The Keys of St. Peters

Article: Psalms and Hymns and Pietist Songs: A Look At Early Lutheran Hymnals in America

Christians throughout the centuries have always highly valued liturgy and hymnody. St. Paul encourages the Colossian Christians to continue “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.”[i] It is hard even to conceive of a Christianity which would be devoid of the gift of song. Singing was certainly important for St. Paul and it is certainly important for North American Lutherans. Popular stories abound of pilgrims on ships coming over to America with Bibles and hymnals in tow. This is of course no truer for Lutherans than it is for the Puritans aboard the Mayflower. The Lutheran immigrants had their own hymnals and valued them. Interestingly, St. Prosper of Aquitaine’s rule, popularly paraphrased as lex orandi, lex credenda—the law of prayer is the law of faith—, is applicable to those North American Lutherans as well. What did St Prosper intend by this saying? He means to convey that how Christians worship, pray, and sing reflects what they believe, teach, and confess. Or, as put more eloquently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the Church believes as she prays.”[ii] So it should not come as a surprise that a major difference in hymnals might truly reflect differing confessions and beliefs. This paper seeks to demonstrate that this difference of beliefs can be seen in the different hymnals used among Lutherans in North America. To examine such a claim this paper will consider two hymnals. The first hymnal to be considered is from the late eighteenth century: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s Erbauliche Liedersammlung and its adaptation into English by John Christopher Kunze. Another hymnal from the nineteenth century, C. F. W. Walther’s Kirchengesangbuch, will be considered and evaluated. Inquiry will be made into their hymnody and, if applicable, their liturgy. The historical and theological background of these hymnals will be discussed. Special note will be made of the influence of Halle Pietism on Muhlenberg and Kunze, and the confessional revival on Walther. Read More