To the Funeral Hymns: |Christliche Geseng, Lateinisch und Deudsch, zum Begrebnis. Wittemberg,
Anno m. d. xlii.|
DR. MARTIN LUTHER TO THE CHRISTIAN READER.
St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, that they should not sorrow for the dead as others who have no hope, but should comfort one another with God's word, as they who have a sure hope of life and of the resurrection of the dead.
For that they should sorrow who have no hope is not to be wondered at, nor indeed are they to be blamed for it, since, being shut out from the faith of Christ, they must either regard and love the present life only, and be loth to lose it, or after this life look for everlasting death and the wrath of God in hell, and be unwilling to go thither.
But we Christians who from all this have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Son of God, should exercise and wont ourselves in faith to despise death, to look on it as a deep, sound, sweet sleep, the coffin no other than the bosom of our Lord Christ, or paradise, the grave nought but a soft couch of rest; as indeed it is in the sight of God, as he saith in St. John, xi., |our friend Lazarus sleepeth;| Matthew ix., |the maid is not dead but sleepeth.|
In like manner also St. Paul, I Cor. xv., doth put out of sight the unlovely aspect of death in our perishing body, and bring forward nought but the lovely and delightsome view of life, when he saith: |It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor (that is, in a loathsome and vile form); it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.|
Accordingly have we, in our churches, abolished, done away, and out-and-out made an end of the popish horrors, such as wakes, masses for the soul, obsequies, purgatory, and all other mummeries for the dead, and will no longer have our churches turned into wailing-places and houses of mourning, but, as the primitive Fathers called them, |Cemeteries,| that is, resting and sleeping places.
We sing, withal, beside our dead and over their graves, no dirges nor lamentations, but comforting songs of the forgiveness of sins, of rest, sleep, live and resurrection of the departed believers, for the strengthening of our faith, and the stirring up of the people to a true devotion.
For it is meet and right to give care and honor to the burial of the dead, in a manner worthy of that blessed article of our creed, the resurrection of the dead, and to the spite of that dreadful enemy, death, who doth so shamefully and continually prey upon us, in every horrid way and shape. Accordingly, as we read, the holy patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the rest, kept their burials with great pomp, and ordered them with much diligence; and afterwards the kings of Judah held splendid ceremonials over the dead, with costly incense of all manner of precious herbs, thereby to hide the offense and shame of death, and acknowledge and glorify the resurrection of the dead, and so to comfort the weak in faith and the sorrowful.
In like manner, even down to this present, have
Christians ever been wont to do honorably by the bodies and the graves of the dead, decorating them, singing beside them and adorning them with monuments. Of all importance is that doctrine of the resurrection, that we be firmly grounded therein; for it is our lasting, blessed, eternal comfort and joy, against death, hell, the devil and all sorrow of heart. As a good example of what should be used for this end, we have taken the sweet music or melodies which under popish rule are in use at wakes, funerals and masses for the dead, some of which we have printed in this little book; and it is in our thought, as time shall serve, to add others to them, or have this done by more competent hands. But we have set other words thereto, such as shall adorn our doctrine of the resurrection, not that of purgatory with its pains and expiations, whereby the dead may neither sleep nor rest. The notes and melodies are of great price; it were pity to let them perish; but the words to them were unchristian and uncouth, so let these perish.
It is just as in other matters they do greatly excel us, having splendid rites of worship, magnificent convents and abbeys; but the preachings and doctrines heard therein do for the most part serve the devil and dishonor God; who nevertheless is Lord and God over all the earth, and should have of everything the fairest, best and noblest.
Likewise have they costly shrines of gold and silver, and images set with gems and jewels; but within are dead men's bones, as foul and corrupt as in any charnel-house. So also have they costly vestments, chasubles, palliums, copes, hoods, mitres, but what are they that be clothed therewithal? slow- bellies, evil wolves, godless swine, persecuting and dishonoring the word of God.Just in the same way have they much noble music, especially in the abbeys and parish churches, used to adorn most vile, idolatrous words. Wherefore we have undressed these idolatrous, lifeless, crazy words, stripping off the noble music, and putting it upon the living and holy word of God, wherewith to sing, praise and honor the same, that so the beautiful ornament of music, brought back to its right use, may serve its blessed Maker and his Christian people; so that he shall be praised and glorified, and that we by his holy word impressed upon the heart with sweet songs, be builded up and confirmed in the faith. Hereunto help us God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Yet is it not our purpose that these precise notes be sung in all the churches. Let each church keep its own notes according to its book and use. For I myself do not listen with pleasure in cases where the notes to a hymn or a respon- sorium have been changed, and it is sung amongst us in a different way from what I have been used to from my youth. The main point is the correcting of the words, not of the music.
[Then follow selections of Scripture recommended as suitable for epitaphs.]