The seventeenth century was a grand era for organ building, and as new organs were installed in Lutheran churches in Germany, there were services of dedication at which a sermon was preached to explain the theological basis for using organ music in worship and to extol the value of instrumental worship for the praise of God. In some respects these sermons were all alike: scriptural passages, predominantly from the Old Testament, were cited to remind the congregation of ancient musical practices; opponents of church organs from Zwingli through Calvin to Voetius and Grossgebauer were chastised as misguided or worse; the value of music for spiritual inspiration and psychological well-being was extolled; most important, the role of music in rendering proper praise to God was highlighted.

The preachers of these sermons did not strive for originality, and they frequently yielded reluctantly to the pressure to publish, recognizing that many similar sermons were already in print. Nevertheless, the differences between the sermons are worth examining in relation to the context in which the new organs were being installed. Some churches were celebrating a new organ after an earlier one had been destroyed by iconoclasts; some were also celebrating the return of peace following the Thirty Years' War. Others addressed doubts and concerns about spending large sums of money on organs during economic hard times. Some paid tribute to those authorities who had made such acquisitions possible, often using Old Testament kings as models. Others addressed primarily the ordinary worshippers and interpreted the organ as a symbol of the human organism or of congregational unity.

When the sermons were preached at a special occasion of thanksgiving and celebration, the scriptural text was frequently taken from the Psalms, particularly Psalm 150; in such cases the main point was that the organ's value was to promote the praise of God. Exegetically more interesting are those sermons based on the assigned scripture of the day, as, for instance, the story from Mark 7 of the healing of the deaf man, or on a text such as I Timothy 4:4–5 about the goodness of all God's creation. This article summarizes the main points that are common to the organ sermons and then highlights the ways in which preachers adapted different scripture passages to lend support to instrumental music in worship.

Author Biography

Joyce Irwin received an M.A. in medieval studies and a Ph. D. in religious studies from Yale University with a dissertation entitled “The Theological and Social Dimensions of Thomas Müntzer's Liturgical Reform.” After teaching at the University of Georgia and Colgate University, she turned to church work and independent scholarship. A Colleague in the American Guild of Organists, she has served as organist and choir director at various churches in central New York and central New Jersey. She currently lives in Princeton, N.J., and is affiliated with the Princeton Research Forum. Her publications include Sacred Sound: Music in Religious Thought and Practice (Scholars Press, 1983); Neither Voice nor Heart Alone: Lutheran Theology of Music in the Age of the Baroque (Peter Lang, 1993); Foretastes of Heaven in Lutheran Church Music Tradition: Johann Mattheson and Christoph Raupach on Music in Time and Eternity (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015); and other studies in the area of women's religious history, particularly on Anna Maria van Schurman. With a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, she has had research stays at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel and at the Ruhr University in Bochum.

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