You are on page 1of 12

Proportions of the Divine :

Nicola Vicentino and

Augustine’s Theology of the Trinity
Grantley McDonald*
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

In her analysis of the textual sources quoted by the Italian music theorist Nicola Vicentino, Maria
Rika Maniates points out that of the sixty-two classical references cited in L’antica musica ri-
dotta alla moderna prattica (1555), twenty-two come from Aristotle (including the ps.-Aristotelian
Problemata), and four each from Cicero, Quintilian and Vitruvius. As far as one could describe
Vicentino as a philosopher, the Aristotelian bias in his work is thus quite clear. But Vicentino’s
thought was actually quite eclectic, drawing on a wide variety of philosophical views which we
might consider incompatible, but which he brings together in the syncretic tendency so charac-
teristic of much Renaissance thought. The following observations seek to explore another philo-
sophical strand in Vicentino’s work : his comparison of the musical intervals of the unison, octave
and double octave to the three persons of the Christian Trinity (L’antica musica II.23), an analogy
which draws not so much on the thought of Aristotle as on Plato and Augustine. Vicentino draws
this unusual analogy through an exploration of Augustine’s suggestion that all creation bears
‘traces of the Trinity’ (vestigia Trinitatis). Despite explicitly distancing himself from Platonising
Arians, Vicentino uses a number of Platonic themes in his exploration of the nature of the Trinity

* For David Runia. Many thanks to Maria Rika Maniates for her incisive comments on this paper, and to the
Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance and le studium (CNRS Orléans) for their support during the
writing of this article.
 Nicola Vicentino, Ancient Music Adapted to Modern Practice, translated and annotated by Maria Rika
Maniates, edited by Claude V. Palisca, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996, p. xxvi-xxvii. Generally on
Vicentino, see the introduction to this translation ; and Henry William Kaufmann, The Life and Works of
Nicola Vicentino, (1511-c. 1576), New Brunswick, AIM, 1966. On Vicentino’s theory of the affective quali-
ties of particular intervals, see Timothy R. McKinney, « Hearing in the Sixth Sense », Musical Quarterly,
LXXXII, 1998, p. 517-536 ; on environment and delivery, see Katelijne Schiltz, « Church and chamber : the
influence of acoustics on musical composition and performance », Early Music, XXXI, 2003, p. 64-80. All
translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.

Musique | 187
Grantley McDonald

as well as in his metaphysical and aesthetic theories. Finally, he asserts that music can bring about
ethical transformation not simply by means of the physical or psychological effects of its sounds,
but also by prompting tropological interpretation.
In his treatise On the Trinity (De Trinitate), Augustine suggested that traces of the Trinity
may be glimpsed in the natural world and in the structure of the human soul. For example, in an
intimate human relationship three things exist : the lover, the beloved and the love between them.
Augustine invites us to extrapolate our experience of earthly love to the divine realm, where lover,
beloved and love are one (On the Trinity VIII.10). The study of the human soul and the natural
world can thus help us to attain knowledge of the divine : « It is right then that we, considering
the Creator through those intellective notions which have been created, should come to under-
stand the Trinity ; for his trace [vestigium] is apparent in what he has made, as is proper ». Yet
these traces of the Trinity in the natural world are not self-evident, and we require vigilance and
acuity to identify and interpret them properly. Augustine imposes upon his readers the challenge
of identifying such traces : « Whoever has the power to penetrate this secret with the sharp vision
of his mind, to see clearly that the Father can appear to human eyes through the visible creation,
but cannot appear except [also] as Son and Holy Spirit : let such a person go forth to examine
these things if he can, declaring and treating them in words ».
Amongst those who took up Augustine’s challenge was Thomas Aquinas, who pondered
whether knowledge of the Trinity might be attained by natural reason, as many had claimed for
several sages who lived before the time of Christ, such as Aristotle and Hermes Trismegistus ; after
some debate, Aquinas comes to the conclusion that bare reason alone is not sufficient to come
to a full understanding of the Trinity. This question was also treated by Marsilio Ficino (1433-

 Augustine, De Trinitate, ed. W. J. Mountain and F. Glorie, « Corpus Christianorum », Turnhout, Brepols, 1968,
p. 242 : « Oportet igitur ut creatorem per ea quæ facta sunt intellecta conspicientes trinitatem intellegamus cuius in
creatura quomodo dignum est apparet uestigium ». Generally on the doctrine of the Trinity, see David Coffey,
Deus Trinitas : the Doctrine of the Triune God, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.
 Augustine, De Trinitate II.10, p. 103 : « Qui ergo habet uires quibus hoc secretum possit mentis acie penetrare
ut ei liquido appareat uel posse etiam patrem uel non posse nisi filium et spiritum sanctum per creaturam uisi-
bilem humanis oculis apparere pergat in hæc scrutanda, si potest, etiam uerbis enuntianda atque tractanda ».
 Aquinas, Summa theologica I.32, art. 1.1, ed. Claude-Joseph Drioux, Bar-Le-Duc, Guérin, 1865, 1, p. 266 : « Videtur
quòd Trinitas divinarum personarum possit per naturalem rationem cognosci. Philosophi enim non devenerunt
in Dei cognitionem nisi per rationem naturalem. Inveniuntur autem à philosophis multa dicta de trinitate per-
sonarum. Dicit enim Aristoteles [De cælo et mundo I.2] : “Per hunc numerum (scilicet ternarium) adhibuimus
nos ipsos magnificare Deum unum, eminentem proprietatibus eorum quæ sunt creata.” Augustinus etiam dicit
[Confessiones XII.9] : “Ibi legi, scilicet in libris Platonicorum, non quidem his verbis, sed hoc idem omnino, mul-
tis et multiplicibus suaderi rationibus, quòd in principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat
Verbum”, et huiusmodi quæ ibi sequuntur. In quibus verbis distinctio divinarum personarum traditur. Dicitur
etiam Glossa [Rom 1 ; Ex 8], quòd magi Pharaonis defecerunt in tertio signo, idest in notitia tertiæ personæ, scilicet
Spiritûs sancti ; et sic ad minus duas cognoverunt. Trismegistus etiam dixit : “Monas genuit monadem, et in se suum
reflexit ardorem” ; per quod videtur generatio Filii, et Spiritûs sancti processio intimari. Cognitio ergo divinarum
personarum potest per rationem naturalem haberi ». The quotation from « Hermes Trismegistus » is from the Liber
uiginti quattuor philosophorum, in Hermes Latinus 3.2, ed. Françoise Hudry, Turnhout, Brepols, 1997, p. 5.

188 | Musique
Proportions of the Divine

1499), arguably the most important Christian Platonist in the West since Augustine. In contrast
to Aquinas, Ficino thought that a few spiritually enlightened individuals living before Christ ac-
tually had received some dim intimation of the truth. In his treatise On the sun, Ficino applies
Augustine’s notion of the vestigia Trinitatis to Socrates’ description of the sun as the offspring of
the Good and its visible manifestation (Plato, Republic VI.508b) to imply that Socrates had some
kind of knowledge of the Trinity :
Nothing can be found in the world more similar to the divine Trinity than the sun. For in the one
substance are three things that are equally united : first is that natural fecundity entirely hidden
from our senses ; second is the manifest light of the same, proceeding from that fecundity and
eternally equal to it ; third is the warming power emanating from both, entirely equal to both. The
fecundity therefore corresponds to the Father ; the light in turn, similar to intellection, corresponds
to the Son, begotten by means of intellection ; and the heat corresponds to the Spirit of love.

Yet such analogies could be dangerous, and had to be interpreted in the light of orthodox belief.
Neoplatonic speculations on the nature of the Trinity ran the risk of privileging the Father above
the Son or the Spirit, the slippery slope to the subordinationist heresy of Arius. This was a danger
that Ficino knew all too well, and studiously avoided.
Nicola Vicentino shows some evidence of Augustine’s theology of the Trinity in L’antica
musica ridotta alla moderna prattica. Vicentino was a priest, and could thus draw on some level
of theological education. He also seems to show some knowledge of debates within Renaissance
Platonism, which he may have encountered through his own reading, or through conversation
with other scholars at Ferrara like Giambattista Giraldi Cintio or Gian Giorgio Trissino, al-
though precise information on such contact is lacking. Vicentino takes Augustine’s theology of the
Trinity as the theme of a theological digression which interrupts his discussion of counterpoint
in chapter 23 of the second book of L’antica musica. This digression begins with a meditation on
the perfection of certain musical intervals. The Pythagoreans (Vicentino informs us) so revered
the perfect intervals that they wanted to hear only them. Vicentino notes that when many voices
are singing – presumably he has a polyphonic texture in mind – the perfect consonances stand
out and create the impression of « a body united with many members, and well proportioned ».

 Ficino, De sole XII, in Opera omnia, Basel, Henricpetri, 1576 ; repr. Torino, Bottega d’Erasmo, 1983, p. 973 : « Nihil
in mundo divinæ trinitati reperitur Sole similius. In una enim Solis substantia tria quædam inter se distincta sunt
pariter & unita. Primum quidem naturalis ipsa fœcunditas sensibus nostris prorsus occulta. Secundùm manifesta
lux eiusdem ex ipsa fœcunditate manans, ipsi semper æqualis. Tertium ab utroque calefactoria virtus, penitus par
utrisque. Fœcunditas igitur patrem refert, lux uerò intelligentiæ similis, filium intelligentiæ modo conceptum,
calor amatorium spiritum repræsentat ».
 Michael J. B. Allen, « Marsilio Ficino on Plato, the Neoplatonists and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity »,
Renaissance Quarterly, XXXVII, 1984, p. 555-584.
 See N. Vicentino, Ancient Music…, op. cit., p. xxvii-xxxiii, where Maniates investigates Vicentino’s connexions
with these humanists in detail. Maniates also weighs the evidence for links with Lilio Gregorio Giraldi, who
dedicated the sixth book of his De deis gentium (1545) to a certain « Nicolaus Vicentius » ; and the young Francesco
Patrizi, with whom contact is less likely. Though there is no evidence that Vicentino had read Ficino’s works, his
books were well known in the sixteenth century ; moreover, they elegantly illustrate and explain several points at
which Vicentino only hints, and are thus useful here for the purposes of illustration.

Musique | 189
Grantley McDonald

Indeed, the simultaneous combination of the three intervals of the unison, octave and double
octave « generates the union of a body so well united that it fills the listener with harmony and
wonder ». For Vicentino, this combination of three distinct pitches into a single harmony had a
mystical significance : « the nature of the numbers shows that there is something astonishing in
this effect, and, if I may say so, that it is a thing more divine than natural ». This observation
leads Vicentino to his fundamental observation : that the union of the triad of unison-octave-
double octave into one consonance recalls the three-in-one of the Christian Trinity :
And if anyone should wish to show with a very beautiful example a trace [vestigio] of the ineffable
nature of God, and of the being of the entire creation in God ; how creation is united in itself ; how
it cannot be sustained unless joined to God ; and other similar matters ; he will be able do it as well
with the consonances of which we are now speaking as with anything else.

Vicentino had clearly taken to heart Augustine’s exhortation that we should look constantly for the
vestiges of the Trinity in the created world (De Trinitate XV.2), a debt revealed by his use of the
telltale Augustinian keyword vestigio. Vicentino’s investigative – one might even say Gnostic –
attitude is summed up in the motto that surrounds his portrait woodcut on fol. A1v of L’antica
musica : « the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me » (Incerta
et occulta scientiæ tuæ manifestasti mihi), a paraphrase of Psalm 50 : 8 (51 : 6). Vicentino suggests
that his analogy between these three pitches and the Trinity will be clear « only when there is an
eye that knows how to consider these things ». This claim appears to be a reference to Augustine’s

 Nicola Vicentino, L’antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica, Rome, Barré, 1555 ; repr. Kassel, Bärenreiter,
1959, f. 37v : « […] le quali sono di tanta eccellenza, che i Pitagorici non uoleuano udire altra armonia, che
quella delle consonanze perfette […] & è tanta l’amicitia di tutte le consonanze poste insieme ; (auenga che
siano molte uoci) paiono tutte unite, et creano un corpo, con molti membri unito et bene proportionato ; & è
tanto perfetta l’unione della unisonanza dell’Ottaua et della quinta decima, che la natura de numeri dimostra
in questo effetto, esser cosa marauigliosa ; & si potrebbe dir ; ch’è più tosto cosa diuina che naturale […]. [G]
enerano l’unione d’un corpo si bene unito, che riempe l’Oditore d’armonia, & di marauiglia ». Vicentino’s
comparison of music to a well-proportioned body and the suggestion that the right kind of music fills listeners
with wonder recalls a passage from Ficino’s De vita III.21 : « Remember that song is the most powerful imitator
of all […]. When by its virtue it imitates celestial things, it thereby provokes our spirit to the celestial influ-
ence, and the influence to our spirit […]. [Song] is a kind of air, hot or warm, still breathing and somehow
alive, composed of its own limbs and joints like a living being […]. Therefore song [concentus] full of spirit
and sense transfers no less powerful an influence than any other composite thing [such as a medicine] to the
singer, and from him to the nearby listener ». Latin text in Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, edited and
translated by Carol V. Kaske & John R. Clark, Binghamton, CMERS, 1989, p. 358 : « Memento vero cantum
esse imitatorem omnium potentissimum. […] Eadem quoque virtute quando cœlestia imitatur, hinc quidem
spiritum nostrum ad cœlestem influxum, inde vero influxum ad spiritum mirifice provocat. […] Est enim aer
et hic quidem calens sive tepens, spirans adhuc et quodammodo vivens, suis quibusdam articulis artubusque
compositus sicut animal. […] Concentus igitur spiritu sensuque plenus […] non minorem inde virtutem
quam quælibet alia compositio traiicit in cantantem, atque ex hoc in proximum auditorem […] ».
 N. Vicentino, L’Antica musica…, f. 37v : « Et s’alcuno uolesse con bellissimo essempio mostrare un uestigio
della ineffabile natura di Dio, et dell’essere di tutta la creatura in Dio, & come ella si unita in se stessa, & come
non possa sustentarsi, se non congiunta à Dio, et altre simili cose, con queste consonanze di cui parliamo, potrà
farlo così bene come con altra cosa […] ».

190 | Musique
Proportions of the Divine

« sharp vision of the mind » (De Trinitate II.10), thus strengthening the intertextual web. In order
to help us in our quest, Vicentino assures us that « the seal of the hand of God » has impressed all
things through his goodness, his order and his glory.
Vicentino draws his first analogy from this fundamental observation : if one starts with a
single pitch, adds to it an octave and then another, all three pitches together will create a « most
concordant unisonance ». Vicentino compares this « unisonance » to the generation of the Son
from the Father, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son together,
while all three persons remain as one divinity. Vicentino is of course concerned that his unusual
analogy should not be misunderstood. The relative imperfection of the octave compared to the
unison should not lead the reader to suspect that Vicentino believed that the Son is any less per-
fect than the Father. Nor should the reader conclude from the relative imperfection of the double
octave vis-à-vis the octave that Vicentino considered the Spirit any less important than the Father
or the Son. Quite aware that he was walking a theological tightrope, Vicentino explicitly disa-
vowed the subordinationism of the Arians, who maintained that Christ was ontically inferior to
the Father. He also distanced himself from those Platonists who carelessly tried to apply Plotinus’
ontological scheme of the One, Mind and Soul to the Christian Trinity ; while Plotinus’ model
is superficially similar to the Christian scheme, it is essentially hierarchical, for while Mind and
Soul emanate from the One and return to it, they are ontically inferior to it. Any accommodation
of Neoplatonic ontology to Christian theology must therefore be undertaken with great caution.
Aside from the comments about the Platonising tendencies of the Arians made by Aquinas,
Vicentino perhaps also had in mind the revival of Arianism by modern heretics such as Michael
Servetus, burned for denying the doctrine of the Trinity in 1553, just two years before the publica-
tion of Vicentino’s treatise. Vicentino refines his analogy by stating that just as the unison is the

 Id. : « […] perche si come tutte l’altre cose, così ancho queste (doue però sia occhio che sappia considerarlo)
tengono stampata l’impressione che della sua bontà, et del suo ordine, et della sua gloria hà fatto il sigillo
della mano di Dio in tutte le cose, di tutte le cose, et maggiormente di se stesso ». In her notes to this pas-
sage, Maniates suggests that the phrase « et maggiormente di se stesso » refers to the Incarnation, but I argue
that it refers rathers to the traces in nature of the Trinity as Creator, the theme of this entire digression. The
phrase sigillum Dei usually refers to Christ (e.g. Alanus de Insulis, Liber Sententiarum : De Sancta Maria, in
Patrologia Latina 210, col. 247 : « Sigillum Dei Patris est Filius, quasi in omnibus signans illum, quia Patri
coæqualis, coæternus, consubstantialis »), but here Vicentino is merely inventing periphrases for the vestigia
Trinitatis. The three divine attributes of goodness, order and glory are common enough, but I have not been
able to find them before Vicentino in combination.
 Id. : « Et quanto al primo si può dire in questo modo, come dall’unisono et dall’Ottaua congiunti insieme,
proceda la quinta decima, lequali tutte tre insieme fanno una concordeuolissima unisonanza. Così ancho
dal Padre nasce il Figliuolo, & dal Padre et dal Figiuolo congiunti insieme, procede lo Spirito Santo ; lequali
tre persone sono una sola Diuinità […] ». Maniates, in N. Vicentino, Ancient Music…, op. cit., p. 90 n. 11,
notes that unisonanza is Vicentino’s translation of unisona, found in Boethius, De institutione musicæ, V.6 ;
and Gaffurius, Theorica musice II.2.
 Aquinas, Summa theologica…, op. cit., I.32, art. 1, p. 268 : « Sic autem nos non ponimus patrem et filium, se-
cundum substantiam differentes, sed hoc fuit error Origenis et Arii sequentium in hoc Platonicos ». Maniates,
in N. Vicentino, Ancient Music…, op. cit., p. 120 n. 45, identifies this passage as Vicentino’s source.

Musique | 191
Grantley McDonald

first of all musical intervals, and just as the octave proceeds from the unison before the double
octave does, similarly the Father is before the Son and the Spirit, and the Son comes from the
Father before the Spirit proceeds from both. Again, Vicentino is careful to avoid the error of
chronological modalism. Augustine specifically mentions that Arius had argued that « if he is
a Son, he was born ; if we was born, there was a time when the Son did not exist. But he failed
to understand that to be born of God is to be eternal ; as a result, the Son is co-eternal with the
Father ». Vicentino, clearly aware of Augustine’s refutation of Arius, clarifies his analogy : when
he said that the Father is « before » the Son, he did not mean this in a temporal sense, but was
referring rather to the « order existing within that incomprehensible unity of three persons ».
To assure the reader of his orthodoxy, he cites articles 25 and 26 of the Athanasian Creed, which
maintain that « in this Trinity none is afore, or after other ; none is greater, or less than another,
but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal » (in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut
posterius, nihil maius aut minus : sed totæ tres personæ coæternæ sibi sunt et coæquales).
Having posited this first analogy, Vicentino then makes another three, which lead on from
each other in a logical chain. Firstly he points out that the two octaves stacked on top of each
other are also analogous to the two realms of creation, the incorporeal and corporeal. The first of
these realms comprises the angels (or intelligences) and rational souls ; the second comprises the
heavenly and elemental bodies. This explication of the cosmos, especially the equation of the
angels with intelligences, recalls the ontology of Neoplatonists like ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite
and Ficino. Ficino himself explains these two realms as follows :
First beneath God, we – following Plato – place those minds which are entirely separate from body,
which Dionysius calls the most pure angels, that is the intelligences. We also posit a lower level
of minds, namely those which are already united with bodies, and which seem to be as it were
particular angels ; these occupy the lowest level of angels, and include all rational souls, belonging
either to the world or to the spheres of the world, to the stars, daemons or humans. In third place
are the orbs of the heavens, of the elements and of the humours.

 See Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, 4th edition, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007, p. 254.
 Augustine, De Trinitate…, op. cit., VI.1, p. 228 : « Nam ipse Arius dixisse fertur : Si filius est, natus est. Si natus
est, erat tempus quando non erat filius, non intellegens etiam natum esse deo sempiternum esse ut sit coæter-
nus patri filius, sicut splendor qui gignitur ab igne atque diffunditur coæuus est illi, et esset coæternus si
esset ignis æternus ».
 N. Vicentino, L’antica musica…, f. 37v-38r : « […] non significano il Figliuolo per l’Ottaua, et lo Spirito
Santo per la Quinta decima ; perche intendiamo à guisa de Platonici, ò d’Arriani, ch’il Figliuolo sia men per-
fetto del Padre, come è l’Ottaua men perfetta dell’Vnisono, ne che lo Spirito Santo sia men perfetto del Padre
et del Figliuolo, come è la Quinta decima men perfetta dell’Vnisono, et dell’Ottaua, ma perche come prima
dall’Vnisono uien l’Ottaua che la Quinta decima, così dal Padre prima è il Figliuolo, che lo Spirito Santo ; dico
prima è l’Vnisono che l’Ottaua et la Quinta decima : così prima è il Padre ch’il Figliuolo ò il Spirito Santo : et
come prima non per intender tempo, ma per intender l’ordine che è in quella incomprensibile unità di tre per-
sone, nella quale come dice Athanasio [fol. 38r] niente è prima, ne poi ma il tutto è coeterno ».
 Ibid., f. 38r : « Quanto al secondo si può con queste consonanze mostrare con essempio, come in Dio sia l’essere di
tutta la creatura ; L’universa creatura si diuide in due parti uniuersali, cioè Incorporea, et Corporea : l’Incorporea
sono gli Angeli, ò Intelligenze. et le anime rationali. La Corporea sono i corpi celesti, et gli Elementari ».
 Ficino, Platonic Theology, XIII.2, ed. Michael J. B. Allen & J. Hankins, 6 vols, Cambridge, MA, Harvard
University Press, 2001-2006, IV, p. 132 : « Principio sub deo mentes illas omnino solutas a corpore ponimus secun-

192 | Musique
Proportions of the Divine

According to Vicentino, the superimposition of one octave on another created by the sequence of
unison-octave-double octave recalls this two-tiered model of the cosmos. The bottom note cor-
responds to God ; the first octave corresponds to the intelligible world, which derives from God ;
and the upper octave corresponds to the corporeal world, which is dependent on both God and
the incorporeal world for its existence. But without realising it, Vicentino has again strayed into a
Plotinian cosmos of hierarchical emanations. He combines this Neoplatonic cosmology with an
Aristotelian theory of causality, suggesting that the octave and double octave are present in the uni-
son in potentiality, just as a tree is present potentially in a seed (Aristotle, Metaphysics Θ 1049).
In a third analogy, Vicentino compares the triad of unison-octave-double octave to the
metaphysical distinction between those things which are incorporeal, and hence incorruptible ;
those which are corporeal yet incorruptible ; and those which are corporeal and corruptible.
He thus presupposes a hierarchical cosmos of various levels of perfection, determined by their
distance from the perfection of the One. In such a cosmos, the incorporeal may be described as
one not in an absolute sense (« except for the One, which it is not »), but merely in compari-
son with corporeal things. This model of relative predication has implications for Vicentino’s
aesthetic theory. Accordingly, he states that a woman may be described as beautiful not in an
absolute sense, but only in comparison with less attractive women. Vicentino thus presupposes
an aesthetic theory which derives not from Aristotle – for whom « the chief forms of beauty
are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a
special degree » (Metaphysics N 1078b, transl. W. D. Ross) – but from Plato, who suggested that
we find a thing beautiful to the extent that it participates in the form of beauty (Plato, Phaedo
100c), or even from Augustine himself, who declared that « in that Trinity is the highest origin
of things, most perfect beauty and most blessed delight ». Vicentino’s assertion that we desire
bodily beauty as a trace of divine beauty, though tempered by a certain wariness of its status as
mere appearance, is also typically Augustinian.
Vicentino then introduces another striking image, that of the three kinds of being (incor-
poreal, corporeal-incorruptible, corporeal-corruptible) as three flutes blown by the breath of the
wisdom of God. This image is apparently original to Vicentino, even if it draws on the biblical

dum Platonem, quos vocat Dionysius angelos purissimos, scilicet intellectus. Addimus inferiorem mentium gra-
dum, earum scilicet quæ iam corporibus uniuntur et quasi quidam angeli videntur esse, obtinentes quodammodo
gradum infimum angelorum, quorum in numero sunt animæ omnes rationales, sive mundi, seu mundanarum
sphærarum, siderum, dæmonum atque hominum. Tertio loco sunt globi cælorum, elementorum, humorum ».
 N. Vicentino, L’antica musica…, op. cit., f. 38r : « Quanto al terzo, secondo un’altra diuisione le creature in
uniuersali sono tre, Incorporea, Corporea incorruttibile, & Corporea corruttibile. Hora si come una donna
si chiama bella, non perche sia semplicemente bella, ma per comparatione alle men belle ; così la creatura
incorporea si può chiamare uno, non perchè sia semplicemente uno, ma per comparatione alle altre creature
manco uno ch’ella non è […] ».
 Augustine, De Trinitate…, op. cit., VI.10, p. 242 : « In illa enim trinitate summa origo est rerum omnium et
perfectissima pulchritudo et beatissima delectatio ». Augustine (City of God, V.11) also hints briefly at a concep-
tion of beauty in the world as partly the result of a harmony between the parts of created things.
 David Torevell, Liturgy and the Beauty of the Unknown, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2007, p. 53-56.

Musique | 193
Grantley McDonald

figure of Wisdom and on Aquinas’ characterisation of the Trinitarian relation of the Holy Spirit
as one of spiration (Aquinas, Summa theologica I.36 art. 1). Although Vicentino describes this
illustration as a « petty image and shadow » (picciola imagine, & ombra) of the union between
the incorporeal creation, the heavens and the elements, we should not conclude that Vicentino
is minimising the validity of his image. The interpretation of objects in the physical world as im-
ages and shadows of those in the intelligible or divine realm is one of the basic motifs of Plato’s
epistemology, as illustrated vividly in his myth of the cave (Republic VII.514-517).
In his fourth (and last) analogy, Vicentino points out that just as the octave and double
octave are dependent on the unison for their being and perfection, likewise the incorporeal and
corporeal realms of creation are dependent on God for their creation and their continued exist-
ence and operation. Furthermore, the fact that the octave and double octave can only exist when
joined harmoniously to a bottom note should lead us to consider that those who wish to perform
praiseworthy works must ensure that their soul (corresponding to the octave) and their body (the
double octave) are in harmony with the divine will (the bottom note). This moral interpretation
of the musical relationship between the three pitches arises from the fourfold exegetical technique
of allegorical interpretation of Scripture popular throughout the middle ages and Renaissance,
the so-called quadriga ; according to this scheme, the sense that Vicentino draws from the musical
phenomena is a tropological (or moral) one. The protreptic or hortatory tone of this last point
also seems to owe something to homiletic, a style of oratory with which Vicentino, as a priest, was
certainly familiar. Again we see certain similarities with the writings of Ficino, who constantly ex-
horted his musician friends to harmonise not merely their instruments and voices, but also their
lives, for Plato derided musicians who failed to progress from the consonance of the voice to the
reason underlying musical consonance.

 N. Vicentino, L’antica musica…, f. 38r : « […] imagini che queste tre uoci cantino insieme quasi tre flauti,
che riceuano il fiato della bocca della sapienza di Dio […] ». On the biblical background to this image, see
N. Vicentino, Ancient Music…, op. cit., p. 122, n. 50. This image may have suggested itself to Vicentino from
mediaeval representations of the Trinity as a head with three faces. For a clarification of the characterisation
of the Holy Spirit as a « bond of love », often attributed to Augustine, see Catherine Osborne, Eros Unveiled :
Plato and the God of Love, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 201-218.
 N. Vicentino, L’antica musica…, f. 38r : « Quanto al quarto, cioè che la creatura non può sustentarsi da se
medesima, ne far le sue operationi se non è congiunta à Dio, quanto se li conuiene ; di ciò se uede l’essempio
manifestissimo nell’unisonanze di che parliamo. Perche si come l’otto et il quindici non possono essere senza
l’uno, ne l’ottaua et la quintadecima senza l’unisono ; conciò sia ch’il necessario fundamento, & elemento di
quella sia l’uno, & di queste l’unisono ; così anco l’ottaua cioè la Creatura incorporea, et la quinta decima,
cioè la Creatura corporea, non possono essere, ne sostentarsi, ne far qual si uoglia naturale operatione senza
Dio […]. Onde noi impariamo, che si come quel Musico che uuol fare una bellissima unisonanza, congiunge
l’Ottaua et la Quinta decima all’Vnisono, così ciascun huomo che uuol fare opera ueramente degna di laude,
dè con ogni diligenza attendere à confirmare la sua Ottaua, cioè l’anima sua, & la sua Quinta decima, cioè il
corpo suo, à quello eterno Vnisono, che è la uolontà di Dio […] ».
 Ficino, Argumentum to Republic VII, in Opera Omnia, p. 1412 : « Deridet & musicum nisi à consonantia vocis
ad intellectualem se recipiat consonantiæ rationem ».

194 | Musique
Proportions of the Divine

In his desire to find as many analogies as possible between the Trinity and the musical
sequence of unison – octave – double octave, it may seem that Vicentino was trying a little too
hard. By the end of the chapter, the reader is left a little dazed by the series of apparently arbitrary,
somewhat ill-fitting and potentially heretical analogies. But in drawing such analogies between
musical pitches and the persons of the Trinity, Vicentino was certainly not alone. He was pre-
ceded by Guy de Saint-Denis (c. 1270-c. 1335), who likewise responded to Augustine’s challenge
to find vestiges of the Trinity in creation by finding Trinitarian significance in another sequence
of notes, diapente – diatessaron – diapason (fifth – fourth – octave). Guy’s younger contempo-
rary Jacques de Liège (Speculum musicæ VII.30) also discussed the validity of drawing Trinitarian
analogies with human song, though he was less enthusiastic about such comparisons than Guy
de Saint-Denis or Vicentino. However, there is no evidence that Vicentino knew the works of
either of these predecessors, and he apparently came to such analogies on his own.
Two of Vicentino’s contemporaries would also draw analogies between the Trinity and musi-
cal phenomena. In conversation with Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon pointed out a number
of places in which the Trinity is revealed in creation : the sun comprises substance, heat and light
(cf. Ficino) ; geometry has three dimensions ; in music, the notes re, mi and fa define the possible
relationships between contiguous degrees of the scale : tone or semitone. But Melanchthon’s
rather haphazard list bears little resemblance to Vicentino’s more elaborate analogies, and are

 Sieglinde van de Klundert, Guido von Saint-Denis, Tractatus de tonis : Edition und Studien, 2 vols, Bubenreuth,
Hurricane Publishers, 1998, II, p. 115 : « Trinam itaque armoniam perfectam in sonis instituit a principio sublimis
omnium creator ac rector, qui solus in trinitate perfecta sic permanet, ut semper in unitate consistat, non solum
scilicet ut in istis tribus consonantiis supradictis vel earum triplici armonia bonitatis sue participationem osten-
deret, sed ut homo etiam, qui ad illius summe trinitatis ymaginem et similitudinem est creatus, a sui conditoris
laude se ipsum excusare non posset, sed potius benedictum nomen maiestatis illius ineffabilis quoque bonitatis
clementiam iugiter, quantum humana permittit fragilitas, collaudaret. Tres siquidem consonantie predicte, dya-
pason videlicet, dyapente et dyatessaron, non solum si simul ordinate fuerint et coniuncte, unam resultantem ex
tribus perfectissimam efficiunt melodiam, quinimmo prima armonia, que dyapason dicitur, quasi mater esse vi-
detur, dyapente vero media et quasi filia in ipsa contenta, tertia vero, que dyatessaron appellatur, ab eis procedens.
Et hoc secundum quod aliqui dicunt quidam forte senserunt Pitagorici naturali inclinatione ducti. In creaturis
etenim relucet quoddam vestigium trinitatis, ut habet alibi declarari. Hoc tamen non sunt ausi sub talibus verbis
exprimere, sed de istis in numeris quasi sub methafora loquebantur ».
 Jacobus Leodiensis, Speculum musicae, edited by Roger Bragard, « Corpus Scriptorum de Musica » 3/7, Rome,
American Institute of Musicology, 1973, p. 60-61.
 Johannes Manlius, Locorum communium collectanea, Bautzen, Wolrab, 1565, p. 5 : « Confabulatio inter Doctorem
Martinum Lutherum & Philippum, quòd in creaturis reperiantur similitudines de Trinitate » ; cf. Philipp
Melanchthon, Opera quæ supersunt omnia, ed. Karl Gottlieb Bretschneider and Heinrich Ernst Bindseil, 28 vols,
Halle, Schwetschke, 1834-1860, XXI, p. 578 : « Quod in creaturis reperiatur trinitas. In sole est substantia, calor et
splendor [Manlius om. In sole…splendor] ; in fulminibus [Manlius : fluminibus] substantia, fluxus et potentia,
sic et in avibus [Manlius : artibus] ; in astronomia motus, lumen et influentia ; in musica Re mi fa ; in geometria
tres dimensiones : linea, superficies et corpus ; in grammatica tres partes orationis ; in arithmetica tres numeri ; in
rhetorica dispositio, elocutio et actio seu gestus ; inventio et artium seu materiæ [Manlius : Inuentio non est artis,
sed naturæ] ; in dialectica : definitio, divisio, et argumentatio [Manlius : om. in dialectica…argumentatio, add.
Sic quælibet res habet pondus, numerum, & figuram] ».

Musique | 195
Grantley McDonald

unlikely to have influenced him anyway. In a similar impulse, John Calvin compared the three
persons of the Trinity to « a certain harmony » (symphonia quædam) bearing witness to Christ,
by which he probably meant a harmonic triad. While there is little in common between the
analogies of Melanchthon, Calvin and Vicentino, it is nonetheless noteworthy that all three men
should have tried to find some kind of vestigium Trinitatis in musical sound.
In the music theory of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Trinitarian analogies would
enjoy something of a boom. Johannes Lippius (1610 and 1612) also drew Trinitarian analogies
with musical phenomena, but rather than applying the image of the Trinity to the Pythagorically
perfect sequence of unison – fifth – fourth, or unison – octave – double octave, Lippius, also track-
ing the vestigia Trinitatis, applies the analogy to the Pythagorically more troublesome harmonic
triad, which he describes as « an image and shadow of that great mystery of the mystery of the di-
vine Uni-Trinity, which alone is to be worshipped ; I doubt whether one more outstanding could
be given than this ». Accordingly, Lippius suggests that this mystery should only be examined by
« theosophophilosophers », that is, those working within the Hermetic or Gnostic traditions.
Lippius also mentions that some recent writers – he perhaps has Vicentino in mind – have had
some knowledge of this mystery. The way in which Lippius imagined this « harmonic Trinity »
springing forth from the lowest pitch certainly bears some resemblance to Vicentino’s model.
Lippius likewise employs the language of Augustine’s Trinitarian theology by suggesting that
the prima (root) « begets » the summa (fifth) ; these two notes « co-spirate », and the media
(third) « proceeds » from them both. Lippius’ Augustinian model of the trias harmonica was
subsequently adopted by Johann Heinrich Alsted, Johannes Crüger, Abdias Trew, Lampertus
Alard, Johannes Michael Corvinus, Conradus Matthaei, Wolfgang Caspar Printz, Johann George

 John Calvin, In epistolas novi testamenti catholicas commentarii, Halle, Gebauer, 1832, p. 157 : « Quod dicit, tres
esse unum, ad essentiam non refertur, sed ad consensum potius. Acsi diceret, Patrem, & æternum Sermonem
ejus ac Spiritum, symphonia quadam Christum pariter approbare ».
 Johannes Lippius, Synopsis musicæ novæ omnino veræ atque methodicæ universæ, Straßburg, Ledertz, impens.
Kieffer, 1612, f. F4r-v : « Trias Harmonica Simplex et Recta Radix vera est Unitrisona omnis Harmoniæ perfectis-
simæ plenissimæque quæ dari in Mundo potest, Sonorum etiam mille et millies mille, qui omnes referri posse
debent ad partes ejus in Unisono Simplici et Composito, magni istius Mysterii DIVINÆ solùm adorandæ [fol.
F4v] VNITRINITATIS Imago et Vmbra (an ulla luculentior esse possit, nescio). Eò igitur attendenda est magis
Theosophophilosophis, quò hactenus fundamentaliter erat nota minus, Veteribus planè non, Recentioribus pau-
cis et non nisi confusè quodammodò cognita […] ». Lippius first expressed these ideas in his Disputatio musica
tertia, Wittenberg, Gormann, 1610 ; see Benito Rivera, German Music Theory in the Early 17th Century : The
Treatises of Johannes Lippius, Ann Arbor, UMI, 1980, especially p. 113-165 ; this passage is cited p. 232.
 J. Lippius, Synopsis musicæ novæ…, op. cit., f. F5r-v : « Soni Monades, seu Voces Radicales Tres constituentes
etiam Tres Dyades Radicales sunt primò duæ Extremæ, scilicet Prima, ima basis, et Vltima seu summa ab
illa genita, distantes à se invicem per διὰ πέντε quæ Sesquialterius est proportionis : deindè est una Media
duas illas Extremas perfecto masculoque tinnitu conspirantes leniori suâ dulcedine [fol. F5v] conjugens ex
iisdem procedens interveniendo et distando ab illarum unâ per Ditonum qui est Proportionis Sesquiquartæ,
et alterâ per Semiditonum, qui Proportionis Sesquiquintæ, in Scala Syntonâ » ; B. Rivera, German Music
Theory…, op. cit., p. 115, 233.

196 | Musique
Proportions of the Divine

Ahle, Andreas Werckmeister and Johann Gottfried Walther, as Benito Rivera has pointed out.
Johannes Kepler (1619) also drew analogies between the Trinity and musical sound in Harmonices
mundi III.3. Rameau too would speak of the centre harmonique, and the « generation » of a chord
from its root, terms that recall the Trinitarian analogies of Lippius.
The theological digression in chapter 23 of the second book of Vicentino’s L’antica musica is
thus not merely an irrelevant intrusion into the stream of Vicentino’s contrapuntal instruction.
As a priest and a musician, Vicentino was quite aware of the spiritual implications of human
music, and wanted to demonstrate to his readers that music is an important means of attaining
knowledge of God. Vicentino maintains that music has the potential to bring about ethical trans-
formation not merely through the physical perception of various sounds, but also by prompting
theological reflection on the nature of the Trinity, or by reminding us of the need to harmonise
our bodies and souls with the unity of the divine will. Just as Vicentino describes perfect intervals
standing out from complex musical textures and providing them with a firm basis and an almost
corporeal articulation, just so his own digression on the image of the Trinity in musical sound
stands out from the texture of his treatise, revealing the spiritual framework of his entire concep-
tion of music.

 B. Rivera, « The Isagoge (1581) of Johannes Avianius : An Early Formulation of Triadic Theory », Journal of Music
Theory, XXII, 1978, p. 43-64 : 43 ; Thomas Christensen, Rameau and Musical Thought in the Enlightenment,
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 87-88.
 Johannes Kepler, Harmonices Mundi Libri V, Linz, Plancus, impens. Tampach, 1619, f. D2v-D4r.
 B. Rivera, German Music Theory…, op. cit., p. 115, citing Carl Dahlhaus, Untersuchungen über die Entstehung
der harmonischen Tonalität, Kassel, Bärenreiter, 1968, p. 104.

Musique | 197