Chapter Nine: The Music of the Spheres
“Modern physics has definitely decided in favour of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms and ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language.” Werner Heisenberg
“Beethoven tells you what it's like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it's like to be human. Bach tells you what it's like to be the universe.” Douglas Adams
“Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.” JS Bach
You [God] have arranged all things by measure and number and weight. (Wisdom of Solomon 11)
Without music there can be no perfect knowledge, for there is nothing without it. For even the universe itself is said to have been put together with a certain harmony of sounds, and the very heavens revolve under the guidance of harmony. - Isidore of Seville.
It has been our intention, in the procession of the Quadrivium, to discern whatsoever was possible of the unseen world that lies around us, accessible to us (if at all) only to man's mind and spirit and body together, in our human condition. In both chapters on arithmetic & geometry, we have attempted to thoroughly unveil the modern bias, & to understand why it must force itself to attack, deface, and bury all traces of the Quadrivium, which is the standardized medieval protocol for investigating a sacramental & orderly world, in tandem with Faith. As we turn our inward gaze to music, it would be fitting to cease to give negative proofs for the Quadrivium's truth, & to move towards a more positive, beautiful and orderly defense of the living Wisdom1.
The usual prejudice of scientific thought for beauty in a mathematical equation, even when there is conflicting data, clues us in that the "Music of the Spheres" is a real force and entity which can take precedence over the appearances. As Paul Dirac once said, "It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have a fitting experiment"2. This expresses the emphasis and preference, which insists that appearances do not have to “saved”, but can be suspended until harmonized with what the equation seems to want to say. This Musica Mundana (Boethius' term for it)3 became a very important emphasis of the Medieval Period, beginning with Saint Augustine, who only composed one book of his projected seven on the liberal arts - the one on Music4.
If the antique pagan world of Greece & Rome gave proper expression to their budding genius in the discipline of arithmetic and geometry (summed up on Euclid's Elements), the Medieval period made these geometric proportions sing, & longed to listen to them. We know next to nothing (and almost less than nothing has been preserved) of Roman and Greek music. The ancient polis, like one of Euclid's defined points, circumscribed from itself lines of influence and power, de-limiting itself and limiting Nature, making it rational and well ordered. But it required the Medieval period to bequeath an emphasis and heritage of music, which eventually culminated in classical music. If the modern world can be characterized as Arithmetical logic gone berserk, the ancient world can be viewed as frozen geometrical Arithmetic: it does not sing, although it does recognize (unlike our day) the depth-dimension of meaning and spirituality behind politics, groups, and states (the world of the polis)5.
This is entirely in keeping with the rotational genius of each Age: the ancient world was one of Philosophy, the medieval world was one of Religion, & the modern world is one of Science. The next rotation, in this movement, is that of Art. We can say with certainty that these great "Ages" correspond to the progression Arithmetic-Geometry-Music-Cosmology. It could be said this way: the ancient world is Arithmetic, the Medieval world is Music, the modern world is Geometry, and the future world to come is one of Art (Cosmology)6.
While the "mode" of knowing in the modern world is Arithmetical logic, the expression of that is in the form of Geometry, which inter-relates all things by axiom and definition, but without the "depth" or philosophy of the ancient world. The "mode" of knowing in the ancient world is geometrical Arithmetic, with a corresponding expression and delight in pure Arithmetic, without either the quantitative elaboration or reductionism of the modern world. The "mode" of knowing in the Middle Ages is musical Cosmology or "Faith", because its expression of Music seeks the harmony of various levels of Being and the dance which moves them all. It is difficult to see in detail what the future may bring, but the emphasis will be in Art. The mode of knowing of that future could very well be either musical logic as a middle form between excesses, or a return to a cosmology that gives precedence to Logic over Music, or recognizes the inherent music of logic and logic of music. This mode of knowing would take all previous history as a kind of grammar-arithmetic, and then would begin to reconcile the other portions of the Quadrivium. It would concern itself with the proportions of the whole of human history.
Why did the medieval world turn to Music? The prime progenitors of the Middle Ages can be regarded as Plato (especially in The Timaeus), Saint Augustine, and Boethius. Augustine and Boethius were both especially devoted and concerned with the theory of music, and this concern was deliberately inherited by the Dark Ages7. At the same time, the contribution of the Middle Ages to mathematics was considerable. By the end of the twelfth century, following translation of the Greco-Arabic learning, the best math came from Europe.8
The progress in mathematics was important because it shows the omnivorous scope of Medieval learning, which embraced practically all disciplines. How was this explosion of exploration coordinated? I maintain that it was the “music” of the Faith which gave Christian Europe the drive and confidence to unravel the mysteries mathematical of the physical world, just as the confidence to colonize the Western hemisphere can (in part) be related to the confidence of the Christian laity9. If we take the sign of the Middle Ages to be a Rhetoric (or even Logic) of Music that expressed Faith, we can set up a useful analogy between Faith and Music on the one hand, and the Middle Ages' piety and their omnivorous delight in cataloging all known knowledge on the other10. We suspect that the balance of Freedom and Form in the Middle Ages was very similar to that found in Mozart, for instance.
A closer look at the discipline of Music will help us understand why this must be so. Music and cosmology are the proper fruit or ending points of a mature worldview. While every culture has a music suited to its outlook, not every culture pursues that development to a simultaneously beautiful and logical apex. And not every culture has the ability to see what it is doing self consciously.
Daniel P Goldman puts it this way:
In De Musica, Augustine presents a hierarchy of rhythm that begins with “sounding numbers”—the rhythm we actually hear—followed by “memorized rhythms,” that is, the mind’s recognition and remembrance of a pattern. Rising above all such numbers is what Augustine calls “consideration,” the numeri iudiciales. These “numbers of judgment” bridge eternity and mortal time; they are eternal in character and lie outside of rhythm itself but act as an ordering principle for all other rhythms. Only they are immortal, for the others pass away instantly as they sound, or fade gradually from our memory.11.This higher number is not identical with our sense perception (John Locke) or even with our memory. They are not reducible to our Pavlovian responses to sense stimulation. In some sense which is not clearly understood, we “hear” the music of the spheres all the time, and the origin of this harmony is from the bosom of the Absolute, identified by Saint Augustine as the personal God of revelation who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Saint Bonaventura wrote an entire treatise called Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum that endeavored to describe the steps the Mind make take to unite itself to God. Goldman links Augustine's ideas with Bonaventura as follows:
Some are abstracted from these and received into our senses, and these he calls “heard.” Some proceed from the soul into the body, as appears in gestures and bodily movements, and these he calls “uttered.” Some are in the pleasures of the senses which arise from attending to the species which have been received, and these he calls “sensual.” Some are retained in the memory, and these he calls “remembered.” Some are the bases of our judgments about all these, and these he calls “judicial,” which, as has been said above, necessarily transcend our minds because they are infallible and incontrovertible. These imprint on our minds the “numbers of artifice,” which Augustine had not included in this classification because “they are connected with the judicial number from which flow the uttered numbers out of which are created the numerical forms of those things made by art. Hence, from the highest through the middle to the lowest, there is an ordered descent. Thence do we ascend step by step from the sonorous numbers by means of the uttered, the sensual, and the remembered.”Here we see the enormous importance of distinctions made on the basis of intuition, or introspection of the human consciousness, when we “include the knower with the known”. The entire enterprise of objective Science excludes the consciousness from what is knowable12, although it tends to re-include it perversely when it concludes that consciousness is “just” this or that. On the contrary, consciousness is fundamental to what “is there”.13 It cannot be excluded from the knowing process, without thereby limiting what is “known” to something that is incomplete. This is what we meant by stating that the physical can unmask the spiritual, yet the spiritual can shape the physical. Another way to say this is that “the subtle rules the dense”.
Contrary to the picture painted by Andrew Dickson White in his Warfare of Science & Religion14, the Medieval Era was (especially after the reintroduction of Latin-Greek texts via Arabic civilization) preeminent in both musical innovation & mathematics: once Europe emerged and stabilized from the Dark Ages, it easily overtook its cultural competition in the Near and Far East15. Part of this celerity and comprehensiveness can be attributed to the harmonic balance of the Quadrivium – the people of the Middle Ages were culturally attentive to the “Numbers of Judgment”: they were listening to God, however imperfectly. With the caveats noted in the opening essays, the Middle Ages instituted and defended more of the Quadrivium than any other period, including the Renaissance. This original purity did not last long at a perfect height or zenith, but quickly gave way to compromise:
But by the 14th century the spirit of Liberal Arts had been lost to the letter of the prescriptive instrumentalism of Scholastic compendia. These were opposed in the Renaissance by Petrarch and others, and a new humanistic form of Liberal Arts emerged which included the whole range of the arts16.
Yet the Renaissance did not shatter the brittle Medieval heritage in the areas of music & mathematics – instead, it built solidly upon them, in the polyphony that would eventually culminate in the explosion of classical Western music – Augustine's judicial Numbers writ large and played for all of the universe to hear. It is easy to contrast Scholastic philosophy with the Enlightenment; it is more difficult to argue that Medieval music is irrelevant to Renaissance polyphony or the Classical flowering in Germany: rhetoric allows stronger claims to be made in a purely linguistic discipline, whereas Music resists the tendency to divide things into armed camps – the unity of the whole is the more easily seen, because the subject matter is invisible, auditory. Greco-Roman music very likely is preserved, partially, within the Gregorian chants, although that is not something we can conclusively prove, empirically.
The Renaissance & Reformation together destroyed the scholastic synthesis in religion (this reaction was particularly acute against the compendia of Logic, like Peter of Spain's), opened up humanism as a permanent resting place and possibility for man's knowledge, destroyed the cosmology of the Medieval period absolutely, embraced the plastic & fine arts as a vehicle for sensual exploration, & in general exploited various disconnected possibilities available to it, all of this unchained from the concerns of the official ecclesiastical clerisy17. The continuity remained very large in all disciplines18, despite the attack on Scholasticism, particularly so in mathematics and in music. Even the Quadrivium and Trivium were re-attempted in revival, as it was perceived that the Church had subordinated these to practical Church matters, reducing Grammar to “Latin” & Arithmetic to the calculation of Easter (or the design of church architecture). Yet as we have noted, the Seven Liberal Arts were engulfed in the humanistic explosion – the pendulum swung too far in the other direction19. It was not well understood that there was an actual theory and architecture behind the seven Liberal Arts, even by the Renaissance, and they tended to supplement or supplant medieval rigor with humanistic studies, without bothering with the theory. In the case of the Quadrivium, this was disruptive of the entire purpose behind its existence, which was lead the student through an orderly succession out in the final synthesis of Cosmology.
The bifurcation of the Middle Ages into scholastic compendia20 and then (as a reaction) Renaissance humanism destroyed the inner meaning of arithmetic, the outer cogency of logic, the purpose of rhetoric, and the rational coherency of a cosmology, which was split into secular and speculative. In the realm of Music, however, Freedom and Form remained balanced, & neither the sensualism of the Renaissance nor the violence of the Enlightenment (or the Scientific Revolution or the Reformation) could stop the inevitable progression of musical genius in the West: Bach and Mozart were the end result and flower of the Gregorian chantings21.
The renowned Haydn was often moved to tears at listening to the children of the London charity schools sing the psalms together in unison according to the Gregorian style; and the great master of musicians and composers, Mozart, went so far as to say that he would rather be the author of the Preface and Pater Noster, according to the same style, than of anything he had ever written. These are but a few of the numerous encomiums passed upon this sacred chant by men who were so eminently qualified to constitute themselves judges.22
Another author goes even farther:
In fact, the Gregorian chant does not cure, it saves. We can cure thanks to some therapeutic methods, but to save requires the concourse of an inspiration directly given by the creation. A soul attuned to the chant starts to vibrate to the first and essential rhythms. Gregorian chant allows us to perceive this vibration of the soul when it reaches the register of serenity. Then, man is involved in a timeless communication and regains his natural breathing, that is, unstressed and without gasping. Through the Gregorian modulations, he discovers a privileged space where his being momentarily can rest, aloof from the daily trials. To tell the truth, Gregorian chant gives a glimpse of paradise to those who wish it. 23
This is a very strong claim for music, but it is also made for mathematics, although lately, we are seeing it made for the conclusions of physical science in its agnostic form. This is a confusion of style over method, and of content over substance. Nevertheless, what is not true for materialistic, reductionist modern Science is certainly the case for both music and mathematics – it is not too much to assert and defend the idea that the universality inherent in Gregorian chanting and medieval music would eventually lead to its elaboration in the same universality, found in Bach and Handel and Mozart. Bernard Chazelle had this to say of Bach:
...the only way to understand him is to listen to him, and there is no need to understand him – you can just listen to him, over and over again, and it will come... Ode to Joy if Beethoven didn't tell us it was about joy, could be about hamburgers, for all we know, it's just music...but there is another dimension to Bach. Bach the most human of composers, gets to your soul through your body..It's not like I'm not gifted enough (to understand it), but it's another dimension...it's a paradox, because he is the most human of composers...Bach viewed himself as a discoverer, not a maker, of music...these are pre-Enlightenment dispositions. Bach saw himself as a discoverer of the laws of the musical universe, of aesthetics. He had no interest that his cantatas and passions survived, because God will know. He had no interest in posterity.24
I have defended the idea that the Middle Ages was inherently focused on musical Cosmology – the last two steps of the Trivium. Of course, we have seen that the enormous Logical endeavors (Scholasticism) engaged in by its clerisy were the ostensible cause of a break with Tradition by the Renaissance. How do we square this circle? I have paired Rhetoric with Music, and therefore, Cosmology with Faith, since the seven Liberal Arts are the anteroom of the Temple of living Wisdom.
Let us try to say it in this way- if the ancient world was the world of the beasts, and the modern world is the world of the machine, the Middle Ages were the world of men: Middle Earth. The Middle Ages was the last time period, known to man, in which a proper balancing point was reached (however imperfect) which situated Man in the middle of a vast cosmos, attentive to the heavenly spheres' music, logically alert and discriminating, and focused on a grammar which employed the doctrine of signatures to draw out the meaning of natural analogies.
We (too) are seeking analogies here, in order to make fruitful intellectual connections. The concern of the Middle Ages with Logic was to set up, identify, and pursue proper analogies which were logical (and therefore valid), as a prelude to defining the signatures of the Holy, leading to praise in Rhetoric and expression in Music, and out into the Cosmology of the Faith. It was not that Arithmetic or Grammar did not interest them, & yet I certainly would admit that the modern world is more copious in arithmetical style and more geometrical in logical method than the Medieval world, just as the ancient world was perhaps more original in its collection of topoi or discussion topics (a fact recognized by the Medieval worship of Aristotle).
If the Middle Ages swept from barbarism to the Rhetoric-Music of the Faith-Cosmology “too swiftly”, the Modern World has taken the liberty of stepping back to the Geometry-Logic of the Scholastics, and emphasizing it in such a way as to destroy Faith-Cosmology. This movement from the arithmetic topoi of the ancients (eg., what is a human soul?), skipping over Logic into Rhetoric-Music, and then going back to Logic as a pendulum swings too far to “correct” itself, shows the cycle of Epochs: Philosophy, Faith, Science. In the Future, it will be seen that philosophy is consummated by Art, science is perfected in Art, and religion is sublimated in Art: the future Era will be one of Art. This “Art” or “Harmony” reflects the Cosmology of the universe, which is One and Infinite, created in the image of God. The chiasm, or “two steps forward, one back” will be completed in the final step towards Art – four intervals which make a cross over the world. All of human knowledge will be summed and balanced and perfected in the Musica Mundana, judged by the Numbers of God.
It should be needless to point out that there are seven notes in a musical scale, seven visible planets, and seven chakras in the human nervous system. The ancient Tradition affirmed the principle “as above, so below” - the Microcosm and the Macrocosm were analogs of each other. Even the medieval obsession with scholastic Logic was based on the understanding that the various “signatures” found in Creation (This is to That, as That is to This) could be reversed and exploited for insights, if the Logic was sound enough. If (for instance), the herb comfrey was to tooth decay what foxglove was to heart trouble, then someone who was clever and subtle enough (eg., wise) could see a relation between tooth decay and heart trouble, then a third analogy could be built between the plant-herb comfrey and the flower foxglove based upon the first two analogies. This strange preoccupation is the reason behind all the medieval bestiaries and herbals which seem so alien today to us – they were following the signatures of God.25
Was the Rhetoric-Music of the Middle Ages fully conscious? It is hard to see how they could not have known a great deal of what they were doing. F. Dorminique Bourmand thought that subconscious respiration and cardiac rhythm effect each other, & are also affected by music.
For the masters of "Solesmes," Gregorian chant is the very expression of the movements of the soul. It is permanently sustained and controlled by a specific attitude. In fact, every cadence, every rhythm is the translation of a response corresponding to the capabilities of the entire nervous system. 26
The Middle Ages would have immediately set up an analogy: Music is to the nervous system as The Music of the Spheres is to the Whole Man – what Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata does to our pulse is what certain celestial harmonies (mediated through angels and planets) do to our soul. If we listen closely, perhaps all four items in the analogy begin to reveal their common “signature”. Modern Science (of course) would shove all four terms to one side of the balance sheet, reduce them to the lowest common denominator, and go hunting for another analogy (which would then be liquidated in the same fashion). Scott Buchanan goes so far as to claim that this hatred and fear of rationality was the essence of the “the black arts”.
Medieval civilization was a vast “therapy of the soul”, conducted by consensual agreement and popular consent (at various levels27), aimed at restoring the image of God in man. Heir to Greece, Rome, and the Northern civilizations, it simply could not envision a private “faith”-space which was segregated from the public sphere. The Reformational emphasis on conscience and the Renaissance emphasis on genius were ultimately too individualistic for the civilized and public-spirited Middle Ages; their deep religious awe and reverence did not permit either unfettered conscience or unbridled genius to operate without check upon either the public sphere, or within the religious or personal spheres. This itself is an embodiment of the “Classical” principle that the “whole needs to be more than the sum of its parts”.
It is in the realm of classical music (and close behind that, of mathematics) where the civilizing, unifying, and universal impulse of the Middle Ages found a permanent spiritual home. The grand cycles of operas with Northern atmosphere and stories nonetheless were cast into the Latin and Greek forms of dramatic plays, set to stylized music. The German super generation of composers, Protestant more often than not, enshrined the Numbers of Judgement in works which (frankly) will be remembered longer than Joyce's Ulysses or the art of Jackson Pollock28.
If a soul is life able express itself, we cannot but attribute to it a complete tonal language. In long connected stretches of sound – as in larger, smaller, or even the smallest fragments – his music became the vowels, syllables, words and phrases of a language in which something hitherto unheard, unspeakable, could find voice. Every letter of this language was of infinite intensity, and in the joining of these elements there was unlimited freedom of judgement...”29
Huessy estimated the number of German Protestant hymns at one hundred thousand, one thousand of which he thought could be regarded as immortal. The German Reformation was in large measure the protest of Northern Europe against the excesses of a Latin and Baroque Christianity – there were legitimate aspirations and differences in the Teutonic regions of Europe which unfortunately were allowed to split the Church. The yearning of the “Norther spirit”, its individualized yet orderly striving after perfection, finds solace in that which comes so close to capturing that perfection – classical Music. The inner world of classical music has by no means been exhausted – there are (for instance) very subtle differences between the various composers – Beethoven is for someone already trained to listen, whereas Mozart teaches a non-listener how to listen. Mozart's prattling is actually so talented that he is doing something which Bach had to learn, painstakingly, to build as an ordered structure. Mozart teaches the uninitiated that the music of the spheres lies latent within him, and awakens his nervous system in such a way as to accommodate it.30
A subtle problem arises in trying to sort through the classical “canon”, and we may as well address it here. If we are holding up Classical Music as the apex of spiritual “Western” civilization, the question may well confront even the most intrepid defender: which composer? In quoting extensively from these works, I realize that I am highlighting a perennial problem with addressing a subject as large as the Canon or the Seven Liberal Arts. If I was a medieval writer, I would defend that by saying that I was “letting authority speak for itself” on the subject, and that this explained the extensive quotations and long excerpts in this chapter. I might also add that the best defense of Bach's Messe B Moll would simply be to listen to it.
Since I am also a “modern man”, I will add my own two cents worth of thought on the subject of “which composer?” or “what is 'the Canon'?”. I have labored through a good deal of Goethe's Faust in the German original, and I have also read Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man (although not in Hungarian). Academic specialists like Matthew Arnold or practicing poets such as Ezra Pound will always debate (and often disagree) about how worthwhile the poetry of someone like John Milton really is.31 I do not believe that it really matters to the questing intellect or searching soul or lover of beauty whether they read Madach's version of the Faust legend, or Goethe's. If either or both were destroyed, the story and legend of Faust would remain in the memory of man. What seems incomparably more important than distinctions at that level (which are valid) is the necessity for man to avail himself of the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual resources which he finds at hand, and to begin to perceive them as something resembling a “Path”. If Beethoven moves you more than Bach, well and good, so long as one understands why that it is so, in the deepest recesses of your being, and why the one or other is still needed by the self, and if possible, to overcome that need, to sublimate it to something higher.
“The Canon” (therefore) is flexible: it is a heavenly city, in which not everyone knows everyone else. There will be minor authors who assume a major importance in the life of a single person, and perhaps for whom that author could be said to have written at all. Some “heavy-hitters” will simply leave certain people as cold as ice.32 Some may prefer Vergil over Homer, others may simply read Louis L'Amour their whole life, and nothing else33. One very fine church lady who loved literature simply could not read anything done by a Russian – too gloomy. The edifice of the Canon is a living structure, whose existence and account is settled and measured in not merely centuries, but millenia – the Bible as a work of literature is proof of that. While we can definitely judge of certain “works of art” almost immediately that they are either 1) vulgar, 2) ephemeral, 3) specialized or 4) “pop” (to name a few categories off hand), it is not always at first glance apparent what sort of category or status a “classic” ought to enjoy. In fact, that might be one of the defining characteristics of that which is classic – an inability to immediately judge of its worth, or a continual revelation of spiritual “depth” within the work, depending on time and context and place. Classics do not have a milieu identical to the one they sprang from.
This (too) points us towards the study of Music as of profound importance within the Quadrivium. If you are doing Arithmetic, you have great choice of subject matter, but little of how to quantify it: you may study sea shells or ceiling wax, but eventually, someone will want to know what the statistics of the said group is. When one moves to Logic-Geometry, there is a tightening of rigor as to method – affirming the consequent is always a logical fallacy, period, with a corresponding freedom of using the Logic, or the designs, to support this or that cause or movement, or to arrange novel logical patterns or analogies. Karl Marx was a rigorous analytical thinker in some regards, but his basic assumptions were bleedingly erroneous. Nevertheless, he still passes muster with vast groups as “logical”. When one reaches Rhetoric-Music, the balance between Form & Freedom is almost perfect – ideally, one should be oriented towards what is Good, and striving with powerful tools to reach that Good, moving heaven and earth (if need be) to reach the summit.
Within Music at its peak, as in Rhetoric at its most sublime, there is experienced the final balancing of the freedom of arithmetic-grammar and the form of logic-geometry: the thinker knows where he is headed, & has no inner doubt or grave flaws which would ruin the composition. Therefore, I would affirm that the most perfect kind of Music is one that achieves the most total identification of a higher object worthy of worship with the listener. In fact, this is recognized perversely in our culture today – one is not to dispute the taste buds or the inner cochlea of someone else. This is because food, like Music, is capable of transforming the one who “partakes” of it into something or someone else, at least temporarily, and exercises an amazing formative capacity on the imbiber. We literally “become” what we eat, and what we “listen” to. Logic is more objective, and “facts” are objective (albeit in a different way). Music has the potential to be most supremely objective, but only if it fulfills the requirements of the first two stages of the Quadrivial discipline. If it does not, it becomes passionate, overwhelming, powerful, and remains transformative, but not in a necessarily good sense.
Music points (more than the other disciplines) towards the ancient Greek requirement to Know Thyself: Gnothi seauton or Nosce te ipsum. This was the Delphic injunction, whose esoteric meaning was taken over, assimilated, and baptized by the young Christian religion – as a church father said, he who can “see himself” is greater than him who can “see angels”. Jesus Himself argued that the “Kingdom is within you”, and Saint Paul is filled with warnings against “thinking more highly of one's self than one ought”. The spirit is made flesh, and the flesh can become spirit, in the rhythms and forms of music.
The listener of music may become aware, therefore, that what he is hearing (and practicing) upon himself, is literally a picture of what occurs in the higher realm of Cosmology: the creation of the true self (the self without lies) and the real I (the united personality) and the absolute will (oriented solely towards an objectively perceived Good) is the actual work of Creation on the cosmic level in the Musica Mundana, or harmony of the spheres. Christianity offers the possibility of speeding up this process, of cooperating in synergy with that objective Logos-Pattern, through the sacrifice of Christ. It is in the work of the man-God Christ that the higher worlds (of which this world is a pale shadow) is incarnated into the processes at work in the besieged and darkened earth, the realm of the Cross. Through the impregnation of that impulse into the darkness and deep void of the earth, mankind has received the possibility of reversing the effects of the Fall, individually & even collectively. Such a process safeguards the objective work of the Cosmos, which has always served the Lord in seeking to deliver earth, slowly and fitfully and over painstaking aeons, from the spiritual bondage into which we had fallen.
This music, then, is a heavy and joyful choice. The end result, we know from Revelation, is complete and total union with the energies of God, and the re-assimilation of man's soul to the Divine. As we debate or choose our own Canon, leaning here or there on Auctoritas when we cannot see, and finding Truth, Beauty, & Goodness wherever we may, treasuring it up and contemplating it in the heart, we should keep before our soul's eyes the fact that we are (in a sense) re-creating ourselves, and that our poor choices or wrongful goals are likely to have consequences which outlast our ability to pay for them.
Music stands ready at hand to help us, offering us her finest treasures of harmony and beauty and even concrete higher Truth. Even a very passing interest in music, chosen along sound lines, can contribute to the physical health, emotional soundness, and spiritual insight of a human being. Someone who enjoys bluegrass or Celtic modal music may find that, after a long journey and faithfulness, they begin to perceive the spiritual idea behind that class of music, and what it means for their own soul. I cannot speak for Rock and Roll – it seems, to me, at best, a music suited for children, or for a child's mood. Has anyone else ever noticed that so many Rock songs have an electric beginning and a passe ending? Or is it just my imagination that not even Def Leppard or AC/DC seem able to pull that off? All of the joy is at the start, but the music does not satisfy or deliver. It simply enraptures or cocoons the listener, insulating a certain mood or feeling. Rap music is based upon a kind of Assyrian, brazen Titanism34 which does not, and cannot, appeal to someone who has ever tasted deeply of something like Arvo Part's Te Deum. New South Country music songs all sound the same, happy or sad. A lot of “old time Church music” sounds like a German drinking songs. Modern Christian music is virtually indistinguishable from pop culture35. People ought to be aware, if they embrace that destiny through music, programming their soul over and over again with the music that has the most immediate access and appeal, that they may be shaping themselves into something that has eternal ramifications, whatever that means for them. I am not against pop music, only for seeing it for what it is, and valuing it accordingly.
Music chords and harmonies can, by a process of analogical signature or correspondence, resonate with the spinning of the soul inside of us, affecting us for good or ill. Our souls have a particular density or gravity or “weight”, according to their content, and particular “frequencies”. These metaphors should not be dismissed entirely as mere similitudes, not to be taken literally. At the higher levels of Truth, where mystery enshrouds what is “really there”, the language of Music is both mathematical and also artistic, thereby uniting both the analytical Quadrivium and the linguistic Trivium into a kind of super-human or angelic balance. Indeed, at the deepest moments of crisis in human history, it is music which most accurately conveys the most of what humans experience.
As the Russians took Berlin in the waning weeks of World War II, the Nazi glitterati gathered for a performance of Wagner's opera, with helpful ushers passing out suicide pills in the aisles. The trumpets brought down the walls of Jericho on a single note. The shepherd David drove an evil demon from the heart of Saul by playing upon his harp. In the Silmarillion, Tolkien had the All Creator sing the worlds into existence. I am sure many other instances of the power of music, historical or personal, could be adduced. Michael Card, a modern Christian singer, notes that
Socrates once said, "' the soul hears music, it drops its' best guard.' That, for me, is one of the best descriptions of the power that music has. With music it is possible to open a door in the heart of the listener. Once inside, the musician can either beautify the interior of that soul, or desecrate that most holy of places. Often if you can get someone to sing something, you can get them to believe it. This has been used both for good as well evil throughout history. All this is to say that music is a powerful key36.
Perhaps the inability of Logic and arithmetical-facts to sway people from their passions leaves, as the most powerful argument, sacred Music, which appeals to the soul before its last passage out into the iron clad universe of Cosmological reality, where God's Law inexorably separates wheat from chaff. In the temple of Music, we are given the final and greatest argument for choosing the reality of God over the lies of the world: hearing is the last sense to depart the body, if common testimony is to be believed, and music is heavily emphasized in the rites of the dead, the world over. Classical music was the bringing into self-consciousness what was experienced subconsciously.
Webster Young argues that“Classicism” requires the use of all of its principles in unity, because the integration is more important than the “parts”. But this one principle is not enough, because the subject matter has to be beautiful as well. Anything too shocking or clashing stuns the spectator and throws him back on himself, and on his own perceptions. This alienates the beholder from the work of art.37
Before we depart the temple of Music, to enter the last precinct of the Holy – the wide open spaces of the Cosmos where the Universe mightily enforces the holy and eternal plan of the Name which can not be uttered by angels – we might consider what it is that holds us back from seeing, or at least, hearing, the Musica Mundana38 and the harmony of the spheres which is said to emanate from the living organism that comprises the Universe, which is destined to be the bride and body of God. Why is it so difficult for man to become unified in his being and to achieve one will and to find his deeper self? What good is the Quadrivium, if it cannot help us do this? And has this been invented as a means to socially control those who don't understand puffery & and the subtleties of the wise?39
We have mentioned the Cartesian spirit of thought in man, which places an emphasis on that which is empirically detectable at the lowest level of quantity – this is a formidable barrier for many people, particularly those who are “thinkers”. There is, of course, the added confusion of Christianity, which has degenerated to a lower and lower level, along with the ebb and flow of the intellectual culture. Very few people have the opportunity in Church to experience the Traditional teaching that the Cosmos is a vast, unified living Temple, & that scientific discovery is beneath & integral to a mystery which is older than the Universe, or that the Son of Man and God recapitulated all things, heaven and earth, within His Being. Instead, the Church defends a moralistic and sentimental version of attenuated private Faith, with no connection to the real world or the Logos. If History were a movie, our time would be the nadir, or low ebb, of the story of man: the heroes would be bedraggled, beaten, and in despair, with sad melodies playing softly in the background. Another obstacle is that Quantity itself floods the world, to the detriment of Quantity – Information drowns Wisdom, Style trumps Substance, and Appearances rule Reality.
Now, more than ever, the spadework of the seven Liberal Arts actually makes sense, if and only if it is done with a (I do not say rigid) but rigorous exclusivity which tests every spirit, probes every piece of ground, and investigates every question mark. It is precisely in the darkest hour, with the most odds, which is the right time to revive that which (in any case) was ideal, but had received only a partial adherence. It is not a matter of reviving something which “didn't work” : as Gandhi famously said when asked about “Western civilization”, he said “I think it's a good idea, they should try it.” Nor is it a matter of looking to a system for salvation, as it is quite clear that a living, active path has to be followed for it to “work” to begin with.
Men will follow the categories of thought outlined in the seven Liberal Arts – the only question is, will it be done unconsciously to very unintended ends, or consciously, for rational ones? It is hard not to notice that an entire “Liberal Arts” has grown up today, which is the precise inversion of its own professed goals and outcomes. Grammar today means political correctness; this is free speech, to be constrained to tell lies. Freedom from Truth, compulsion to Lies: this is what modern grammar entails. In other disciplines, the story is equally dismal, although not so grossly outrageous. For a modern artist, even in music, to be revolutionary is the highest aspiration, and they have taken as their rhetorical motto that of Sigmund Freud, taken from the Aeneid: Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo (If I cannot bend heaven, then I will move Hades).
The recondite esoteric teaching of Christianity, hidden within the Orthodox and Catholic and even Protestant faiths40, is that Cosmic Law is supreme, and that man can either serve it willingly or unwillingly: if willingly, then his “soul” may be saved – an excess is left over, his talents, which the Master will then use to make the servant a true son; if unwillingly, then his “soul” will lost, and man will be forced into a servitude following his earthly life, a servitude which is embodied in the lower regions, those same lower regions which (ironically enough) modern man's art delights to “move”.
This Cosmic Law was fulfilled, every jot and tittle in it, by the Logos Incarnate, and since Grace perfects rather than abolishing Nature, man is now called to avail himself of that Supreme Gift. Even the Puritans, no slighters of God's free gift, were known to write “if our disease cannot be remedied by God's Son, it is incurable, and cannot be saved”. This service starts as a duty or labor, and ends with the fullness of adoption, with variations in intensity, pace, and how much of the final goal is glimpsed in the early stages. The anti-nomian and revolutionary position that God permanently abandoned the Logos pattern with the death of Christ is really a theology or wish of Satan: maybe God really did die on that cross – maybe there is no such thing as as a Cosmos, a divine Law, or a Logos-pattern which was vindicated – maybe man can stop worrying so much about becoming more than merely potentially divine – maybe God's image really is obliterated.
Paradoxically, those who are in the greatest need or despair are often the ones who end up seeing most clearly that the first step of a thousand mile journey is the hardest – it is the ex-atheists, the ex-communists, the ex-secularists who experience a crisis or moral collapse who often end up defending the orthodox and deeply Christian truths, and expressing them in modern language. Them, and the mysterious “just”, who seem to stay close to the Lord as if by instinct. From them, we can learn that the spadework of the seven Liberal Arts are a spiritual journey and labor, in which no task is too small or menial, if it helps to polish the mirror of the soul.
The first step of a journey, any journey, and Music reminds us of this, is the ability to stop and look up and to truly see or listen, to become perceptively aware of our situation, and how dire and desperate it truly is. This is what is meant by “he who sees himself is greater than he who sees angels”. Rock and roll, for all its faults, did perverse damage to the Iron Curtain during the years of the Cold War41. Music draw us out of the playing around in the environment which arithmetic and even logic are prone to – it even corrects and heals rhetoric twisted by the human tongue. Through the ear, man can see what is hidden to the organ of the eye, at least the possibility. If this Beauty can exist, then I am “other” to it, for I am not yet like it, but yet, I can hear it.
Music, like poetry and literature (which is a “music” in print), statue and painting (which is music in shape and color), opens up and activates immediate links to parts of us which are normally inaccessible, and which are usually believed to be unimportant or actually lower than they truly are.42 Some of these things are attributed to the subconscious, but actually have a higher source.43 It is by attunement to these, and regularization with the external harmony of the Cosmos, that man saves enough energy to have something left over of his talents, something which is “worthy of his hire”, enabling him to begin to transform into a “true son”.44
There is an allusion in a Christian hymn to this Celestial Harmony (which corresponds to a human harmony within the human being):
This is my Father's world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me ringsThe music of the spheres.
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me ringsThe music of the spheres.
Normally we are accustomed (or programmed) to believe that this is a pure metaphor.45 Yet since consciousness itself is a metaphor46, as well as the “I”, or a great many other things we think very concrete or factual, we turn to examine this Music. In fact, during the early Scientific era, there was a sharp controversy between Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd over this very issue – in what did the Harmony of the Spheres consist? Kepler was no stranger to mysticism or religion.
Accordingly you won’t wonder any more that a very excellent order of sounds or pitches in a musical system or scale has been set up by men, since you see that they are doing nothing else in this business except to play the apes of God the Creator and to act out, as it were, a certain drama of the ordination of the celestial movements. (Harmonice Mundi, Book V)
In this work, Harmonices Mundi, Kepler made the claim that the earth has an actual soul, because it is subjected to astrological harmony – the various planets sing notes based on the ratios of their orbits and their tilt. Yet Kepler and Fludd had a very bitter quarrel, which interests us here (chiefly) because of the commentary made upon that quarrel, in our own day, by a pioneer quantum physicist, Wolfgang Pauli47. You might have expected a scientist to side with the more empirical and mathematical Kepler, rather than the mystic Fludd48, who (frankly) disdained empirical and mathematical proofs. Instead, these are the comments which Pauli makes:
To us, unlike Kepler and Fludd, the only acceptable pont of view appears to be the one that recognizes both sides of reality – the quantitative and qualitative, the physical and the psychical – as compatible with each other, and can embrace them simultaneously. Since the discovery of the quantum of action, physics has been gradually forced to relinquish its proud claim to understand the whole world.49
This is not the version of modern science which atheistic propagandizers like to put forward. Nor, should it be said, is it the version of modern science which most Christians accept – most Christians are content to let science have “fact”, and God lay claim to “belief”. Modern scientific atheists wish to cleanse science of all mystical residue, but there have been a startling number of great men in Science who were either religious, mystical, or both. Modern Christians want to immediately concede the superiority of Science in the realm of “fact”, but seem oblivious to new developments in Science which demonstrate measurably that the world cannot be measured in a metaphysical sense, and that measurement itself raises (on its own terms) metaphysical questions.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. It is time to leave a pure consideration of music, & taking with us the harmony we have gained, progress to the final step of the Quadrivium, that of sacred Cosmology.
1 We have to clearly state that the medieval world at least suspected and investigated the possibility that there was a path to God which was mental, in a higher sense, that one could literally approach and touch God with the higher Mind. This idea lies behind works like Bonaventura's Journey of the Mind Into God. Modern Christianity calls this Platonism, but it is actually the Tradition, of which Plato is the spokesperson and transmitter into the Western cultures. To be clear, the lower discursive reason cannot reach God: it cannot “think” God. However, the higher Mind is not bound by such constraints, nor is it opposed to the “heart”, as the lower mind always is.
2 (quoted in The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain, Camp Hill PA Classical Tradition Press, 2013. p. 78.
3 The world is harmochthe - harmoniously composed. - Philolaus
4 John Martineau makes this point in his lecture on the Quadrivium: it is in music that the significance of the Number 7 is most clearly seen, as all tunings in the world tend to default to a seven note scale, which the ear wishes to hear. http://www.triviumeducation.com/interviews/john-martineau-interview-quadrivium-number-geometry-music-cosmology-103/
5 It was the task of the Greco-Roman period, unique in human history, to establish the concept of civitas, cives, and the idea of the polis: the political community which had a duty to orient itself collectively to the Good. See Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, also, for how the polis shaped the forms of knowledge in the antique period.
6 The patter is 1:3:2:4, a chiasm, or Cross. This pattern expresses the rotation of spiritual influence over the earth in the form of epochs, and causes the realization that the Medieval and the Modern world are deeply inter-related, as there is a very hidden “Logic” implicit in medieval Scholasticism, and a very hidden “Rhetoric” obeyed by modern Science. When these two periods are reconciled in a way consistent with the beginning in the ancient world (Philosophy), the progression towards the age of Art will be complete, and the Cross will be finished. This also reconciles Buchanan's insight that Logic and Rhetoric often switch places in the progression of the Trivium.
7 It is a question of emphasis, not fact, for in Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a paleontologist toots “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a reproduction of a 35,000-year-old flute carved from vulture bone, unearthed in 2009 in a South German cave. (cited by Daniel P Goldman).
9 What is regarded as “imperialism” still constitutes one of the most amazing migratory movements of all time – the reduplication of an entire civilization across the sea on a large scale. It would not have been possible had not Christianity thoroughly percolated through the entire fabric of social society. Before America could be founded, the idea had to exist in the minds and hearts of the culture at a very broad level.
10 The drive towards the universal is not unique to the Middle Ages – what is unique, however, is the degree of success and the endurance behind that drive. It is still not certain that it will be destroyed as totally or degenerated as finally as Greco-Roman or Magian-Arabic culture was. The totality of the synthesis was carried much further in the West.
12 This is entirely proper as a “mode”, within its proper limits. But how else would we judge what is proper, if we leave out consciousness? It is not appreciated how dependent humanity is upon ideas which come to them sub-consciously, from either higher or lower sources, and simply “arise” or appear as “self-evident”.
13 Only a science of the Spirit could do justice to both religion and Science at the same time, by transcending either. I hate to agree with Deepak Chopra, but he is right that consciousness is the starting point. Even corrupted consciousness has determining power to affect our life and knowledge, in this world and the next.
14 He is right that there has been “warfare”, but White thinks this is an unequivocally good thing, which is obviously absurd, and that it is necessary, which is even more absurd, if possible.
15 Christian culture gained in complexity and power, at the same time Islamic culture was losing complexity and power: the peak of Islamic civilization was in the Baghdad of Haroun Al Raschid, who reigned in in the 700s, roughly contemporaneous with Charlemagne. The first “Renaissance” was lead by Charlemagne.
17 To use Coleridge's term clerisy, the Renaissance was far less “radical” than we suppose: it was actually more of a break with the official clergy, & the creation (or annointing) of a new “clergy” - the term clerisy denotes whatever dominant elite controls the terms of debate. After the Renaissance & Reformation, it was no longer the ecclesiastics.
18 The Enlightenment philosophes owe more to the traveling medieval scholars (like Abelard) than they would care to admit.
19 Admittedly, this is a shorthand way of viewing the problem: counter examples would also be abundant. However, in general, it is fair to say that neither Scholasticism nor the Renaissance were entirely fair, or entirely complete, in their exploration of the elements of the seven Liberal Arts which they emphasized and understood. It is unfortunate that such a conflict between them ever ensued. We can, however, take the partial aspect each saw clearly, and begin to reconstruct the possibilities between them.
20 It must never be forgotten that Scholasticism gave us the University. “In 1300 there were only 23 universities in Europe. During the fourteenth century, an additional 22 were founded, and in the fifteenth century 34 new institutions appeared. This growth was strongest in Germany, Eastern Europe, and Spain. As new universities appeared throughout the continent, the number of individual colleges within these institutions also grew, as nobles, wealthy burghers, kings, and princes moved to endow new schools within the framework of existing universities. Medieval universities also specialized, as universities do today, in particular areas of expertise. Until the sixteenth century, Paris remained Europe's premier theological university, while Bologna in Italy was known for its legal studies. It trained many of the lawyers who practiced in the church's courts. Salerno, in Sicily, was Europe's first medical school.” From the online Gale database, “Scholasticism in the Later Middle Ages Arts and Humanities Through the Eras, 2005 From World History in Context. Scholasticism's potential was not exhausted, but instead, broken up – in fact, the entire rhetoric against Scholasticism may have been a partly legitimate but elaborate cover for a rebellion against Tradition and the Faith.
21 It is quite fair to say that the “purity” of music in both the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, & the Reformation remained much truer to the naked possibility of Form than did the other disciplines of each period. Or perhaps, the evidence presented by music to the ear is easier to recognize and harder to deny.
22 from O’Brien, J. (1881). A History of the Mass and Its Ceremonies in the Eastern and Western Church (p. 80). New York: The Catholic Publication Society Co.
25 Digoxin is still extracted from the live root of foxglove today. Scott Buchanan's Doctrine of Signatures correctly points out that the “black arts” of Science today (a black art is an science without Reason) consistently refuse to set up analogies – when they find one, they always push the analogies to the same side, and start looking for new ones, new ones which will also be pushed aside into a conglomeration of unrelated “facts”, and so on, ad infinitum. The medieval genius lay in precisely the opposite direction: they reveled (to a fault perhaps) in analogies and their implications. Hence, medieval science always had a “magical” feel to it.
27 Obviously, the “folk cultures” retained their own music, herbal lore, and to some extent, religious practice, but all of the medieval “castes” shared an orderly, hierarchical view of the Cosmos, as a whole.
28 Although it is nice to know that Marc Chagall did a “Jesse Tree” stained glass window for a church in Switzerland. Even modern art has mental reservations.
29 Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution. Argo Books, Providence RI : 1993. 417, 419.
31 Pound, no hater of Tradition, regarded Milton's poetry as an “abominable dog's biscuit”. Arnold thought Milton was second only to Shakespeare or perhaps Wordsworth in the English tongue. And both Pound and Arnold are worth reading. You will always find things to disagree with in what you read or discuss with others; the point is to reach a knowledge of the self about which there can be no doubt.
32 Dante springs to mind as a possible example, here. I have a good friend who is very well read who claims he simply cannot read Dante.
33 CS Lewis, in an essay from An Experiment in Criticism, defends life long readers of “genre” works by appealing to the 1. act of reading itself 2. the possible need which is being unconsciously sought or fulfilled in certain pronounced cases.
34 The kind of masculine over reaction to corruption in Lunar or Matriarchal civilizations, which Rap engages in, ought to be seen clearly for what it is: please see Julius Evola's foreword to Revolt Against the Modern World.
35 The music of unbelief and despair has been very popular lately; it is the ineluctable outcome of a grammar and logic rooted in “the downward integration into the void”, for man must sing, even if it be of his sorrow and his fear and his hunger and his passion. The decline of Christian art form is a species of despair: when the Newsboys sing Shine, it is a protest against that despair, filled with talent and legitimate art – the problem is that the despair is to some extent deepened, since the song can only engage certain levels of our being, & the entire work does not so much end as just “fade out”. The song begins really well, and is very catchy, but it has nowhere to “go”: it is shallow, repetitive, breathless, and sentimental. It has nothing like the emotional integrity and power as (for example) the opening march from Aida, or the overture of the Makropoulous Affair, or even a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. If AC/DC's Thunderstruck is more exciting and electric than Shine, then isn't the Christianity of the Newsboys optional? At best, something added on to the main course?
37 https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ir/43_01/young.pdf This (of course) is the very hermeneutic of the modern, in which shock and assault is used to induce a kind of inner transformation, supposedly, or at least lucidity. Classicism regards this as a sign that the artist himself does not understand what he is doing. Therefore, his “art” cannot be self conscious, and at the highest level of art. A self conscious artist knows precisely what his piece means, and seeks to impress it upon the world. Modern art has sophisticated theories of “levels” of meaning and unintentional meaning, but one has to wonder if these are actually covers for simple confusion on the part of the “artist”.
38 The twentieth century will go down as the century where no one was listening to the conductor.
39 There is no doubt that the Seven Liberal Arts can be used for coercive means: anything good can be perverted. That is beside the point. But many condemn them on that basis.
40 The Protestant Church has its quiet share of mystics : Luther himself consulted a work called Theologica Germanica, which contains some of them. Jacob Boehme is an example that springs to mind.
41 The Paul McCartney concert in Red Square after 1989's events were of immense symbolic significance, not all of it healthy.
42 This is not always true: sometimes, Music (and Art) can be used to actually seduce and draw down the human being into what is beneath them.
43 Things that flow from the subconscious are often misinterpreted: it may be that what is regarded as “lower” or accidental is actually higher, and vice versa. The old patristic emphasis on ceaseless watchlessness was designed to discriminate within the subconscious.
44 This is consistent with many of the stranger parables of Jesus, which indicate that God has invested in man's development, and seeks fruit from the trees which he has planted, or talents for talents, or waiting virgins with trimmed lamps.
45 After reading Buchanan's Doctrine of Signatures, I am not sure there is any such thing as a pure metaphor – there is always some actual connection which suggests the metaphor.
46 Julian Jaynes notes this in his The Breakdown of the Bicameral Consciousness: we say that the mind “sees” or the consciousness “grasps it”, but these are physical metaphors. We don't actually know what the mind or consciousness does – we are using a metaphor to describe something we don't “see” clearly.
47 Incidentally, Wolfgang Pauli died in a hospital room numbered 137: “In 1958, Pauli was awarded the Max Planck medal. In that same year, he fell ill with pancreatic cancer. When his last assistant, Charles Enz, visited him at the Rotkreuz hospital in Zurich, Pauli asked him: "Did you see the room number?" It was number 137. Throughout his life, Pauli had been preoccupied with the question of why the fine structure constant, a dimensionless fundamental constant, has a value nearly equal to 1/137. Pauli died in that room on 15 December 1958.” Pauli was enough of a mystic to have appreciated this coincidence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Pauli
48 Robert Fludd was a very interesting figure – a Renaissance Neo-Platonic Christian alchemist, much like Marsilio Ficino. We will discuss Fludd and Ficino in the next chapter.
49 Robert Fludd: The Scientific Theories of Kepler. Wolfgang Pauli. Page 129. North Atlantic Books – Berkely CA 1001.