First, let me say that I am honored to be asked to give this lecture, in this place, at this time. To be able to speak about theology in the context of the performance of marvelous music like this does not happen as often as it should. To be able to speak about music in a theological seminary like this also does not happen as often as it should. This is because music is frequently misunderstood. It is thought that in a theological context music only has a propaganda or entertainment value, and therefore, compared with theology, music is of peripheral concern. But theology as an intellectual discipline becomes brittle, formal, and detached from the realities it addresses if it is not grounded in the personal, experiential, and spiritual dialogue which is the essence of true religion, the dialogue that is partly between the human soul and God, Creator and Redeemer, and partly within the corporate community of faith as it speaks and listens to God, empowered by the Sanctifying Spirit. Music, rightly understood, is the heart and soul of this spiritual dialogue, for it becomes the vehicle through which our praise and prayers to God are articulated, because it is able to move our hearts to express what is too deep for words alone. But music also teaches us our theology as we sing. Music unites our voices and hearts, expressing the reality of the doctrine of the church as the unity of believers, in a way that theological propositions on their own just cannot do.

But this is neglected rather than new information. The intertwining of music and theology runs throughout the record of Scripture, from the morning stars who sang together for joy at the beginning of creation (Job 38:4-7) to the singing of the song of Moses and the Lamb that is to take place at the end of creation (Rev. 15:3). And the understanding that music and theology belong together was one of the secrets for the success of what we call the Reformation of the sixteenth century.

When we speak about this sixteenth-century phenomenon, we tend to speak in the singular. We speak of the Reformation, because there was a commonality in what happened across Europe, after an obscure Augustinian monk and academic had nailed a notice—about a forthcoming theological debate that never took place—onto the university notice-board (that happened to be a church door), in an insignificant town in an obscure part of Germany: the action that set the whole movement in motion. But the Reformation did not manifest itself in exactly the same way in every European country that it touched. In older Reformation studies authors were content to speak of the many and varied facets of the one Reformation, but in recent literature one finds the tendency to speak in the plural: the Reformations of the sixteenth century. The value in this approach is that the concept of Reformation as a single phenomenon is an unwieldy construct to embrace the astonishingly disparate nature of what happened during the sixteenth century . So we can speak of the German Reformation, the Danish Reformation, and the English Reformation, among others, as we account for the different geographical developments of this sixteenth-century phenomenon. But this geographical analysis does not go far enough. For example, last year Christopher Haigh published a book that was called not the English Reformation, but the English Reformations.Citation: 1Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). His argument is that there were different Reformations occurring simultaneously in England. In particular there was a Reformation in religion, a Reformation in politics ; and a Reformation in society. And in Germany the Reformation was not one unified entity. Thus one can speak of different linguistic Reformations in Germany. On the one hand, there was the Hochdeutsch (High German) Reformation, which by and large spoke to people in central Germany, and, on the other hand, the Plattdeutsch (Low German) Reformation, which generally spoke to people in northern Germany—the Plattdeutsch Reformation, to which the hymnal we consider tonight is an important witness.

But perhaps we need to go even further in the direction of Reformation plurality and see even more Reformations. For example, instead of seeing a Reformation of society in general, we should rather see different Reformations occurring within society—such as, the Reformation of social structure, as feudalism gave way to capitalism; or the Reformation of information technology, as oral transmission of ideas and concepts gave way to the emergence of the new print culture, again, as is illustrated by the hymnal we are using tonight.

Thus recent Reformation scholarship has attempted to come to terms with the enormous wealth of disparate detail of what happened because of the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century. But there is another analysis that has been gaining momentum in recent decades, that is, the study of what has been called the Popular Reformation. Much Reformation research of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has concentrated on the major developments in sixteenth century theology, the ecclesiastical re-organization they precipitated, and the political ramifications of these changes. Thus the stress has been on kingdoms, countries, churches, universities, princes, politicians, theologians, and professors. But what happened among the people? This is a primary question that is now being energetically pursued in Reformation studies. In other words, how did the Reformation affect the lives of ordinary people?

Reformation studies have for a long time been concerned with the great literature of the period, such as Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses of 1517, Erasmus’s Freedom of the Will and Luther’s response The Bondage of the Will, Luther’s attack on Catholic sacramental theology in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and so on. These were the documents that fueled the debate in councils, colloquia, and diets of church, state, and university. But the documents that affected the lives of craftsmen, artisans, housewives, and children were such things as Luther’s advice on how to pray, which he wrote for his barber, his magnificent treatise On Christian Freedom (1520), his German New Testament of 1522 and the complete German Bible of 1534, and the extraordinary Small Catechism of 1529. But perhaps more than any other kind of publication, the many hymnals of the first generation of the Reformation had the greatest impact on what ordinary people believed and practiced. And yet again, this hymnal, the Enchiridion published in Magdeburg in 1536, is an important example.

The heart of Reformation theology was Christology, the solus Christus aspect of the Christian gospel that was. summarized by three further Latin formulæ: sola scriptura, sola fidei, and sola gratia. Together they encapsulated the Protestant understanding of the Christian gospel: that a Christian’s standing before God depends not on the authority of the church but on the authority of Scripture that centers on the person and work of Christ; that salvation is offered and received as a gift by faith and not as a reward for a worthy life; and that this salvation is from beginning to end the work of God’s grace in Christ. A fourth dimension was added with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which was directly antithetical to the particular priesthood of Catholicism. These four theological concepts were translated into the practical concerns of teaching the laity at large the essence of biblical theology and the substance of the Christian faith, which were to be expressed in vernacular forms of worship and in congregational song. Thus the hymnal, small enough to be carried in a pocket, assumed a particular importance for shaping and sustaining the faith of ordinary people.

Let us therefore briefly examine this Magdeburg Enchiridion with regard to these four dimensions of Reformation theology as they were expressed in four practical concerns: Bible, catechism, liturgy, and song.


Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).