Thursday, January 17, 2008

The fifth gospel

An article about those, especially, apparently, Japanese, who have come to the faith through the influence of Bach's music. Uwe Siemon-Netto writes:
[....] Leipzig’s late “superintendent” (regional bishop) Rev. Johannes Richter used to wonder even back in the days when this city was part of Communist East Germany: “What is it about his work that evidently bridges all cultural divides and has such a massive missionary impact for Christianity in faraway parts of the world?”

For years, Richter observed with growing fascination how in his Gothic sanctuary, Japanese musicologist Keisuke Maruyama studied the influence of the weekday pericopes (prescribed readings) in the early 18th-century Lutheran lectionary cycle on Bach’s cantatas. When he had finished, he told the clergyman: “It is not enough to read Christian texts. I want to be a Christian myself. Please baptize me.”

But this scholar’s conversion could have been attributed to the impact of pericopes’ biblical texts on Maruyama. Why, though, would a fugue have such evangelistic powers as it did on the Japanese organist in Minnesota? Why would even listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which contain no lyrics, arouse someone’s interest in Christianity? This happened when Masashi Yasuda, a former agnostic, heard a CD with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s rendering of this complex Clavier-Übung, or keyboard study. Still, Yasuda’s spiritual journey began precisely with these variations. He is now a Jesuit priest teaching systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo. [....]

“The reason why Bach’s most abstract works guide some Asian people to Christ is because his music reflects the perfect beauty of created order to which the Japanese mind is particularly receptive,” suggested Charles Ford, a mathematics professor at the University of St. Louis. “Bach has the same effect on me, a Western scientist,” added Ford, who is also one of America’s foremost experts on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred Lutheran theologian hanged by the Nazis.

Henry Gerike, organist and choirmaster at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, a Lutheran school of theology, agrees with Ford: “The fugue is the best way God has given us to enjoy his creation. But of course Bach’s most significant message to us is the Gospel.” Gerike echoes Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931), who famously called Bach’s cantatas “the fifth Gospel.” .... [more]
Thanks to Gene Edward Veith for the reference.

Cyberbrethren: A Lutheran Blog: Where Bach was jailed, Asians pay homage

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