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5. Of the Singers, or Precentors

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IV. Inferior officers of the church

5. Of the Singers, or Precentors

The appointment of singers and choristers takes its origin from the importance in which the singing of psalms and hymns was held not only in the temple and synagogue service of the Jews, but in the apostolic and primitive churches. We have the fullest and most satisfactory evidence of the early and universal introduction of this part of religious worship into the christian church, . Eph. 5:19, 20, Col. 3:16, and of the appointment of singers as a distinct class of church officers. . It is remarkable that this part of public worship was restricted by the council of Laodicea, . to a distinct order in the church, styled by them canonical singers*. These went up into the singer's seals and sung from a book. The object of this restriction was to correct abuses and suitably to regulate this part of worship. The subjects of their psalmody were submitted to the control of the bishops or presbyters. But all that related to the performance of the music as an art was left to the singers.

[Bingham asserts, that from the apostolic age, for several centuries, the whole body of the church united in singing, and that these * were only a temporary provision to regulate and restore the singing to some tolerable degree of harmony, and that it continued to be the usage of the church for the whole assembly to join in singing. For this opinion he quotes various authorities. Baumgarten. p. 136, and Siegel, Vol. II. 206, also agree with Bing* ham in opinion. – TR.]

Systems of psalmody, both plain and complicated, were early introduced into the church. The singer in the Latin church is sometimes called psalmista or psalmistanus, but more frequently, cantor. The term * also occurs in connection with the singers, who may be styled psalmi pronuntiatores, or sucentores, leaders. Their office was to begin the psalm or hymn, and thus lead the singing, so that others might unite their voices harmoniously with them. The duties of the office are thus described by Durandus; pertinet ad psalmistam, officium canendi, dicere benedictiones, laudes, sacrificium, responsoria, et quidquid pertinet ad cantandi peritiam. 

No special form for the ordination of singers is prescribed; and by the fourth council of Carthage, c. 10, the presbyter is authorized to make the appointment without the knowledge or authority of the bishop. This commission the presbyter delivered in these words: Vide ut quod ore cantas, corde credas.; et quod corde credis, operibus eomprobes. See that what thou singest with thy mouth thou believest also with thy heart; and that what thou believest in thy heart, thou confirmest in thy life. In the Catholic church the singers do not constitute a separate class, and in other churches they are reckoned with the readers.

But though the singers have not been classed with the priesthood, they have ever been held in great respect, as appears from the establishment of schools of sacred music, and from the peculiar attention which was paid to them; especially to the instructors of them. Such schools were established as early as the sixth century, and became common in various parts of Europe, particularly in France and Germany. These schools were very much patronized by Gregory the Great; under whom they obtained great celebrity. From them originated the famous Gregorian Chant, a plain system of church music which the choir and the people sung in unison. The prior, or principal, of these schools was a man of great consideration and influence. The name of this officer at Rome, was archicantor ecclesiae Romanae, and like that of prelatus cantor, in their chapters and collegiate churches, it was a highly respectable and lucrative office. 

Seigel II. 202. Gesang; Angustin. ep. 119. c. 18; Plin. epist. lib. X. ep. 96; Tertull. Apolog. c. 39; Theodoret h. c. lib. iv c. 26.

Ignaiii. ep. ad Antioch, c. 12; Canon. Apost. c. 43, 69; Constit. Apost. lib. iii. c. 11; Liturg. S. Marci in Fabrici. cod.; Pseud, epigr. N. T. part iii. p. 288; Ephraim Syr. Serm.93. Justin. Nov. iii. c. 1.

Concil. Laodio. c. 15, 59, 17; Rat. div. offic. lib. ii. c. 1. c. 3.

Archaologisc-hlitnrgisches Lehrbuch des Gregorianischen Kirchen Gesanges Von J. Antony; Gregor. Tur. de mir. S. Martini, lib. i. c. 33.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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