Monday, April 19, 2010

Apostolic Constitutions on the Psalms

A snapshot of the early church's regular employment of and love for the Psalter appears in the Apostolic Constitutions as witnessed below.

The Apostolic Constitutions Bk. 1 § 2 chap. 5:

Or if thou stayest at home, read the books of the Law, of the Kings, with the Prophets; sing the hymns of David; and peruse diligently the Gospel, which is the completion of the other.

Bk. 1 § 2 chap. 6:

If thou desirest something to sing, thou hast the Psalms...

Bk. 2 § 7 chap. 57:

But when there have been two lessons severally read, let some other person sing the hymns of David, and let the people join at the conclusions of the verses.

Bk. 2 § 7 chap. 59:

Be not careless of yourselves, neither deprive your Saviour of His own members, neither divide His body nor disperse His members, neither prefer the occasions of this life to the word of God; but assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s house: in the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath-day.

Also ascribed to the Apostolic Constitutions by Gilbert McMaster in his An Apology for the Book of Psalms in Five Letters, p. 58:

The women, the children, and the humblest mechanics, could repeat all the Psalms of David; they chanted them at home and abroad: they made them the exercises of their piety and the refreshment of their minds. Thus they had answers ready to oppose temptation, and were always prepared to pray to God, and to praise him, in any circumstance, in a form of his own inditing.


  1. Andrew,

    I am curious, in one section of the Constitution you quoted said "let some other person sing the hymns of David, and let the people join at the conclusions of the verses."

    Now I have been a strict "Dialogical Principlist" which states, among other things, that a dialogue takes place in worship that when the minister speaks, God is speaking to the congregation and the congregation response in unison either by singing psalms, a congregational prayer, or a vocal amen. God speaks and we respond. But the congregation is always in unison and never solitary. But this section in the Constitution sounds like a Solo performance. Which I have never accepted as permissible neither because of the Dialogical Principle nor the Regulative Principle since I have not seen examples of Solo performances in scripture besides the fact that it seems more like entertainment then reverential worship.

    So what are your thoughts here regarding this issue?

  2. Michael,

    That is a good question. I too noticed this point, and to the extent it represents, as you said, a solo performance, I believe this is unBiblical. I certainly don't endorse all that is found in the Apostolic Constitutions, and there were corruptions even in the early church, but the intention of assembling these quotes was to show that the Psalms had an important place in the worship of the early church.

  3. I guess your right.. Even in the early church error crept in fast. It is shame the constitution wasn't written better.. I love the Psalm quotes and so glad they are there but I fear someone will just come alone and say well the Constitution had other errors and I think these are errors too..

    But anyway, Great Quotes!!

    One more question?

    Do you get the feel that perhaps the early church was against other music outside the church besides the Psalms.. Just wondering about the other quotes in the list..

    Such as "If thou desirest something to sing, thou hast the Psalms..."

    and "if thou stayest at home, ... sing the hymns of David;"

    Any thoughts...

  4. It does take discernment to filter the good from the bad that we find in the early church. There are helpful guides to this endeavor, such as Jean Daille's Treatise on the Right use of the Fathers.

    I am afraid I am not sufficiently schooled in early church history to speak to its view of music outside the church. At the time the Apostolic Constitutions was written in the late fourth century, I believe Arian hymns had begun to be sung, and of course there were pagan songs known to the Roman society, but I don't know what else was out there to sing. I understand those quotes to emphasize the value of retaining God's divinely inspired hymns on our lips and in our hearts and minds which is a timeless truth.