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.