Fr. Robert Sokolowski on “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Fr. Robert Sokolowski on “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” April 6, 2009

A beautiful hymn may fill us with religious reverence; this is appropriate if the beauty of the song is in the service of our worship of God and if our reverence is directed toward the creator and redeemer. But it may be the melodic experience that really moves us, the aesthetic perception of a necessity of form, something analogous to our intellectual understanding  of a natural necessity. Sometimes, indeed, the aesthetic attraction may be so great that the inappropriateness of the music or of the words of the song is not noticed, and the incongruity of singing it in a Christian church may not be perceived. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, that song to a modern version of Ares, is a good example of this; its bloodthirsty wrath, sword, and trumpet in the service of a particular army are quite out of place in a Christian setting, but its melody is so stirring and its phonemic patterns so attractive that the people who sing it most probably do not appreciate the meaning of the words they pronounce.

Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press), 140.

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