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Augustinian Studies


published on April 10, 2015

Carol Harrison

Getting Carried Away
Why Did Augustine Sing?

Why are some things spoken and other things sung? What effect does singing have on the hearer or the singer and especially on their affective and intellectual cognition? This essay, which was originally conceived and delivered as a lecture, asks why it was that Saint Augustine was so ambivalent about singing. It examines both his reasons and his tactics for avoiding singing as well as the ways and the contexts in which he can be shown to have positively embraced it. It argues that both Augustine’s theological reflection and his practice included a role for spontaneous, non-verbal expression in singing, as well as for the more measured poetry of the psalms and hymns that, in Augustine’s day, had already become a part of the liturgy and of corporate worship. 

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