He could charm rocks and trees; birds and beast; men and gods. Orpheus was one of most gifted musicians of Greek mythology. Son of Apollo, his music was irresistible.
Orpheus loved Eurydice, a beautiful nymph. When she died by a snake bite, he used his voice and his lyre to move the hearts of all the powers and gods of Hades. He persuaded them to give her back. They agreed, as long as Orpheus did not look back until she was out of Hades. Orpheus failed in this and Eurydice was lost forever in Hades; Orpheus wandered and wept till his life was ended.
Other Greek myths of musicians abound: Amphion of Thebes surrounded the walls of Thebes with the power of his music, Arion of Methymna tamed fishes with his music. Eunomos the Locrian was playing his harp to celebrate the death of the Pythic serpent when one of his strings broke. A grasshopper jumped onto his lyre, and began singing the part of the missing string.
These cherished myths and more caught the attention of Clement of Alexandria. An incredibly intelligent church father living from 190 – 210 AD, Clement of Alexandria challenged the gnostics, wrote many books, and was a theologian to the Hellenistic (Greek) world.
In his Exhortation to the Heathen, Clement of Alexandria compares the mythic Greek masters of song to the true Song. He is possibly the first theologian to have seen Christ as a Singing Saviour (but he certainly hasn’t been the last!).
Enjoy the sections below of Clement of Alexandria’s writing:
“How, let me ask, have you believed vain fables and supposed animals to be charmed by music while Truth’s shining face alone, as would seem appears to you disguised, and is looked on with incredulous eyes? ..
What my Eunomos sings is not the measure of Terpander, nor that of Capito, nor the Phrygian, nor Lydian, nor Dorian, but the immortal measure of the new harmony which bears God’s name–the new, the Levitical song.
To me, therefore, that Thracian Orpheus, that Theban, and that Methymnaean,–men, and yet unworthy of the name,–seem to have been deceivers… But not such is my song, which has come to loose, and that speedily, the bitter bondage of tyrannizing demons; and leading us back to the mild and loving yoke of piety, recalls to heaven those that had been cast prostrate to the earth.
It alone has tamed men, the most intractable of animals;
the frivolous among them answering to the fowls of the air, deceivers to reptiles, the irascible to lions, the voluptuous to swine, the rapacious to wolves. The silly are stocks and stones, and still more senseless than stones is a man who is steeped in ignorance.
…And so all such most savage beasts, and all such blocks of stone, the celestial song has transformed into tractable men. “For even we ourselves were sometime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” Thus speaks the apostolic Scripture: “But after that the kindness and love of God our saviour to man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.”
Behold the might of the new song! It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts.
…And He who is of David, and yet before him, the Word of God, despising the lyre and harp, which are but lifeless instruments, and having tuned by the Holy Spirit the universe, and especially man,–who, composed of body and soul, is a universe in miniature, makes melody to God on this instrument of many tones; and to this intrument–I mean man–he sings accordant: “For thou art my harp, and pipe, and temple.” –a harp for harmony–a pipe by reason of the Spirit a temple by reason of the word; so that the first may sound, the second breathe, the third contain the Lord.
…And He Himself also, surely, who is the supramundane Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God.
What, then, does this instrument–the Word of God, the Lord, the New Song–desire?
To open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf, and to lead the lame or the erring to righteousness, to exhibit God to the foolish, to put a stop to corruption, to conquer death, to reconcile disobedient children to their father. The instrument of God loves mankind. The Lord pities, instructs, exhorts, admonishes, saves, shields, and of His bounty promises us the kingdom of heaven as a reward for learning; and the only advantage He reaps is, that we are saved. For wickedness feeds on men’s destruction; but truth, like the bee, harming nothing, delights only in the salvation of men.
You have, then, God’s promise; you have His love: become partaker of His grace.
And do not suppose the song of salvation to be new, as a vessel or a house is new. For “before the morning star it was;” ‘and “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Error seems old, but truth seems a new thing.
…Well, inasmuch as the Word was from the first, He was and is the divine source of all things; but inasmuch as He has now assumed the name Christ, consecrated of old, and worthy of power, he has been called by me the New Song. This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man–the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal. For, according to that inspired apostle of the Lord, “the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.””