The Sound of Silence: Augustine’s Soundscape for the Christian Empire

In: Vigiliae Christianae
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  • 1 Ph.D. Candidate, Religious Studies, Stanford University6429, Stanford, CA, USA
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Ancient philosophers sought to tune the soul and society to the musica universalis, the celestial harmony generated by the rational wheelworks of the cosmos. For Romans, this overarching rationality was associated with the rational speech of elite masculinity. Augustine subverts this discourse, however. Maintaining that the musica universalis is tuned to the love of God rather than rationality, Augustine depicts Roman history as chaotic dissonance that is out of tune with cosmic harmony. He effects a cosmic key change which idealizes behavior that Roman elites would have viewed absurd. Instead of selling a traditional type of speech (rhetoric) that according to Augustine leads to chaos, he teaches Christians to embrace activities in which the uneducated can participate – singing Psalms, and bursting into sudden, incomprehensible eruptions of divine joy, which he terms jubilus. In short, Augustine preaches a radically new sonority to undergird a new society.

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