An apprentice musician

Daily Reading for July 28 • Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750, George Frederick Handel, 1759, and Henry Purcell, 1695, Composers

The virtues inculcated in us through exposure to and practice in the church’s tradition aid us in the acquisition and development of “particular skills, patterns of experience, habits of perception and portions of knowledge” essential for understanding, embracing and communicating the gospel well.

I return to the metaphor of the Christian as an apprentice musician. An apprentice must learn more than musical theory, though the theory is essential if she is ever to create or play beautiful music. The apprentice must learn to be a practitioner of her craft. Along with the development of her mind, her muscle memory must also grow so that mind and muscle can ever more efficiently work together. What at first is quite difficult, even foreign to her natural inclinations, with practice becomes second nature. Discipline leads to freedom. As she listens, reads, watches and practices under the guidance of a skilled musical master, her habits, skills, experiences, preferences and choices are transformed.

She perceives, comprehends and appreciates notes, themes and meanings in a fresh manner that may indeed lead to innovation, but only because she now has the skills, knowledge, perceptions and insights to improvise. Her perceptions, judgments and musical experiences are quite different from those of persons who are musically illiterate. A well-trained musician will hear sour notes in a symphony performance much more acutely than one who does not possess a trained ear. Likewise, someone properly formed in the great tradition will perceive doctrinal and behavioral false notes better than someone who has not been trained or catechized well. . . .

Self-awareness increases as we are exposed to the great tradition. Again, this exposure is similar to the way a student of the violin is initiated into the classical repertoire and learns to cultivate an ear for Mozart and Bach. Some schools might choose to train their students in a nineteenth-century repertoire more than the Baroque, just as some branches of the Christian tradition will look to Wesley or Luther rather than Aquinas. All, however, belong to the larger tradition reaching back to the church fathers. When we fail to ground ourselves in the great tradition, when we are concerned for doctrinal correctness but fail to understand the traditions in which doctrinal clarity developed and matured, ecclesial and theological shallowness and self-deception easily cripple our understanding and incarnation of the gospel.

From Christopher A. Hall, “Tradition, Authority, Magisterium: Dead End or New Horizon?” in Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future, ed. Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2008).

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