“See how mighty is the new song! … it is this which composed the entire creation into melodious order, and tuned the discord of elements, that the whole universe might be in harmony with it.” (Clement of Alexandria (c200AD) , Exhortation to the Greeks, Chapter I. Translated by G. W. Butterworth. Loeb, 1919)
Creation is free, but there is an inherent law in everything, created before everything began. In musical terms we can think of this as Harmony. Everything can be free because Harmony is there to guide its formation. Harmony does not control the making of things but acts as a simple guiding law. it makes the Dance possible, just as all music, of any kind, depends on the natural harmonies of the harmonic series. Even if our music deliberately goes against harmony in doing so it affirms the central importance of Harmony.
Because there is a Harmony in everything Creation can be free to evolve. There need be no plan in God’s Mind other than Love, and the desire in everything to become itself and express in being itself the Unity of the Source of All Being.
This idea of a Harmony within everything is often associated with Pythagoras (6th century BC), but there are traditions that he learned from older sources. The key idea was that everything that existed came from number – but this understanding that number was the fundamental factor in Nature derived, in itself, from Harmony.
The revelation of number’s importance came from the discovery that harmonious sounds were related to each other by simple numerical ratios. Pythagoras was said to have seen this in the contrasting notes struck by anvils of different sizes.
Not only was number central, the natural harmonic series and the form of the musical scale were seen as keys to the form of Creation.
Creation was a Cosmos – a harmonious whole.
It is extremely to remember this when looking at the ancient and medieval view of the universe. By some mysterious coincidence the movement of the planets which were visible from earth appeared to reflect the proportions of Harmony. The visible universe appeared to be built from music.
In Platonic thinking this Harmony is thought of as the “Soul of the World”. This phrase might seem to imply that the universe (the World means the whole of Creation) is a conscious, thinking Creature, but in Plato’s Timaeus it clearly means the mathematical pattern of everything. “Soul of the World” was avoided by medieval theologians but was popular in the Renaissance, after the rediscovery of Plato’s original works.
The other essential thing to remember is that our own soul is made of the same stuff as the cosmos. The Harmony is also in us, however obscured by our own imperfections.
Harmony and the imagined shape of the cosmos suggest that out of the Unity of the fundamental tone come various notes and music with various archetypal qualities, which were associated poetically with the qualities of the planets. We have these same qualities within us. (see THE MODES and MUSES) What we are, our souls or our personality, is more like a dance of planets, of different qualities, than one fixed sphere. We are a performance, just as the cosmos is a performance.
This was the common understanding of the Cosmos in the ancient world. There are good reasons to suppose this was how the Old Testament people saw the Cosmos. (See WISDOM). In Christian terms we have to imagine an Incarnation into a Creation which has this inherent law of Harmony within it. (see MARY)
In an ideal world people would not need laws imposed from outside Creation. Nature has a law of Harmony and harmonious living within itself.
Though we may know that the universe is infinitely bigger than ancient people imagined and that the solar system is quite different, if we are to understand the workings of God as they did in the time of Christ and the time of St Francis, we have to remember that this idea of the harmonious cosmos is still true. Harmony is still true. The ancient image of the universe in which the Earth is the centre, surrounded by the moving planetary spheres is not a scientific view but a symbolic one. The Earth stands for the whole of Creation at the centre of spiritual influences. The same image is an image of the Soul, which is a copy of the Cosmos as a whole.
The climactic flowering of this musical vision of the cosmos was the book “The Harmony of the World” (1521) by the Venetian Franciscan Francesco Giorgi, which combines medieval and renaissance traditions of the music with a deep Franciscan spirituality of Christ in all things. (see GIORGI) This book was popular in France and England and may have had had a continuing influence in the arts.
“According to the writings of Pythagoras it was believed that the entire world was arranged and perfected in these numbers and proportions.” (Giorgi, De Harmonia Mundi)
Disastrously the new understanding of the solar system in the 16th century seemed to contradict the harmonious view of the cosmos. By the 18th century God had been pushed outside what was seen as a mechanical universe – and became for many a completely different kind of God.
But the ancient vision of the cosmos was an image of Harmony. Though we may know that the universe has a different way of working the original idea of a Harmony within everything is still true.
Giorgi’s has an optimistic Franciscan vision in which, at the end of things, everything is redeemed.
“We will sing perfect and harmonious songs – so God grants us – because we will sing in the highest together with the angels; and the choir of the saints will not only resound in language, but we will sing with the spirit, the soul, the body and all members, when we sing the praise of the creator, who is worthy to receive glory and honour in eternity.” (Translated in – Wilhem Schmidt-Biggemann, Philosophia Perennis. Springer, 2004.)
(Alternatively – go to CONCLUSION – BUT THE SPHERES ARE SILENT…)
Or EPILOGUE – READING THE WORLD)