Permissibility of Lutheran Chorales in Non-Liturgical Context

Started by KreKre, May 06, 2024, 12:39:46 PM

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KreKre

I am teaching a course on counterpoint, and I am writing lessons for it, and so far, I've used a large number of Lutheran chorales as exercises. Being melodically simple, and harmonically predictable, as well as an endless source of inspiration for some of the greatest musicians who ever lived, these melodies make excellent exercises for learning harmony and counterpoint.

Now, I am fully aware that Lutheranism is a terrible heresy which cut off entire nations from the Church and doomed countless souls, the evil spirit of which inspired modernism, communism, freemasonry, and, consequently, Vatican II. I am also aware that some of those tunes have their origins in secular music of dubious character.

On the other hand, I see nothing heretical in Lutheran chorales themselves, at least those that I am closely familiar with and use as examples and exercises. On the contrary, I think some of them are quite beautiful, from the musical point of view. I am always careful to examine their texts to see if there is anything in them explicitly contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the version of Catechism I am most familiar with and according to which I try to live, is by St. Pius X from 1905). If I were to find something like that, I would certainly exclude that work from my lessons. For example, I certainly would not quote a communist revolutionary song in my treatise, or a song by a Satanist heavy metal band, or some feminist or homosexual punk song... But I think these are categorically different, because such songs would have lyrics that are clearly objectionable and explicitly contrary to everything that Catholicism stands for.

So far, I haven't found anything of the sort in Lutheran chorales. Granted, some of the texts of those chorales, when read in their historical context and in the context of the Lutheran heresy, might be interpreted unfavorably (and I'm sure Lutheran heretics interpret them in ways that are contrary to the teaching of the Church), but that makes for convoluted mental gymnastics. Taken on their own, they are quite innocent, very pious, and could have very well been written by a Catholic poet.

Personally, as a musician (an organist), I have great admiration for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was undoubtedly a very pious man, but unfortunately brought up in Lutheran heresy. His statement that the only purpose of music should be the glory of God and the nourishment of the soul is something with which I personally wholeheartedly agree. Of course, I don't agree with everything Bach believed, because he was a Lutheran, but I cannot see anything objectionable in his music, which is, in my opinion, of highest quality, piety, and reverence. I think it is tragic not to use this great treasure in the pursuit of musical knowledge.

On the other hand, I have worries that I am flirting with heresy and endangering the souls of those who might read my lessons.

A friend of mine, who is a NO priest, ensures me that there is nothing wrong in performing and studying this music, but this is hardly surprising coming from a priest who has been immersed in post-conciliar ecumenism his entire life. For that reason, I take his opinion on this with a grain of salt. What assures me slightly more is hearing a prelude and fugue by Bach performed by an organist at the end of a Traditional Latin Mass at a SSPX chapel. I find it unlikely that nobody recognized that this was a piece by Bach, but as far as I know, nobody protested.

Now, I am not advocating for the use of Lutheran chorales (or any Protestant music) during Mass or in any liturgical context. When it comes to liturgical music, I fully agree with what St. Pius X wrote in his motu proprio "Tra le sollecitudini". I know that some NO priests allow the use of Lutheran hymns at Mass, and I disagree with that. I don't think that is proper, or necessary, given that we Catholics have a great heritage of Gregorian chant, which is the perfect music for devotion and liturgy (but unfortunately, not for learning about counterpoint and harmony). However, I do think that classical music, written even by Protestant composers, can be a great source of joy and nourishment of the soul, and even encourage piety, but outside the church.

Here, I'm talking specifically about using fragments of Lutheran music as counterpoint exercises in a technical text whose tone, even though it is written by a Catholic, is for the most part, irreligious. It also contains a lot of examples by Catholic composers, as well as Gregorian chant.

I would like to hear your opinions on this. Is a work of art dangerous merely because it was created by a heretic, even if the piece itself it does not contain any signs of heresy? Should a Catholic committed to his faith shun a melody simply because it was composed or adapted by an unrepentant sinner like Martin Luther? When our Lord warns us in Matthew 7:18 that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, does this apply to this particular case of music, or am I overthinking this? Could it be that signing "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" is offensive to our Lord?
Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

Bonaventure

QuoteIs a work of art dangerous merely because it was created by a heretic, even if the piece itself it does not contain any signs of heresy? Should a Catholic committed to his faith shun a melody simply because it was composed or adapted by an unrepentant sinner like Martin Luther? When our Lord warns us in Matthew 7:18 that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, does this apply to this particular case of music, or am I overthinking this? Could it be that signing "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" is offensive to our Lord?

No on all counts.

The Curt Jester

Go for it.  Nothing anti-Catholic in his music technique.

Pachelbel, Bach, Buxtehude, and Walther are my go-tos for instrumental music.
The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: "Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!"

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the Monarch's silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: "O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!"