The Kennedy Center

Luther Martin


German theologian and founder of the Lutheran Church, Martin Luther influenced all 16th-century church reformers and gave an important place to music.
In 1505 he became a monk, then became a professor of sacred scripture in 1512, a post he held until his death.  Between 1512 and 1518 he emerged as the biblical theologian and church reformer of his time.
Since Luther's theology was based on the scriptures rather than on the traditions of the church, a conflict was inevitable. In 1520 he published three significant writings that were foundation documents of the emerging church which was eventually to bear his name. In the An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation von des christlichen Standes Besserung he argued against the power of the papacy; De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium was his classic statement against the sacramentalism and sacerdotalism of the Roman Catholic Church: and Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen augued that a Christian is not bound by the laws of the church but is freed in the Gospel to serve Christ and his fellow man.
The following year he was excommunicated.  During the following months he completed his translation of the New Testament into German. In 1522 he began to reorganize the church in accordance with biblical principles. The form of worship was changed, hymnbooks were issued, and the basic Reformation doctrines were taught through his Large and Small Catechisms of 1529. For the rest of his life, Luther continued lecturing, preaching and encouraging the progress of the Reformation in Saxony and throughout Germany. His greatest work in these years was the completion of his German translation of the entire Bible. His body was reverently borne to Wittenberg and was buried five days later beneath his pulpit in the Schlosskirche.
Luther's experiences within the Augustinian order and his visit to Rome brought him into contact with the music of many composers, particularly that of Josquin des Prez and Ludwig Senfl, which he valued highly. He considered music to be ‘the excellent gift of God'.
The combination of Luther's theology of music, his provision and promotion of hymns and chants, his encouragement of congregational, vocal and instrumental liturgical music, and his concern for music in schools, laid the foundation for the distinctive tradition of Lutheran church music.