Theology and Music at the Early University

The Case of Robert Grosseteste and Anonymous IV


At the climax of one of his most important and comprehensive works, De cessatione legalium, the thirteenth-century theologian and natural philosopher, Robert Grosseteste, uses a musical example to make a point fundamental to the treatise. Music, using time as its material, located between the abstract and the concrete, served as an analogy, thus making a difficult philosophical concept perceptible. In using music as an analogy, Gorsseteste drew upon a long tradition established by Augustine, confirmed within the new Aristotelian reception, and a newly-translated Platonic dialogue. But the first rector of the University of Oxford was also demonstrating music's place within the curriculum of the early university, namely, as a ministry discipline, efficiently and efficaciously exemplifying traditional Augustinian, as well as new Aristotelian principles.
This book unites the most important theological-philosophical subjects discussed by Robert Grosseteste throughout his prodigious output, with those exemplified by an anonymous contemporary English writer on music. The work shows how music collaborated with the other liberal arts, operating within the early university curriculum as a ministry discipline. Music made accessible through the figurae of its notation, and through sound, otherwise nearly unapproachable, new Aristotelian concepts. The influence was reciprocal in that new Aristotelian tools and conceptualization greatly influenced music notation and style. Music theory has been studied in isolation, as pertaining only to music. This study is the first to relate music of the early thirteenth century to its intellectual context, overturning dogma, uncritically accepted since the beginning of this century, concerning so-called “modal rhythm,” and showing how “contrary motion,” rather than forming a musical convention, demonstrated a key Aristotelian concept.

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Nancy van Deusen, Ph.D. (1972), Musicology, Indiana University, USA, is Professor of Music, Chair of the Faculty of Music, The Claremont Graduate School, California, USA. She has published on Old Roman Chant, music within the French cathedral milieu, the Latin sequence genre (800-1600), and music within the history of ideas.
' Van Deusen's pioneering research will be of interest to musicologists and semioticians alike...Theology and Musics should absorb the attention of any scholar interested in the history of thought and its articulation as a syncretic and expansive process.'
Robert Podgurski, English Language Notes, 1995.
All those of graduate level and above interested in intellectual history, history of the university, history of music and music theory, as well as theology and philosophy (history of ideas), especially of Aristotelian reception.