Monday, October 07, 2019

Angel choir

1. In folk theology, heaven has an angel choir. When you die and go to heaven, you hear the angels sing. You might even join the angel choir. Heaven has a mixed choir consisting of saints and angels. There's a vacant seat with your name on it, awaiting your arrival. 

I don't know the history of this belief. Perhaps it was popularized by Handel's Messiah, which turns Lk 2:13-14 into choral music. But to my knowledge there's no clear passage of Scripture which says angels sing. Lk 2:13-14 doesn't say they sang, although praise is consistent with song. So that's evolved into a bit of Christmas folklore, embellished by seasonal anthems, carols, and hymnody. 

There's the passage in Job 38:7, but that's poetic and metaphorical. The Book of Revelation has scenes of heavenly singing, but the choristers seem to be saints rather than angels. 

2. It's often said that choirboys have angelic voices. What's meant by that, I think, is that choirboys have "sexless" voices, in the sense that their voices lack the virile or sensual timbre of opera singers. Even so, choirboys don't have genderless voices: their voices are recognizably male. But they do have an ethereal quality to them. 

3. Assuming for argument's sake that angels sing, how could they sing? 

i) It might be telepathic singing. That still doesn't indicate what it sounds like, but it's a mode of vocalism consistent with discarnate spirits.

ii) They might have human or humanoid voices if they assume corporeal form. Whether that would be a male or female timbre, adult or prepubescent, would depend on the anatomy. 

Still, there's no clear biblical evidence that angels sing. In principle, if you heard or saw angels sing in a near-death experience, that would be prima facie evidence, but that also depends on how near-death experiences map onto reality. 

4. Another question is whether Christians actually sing in heaven. How literally should we take the depictions in Revelation? 

That may be more than a purely hermeneutical question. If Christians sing on earth, it would be natural for them to sing in heaven. They will carry their memories of Christian music with them into the afterlife. 

Admittedly, they can't physically vocalize in heaven. However, I sometimes dream that I'm singing in church, so the saints might sing in that simulated sense. Indeed, heaven is so inspiring that it's hard to see how the saints could resist breaking in song. 

5. This also raises the question of what the saints will sing. Presumably, sainted composers will continue to write music in heaven. Music even better than what they composed on earth.

There are also composers who wrote some great Christian music even though they weren't Christian (e.g. Brahms, Fauré, Ralph Vaughan Williams). Will their particular talent be lost, or will that be transferred to some of the saints? 

In a multiverse scenario, Brahms or Fauré might be Christian in a parallel universe, yet all Christians wind to the same heaven–regardless of where they originate. 

6. Does heaven have its own history of music, that parallels OT history and church history? Does music in heaven mirror the chronological development of music?

For instance, we don't know how the Psalter was sung. We don't know what kind of music it was originally set to. Maybe it was chanted, or maybe it was set to folk tunes. 

When OT saints passed on, was the music they heard and sang in heaven the same kind of music they heard and sang on earth? When medieval Christians died, was the music they heard and sang in heaven the same kind of music they heard and sang on earth? Likewise, Renaissance church music, Baroque church music, Black Gospel, and so on and so forth? 

7. Since God knows the future, it's possible that heavenly music retroactively represents later periods of music. OT saints and medieval saints get to hear Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Fauré , Black Gospel, &c. centuries or millennia ahead of time! 

I haven't said anything about rock music because that's what's played in hell, on jukeboxes. I have that on good authority, from an anonymous source–a high-placed informant in the heavenly hierarchy who shared it with me on condition of confidentiality. 

Admittedly, this post is an exercise in theological speculation. Up to a point, I think that's a way to cultivate heavenly-mindedness. 


  1. Ah Steve. Your comments on rock music have led me to question my assurance ;)

  2. "I haven't said anything about rock music because that's what's played in hell, on jukeboxes."

    Now that takes me back to my adolescence. All those arguments about whether Christians could listen to Rock music. I was allowed to listen to the late great Larry Norman.

  3. Prog rock assuredly has a place in the heavenly heights. My sources tell me that there are heavenly equivalents of King Crimson and Genesis, etc.