie, oder der psalmodierende König David, Göttingen, 1855; L. Schöberlein, Schatz des liturgischen Chor- und Gemeindegesangs, ib. 1865; J. W. Lyra, Die liturgischen Altarweisen des lutherischen Hauptgottesdienstes, ib. 1873; idem, Andreas Ornithoparchus . . . und dessen Lehre von den Kirchenaccenten, pp. 19 sqq., 31 sqq., Gütersloh, 1877; idem, Dr. M. Luthers Deutsche Messe and Ordnung des Gottesdienstes in ihren liturgischen und musikalischen Bestandteilen, ib. 1904; R. Succo, Zehn Psalmen nach den Melodien der Psalmtöne, ib. 1895; F. Hommel, Antiphonen and Psalmtöne, ib. 1898; E. Clop des Sonriničres, Le Chant dans l'ordre straphique, Solesmes, 1900; A. J. Duclos, Introduction ŕ l'execution du chant grégorien d'aprčs les principles de Solesmes, Rome, 1904; C. Ginisty, Échos grégoriens des deux centenaires, Paris, 1904; R. Molitor, Der gregorianische Choral als Liturgie und Kunst, Frankfort, 1904; C. Vivell, Der gregorianische Gesang, Graz, 1904; G. Houdard, La Cantilčne romaine, Paris, 1905.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 06/03/04. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely