20 August 2009

Luther: Theology and Music

One of the delightful things about Luther is the way he speaks frequently of the spiritual power of music. He did not share Edwards' cautious approach, which wanted always to be careful to discern whether music was enhancing authentic affections or only arousing 'animal spirits.' Luther seems to have felt no such reticence. In a 1530 letter to Louis Senfl, a leading composer and conductor, the reformer writes:

There is no doubt that there are many seeds of good qualities in the minds of those who are moved by music. Those, however, who are not moved I believe are definitely like stumps and blocks of stone. For we know that music . . . is odious and unbearable to the demons. Indeed I plainly judge, and do not hesitate to affirm, that except for theology there is no art that could be put on the same level with music, since except for theology music alone produces what otherwise only theology can do, namely, a calm and joyful disposition. Manifest proof of this is the way the devil, the creator of saddening cares and disquieting worries, takes flight at the sound of music almost as he takes flight at the word of theology. 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. . . . [M]y love for music, which often has quickened me and liberated me from great vexations, is abundant and overflowing.

--LW, 49:427-28

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