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1 - Thunder or Celestial Harmony: French Theological Debates on the Sonorous Sublime

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2020

Sarah Hibberd
Affiliation:
University of Bristol
Miranda Stanyon
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

How does God speak? In late seventeenth-century France, the sacred model of the fiat lux (‘Let there be light’, Gen. 1:3) proposed by Longinus and familiar from Boileau’s 1674 translation was an important point of reference. Theologians defined the divine voice in terms of its transcendent efficacy, and although they rarely addressed current musical practice, they employed images derived from biblical sources to give it concrete form. This chapter builds on our existing knowledge of how the growing vogue for the sublime intersected with religious discourses and explores the ways in which influential preachers portrayed the ability of sound to wrench listeners from themselves and exalt in their devotions. It contrasts the sonic characteristics of the voice of God in the Old Testament (astonishingly thunderous) with the choir of angels in the Book of Revelation and Jesus’s pleading voice in the Gospels. By concentrating on sound in this manner, theological reflections articulated different facets of the sublime – from a mystical invitation to harmony, to a pastoral theology of shock.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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