In a recent publication written for Case magazine - 'Polyphony of Life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer' - Professor Jeremy Begbie examines the role of music in Bonhoeffer's writings. He argues that Bonhoeffer thought in musical categories, and that his theological reflections were a result of this. One instance he cites relates to Bonhoeffer’s idea that the Christian life is ‘polyphonic’, where God’s love provides a central theme around which the ‘other melodies of life’—joy, sorrow, freedom, fear—provide counterpoints.
"Bonhoeffer left us with no essay or book on music. Nonetheless, references to music and the other arts are scattered through his writings. He could bemoan the Nazis’ demonic use of the Romantic German tradition (Beethoven, Wagner and others); he could speak of some music (e.g. Bach) as appropriate to the Church and other music as better left outside (the Romantic tradition); he could warn of music’s dangerous power to distract us from God’s Word; he could allude to hymn-singing serving the struggle for freedom (“only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants”); and his discovery of African-American spirituals in the United States affected him deeply. But it was during his last years, especially in his 'Letters and Papers from Prison', that music comes into its own, as he struggles with the question of who Jesus Christ is for us today and what it means to be the Church in the world.
"Here he has no radio or gramophone. He only has music in his mind, or the music heard distantly in and beyond the prison; at one point he remarks that “the music we hear inwardly can almost surpass, if we really concentrate on it, what we hear physically”.
Begbie's many insights concerning music deserve further study and reflection. This year he will be in Sydney to deliver three public lectures. Why don't you join us?
New College Lectures (14-16 September 2010)
The 2010 New College Lectures (14-16 Sept) will feature Prof Jeremy Begbie delivering three performance lectures in a series titled 'Music Modernity and God. He writes of the lectures:
'Scarcely a day goes by when we are not surrounded by music: it is pervasive. But what we can easily overlook is the part music has played in the debates surrounding the pivotal issues that have shaped our culture, issues that at their deepest level concern belief in God.'In this series of lectures that will include performance and recordings, Professor Begbie will explore how music can enable us to ‘read’ our culture with the eyes of Christian faith and respond in fresh ways to some of the deepest dilemmas of our time. There will be three free performance lectures:
Creativity–Can we be creative in a world made by God? (14th Sept)
Human creativity is often seen as merely a matter of bringing order to the physical world. Creativity and discovery are assumed to work against each other. The roots of this assumption will be explored before examining some of the music of J.S. Bach in order to open up a fuller, Trinitarian vision in which discovery is integral to all human making.
Freedom – Can we be free with God in our space? (15th Sept)
It has been said that the quest for freedom defines the modern age. And it is often assumed that the more God is involved in our lives, the less freedom we have. In this lecture, Jeremy Begbie will show that ‘musical space’ can help us develop a far more biblical account of human freedom and discover that God is not freedom’s enemy.
Language – Can we speak about God without words? (16th Sept)
While language is powerful, many point to its severe limits. This lecture explores the ways music has been caught up in the debate about the power and limits of language. Many say music can ‘transcend’ words. What place is there for music in a faith that depends on God using human words to make himself known?
Full Details available from the New College website (HERE)