I'm NOT interested here in the difference in musical structure and rules here, per-say, between the Byzantine and Gregorian chanting styles.

What I'm more interested in is the difference between them in the goals of expression in each chanting tradition?

For example, what is Gregorian mode 1 trying to convey compared to Byzantine mode 1?

Or also, more generally, what is Gregorian Chant as a whole trying to accomplish compared to what Byzantine Chant?

When I say Byzantine Chant, I mean the Greek Byzantine Chanting tradition used by the Greek Orthodox Church on Mt. Athos and throughout the Churches in communion with Constantinople.

When I say Gregorian Chant, I mean the Gregorian Chanting tradition used by the Roman Catholic Church that is most often associated with Gregorian monastics.

  • This question is about Rite, deferences in practice here are mostly because of language, how that language tranfers from one language (Greek) to another (Latin). I'm unsure what you are asking, is it better to say "Hello" in English or french? and what does each way of saying "hello" accomplish. I think the same thing.
    – Marc
    Oct 23, 2015 at 14:33
  • The comparison is in the spirit and attitude of worship each style is trying to convey. For instance, I know generally that the byzantine system is meant to convey a sense of mystery and awe across all 8 modes,but that mode 1's particular spiritual posture can be gleaned by meditating on its resurrectional troparion "when the stone had been sealed by the Jews". However, I still know little enough that I can't compare on my own the character of the Georgian vs byzantine.
    – Josiah
    Oct 23, 2015 at 14:46
  • ^ I wrote 'Georgian' but meant 'Gregorian', but can no longer edit the comment.
    – Josiah
    Oct 23, 2015 at 16:26
  • I don't have a good answer to your question, but as you are probably aware, Orthodox Liturgies today are chanted from start to finish (no instruments). I think that that was the case for all of the Sees of the Church during the first millennium - Rome included - although the styles might have been slightly different. It would be interesting to learn when the Roman See departed from the tradition.
    – user22553
    Jun 25, 2016 at 6:33

1 Answer 1


This is purely subjective, and others may feel differently. I'm not claiming this to be an absolute truth, but here it goes:

I believe that Catholic theology is centered around exaltation and Orthodox theology is centered around humbleness.

I see this in the different architectural approaches. Catholic churches with their tall, narrow and pointy windows instill a sense of exaltation, of going upwards towards the Heavens while the huge central Pantokrator icon of Christ on the ceiling of every Orthodox church is extremely humbling.

The iconographies speak the same thing to me as well. The Catholic canonical depiction of the Resurrection depicts Christ triumphantly rising from the grave, sometimes alone sometimes with two angels bowing down to Him, again, very exalting. The Orthodox canonical depiction of the Resurrection shows Christ rising triumphantly from a defeated Hell (gates and keys broken), dragging Adam and Eve out of their graves, again, humbling, as we, the sinners, identify with Adam and Eve.

And finally, I perceive Gregorian chanting to be exalting and Byzantine chanting to be humbling.

However, I may be wrong, the perception of music is a huge academic field, but I've pointed out the unrelated examples of architecture and iconography to validate my (again, subjective) consistency.

  • 1
    While that is an interesting opinion, it remains an opinion, and thus not well suited to this site's format. Is there any historian of music or other such person that you know has studied the issue? Do any theologians familiar with both types of plainchant discuss the issue? These are the kinds of things that constitute a good answer.
    – Wtrmute
    Sep 5, 2017 at 17:40

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