Praetorius on the Effect and Value of Choral Church Music

What follows is an excerpt taken from an article submitted to the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly for publication in 2021. To access the full article, check back on Red Brick Parsonage’s “Published” page periodically (I will post more details there once it is published, God willing), or you can use the link above to subscribe to the Quarterly.

Translator’s Introduction

[Michael] Praetorius planned four installments for his Syntagma Musicum (Musical Compendium) series: 1) a complete overview of the history and significance of both sacred and secular music from their beginnings, 2) a description of all ancient and modern instruments, with a special focus on the pipe organ (this eventually included an appended, forty-five-page section of woodcut illustrations done to scale), 3) a treatment of music theory, terminology, and performance, and information about new musical developments taking place in Italy,1 and 4) a comprehensive composition manual. Only the first three volumes are extant, though Praetorius evidently also completed the fourth.

Title page of volume I (Wittenberg, 1615) of the Syntagma Musicum by Michael Praetorius

The first volume of this series was published in Wittenberg in 1615 under the title Syntagmatis Musici Tomus Primus (The First Volume of the Musical Compendium). Of the three extant volumes of the Syntagma, this one has received the least attention, probably because it was the only volume Praetorius authored in Latin and because it is the most religious of the three (and therefore of less interest to secular music historians). …

In light of this anniversary year, and in light of ongoing discussions and debates about church music in Lutheran circles, I decided to provide for this submission a fresh translation of Chapters 3, 5, and 6 of Part 1, Section 1 of the first volume of Praetorius’s Syntagma (pp. 8–10, 16–19), which deal with the purpose, effect, and value of choral church music. [Only Chapter 3 is included in this online excerpt.] In these chapters, Praetorius regularly uses the term psalmody (which literally means “psalm-singing”) to refer to sung church music in general, though he also uses it to refer to the actual singing of biblical psalms.2 The context usually makes clear which he has in mind. All of the content in brackets and parentheses is Praetorius’s own, except in the case of Scripture citations and where I include Praetorius’s original Latin.

How much Praetorius himself was influenced by the content of these chapters is evident from his inclusion of its content in his other writings, most notably his dedicatory epistles for Urania (1613) and Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica (1619). Between these three sources, we find basically a threefold purpose for choral church music:

  1. To aid believers in proclaiming God’s grace and truth and in praising and honoring him “all the more joyfully and gladly”;
  2. To more easily and deeply inculcate “the doctrine about the true God and all divine exhortations, comfort, praise, and thanksgiving” in human hearts, which are naturally inclined away from God and toward sensual pleasure;3 and
  3. To ready believers for their participation in the glorious music of heaven.4

Since Praetorius prominently quotes two longer sections from Basil the Great’s (330–379) brilliant introductory remarks on the Psalms in affirming especially the second of these purposes, I include a fresh translation, from the Greek, of those sections taken together in an appendix at the end [not included in this online excerpt]. Praetorius also quotes a number of other church fathers; my abbreviated citations “PL” and “PG” refer to Jaques Paul Migne’s Latin (1844–1855) and Greek (1857–1886) series, respectively, of his Patrologiae Cursus Completus. …

Syntagma Musicum

Volume 1, Part 1, Section 1

Chapter 3
The Effects of Psalmody in General, When Combined with a Procedure and Discipline of Singing Devoutly and Modestly

This marks the μετάβασις or transition into the efficacy and benefits of psalmody, and the second and most important part of the Διανοίας [Discourse].5

Justin details just how supremely wonderful the effects of psalm-singing are: Ἡδύνει γὰρ [ἡ ψαλμῳδία] τὴν ψυχὴν πρὸς ζέοντα πόθον etc.6 That is:

  1. The singing of psalms arouses the soul to a burning desire for that which is desirable in song-tunes.
  2. It stifles the emotions that arise from the flesh.
  3. It disperses the wicked thoughts that are inspired in us by our invisible enemies.
  4. It incites the soul to bear the fruits of God’s blessings [bonorum].
  5. It makes the noble combatants [1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12] perfect in piety so that they can persevere in adverse circumstances.
  6. It is a remedy for the pious for all their griefs in life.
  7. Paul calls it “the sword of the Spirit” [Eph. 6:17], since it equips the soldiers of piety with weapons against their invisible enemies. Ῥῆμα γὰρ ἐστι Θεοῦ, τὸ καὶ ἐνθυμούμενον, καὶ ᾀδόμενον, καὶ ἀνακρουόμενον. (For it is the Word of God whether it is pondered in the mind, or sung, or conveyed by striking an instrument.)
  8. It is an ἀπελατικὸν for demons, that is, it drives them away.
  9. Those things that the pious acquire from ecclesiastical songs make the soul perfect in the virtues of piety.

So says Justin.7

Pope John XXII also suggests that there is a twofold effect of hymns in the church: While psalm singers are reciting the divine words, they are receiving God in their heart, and devotion is kindled toward God by songs of this kind. He says this in Extravagantes communes, Book 3, De vita et honestate clericorum:

An altogether sweet sound resounds in the mouth of psalm singers, since they are receiving God with their heart as they recite with their words, and they are kindling devotion toward him with their songs. And that is exactly why the singing of psalms is commanded in the churches of God, that the devotion of the faithful may be aroused. For this purpose the nightly and daily office and the celebrations of masses are continually sung by clergy and people with a mature pitch [tenore] and distinct inflection [gradatione], in order that they may take pleasure in that same distinction and delight in the same maturity.8

Here the pontiff likewise teaches that hymns were introduced and accepted in the church especially for this purpose, that devotion toward God might be kindled and stirred up.

But in order for psalm singing to awaken its virtue in souls by the effectual grace of the Holy Spirit, it is also truly necessary to observe a manner of psalm-singing that is pleasing to God. And in this regard, the following sentence was prescribed for hymns and cantors in the Fourth Synod of Carthage: “See that what you sing with your mouth, you believe in your heart, and what you believe in your heart, you prove with your deeds.”9

The apostle also requires of them that they sing and make music to the Lord in their hearts in Ephesians 5[:19]. When Jerome explains this passage in Book 3 of his commentary on Ephesians 5, he addresses singers thus: “Let those who have the duty of singing psalms in church listen carefully: Songs should not be sung to God with the voice, but with the heart. … Songs should be heard in fear, in deeds, in knowledge of the Scriptures.”10 The same precept of Jerome is included in canon law, Part 1, Distinction 92, Chapter 1.11 The gloss there adds two lines of verse:

Non vox, sed votum: non chordula musica, sed cor:
Non clamans, sed amans: cantat in aure Dei.

Not the voice, but prayer; not a musical string, but the heart;
Not one who cries out, but one who loves—sings in the ear of God.12

And Chrysostom says in a sermon on the Davidic songs:

So let us sing Davidic songs to the soul [troubled by the devil or by terrible suggestions of the flesh], in addition to other passages from Sacred Scripture, and in such a way that the mouth, by singing, may educate the mind. Nor indeed should this be regarded as petty and trifling since, whenever we instruct the tongue to sing, the soul—even the one [otherwise] feeling the opposite way—is ashamed not to imitate what is being sung, at least while singing it.13

And in the church, diligent care was taken that nothing would be done casually and without restraint [leviter & lascivè], but that everything would be done in a dignified and decent manner, accompanied by singing, and we read that the utmost reverence and decorum were observed by the singers and attendants. For “the learned authority of the holy fathers has decreed,” as the supreme pontiff, John XXII, says at the beginning of his decretal De vita et honestate clericorum in Book 3 of Extravagantes communes, “that in the services of divine praise, whatever belongs to the submissiveness of servitude should be exhibited, everybody’s mind should be alert, the sermon should not falter, and the unassuming dignity of the psalm singers should echo in their gentle modulation, since a sweet sound was resonating in their mouth.”14 In this decretal letter, the pontiff strongly reprehends those singers who were taking undue liberties [nimis lasciviebant] in their melodies, contrary to clerical respectability, and, in order that they might abstain from such levity in the future, he forbids them under threat of punishment. Nor indeed “should the throat and pharynx be coated with sweet medicament like the tragic actors do, so that theatrical modes and songs can be heard in church,” as Jerome says in the decretal in Part 1, Distinction 92, Chapter 1 of canon law.15

Likewise, the value the fathers placed on Paul’s rule about veiling the head, handed down in 1 Corinthians 11, is evident from the book On the Veiling of Virgins, which Tertullian, a very ancient ecclesiastical writer, wrote in its entirety. In this book he demonstrates, among many other arguments, that it is dishonorable for virgins16 to be uncovered during the psalms or at any mention of God:

How severe a chastisement do those women deserve who insist on remaining uncovered during the psalms or at any mention of God? Are they in the right when, even during prayer itself, they so readily place a fringe or tuft or any sort of thread on the crown of their head and then think themselves covered? So highly do they value their head!17

Now then, up to this point in the discourse, we have been able examine choral music’s origins in ecclesiastical psalmody and the practice of singing in multiple choirs that was introduced in the churches of the Old and New Testaments. We then examined its actual singing, the distinct variety of its modulation, its manifold effect, the manner of singing it devoutly, and the discipline and reverence of which it was deemed worthy. Now we must press the discourse more deeply into the broad field of its very frequent usefulness—a field of study that will amply demonstrate that choral music is filled with the activity of the Holy Spirit, pleasing to God, necessary for the Church, and beneficial to pious souls.


1 As you can imagine, volumes II and III are of incalculable worth to the study and practice of period-correct performance.

2 In Chapters 1 and 2, Praetorius discusses the “choral psalmody instituted by David and Solomon, which was later adopted by the choirs of the Greek and Latin churches,” and “the modulation [or melodies] of the ancients in psalm-singing, its purpose, the various kinds of ecclesiastical singing, and the ritual suggested in the psalms of ascents.”

3 Siegfried Vogelsänger, Heaven Is My Fatherland (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020), 61–62. Praetorius therefore also stresses in two of his dedicatory epistles the necessary balance in worship between concio and cantio—sermon (spoken proclamation of the Word) and song (musical proclamation of the Word). Elsewhere Praetorius wrote in a prayer of elegiac stanzas, in reference to his father and maternal grandfather: “One and the same is the aim (not to mention the zeal and the fervor): | What they endeavored with words, I seek with strings and with song” (Heaven Is My Fatherland, 55).

4 He makes this purpose clear in his dedicatory epistle for Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica; see Gesamtausgabe der Musikalischen Werke von Michael Praetorius, 17:viii–ix.

5 Praetorius divided the first volume of his Syntagma Musicum into two parts—the first on sacred music and the second on secular music. He further divided the first part into four sections: 1) Διάνοια or discourse on the choral music or sacred psalmody of the ancients, 2) Ὑπομνήματα or commentaries on the main liturgy, 3) Ἐξήγημα (elsewhere called Ἐξήγησις) or explanation of the liturgical songs of matins and vespers, and 4) Θεωρία ὀργανικῆς Sioniae or contemplation of the instrumental music used in both the Old and New Testament church. Even though he could have used the same label (discourse, commentaries, explanation, or contemplation) for all four sections, he chose different ones so that he could use each label as a shorthand reference for each section.

6 The author of this quote (not actually Justin Martyr; see next endnote) is answering this question: “Songs were devised by the unbelievers for deceit, and were introduced by those under law on account of the immaturity of their minds. Why then have those who have received the perfect knowledge of grace, and knowledge alien to the just-mentioned customs, continued to make use of those songs in their churches, the way the immature did who were under the law?”

7 PG 6:1353–56. This quote is taken from Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos (Questions and Answers for the Orthodox), Question 107, which Praetorius, like many before him, falsely attributed to the second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr. Scholars now generally date this work to the late fifth century.

8 The idea seems to be: The type of music used and the decorum and style employed in church singing will hopefully carry over into everyday life and have a moderating influence on one’s conduct. Since God wants us to exercise discipline and self-control (1 Thess. 5:6–8), to lead hard-working and unassuming lives (1 Thess. 4:11), to distinguish ourselves from the world around us (2 Cor. 6:14–18), and to have our minds set on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1,2), the church’s music will reflect and encourage these characteristics. Regarding Praetorius’s source for this quote, the Corpus Juris Canonici (Collection of Canon Law) published in Rome in 1582 contained three volumes. Volume 1 contained Gratian’s collection of church laws and decretals. Volume 2 contained five books of additional decretals. Volume 3 contained a sixth book of additional decretals, the Clementine Constitutions, and the so-called decretales extravagantes or supplementary decretals, divided into the Extravagantes Johannis XXII and the Extravagantes communes. You can view the same page Praetorius likely consulted here: Praetorius must have had a particular affinity for this quote, since he cites more of it later, and he included the entire section from which it was taken in an appendix on pages 456–57.

9 Karl Joseph von Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church from the Original Documents, vol. 2, trans. Henry Nutcombe Oxenham (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), 412, no. 10. For more on the so-called Fourth Synod of Carthage, see pp. 409–410: “These 104 canons are certainly very old, but…the heading which ascribes them to the Carthaginian Synod of 398 is spurious.”

10 PL 26:528. Jerome’s entire quote may be of interest: “Let young people listen carefully to these words. Let those who have the duty of singing psalms in church listen carefully: Songs should not be sung to God with the voice, but with the heart. Nor should they have their throat and pharynx coated with sweet medicament as the tragic actors do, so that theatrical modes and songs can be heard in church. No, songs should be sung in fear, in deed, in knowledge of the Scriptures. Show me anyone you like that people are accustomed to call κακόφωνος [ill-sounding]; if he has good works, he is a sweet singer to God.” Praetorius refers to more of this quote later.

11 Praetorius cites the chapter using the first Latin word, Cantantes, &c.

12 Regarding the source, see endnote 8. You can view the same page Praetorius likely consulted here: I included the original Latin so that the reader could see the play on words.

13 J.-P. Migne refers to this introduction in PG 55:31–32, but does not include it even among Chrysostom’s spurious works because of a lack of a Greek original. However, parts of this sermon are very similar to thoughts appearing in another introduction to the Psalms falsely ascribed to Chrysostom that does have a Greek original (PG 55:536–37).

14 Same source as cited in endnote 8. In other words, since what the singers were singing was inherently sweet by virtue of its content, the singers should not spoil its sweetness, or attempt to overshadow it, with their own fanciness or showiness. Praetorius would not have objected to the use of some artful and tasteful singing techniques (see e.g. Heaven Is My Fatherland, 107), but he was definitely in favor of comporting oneself with unassuming dignity while singing in church, and of putting oneself completely in the service of the music and especially the textual content.

15 See endnotes 10–12.

16 Actually, in the final chapter of On the Veiling of Virgins, from which the following quote is taken, Tertullian is making an appeal to women in general, including married women.

17 PL 2:913; cf. Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4:37.2.

Morning Prayers Compiled by Musculus

Translator’s Preface

Franz Friedrich, Portrait of Andreas Musculus, 1577, woodcut

In 1561, Andreas Musculus (1514–1581), professor and doctor of theology at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, published an enlarged edition of his Precationes. Ex Veteribus Orthodoxis Doctoribus. Ex Ecclesiae Hymnis et Canticis. Ex Psalmis denique Davidis collectae, & in certos locos digestae (Prayers Collected—and, in Certain Places, Broken Up—from the Ancient Orthodox Teachers, from the Hymns and Songs of the Church, and Finally from the Psalms of David). He dedicated the work to Duke Johann Albrecht I of Mecklenburg.

Musculus was a staunch Lutheran, having studied under Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon at the University of Wittenberg. Whenever he included prayers or hymns in his prayerbook that were originally stained with Mariolatry and other false ideas (e.g. the hymns “Stabat Mater” and “Ave Mundi Spes”), he cleaned them up and redirected the focus to Christ.

Musculus’s prayerbook proved quite popular among learned Lutherans, going through multiple posthumous editions stretching well into the seventeenth century. Those known to have used it regularly include Michael Praetorius (whose brother Andreas married one of Musculus’s daughters), Heinrich Schütz, and Johann Heermann.

What follows is my translation of the five morning prayers in the second to last section (fols. M 4 verso—M 7 recto). The first is attributed to Augustine (but see endnote 1), while the latter four are all simply attributed to “the church.” My prayer is that they assist the reader in his or her morning devotions, to the glory of Jesus our Savior.

Morning Prayers


Omnipotent Lord God, you who are three and one, you who are always in everything, were before everything, and shall always be in everything the God blessed2 into eternity: Into the hands of your power I commend, today and at all times, my soul, my head, and all my thoughts and actions, that you may guard them both day and night, at every hour and at every second. Hear me, Holy Trinity, and preserve me from every evil, from every stumbling block, from every mortal sin,3 and from all snares and harassments of the demons and of enemies visible and invisible. Teach me today to do your will. That which you hate in me drive far from me; remove from me what is harmful, and supply what is beneficial. Today and always, be lenient toward my soul, be lenient toward my sins, be lenient toward my offenses. Grant me today a heart that fears you, a mind that loves you, an intellect that understands you, ears that listen to you, and eyes that see you. Grant me today, Lord, the ability to discern between good and evil, and protect me from all evil, you who are blessed and worthy of praise into eternity. Amen.


O God, be kindly disposed toward me, a sinner, and pay me heed; please be my God every day and night. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, and send a holy angel4 to aid me, who will guard and protect me from all my enemies. Behold the cross of the Lord! Begone, adverse forces! The Lion from the tribe of Judah has conquered!5 Savior of the world, our salvation, you who have redeemed us through the cross and blood, come to our aid, we pray you. Holy God, Holy Strong One,6 Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and keep us this day from every evil. Amen.


O sweetest Lord Jesus Christ, omnipotent God, into the hands of your ineffable mercy I commend my soul and my body; my emotions and conversations; my plans, my words, and all my steps; my thoughts, my works, and all my doings; all the necessities of my body and soul; my coming in and my going out; the passage, progress, and end of my life; my passing away, my rest, and my resurrection with your saints and elect into perpetuity. Open my heart and my lips today to bless and glorify your name, which is blessed above every name. Cleanse my heart from all wicked and corrupt thoughts, that my lips may continually extol you, my mind may continually meditate on you, my life may continually glorify you, and my soul may continually bless you, that I, who have been created by your goodness alone for the praise and glory of your name, might remain devoted to you always and as long as I may live in this mortality, in order that I might one day be entitled to render you worthy service in the presence of your divine majesty, you who live and reign as God with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirt, through all ages to eternity. Amen.


I give you thanks, holy Lord, omnipotent Father, eternal God, that you have seen fit to guard me this night through your great mercy. And I pray of your boundless clemency, that you may grant me to pass the coming day with all humility, gentleness, chastity,7 charity,8 patience, kindness, fear, and responsibility,9 in such a way that my service might be greatly pleasing to you through Him who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and the world with fire. Guard and preserve me from every evil, from every stumbling block, from every mortal sin, and from all snares and harassments of the demons and of enemies visible and invisible, through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who is blessed into eternity. Amen.


Lord Jesus Christ, you who are the true Sun of the world, always rising, never setting, you who keep watch with your healing gaze of fire,10 you who sustain and gladden all things both in heaven and on earth: Shine favorably upon my soul, I beg you, in order that, with the night of offenses and clouds of errors dispersed, and you shining brightly within, I may proceed through my entire life without setback and conduct myself decently as in the daytime,11 free from the works of darkness, you who live and reign in every age with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


1 Musculus cited the source of this prayer thus: Augustine, Meditations, Chapter 40. See J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina 40:938,939. This is a condensed and slightly altered version of this chapter of Pseudo-Augustine’s Meditations. We now call the author Pseudo-Augustine because scholarship has demonstrated that Augustine of Hippo did not write these meditations. They more likely belong to Jean de Fécamp (d. 1078).

2 There are two main words for “blessed” in both the Old and New Testaments, and those two words reflect the difference between a beatitude and a benediction. The beatitude word for “blessed” (e.g. Psalm 119:1,2; Matt. 5:3–11) is usually used instructionally. One could paraphrase it this way: “If you want to be truly happy…” Since God does not need instruction on how to be truly happy and exists every moment in the most perfect bliss, this concept is not used with him. The benediction word for “blessed” is used more broadly—to acknowledge (with admiration) a state of happiness, or to express a desire (in a wish or prayer) for someone’s happiness. When we say, “Let us bless the Lord,” we are saying, “Let us praise the Lord for his state of perfection and the way that he makes his perfection known to us.” And when we state the fact that he is blessed, as here, we are saying, “Lord, you exist in a state of perfect bliss, and you have revealed it to us in order that we may acknowledge you for it, derive joy from it, and share in it eternally.”

3 In Lutheran theology, “mortal sin” is not a label for a limited number of specific crimes (cf. the seven deadly sins in Roman Catholic theology), but refers to any sin that represents a transition in our hearts from faith to unbelief, and thus from walking the road of eternal life to walking the road of eternal death.

4 It appears that, in the original prayer from which Musculus took this one, the archangel Michael was referred to by name.

5 These three lines are taken from a prayer attributed to Anthony of Padua (1195–1231).

6 Latin: Sancte Fortis; from the translation of Isaiah 9:6 in Jerome’s Vulgate, where Jesus is called: Admirabilis, Consiliarius, Deus, Fortis, Pater futuri saeculi, Princeps pacis.

7 That is, moral purity, especially purity of bodily action and activity.

8 Usually charity now refers to what used to be called alms, giving to the poor and needy. But it has been traditionally used in Christian literature to denote love, in the Christian sense. Love in the Christian sense does not primarily focus on the emotions, as it does in the worldly sense. It is an attitude primarily of the will—as C. S. Lewis wrote, “that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people” (Mere Christianity [New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001], 129). However, when the will has learned to act in love, the emotions also learn to follow suit.

9 Latin: solicitudine. The basic idea is that of caring about our words and actions and their consequences, and undertaking our endeavors with a sense of duty and purpose, instead of having a “Whatever” attitude.

10 See Rev. 1:14; 2:18ff; 19:12.

11 See Rom. 13:13.

Praetorius Biography in Production

Finalized cover design for Heaven Is My Fatherland

n April 21 the typesetting for Heaven Is My Fatherland: The Life and Work of Michael Praetorius was completed. Today the cover design was completed. The book is currently in production and, God willing, within a month will be available for purchase in hardcover, softcover, and ebook formats.

Special thanks go to Dr. Margaret Boudreaux, Sara Schneider, and Dr. Kermit Moldenhauer for their gracious endorsements.

To stay abreast of exact publication dates and to receive other Praetorius-related updates and resources, please visit, Like, and Follow the book’s Facebook page.

To God alone be the glory!

Biographies in the Works

Detail of the Ducal Castle in Wolfenbüttel from an engraving by Matthäus Merian the Elder, published in 1654

Michael Praetorius Biography

On March 5, I signed a contract with Wipf and Stock Publishers out of Oregon to publish an edited translation of Siegfried Vogelsänger’s 2008 biography of the confessional Lutheran composer Michael Praetorius (1571-1621).

I originally made overly ambitious plans to translate Wilibald Gurlitt’s dissertation on Praetorius. But in the spring of 2018 Winfried Elsner, who collaborated with Vogelsänger and who currently chairs the Michael Praetorius Collegium of Wolfenbüttel, acquainted me with this more concise introduction to the composer and his work and persuaded me to undertake its translation instead. The goal is to have it released in advance of the 400th anniversary of Praetorius’ death in 2021.

God willing, in addition to providing a detailed summary of Praetorius’ life and work, the book will also introduce the reader to Praetorius’ father, employers (especially Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Lueneburg), wife and children, and other relatives, friends, and acquaintances. It will also include an appendix containing the sermon and graveside remarks Pastor Peter Tuckermann delivered at Praetorius’ funeral—appearing in English in their entirety for the first time. As of this writing, the plan is also to have the book richly illustrated with artwork (both older and more modern) and photographs. Some of the primary source translations I have undertaken and continue to undertake in order to ensure the historical accuracy of the book’s content may also appear on this site in the future; some may also be included in additional appendices to the book.

If you wish to follow the progress of this biography more closely, you can do so here.

Johannes Strieter Autobiography

Many of this site’s readers are primarily interested in my work on the 1904 autobiography of Pastor emeritus Johannes Strieter (1829-1920).

The work on the autobiography itself is basically finished. The delay in getting the manuscript submitted and published is mostly due to the discovery of a slew of correspondence from the mid-1850s to mid-1860s in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s Presidential Papers, some of it penned by Strieter himself. The pertinent letters in this correspondence tell two stories related to Strieter’s time in Wisconsin:

  1. The multifaceted and interesting story of the founding of Lutheran congregations in Marquette and Green Lake Counties, Wisconsin, without which Strieter would not have been called to Wisconsin in the first place, and thus also would not have played a significant role in the founding of many other Lutheran congregations elsewhere in Wisconsin through his mission trips, and
  2. The story of the conflict between Pastor Strieter and Pastor J. J. Kern, which is tied to #1.

I want to include translations of this correspondence, as well as other primary source material (church record information, Der Lutheraner articles and announcements, newspaper articles, etc.), together with this autobiography, since it both helps to put the details of the autobiography in their proper context and comprises an important and previously little-known chapter of the history of the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods. However, it is not only taking a long time to complete due to the large number of letters available (I am approaching the halfway mark), but the appendices are quickly approaching and surpassing the autobiography itself in size.

The serial I am currently writing for the WELS Historical Institute Journal (see Published) is thankfully providing the impetus I need to continue trudging my way through, and organizing, these primary sources. Once I am finally finished, I am considering the possibility of submitting this material as two separate manuscripts for companion volumes—the first being the autobiography itself, the second the supplementary primary source material. Eventually this project will, God willing, have its own Facebook page too, but for now, if you want to make sure you don’t miss important updates on it, please revisit the information here, especially the parts in bold.

Thanks for continuing to follow Red Brick Parsonage, and the triune God bless you all.

A Child Was Born to Us Today

Uns ist ein Kindlein

“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn” as it first appeared in Gesius’ Geistliche Deutsche Lieder (1601). Source.

“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn”

Translator’s Preface

In 1601, Bartholomäus Gesius (c. 1555-1613) published the first volume of his Geistliche Deutsche Lieder D. Martini Lutheri und anderen frommen Christen (German Spiritual Songs by Dr. Martin Luther and Other Pious Christians). According to the rest of the title, the hymns in the collection “were customarily sung throughout the year in Christian churches,” and were arranged by the author “with four or five voices, according to the usual choral melodies, in a proper and pleasing manner.”

For other hymns, such as “All Praise to You, Eternal God” (folio 9) or “From Heaven Above” (folio 10), Gesius cited the author. But for the hymn on folio 16, translated below, no author was recorded. The four-voice setting is presumably his own. If the title can be applied without exception to all the hymns in Gesius’ collection, either Gesius himself had authored it before this and it had found use in one or more churches, or it may have appeared anonymously (authored by one of the “other pious Christians”) sometime between Luther and the publication of this volume.

Eight years later, when Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) published the sixth part of his Musae Sioniae (Muses of Zion) in 1609, he set the melody in Gesius’ collection to his own charming four-part setting (no. XLIX), which has been popularized in such albums as “Mass for Christmas Morning.”

I was planning to have the choir I direct sing Praetorius’ setting on Christmas Eve, and so I set about to translate it. My only departure from the original, which was admittedly not strictly necessary, was that the original two middle lines of the first stanza –

ein wahrer Mensch und wahrer Gott,
daß er uns helf’ aus aller Not.

True man, true God in full was he,
To rescue us from misery.

I changed to the following:

True man in full, yet also God,
To shatter the Oppressor’s rod.

I think it is rare when a translator is able to improve on the original, but here I was convinced such a case existed. The rest of the first stanza is basically a summary of Isaiah 9:1-7, which was the “Epistle” for Christmas Day at the time of the original composition. So I changed the two middle lines so that the entire stanza would be a summary of Isaiah 9:1-7 (rf. Isa 9:4). The “Oppressor” refers primarily to Satan, but also to sin and death by metonymy and association (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

This hymn just about sums up the beauty of Christian theology and the meaning of Christmas in as concise, straightforward, and lilting a way as possible. I pray it accordingly fills you, the reader, with joy and confidence.

A Child Was Born to Us Today

1. A child was born to us today
Of chosen virgin, far away –
True man in full, yet also God,
To shatter the Oppressor’s rod.
Wonder and Counsel is his name;
Through him the Father’s grace we claim.

2. What more for us could God have done
Than that he gives us his own Son,
Who from us has removed indeed
All of our sin and each misdeed,
Redeemed us from the sin and pain
Wherein we else would e’er remain.

3. Rejoice, dear saints of Christ, therefore,
And thank our God forevermore!
But hate the cunning, lies, and vice
Which cost your Savior such a price.
Fear God and live lives pure and mild
To glorify the newborn Child.

First Missions Hymn of Lutheranism

“Es wollt uns Gott genädig sein” (Stanza 1)
By Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

With a mission festival suddenly on the horizon, I was looking for a manageable setting of a Lutheran missions hymn. Michael Praetorius’ 2-voice arrangement of stanza 1 of “Es wollt uns Gott genädig sein,” found in Part 9 (1610) of his Musae Sioniae (The Muses of Zion), fit the bill perfectly. Based on Psalm 67, “Es wollt uns Gott” is not only considered “the first missionary hymn of Protestantism”; it is also one of the first Lutheran hymns, period. As such, it has a storied history. My favorite anecdote is retold in the Christian Worship: Handbook (Milwaukee: NPH, 1997) on p. 581 (altered slightly to fit the new translation of st. 1 presented below):

In Wolfenbüttel the Catholic prince permitted the singing of several of Luther’s hymns in his chapel. When a priest challenged him concerning this practice and told him finally that the singing of such hymns could no longer be tolerated, the prince asked, “Which hymns?” The priest answered, “My lord, it is called ‘To Us May Our God Gracious Be.'” Whereupon the prince snapped, “Well, then, should the devil be gracious to us? Who can be gracious to us but God?” Thus, the practice of singing Luther’s hymns in that particular chapel was continued.

Unfortunately, the translation of st. 1 found in hymn 574 of Christian Worship (“May God Bestow on Us His Grace”) did not lend itself well to Praetorius’ setting.

Time to translate.

First, the original text, with lines ( | | ) demarcating phrases that had to be kept intact in the translation (that is, had to contain the same number of syllables and make sense, not breaking off in the middle of a word or prepositional phrase) in order to fit the setting:

Es wollt uns Gott genädig sein
Und seinen Segen geben
| Sein Antlitz uns | mit hellem Schein
Erleucht zum ew(i)gen Leben
| Daß wir erkennen | seine Werk’
Und was ihm liebt auf Erden
| Und Jesus Christus | Heil und Stärk’
Bekannt den Heiden werden
Und sie zu Gott | bekehren |

Then, a literal translation unhindered by meter or other restrictions:

May it please God to be gracious to us
And give (us) his blessing,
May his countenance with brilliant shine
Illuminate us to eternal life,
So that we recognize his works
And what is pleasing to him on earth,
And (so that) Jesus Christ’s salvation and strength
Are broadcast to the heathens,
And convert them to God.

Lines 5-8 proved most difficult by far. I ended up having to make all the verbs passive, instead of alternating between the active voice in lines 5-6 and the passive voice in lines 7-8, as in the original. What I ended up with is the product below.

Since, instead of copying the music from an original 1610 edition, it was graciously copied for me from the Gesamtausgabe der musikalischen Werke (Georg Kallmeyer, 1929) by the staff of the Martin Luther College Library, I don’t feel comfortable sharing the music publicly here. However, I am willing to share it legally for non-profit purposes with other confessional Lutheran clergy and choir personnel upon request. Simply use the contact info on my About page to submit a request for a PDF file of the 2-voice choir setting.

I pray this fresh translation of the first stanza of Lutheranism’s first missions hymn serves to remind especially Lutherans of the high priority that the Lutheran Church has always (rightly) placed on mission work, and that, even if only in a very small way, it encourages her to continue to do so with ever-increasing zeal. I pray that it might also serve any English-speaking Christians that come across it as a fitting, and memorizable, missions prayer.

To Us May Our God Gracious Be

To us may our God gracious be
And bless us in rich measure;
May his kind face shine brilliantly,
Guide us to life forever.
To us shall God’s works then be known
And God-pleasing behavior,
And to the heathens shall be shown
The pow’r of Christ their Savior,
Which shall cause their conversion.

16th Century Christmas Hymn

By an anonymous author, possibly of Finnish origin

Translator’s Preface

One of my favorite Christmas hymn settings is Michael Praetorius’ 1609 4-voice arrangement of “Parvulus nobis nascitur” from Part 6 of his Musae Sioniae (The Muses of Zion). According to John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology, this Latin hymn first appeared in the 1579 edition of Lucas Lossius’ Psalmodia.

The now dissolved Chorus Cantans Latine of Martin Luther College, consisting of 12 male voices at its height, performed this arrangement several times, and its memory has stuck with me. I recently had an opportunity to translate it so that it could be sung by an American Lutheran church choir.

First, I pulled up my literal translation from years ago:

1. A little child is born for us,
Given birth from a virgin.
Because of him the angels rejoice
And we [his] servants give thanks:
“To the Trinity be glory without end!”

2. We have the King of grace
And the Lion of victory—
The only Son of God
Who gives light to every age.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

3. He came to bring us, [God’s] dear children,
Back to God from death,
And to heal the severe wounds
Inflicted by the cunning of the serpent.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

4. To this sweet little infant
Sing you all with one accord,
[Who is] lying in a manger,
Humbled in a shabby bed.
To the Trinity be glory without end!

In undertaking a rhyming translation to fit Praetorius’ setting, I wanted to accomplish several things:

  1. The nobis (“for us“) of st. 1 was emphasized by being set to two ascended Ds (“no-bis”) after three G notes (“Par-vu-lus”). I wanted to retain that gospel emphasis on “for us” by having “us” occur with the first of the two Ds. In other words, “us” had to be the fourth syllable of the first line of st. 1.
  2. In the refrain (last line of each st.), Praetorius has the music match the concept of eternity, either by dragging out the syllables with multiple notes (soprano) or by repeating the lyrics (tenor and bass). I didn’t want my translation to get in the way of that feature; the refrain had to conclude with the concept of eternity and have lyrics that could be easily and pleasantly repeated.
  3. I wanted to have the same clear allusions to various Scripture references as the original. The “lion of victory” in st. 2 clearly alludes to Revelation 5:5, the second half of st. 2 to John 1:1-18, the second half of st. 3 to the fall into sin in Genesis 3, etc.
  4. It’s always nice if one can introduce a new theme or thread while being faithful to the original. In this case, after opening st. 1 with “See,” I thought about starting each stanza with “See” – to give the whole hymn a sort of “Behold!” or surprise-like character to match the wondrous miracle of the incarnation that is celebrated on Christmas. But when that didn’t work, I ended up going with a sort of sensory progression in the first three stanzas – sight (“See”) to hearing (“Hear”) to touch (“to snatch…From death’s firm clutches”). This also made st. 4 stand out more as a conclusion by the absence of any direct sensory reference in it.
  5. Without getting ridiculous, I like to repeat consonant and vowel sounds within stanzas and lines of stanzas. It helps to unify.

What I ended up with is the product below. You can also access the English choir score here. One suggestion is to have the choir sing “To the Trinity” in st. 4 in unison, before returning to 4 parts for the remainder of the stanza. This would audibly comply with the immediately preceding exhortation: “In unison let all rejoice.”

Unless I am mistaken, this is the first publication of a singable, rhyming translation of “Parvulus nobis nascitur” in English. May it serve to the eternal glory of the Trinity.

See, Born for Us a Precious Child

1. See, born for us a precious child,
Son of a virgin undefiled!
The angels praise him in the sky
And we on earth make glad reply:
“To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!”

2. Hear now the King from Judah roar!
With all our foes he shall wage war!
The Father’s Son, the God of grace!
The light of life beams from his face!
To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!

3. Sent down to snatch God’s children dear
From death’s firm clutches, and its fear,
He came the serpent’s head to smite
And heal his sin-envenomed bite.
To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!

4. Though in a manger poor he cries,
Though on a bed of straw he lies,
To this sweet infant raise your voice!
In unison let all rejoice:
“To the Trinity ascend
Sweet songs of glory without end!”

Michael Schulteis: Educational Setting in Torgau

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 10-13. This is the fourth in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

This section picks up after Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, has either obtained his Bachelor’s degree from, or dropped out of, the University of Wittenberg and has been called to teach at the Latin grammar school in Torgau around 1534, at about age 19.

Gurlitt takes much of what follows from Section 2, Part 4 of Karl Pallas’ Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise (The Registries of the Church Visitations in Former Electoral Saxony) (Halle: Druck und Verlag von Otto Hendel, 1911), which is Volume 41 of the series Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete (Historical Sources from the Province of Saxony and Neighboring Regions), published by the Historical Commission for the Province of Saxony and the Duchy of Anhalt. I added a couple sentences from this source that Gurlitt did not include because, based on Endnote 10, the extra sentences perhaps lend further insight into Schulteis’ life in Torgau.

Michael Schulteis: Educational Setting in Torgau

In contrast to Wittenberg, which is regarded as the “mother of the Reformation,” Torgau is rightly called the “wet nurse of the Reformation.” More than anything else, the remarkable effectiveness of the Torgau grammar school1 seems to justify this reputation. After Wittenberg, it was the best and most sought-after school in electoral Saxony, and the Reformers took particular satisfaction in it. Luther became thoroughly acquainted with it on his first church visitation to Torgau in April, 1529, and afterwards praised it again and again as an ideal model school. He was also on friendly terms with many of its teachers. In August, 1531, Melanchthon reorganized it at the request of the Torgau council.2 Information about the setup of the school in which Michael Schulteis began his career can already be found in the visitation minutes of 1529. They essentially agree with the well-known model plan for a three-level Latin school which was appended as the final chapter to the Instructions for the Visitors of the Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (Wittenberg, 1528).3

Since we have no useable presentation of Torgau’s city history pertaining to the Reformation era, permit me to compile some excerpts from the “Special articles submitted to the council in Torgau” (March 22, 1534)4 that are significant for understanding Schulteis’ teaching years in Torgau. They are arranged according to the following areas:

1) Church: “The affairs of this place pertaining to the doctrine and life of the pastor [Gabriel Zwilling (Didymus)], the chaplain, and the other church and school officers – God be praised – have been found to be in order and absent of all dissension and discord.” The good relationship between the first Protestant clergymen and teachers in Torgau is also confirmed by a note in the diary of Summer, Torgau’s city physician and a contemporary of Luther: “There was utmost harmony among them; no disagreement was ever heard among them. They were each tolerant of each other and compliant with each other.”5

“The council has also consented that henceforth the pastor shall be the one to choose which chaplains, schoolmasters, schoolmaster’s assistants, sacristans, and students who have studied in Wittenberg for several years should be obtained for service in this city. He shall do so according to necessity, not choosing the ones to whom he is partial, but those who are the most qualified, always keeping in mind that the schoolmaster’s assistants should be people who will render due obedience to the schoolmaster. The pastor and council shall also have the authority to dismiss the deacons and other church and school officers if there is just cause, and to make other fitting Christian arrangements in religious matters… Since it has also been determined that another deacon is urgently needed on account of the large number of people [and the influx of nonresidents occasioned by the temporary residence of the court]6 and for many other pressing reasons, the Visitors have also prescribed another deacon at the request issued by the council and the congregation. He shall render the same obedience to the pastor that is required of the other two deacons, and shall serve by proclaiming God’s word clearly, purely, and without error, unmixed with the word of man or idle talk; by administering both sacraments in a Christian manner, in conformity with God’s word and the prescription of the visitation; by conducting services; and by visiting and comforting the sick on the basis of God’s word. In return his annual recompense shall be: 40 florins, 1 bucket of grain,* 5 cords of wood, and 1 bushel of salt – all from the general fund.” (Michael Schulteis took over this newly created position on November 19, 1539.)

“Also henceforth, on the evening of every high festival and on the actual festival day, a vesper service shall be held in which a Christian sermon about that particular festival shall be delivered in the presence of all the students, until such time in the future as the vesper service and sermon can also be prepared every Saturday at the convenience of the people. When the third deacon is taken on, an attempt may be made to see whether a short vesper service and sermon might be held every Saturday, and especially the Small Catechism for the youth and others. As for the evening sermon on workdays during the week, it is reasonable to discontinue it once again, considering that the morning sermon is sufficient, and so that the ministers of God’s word are not loaded down with too much. Also, the sermons, both on festivals and Sundays and on workdays and normal days, should not be drawn out for too long.”

2) School: “Henceforth there shall be four paid school officers, until further notice and amendment, namely the schoolmaster [Benedikt Flemming (served 1528-1539)]7 and three bachelors. In addition, there shall be a cantor [Johann Walther, beginning in 1534]8 and custodian for our dear women. Until the general fund has greater resources, the following bachelors and other church and school officers shall in the meantime be given the annual raise hereafter specified: Bachelor Markus [Crodel; became schoolmaster in the place of B. Flemming in 1539] – 10 florins; Bachelor Georg [Wachsrink] – 10 florins; Bachelor Michael [Schulteis]9 – 10 florins. Also in the meantime, until the general fund is healthier, 10 florins shall be bestowed and given to the organist every year as his honorarium, and 1 florin to the bellows operator every quarter… In return the aforementioned church and school officers shall also, in exchange for such improvement, attend to all the aspects of their ministry [Diensts] all the more diligently, considering that they have such an important ministry. … Since also the schoolmaster and his assistants have lived at the school up until now (some of them along with their wives), the Visitors have made provision, in order to prevent any sort of impropriety, that henceforth none of the school officers shall ever again live at the school along with his wife and children. However, one of these bachelors, if he has no wife, may have living space at the school, together with the nonresident students.10 And the bachelor who lives at the school shall take good care of the fire, the windows, and the boys who live with him at the school, so that the school does not fall into ruin. The bachelor who lives at the school shall also collect the wood money and purchase wood. … Also, when necessity demands that the students be punished, the schoolmaster and his assistants shall henceforth not carry out such punishment with knocking, shoving, and undue and excessive blows, but in good moderation… In return an honorable council shall also see to it that the students render all due obedience to the schoolmaster and the bachelors…for the youth, especially in these recent, dangerous times, are very quick to seize an opportunity to disobey. … Also, since the school in Torgau – God be praised – is invested with many and learned assistants, the school officers shall accordingly apply themselves diligently to the youth, so that the poor boys who are unable to be in universities, on account of their parents’ lack of means and the lack of other people’s patronage, may learn grammar and Latin thoroughly and well in the school at low cost… The schoolmaster and his assistants shall also see to it with all diligence that the instruction takes place in simplicity, as detailed in the Visitors’ printed instructions.”

“The youth and their abilities should be exercised by reciting the comedies. This suits us well, and we know of no better place where such a performance might be put on than our city hall in the summer, and at the drinking hall in the winter, which drinking hall we have hitherto lent them for this purpose as often as they have required it and have kept the doors closed to the rabble. We are also at liberty to give the boys 1 florin for refreshment for every comedy they put on, provided that the boys also derive benefit from such performances, and that a comedy shall be performed more than just on the last day before Lent.”11

3) Library: “The council in Torgau shall also take care that the library and books in the Franciscan monastery do not get torn up, but are maintained faithfully, well, and in such a way that those who want to study and read may go there to do so. They shall also take care that this library is augmented from year to year with the best and most useful books, to be furnished by the general fund.”

4) Choir [Kantorei]:12 “Since God the Almighty has favored this city of Torgau, more than many others, with a glorious ensemble of musicians and singers, the Visitors deem that, for the people who serve in this way, it is only reasonable that a publicly funded dinner be henceforth given to compensate them [what later became the convivum musicum generale or public musical banquet], as has been done in the past. They likewise make provision that, besides this, a council should also afford such persons an advantage over others in their respective trades, as much as ever possible and feasible, in order to make them all the more willing to exercise their abilities in this Christian and honorable way, and in order to encourage others all the better in that direction, until such time as a regular yearly honorarium can be made in return for their services.”

These content-packed primary source testimonies speak for themselves, and they offer deeper insights into the educational circumstances of Torgau at that time than the paltry collection of anecdotes that Grulich cites in an attempt to characterize this period.13 All that remains for us is to become more closely acquainted with the personalities with whom the young Schulteis came into contact, both by virtue of his office and in his day-to-day life.


1 Cf. Friedrich Joseph Grulich, Denkwürdigkeiten der altsächsischen kurfürstlichen Residenz Torgau aus der Zeit und zur Geschichte der Reformation, 2nd ed. by J. Chr. A. Bürger (Torgau: Verlag der Wienbrack’schen Buchhandlung, 1855), p. 167ff. The information imparted here requires careful verification, since the primary sources in the Grammar School Library [Gymnasialbibliothek], on which the work is based and from which also Otto Taubert confidently draws (Die Pflege der Musik in Torgau vom Ausgange des 15. Jahrhunderts bis auf unsere Tage [Torgau: Verlag von Friedr. Jacob, 1868]), are simply far too muddied.

2 Friedrich Lebrecht Koch, De scholae Torgaviensis constitutione ac forma (Wittenberg, 1815), p. 48f.

3 Karl Hartfelder, Ph. Melanchthon als Praeceptor Germaniae (Berlin, 1889), p. 419ff. Also cf. Fr. Paulsen, Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts, 2nd ed. (1896), part 2, and the ample examples of specialized literature recorded in both places.

4 Karl Pallas, ed., Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise, in Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete, vol. 41, sect. 2, part 4 (Halle: Druck und Verlag von Otto Hendel, 1911), p. 19-24.

5 J. Grulich, op. cit., p. 56, note †.

6 K, Pallas, op. cit., p. 15.

* German: 1 mld. Korns. I have taken “mld.” to be an abbreviation for “Mulde.”

7 Grulich, op. cit., p. 172.

8 O. Taubert, op. cit., p. 4. Note that 1534 was only when Walther began his work as cantor in the school. See further down under “4) Choir,” where the work he had already accomplished is alluded to with the phrase “glorious ensemble of musicians and singers.” – trans.

9 Cf. the thorough study by C. Knabe, Die Torgauer Visitations-Ordnung von 1529 (Torgauer Schulprogramm, 1881), p. 9f, where indeed no distinction is made between the identity of “Schulteis” and “Michael from Bunzlau,” and his arrival in Torgau is erroneously given as 1536. Notwithstanding this small mistake, the work contains valuable reports on Torgau personalities, compiled on the basis of account ledgers and council minutes. “Donat Michael” as an identification for Schulteis can hardly be debated, since only the first names are mentioned for the other two bachelors. What probably happened was that the young Schulteis, by participating in an especially memorable way in the edition of the Donat that the Torgau faculty published for their school in 1533 (cf. Karl Hartfelder, Melanchthoniana Paedagogica [Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von B. G. Teubner, 1892], p. 49f), acquired a nickname that he could not shake – “Donat Michael.” This name does not seem to correspond to a separate individual.

10 After this, Schulteis, as the last-named (and thus probably the youngest and unmarried) bachelor, may have lived “at the school.”

11 Letter from the council to the school personnel from 1534, quoted by K. Pallas, op. cit., p. 16.

12 Cf. O. Taubert, op. cit., p. 3f.

13 Grulich, op. cit., p. 53ff.

Michael Schulteis: Student in Wittenberg

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 9-10. This is the third in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

This section picks up after Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, has enrolled at the University of Wittenberg during the winter semester of 1528, at about age 13. Though we have no personal recollections from Schulteis about his time in Wittenberg, Gurlitt is able to put us in his shoes anyway by citing the recollections of a man who enrolled at the university on May 30, 1529, at the age of 24, Johannes Mathesius. (I was startled to discover that Mathesius’ series of sermons on Luther’s life, a sine qua non for any serious Luther biographer or Reformation historian, has not yet appeared in English.)

The bracketed [ ] interpolations in the Mathesius excerpt are Gurlitt’s, except for those that contain the original German. For the sake of translation accuracy, I consulted four editions of Mathesius’ work:

  • Historien von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes, Doctoris Martini Luthers, anfang, lehr, leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), folios 81, 82. (See link under “Sources” on the right.)
  • A. J. D. Rust, ed., Leben Dr. Martin Luthers, in siebzehn Predigten (Berlin: Verlag von G. Crantz, 1841), p. 105-106, 107.
  • Dr. Martin Luthers Leben (St. Louis: Druckerei des Lutherischen Concordia-Verlags [Concordia Publishing House], 1883), p. 125-126, 128.
  • The edition Gurlitt used for his citation (rf. Endnote 1).

Michael Schulteis: Student in Wittenberg

Master Johannes Mathesius, who spent his first semester at the University of Wittenberg in 1529, paints a vivid picture of student life at that time. Among other things, he relates the following from that year:

[S]ince Doctor Johann Pommer, pastor in Wittenberg, was absent at this time [Bugenhagen was in Hamburg], being regularly called upon to organize churches and schools in the land of Saxony [Lower Saxony], our Doctor [Luther] preached three or four sermons every week. In them he expounded the Sunday Gospels, the Gospel of John, and chapters 19 and 20 of the second book of Moses in a wise and Christian manner. It was also at that time, on St. James’ Day [July 25], that he beautifully applied the legends of St. Christopher to all preachers and Christian people who carry Jesus Christ in their heart and arms, guard their conscience, and help other people, and who receive nothing but ingratitude from the world and false brothers for doing so.

During this year I also heard, in the first place, the Catechism and many other comforting doctrines expounded, by Doctor Justus Jonas [theological dean from 1523-1533] in the castle [the collegiate Castle Church] and by the three deacons, Master Georg Rörer, Johann Mantel, and Master Sebastian Fröschel [in the parish church]. Now, just as the Parish Church and Castle Church were very well managed at that time, and the word of Christ was wisely taught in good harmony and produced much fruit, so also the university was held in the highest honor at that time.

From the Doctor [Luther] I heard the last 22 chapters in the prophet Isaiah expounded in the course of perhaps forty weeks. From these lectures I often returned home filled with comfort and joy [confidence].

From Mr. [Herrn] Philipp [Melanchthon], the faithful and diligent professor, I heard during this short time a portion of Cicero’s Orations and the beautiful Latin oration pro Archia. During this year I also heard him lecture on the entire dialectics [logic], which he dictated to us afresh, together with rhetoric [including homiletics]. In the morning this great man explained the epistle to the Romans; on Wednesday he lectured on honorable ethics and virtue from Aristotle’s Ethica or book of ethics. We debated or gave speeches [declamiret] on this every week. Mr. Johann Bugenhagen [who returned to Wittenberg in June of 1529] expounded the epistles to the Corinthians; Doctor Jonas expounded several Psalms. Aurogallus [Matthäus Goldhahn, d. 1543] lectured on his Hebrew grammar and Psalm 119. Master Franz [Burchart] of Weimar lectured on Greek, Tulichius [died as rector in Lüneburg in 1540] on Cicero’s De officiis, Master Vach [Balthasar Fabricius from Vacha an der Werra] on Virgil. The old Master [Johannes] Volmar lectured on the Theoricas planetarum,* Master [Jakob] Mülich on the sphere.† Master Caspar Creuziger lectured on Terence to the young students in the paedagogium at this time.‡ The private schools were excellently managed in the same way. Master Winsheim [Veit Örtel from Windsheim], Master Kilian Goldstein, Master [Veit] Amerbach, and Master Erasmus Reinhold, and soon afterwards Master [Johannes] Marcellus, Mr. Georg Maior [Major], and Master [Paul] Eber all kept their students in good discipline and diligently lectured and repeated.

There was also good peace and harmony between students and townspeople. …

… We all lived and sang in our choir [hatten unser Canterey] with joy and in good spirits, in love and friendship. Moreover, from the lips of the old men, for whom we juveniles had an honorable awe and reverence, fell many good speeches and stories which I diligently retained. And because it was precisely Mr. Philipp who lectured on dialectics, we had very good discussions consisting of questions and instruction in these and other lectures. There was also no excessive or immature eating, drinking, or entertainment; everyone tended to his studies for which he had come to the place…1

These captivating recollections were written down in the years 1562-1564. Many a detail in them would seem distorted by the passage of time, which tends to make the past more glorious. However, the great and significant thing that was alive in Wittenberg at that time still sounds out clearly on every side of this small portrait of time, which gives an accurate glimpse into the quiet sphere of the inner life of this great time, into the world which a young Wittenberg student experienced in those days, and into the wealth of stimuli and the abundance of important personalities whom he encountered on a daily basis and who filled his soul with sublime happiness.

In these incomparable surroundings, united by uniform convictions and common goals, Michael Schulteis also laid the foundation of his comprehensive education, which would set him apart from so many of his brothers in the ministry in the varied struggles of his life.

We first have to imagine the young Schulteis, occupied with the subjects of the trivium, as a student in one of those numerous Wittenberg “private schools,” which had arisen in the home of various professors according to Melanchthon’s standard. It is uncertain how long this course of study lasted for Schulteis. It is also uncertain when he obtained in Wittenberg the lowest academic degree, the honor of a Bachelor of Arts – or if he did at all;2 his later mention as such may have been merely a professional designation. For indeed, by March 22, 1534, he has been appointed as a Bachelor at the Latin school in Torgau; on that day he receives a pay raise of 10 florins from the council.3 He thus seems to have belonged to the teaching profession for some time already, the customary first step toward the preaching ministry. His outward circumstances were apparently quite poor, which also would have taken him away from his studies in Wittenberg prematurely.


* This might refer to Giovanni Campano’s (also called Campanus von Novara) influential work Theorica Planetarum (1261-1264).

† That is, the sphere of the heavenly bodies, since the universe was thought to be arranged in a series of revolving, concentrically arranged spherical shells in which the heavenly bodies were set in a fixed relationship. Today we would call this astronomy.

Heath’s New German and English Dictionary (1939) defines Pädagogium as a “secondary school (usually a private educational institution); college; academy; cramming establishment [or cram school].” The Journal of Education, ed. Henry Barnard (Hartford, CT: F. C. Brownell, 1860), in part 2 of its “History of the University of Tübingen,” dealing with the years 1535-1652, reads: “For better preparation in the languages, two preparatory schools were adjoined to the university proper; a ‘Trivial School,’ for the rudiments [of grammar, rhetoric, and logic], and a ‘Paedagogium’ immediately preceding entrance to the university. An eminently fit person was to be made ‘Paedagogarch,’ with three masters to assist him; and they were principally to teach grammar and rhetoric; to read with their pupils Terence, Virgil, and Cicero’s epistles; to make them compose a poem (carmen) and an epistle (epistolam); to instruct them in music, both simple and figured, and to sing with them, sometimes after meals, a motet or a psalm” (p. 70). A footnote says that the Paedagogium in Tübingen lasted until the Thirty Years’ War. It appears that the University of Wittenberg had a somewhat similar arrangement.

1 Johannes Mathesius, Luthers Leben in Predigten, in Ausgewählte Werke, ed. G. Loesche (Prague, 1898), 3:159ff.

2 Cf. Jul. Köstlin, Die Baccalaurei und Magistri der Wittenb. philosoph. Fakultät 1518-1537 (Halle, 1888), p. 14, where the conferrals from the years 1525-1532 are missing, with the note (fn. 4): “There seem to have been no conferrals in these years, partially due to the disturbances occasioned by Carlstadt and partially due to plague.”

3 Karl Pallas, Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise, in Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete, vol. 41, sect. 2, part 4 (Halle, 1911), p. 16.

Michael Schulteis: Youth in Bunzlau

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 7-9. This is the second in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

As you will see, not much can be said about the youth of Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, until he enrolled at the University of Wittenberg in 1528. However, Gurlitt does describe the intellectual and spiritual mood of Schulteis’ hometown during his youth, as well as make some interesting conjectures about Schulteis’ ancestry.

Michael Schulteis: Youth in Bunzlau

Michael Schulteis was born around 1515 in Bunzlau am Bober.1* We do not have any authoritatively certified reports about his early childhood and upbringing, the life of his parents, or the origin of his family. The Bunzlau City Archives are unorganized and unfit for research at present,2 and do not seem to preserve any records from the first quarter of the 16th century.3 The city’s church records only go back to 1740.4 Even the detailed chronicle of Bunzlau by E. Wernicke, which carefully records every accessible detail of the city’s history, does not offer any reliable clues as to the Schulteis family history. Therefore we can only offer conjectures about the ancestry of Michael Schulteis.

It is plausible that he is connected with the long-established Scholtz family that was especially distinguished in the city’s history at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries,5 although their Silesian descendants in the 17th century usually latinized their name as Scultetus, not Praetorius.6 This postulation seems to be supported by the expressly used name “M. Scholtz” in a call letter (Berufungsschreiben) dated July 30, 1544, issued by the council in Haynau, which was well acquainted with the civil circumstances in nearby Bunzlau.7

Among the members of the Scholtz family who are referred to in the first two decades of the 16th century in Wernicke’s chronicle, four of them earned the right to work as masters in the guild of furriers and cloth-workers in Bunzlau: Georg, Jakob and two men both named Hans.8 Wernicke also identifies three other men named Scholtz – Peter, Wolfgang, and Gregor, the neglected sons of the hereditary patron (Erbvogt) Anselm Scholtz9 – but as unprincipled men they are out of the question. Plus, most of the important preaching personalities of the old Protestant church who did not merely “join the cause of the gospel for the sake of the belly” came precisely from the manual laboring class of the cities that were on the rise.10 It seems best, then, to look for the Schulteis forefather (Michael Praetorius’ grandfather) among the Scholtzes in Bunzlau who were master ferriers and cloth-workers. Perhaps in the future, when the Bunzlau archives are rendered accessible for once, we can still hope to find some documentary reports about the Schulteis family. Given the current state of affairs, these conjectures will have to suffice.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the city of Bunzlau was known far and wide as the homeland of famous Silesians, especially poets,11 though certainly the singular Martin Opitz alone carried its name throughout the world. Thus Andreas Tscherning, likewise a native of Bunzlau and, after Opitz, probably the best among the city’s poetic greats,12 sang about his hometown in his Spring of German Poems (Deutscher Gedichte Frühling) (1642):

… Who does not know firsthand
That the town, despite its size, is still a fatherland
Of such distinguished people, who multiply its name?13

For the small city on the Bober, whose cultivation and prosperity have been much extolled,14 it was a significant day when, two weeks after the public victory of the Protestant cause cause in Breslau, Jakob Süssenbach, a former student of the Wittenberg university, delivered the first evangelical sermon in the Bunzlau parish church on May 8, 1524.15 This also marked the beginning of a new, truly productive era for the city. Reformation-friendly currents had probably been spread along the Bober, just as elsewhere in Silesia, before Luther’s conscience-liberating doctrine made its public entrance. But how impressively the Reformer’s personal action of conviction was perceived as a furthering of freedom and of true progress of the culture in precisely this city as well – a poem of Tscherning still expresses that in unmistakable terms a hundred years later when the poet celebrates Luther as the “ancestor (Ahnen)” of Bunzlau’s intellectual greatness.16 Accordingly the resistance that the introduction of the new doctrine experienced in the churches of Bunzlau was only a remarkably feeble one. The last Catholic priest of the city, Master Johannes, was no man of determined opposition; there was a saying about him among the common folk: “Nice and easy, just like the priest in Bunzel (Bunzlau).”17

Only the discussions with the clergy and monks of Bunzlau’s Dominican cloister took on violent forms. These often turned into ugly, spiteful, public bickerings, whose vulgar crudeness was ill suited to inspire a high opinion of the condition of Catholic spirituality in the religiously inclined Schulteis boy, who witnessed these coarse scenes as some of the earliest reminiscences of his youth. On the other hand, the pastor Jakob Süssenbach, who lived in Bunzlau in close contact with the Wittenberg circle of reformers until 1532,18 may have gained influence with the boy, familiarized him with the new religious views, and perhaps personally recommended him to Wittenberg. For there, in the winter semester of 1528, Schulteis was matriculated as “Michael Schultze Boleslauien[sis] dioc[esis] Vratislauien[sis]” (Michael Schultze of Bunzlau in the Diocese of Breslau).19


1 Boleslav in Bohemian, whence the Latin name Boleslavia (Civitas Boleslaviensis). The common folk called it der Bun(t)zel. Cf. Ewald Wernicke, Chronik der Stadt Bunzlau (1884), p. 9. The copy of the Bunzlau chronicle by Fr. Holstein mentioned on p. iv of Wernicke’s Chronik is in the possession of the Leipzig University Library (Cod. Ms. 1567). It does not contain any essential reports that go above and beyond Wernicke’s thorough work.

* Today this is the Polish city Bolesławiec.

2 Communication from Mr. Richter, the present mayor of Bunzlau (September 28, 1912).

3 Wernicke, op. cit., p. 4f.

4 Jungnitz and Eberlein, Die Kirchenbücher Schlesiens beider Confessionen (Breslau: Verein für Geschichte und Altertum Schlesiens, 1902), p. 8.

5 Wernicke, op. cit., p. 151f.

6 Ibid., p. 479.

7 Original in the Public Record Office (Staatsarchiv) in Weimar: Reg. Ll., p. 197, no. 138a, 7a.

8 Wernicke, op. cit., p. 163, 215.

9 Ibid., p. 151.

10 Cf. Paul Drews, Der evangelische Geistliche in der deutschen Vergangenheit (Jena, 1905).

11 Wernicke, op. cit., p. 278, 468ff.

12 Cf. H. Heinrich Borcherdt, “A. Tscherning” in Ein Beitrag zur Literatur- und Kulturgeschichte des 17. Jahrh. (Leipzig-München, 1912).

13 Wernicke, op. cit., p. 468.

14 Ibid., p. 278ff.

15 Ibid., p. 171. On J. Süssenbach, rf. p. 165ff.

16 Imparted ibid., p. 166.

17 Wernicke, op. cit., p. 131.

18 Ibid., p. 172.

19 C. Ed. Foerstemann, Album Academiae Vitebergensis (Leipzig, 1841), 1:133, b, no. 38. Also cf. Wernicke, op. cit., p. 279, and Enders and Kawerau, Luthers Briefwechsel, 12:244, note 3.