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Music as a Way to Speak of God

Interview With Benedictine Jordi-Agusti Piqué

MONTSERRAT, Spain, OCT. 10, 2006 (Zenit) - Music is much more than a simple ornament for the liturgy, says a doctoral thesis defended by Benedictine Jordi-Agustí Piqué Collado.

He entered the Abbey of Montserrat in 1990 as a monk, after pursuing higher studies in music, specializing in the organ. In 2005 he received a doctorate from the Gregorian University.

In this interview with us, Brother Piqué Collado explains how the language of music can open men and women of our time to the experience of God.

Q: Have theology and music always dialogued or have you found a specific moment when these two disciplines united?

Brother Piqué: Music has always been present in the celebration of Christian worship.

Singing, as one of the fundamental elements, as the basis of all liturgical prayer, contributes something more than a simple ornament or solemnity to the celebration, as Pius X well pointed out in his "motu proprio" "Tra le Sollecitudini" on sacred music.

Here one finds a possible explanation of this dialogue: If theology seeks to say a word, something comprehensible about the ineffable mystery of God, and music helps to understand, to celebrate and to participate in this mystery, especially when united to the Word, I do not think it daring to state that a profound dialogue can be analyzed about the comprehension of the experience of the mystery of God.

All periods of thought are related to a specific music. I believe that both theology and music can be languages of transcendence.

Q: You allude to the "drama of the incommunicability of the experience of God." Why is the drama of "saying God" so difficult?

Brother Piqué: I believe, as some phenomenologists point out, that the problem of our age is, essentially, a problem of language.

I believe sincerely that the question of the existence of God is today already surmounted, that is, it is not the center of reflection of many men and women who deep down continue to seek God, but they seek him experientially; a formula or definition is not good for them.

The language of theology, today, does not help in this search. Hence it is dramatic to see how many abandon their relationship with God and with religious practice because they do not find a language to communicate their experience; moreover, languages to understand or live the faith, languages with which they are told about God, are not, at least for them, relevant.

I believe that in our contemporary period, as [a Christian], I as a theologian have the obligation to "say God," to communicate my experience, to make it empathic, participatory, comprehensive.

It is Moses' drama in Schönberg's opera which I analyze in my thesis: He has experience of God, with whom he speaks, but he cannot find the just, beautiful and moving word to transmit to his people the grandeur of that experience, and his people prefer to adore a god of metal, the golden calf, because at least they can see and perceive it.

I believe this is the drama of our time. It is the paradigm of the conversion of St. Augustine, one of the theologians analyzed, who -- through the singing of the Church, gathered together -- feels overwhelmed by the singing that leads him to tears -- and those tears, he says, did him good.

Q: You suggest a "word of God that moves one." Is this word music?

Brother Piqué: Music is a language that can lead to perception, to understanding something of the Mystery of God and in that sense it is, also, theology.

The Church has always adopted it as an essential element of her liturgy. But today I think that, even outside the liturgy, it can be a key of openness to transcendence.

I could mention the examples of Taizé, or the phenomenon of Gregorian chant: They are two aesthetic experiences that open to an experience of transcendence.

But, just as I explain in my thesis, the experience that passes through sensible perception is not always unanimous: The distorted music of a discothčque can lead to alienation; the music of an ad can lead to compulsive consumption.

But, I believe that an aesthetic experience can open ways to understanding the transcendence and Mystery of God.

Perhaps today, when addresses and words are so devalued, the aesthetic experience might be the key to open to the men and women of our time to the experience of God.

Of course this experience will have to be followed by catechesis and formation, but at least the indifference is surmounted which seems to lull our Western world.

Q: You quote theologian Joseph Ratzinger several times. What contribution has he made to the field of music and liturgy?

Brother Piqué: In my thesis, I analyze some theologians who, at different times, have treated music as a theological problem. St. Augustine, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pierangelo Sequeri are the main ones.

But in the writings of the theologian Ratzinger -- who as known, is also a good musician -- a theme appears that is key for me: the biblical foundation of the theological reason for music within the liturgy.

The Pope was able to establish the basis for that understanding from a reading based on the Psalms, the Bible's book of music par excellence, and in the reading of St. Thomas. From here he explains how song and music, within the liturgy, are elements that lead to an understanding of God.

In my work, I have enlarged this vision with the analysis of some composer musicians who in their works have addressed some theological problems: Tomás Luis de Victoria, Arnold Schönberg and Olivier Messiaen.


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