Luther and Exclusive Psalmody

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Coram Deo

Puritan Board Junior
I know, I know.. There has been alot of threads on Exclusive Psalmody lately..

But.... Here is one more... :D

I was curious to see what other Puritanboard historians have to say about the quote I am about to give... I ran across this one night about a year ago when I was studing Exclusive Psalmody and forgot about it until now when I pulled it out of my HUGE bookmark lists....

So What saith Ye?

It is well known that Martin Luther penned a number of Hymns, often sung in the worship of most congregations today, however, there is reason to believe, that this was neither the practice or purpose of Luther himself. Certainly, Dr. Luther held to a number of erronious notions (indeed, to be a "Lutheran" today one must cling to all of Luther's errors and follow Luther only insofar as Luther was not a follower of Christ—for the most part) and the practices of Luther did not square with those of the Reformed Churches (yet, neither did they square with his own doctrine, which in regard to worship was much like that of the Reformed Churches), and it may indeed be that Luther did enjoin the singing of his hymns on the Protestant Churches under his influence, in which case we can only suppose that "the times of this ignorance God winked at" (Acts 17.30) in the case of a reforming people very evidently led for a time in no small measure by the Spirit of God in accordance with his word—yet, whatever the case may be, there are a few bits of evidence that suggest that Luther may not have encouraged the use of his hymns for the worship of God, at least in the case of the public assembly of God's people.

First, and this needs to be looked into further, the liturgies written by Luther do contain psalms. This is not in any way to encourage or excuse the use of liturgies, nor is it to say that they only contained psalms as a matter of fact, but it is certain that the psalms were translated to be sung in German and incorporated in the public worship of God, which is more than can be said of most non-Reformed Presbyterian churches of today, although some Lutherans do still chant a psalm each Sabbath, and some Episcopalians incorporate a psalm into their liturgy. Whether hymns were included in Luther's liturgies, and, if they were, whether he ever removed them, is something which must be researched a little further.

Second, in Pennsylvania there are scattered throughout the used bookshops and antique stores a number of different editions of Luther's Small Catechism. For the most part, what one will find are editions put out by the Lutheran Churches around the year 1900 with Luther's Catechism, followed by explanations or longer catechisms on Lutheran doctrine or Bible history. Usually there is lastly appendixed a few pages of hymns. Before 1890, most of these Catechisms were still done in German, and they also contain the same additional expositions of doctrine and hymns, however, there is one older edition which does not. In Lancaster county was found an old edition of Luther's Catechism from 1815, which in the back has, not hymns, but rather - psalms - and no hymns. Whether there is any significance to this, the reader may judge from the following point—thus,—

Third, consider the following comments:


MARTIN LUTHER, ROMANISM AND PSALM SINGING

"When the Lord brought the testimony of his witnesses out of obscurity in Piedmont, Bohemio, &c., by the ministry of Luther, his contemporaries and successors; then the psalms were restored to their place in the churches of the Reformation. Luther was skilled in music, himself composed many hymns; but he carefully distinguished between the Psalms and his hymns. An old lady in eastern Pennsylvania is said to have in her possession "a German Psalm-book, published by Luther himself." The book closes with a collection of Luther's hymns; but the old lady says that in her young days in Germany, "its directions were rigidly obeyed, and in public worship they sang only the Psalms of David." The same order, as is well known, prevailed in all the other reformed churches of Europe and the British Isles."

Cited in: "Psalms and Hymns," The Original Covenanter Magazine (Vol. 3:1-3:16, March 1881 to Dec. 1884), p. 41.
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
I cited to this article previously here but I don't have any further information. You can read his prefaces to the Psalter here. I'm aware of Luther's objections to the use of the organ in worship; I'd like to know more about Luther's psalmody/psalter myself.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Well, this is a new one on me, and very intriguing. I used to study Lutheran hymnody and I always thought this was a major difference between the Lutheran and Reformed tradition.

Certainly by the 1600s, the use of the organ and singing of hymns was very prominent in Lutheran churches. I'm thinking of Buxtehude, Pachelbel, and Bach. They wrote choral preludes to introduce a hymn.

And there are many Luther quotes that seem almost over the top about how music assists in worship.

Still, I'd love to know more. Maybe Luther's approach was to use music out of church as a continual devotional. It would fit with the idea that good tunes should be put to good use.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I did a quick review of Lutheran Hymnody on the internet and it reinforced what I thought before. Luther certainly set metrical Psalms to music and reformed the mass so that people would sing the Psalms, but he also advocated the use of hymns.

He seemed to equate singing hymns to a "people's sermon" in which the people could proclaim the truth of the Word through song. The songs were based upon scripture and controlled by doctrine, but were in words that reflect the doctrine, not a metrical setting of scripture text.

No question that he required Psalms to be sung, but it looks like distinguished psalms from spiritual songs.

Some references:

http://www.the-highway.com/Music_Janson.html

http://208.11.77.182/general/articles/Luther.html



http://www.smithcreekmusic.com/Hymnology/Lutheran.Hymnody/Lutheran.hymnody.html
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
As far as I am aware, the idea that Luther held to unaccompanied exclusive psalmody rests on a very narrow argument.

The only person that I am aware ever to argue that Luther held to exclusive psalmody was David Steele, in the article quoted at the beginning. The only person ever to claim that he opposed instruments in worship was Erasmus, who said that he "reckoned the organ to be among the ensigns of Baal." Neither of these positions have ever been traced to any direct statement of Luther, either explicitly or implied. Seeing as he also rejected the regulative principle, retained many elements of the mass, and that it is well-known his immediate successors employed both hymns and instruments; it seems unlikely at best that he held those positions.
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
Just to clarify my own thoughts on Luther's position vis-a-vis psalmody, I certainly do not think that he held to exclusive psalmody. My own interest in Steele's article relates to the psalter-hymnal that is referred to. I would like to know more about it and how it was used. But as for Luther I am quite sure he sang both psalms and (composed) uninspired hymns.

Concerning his views on the organ, my understanding was that he viewed the organ dimly not so much because of a broader opposition to musical instruments in worship but because of the quality of the sound.

During Luther's time, congregational chorales or hymns were most commonly sung in the service without instrumental accompaniment. They were sung with the choir in unison, and occasionally the congregation would sing the melody while the choir sang a simple polyphonic harmonization. However, the pipe organ was never used to accompany chorales. The general view of Luther toward the organ was not at all enthusiastic because of its "primitive" nature (mean-tone tuning). The pipe organ was used to preludize and to give the initial pitch to the priest and choir, and it was used with chorales in alternation with the choir, one verse played by the organ and the next sung by the choir and congregation. However, Luther encouraged the use of wind instruments in performances of chorale motets in the large Churches which had trained choirs. And as previously pointed out, he worked closely with Johann Walther to create works in this new genre.

Source
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Just to clarify my own thoughts on Luther's position vis-a-vis psalmody, I certainly do not think that he held to exclusive psalmody. My own interest in Steele's article relates to the psalter-hymnal that is referred to. I would like to know more about it and how it was used. But as for Luther I am quite sure he sang both psalms and (composed) uninspired hymns.

Concerning his views on the organ, my understanding was that he viewed the organ dimly not so much because of a broader opposition to musical instruments in worship but because of the quality of the sound.
I think you are right, Andrew. Mean tone tuning was just getting started, and it would be around 150 years before Bach was improving the "well tempered" tuning, and his student Kirnberger improved it even more.

So, without some decent temperment, the organs only sounded good in one or maybe two keys.

Organs were used historically in the medeaval period. They had huge ranks of pipes and could be very loud, but they usually were played in unison to introduce a chant. Luther liked harmony.
 
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