Articles and book excerpts used in and referred to on Issues, Etc.
by Carl Schalk
Wherever Christians have
gathered to worship and praise God, they have sung songs-songs of faith and
confidence, songs of contrition and confession, songs of exile and rebirth,
songs of sin and salvation. Through 20 centuries of Christian history, words
and music joined together have been a vehicle for singing the old song in an
How the church has viewed the relationship between music and its common life together, however, has not always been either clear-eyed or consistent. To assume that it has is to ignore the variety of conflicting views that have been espoused, both officially and unofficially, from one age to another. But to suggest that these various views were the arbitrary result of a spirit of aimless innovation is to misread history. They might more profitably be seen as the result of the interaction between particular theological views, musical practices, and the general cultural situation of the time. In some instances, as new theological currents developed, musical practices and worship pieties adapted to conform to the new views. As often as not the sequence was reversed, popular piety demanding changes in musical style and practice requiring an accommodated theological understanding.
At various times in the church's history, certain paradigms-models of thought or ways of thinking about music-have held sway that to a large extent have determined not only how the church has understood the role of music but also how, to what extent, and under what conditions music was allowed to function in its life and worship.
In the thought and writing of Martin Luther, there clearly are certain themes to which he returns again and again, certain "paradigms of praise" that helped to shape his understanding of the role of music in the cultus Dei and in the total life of the Christian. None of the paradigms that Luther held up were, strictly speaking, new. Each could be found in the history of the church, but often they had been obscured by other paradigms that had either distorted or eclipsed their thrust.
Luther's contribution was to focus on a cluster of paradigms and raise them to a position of decisive importance. In so doing he began a movement that was to reshape the way the church understood and practiced the art of music in its life and worship. For Luther there were five pivotal understandings, five "paradigms of praise": (1) music as God's creation and gift; (2) music as proclamation and praise; (3) music as liturgical song; (4) music as the song of royal priests; and (5) music as a sign of continuity with the whole church.
Music as God's Creation and Gift
From the time of the early church through the Middle Ages, two especially powerful paradigms or models for the role of music in the life and worship of the church had been music as teacher or pedagogue and music as guardian of morals. The first reflected the continuing need of the church for indoctrination, not only for the building up of the faithful but also in the face of heretical views from without and apostasy from within. The second reflected the continuing influence and importance of the thought of such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, and Boethius in shaping the church's attitude toward music.1
Thus, as early as the fourth century, St. Basil, reflecting the first of these paradigms, could rhapsodize in his Homily on the First Psalm:
Oh, the wise invention of the teacher who devised how we might at the same time sing and learn profitable things. 2
The Holy Spirit, Basil suggested,
blended the delight of melody with doctrines in order that through the pleasantness and softness of the sound we might unawares receive what was useful in the words .3
On the other hand, Basil could warn with equal concern about the dangers of music when he cautioned that "the Christian not be drawn down by the pleasantness of the melody to the passions of the flesh.4 In his Confessions Augustine noted:
The several affections of our spirit have their proper moods answerable to their variety in the voice and singing, and by some secret association they be stirred up.5
As a result, he could warn of the dangers he perceived in music.
So oft as it befalls me to be more moved with the voice than with the ditty, I confess to myself to have grievously offended; at which time I wish rather not to have heard the music.6
The consequences of this view of music as guardian and shaper of morals were clearly drawn by John Calvin, who was greatly influenced by Augustine, in the 16th century.
There is hardly anything in the world with more power to turn or bend, this way and that, the morals of men.... It has a secret power to move our hearts in one way or another. Wherefore we must be the more diligent in ruling it in such a manner that it may be useful to us and in no way pernicious .7
Luther did not deny the
importance of either of these models. Indeed, one finds echoes of them in his
own thought and writing. In the preface to the Wittenberg hymnal of 1524 he
commends heartily the singing of hymns and psalms and spiritual songs "so that
God's Word and Christian teaching might be instilled and implanted in many
ways.8 He remarks that the songs in this collection
were arranged "to give the young-who should at any rate be trained in music and
other fine arts-something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs
and to teach them something of value in their place.9
Although Luther did not deny the importance of these earlier models, he chose instead to point to a more basic and primary paradigm that simultaneously encompassed and superseded them both. For Luther, that paradigm, that glowing center of awareness and comprehension that was for him the basis of understanding music in the life and worship of God's people, was music as creation and gift of God.
Luther's own words make this point again and again. Writing in the preface to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae iucundae, Luther repeatedly stresses music as God's gift.
I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone....
And you, my young friend, let this noble, wholesome, and cheerful creation of God be commended to you.... At the same time you may by this creation accustom yourself to recognize and praise the Creator.10
To disregard music as God's creation and gift is, for Luther, to call into question one's humanity.
A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard it [music] as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.11
Luther contrasts those who understand music as God's gift with the enthusiasts who condemned and wherever possible wished to destroy sacred art of any kind.
Nor am I of the opinion that the gospel should destroy and blight all the arts, as some of the pseudo-religious claim. But I would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them.12
And in his "Treatise on the Last Words of David" (1543), Luther remarks that this "wonderful creation and gift of God" helps materially in understanding and proclaiming the Messiah, beyond mere reading or speaking.
The Book of Psalms is a sweet and delightful song because it sings of and proclaims the Messiah even when a person does not sing the notes but merely recites and pronounces the words. And yet the music, or the notes, which are a wonderful creation and gift of God, help materially in this, especially when the people sing along and reverently participate.13
In a similar fashion, Luther in his "Table Talk" holds up music as God's gift that should be taught to the youth, especially in contrast to the fanatics who thought otherwise.
Music is an outstanding gift of God and next to theology. I would not want to give up my slight knowledge of music for a great consideration. And youth should be taught this art; for it makes fine, skillful people. 14
I am not satisfied with him who despises music, as all fanatics do; for music is an endowment and a gift of God, not a gift of men.... I place music next to theology and give it the highest praise.15
Luther also commented that
music's power had often stirred him to preach. "Music is God's greatest gift.
It has often so stimulated and stirred me that I felt the desire to preach.16
Music, Luther is saying in a variety of ways, is God's gift given in creation. As Eugene Brand has commented, music, for Luther, was "part and parcel of the way the world is made, and contributes to its preservation. It is not primarily an art or a science; it is a creature of God.17 Stated as simply as possible, Luther's primary view of the relation between music and Christian life and worship is the understanding that it is the good and gracious gift of God the Creator, given to humanity that we might in turn use it in God's praise and in the proclamation of the Gospel.
Not to see all creation, especially music, as God's gift may be attributed, says Luther, to a failure to discern what the Greek philosophers had described as the innate "harmony of the spheres" built into creation itself.
We do not marvel at the countless other gifts of creation, for we have become deaf toward what Pythagoras aptly terms this wonderful and most lovely music coming from the harmony of the motions that are in the celestial spheres.18
In contrast to human reason, which sees the created world as ungodly, Christians, through the Spirit, see it as God's good gift and benefit to humanity, and therefore they sing.
Reason sees the world as extremely ungodly, and therefore it murmurs. The Spirit sees nothing but God's benefits in the world and therefore begins to sing.19
The practical results of
such a view were, to Luther, perfectly obvious. When music is seen primarily as
God's gift, it is established as next in importance to theology, and this gives
the church the freedom to use all of music without fear.
In a little-noted comment, Luther carried the argument further and remarked that in the cultivation of music at the highest levels of artistic excellence the perfect goodness and wisdom of God are displayed.
When [musical] learning is added to all this and artistic music which corrects, develops, and refines the natural music, then at last it is possible to taste with wonder (yet not to comprehend) God's absolute and perfect wisdom in his wondrous work of music.20
Thus it was Luther's view
that the most highly developed musical forms of his day-Gregorian chant and
polyphony-should be taught to the youth and sung in the churches, together with
a simpler congregational song. The Latin Renaissance tradition, it has been
noted earlier, had developed sophisticated art music for the church with
little, if any, music for the people. The Calvinist tradition excluded art
music entirely from corporate worship, using only simple congregational
psalmody. In contrast to both, the Lutheran Reformation, proceeding from
Luther's basic understanding of music as creation and gift of God, successfully
encouraged the reciprocal interaction of art music of the most highly developed
kind together with simple congregational song. The result was a flourishing
tradition of church music possessing richness, simplicity, and depth, to which
the development of the rich treasury of choral, organ, and congregational music
in the years after the Reformation amply testifies.
In 1538 Luther wrote a poetic introduction entitled "A Preface for All Good Hymnals" to Johann Walter's rhymed encomium-"Glory and Praise of the Laudable Art of Music"-in which Walter developed a whole theology of music along the lines of Luther's scattered remarks on the subject. In his preface, Luther put his words on the lips of Frau Musica. It is worth quoting in its entirety as an example of Luther's wonder at this good creation and gift of God.
Dame Music [speaks:]
Of all the joys upon this earth
None has for men a greater worth
Than what I give with my ringing
And with voices sweetly singing.
There cannot be an evil mood
Where there are singing fellows good,
There is no envy, hate, nor ire,
Gone are through me all sorrows dire;
Greed, care, and lonely heaviness
No more do they the heart oppress.
Each man can in his mirth be free
Since such a joy no sin can be.
But God in me more pleasure finds
Than in all joys of earthly minds.
Through my bright power the devil shirks
His sinful, murderous, evil works.
Of this King David's deeds do tell
Who pacified King Saul so well
By sweetly playing on the lyre
And thus escaped his murderous ire.
For truth divine and God's own rede
The heart of humble faith shall lead;
Such did Elisha once propound
When harping he the Spirit found.
The best time of the year is mine
When all the birds are singing fine.
Heaven and earth their voices fill
With right good song and tuneful trill.
And, queen of all, the nightingale
Men's hearts will merrily regale
With music so charmingly gay;
For which be thanks to her for aye.
But thanks be first to God, our Lord,
Who created her by his Word
To be his own beloved songstress
And of musica a mistress.
For our dear Lord she sings her song
In praise of him the whole day long;
To him I give my melody
And thanks in all eternity.21
In emphasizing music as
God's creation, not people's, and as God's gift to people to use in His praise
and adoration, Luther set the stage for the freedom of composers,
congregations, choirs, and instrumentalists to develop their talents and
abilities to the highest degree possible. The music that developed in the
Lutheran tradition is eloquent testimony that the church, together with its
musicians, found Luther's paradigm of music as creation and gift of God to be a
preeminent constructive element in the development of a rich musical culture in
which to live, work, play, and praise their God.
Music as Proclamation and Praise
Luther's primary paradigm for music in the life of the church was that it is the creation and gift of God. But music, as God's creation and gift, was given to humanity with the intent that it be used for a specific purpose. That purpose was, in Luther's view, the praise and glorifying of the Creator, especially through the proclamation of His Word. For Luther, music's chief function in worship as well as throughout the Christian life was, therefore, doxological proclamation: doxology or praise to the Creator, the "God from whom all blessings flow," and proclamation in grateful thanks for the redemption won for the world in Jesus Christ.
No one spoke as clearly and forthrightly as Luther about the union of word and music to the end that God might be praised and His Word proclaimed to the whole world.
Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music [Sermo et vox] join to move the listener's soul.... After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both words and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words. 22
In his letter to Louis Senfl, Luther reiterated the view that music was held to be unique among the arts for proclaiming the Gospel.
This is the reason why the prophets did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so that they held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed truth through Psalms and songs.23
That Word, Luther believed, which was preached powerfully by the apostles, continued to be "preached" in a variety of ways, including music.
[The Gospel] has been proclaimed richly and clearly; it has been emphasized masterfully and powerfully by the apostles; now it is announced everywhere by word of mouth and with the pen; it is written, sung, pictured, etc.24
Indeed, the power of the Word associated with music-as in the other arts like speaking, writing, and painting-is such that its hearers are compelled to acknowledge its truth.
God's Word is presented so powerfully, lucidly, and clearly in preaching, singing, speaking, writing, and painting that they [kings, princes, and lords in the German lands] must concede it is the true Word of God.25
It has been noted earlier that Josquin des Prez was a particularly favorite composer of Luther. But Luther especially pointed to Josquin's use of music as a medium for the proclamation of the Gospel.
God has preached the gospel through music, too, as may be seen in Josquin, all of whose compositions flow freely, gently, and cheerfully, are not forced or cramped by rules, and are like the song of the finch.26
In his "Treatise on Good
Works" (1520), Luther made clear that as far as he was concerned, "after faith
we can do no greater work than to praise, preach, sing, and in every way laud
and magnify God's glory, honor, and name.27 On
another occasion Luther remarked that "This is the single outstanding worship
of the New Testament-to celebrate and praise this Son of God with singing,
writing, and preaching.28
Luther summarizes his thoughts regarding worship, praise, and singing in two succinct comments, the first from his commentary on Psalm 147, the second from his lecture on Isaiah 42:10.
God does not demand great sacrifices or precious treasures of great price for His blessings. No, he asks for the easiest work of all, namely to sing and praise.29
The worship of the New Testament ... is nothing else than song, praise, and thanksgiving. This is a unique song. God does not care for our sacrifices and works. He is satisfied with the sacrifice of praise.30
But if Luther is clear about the importance of praise and proclamation, he is equally clear about the content of that proclamation.
I have no one to sing and chant about but Christ, in whom alone I have everything. Him alone I proclaim, in Him alone I glory, for He has become my Salvation, that is, my victory.31
Likewise, in the assemblies of the righteous the singing, teaching, preaching, and confessing do not glorify human works, holiness, or wisdom, only God's grace revealed in Christ.
They [the righteous] praise only God's grace, works, words, and power as they are revealed to them in Christ. This is their sermon and song, their hymn of praise.32
Thus, to sing and praise the Triune God for all that He has done for humanity, especially for His goodness revealed in Christ Jesus, is to proclaim to all people the good and gracious will of God for them. To be silent about God's grace in Jesus Christ is no longer an option for the Christian. For believers to refuse to sing and speak about the faith that is within them is to show that they do not believe. Luther says,
God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others may come and hear it. And whoever does not want to sing and speak of it shows that he does not believe and that he does not belong under the new and joyful testament.33
In concluding his commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, Luther makes a particular point of the imperative for Christians to sing the faith that is within them.
And now St. Paul appropriately concludes with a song which he sings: "Thanks and praise be to God, who gave us such a victory!" We can join in that song and in that way always celebrate Easter, praising and extolling God for a victory that was not won or achieved in battle by us ...but was presented and given to us by the mercy of God.... But we must ... sing of this victory in Christ. 34
For Luther, to "say and sing" was always a single concept resulting from the inevitable eruption of joyful song in the heart of the redeemed. Perhaps nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the first stanza of what is perhaps his most familiar and best-loved Christmas hymn:
From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing.35
Music as praise and
doxological proclamation was a second powerful paradigm in Luther's thought
about music in the life of God's people. It was, in a sense, a logical second
step from the understanding of music as God's good creation and as God's good
gift to people. In contrast to some other reformers, who saw music as always
potentially troublesome and in need of careful control and direction, Luther,
in the freedom of the Gospel, could exult in this good gift of God, rejoice in
its power to praise its Creator, and glory in its ability to touch the heart
and mind of people as it proclaimed the Gospel.
Music as Liturgical Song
Luther understood music in corporate worship as functioning within the context of the historic liturgy. His conservative principle for liturgical reform-that the historic liturgy of the church should be retained except at those points where it conflicted with his understanding of the Gospel-is well known. In a comment in his Latin Mass of 1523, Luther points out:
It is not now nor ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God.36
This intent was incorporated more formally in Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession (1530) when the Lutheran confessors of the 16th century asserted:
Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. Actually, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are retained, except that German hymns are interspersed here and there among the parts sung in Latin.37
This attitude clearly included the music that had traditionally been associated with the celebration of the Mass.
Let the old practice continue. Let the mass be celebrated with consecrated vestments, with chants and all the usual ceremonies, in Latin, recognizing the fact that these are mere external matters which do not endanger the consciences of men.38
A similar comment appears in Luther's writing "Concerning the Order of Public Worship" (1523).
Let the chants in the Sunday masses and Vespers be retained; they are quite good and are taken from Scripture.39
In connection with the introduction of reforms in Leipzig, this view is reiterated in an interesting conversation between Luther and Melanchthon recorded in the Table Talk in 1539.
Thereupon there was consultation about ceremonies, how communion ought to be observed.... Then Philip declared that he had heard it said by many that our ceremonies are so arranged that the people think no change has been made in comparison with former usage.... Thereupon Martin Luther said, "It would be good to keep the whole liturgy with its music, omitting only the canon.40
That Luther's intent in this
matter was indeed carried out is clear from any cursory examination of both his
Latin Mass (Formula Missae et Communionis pro Ecclesia Vuittembergensi,
1523) and his German Mass (Deutsche Messe, 1526). Although the Latin
Mass was intended for use especially in those circumstances where richer
musical resources were available and the German Mass where musical resources
were more modest, both were sung services. Both services envision sung or
chanted lessons, collects, the Creed, and similar elements of the service, and
both envisioned in varying degrees the participation of a choir.
Luther's concern for a proper musical dress for the liturgy prompted him in 1525 to prevail on the elector to send two of the leading musicians of his court-Conrad Rupsch and Johann Walter-to Wittenberg to assist Luther in the preparation of the music for the German Mass. Walter's report41 that Luther himself composed the chants for the lessons, the Words of Institution, and the Sanctus hymn is confirmed by notes on a loose-leaf sheet on which Luther pointed out some principles that ought to be observed in music for the liturgy.42 Among these was a concern for largely syllabic treatment of the Introit Psalm and the need for new terminations for the chant melodies to conform more closely to the requirements of the German language.
Luther's careful concern about music for the liturgy is clear evidence of his desire that the liturgy continue to be sung, no matter how modest the musical resources might be. It is also evidence for his larger concern that the practice of a musical liturgy, the heritage that was Luther's as part of the Western Catholic tradition, be continued.
As for hymnody, it is a commonplace to observe that a great contribution of the Lutheran Reformation was the restoration of congregational singing. But what is usually less noted is that Luther's desire for the active participation of the congregation through hymnody was a result of his concern that the people participate actively in the singing of the liturgy. For much of Protestantism today hymns may best be described as general Christian songs loosely attached to worship, but for Luther the congregational hymn was a vehicle for involving the faithful in the singing of the liturgy.
It was no accident that among the most popular hymns of the early Reformation was a body of hymns associated with the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei).43 Thus, in Luther's view, when 16th-century Lutherans sang his Credo hymn ("We all believe in one true God"), they were not singing a barren and impoverished alternative, a poor second choice for the prose text of the Credo. They were in reality singing the Creed with a text and a musical vehicle specifically suited to the demands of congregational singing.
As one looks at the large body of hymnody associated with Luther's name 44 as well as much of the other hymnody of early Lutheranism, one is constantly amazed to note its origin in or close ties to the historic orders and its usefulness as a medium to enable the congregation to participate in the liturgy. Luther's hymns related to the Ordinary of the Mass, the hymns associated with the Propers, the many hymns intended for the offices of Matins and Vespers, the hymns celebrating the church year, and the hymns that developed in Lutheranism connected with the practice of the de tempore hymn (Hymn of the Day), all were vehicles to enable the congregation to participate in the historic liturgy, but now through a musical vehicle uniquely suited to the demands of group singing. Hymnody for Luther was not simply a means to enable the congregation to participate in worship in a more general sense. It was a means to enable the congregation to participate specifically in the liturgy of the Western Catholic tradition, a tradition that he continued to uphold and affirm.
Even a cursory examination of 16th-century Lutheran hymnals confirms this point of view. The so-called "Babst hymnal" (Geistlich Lieder, 1545)-perhaps the most complete, representative, and carefully edited Lutheran hymnal of the 16th century and the last hymnal for which Luther himself wrote the preface-clearly reflects this point of view in both its organization and its choice of hymns. Luther's own settings of the German Te Deum and the Litany point to the same conclusion.
Music in worship-whether the music of congregation or choir-was viewed by Luther and those who followed him as a vehicle for celebrating the historic liturgy, which, as Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession reminded the Lutherans of that time, was "retained among us, and is celebrated with the highest reverence.45
Music as the Song of Royal Priests
Luther understood active congregational participation in worship as a necessary consequence of the doctrine of the royal priesthood of all believers. This teaching, already set forth in the Old Testament46 was given its classical definition in the New.
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.47
In Luther's view, this
doctrine was to be a spiritual force and power that expressed itself in every
phase of the Christian's life, including worship. To "declare the praises of
him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" had, for Luther,
an obvious connection with the role of music and worship as praise and
His emphasis on the doctrine of the royal priesthood of all believers that all people have free access to God through the one Mediator, Jesus Christ-was developed particularly in his early years, especially just before his concern with the development of both his Latin and German masses.48 It was almost always in connection with the abuses in the celebration of the Mass and the attendant misunderstanding of the priesthood in the Roman Church that Luther addresses the subject.
Writing in "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," Luther stated the point clearly.
Let everyone, therefore, who knows himself to be a Christian, be assured of this, that we are all equally priests.49
Concerning the words of I Peter 2:2, 5, Luther pointed out that "they make the priesthood common to all Christians.50 And in the "Treatise on the New Testament," he writes:
For all those who have the faith that Christ is a priest for them in heaven before God, and who lay on him their prayers and praise, their need and their whole selves, presenting them through him, not doubting that he does this very thing, and offers himself for them-. . . all such, then, wherever they may be, are true priests.... Therefore all Christian men are priests, all women priestesses, be they young or old, master or servant, mistress or maid, learned or unlearned. Here there is no difference, Unless faith be unequal.51
Such a view had, for Luther, clear implications regarding the role of such "royal priests" in worship. Among the ways in which Luther's concern for this doctrinal emphasis was reflected in his thinking and writing about worship and music was his concern that the faithful not only be present at worship, but that they become active participants in the liturgical action. Praise, proclamation, and adoration were not to be the sole province of priests, choirs, and leaders of worship but were to involve the whole people of God. In his sermon at the dedication of the Castle Church at Torgau in 1544, the first new church to be built in Saxony since the Reformation, Luther points out that the congregation, the whole gathered assembly of royal priests, is the focus of the Word preached, the praise, and the prayer.
You [the gathered assembly], too, should take hold of the asperginum and the censer, in order that the purpose of this new house may be such that nothing else may ever happen in it except that our dear Lord himself may speak to us through his holy Word and we respond to him through prayer and praise.52
For when I preach, when we come together as a congregation, this is not my word or my doing; but is done for the sake of all of you and for the sake of the whole church.... So also they all pray and sing and give thanks together; here there is nothing that one possesses or does for himself alone; but what each one has also belongs to the other.53
Since all were royal
priests, each participant in worship had a crucial role to play in this
sacrifice of praise and prayer. No longer was the assembled congregation to be
passive in worship but active participants in liturgy.
The doctrine of the royal priesthood of all believers also breathed a democratic spirit that was humble and at the same time lent dignity to the office of each Christian, especially to one's participation in worship. But this democratic spirit did not induce Luther to adopt lower standards of music or liturgical order or to abandon either beauty or order. For Luther, the people's priesthood, not their educational, spiritual, or cultural poverty, was the determining factor.
This understanding, which placed the people of God, the congregation assembled at a specific place, at the center of the liturgical and musical activity, took the gathered assembly out of isolation and put them into the midst of a living and active liturgical and musical enterprise of which, musically speaking, the chorale-the Reformation congregational hymn-became the central generating force. All were encouraged-whatever the individual level of musical ability might be-to join in the common praise.
He wants to hear the throngs and not me or you alone, or a single isolated Pharisee. Therefore sing with the congregation and you will sing well. Even if your singing is not melodious, it will be swallowed up by the crowd. But if you sing alone you will have your critics.54
For all the music of
worship, whether sung by the congregation, the choir, or the ministers or
played by instruments, was in reality and truth the song of a royal priesthood
confessing and proclaiming to the world the Good News of God in Christ.
The introduction of the vernacular opened both Scripture and the liturgy to the people in a way they had not experienced before. Luther's preparation of both a Latin and a German Mass, though he cautioned that these orders were merely descriptive and not prescriptive, helped Lutherans to adapt to a variety of needs and circumstances in the years following. His renovation of many Gregorian chant melodies, making them more easily sung as congregational hymns, expedited the participation of the congregation in the liturgy. His understanding of the choir as a part of the gathered congregation, serving the assembly in its own unique way as together they offered their praise and prayer, was yet another example of the doctrine of the royal priesthood in action.
Where such understandings of the implications of the doctrine of the royal priesthood spread and gained currency, it was no longer possible to maintain the individualistic and privatistic piety that had previously held sway. Worship could no longer be viewed as something done by others on behalf of the people. Worship was seen, rather, as the people of God, the assembly of royal priests, exercising their common priesthood in praise, proclamation, and prayer both on their own behalf and on behalf of the whole world.
Nor could the doctrine of the royal priesthood be used to excuse music that reached for the lowest common denominator. When it did, it was being false to Luther's view, which saw the great dignity of the royal priesthood as the significant warrant for encouraging the active participation of all-congregation, choir, presiding and assisting ministers, composers-at the highest levels of their abilities. Each partner in the gathered assembly participated in ways uniquely suited to their abilities and talents. At the same time, each helped the other to offer their best in the praise of God and in the proclamation of His name.
Music as a Sign of Continuity with the Whole Church
Luther viewed continuity with the practice of the whole church to be an important factor in shaping the music and worship of God's people. Some more radical reformers, such as Zwingli and Calvin, sought to establish their identity by emphasizing their differences from the church catholic, denouncing everything that might remind them of popish vanity. The predictable result of such an iconoclastic attitude is reflected in the so-called "cleansing" of the churches in 1524, when Zwingli and his colleagues entered the churches and disposed of relics; whitewashed paintings; carted away statues, vestments, and splendidly bound service books; and closed or dismantled the organs. "No music of any kind would resound in the churches again: the people were to give ear to the Word of God alone.55 Renunciation of the Western Catholic tradition meant that as Zwingli prepared his Communion liturgy, he was thrown entirely on the resources of his own creativity. Luther, in stark contrast, sought instead to affirm, wherever possible, the continuity of the Reformation movement with the universal church, both in its liturgical forms and in its musical practice.
Such an emphasis on the continuity of the Lutheran Reformation with the whole church is clearly reflected in the Augsburg Confession, a document that sought to "restore unity.56 Likewise, the Book of Concord some 50 years later affirmed that it was based on "the ancient consensus which the universal and orthodox church of Christ has believed, fought for against many heresies and errors, and repeatedly affirmed.57 At the beginning of the Book of Concord stood the three ecumenical creeds, confessed and accepted by the whole church. Luther's view of the Reformation as a confessing and reforming movement within the church catholic clearly attests to the importance he gave to the matter of continuity with the whole church.
Nor did Luther try to wipe the slate clean and start afresh in matters of liturgy, worship practices, and music as if nothing had happened since the time of the New Testament or the early church. He did not, as did some, dismiss out of hand the entire cultus of the church as it had developed historically and undertake to restore what some perceived as the pristine worship of earlier times. Rather, his principle of liturgical reform was to retain all that in good conscience could be retained, revising or eliminating only those texts and practices that conflicted with his understanding of the Gospel. In his "Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg" (1523) he stated:
We therefore first assert: It is not now nor ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use from the wretched accretions which corrupt it and to point out an evangelical use.58
For Luther, the elements that had corrupted the Mass were primarily two: the Canon of the Mass and the Offertory, both of which emphasized the Roman Church's understanding of the Mass as sacrifice. In the same document, Luther made this point abundantly clear.
In this book we are not going to prove again that the mass is neither a sacrifice nor a good work-we have amply demonstrated that elsewhere. We do accept it as a sacrament, a testament, the blessing (as in Latin), the eucharist (as in Greek), the Table of the Lord, the Lord's Supper, the Lord's Memorial, communion, or by whatever evangelical name you please, so long as it is not polluted by the name of sacrifice or work.59
Luther clearly understood that the Mass with its accompanying music and various ceremonies had often been perverted into a good work.
Alas, the word "service of God" has nowadays taken on so strange a meaning and usage that whoever hears it thinks not of these works of God, but rather of the ringing of bells, the wood and stone of churches, the incense pot, the flicker of candles, the mumbling in the churches, the gold, silver, and precious stones in the vestments of choirboys and celebrants, of chalices and monstrances, of organs and images, processions and churchgoing, and, most of all, the babbling of lips and the rattling of rosaries.60
Yet his ire, it should be clearly noted, was directed at those who saw these elements of worship as a means of earning righteousness, who saw them as a way of becoming "pious through good works."
What great fools they all are who want to become pious through works,...ringing of bells, burning of candles, singing, making noise on the organ, and reciting prayers with all their external performances.61
For certainly, Luther avowed, "Christians do not become righteous by doing righteous works; but once they have been justified by faith in Christ, they do righteous works.62 Yet this did not lead Luther to conclude that all such ceremonies were to be done away with.
The church has other externals that do not sanctify it either in body or soul, nor were theyinstituted or commanded by God; but, as we said at length above, they are outwardly necessary or useful, proper and good. 63
That all such external ceremonies could not only be necessary, useful, proper, and good but also edifying in the service of the Gospel was stated by Luther as early as the document with which the Reformation, in a sense, began. In Thesis 55 of the Ninety-Five Theses Luther could proclaim with boldness:
If indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession,and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.64
Luther's attitude toward the tradition of worship and music that he had received was one of grateful thanks and appreciation for God's good gifts of liturgy, hymnody, and music that had nourished the faithful for generations. Such gifts were not to be dismissed lightly. In his "Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors," Luther laments that "the old ceremonies have been discarded altogether in many places of the land and little is read or sung in the churches.65 He then proceeds to offer a variety of suggestions, all of which reinforce a commitment to the traditional practices.66
To reject the gift of the tradition was, for Luther, to go it alone and to be cut off from the mutual edification of the whole company of saints. As far as any attempt to return to the pure and unadulterated worship of the early church, Luther commented,
As for the example of the fathers, [their liturgical orders] are partly unknown, partly so much at variance with each other that nothing definite can be established about them.67
To accept those gifts of
tradition was, for Luther, to be linked with Christians of other times and
places and to be reminded in a unique way that the church of his day was indeed
part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic company of saints.
The result of such a view was that Luther's revisions of the liturgy of the Western Catholic tradition closely resembled the earlier tradition. The basic outline of the Western Catholic tradition remained largely intact. In the year before the publication of his first specific writing on the liturgy, Luther remarked in "Receiving Both Kinds in the Sacrament":
Let the old practice continue. Let the mass be celebrated with consecrated vestments, with chantsand all the usual ceremonies, in Latin, recognizing the fact that these are mere external factors which do not endanger the consciences of men.68
Some years later, in 1539,
this same matter was a topic of informal conversation in connection with the
introduction of reforms in Leipzig. To some there seemed to be no change in the
conduct of worship from what it had been before the Reformation. Luther's
exchange with Melanchthon has been noted above.69
Luther's view of the importance of continuity with the church's tradition,
especially as contrasted with the views of such men as Calvin and Zwingli, was
truly remarkable and can hardly be overemphasized.
It is particularly interesting to observe that as Lutheran composers in the 16th and early 17th centuries set about to provide music for Lutheran worship, they continued to compose music that would find a natural place in the historic liturgies. Choral settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, polyphonic settings for choir of the traditional office hymns for Matins and Vespers, simple and festive settings of canticles such as the Magnificat-these and many more works designed for the traditional liturgy continued to be a significant part of the output of the leading Lutheran composers of the time. Many of these compositions, moreover, were set to Latin texts. Such a prominent 16th-century Lutheran printer and composer as Georg Rhau, Luther's friend and the most important printer for the Reformation, planned and carried out a music publishing program to provide music for Lutheran worship that clearly reflected this concern for continuity with the music and worship practices of pre-Reformation times. Much music of pre-Reformation composers was still useful in the Reformation church given the similarity of liturgical forms and practices, and music of earlier Catholic composers was regularly included in a variety of music publications intended for use among Lutherans.
Luther's attitude toward the church's song of earlier times is stated with particular warmth and appreciation in his commentary on Psalm 118, written in 1530 while the cause of the Reformation was struggling for its life at the Diet of Augsburg and Luther was standing by virtually helpless at Coburg Castle.
When I look at all the saints, especially in the New Testament, the story is the same. I can hearvoices of rejoicing in their tabernacles, joyous songs and hymns of salvation and victory, of the help of God. And we sing along and join in the praise and thanks, just as we are one in our faith and trust in God and also share in suffering.70
As early as the "Preface to the Psalter" (1528) Luther pointed out that as we sing the Psalter, we are joined with all who have sung it before us.
When these words [the Psalter] please a man and fit his case, he becomes sure that he is in the communion of saints, and that it has gone with all the saints as it goes for him, since they all sing with him one little song.71
And in a beautiful passage from his "Treatise on the Last Words of David," written in 1543 toward the close of his life, Luther could say:
St. Ambrose composed many hymns of the church. They are called church hymns because thechurch accepted them and sings them just as though the church had written them and as though they were the church's songs. Therefore it is not customary to say, "Thus sings Ambrose, Gregory, Prudentius, Sedulius, " but "Thus sings the Christian church." For these are now the songs of the church, which Ambrose, Sedulius, etc., sing with the church and the church with them. When they die, the church survives them and keeps on singing their songs.72
Here was no parochial
exclusiveness, no provincial self-sufficiency, but a stand in solidarity and
continuity with the church catholic. This attitude was to continue to inform
the worship and musical practices of Lutheranism until the later
individualistic, privatistic, and personalistic practices of both Pietism and
rationalism were to invade Lutheranism and wreak havoc with both its liturgy
and its music.
a more complete discussion of this topic see Carl Schalk, "The Seduction of
Church Music," in Church Music 79 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing
House, 1979), pp. 2-10.
2 Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1950), p. 65.
3 Ibid., p. 65.
4 Ibid., P. 66.
5 Ibid., p. 74.
7 Ibid., p. 347
8 LW 53:316.
10 LW 53:321, 324.
11 Buszin, p. 6.
12 "Preface to the Wittenberg Hymnal" (1524), LW 53:316.
13 LW 15:273-74.
14 PIass, p. 979.
15 Ibid., P. 980.
16 Ibid., P. 982.
17 Eugene Brand, "Luther: The Theologian of Music," Pastoral Music 8, no. 5 (June-July 1984), p. 21. This entire issue contains several valuable summary articles on a variety of subjects related to Luther and music by Margaret Sihler-Anderson, John Ferguson, Carl Volz, Carl Schalk, Victor Gebauer, Mark Bangert, Carlos Messerli, and Mons Teig.
18 "Lectures on Genesis" (1535/36), LW 1:126.
19 "Lectures on Isaiah, Chapters 40-66" (1527-30), LW 17:356.
20 Preface to Georg Rhau's Symphontae iucundae" (1538), LW 53:324. For another translation of this passage, see Buszin, p. 6.
21 LW 53:319-20.
22 Ibid., pp. 323-24.
24 "Sermons on the Gospel of St. John" (1537), LW 24:404.
25 "Commentary on Psalm 101" (1534), LW 13:168.
26 LW 54:129-30.
27 LW 44:39.
28 "Commentary on Psalm 45" (1533/34), LW 12:300.
29 "Commentary on Psalm 147" (1532), LW 14:111.
30 "Lectures on Isaiah, Chapters 40-66" (1527-30), LW 17:72.
31 "Lectures on Isaiah, Chapters 1-39" (1527/29), LW 16:129.
32 "Commentary on Psalm 118" (1530), LW 14:81.
33 "Preface to the Babst Hymnal" (1545), LW 53:333.
34 "Commentary on I Corinthians 15" (1533), LW 28:213 (emphasis mine). For a similar comment from Luther's sermons on the Gospel of St. John see LW 24:421-22.
35 The Lutheran Hymnal 85 (emphasis mine). The original German text is "Davon ich sing'n und sagen will." This nuance is lost in several recent translations.
36 "An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg" (1523), LW 53:20.
37 AC XXIV 1; Tappert, p. 56.
38 "Receiving Both Kinds in the Sacrament" (1522), LW 36:254 (emphasis mine).
39 LW 53:13.
40 LW 54:360-61 (emphasis mine).
41 See chapter 2, p. 27.
42 "The German Mass and Order of Service" (1526), LW 53:55-57.
43 Kyrie, God Father in Heaven Above" (Lutheran Worship [cited as LW in this note only] 209, Lutheran Book of Worship [LBW] 168); "All Glory Be to God on High" (LW 215, LBW 166); "We All Believe in One True God" (LW 213, LBW 374); "Isaiah, Mighty Seer, in Spirit Soared" (LW 214) and "Isaiah in a Vision Did of Old" (LBW 528); and "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God" (LBW 103) and "O Christ, the Lamb of God" (LW 7, included among the "Canticles and Chants").
44 LW 53:189-309.
45 AC XXIV 1; Tappert, p. 56.
46 Ex. 19:5-6.
47 1 Peter 2:9.
48 Especially important for Luther's views on the doctrine of the royal priesthood are "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church" (1520), "The Freedom of the Christian" (1520), "Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass" (1520), "The Misuse of the Mass" (1521), and the "Answer to the Superchristian, Superspiritual,. and Superlearned Book of Goat Emser of Leipzig" (1521).
49 LW 36:116.
50 LW 36:141.
51 LW 35, p. 101.
52 "Sermon at the Dedication of the Castle Church, Torgau" (1544), LW51:333.
53 Ibid., p. 343.
54 "An Exposition of the Lord's Prayer for Simple Laymen" (1519), LW 42:60.
55 Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1961), p. 142.
56 AC Preface 10; Tappert, p. 25.
57 Preface to the Book of Concord; Tappert, p. 3.
58 LW 53:20.
59 Ibid., p. 22.
60 "Commentary on the Magnificat" (1521), LW 21:350.
61 "Sermon on the Gospel for the Main Christmas Service" (1522), LW 52:79.
62 "Lectures on Galatians" (1535), LW 26:256.
63 "On the Councils and the Church" (1539), LW 41:173.
64 "Ninety-Five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (1517), LW 31:30.
65 LW 40:306.
66 Ibid., pp. 307-11.
67 "An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg" (1523), LW 53:37.
68 LW 36:254.
69 See p. 40.
70 "Commentary on Psalm 118" (1530), LW 14:79.
71 "Preface to the Psalter" (1545 ), LW 35:256.
Carl Schalk is an Emeritus Professor of Church Music, Concordia
University-River Forest, IL.
This article is an excerpt from Dr. Schalk's book Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise published by Concordia Publishing House, 1988.
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