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Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 3 – Days 5 and 6)

(This is part 3 of 6 for the 12 days of Christmas)
Part 1
Part 2

For days 5 and 6, we have music by Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns, both of which can be found convienently on the same disc.

Day 5 (Dec. 29th): “Von Himmel Hoch,” by Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn’s chief claim to fame for Christmas music is the tune for “Hark the Herald,” but this cantata, heavily influenced by Bach, is much more intentional on his part. In fact, the “Hark” tune actually comes from a secular cantata! Most English speaking Christians know “Von Himmel Hoch” as “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and/or, “Welcome to Earth, O Noble Guest,” found in most Lutheran (and some Anglican) hymnals.

“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing…”

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?”

Here is the opening chorus:

Here is a link to another disc that contains Mendelssohn’s “Magnificat” (Mary’s song) and other related works in addition to this one.

Day 6 (Dec. 30th): Christmas Oratorio (Oratorio de Noël), Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns is an interesting case, in that while he played organ in churches throughout his life (and was considered one of the greatest organists of his day), and wrote pieces such as this, he himself was fashionably agnostic (in the 19th century French academy that is) about faith. Yet early in his career, he composed this beautiful work, with the heritage of church music before him and the liturgical heritage of the Roman church in his ears. The prelude is in the style of Bach-Romanticized (a staunch Lutheran), and the choral music is very much French Catholic. So here we have a composer writing a beautiful work for the Christ-Child fully within the stream of Western music but not believing it? Or perhaps he did and then left the faith? Either way, this music is certainly a worthy addition to your listening during Christmastide.

Music for Christmastide (12 Days of Music, Part 1 – Days 1 and 2)

     As one who often speaks about reclaiming and restoring the Classic Christian heritage of the West, the subject of Christian Holy days and seasons often comes up. One of the ways the church and its people have expressed the joy of seasons such as Christmas and Easter is of course through music. Not just any music, or the pabulum you hear at the department store or on the “Adult contemporary” station, but actual art music that attempts (and I would argue, sometimes succeeds) at reaching the transcendent. With this in mind, I am compiling a sort of “playlist” for the 12 days of Christmastide, and if you observed Advent (like many Western Christians do), you should not be “burned out” like much of the rest of the world. So here is part 1 of my “Music for Christmastide” series.

Through all 12 Days: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. There are several reasons for this. One, Bach is the master when it comes to music with a message (rarely if ever equaled), the piece is deep and stands up to many hearings (unlike most Christmas music), and the work itself is a compilation of 6 different sections gathered together. Part 1 is for Christmas Day, Part 2 is for the Shepherds (Dec. 26th), Part 3 is for the adoration of the Shepherds (Dec. 27th), Part 4 is for New Year’s Day (Jesus’ circumcision and name day), Part 5 is for the Journey of the Magi (First Sunday in January), and Part 6 is for Epiphany, the visit of the wise men, and the end of Christmastide. So in other words, this is a piece that you can “live with” for the entire Christmastide season. Amazingly, there is an excellent video on YouTube with period instruments and English subtitles in which the applause breaks up the 6 sections. I highly commend it:

Day 1 (Dec. 25th):Handel’s Messiah, Part I. Even though this piece is ubiquitous during Advent and Christmastide, it really is a great piece of music, especially when your sole experience of it is not “sing alongs”. Handel was master melodist and so effective that Mozart famously said “when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt!” Handel was also Beethoven’s favorite composer, and Haydn was so moved by Messiah that it was an inspiration for his late great oratorios (The Creation and The Seasons). Part I gets you into the Biblical text in English, and demonstrates musically how the Old Testament is about Christ. This is perfect for the contemplation of the text. My favorite recording is with McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort, but this video is infectiously energetic:

Day 2 (Dec. 26th): Italian Christmas Concertos. In the Roman church during the 17th and 18th centuries, it became common practice for famous composers of the time to write “Christmas concertos,” so-named because the concluding movement was often a “pastorale” which evoked the peace and serenity of the Holy Nativity, and the performances were often given during Christmastide. Corelli’s is probably the most famous, but Manfredini, Vivaldi, Torelli, and many others contributed to this genre. There several collections of these on the market like this one, and the YouTube playlist below should provide a good taste.

Day’s 3 and 4 soon to come…

“The End of Protestantism…?”

Pastor Jordan Cooper, a good historical theologian in the Lutheran tradition, responds here to an article by the classical Reformed scholar Peter Leithart entitled, “The End of Protestantism.”  One of the reasons I have occasionally identified myself as an “Anglo-Lutheran Evangelical Catholic” (who is currently a confessional Lutheran) is for the very reasons detailed by both Cooper and Leithart, namely, that Protestantism at its worst is simply a reactionary negative theology, and goes about things with the attitude, “the catholics (always an implied dirty word) do it, so we should avoid it like the plague.”  It is as if the church disappeared for over 1,000 years, and that while Luther gets some credit, “he didn’t go far enough.”

What gets thrown out instead is the faith and practices, some of which date back to the apostolic era, of the church catholic that everyone both east and west is supposedly a part of.  In the words of Cooper, “Luther’s Reformation kept the traditional Roman Mass with some necessary changes, while Zwingli rejected the traditional Roman service. While Calvin certainly held to a liturgical form of worship, the insistence on the regulative principle of worship essentially cut off the Reformed from continuity of worship with the patristic and medieval church.”  I sensed this sort of “cutting off” in my youth, and this started somewhat oddly, with a love for the music of Mozart and Haydn and reading the liturgical texts they set to music.  Is it wrong to say/sing “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy?” I would hope not.  Is it wrong to say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us?” In the words of Paul, “God forbid!” (KJV).  Yet there are some in the large blanket of “evangelical Protestantism” that say exactly that, all in the name of “not being catholic.”  I encourage all of you who may not be comfortable with the continuity of the classic Christian faith to read both articles:

The End of Protestantism, by Peter J. Leithart, First Things  

Just and Sinner: The End of Protestantism? (Jordan Cooper)

Thoughts and Comments welcome of course!  

Egyptian Fire…

Muslim activists torch a Christian church in Egypt.

Muslim activists torch a Christian church in Egypt.

With the country of Egypt constantly moving in and out of the 24 hour news cycle, due to the political and cultural unrest that has taken place since the so-called “Arab Spring,” the state of the Christians in Egypt has been mostly overlooked.  Occasionally one might hear of a church being burnt, or that Coptic leaders are in hiding, but most of the narrative is about the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratically elected leader trying to Islamicize the country, and the military establishment not agreeing and removing him from power.  So what of the Christians?

First, it is important to remember how ancient Christianity in Egypt actually is.  Most church traditions believe that St. Mark, the companion of St. Peter, was the first major missionary to Egypt, specifically to the city of Alexandria.  As the Christian faith increased, it became the majority of the population sometime in the 200’s-300’s, especially in the cities.  In other words, Egypt was evangelized in the apostolic age, likely with eye-witnesses to Christ himself involved, and was Christian for several hundred years.  Only with the invasion of Islam did this change, and even then after about 200 years.

Coptic Cross: "Jesus Christ, Son of God"

Coptic Cross:
“Jesus Christ, Son of God”

One of the five ancient patriarchates (regional centers of Christianity with administrative and dispute control) still exists in Alexandria (both for the Copts and the Greeks), and the birth of Christian monasticism took place in the Egyptian desert.  Great fathers of the church such as Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and Anthony the Great, all of which are honored throughout Christendom, worked in Christ’s service in Egypt.  The native ethnic Egyptians, known as Copts, who rejected the fourth council (for a variety of reasons), have become an ethno-religious group of somewhere around 10 percent of the population.  Of course Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and tiny amount of Evangelicals/Protestants are also present.

Since the removal of King Farouk in 1952, with the rise of Arab nationalism and a resurgent militant Islam, the Copts (and other Christian minorities) have been facing increasing marginalization, violence, and other forms of persecution.  Because the Christians are seen (sometimes accurately) to support the secularist military (for good reason as you will see), and because militant Islam has always been antagonistic to historic Christianity, the Christians are now the scapegoats for the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups.  Jihad has been called against them in some cases.  Here are some examples of what has been going on:

Coptic Christian Shot Dead in Egypt “A Coptic Christian girl walking home from a Bible class at her church was shot and killed last week in Cairo by an unidentified gunman…”

40 Churches Burned, Looted, or Destroyed in Egypt    “40 churches – 10 Catholic and 30 Orthodox, Protestant and Greek-Orthodox – have been looted or burned, if not totally destroyed.”

Stop the Persecution, by Michael Coren (Toronto Sun)   “You see, Christianity pre-dates Islam by 600 years, and Egypt was a majority Christian country long before Islam existed. The attack on the church was a clear statement to the 15% of Egyptians who refuse to abandon Christ. “You do not belong, you never existed.”
Attacks in Egypt on Christian Churches and Business (Washington Post, pictures) 

3 Nuns Paraded like ‘Prisoners of War;’ 2 Christians Killed; 58 Churches, Properties Attacked in Egypt  Islamists burned down a Christian school, paraded three nuns on the streets like “prisoners of war,” and sexually abused two other female staff even as at least 58 attacks on Christians and their property were reported across Egypt over the last four days. At least two Christians have died in the attacks.”

So those of you who are Christians, pray for your brothers and sisters in Egypt.  Spread this news around, so that it cannot be ignored.  Remember the heritage of those who have gone before you from the ancient church in North Africa, and maybe read some Athanasius! Another course of action may be to contact your governmental representatives, as this “Breakpoint” article recommends, to increase pressure on those who are ignoring this.

Mideast Egypt

Coptic Church destroyed by Egyptian Islamists (Fox News photo)

Kyrie Eleison.  Christus Regnat

Not Colonies (Crusades)

As part of my continuing work on the Crusades documentary, here is another printed section from the documentary dealing with another common crusader myth  The first of this series can be found here.  This time, we look at the idea that the crusades were the first European colonies.

                                              Not Colonies



Much nonsense has been written about the crusader states in the modern era, including the idea that these states were the west’s first colonial venture.  For example, this idea can be found in the writings of English apostate nun and religious syncretist Karen Armstrong, who writes that these states “were our first colonies”.   This view is also common amongst historians influenced by Marxism and modern economic theories, in which the crusaders took advantage of the locals, and those who stayed in the Holy Land were “landless younger sons” motivated by greed and land-lust.  There are several reasons why such ideas have no basis in reality.

The modern conventional definition of colonialism is when one society forces another into an unfair economic situation which causes the stronger society to profit.  This is done by direct political and military control of the weaker territory.  This requires a class of rulers from the host country enforcing the arrangement.  If this is the idea that most have of colonialism, a 19th and early 20th century phenomenon viewed through a Marxist lens, then the crusader states were nothing of the sort.  Only in the loosest definition of the word colony is this even possible, in which the word seems synonymous with the word settlement.  If this is the case, then the western Christians merely took a colony from the Muslim Turks, who were also a ruling minority.  If this is colonialism, then every conquest is colonialism, and the crusaders as rulers were remarkably benevolent by medieval standards.

Future governors for the empire...? Hardly...

Future governors for the empire…? Hardly…

In addition, the crusader states were never beholden to European powers, and instead functioned as completely autonomous and independent states.  As far as economic exploitation, it could instead be argued that the transfer of wealth went from Europe to the Middle East, meaning Europe was the colony!  Regardless, accusing the crusaders of launching the first colonial venture is at best ignorant, and is perhaps intentionally malicious.

Who Stayed and Why? How Did they Govern?

Since the majority of crusaders left the Holy Land after fulfilling their crusading vow, and since the colonial and economic advantage arguments fail, the question then becomes, who stayed and why?  In a manner similar to the recruitment and execution of the crusade, those who stayed were attached to great lords and their large extended household.  When Godfrey of Bouillon was named the “Defender of the Holy Sepulcher,” the fighting men, aristocrats, and others attached to him also stayed, just like they joined him on crusade.  Instead of landless lesser sons, the significant decisions to stay were almost always the heads of households, who due to their wealth had no economic reason to stay.  These decisions are better explained by the religious idealism of the crusade leaders, and the strong bonds of love and honor that existed between lords and vassals, or patrons and clients.

               The western Christians who remained in the Levant never amounted to much more than 10 percent of the population.  The rest was made up the majority Muslims of both the Sunni and Shiite traditions, with sizable minorities of Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, and Jews.  Even though the crusader states were under constant threat from the Muslim world around them, with raids and robberies common, the local Muslim population seems to have been quite content under Christian rule.   There was no attempt at forcible conversion, and Muslims were still allowed to worship, which contradicts those who think the crusades were about finding converts or a new religious market.   Taxes were lower in the crusader states than in the Muslim areas next door, and most Muslims peasants were allowed to keep their land and their trades.   By also having a reputation for maintaining a just legal system, many Muslims found such an arrangement enormously tempting.  As a Muslim pilgrim from Spain to Mecca writes, “(the Muslims) live in great comfort under the Franks; may Allah preserve us from such a temptation…(Muslims) are masters of their dwellings, and govern themselves as they wish.  This is the case in all the territory occupied by the Franks.”

The Crusaders actually took their medieval Christianity seriously? Go figure...

The Crusaders actually took their medieval Christianity seriously? Go figure…

No Satisfaction…

church_ruinsThe latest edition of Touchstone Magazine (highly recommended) has an excellent editorial entitled “Just Christians: On Homosexuality & Christian Identity.” In this article, S.M. Hutchens (for the editors), writes that,

“There is no “homosexual voice within the church,” for the homosexual’s conversion entails a choice-This, or That-the sin, or the Faith.  He cannot have both.”   

As harsh as this may sound to many, it is absolutely correct teaching when it comes to mere Christianity.  The quote by Hutchens does not preclude those who struggle with certain desires of passions, far from it! What it does say however is that the Christian faith cannot, and will not, define a person (especially the redeemed) by their sin.  Sin is an enemy, not something to be embraced.  Consider this rationale from the church’s perspective, which is a continuation of the above quote:

“…nor can the Church in any way accommodate the sin from which he has been cleansed.  It is wholly and actively and vehemently against it as a destroyer of the souls it has been called to save.  It labors among the saints only in the accomplishment of what has already been done in Christ: cleansing, sanctification, and justification in the Name of the Lord. 

In other words, the church cannot embrace what it has been called to save people from (though the power of the Triune God of course), otherwise it is undermining its mission, and not acting in love.  Those who claim otherwise are simply outside of orthodox Christianity.  Hutchens ends with a bit of realism here, as most people realize that those who are compromising on this issue are fooling themselves:

“The Church can and never will give satisfaction-and the homosexualist knows it, for he knows the words against him are ineradicable…Whether he presents himself as an object of love or indignation, what he demands in either case is acceptance not of the person, but of the sin-bound and sin-defined person. He demands the declaration of spiritual authority that there is nothing objectively disordered about this binding of man to sin, and assurance that…(homosexuality) can indeed enter the kingdom of heaven.  This can never happen among Christians until they abandon Christianity, which is at war with every sin…and places all perversions of the perfect man at the muzzle of its canons.” 

Please note that this reasoning does NOT say that there should not be an outreach to the homosexual community, or that Christians are sinless, etc…What it does say however, is that the church MUST maintain its integrity, or it will cease to be the church (as some “churches” already have).

The full editorial can be found here:

Any thoughts or comments…?

Related Post: Humanity, Desire, and the Church

Humanity, Desire, and the Church

In a recent column that appeared in the Idaho State Journal (found here: “Hard Times for the Homophobic:”, 5-19-13), a caricature of the Christian worldview on human sexuality was created, in which modern popular opinion based on selective types of scientific research is supposed to be discrediting what has always been taught regarding the nature of humanity and human relationships.  Somehow, holding to a traditional view of human sexuality inherently equates to a psychological disorder, with those who disagree having an irrational fear/anxiety disorder (“phobia”).   This betrays a certain type of faith in naturalistic thought, in which those who hold to the traditional classic Judeo-Christian worldview have to be explained away in “scientific” language, and labeled as mentally sick.   In addition, the universal church and its teachings are supposed to have been “confounded” by these new developments, in which biology somehow proves that God is the author of desires that He condemns.  This requires a response.

              First, something that is often ignored in these sorts of discussions is that the concept of “orientation” is inherently one of desire and resultant actions.  Theologian Jonathan Leeman (“Love and the Inhumanity”) notes that this means it is subject to moral evaluation, something that is not true of something like ethnicity.  To somehow claim that a biological factor automatically means that race and orientation are equivalent is a category error, since actions of desire are not the same as one’s natural physical appearance.  So even if it is granted that biological factors are primary (of which there is still significant debate, in spite of what might be popularly portrayed), there is a fundamental difference between acting on every desire that feels natural, and what organs one may have been given.  This is why it is perfectly legitimate for the church to make a distinction between a desire and acting on a desire, and it is not a “phobia” to believe that certain actions are not morally acceptable.   The heart of the issue however is not finer points of biology or philosophy, but rather confusion on what the Scripture and the church teaches in regards to the nature of humanity, sin, and God’s salvation.

The most significant part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the nature of humanity’s condition, and the underlying assumption that all “natural desires” are inherently good, divinely ordained, and should therefore be acted upon.  Instead, Christianity recognizes what is often called the “fall” of humanity, in which the original innocent, good, and blessed condition of mankind in which there was perfect fellowship with God, was lost because of disobedience and rebellion against God (called original sin, see Genesis 3).   This sin nature, which sets us against God and inclines us “naturally” to do the selfish and wrong thing, means that we are unable to save ourselves or to restore our relationship with our creator.  This means that while God certainly gave humanity certain desires, needs, and wants, these have become disordered, so that even what seem to be positive human experiences such as love, hope, faith, and the like, can be improperly acted upon, misplaced, and vehicles for rebellion against God’s will and created order.  In fact, what seem to be “natural desires” can be in fact unnatural, since they repudiate God’s law and original intent for humanity.  This has been recognized by Christians from the Apostles to Chesterton, who noted that this doctrine is the most easily proven empirically, since all one has to do is look at the world and how every person has experienced some form of profound brokenness (Chesterton, Orthodoxy).   One does not have to teach a child to be selfish, and even good deeds are often the result of selfish motives.  While perhaps not the therapeutic moralism that many crave, the Christian worldview is at least honest about the human condition.    

In classic Christianity across the different traditions, it has also been noted that “all creation groans and struggles” (Rom. 8:22) because of this fall and separation from God.  This would include the human genome.  With this in mind, the orthodox Christian worldview would not be shocked in the least to find that there are genetic or hormonal factors that lead people to sinful behavior.  If anything, we should expect it! Finding genetic defects proves exactly that, we have genetic defects.  But rather than reduce humans to the sum of their genes and the resultant desires, implying that you might as well embrace this as “who you are,” the Christian worldview has a much higher view of humanity.  Since humans are created in the Image of God, and are the pinnacle of creation, even fallen humanity is much more than just another animal reduced to one’s instincts and inclinations.  Instead, the great God of the universe took on human nature to restore the Image of God that was corrupted by the fall and to endure the punishment for our sins in the person of Jesus Christ.  God did (and does) not leave us to simply wallow in our own muck as if this is part of his created order and design, which is what people who say “God made me this way”  or “my genes made me do it“ are saying.  God instead says that even though that both by nature and by choice (not either/or, but both ) we are rightly called sinners who are and act in opposition to God’s will, in His love and His mercy there is a way to still be saved.   Those who reduce the gospel to some sort of social justice program are missing out and how great and powerful God’s message is!

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-13, the Apostle Paul lists many different behavioral sins that will cause one not to inherit the Kingdom of God.  This list includes idolaters, thieves, drunks, swindlers, slanderers, adulterers, and yes, both the “passive” and “active” participants in a homosexual relationship.  Every person in the world that reads this can say “guilty as charged” for at least one, if not multiple sins that are listed here.  Yet the gospel is very much present in that Paul mentions “and such were some of you, but you have been washed, you were sanctified etc…”  Notice the past tense here.  The modernistic and deterministic “gospel” would have us say something like “and such are some of you, since you were made that way.”  What a depressing message, and what a grave misunderstanding of the nature of God and the nature of humanity.  Christ transforms lives.  He meets us and heals us and says “Go and sin no more,” not “Go and keep sinning because I made you that way.” Thanks be to God that He both accomplishes more and expects more of us, than whatever some sort of naturalistic determinism would have us believe.


          Aaron Hayes has a Master’s degree in Theology and teaches Church History and Apologetics in Pocatello.  He is the author of the “Apologia and the Occident” blog at hayesworldview.wordpress.com, and can be reached there.       


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