Lutheranism & the Classics

Sectionals Abstracts

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Presenter Title
C.J. Armstrong Sling Enough Mud and Some Will Always Stick: Plutarchan or Poetic Priority?
Joshua Benjamins Abraham Calovius on the Messianic Psalms: Biblical Commentary in Lutheran-Reformed Debates over Christology
William P. Boyce “Everywhere We are Looking for Poets”: Martin Luther’s Theo-Rhapsodic Imagination
Matthew Carver Doctrine Versus Meter: Lutheran Corrections to Medieval Church Hymns & Sequences
Gretchen Erhardt Hymn Singing as Encouragement for (or a Way to Encourage) the Christian Family
Jane S. Hettrick A Lutheran Hymnal Amongst the Catholics: The First Official Lutheran Hymnal in Vienna
Eric J. Hutchinson “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: Latin Versifications of Psalm 1 in the Sixteenth Century
E. Christian Kopff What Virgil Taught Luther About Writing Hymns
John G. Nordling Nugatory Nonsense: Why Luther Rarely Cites Catullus
Eric G. Phillips Luther’s Translation of Veni Redemptor and the Virgin Birth
Margaret A. Schatkin Bucolic Poetry in St. John Chrysostom Through the Eyes of Ernst Robert Curtius
David R. Speers Poetry and Myth in Lutheran Education
Carl P.E. Springer “Pious Mirth:” Listening to Martin Luther’s Latin Poetry
Jason L. Thompson The Distribution of the Psalter in the Prayer Offices of the Early Lutheran Church
Ryan M. Tietz Vivid Imagery in Isaiah 30


C.J. Armstrong

Concordia University, Irvine, California

Sling Enough Mud and Some Will Always Stick: Plutarchan or Poetic Priority?

While the authority of online quotation dictionaries assures an unwitting public that the Latin proverb calumniare audacter, semper aliquid haeret is an old saying traceable to Francis Bacon, he was just a teenager when the Duke of Württemberg included the maxim in the preface to the Acts of the Colloquy of Montbéliard (1587). The Lutheran Duke Friedrich, defending his mandate to publish the proceedings of the Colloquy (which took place in 1586 between Jakob Andreae and Theodore Beza) attributes the proverb to the Greek poet Theognis, in spite of what may appear to be a more direct, though admittedly much later, foundation for the aphorism in Plutarch’s Moralia. This paper explores the possibility of Theognis’ priority for the proverb, and examines the space between poet, moralist, and Reformation defender of the faith.

Joshua Benjamins

University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana

Abraham Calovius on the Messianic Psalms: Biblical Commentary in Lutheran-Reformed Debates over Christology

In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Lutheran-Reformed polemics about the nature of Christ reached a fever pitch, with prominent theologians from both camps producing vast treatises on such topics as ubiquity, the communicatio idiomatum, and the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures. Unsurprisingly, the Biblical commentaries of the later Reformation are suffused with these Christological debates, and the messianic Psalms represented a particularly contentious locus for Lutheran-Reformed Christological polemics (Pak 2006). A striking example of this pattern is the Annotata ad Librum Psalmorum Grotianorum (1660) penned by Abraham Calovius (1612-1686), arguably the most eminent Lutheran biblical commentator of his day. This work specifically targets Calvinist commentators on the Psalter—especially the Dutch theologian Hugo Grotius—who deprived the messianic Psalms of their “original and authentic meaning” (sensu nativo et genuine) and reduced them to “an empty and lifeless skeleton” (p.8). Calovius accuses his Calvinist interlocutors not only of a “Judaizing” tendency to read Christ out of the messianic Psalms, but also of a perverse Socinian interpretation of the hypostatic union in their exposition of the Psalter. In this paper, I examine Calovius’ polemical treatment of some of the most important messianic Psalms, paying special attention to his anti-Grotian gloss on “the right hand of God” in Psalm 110—a longstanding point of contention in Lutheran-Reformed debates. I use Calovius’ interpretation to reinforce a broader argument that commentaries on the Psalms profoundly shaped the evolving confessional identities of Lutherans and Reformed in the seventeenth century.

William P. Boyce

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

“Everywhere We are Looking for Poets”: Martin Luther’s Theo-Rhapsodic Imagination

Given the sobriquet the “Nightingale of Wittenberg” by theological admirer and poet Hans Sachs, Martin Luther is remembered for establishing the centrality and accessibility of liturgical hymnody in the Reformation. The Word of God was, for Luther, to be made accessible to the people for their comfort not merely in preaching but also in praise. Complementary of the exegetical methodology he employed in Biblical translation, Luther charged his allies to render freely the sense of Psalms into verses and hymns with unornamented clarity. As he wrote to George Spalatin in 1523, “Everywhere we are looking for poets….I would like to ask you to work with us.” Theology as well as musicality—theology’s close relative—were unavoidably incarnational, for Luther, and bore witness to what was terrific in and through what was commonplace.

In this paper, I analyze the first of Luther’s hymns, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun.” This hymn has received less critical attention than Luther’s liturgical hymns, in part because it is the only extant work not directly intended for public worship but rather as folk ballad. Of this first song of the Wittenberg Reformation, I will not only trace the role of narrative in witness and of suffering in faithfulness as relates to Luther’s theology. I also consider the hymn as a Trinitarian model for catechetical pedagogy and the way it casts a theo-rhapsodic vision for engagement in the world. Finally, I mention the debate surrounding the alternative ending of the hymn and what it means for the poetic energies of theological reflection.

Matthew Carver

Independent Scholar, Nashville, Tennesee

Doctrine Versus Meter: Lutheran Corrections to Medieval Church Hymns & Sequences

After the Reformation, some Lutherans modified traditional liturgical texts to correct the doctrine. The standards according to which they corrected these texts and the process of correction will be demonstrated through two corrected versions of one Sequence that was historically used by Lutherans on the feast of St. Michael: Summe Regis Archangele Michael. After a brief introduction to the Sequence genre, stressing the peculiar poetic quality of the prose “verse,” I will examine the pre-Reformation Latin text, noting its theological difficulties, alongside the solution of Urbanus Rhegius (1489–1581) and the approach of Hermann Bonnus (1504–1548), assessing the two in terms of their understanding of the original Latin text and its relation to the feast and its propers (the Gospel, Gradual, and Alleluia in particular), their comprehension of and concern for the poetic qualities of the Sequence, and the relative theological and musical success of their resulting versions. These varying approaches to correcting Medieval liturgical texts can also be seen in the hymn corrections of Bonnus (relatively radical) and Matthias Ludecus (minimalist), in particular the Michaelmas hymn Christe sanctorum decus angelorum.

Gretchen Erhardt

Former Lecturer in Children’s Literature, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Hymn Singing as Encouragement for (or a Way to Encourage) the Christian Family

“Family Classics—Hymns, Latin, and Theology” is one paper in a series of responses to a short essay by Michael Welmer (LC-MS pastor), titled "Religion, Diversity, and Tolerance," published in the November, 1997 issue of Current Thoughts and Trends. The essay discussed three ways the Church must respond to the ideology of theological and moral relativism. Welmer challenged clergy and academics to "set as a standard the goal of interpreting and integrating the Church's ancient teachings into a meaningful and pragmatic format for the 21st century."

This paper will respond to Welmer's challenge to pastors and professors by reporting the results of an informal study of laypeople who sing hymns at home. They are practicing habits of “integrating the Church’s ancient teachings into a meaningful and pragmatic format” for the 21st century family. The practice of these habits addresses doctrines mentioned by Welmer, including the nature of man and the work of Christ.

The paper will describe the habits of several extended families, churches, and teachers who value hymns; they are currently making deliberate efforts to share them with children, and they communicate with each other about that effort. Those families and teachers who also learn Latin hymns or poetry will be invited to explain how they started doing that and what the benefits and limitations are. The purpose of this communication with each other will be mutual encouragement and edification. Participants in the study will be asked why they teach hymns, what obstacles they face, what encourages them to continue, and how their work helps equip them and their children/students to respond to relativism in the culture around them.

The resources of the participants, a description of obstacles they mention, and the questions they raise will be included in the paper. It is expected that the findings will support the observation that pastors and lay people can help each other enjoy and talk about hymns with the children whom they influence. Doing so is one way to address questions that relativism raises and, over time, strengthen sound theology and build relationships in the church and family.

Jane S. Hettrick

Professor Emeritus of Music, Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey

A Lutheran Hymnal Amongst the Catholics: The First Official Lutheran Hymnal in Vienna

In 1781 Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II issued a “Patent of Tolerance,” granting religious freedom to non-Catholics. Lutherans in Vienna quickly founded a church. A leading figure in early Viennese Lutheranism was Georg Philipp Wucherer (1734-1805). The son of a Lutheran pastor in Swabia, Wucherer was a successful book dealer and printer who published hundreds of writings. Because of his criticism of the government, however, he was forced to close his printing shop and auction off its inventory. Banished from Habsburg lands, he was even removed from the Lutheran congregation of which he had been a founder and officer.

The largest volume produced by Wucherer’s press was a Lutheran hymnal, Christliches Gesangbuch zum Gebrauche der Gemeinen der Augsburgischen Confessionsverwandten . . . . Published in 1783, and adopted by the first Vienna Lutheran congregation, it contains 916 hymns. Like most early hymnals it contains text only, but with a tune assigned to every text. Certain tunes were very popular: e.g., “Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten” (LSB 750) was used with 68 texts. Also surprising is that tunes now long “married” to one text appeared with multiple texts.

This paper will examine the history and content of this hymnal, discuss the colorful story of Wucherer—within the context of the early history of Lutheranism in Vienna. My research is grounded in largely unexplored documents preserved in the archive of the Evangelische Kirche in Vienna.

Eric J. Hutchinson

Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan

“Tradition and the Individual Talent”: Latin Versifications of Psalm 1 in the Sixteenth Century

It has long been maintained that Psalm 1 is not only introductory to but is also programmatic for the rest of the collection of the Psalms (cf. Dahood 1966). It stands to reason, then, that the same would be true of the versions of Psalm 1 found in the various verse translations of the Psalter that were produced all over Europe in the sixteenth century in an outburst of literary and devotional activity that died away almost as quickly as it had arisen (Gaertner 1956). In this paper I propose to examine the opening Psalms of three of the most important of such versifiers—Helius Eobanus Hessus, whose Psalterium Davidis carmine redditum was first published in 1537; George Buchanan, author of Psalmorum Davidis paraphrasis poetica (1565/66); and Theodore Beza, who was an associate and admirer of Buchanan’s paraphrases and who later made his own version of the Psalms, his Psalmorum Davidis et aliorum Prophetarum libri quinque (first published in 1579, though an earlier version of Psalm 1 was included with Buchanan’s paraphrases in 1566)—in order to elucidate, first, the literary principles at work in these poems (and therefore in the collections as a whole) and, next, the intertextual relations in play among the three authors. By engaging in a close reading of these three opening Psalms, I shall draw attention to the richness and sophistication of this short-lived genre and demonstrate that these poems ought to be treated as works of literary merit in their own right.

E. Christian Kopff

University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

What Virgil Taught Luther About Writing Hymns

While composing the German Mass in 1523, Luther asked the Elector for the help of two chapel musicians, Conrad Rupsch (d. 1525) and Johann Walther (1496-1570). Walther’s contemporary notes were published by Michael Praetorius, Syntagmatis Musici (Wittenberg 1615) 451 ff. Walther asked Luther where he had learned to preserve the natural word accent in the music and text of his Sanctus. Luther laughed and answered, “The poet Virgil taught me such, who can apply so artfully his poems and word to the story he describes. So should the music direct all its notes and singing to the text.” (Virgilius hat mir solches gelehrt, der also seine Carmina und Wort auf die Geschichte, die er beschreibt, so künstlich applicieren kann, also soll auch die Musika alle ihre Noten und Gesänge auf den Text richten. WA 19.50).

Luther had observed Virgil’s ability to preserve the Latin word accent while composing in the Greek dactylic hexameter meter. The hexameter tended to place its metrical beat indifferently on any syllable, no problem in Greek but disturbing with Latin’s word accent. Virgil composed so that at the end of most hexameter verses and sometimes over entire verses the metrical beat agreed with the regular Latin word accent. (L. P. Wilkinson, Golden Latin Artistry [Cambridge 1963] 120-122).

I shall argue that this is what Luther was referring to by analyzing lines of Virgil, the Sanctus of the German Mass and, if time permits, stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress” and “From Heaven on High.”

John G. Nordling

Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Nugatory Nonsense: Why Luther Rarely Cites Catullus

Scholars have recognized that Luther was a superb Latinist (Smith 1911, 333; Bainton 1950, 18; Schwiebert 1950, 110-117; Lull 2003, 39) and wrote Latin verse compellingly (Springer 2007). Why, then, did he not make greater use of the Roman neoteric poet Catullus? Part of the oversight is more apparent than real; when compared to Aristotle (700x), Cicero (300x), and Vergil (250x) the citations of Catullus scarcely register (“in the single digits,” Springer 2007, 32; cf. Spitz 1985, 78; Schwarz 1987). There may be more deliberate reasons for the oversight, however. For example, Luther lumps Catullus together with poets who should not be read in the schools (WA TR 4 [1916], 75, #4012; in Springer 2007, 44 n. 68). Why not? The present paper draws freely from the literary oeuvres of Catullus and Luther to demonstrate that each possessed radically different reasons for concocting poetry: Catullus, drawing on Alexandrian tropes to reflect the vitality of a young, impressionable pagan; Luther, using even so unlikely a tool as coarse invective to serve Christocentric purposes. Both influences can be appreciated by Lutheran litterateurs.

Eric G. Phillips

Concordia Lutheran Church, Nashville, Tennesee

Luther’s Translation of Veni Redemptor and the Virgin Birth

My original idea was to write about a specific kind of Papist opposition to Luther’s hymnody: namely about controversialists who attacked Luther by likening him to Arius, the arch heretic from the 4th century who also wrote hymns to spread his teachings. Unfortunately, the early stages of my research have uncovered no such attacks, so I have shifted to another idea that involves the Arian controversy and the writing of hymns: namely to examine Luther’s translation of St. Ambrose’s hymn Veni Redemptor Gentium.

This hymn was originally an anti-Arian composition, and may have been one of those with which Ambrose fortified his people while they were occupying the basilica in Milan in defiance of the Arian Emperor’s order to vacate (St. Augustine, Confessions IX.15). Luther, however, made his translation in 1524, before the appearance of the “New Arians” who are briefly mentioned in the Formula of Concord, and this difference is reflected in his renderings. For example, in the first stanza, when Ambrose writes, “Ostende partum virginis / Miretur omne saeculum / Talis decet partus Deo,” he means to say that the Virgin Birth, as opposed to normal human birth, demonstrates the divinity of Jesus: “Such a birth befits God.” When Luther writes, “Der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt / Dass sich wundre alle Welt / Gott solch' Geburt ihm bestellt,” he mentions the Virgin Birth as an example rather of God’s condescension. Such a birth does not befit God; rather, it is marvelous that “God appointed such a birth for Himself.”

If in the process of this research, I also run across allusions to Arius himself, and his hymn-writing, it will be a bonus.

Margaret A. Schatkin

Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Bucolic Poetry in St. John Chrysostom Through the Eyes of Ernst Robert Curtius

The poetic genre of bucolic (or pastoral) poetry originated with Theocritus of Syracuse (ca. 300-ca. 260 B.C.) and through the Eclogues of Virgil became an important part of Western literature both as a fixed poetic form and as thematic motifs. The continuity of this poetic genre and motifs from Theocritus to modern Western literature is chronicled by the Lutheran humanist Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956) in his monumental study, Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, 1948). Ernst Robert was the son of Friedrich Curtius, who was President of the Lutheran Church of Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine. As a humanist, he strove to preserve the unity of European culture by a study of the Greco-Roman roots of its literature. His method of analysis was to isolate topoi or rhetorical commonplaces (themes, images, settings), which were associated with a particular literary or poetic form, and to follow them from antiquity, through the Middle Ages, to the vernacular literatures of Europe.

In this paper Curtius’ method of “style continuation” (Stilkontinuität) will be used to discover aspects of bucolic poetry found in the writings of St. John Chrysostom (349-407). John adopted the pastoral imagery of Theocritus and Greek bucolic poetry to promote the life of the church, while discarding pagan elements that were unbefitting.

David R. Speers

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Altamount, Illinois

Poetry and Myth in Lutheran Education

The use of ancient poets, especially pagan poets (Homer and Virgil), in the Lutheran classroom, is questioned by Lutheran educators, homeschoolers because of things like the glorification of death and war, sexual immorality, and other problematic issues. The claim is made that while the ancients offer depictions of honor (e.g., the Iliad), goodness, and beauty, the treatment is deficient on account of moral imperfections and not worth the time of a modern educator. This paper calls educators to consider the benefits of using poetic and mythic works as types for students to use as they reintroduce topics seemingly absent in much of modern educational materials, of honor, goodness, beauty, hospitality, and other virtues. Mine is a call to introduce students to the “humanities” (what it means to be human), and then compare the offerings of pagan poets to scriptural realities. The comparison can help students come to an understanding of these virtues through the study of the humanities and Scripture.

Carl P.E. Springer

Sun Trust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Tennessee

“Pious Mirth:” Listening to Martin Luther’s Latin Poetry

In this paper I demonstrate that even the most trifling of Luther’s verse compositions amply reward scholarly attention. The general question I will address is the following: if, even for highly proficient Latin poets like Virgil, it could take a very long time indeed to write and rewrite just a few dactylic hexameters, a meter that was developed originally for the Greek language, why did this highly successful German author spend any of his valuable time, especially in later life, writing Latin verse? One explanation is that Luther wrote Latin verse compositions in order to demonstrate his mastery of this difficult process, not because of his burning desire to communicate a significant truth. He loved the Latin language and the way it sounded. There is certainly something to be said for this explanation. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that, playful as they are, these poems lack seriousness. In fact, it seems clear that Luther intended many of them to be far more than mere exercises. They express the depth of his own pious faith, communicate his fond affection for close friends, gracious hosts, and drinking companions, and serve as expressive vehicles of his artful invective aimed at foes such as Erasmus and the Pope. To this end, I will invite participants in the session to look at (and listen to) some of the shorter poems of Luther’s (none longer than six lines), heretofore unexamined from a literary-critical perspective, all drawing heavily on the Greco-Latin poetic tradition, and suggest to them that the question of Luther’s relationship with the classics be undertaken precisely at this rather unlikely point.

Jason L. Thompson

Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Indiana

The Distribution of the Psalter in the Prayer Offices of the Early Lutheran Church

The Lutheran reformers made a number of changes to the daily prayer Offices, including a reduction of the number of services and a redistribution of the Psalter. Despite some free-spirited language in Luther’s and other church orders, many churches maintained a specifically prescribed distribution of Psalms in the prayer Offices. This paper will examine church orders and chant books to illustrate the various approaches that early Lutheran Church took in assigning the Psalms in the daily Offices.

Ryan M. Tietz

Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Vivid Imagery in Isaiah 30

Michael Fishbane observes, “Myth is that most elusive of cultural forms – forever avoiding the constraints of definition and analysis; yet always a testing, through its protean persistence, doing an indomitable grip upon the human imagination” (Fishbane 2005, 1). Scholars have proposed different understandings of what makes Hebrew poetry poetic. One helpful characteristic of Hebrew poetry that most agree on is the use of vivid imagery. I will focus specifically on the vivid imagery that Isaiah draws from Ancient Near Eastern myth of the Chaoskampf in his poetic descriptions of Divine eschatological salvation (Is 25:8; 27:1; 51:9). Isa 30:7 connects to the Chaoskampf through the linguistically challenging epithet given to Egypt, “רַ֥הַב הֵ֖ם שָֽׁבֶת”. After a brief textual analysis of the expression within its Isa 30 context, I will explore how this expression interacts with Isaiah’s other usages of imagery drawn from ANE Chaoskampf in order to understand better how Isaiah engages his hearers with this kind of vivid imagery.