Thursday, June 24, 2010

Exulting in the Three-Fold God

One of the most beloved descriptions of the Trinity by all of its students is Gregory Nazianzus':

"No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole.... When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light."

Many things have been compared to this dizzying concept of triunity—a family, mosaics, an irreducibly complex biological system—but what better picture of it in corporate worship is there than polyphony? One often hears that, in polyphony, each voice remains independent throughout. Quite the contrary, no voice could be removed from polyphonic music without the rest of the voices losing their aesthetic appeal. The same is not true in homophonic music, where there is simply a melody and chords whose presence or exact manifestation is optional. Polyphony exults in the distinguishability but inseparability of its voices. That same desire to bask in the simultaneous unity and diversity of the Trinity in Nazianzus is present in John Dunstable. Anyone, be he Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox, wishing to see an exuberant understanding of the Trinity spill into aesthetics need look no farther than the Burgundian music of the Middle Ages. This is music "exulting in the three-fold God".

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