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How Well Do You Know the Psalms?

October 26, 2010

There is evidence that by the sixth century, memorization of the entire psalter was a requirement for holding clerical office.  Gregory the Great (540-604) and the second canon of the Second Council of Nicaea (787) ‘made provisions for excluding from office anyone who did not know the Psalter thoroughly’ (Handbook of Patristic Exegesis [Brill], 300). I assume that the psalms were viewed as being so essential for cultivating the spiritual life, that a thorough knowledge of the entire psalter was considered necessary to undertake pastoral duties. The ancients assumed that a knowledge of the psalms trains one to know the defects of the soul and the means of its remedy. For an example of this kind of approach to the psalter, consider this letter from Athanasius.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2010 12:18 pm

    Wonderful! I had heard about this requirement in some of my work on the Psalms over the last couple of years. Some that I have talked with protest about the prioritizing of the Psalms. I do not want to downplay any of Scripture, but it does seem that the church through the ages has found special help in the Psalms. A return to singing them woudl certainly help in knowing them.

    • Matthew Crawford permalink
      October 28, 2010 3:14 pm

      Unfortunately the book I referenced gave no citation for either Gregory or the Nicaea II, so I’m not sure where to go to verify the claim. Nicaea II would probably be simple enough to find, but I have no idea where in Gregory’s corpus to find this.
      To your point Ray, maybe we can say that, while all Scripture is important and inspired, certain parts of it are more directly related to parts of Christian life, worship, and experience. The psalms seem to me to be particularly suited to the church’s worship and to the inner life of the Christian.

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