Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation


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Christopher Boyd Brown (1972-)

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Shipping: Free Within U. About this title Synopsis: Singing the Gospel offers a new appraisal of the Reformation and its popular appeal, based on the place of German hymns in the sixteenth-century press and in the lives of early Lutherans.


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Butler on Brown, 'Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation'

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Sign In or Create an Account. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Beth Kreitzer. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. This is admittedly a difficult task, as much work remains to be done on the pre-Reformation liturgy in German-speaking lands. He also calls upon the work of Fr.

Anthony Ruff, OSB, who has written quite extensively on the history of congregational singing in the pre-Reformation church in German-speaking regions. Herl rightly concludes that congregational hymn singing in the vernacular was not an innovation of Luther, as is often assumed—Ruff has demonstrated its use in some areas centuries before the Reformation.

One of the most common uses was the practice of interpolating a vernacular hymn sung by the people between the verses of the Latin sequence sung by the choir ; this had begun by at least the twelfth century. After the Reformation, a new system of church governance was required in Lutheran lands, as Lutherans had rejected the authority of the pope. In general, the sovereigns of the various German states and principalities assumed the role of head of the church in their own territories. In this role, each promulgated a church order, as did the local governments of many cities and towns.

These prescriptive documents, which proliferated after the Reformation, represent attempts to govern all aspects of church life, including worship and liturgy, and as such include liturgical formularies for use in the respective territory, city, town, or court. Herl provides helpful definitions of relevant terms found in these documents, and in Appendix 4, provides in tabular form the liturgical structure and content of the morning service, or Hauptgottesdienst , as reported in church orders dated between and He also discusses some of the more interesting ancillary information about worship that appears in these documents, such as the location of the choir, the use of the organ, attendance at services, the length of services, and demeanor at services.


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  6. Wenzelskirche in Naumburg indicates that figural music was sung on high feast days, and that on these days the Gloria could be sung polyphonically, and a motet could be sung after the Epistle. The church orders indicate that some liturgical elements, such as the Introit and Kyrie, were more often specified to be sung by the choir, while the Gloria was frequently sung in German, by the people often following the Latin Gloria of the choir. One of the many items of interest found in these documents is the Lutheran retention of many sequences after the Council of Trent had banned all but four.

    As mentioned above, these sequences were often sung in alternation with German hymns. According to the church orders, the Sanctus was often omitted, but if included, it was usually sung by the choir.

    Music in the Lutheran Tradition

    The church orders also reveal that not until after was a hymn often sung following the dismissal. Herl also discusses the form and use of matins and vespers, the two canonical hours retained by Lutherans in public services, and the German substitutions made in these services. Most frequently encountered was the German creed the Glaube , the hymn that Luther himself stipulated that the congregation should sing. As a result, various church orders included exhortations to the people to sing. One could spend years examining those for Saxony alone.

    Most of the information reported derives from reports from sixteenth-century visitations, but some seventeenth-century reports are also included. Even though the geographic coverage is a bit spotty northern Germany is not represented at all, for example, nor are the areas around Leipzig, Dresden, Pirna, Freiberg, Chemnitz, Zwickau, and other towns , the records examined by Herl demonstrate that congregational singing took hold very slowly over the course of the sixteenth century, particularly in smaller towns, but also in some of those larger towns with Latin schools and thus choirs.

    Herl acknowledges this problem, however, and identifies its cause in the tendency of cities to resist visitations. But this presumption rests on rather shaky ground; today, for example, many modern congregations particularly post-Vatican II Catholic congregations do have the words and the music available to them, but still either do not sing much at all or do not sing well—clearly the availability of the text does not in itself foster good singing.

    The presence of a choir and clerk must also have been important, but not essential: quite a few Catholic congregations today still sing poorly if at all, despite the availability of a hymnal or worship folder that provides all of the texts and music sung by the congregation, and strong leadership by the cantor, choir and organ. At the same time, many Protestant congregations continue to sing well and enthusiastically—even those with no cantor, a weak choir, and a poor organist.

    Christopher Boyd Brown () - Concordia Theological Seminary's Media Hub

    Surely confident singing depends on more than just the presence of the book in the hand. Curiously, however, Herl never asks the question that would seem central to his investigation: what are the ingredients or conditions necessary to encourage people to sing? He questions this assumption, however, and investigates the actual beginnings of hymnal use.

    As he demonstrates, these are complicated questions, as practices varied in different parts of Germany.


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    He looks at the evidence city by city, and also includes hymnals not covered in Das deutsche Kirchenlied DKL. Herl concludes, however, that most of these sixteenth-century hymnals were not used by congregations, but by choirs. He feels that although individuals may have purchased hymnals and taken them to church, there is no indication that they could use them there.

    He even puzzles over why a number of them were published at all, and doubts the veracity of most of the title pages that state that the hymnal in question was designed for singing in church. One is left wondering just what he finds so problematic about this and similar contemporary evidence, and why he rejects it so readily.

    Beautiful Acappella Hymns

    It must be stated from the outset that the evidence for this position is slim at best. After discussing the views of various early reformers Karlstadt, Calvin, Zwingli and debates between Calvinists and Lutherans on the subject of the place of instrumental and polyphonic music in the liturgy e. But Lutherans had included polyphonic vocal music in liturgies from the first decades of history of the church; the many publications of sacred polyphony issued by Georg Rhau in the s and s, for example, demonstrate the support of and demand for figural music on the part of early Lutherans. Nothing in the Lutheran defenses of figural and instrumental music in the face of Calvinist attacks on both suggests that Lutherans opted to champion the use of figural music in their worship services as a response to the opposition to it expressed by those of the Reformed tradition.

    Before as well as after the sermon is delivered, and of course during the administration of the Holy Supper, it is praiseworthy not only to sing psalms and Christian songs, either chanted or performed figurally in 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and more voices; but also to play the organ and glorify God the Lord with other edifying string music. The second set of junctures, however, occurred outside the pulpit service entirely: after the reading of the Gospel before the Creed and pulpit service with sermon and then after the entire pulpit service, which concluded with prayers.

    Thus here, rather than advocating the appropriation of congregational space by the choir, Arnoldi is more likely describing the figural music performed after the Gospel and hence before the sermon and at the conclusion of the entire pulpit service; in all likelihood, the congregation still sang the two hymns during the pulpit service. The entire structure Gospel—figural music—Creed—sermon with hymns and annexes—figural music was typical in many Lutheran churches, and is laid out in detail in an order of worship from the Dresden court in the excerpt begins after the recitation of the Epistle and singing of the Gradual hymn :.

    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
    Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation

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