Effeminacy and the Liturgy – Part II

This was first posted here on July 27, 2009, but I’m doing more than emphasizing. I’ve added more thoughts and documentation.

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’” (Riche, Pierre, Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, 194).

Did the good archbishop think such effeminate chanting made demons an offer they couldn’t refuse?

This is what I wrote in 2009. Today I’m fresh from a meeting with the brothers of the United Lutheran Mission Association. There a paper was presented from the July 2005 Chronicles magazine entitled Effeminate Gospel, Effeminate Christians. It moved me to add as follows.

“As early as 1132 a statue of the Cistercian Order attempted to combat the change [in singing]. Men, it complained should cease singing ‘in a womanish manner with tinkling…as if imitating the wantonness of minstrels.’ ….’Music was originally discreet, seemly, simple, masculine, and of good morals,’ agreed Jacques de Liege [1260-1330], author of the most extensive extant medieval treatise on music; ‘have not the moderns rendered it lascivious beyond measure’” (Temperament, 50, 51)?

And this from the same file: There is an age old adage “Never trust a theologian who is not also a musician.” Though this certainly censures me, I see the point. I’ve observed that few there are who are both. Luther was.

Finally, I haven’t been to Higher Things since 2018, but at that conference the chanting was not womanish at all. And, If you want to read the entire paper from Chronicles, you can find it here: https://chroniclesmagazine.org/news/effeminate-gospel-effeminate-christians-2/

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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