Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Christian Songs Latin and German, For Use at Funerals

There has always been pressure from the laity to incorporate non-Christian and poorly written so-called "Christian" songs into the funeral service. What follows is Martin Luther's letter of 1542 on the subject. This version is from pages 287-92 of the Works of Martin Luther, vol 6, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1932. The translation is by P.Z. Strodach.

Christian Songs Latin and German, For Use at Funerals
D. Martinus Luther
Wittenberg, Anno 1542
Printed by Joseph Klug

To the Christian Reader. D. Mart. Luther.
Christian Songs, Latin and German, for use at Funerals.

St. paul writes to those at Thessalonica [I Thess. 4:13], that they should not sorrow over the dead as others who have no hope, but that they should comfort themselves with God's Word, as those who possess sure hope of eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. For it is no wonder that those who have no hope grieve; nor can they be blamed for this. Since they are beyond the pale of the faith in Christ they either must cherish this tempopral life alone and love it and be unwilling to lose it, or store up for themselves, after this life, eternal death and the wrath of God in hell, and go there unwillingly. But we Christians, who have been redeemed from all this through the precious blood of God's [p. 288] Son, should train and accustom ourselves in faith to despise death and regard it as a deep, strong, sweet sleep; to consider the coffin as nothing other than our Lord Jesus' bosom or paradise, the grave as nothing other than a soft couch of ease or rest. As verily, before God, it truly is just this; for he testifies, John 11:21: Lazarus, our friend sleeps; Matthew 9:24: The maiden is not dead, she sleeps. Thus, too, St. Paul, in I Corinthians 15, removes from sight all hateful aspects of death as related to our mortal body and brings forward nothing but charming and joyful aspects of the promised life. He says there [vv. 42ff]: It is sown in corruption and will rise in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor (that is, a hateful, shameful form) and will rise in glory; it is sown in weakness and will rise in strength; it is sown a natural body and will rise a spiritual body.

Accordingly we have driven the pestilential abominations from our churches, such as vigils, masses for the dead, processions, purgatory, and all other mockery and hocus pocus on behalf of the dead. We have abolished all these and have cleaned them out thoroughly and do not want our churches to be houses of wailing and places of mourning any longer, but koemiteria, as the old fathers were wont to call them, that is, dormitories and resting places. Nor do we sing any funeral hymns or doleful songs over our dead at th graves, but comforting hymns, of the forgiveness of sins, of rest, of sleep, of life, and of the resurrection of Christians who have died, in order that our faith may be strengthened and the people may be moved to proper devotion.

For it is also meet and right that one conduct and carry out the burials decently and fittingly in praise and honor of that joyful article of our faith, namely that of the resurrection of the dead, and in defiance and contempt of that dreadful enemy, death, who incessantly devours us so shamefully in all manner of terrible and ghastly forms and ways. Thus, we read the holy patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc., conducted their burials with much splendor and left very explicit directions concerning them. Later the kings of Judah made great show and pomp over the dead, [p. 289] accompanying this with costly incense composed of all kinds of goodly, precious herbs; all of this was done to smother stinking, shameful death and to praise and confess the resurrection of the dead, so that the weak in faith and the sorrowful might be comforted thereby. Hereto, also, belong the customs which the Christians practiced heretofor and which they continue to practice in connection wit hthe dead and their graves, namely that they are carried forth in splendor, decked beautifully, sung over, and adorned with grave markers. All is to be done for the sake of this article of the resurrection to the end that it be founded in us firmly, for it is our final, blessed, eternal comfort and joy against death, hell, devil and all sorrow.

As a good example to serve to this end we have hosen fine musical settings or songs which are used in the papacy at vigils, masses for the dead, and funerals. Some of these we have had printed in this little book, and purpose in the future to choose more of them, -or whoever is better able than we, can;-but we have substituted other texts to these settings in order to honor our article concerning the resurrection and not to honor purgatory with its torment and satisfaction, on account o which their dead can neither sleep nor rest. The songs and the notes are precious; it would be a shame and a loss were they to disappear; but the texts or words are unchristian, unfit and absurd; these should perish. In the same way they far outstrip us in all other directions: the have the most beautiful services, beautiful, splendid cathedrals and cloisters, but the preaching and the teaching which they practice in these in grater part serve the devil and blaspheme God. For he is the world's prince an god, therefore he must have the most elegant, the best and the most beautiful. They also possess costly, golden and silver monstrances and pictures, embellished with rich ornaments and precious stones, but within are dead bones, quite as probably from the cadavers of the flaying-ground as from other places. They have costly vestments, chasubles, palliums, copes, capes, mitres, but who is under these or clothed [p.290] in these? Lazy bellies, evil wolves, godless hogs, who persecute and blaspheme God's Word.

And indeed they also possess many admirable, beautiful musical compositions or songs, especially in the cathedral and parish churches, but they have "beautified" them with many obscene, idolatrous, superstitious texts. Therefore, we have removed such idolatrous, dead and dumb texts, separating them from the noble music, and in their stead we have set the livin, holy word of God, to sing, to praise, to glorify with the same, so that this beautiful ornament, music, may, in proper use, serve her dear Creator and His Christians so that He be praised and honored thereby, but we, through the Holy Word united with sweet song, may be incited and confirmed and strengthened in faith
. To this help us God and Father together with the Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

But it is not our opinion or intention that these precise notes must be sung, just as they are, in all churches; let every church use its notes according to its own book and usage. For I myself do not hear gladly when the notes of a responsory or song have been changed and it is sung among us in a different way from that to which I was accustomed in my youth.

If it is desired to honor the graves in additional ways, it would be fitting to carve or write (paint) good epitaphs on the walls (when there are such) or verses from Holy Scripture, so that they may be present before the eyes of those who go to the funeral or to the church-yard; namely these or the like:

  • He has fallen asleep with his fathers and has been gathered to his people.
  • I know that my redeemer lives, and he will waken me out of the earth and I will go about in my body and in my flesh I will see God. [Job 19:25f]
  • I laid down and slept and awakened, for the Lord kept me. [Ps. 3:5]
  • I lay me down and sleep wholly in peace. [Ps. 4:8]
  • I will behold thy countenance in righteousness; I will be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness. [Ps. 17:15] [p. 291]
  • God will redeem my soul from the power of hell, because he has accepted me. [Ps. 49:15]
  • The death of his holy ones is held precious before the Lord. [Ps. 116:15]
  • The Lord will remove in this mountain the covering with which al peoples are covered, and the veil (lid) with which all holy ones are shrouded; for he will devour death eternally. [Is. 25:7f]
  • The dead shall live and rise with the body. Awake and sing ye who lie uner the earth, for thy dew is the dew of the green field. [Is. 26:19]
  • Enter, O my people, into thy chamber and close the door after thee; hide thyself a small moment until the wrath be passed over. [Is 26:20]
  • The righteous will be snatched away from the calamity, and they who have walked uprightly shall enter into peace and rest in their chambers.[Is. 57:1-2]
  • Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will open your graves, and fetch you, O my people, out of the same. [Ez. 37:12]
  • Many who lie sleeping under the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, some to everlasting dishonor and shame. [Dan 12:2]
  • I will redeem them from hell and rescue them from death; O death, i will be a poison to you; O hell, I will be a pestilence to you. [Hos. 13:14]
  • I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. But God is not a God of the dead but of the living. [Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:32]
  • this is the will of the Father, who hath sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but that i shall raise it up at the last day. [Jn. 6:39]
  • I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes on me, that one shall live, even though he should die forthwith. and he who lives and believes on me, that one will never die. [Jn 11:25f]
  • No one lives to himself and no one dies to himself. if we live, then we live unto the Lord; i we die, then we die unto the Lord. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ also died and rose and became alive again, so that he might become lord over he dead and the living. [Rom. 14:7-9] [p. 292]
  • If we hope in Christ only in this life, then we are the most miserable among all people. [I Cor. 15:19]
  • As in Adam they all die, thus, too, in Christ they all will be made living. [I Cor. 15:22]
  • death is swallowed up in the victory. Death, where is thy sting? Hell, where is thy victory? But the sting of death is sin, but the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [ I Cor. 15:54-57]
  • Christ is my life, and death is my prize. [Phil. 1:21]
  • If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so shall God also lead with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. [I th. 4:14]

Such verses and inscriptions will ornament the church-yard better than other worldly symbols, -shield, helmet, etc.

If any one were able and had the desire to put such verses into good rhymes, this would be an advantage: they would be remembered more easily and read more gladly. For rhyme or verse make ecellent sentences or proverbs, more gladly used than other smooth-flowing words.

[Then follow two versifications of S.t Luke 2, the Nunc Dimittis, a versifiction of St. John 11: The Resurrection and the Life; and a versification of Job 19.]

The German songs: Mit Fried und Freud, Wir glauben all an einen, Nu bitten wir den heiligen, Nu laszt uns den Leib, etc., may be sung one after the other as one returns homeward from the burial; in the same way one may use the Latin songs: Jam moesta quiesce, Si enim credimus, Corpora sanctorum, In pace summus, etc.

---end of article.

The hymns listed in the last paragraph are:
Mit Fried und Freud, ELH 48 "In Peace and Joy I Now Depart"
Wir glauben all an einen, ELH 38 "We All Believe in One True God"
Nu bitten wir den heiligen, ELH 33 "We Now Implore God the Holy Ghost"
Nu laszt uns den Leib, TLH 596 "This Body in the Grave We Lay"
Jam moesta quiesce, "Despair not, O heart, in thy sorrow"
Si enim credimus, "For If We Believe"
Corpora sanctorum, "The Bodies of the Saints"
In pace summus, "We are in Peace"