49. I was more entangled and submissive where the pleasures of hearing are concerned until you cut me loose and gave me back my freedom. Now when I hear music vibrant with your Scripture, sung with skill in a sweet voice, I yield to some degree, I must admit, but am not hypnotised by it, since I can break off at any point. Nonetheless, when the music carries a meaning that enters into me, it makes something in my heart honour it, I know not how properly - do I prize it higher than I should? When music is added to the sacred words, I find that our souls are kindled to more ardent piety than when they stand alone, as if each emotion of our spirit were being touched by its own special tone or tune, intimately responsive to it by some secret tie. A delicious physical sound should not melt our reason, but should attend it as its subordinate partner - but once admitted on these terms, it tends to skip ahead of reason and take the lead from it. When this occurs, I go wrong without realising it, and only recognise what has happened later on.
50. Yet at other times, suspicious of being misled, I adopt too great a caution, harshly willing to ban all melodic sweetening of David’s words sung in the psalms, not only from my own hearing but from that of the entire church - though I think it safer to follow a rule often reported to me as being that of Athanasius, Alexandria’s bishop. He had the cantor so flatten out the tune that he seemed rather to be speaking the psalm than singing it. But in the last analysis, when I recall the tears I shed at the church music when I first returned to the faith, and how moved I am even now by the meaning of the music rather than the music itself - so long as the words are sung in a clear voice appropriately fitted to the tune - I see just how useful music can be. So, though my mind hovers between pleasure’s danger and the custom’s benefits, and I would not want to adhere blindly to one view of the matter, I increasingly favour the practice of singing in church, which can strengthen the wavering soul’s feeling for religion. Yet I must testify for myself that when I am moved more by the music than by its meaning, I feel this offence should be punished, and wish I had not listened to the cantor. That is my plight. Weep for it, all you whose concern for virtue issues in good works - those without that concern will not care enough to weep for me. But you, Lord my God, hear me, heed, look on with pity, and heal me, before whom I am made a riddle to myself, which is the symptom of my sins.