Marrying Music and Theology: Martin Luther's Views on Worship

Term Paper, 2011

12 Pages, Grade: A

Free online reading

“Who loves not women, wine, and song,

He lives a fool his whole life long.”

—Martin Luther

The Reformation is remembered as a time of political change and a clash of theological ideologies, but it is often overlooked that the practice of worship at the time was being radically altered as well. This dynamic shift in worship music is largely due to the work of one man: Martin Luther. Martin Luther rose to prominence at a time when music was viewed with severe suspicion within the Catholic Church, who tried to limit and regulate what kind of music should be sung in their services. The position of other Protestants such as Jean Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli were even more extreme, and Luther labelled them “fanatics” for opposing music in all or nearly all forms.[1] Luther, on the other hand, was a self-proclaimed friend of music who wanted to see God’s gift of music made accessible to all people. Therefore, he stressed passionate congregational singing in services, revolutionising the way worship was approached, composed, and performed.

Luther was himself was a gifted musician, possessing considerable skill on the lute, a good voice and ear for choral singing, and modest ability as a composer of song. He received education, training, and experience in music at school in Eisenach and Erfurt during his formative years.[2] At the University of Erfurt, he received two nicknames after the things he was most known for: one was “The Philosopher,” the other “The Musician.”[3] He often entertained his closest friends with lutesong, acquainting him with music’s power to draw people together. Music continued to accompany him in his life and remained one of his favourite means of relaxation and sources of inspiration.[4] This musical background not only brought Luther to appreciate music, but also allowed him to make educated decisions about how worship music should be approached later in his life.[5]

Luther also proved himself capable as a composer, though he only dabbled in the art. Though it would be an exaggeration to call Luther a “musical genius of high rank”[6] (after all, Luther himself wrote that his skill was nothing compared to a composer such as Ludwig Senfl or Johann Walther), Luther wrote a few hymns that have endured the test of time. One in particular, “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,” became one of the most popular tunes of its time, sung across all of Germany and becoming the battle hymn of the Reformation.[7] This hymn became so popular that eventually it was grudgingly introduced into Roman Catholic churches, even achieving publication in a papal hymnal.[8]

Luther loved music, extolling it as one of God’s greatest gifts and calling it the most excellent art next to theology.[9] To him, the fact that music had often come under attack within the Catholic Church was a grievous offense. Luther earnestly hoped that “all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given mankind by God.”[10] Ever since St. Augustine had written a warning against the power of music in his Confessions, the Catholic Church had become extremely wary of utilising music except as a means to serve liturgical texts. St. Augustine had been skeptical of music on the grounds that it directly pleased the bodily senses and therefore considered it a worldly pleasure. However, Luther argued that if humankind was “created with natural musical appreciation and ability,” then taking pleasure from music was no more sinful than enjoying the visual esthetic of a sunset or any other beauty in nature.[11]

Luther ascribed a number of unique powers to music that set it apart from preaching, theology, or any other discipline. For example, music could banish a melancholy mood, calming a person’s spirit. Luther wrote that music could help a person to “forget all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and other vices.”[12] It could strengthen a person to help them withstand “shameful lusts and bad company.”[13] Luther also claimed that music could prepare a person’s spirit to hear the Word.[14] Indeed, he said that it had often inspired his own fervour to preach.[15] All these benefits, in Luther’s mind, far outweighed the “exaggerated suspicion of anything not amenable to rational control” that the other church leaders so often displayed towards music.[16]


[1] Edward M. Plass, What Luther Says (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 980.

[2] Carl F. Schalk, Luther on Music (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988), 13-15.

[3] Eva Mary Grew, “Martin Luther and Music,” Music & Letters 19 (1938), 70, (accessed October 15, 2011).

[4] Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eardmans Publishing Company, 2007), 64.

[5] William H. T. Dau, Four Hundred Years (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1916), 229.

[6] Paul Nettl, Luther and Music (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 62.

[7] Dau, Four Hundred Years, 235.

[8] Ibid., 234.

[9] Martin Luther, Sendschreiben Dr. Martin Luther’s an Ludwig Senfel (München, Germany: Lentner, 1817).

[10] Martin Luther, Foreword to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae jucundae (Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1959).

[11] Jeremy S. Begbie, ed. and Steven R. Guthrie, ed., Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 69.

[12] Plass, What Luther Says, 980.

[13] Martin Luther, Exegetica opera Latina (Erlangen, Germany: C. Heyder, 1829) .

[14] Begbie and Guthrie, Resonant Witness, 68-69.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 323.

12 of 12 pages


Marrying Music and Theology: Martin Luther's Views on Worship
Pepperdine University  (Seaver College)
Music History I
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
432 KB
marrying, music, theology, martin, luther, views, worship
Quote paper
Thomas Yee (Author), 2011, Marrying Music and Theology: Martin Luther's Views on Worship, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Marrying Music and Theology: Martin Luther's Views on Worship

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free