Effeminacy and the Liturgy


Reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I discovered I might not know the real meaning of effeminacy.  It doesn’t mean weak or even sissified to the author of that work.  Several of the emperors Gibbon styles as effeminate he notes for prowess in battle but interestingly he also notes their savageness apparently confirming that with extreme sentimentality goes extreme brutality. Elizabeth Robbins, from what I can find, first said this in reference to the World War I Germans.  She has a character in The Messenger say of them, “Trouble with the ruck of ‘em is, they go from the extreme of sentimentality at one end to the extreme of brutality at the other.”  Think of the Mafia don cooing tenderly over his pet cat one moment to gunning down a snitch the next.


So effeminacy doesn’t equal weakness, but according to Webster’s it means “1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man: not manly in appearance or manner. 2: marked by an unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement.”  Having attended three Higher Things conference (I did not attend this year’s gathering.  I will next year.), I noted what I considered effeminacy in the second sense in the conduct of the liturgy particularly the chanting.  Gibbon might not have labeled it as such, but it was definitely “marked by unbecoming delicacy.”  It was excessively sweet which sounded feminine and wimpish to me.


This might say more about my ears then their lips, but I am relieved to discover I’m not the only one who finds this not appealing.  Indeed the Archbishop of Lyons during the time of Charlemagne found it downright dangerous.  “Agobard [Why don’t we have good names like that anymore?] denounced cantors who, thinking themselves at a theatrical performance, affected an exaggerated sweetness in their singing: ‘They say that music makes demons flee, but we should be aware that such songs welcome them into the heart’” (Pierre Riche, Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, 194).


Did the good archbishop think it made them an offer they couldn’t refuse?

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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One Response to Effeminacy and the Liturgy

  1. Bart Goddard says:

    “Brutality” is the right word. It exactly describes the organist who bludgeons the congregation to death with her
    bridges and counterpoints; keeping the melody as well hidden as the transitions between verses. It’s a mistake to
    place a weapon as deadly as a pipe organ into the hands of
    a sentimentalist and then give her a free hand. Death
    by molasses.

    And I think the same of that pastor (we all know one) who
    insists on speaking with his eyes closed. He may think
    he’s impressing me with the high level of contemplation
    he’s achieved, but I am inspired only to move the
    furniture about.

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