Monday, December 26, 2022

Today on the show, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about congregational singing and an early hymnal.

It is the 26th of December 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.


It is a Monday so we will head to the mailbag- it is also, depending on how you count, the second day of Christmas, so enjoy your 2 turtle doves a man in Australia says they taste like chicken mixed with quail.

Ok, the question comes from Rob, who recently moved to Mandeville, Louisiana.

Mandeville was home to John Stirrat- one of the backbones of one of my favorite bands- Wilco, along with Jeff Tweedy. It was also a hub in the early days of Jazz- you’ve got the Dew Drop Jazz club which has been there since 1895.

Rob wrote:

“I have a class on worship this semester, and in reading Worship by Hughes Oliphant Old, he mentions The Constance Hymn Book of 1540. I'm very interested in the history of worship, particularly during the Reformation. I wondered what you knew/what other resources you might have on this hymnal or any others from that reformation period.”

First- check out “Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions, Volume 1, edited by Mark Lamport and others. I just saw it’s only 10 bucks on Kindle right now- wow.

The question of hymn singing can be contentious in the Reformed world- that is, those coming from the Reformation tradition but not Lutheran or art of the radical Reformation (Anabaptists, etc.).

This stems, in part, from Huldrych Zwingli- that early reformer in Zurich. He believed that music should be stripped from corporate worship- that not only were choirs and organs ostentatious, but all singing was a form of unregulated worship. So- what about Ephesians 5:19, you ask- you know, where Paul says we should be “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord”. Yeah, from your heart, not out loud.

But he wasn’t the only Reformation leader, and the Reformation also took hold in other Swiss cantons, like Calvin’s Geneva and Basel, where the delightfully named Johannes Oecolampadius held sway. He and Basel were influenced by Martin Bucer (one of the Martins we recently talked about that fell in between Calvin and Luther) and the Reformation in Strasbourg. Bucer was influenced by Luther (who loved singing and writing new hymns). It’s from here that we get the book called “the new song book” in 1536. It was then edited by Johannes Zwick in Constance there in Basel and printed in 1540 as the Constance hymnbook. Ironically it was printed in Zwingli’s Zurich, where singing wasn’t permitted until 1598.

Basel would continue to transform worship- heading in the direction of Strasbourg and Bucer. Under Simon Sulzer, they would bring a man called Samuel Mareschal to be the town organist and to teach at the University. He was very pro hymnal and singing- he brought with him the next important hymnal- the Lobwasser Psalter.

This Psalter started in France with Clement Marot, who was very close with Marguerite of Navarre (the sister to Francis I talked about last week). She helped fund his work of translating the psalms into French. John Calvin came across them and thought of singing psalms as the proper middle ground between Luther and Zwingli. When Marot joined the Reformed side, he fled to Geneva and worked on the Geneva Psalter. He died, but Calvin’s friend Theodore Beza finished it.

Then came a man called Ambrosius Lobwasser- Lobwasser was German and translated the Genevan Psalter into German (the Lobwasser Psalter) and then added a bunch of modern hymns to it. This would be the most important hymnal (no offense to the important Constance hymnbook). Between when it came out in 1573 and 1800, it would go through over 100 editions and was printed every year save for 5. So- check out the Hymns and Hymnody, and I would say the Constance Hymn Book of 1540, as well as the Lobwasser Psalter. Both are worthy of our attention.


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- from Acts 8:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of December 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite psalter? Easy! Psalty- the big blue book that sang kids' praise songs. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who wants to shout out Ben, who sent me a picture of a real book he found in the church nursery- Psalty in the Soviet Circus… I have no idea Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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