Monday, March 11, 2013

Lutheranism and the Fine Arts: Dr. P.E. Kretzmann and the Necessity of Continuing Catechesis

Descent from the Cross, by Peter Paul RubensCompetent art is hard to come by these days. True, there are many who have been trained in the techniques of their particular art form, or who have practiced on their own, and have developed an impressive skill. But the execution of technical skill alone is not art. The most that such accomplishes is to showcase the skill of a work's creator, while reducing the measure of art’s usefulness to the act of gratifying consumers. True art has little to do with either the artist or his immediate consumers, but centers on a subject which is external to both. More than just centering on a subject matter, compelling art succeeds at drawing the viewer, reader or hearer of it into a conversation regarding the subject. And this is no small task for the artist! In a single work, he must initiate a conversation and say everything he intends in a way that holds his end of the conversation throughout the inquiries and developing thoughts of those who may engage in it. If the artist is to avoid babbling, this requires that he have such a thorough familiarity with his subject that he can anticipate questions or objections associated with his expression of it, and respond to them while also reinforcing areas of agreement. Sometimes, the subject is simple and the conversation is short. Other times the conversation is longer. Sometimes, the artist points toward or draws conclusions. Other times, he only questions. Sometimes he is speaking for himself. Other times, he represents the voice of others. Regardless of the type of conversation, enduring art is that to which its viewers, readers or hearers return again and again, to admire how the conversation is carried out by the artist, or even to renew it again for themselves. Thus, in addition to technical skill, true, compelling and enduring art requires an abundance of creativity.

With these words, I opened the blog post, Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 2: Heinrich Schütz ... and other thoughts to ponder over the New Year Holiday..., which used the story of the Lutheran composer Heinrich Schütz as a pretense for discussing the nature of Fine Art and its sources. The attentive reader of that post can't help but notice the stark contrast that is drawn between what the Church has always prized as genuine and uplifting artistic expression, and what passes for such these days: the highest, yet least appreciated forms of art finding a place in today's contemporary pop-Church rise only to some expression of folk art, while those most highly sought after are among the lowest forms of expression, the mere spectacle of entertainment art which serves only to “gratify consumers” without requiring much thought from them. We saw clear examples of this in our recent post, Real? Relational?? Relevant??? O THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!!.

Art in Service to the Church: Baptismal, Stained Glass, WaxworkThe notion that artistic expression ought to center about the observer of it – his feelings, his emotions – or worse, ought to draw observers into the “experience of the art” itself by exploiting human passions, is a distinctly post-Baroque idea that is absent from our most cherished Lutheran music which comes to us largely from the “Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy” (coinciding with the Baroque Era) and centers on the objective message of the Gospel. On the contrary, such notions find their root in the Enlightenment myth of “human perfectibility,” a myth which serves to drive people away from recognizing their fundamental need for Divine Grace. Indeed, such notions were, notably, repeated by enemies of the Church as a means of deriding both the Church and Christian contributions to the Fine Arts. This fact was touched upon in a following blog post, Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 3: Johann Sebastian Bach. Such ideas ought to have no place in considerations leading to artwork that is created in the name and in the service of the Church.

Genuine artistic expression is a potent means of substantive conversation, of engaging the mind of one's fellow conversant through the language of art; and as such, it represents the highest stage of human learning: the Rhetoric Stage. Thus, genuine artistic expression requires genuine education. Moreover, for those who would meaningfully engage such works of art, an understanding of art's idiom is also necessary if it is to be properly appreciated. And, such understanding is also a product of Education, requiring the effort of catechists in the Church toward this end.

Recognizing the Need for Continued Catechesis of Lutheran Young People
The Walther League recruits Dr. Kretzmann

Enter Dr. Paul. E. Kretzmann – Educator (Ed. D.), Theologian (D.D), Historian (Ph. D.). We posted a blog entry about this very important figure of 20th Century American Lutheranism in our post, Dr. P. E. Kretzmann: Standing on God's Word when the World opposes us. In 1894, a grassroots Lutheran youth organization, called the Walther League, was formed, focusing on youth who had completed their catechism and had been admitted to communicant membership of their local congregations. Their purpose was as follows:
    The purpose of this association shall be to help young people grow as Christians through

      WORSHIP — building a stronger faith in the Triune God;
      EDUCATION — discovering the will of God for their daily life;
      SERVICE — responding to the needs of all men;
      RECREATION — keeping the joy of Christ in all activities;
      FELLOWSHIP — finding the power of belonging to others in Christ.

      From Rev. Cwirla's Blogosphere: Walther League and Higher Things
This sounds like a good thing, does it not? Whatever happened to this organization? The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) blog, Witness, Mercy, Life Together, writes concerning the Walther League: “The league eventually disbanded in 1977 as a result of painful but formative doctrinal discussions.”

Knowing and Doing, by Dr. P.E. KretzmannSometime during the 1930's, long before its eventual demise and probably during the period of its peak involvement, and before his departure from the LCMS, Dr. Kretzmann was asked to write a little book for Walther League Chapter leaders, that they could follow as a guide to the continuing catechesis of Lutheran young people. Printed by Northwestern Publishing House, the name of this little book was Knowing and Doing, and the need for it was expressed in its Foreword by Rev. Paul Prokopy. He justifies the need for continuing catechesis, and for this little book, as follows:
    It goes without saying that our Lutheran young people should know very definitely what the Lutheran church stands for and just why they are Lutherans, and that in all cases they should be ready and able to present the doctrine of their church and to defend it intelligently and ably against attacks. Yet we find that our young people are ofttimes at a loss to testify clearly and sometimes they are even ashamed to confess boldly that they are Lutherans, the reason being that they are not sufficiently informed and that they have not an intelligent understanding of the very important issues involved...

    Knowledge certainly is power, and if this applies anywhere, it applies to church activity... Placing first things first, Bible Study stands at the head, followed by study of Church History and Missions, the Study of the Distinctive Doctrines, Customs and Usages of the Lutheran Church, and [the study of] Practical Questions and of Church Art...

    But it is not enough that our young people know, they must also doKnowing and Doing, as the title [of this little book] indicates, must go together... We must have a well-informed, intelligent and efficient [laity].
It is interesting to know that only a generation ago the idea of “a well-informed, intelligent and efficient laity” was founded on the basis of broad KNOWLEDGE – not just of the Scriptures, although this was most important and stood at the head of all areas of study, but included other important areas of study, as well: Church History, Missions, Distinctive Doctrines, Customs and Usages of the Lutheran Church, Church Art... The full listing of the Table of Contents includes these, and other important areas of study and of practice:
    Chapter 1: Bible Study
    Chapter 2: The Study of Church History and Missions
    Chapter 3: The Study of Distinctive Doctrines, Customs and Usages of the Lutheran Church
    Chapter 4: Practical Questions
    Chapter 5: Church Art
    Chapter 6: Science and Inventions in the Light of Scriptures
    Chapter 7: Literature in the Light of the Bible

    Chapter 1: The Work of Young People within the Home Congregation
    Chapter 2: The Work of Young People in the City and District
    Chapter 3: The Work of Young People in the Church at Large
Dr. Kretzmann's thoughts in Chapter 5, on teaching Lutheran Young People how and why to appreciate the rich treasure we Christians have in the gift of Church Art, is most helpful as we contemplate the important role of the Fine Arts in Lutheran church-life. It is reproduced here, in its entirety.

Appreciating Fine Art in Service to the Church
An Important Aspect of the Young Lutheran's Catechesis

Art in Service to the Church: Metal Work - CrucifixFew members of the Lutheran Church realize what a splendid heritage is ours in the field of the arts. The work of Luther and his collaborers was not one of senseless destruction, as that of many self-styled reformers in his days and since, but it was a true reformation of the Church, both toward the inside and toward the outside. It is true, of course, that he eliminated all false doctrine from the teaching of the Church. It is true, also, that he removed, or attempted to remove, all that savored of false doctrine, even in the external usages of the Church. But he never became a mere iconoclast, just as he never degenerated into a mere demagogue. He never tore down merely for the sake of seeing things fly. And if he found the superstructure rotten, he carefully examined the foundation, lest he spoil something that was fundamentally good and had only been contaminated and sullied by false doctrine. Carlstadt and the Zwickau prophets, followed by practically the entire Reformed branch of the Church, attacked and destroyed many things which were in themselves not dangerous or which contained a germ of splendid value. Luther and his coworkers preferred to keep the kernel, even if the shell had to be discarded.

Lutheranism and the Fine Arts
“But especially in sacred song has the Lutheran Church a grand distinctive element of her worship. 'The Lutheran Church,' says Schaff, 'draws the fine arts into the service of religion, and has produced a body of hymns and chorals, which, in richness, power, and unction, surpasses the hymnology of all other churches in the world.' 'In divine worship,' says Goebel, 'we reach glorious features of pre-eminence. The hymns of the Church are the people's confession, and have wrought more than the preaching. In the Lutheran Church alone, German hymnology attained a bloom truly amazing. The words of holy song were heard everywhere, and sometimes, as with a single stroke, won whole cities for the Gospel'” (Krauth, C. (1871). Conservative Reformation and its Theology. Philadelphia: Lippincott. pp. 152-154)

As quoted by Intrepid Lutherans: Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 1: Michael Praetorius

In pursuing this course, the Lutheran reformers set a good example to all who bear the name of the true Reformer himself, and we should be proud to follow in their footsteps. Luther himself stated that he was in no sense an enemy of the arts, but that he desired to see them all in the service of the Gospel. His interest in the field of art, therefore, was profound. That he was a powerful poet and writer we all know. He was also a musician of no mean ability, he was well versed in liturgics, and he took an intelligent interest in other branches of art as it concerned the work of the Church.

Cologne Cathedral, Köln, DEWhat the fathers of the sixteenth century began the Lutherans of the next century continued; what Luther and Melanchthon and Bugenhagen and others advocated, the latter preserved. It is true that the riches of the Church in the field of Christian art have been largely lost during the age of Pietism, followed by that of Rationalism, but it is fortunately also true that the Lutheran Church of America is awakening to an appreciation of the heritage of the reformers and that proper steps have been taken and are being taken to reintroduce the precious monuments of art which the Church possessed in the sixteenth century.

All this is not being done in the desire for innovations, nor is an enthusiastic minority trying to foist something unwelcome upon a suspicious majority. The Word of God tells us: “let all things be done decently and in order,” (1 Cor. 14:40). A very clear word is that written by St. Paul: “Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification” (Rom. 15:2). And again, the same apostle writes: “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him,” (Col. 3:17). Moreover, we have evidence that it is by no means displeasing to the Lord if we, in a proper way, and without omitting the more important matters pertaining to the spread of His Kingdom here on earth, take an intelligent interest in Christian art and adorn our houses of worship in a manner befitting the majesty and beauty of Him who is fairer than the sons of men. When Mary of Bethany had poured out over Him her pound of ointment of spikenard and Judas, with a great show of interest in the poor, protested against the waste which was practiced by the deed, Jesus calmly took Mary's part, bidding the assembled company let her alone (John 12:7).

Springbrook Lutheran Church, Clarkfield, MNAmong the foremost subjects to which the attention of the younger members of our church might well be directed is that of church architecture and ecclesiastical art in general. This interest is aroused and sustained by the very complete accounts of the building of the Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon, together with the minute descriptions of the various appointments and pieces of furniture which were prepared at God's command in the wilderness and afterward copied by Solomon. If we add to the account of the Bible what has been found in the course of the last century concerning Oriental architecture, the subject becomes fairly fascinating. With our interest in the subject aroused in this manner, it is only natural that we desire to know more about the second Temple and then about that of Herod. Our admiration is aroused by the splendor and magnificence of the buildings crowning Mount Zion and many references to the Temple, not only in the Old Testament, but in the gospels as well, become clear to us.

However, our interest does not cease here. We are anxious to know in what kind of buildings the early Christians worshiped, when and how the first Christian churches were built. We study art of the early Christians as displayed in the catacombs and learn how closely their art was connected with, and expressive of, their belief.Pulpit of Stavanger Cathedral, Stavanger, Norway We view with surprise and misgivings the erection of the Byzantine cathedrals under Constantine and Justinian; we see the development of the Romanesque style until the limit of its possibilities was reached, only to find that the Gothic style practically removed all limits, making the erection of cathedrals possible which are marvels of human ingenuity and the very apotheosis of ecclesiastical art.

At the same time, we see that the pictorial and plastic arts are placed in the service of the Church, that the arts are, in fact, for centuries dominated by religion, that the greatest works of the greatest masters are performed largely in the interest of Christianity. Add to this the appeal of the minor arts, the work in tapestry and embroidery, in iron and brass and wood, the use of bells and the development of organs in the service of Christian worship, and we have subjects of such intense and absorbing interest as to challenge study, even with absorbing application... Possibly eight [one hour] illustrated lectures would be sufficient to give at least a proper idea of the subject.

Lutheran Worship and Artistic Expression: The Divine Service is NOT a Concert Performance
“It may be conceded, of course, that the matter of organ music of every kind is an adiaphoron. There is no commandment of God which gives to the organ either a primary or a secondary position, or makes music either essential or subsidiary for divine worship. And yet, it is not a matter of indifference... A Lutheran congregation will strive to bring out its doctrinal position also in its cultus, and will avoid everything that may be misconstrued as though the Lutherans had abated one whit from their position toward the means of grace. The Word and the Sacraments must always occupy the most prominent place before the congregation, and everything that will detract the attention of the audience from these most important parts of the service must be avoided with the greatest care...” (pg. 406)

“[A]ttempts at artistic playing were frowned upon. All efforts which savored of concert playing were not looked upon with favor. Motets or other strange pieces in the service proper were not permitted, the organ being strictly in the service of the congregation and its singing. The organist might give evidence of his art in the postlude... Above all, secular music was strictly taboo, secular songs and fantasies, as well as popular melodies being under the ban...” (pg. 407)

“The organist will therefore prepare himself very carefully for each service. His music must be selected with the purpose of bringing out the lesson or the character of the day... The hymns must be studied both as to text and music to emphasize the spirit in them. All the shadings of joy up to the veriest exultation, all the blendings of sorrow, longing, repentance, and whatever other disposition is brought out in the text, must be correctly interpreted in the music... Above all, extemporaneous playing and improvising is inexcusable at the organ during regular church-services. An artist of the first rank may attempt it at a church concert, but for anyone else to test the patience of the congregation in such a manner is little short of an insult. The sacredness of public worship and the exclusive emphasis which we must place upon the means of grace forbid such performances...” (pg. 407)

“A Lutheran organist will remember, above all, that the classical choral melodies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries should always occupy first place in his repertoire.” (pg. 408)

“The organ deserves special attention in its relation to the singing of church-hymns and the liturgy... [but] to educate the congregation in the ability to sing, the organ is neither needed nor is it adapted for that purpose; but it is good and appropriate for accompanying good church-singing, which is learned by singing and in no other way. And since the organ occupies this accompanying position only, it must be retained in this position... Long preludes, postludes, and interludes must be discontinued, but, above all, the insertion of self-composed fugues and other devices, by which the congregation assembled for services is changed into a concert audience.” (pg. 408)

(Kretzmann, P. (1926). Christian Art in the Form and in the Place of Lutheran Worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.)

Choir and Organ of St. Joseph Cathedral, Columbus, OHWe have a very similar case where we broach the subject of liturgics and hymnology. Luther very properly retained all that was in itself unobjectionable in the orders of service of his day, not only in the communion service, but also in the minor services and occasional sacred acts. In the many church orders, also, which fixed the order or worship in the various German countries in the sixteenth century, not to speak of the Scandinavian countries and England, the most beautiful sections of the ancient liturgy were retained. The Lutheran Church in America has very wisely selected the very best that was to be found in the sixteenth century liturgies, the result being a Communion Service which is unsurpassed in the entire history of the Christian Church [i.e., the Common Service developed by the General Council, and published in the old The Lutheran Hymnal of 1946]. But it ought to be studied and appreciated. – By the same token, the treasure of hymns which the Lutheran Church possesses is a special blessing of God's grace. Not only in the sixteenth century did the fountain of religious poetry flow in rich measure, but it has come down to us in a practically uninterrupted stream. There are hundreds of hymn-writers of the first and second rank, not only in Germany, but also in Denmark, in Norway, in Sweden, in England, in America, and elsewhere, and the products of their pens are numbered by the thousands and tens of thousands. To know the men and women whom God has gifted in such a remarkable manner, to study the hymns and songs which have imparted strength and consolation to untold numbers of Christians throughout the world, that is in itself a privilege which we have not sufficiently appreciated in the past. [As in the case of pictorial, plastic and architectural art that has been created in service to the Church], eight lessons should be devoted to the study of fundamental points of liturgics and hymnology, [as well].

Art in Service to the Church: Metal Work – Communion ChaliceMoreover, when the foundation has been laid and there is some understanding of the pricelessness of the heritage which we possess, the significance and the symbolism of the Lutheran form of worship may well be made a special topic of study. Every real piece of art is worthy of the most careful, detailed, and painstaking study, and we shall appreciate all the more what we have if we examine it in an intelligent manner. Eight lessons will barely suffice for this purpose. However, the interest of our people having once been properly aroused, most of them will surely want to know more about church music as such and about sacred music in general, including the history of the great Passions of Bach, the oratorios of a number of great masters, and the cantatas, motets, and choruses of scores of other musicians. Here again, eight hours or lessons are hardly sufficient, but they may serve to awaken the right kind of interest, which will direct reading and study into the proper channels.

(Kretzmann, P. (~1935). Knowing and Doing: A book of practical suggestions for young people and young people's societies, with special reference to Walther League Work. Chicago: Walther League of the Ev. Lutheran Synodical Conference [printed by Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, WI]. pp. 36-41)

In the case of Christian art, the creation of a compelling and enduring work is truly an amazing accomplishment. The subject matter of Christian art itself is generally despised by the World; and ambiguity, which is inherent to art and very often its most appreciated aspect, is at the same time a great enemy of Christian subject matter – fidelity to which requires clarity and closure. Thus, Christian art that remains beloved and acclaimed by all, over centuries and across cultures, which succeeds at engaging its viewers, hearers or readers in unambiguous conversation regarding the reality of Christ and the impact of His Gospel, represents skill and creativity towering over that which produces ambiguous works of profane subject matter for which people already have natural affinity. Why? Because it is an easy task to produce works of art having the World’s approval by appealing to fleshly desires and worldly sensibilities, relative to the task of producing generally acclaimed works which militate against what naturally appeals to man and which serves to lift up the offense of the Cross instead.

From Intrepid Lutherans: Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 2: Heinrich Schütz ... and other thoughts to ponder over the New Year Holiday...

1 comment:


Wonderful post!
Kretzmann's 'Christian Art...' is available freely here:

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