Original Research

Augustine on music as the harmonious language of spirituality: An apophatic theological study

Godfrey T. Baleng
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 58, No 1 | a3064 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v58i1.3064 | © 2024 Godfrey T. Baleng | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 February 2024 | Published: 23 April 2024

About the author(s)

Godfrey T. Baleng, The Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


This article arose from the study of apophatic theology also known as the via-negativa. Apophatic theology, by definition, refrains from stating what and who God is instead of focusing on what God is not. It renders religious language as a sign-system inadequate in describing God, his nature, and human numinous experiences. Yet, language is the fundamental modelling system that stimulates our everyday phenomenological, spiritual, and religious developments. This article is demonstrating how the apophatic theological view attempted to solve or investigate the inadequacy of religious language or the lack of God’s language. The research drew from contemporary scholarship on Augustine’s use of apophatic theology in developing its hypothesis of the importance of music as a transcendental language. Moreover, through music and prayer, language becomes an intermediary beyond the physical to the metaphysical. In this instance, Augustine of Hippo, coming to terms with the inadequacy of religious language, considered music a succinct communicative tool in his theology and divine pedagogy. So, due to the challenges of language, the purpose of this article is using Augustine and his view of music within the Sitz im Leben of his spiritual development to solve a theological problem. In this article, the following will be discussed: (1) Augustine’s Confessions as a dialogue where he speaks to God through Scriptures and hymns; (2) Augustine’s earlier philosophical theory of music; (3) and Augustine’s use of apophatic theology in our spiritual development. The importance of this research will help us understand God’s immanence (over his ineffable) through our use and understanding of music as a harmonious language consisting of unchanging mathematical properties. Furthermore, the truthfulness of music as a harmonious language about God’s mystery can be better understood.

Contribution: Through Augustine’s apophatic theology, this study contributes to our understanding and revitalisation of spirituality using music as an alternative form of harmonious language of the spirit. Moreover, it considers music a universal language that transcends all senses and other modes of cognitive activities. By establishing a basic principle of what makes us spiritual, we can transform our cognitive abilities and become better spiritual beings. Furthermore, this study examined the harmonic nature of music in the seven liberal arts as a significant mathematical aspect of the cosmos.


Augustine; music; language; spirituality; apophatic theology; sensible; intelligible

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