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Erasmus and the Council of Trent

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Erasmus and the Council of Trent

In the Renaissance era, music was a part of almost every aspect of life, including religion. Sacred music was polyphonic and used by a great number of believers during various important services. Nevertheless, the church and music have endured a number of changes under the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Thus, the revolution in the sacred music supported the great shift from polyphony and typical for the Renaissance features to the considerably simpler hymns and chorales in German. Furthermore, the views of a prominent scholar Desiderius Erasmus and the creation of the Council of Trent have played an important role in the change. In addition, the complaints of Erasmus and the Council of Trent regarding church music can be compared to those being voiced against the use of folk, rock, and praise music in church services today. Therefore, Erasmus together with the Council of Trent has greatly affected the sacred music development during the Renaissance era.

During the early 1500s, the Catholic Church underwent a number of changes. While it was challenged by the Protestants and accused in malpractices, the Church needed certain modifications to be introduced in order to strengthen it (Kamien, 2010). Thus, the Council of Trent has been created to consider the questions of teachings and church organization. In the course of these changes, many discussed church music that was accused of the loss of its purity. For instance, Erasmus complained that sacred music was “artificial and theatrical...a bawling and agitation of various voices” (Kamien, 2010). The scholar blamed church for using theatrical music and lustful melodies comparing them to those that could be heard during the performances of courtesans and clowns. At the same time, the Council of Trent attacked church music for its “secular tunes, noisy instruments, and theatrical singing” (Kamien, 2010). Moreover, sacred music was also accused of complicity that made the understanding of the texts close to impossible. Thus, the complainants wanted simple and understandable music to motivate religious contemplation.

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The complaints of Erasmus and the Council of Trent against sacred music can be regarded as similar to those being voiced against the use of folk, rock, and praise music in church services today. The aforementioned scholar and council viewed polyphonic church music as too complex and difficult for an ordinary believer, who came to pray and listen to the sacred texts, to comprehend. Today, church music also tends to be simple and comprehensible to the audience. Although contemporary church music has undergone the influence of folk, rock, and praise music, it still remains a combination of all types of music known to mankind. While the Church has had little choice whether to submit to reforms or not in the Renaissance period, it has more alternatives now as well as people who can chose the place of worship they would like to attend. Thus, the difference between the complaints of the past and the present is in the availability of choice and human response to it. From my perspective, there should be a balance between praise music and hymns concerning church music. I believe that sacred music will remain understandable to people as well as inspiring this way.

To conclude, church music has faced certain challenges during the Renaissance era. Those who made complaints against sacred melodies succeeded and transformed the music used during the services. The demands of Erasmus and the Council of Trent can be compared to those being voiced at the present time. Nevertheless, in today’s world, people have a right to choose a church. The availability of choice together with the variety of congregations facilitates the process of finding one’s own way to God.

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