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Music and heresy April 5, 2013

Posted by daniel ayad in History & Tradition.

st ephraem the syrian

It has long been known that music and singing can influence people in more ways than one. Music has a powerful influence on your behaviour, and many scientific studies have been performed to demonstrate the connection. With this in mind it is interesting to know that one of the most famous heretics, if not the most famous, greatly spread his heresy using songs. This man was Arius, the heretic of the first ecumenical council in Nicea. In addition, it is also interesting to note that one of the ways to counteract heresies was also with music.

Arius composed works, and songs too, to defend his ideas eg. “The Banquet” of which a few fragments are preserved in St. Athanasius’s writings.

[ God was not always Father. There was a time when he was not yet Father; then he became Father. The Son was not always: for all things were made from the non-existent, and all existing creatures and works were made; so also the Word of God himself was made from the non-existent, and there was when he did not exist, and he was not before he was made, but he also had a beginning of creation. For God was alone, the word and wisdom did not yet exist…


By nature the Word is, like all of us, subject to change, but free in himself; he remains good as far as he wills. If he wills, he can change like us since he is by nature subject to change….

The Word is not truly God. But if he is called God, nevertheless he is not truly; but by participation of grace….Just as all things are by nature alien to God and different from him, so too the Word is absolutely alien to the essence and property of the Father; he is of the order of works and creatures: he is one of them…

The essence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are divided by nature, estranged, distinct and without exchanges between them: thus they are totally dissimilar in essence and glory…]

The song above is heresy, and Arius was condemned at the first ecumenical council. He later died a very violent death and is a tragic figure associated with church history.

Some of the methods to help defend true Christianity, and counter heresies was also through hymns. For example, St Ephraem the Syrian wrote various hymns and these were memorised and sung to a wide audience.

Here are two hymns against various heresies:

In the womb of Mary the Infant was formed,

Who from eternity is equal to the Father.

He imparted to us His Greatness,

and took on our infirmity.

He became mortal like us and joined his life to ours,

so that we might die no more

This virgin became a Mother

while preserving her virginity;

And though still a virgin

she carried a Child in her womb;

And the handmaid and work of His Wisdom

became the Mother of God[1]

St Ephraem truly was a great poet and theologian. His melodic and deep hymns, helped communicate the Orthodox Church to correct theology and faith. I wonder what he would have sounded like singing them himself, it must have been heavenly angelic….

One final excerpt that I love from his hymns is the following:

Blessed is the person who has consented to become the close friend of faith and of prayer: he lives in single mindedness and makes prayer and faith stop by with him. Prayer that rises up in someone’s heart serves to open up for us the door of heaven: that person stands in converse with the Divinity and gives pleasure to the Son of God. Prayer makes peace with the Lord’s anger and with the vehemence of his wrath. In this way too, tears that well up in the eyes can open the door of compassion[2]



[1] Church history 2, Lect 10 Documents: Great Church Leaders

[2] Brock, op, cit., p. 36


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