What does eternity sound like? 16th-century PROG!

Prog goes back at least to the sixteenth century. Here’s proof:

From “Can Synthesized Music Touch Eternity?“:

The scholastics, typically dated from St. Thomas Aquinas in the late Middle Ages, believed in the unity of all truth. Not that all truth was knowable, but it is potentially integratable. Whatever was true in one discipline had also to be true in every other discipline; one truth, stretching infinitely vertical but also horizontally to infinite applications. Similarly, whatever was true in the course of time in this world is a reflection of a truth that God ordained to be so outside of time.

The model went as follows. There is the forward march of time, which is the world you and I know, experience, report on, and it is defined by struggle, triumph over nature, and a sad ending that comes with mortality, dust to dust.  On the other side of life, there is new life in a complete world that lives outside of time, birth, and death. It is the transcendent realm, a kind of place where we can live at one with God and in full knowledge of all that is true. This was Heaven.

This model implies a certain well-known geography, which is metaphorical but aids in understanding. Time is what you experience in life. Heaven is ascendant and transcendent. It is a realm somewhere up there that is out of time. And of course there is also Purgatory (which exists within time but is only known after death) as well as Hell, the eternal foil to paradise.

The highest goal of life on earth – and this goes for art, liturgy, learning, technology, science, commerce – was to reach outside of time and touch (or see or feel) that heavenly realm. Doing so, it was believed, would inspire us toward better lives because it would fire the imagination toward the goal of all our mental and spiritual actions, to love God and others ever more perfectly. Also, it’s psychologically and spiritually awesome to gain a glimpse of God or even to touch the Presence.

Eternity to Taste and Hear

This sensibility is embodied in Eucharistic theology, in which the faithful are granted the privilege of literally consuming the body of Christ. It is a way for time to touch eternity in the most tangible possible way, literally draw on the transcendent as a source of life and salvation. The art created in light of this sensibility was structured to achieve this very Eucharistic effect, to create visuals and sound that permit us some slight hint of access to the eternal.

What does eternity sound like? This was the task of the 16th-century masters to discover. And this task – which is not so much didactic as experiential – inspired vast creativity all over England and the Continent. There was Victoria in Spain, Tallis in England, Josquin in France, Palestrina in Italy, Di Lasso in the Netherlands, Isaac in Germany, and literally thousands of other musicians who contributed to the task. And their legacies are remarkable. Their music can still today transport your mind to another realm, exactly as the Scholastic model suggests.

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