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  • Psalmenrezeption im reformatorischen Liedgut: Entstehung, Gestalt und konfessionale Eigenarten des Psalmliedes, 1523–1650 by Andrea Hofmann
  • Kurt K. Hendel
Psalmenrezeption im reformatorischen Liedgut: Entstehung, Gestalt und konfessionale Eigenarten des Psalmliedes, 1523–1650. By Andrea Hofmann. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2015. 340pp.

The reform of the mass, which included the introduction of a vernacular liturgy and the promotion of vernacular hymnody, was a priority for the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers. Metrical Psalms were a novel contribution of these reforming efforts. Andrea Hofmann focuses on this genre of hymnody and provides keen insights into the creation, character, theological content, and use of Psalm hymns during the Reformation.

Hofmann briefly reviews the impact of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and Jean Calvin on the production and popularization of Psalm hymnody. All of these reformers promoted a vernacular liturgy. Luther and Calvin lectured on the Psalms, published commentaries, wrote Psalm hymns, and encouraged their use in worship. Zwingli wrote three Psalm hymns but intended them for private devotional use since he rejected music as an element of public worship. There is no evidence that Bucer wrote any Psalm hymns, but he, too, published a Psalms commentary and supported the reform of the liturgy and the use of vernacular hymns in Strasbourg. He also impacted Calvin’s liturgical reforms.

The vast majority of Hofmann’s attention is focused on the identification and analysis of various Psalm hymnals that appeared between 1523 and 1650. While individual Psalm hymns were initially incorporated into general hymn collections, they were soon published separately, and the preparation of a hymn for each Psalm in the Psalter became the common, though not exclusive, practice by the 1540s. The publication of Psalm hymnals became particularly popular among Lutherans, and Hofmann analyzes eighteen such publications between 1542 and 1650. The Geneva Psalter of 1562 is a crucial landmark in the production and popularization of Psalm hymnody within the Reformed community. It included a hymn for each Psalm, although none of Calvin’s compositions were among them. Each metrical Psalm was also accompanied by a particular melody. The Geneva Psalter, which was translated into many languages, emerged as the normative hymnal among Reformed [End Page 461] communities. Ambrosius Lobwasser’s popular German translation of the Geneva texts (1573) became the most influential hymnal within the German Reformed community for the next two centuries.

Luther interpreted the Psalms Christologically, both in his lectures and hymns, and he viewed hymns as the people’s proclamation of the gospel. He, therefore, popularized a relatively free rhyming of the Psalms in the hymn lyrics in order to allow a Christological interpretation. He also fostered freedom in the composition and use of melodies, as long as they complemented the texts and were easy to sing. Calvin viewed the Psalms and, therefore, also the Psalm hymns as public prayers of believers and insisted that the rhymed Psalms must be faithful to the biblical text. The melodies should be simple and subservient to the lyrics. Hofmann’s analysis of the rhymed Psalms indicates that Lutheran hymnists followed Luther’s example. Their hymns were Christocentric and proclaimed the gospel. They also stressed theological faithfulness, offered assurance in time of suffering, and promoted eschatological expectations as they responded to particular contexts, such as the Smalcaldic War and the 30 Years War. Reformed Psalm hymnody also reflected its historical contexts, encouraged the people’s petitions to and praise of God, and offered comfort to a persecuted community. While the hymns of each tradition manifested particular theological perspectives and ecclesiastical priorities, they also complemented and affected each other. Psalm hymnody, therefore, served to foster confessional identity, but it also facilitated inter-confessional enrichment. After 1650 it even served to awaken a trans-confessional identity because the metrical Psalms came to be viewed not only as theological and spiritual resources but also as expressions of poetic excellence. This development was given impetus by Martin Opitz who insisted that rhymed Psalms must follow the rules of poetry and must demonstrate the equality of German to French and Latin as a poetic medium. He also hoped that Psalm hymns would become a means of transcending confessional division and of fostering Christian unity.

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