Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Luther and Music

"We know that music is hateful and intolerable to devils. I firmly believe, nor am I ashamed to assert, that next to theology no art is equal to music; for it is the only one, except theology, which is able to give a quiet and happy mind. This is manifestly proved by the fact that the devil, the author or depressing care and distressing disturbances, almost flees from the sound of music as he does from the word of theology."

"Singing is the finest art and practice. He who is singing has no quarrel with the world and is not concerned with contentions in a law court. Singers are neither worried nor sad but shake all cares from their souls."

* All quatations of Dr. Luther are from:
Ewald M. Plass. What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959.

*All pictures of Dr. Luther are
from: Gustav Konig and Heinrich Gelzer. Dr. Martin Luther der Deutsche Reformator. Hamburg: Rudolf Besser, 1851.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"O Lamb of God. . . Have Mercy Upon Us"

To study music theory is to devote oneself to the analysis of musical forms. Theorists spend hours studying the details of any given musical form, which convey to us that there is a deeper emotional and musical communication that can be intended by a composition. Form is an important part of communicating musically. The same is true for the form of the liturgy of the western church.

Recently it dawned on me that the words of the Agnus Dei, "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us," which are at the end of the service, are also found in the Gloria in Excelsis in the beginning of the service. However, In the Gloria this phrase is slightly modified, "O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us." The beauty of this discovery is that this is a fundamental prayer of the Christian Church. This prayer admits that we are destined for death, that we need God’s mercy, and that there is nothing we can do to change our predicament. In this confession we find our hope. Jesus, who was like a lamb, was led to the slaughter for our sins. Jesus willingly took our sins upon himself. Jesus has thus had great mercy on us. That is the church’s confession - it is a statement of faith about the person who gives us hope. The way this wonderful prayer is used in the liturgy adds depth to one’s understanding of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work.

This phrase, used in both the Gloria and the Agnus Dei, also acts as a signal that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are near. After the Gloria is sung in the Divine Service, we proceed with the Salutation and Collect for the Day. Then our Lord is with us through His Words. Later in the service we sing the Agnus Dei. Then our Lord is physically with us in the Eucharist. After praying these words we receive our Lord for the purification of our corruption. This phrase alerts us that our Lord Jesus is present with us in the ways that have been promised: through His Words and in the Sacraments. What is happening at these points in the Liturgy is nothing less than the Lord’s compassionate response to our cry for mercy.

This phrase also confesses the purpose of the life of Jesus. The Gloria starts with the words of the nativity, "Glory be to God on high and on earth peace, goodwill toward men." When we pray for “the Lamb of God" to have mercy on us we link the birth of the Jesus to the purpose of his death - the salvation of the world. When we pray these words in the Agnus Dei we acknowledge that Jesus’ death has made atonement for the fallen world. We also confess that Jesus is with us both spiritually and physically in this age. The man who was born of a virgin outside of Bethlehem is the same man who justified sinners through his death. This is the same man who is now with us in His Word and in His Sacraments.

"O Christ, thou lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us!"

*My spiritual father, Pr. Esget, provided me with insight into the depth of the use of this phrase in the liturgy. The whole article has been influenced by him.

*Many thanks are due to my beloved Kyle.

*All quotations of the Liturgy are from The Lutheran Hymnal.

*Citations/Bibliography/Works Cited:
The Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Musical Adiaphora

Choosing an instrument is musical adiaphora. There are bad choices and there are good choices. Of course some of the good choices are heavenly....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who Needs Classical Music?

Here are two quotes from a book I am reading titled, Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value by Julian Johnson.

"The nineteenth-century writer Eduard Hanslick suggested that to judge music solely by the emotions it aroused was like trying to judge a wine while getting drunk."

". . . . Classical music fares badly today-not because it is old but because it demands an engagement of the mind through time (thought) that contemporary conceptions of music no longer recognize. Classical music is at odds with contemporary culture precisely because of its insistence on the tension between the bodily and the intellectual, the material and the spiritual, the thinglike and its transcendence in thought. . . ."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Frau Musica

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.

A Preface to All Good Hymnals
Martin Luther 1538

viva vox evangelii

Music affects us. This is no surprise. Turn on your radio and the moment you hear a song which is associated with a pleasant experience you get a warm and fuzzy feeling. There is so much more to music than warm feelings. Music, like any good and noble profession,involves countless hours of work. It involves time spent practicing, listening, and studying. It involves many failures and a few successes. It involves artistry and emotion. Music is a communal art (Johnson, pp. 10-11) that is useless when it is created according to the selfish desires of a performer. Most importantly, music is transcendental.

Doctor Martin Luther was keenly aware of the effect and usefulness of music. He once said, “Music is an outstanding gift of God and next to theology.” (Plass, pp. 979) Luther believed that music was one of the most precious gifts from God. This gift, according to Luther, was to be used with every effort to preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. He understood that “Music has the natural power of stimulating and arousing the souls of men.” (Plass, pp. 982) Music that proclaims the Gospel drives the devil away and lifts the spirit from the depths of depression and despair. Luther knew that music provides a unique means for communicating the Gospel. This is why Luther held music in high regard. “For Luther, music was the
viva vox evangelii, the living voice of the Gospel, a gift of God to be used in all its fullness in Christian praise and prayer.” (Schalk, pp. 30)

Unfortunately many people today allow music into the church which proclaims anything but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. Nowadays music is used as a magnet to attract people to a church. It is used to turn churches into social clubs or local hang out spots. Music is even worshiped in the place of the Triune God. Any use of music in the church which is not Christ centered diverts our attention from the Gospel when it should be proclaiming it. This misuse of music in a church dulls the sense that God is present in our worship.

We should pray to our Heavenly Father, that he will have mercy and bless his church with theologically sound and well trained musicians. Church musicians should be urged to adorn Christian worship through quality musicianship. We would not put a ratty piece of fabric on the alter when we possess a silk linen. Musicians need to look at what they are trying to accomplish in the church through music. Making music should be done not for the personal enjoyment and entertainment of the congregants, but music should be made reverently in the presence of God. Music can lift our thoughts, focus our attention on God’s Word, and be the
viva vox evangelii. “Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise in the assembly of the saints.” (Psalm 149:1)

Julian Johnson.
Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2002.

Ewald M. Plass.
What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959.

Carl F. Schalk. Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988.