Music and Theology: Martin Luther’s “Deutsche Messe”

Line-cut Facsimile of Deutsche Messe  

Martin Luther, Wittenburg, Germany. 1526.

Woodcut print book.

Luther, Martin and Michael Lotter. Deutsche Messe vnd ordnung Gottis diensts. Wittenburg: 1526.

“Martin Luther – Deutsche Messe 1526.” Martin Luther (1482-1546). Cedarville University Digital Commons. Accessed December 6, 2018.

This book is a facsimile of Deutsche Messe, a mass written by Martin Luther in 1526. Though the Reformation brought about the purging of art from worship, Martin Luther was a proponent of just the opposite: he believed that the art of music furthered the act of devotion. Luther specifically believed in the concept of musical ethos, which claimed that music had an ethical effect on the mind and body. According to his theory, good music, which led people to God with its emotional response, ignited the passion necessary to worship God. In composing the music of his Deutsche Messe, Luther hoped he would lead people to God and his theological doctrine of sola scriptura, sola fides, and sola gratia.

What sets Luther’s mass apart from other traditional masses is its use of German. By using the vernacular language, Luther believed that he could better communicate his theological principles to a German audience. Luther supported the theory that German people best understood God’s word in German hymns. In the Deutsche Messe, he matched the natural versification of the German text to explicitly German melodies. In doing so, Luther believed that his hymns made God’s word more intelligible to a German audience.

It is true that Luther did retain some elements of the traditional mass, namely the standard Latin hymns. Luther wanted the German people to be well-versed in Latin among other languages. He advocated for the German population to learn and understand Scripture in as many languages as possible, believing that it would allow them to spread the word of God to people wherever they went. 

The Latin hymns which Luther chose to retain were strategically chosen so as to not reduce the intelligibility of the mass for the general German public. These hymns drew on well-known Catholic plainchants. Because the Latin text and melodies of these hymns had been standard in the traditional masses, most of the German people who engaged with Luther’s mass were already familiar with the Latin portions.

It is also important to note the increased accessibility of the Deutsche Messe in comparison to traditional Latin masses. The mass was spread widely among the young German population because it was incorporated into German schooling; students and teachers alike attended the mass and were familiarized with both the German and Latin hymns. The printing of the book, as demonstrated by the facsimile, also played a part in its accessibility. After the birth of the printing press, literacy rates in Germany increased dramatically. As a result, the book was easily accessible to the majority of the German population.

Another aspect of the mass which Luther found marketable was its novelty. Being that no prior mass had been written in the vernacular language, Luther hoped that the originality of the Deutsche Messe would attract non-Lutherans to his music and his theology. Whether or not Luther was successful in this pursuit is debatable. What Luther did accomplish, though, was the creation of a new type of mass which used vernacular language and music of the people to appeal to a specific audience.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Matthew R. “The Three Reformation solas and twenty-first century ethical issues.” Consensus 30 (2005).

Cameron, Euan, ed. “The Power of the Word: Renaissance and Reformation.” in Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History, 63-101. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Foroughi, Louisa. “Spiritual Reformation.” HPRH 2003, Fordham University, Bronx, September 14, 2018.

Grew, Eva Mary. “Martin Luther and Music.” Music & Letters 19, no. 1 (1938): 67-78.

Lippman, Edward A. “The Sources and Development of the Ethical View of Music in Ancient Greece.” The Musical Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1963): 188-209.

Janz, Denis R., ed. A Reformation Reader. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Luther, Martin. Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation: The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, edited by B.J. Kidd. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911.

Sternfeld, Frederick W. “Music in the Schools of the Reformation.” Musica Disciplina 2, no. 1/2 (1948): 99-122.


Peyote and Diabolism in New Spain

Huichol Figure of Elder Brother

Unknown artist, Mexico. c. Late 1800s.

Clay and pigment.

Central American Ethnographic Collection, American Museum of Natural History.

Figure. Place: American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York. Donor: Lumholtz, Carl, Dr..

PROVENANCE: Figure collected by Dr. Carl Lumholtz during a trip to northern Mexico in the 1890s, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. Acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in 1894 from donor Dr. Carl Lumholtz.

Psychedelic plants are not often associated with religion. Indigenous peoples of the Americas, however, have utilized the hallucinogenic cactus peyote in religious ceremonies for centuries. This figure depicts Elder Brother, known as the god of peyote to the Huichol Indians of Mexico. Though this figure was created in the late 1800s, the use of peyote in indigenous religious practices is believed to have begun as early as 4220 BCE. In the seventeenth-century, peyote practices were interrupted with the arrival of the Spanish in what would be known as New Spain. While peyote practices of most native peoples came under attack by Spanish colonists, the Huichol people escaped Spanish rule by fleeing to nearby mountains. This figure is an important symbol of the indigenous religious beliefs which the colonists feared and attempted to suppress. 

Spanish colonists attributed the psychological effects of peyote to the work of the Devil. Peyote contains mescaline, a compound resembling LSD that places users in a state of altered reality and induces visual hallucinations. While the indigenous peoples believed that these effects were instances of contact with religious figures, the Spanish believed that these visions were about the Devil or came directly from him. Colonists also viewed peyote as a vehicle for idolatry. They concluded that the plant was either treated as a god or as an instrument through which the native peoples worshiped the Devil. Furthermore, the Spanish feared that the indigenous peoples could harness the Devil’s power, which they encountered in their use of peyote, to perform witchcraft in retaliation against colonial rule.

The colonial fear of peyote was heightened with the realization that the cactus could also affect the Spanish people. Not only had Spanish colonists begun to use peyote, but a fusion of Christianity with peyote rituals had also resulted in new syncretic practices. Although Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples alike claimed that they used peyote to see Christian figures, the combination of Christianity with presumed diabolical influence was seen as heresy by leaders of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition’s distaste for the native peoples’ religious use of peyote culminated in the 1620 peyote ban. However, this would not be the last time that a decree regarding peyote use was issued. Throughout the early twentieth century, Christian missionaries still fought to eradicate any remaining peyote use in the United States. In response, Native Americans formed the Native American Church to protect their right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. Peyote was once again banned when declared a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It wasn’t until 1993 when Native Americans were granted the right to use peyote for religious purposes. Part of what is so notable about the history of peyote is how its perception by Spanish colonists still impacts its sociopolitical status in modern American society.

Works Cited:

Alarcón, Ruiz de, Hernando J. Richard Andrews, and Ross Hassig. Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions that Today Live Among the Indians Native to this New Spain, 1629. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, 43.

Cervantes, Fernando. The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Curatorial Notes on Figure. Mexican & Central American Ethnographic Collection. American Museum of Natural History. New York, New York. Accessed on December 8, 2018.

Dawson, Alexander. “Peyote in the Colonial Imagination.” In Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation, edited by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Clancy Cavnar, 43-62. Santa Barbara: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2016.

Halpern, John H., Andrea R. Sherwood, James I. Hudson, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, and Harrison G. Pope. “Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans.” Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 58 (2005): 624-631.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia. “Peyote: The Divine Messenger.” Season 2, Episode 2. Produced by Hamilton Morris and Bernardo Loyola. Viceland. December 2017.

Lewis, Laura A. Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

MacLean, Hope. “The “Deified” Heart: Huichol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art.” Anthropologica 42, no. 1 (2000): 75-90. doi:10.2307/25605959.

“Outlawing of Peyote by the Spanish Inquisition.” In “Peyote and the Mexican Inquisition, 1620.” By Leonard, Irving A. American Anthropologist, New Series, 44, no. 2 (1942): 324-26.

Smythies, J. R. “The Mescaline Phenomena.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3, no. 12 (1953): 339-47.