Sunday, October 16, 2011

Zwingli! on Music


For reasons unknown to me I found myself reading the Wikipedia article on Huldrych Zwingli (Swiss Reformer). Maybe it was because conversation over brunch today centered on my son's freshman history class and his professor's well balanced look at the influences and events of the time. Might also be because I was in Zurich three weeks ago, where all things "church" are all Zwingli, all the time.

Cut to the chase: I about fell off my chair when I read the paragraph on Zwingli's view toward liturgical music, below. As Willa Cather said, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."


Zwingli criticised the practice of priestly chanting and monastic choirs. The criticism dates from 1523 when he attacked certain worship practices. He associated music with images and vestments, all of which he felt diverted people’s attention from true spiritual worship. It is not known what he thought of the musical practices in early Lutheran churches. Zwingli, however eliminated music from worship in the church, stating that God had not commanded musical worship. The organist of the People's Church in Zurich is recorded as weeping upon seeing the great organ broken up. Although Zwingli did not express an opinion on congregational singing, he made no effort to encourage it. Nevertheless, scholars have found that Zwingli was supportive of a role for music in the church. Gottfried W. Locher writes, "The old assertion 'Zwingli was against church singing' holds good no longer.... Zwingli's polemic is concerned exclusively with the medieval Latin choral and priestly chanting and not with the hymns of evangelical congregations or choirs". Locher goes on to say that "Zwingli freely allowed vernacular psalm or choral singing. In addition, he even seems to have striven for lively, antiphonal, unison recitative". Locher then summaries his comments on Zwingli's view of church music as follows: "The chief thought in his conception of worship was always 'conscious attendance and understanding' — 'devotion', yet with the lively participation of all concerned".