spiritual song

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A spiritual song is a song with a Christian-religious content.

Than by the municipality sung hymn the spiritual song is in most Christian denominations an integral part of worship . In many liturgies, singing together is the congregation's answer to sermons or prayer, is itself prayer and thanksgiving, serves to cultivate the community , but above all to internalize the contents of faith .

Originally an integral part of the liturgy, the spiritual song developed from hymns and psalms to the strophic church song chorale and the song for reading and private devotion to the song based on contemporary forms of singing ( New Spiritual Song ). Until Luther , however, the hymn was only used to a limited extent in a European context and also had no liturgical function.

From the time of the Reformation onwards, the songs used in worship were thematically adapted to the liturgy. In the folk song of Catholic worship, the mass song developed from the 18th century onwards . The best-known examples of entire cycles of 8 to 10 mass songs are the German Masses by Schubert and Michael Haydn.

The doctrine of the hymn is hymnology .


A spiritual song is a song whose text has a Christian- religious content. Hymn in the broader sense is that of a Christian congregation in worship regularly sung song . In the narrower sense, only unanimous, strophic songs in the vernacular are called hymns (not e.g. Gregorian chant ). However, this delimitation can lead to results that appear artificial:

There are certainly spiritual songs that are (initially) not hymns, for example because they are only used for private devotions, in spiritual games, on processions, in extra-church concerts or the like.

In individual cases, however, the distinction between spiritual hymns and hymns is often difficult, because

  • Spiritual songs written with a view to private devotion (e.g. from the time of Pietism ) often found their way into church hymn books later
  • originally not for the community, but z. B. Sacred songs written for a church choir were later included in church hymn books
  • Hymns are out of use
  • some songs are only used in individual, small (e.g. charismatic) religious communities .

The use of the term “spiritual song” for sung religious-ritual music of non-Christian religions is unusual.


European continent

The Christian communities sang from the beginning. The sources of Christian music are the Jewish tradition of psalm singing and the music of Hellenistic late antiquity . In the first few centuries a multitude of Christian rites developed , each with its own singing tradition. The standardization under Gregory I (Pope from 590 to 604) led to the general implementation of the Roman rite and the so-called Gregorian chant in the Catholic (Western) Church. While worship chant was officially reserved for choirs ( schola ) and clergymen, the first sacred songs in popular languages developed in the late Middle Ages , which were sung, for example, in sacred games and processions .

In order to strengthen parish participation in worship, the reformers included the initially unaccompanied church chant in their divine service regulations . Thomas Müntzer (1489–1525) began to translate well-known pieces of Gregorian chant into German. Martin Luther (1483–1546) finally composed numerous new German hymns , which through leaflets and soon also small hymn books became widely distributed and which still belong to the core of the evangelical hymns . Luther's followers also used his songs as a weapon against the Catholic liturgy. New hymns were also created within the Reformation Anabaptist movement , which were later printed, among other things, in the Ausund .

In the Reformed Church , hymns were only permitted under strict conditions. The result was an independent tradition of Psalm preparation Munging in one and polyphonic set .

The Protestant hymn reached a new high point in the early and high baroque periods. Poets such as Martin Behm , Paul Gerhardt , Johann Heermann , Joachim Neander , Georg Neumark , Martin Rinckart , Gregor Ritzsch , Michael Schirmer , Johann Wilhelm Simler and many others wrote sacred texts of lasting literary importance, those by leading composers such as Johann Crüger , Johann Georg Ebeling and Heinrich Schütz were set to music.

The importance of the vernacular hymn was also recognized by the Counter Reformation . Catholic hymn books such as that of Nikolaus Beuttner (Graz 1602) - a collection of primarily pre-Reformation religious folk songs and pilgrimage calls - and David Gregor Corner (Nuremberg 1625) are early examples of the work of Catholic scholars in regions shaped by the Reformation and the use of the hymn as an instrument of re-Catholicization . On the Catholic side, the seals penned by Angelus Silesius and Friedrich Spee are particularly significant and are still known today.

Even the pietism led to a flood of spiritual songs for domestic service. The most important Pietistic hymn book, Freylinghausen's hymn book, published in 1704 , comprised around 1500 songs in two volumes. Nikolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf , founder of the Herrnhuter Brothers Congregation , wrote about 2000 sacred songs. With the Enlightenment and Classical music , artistic interest in hymns declined drastically. The number of common melodies steadily decreased, melodies were smoothed and, above all, rhythmically simplified. New texts were mostly instructive and were not linguistically demanding. Restorative trends only emerged in the Romantic era . However, new hymns were created more as choir pieces than for congregation singing. Existing hymns were translated and distributed globally. At the turn of the 20th century, missionary and combative songs from the American revival movement found their way into some European hymn books.

A church music renewal movement began in the 1920s . Old songs were put back into hymn books, melodies returned to their original form; In addition, new church songs were created using older musical style elements. From the 1960s onwards , hymns in popular music styles became increasingly popular ( New Spiritual Song ). Songs from non-European musical traditions, for example Negro Spirituals , songs from the Black Gospel or from non-European folklore , found their way into current hymn books - mostly, but not always, translated.

English cultural area

In the Anglican Church, based on the music of the Catholic and Reformed Churches, the tradition of Anglican chant developed , in which initially only rhymed psalm texts were allowed. The Book of Common Prayer , a hymn book of psalm chants in English, was published in 1661 in an edition that was valid until the 20th century and was widely used throughout the Empire.

In the 17th century, poets such as John Milton (1608–1674), Samuel Crossman (1624–1683) and John Bunyan (1628–1688) created sacred songs for private use without a psalm model. After the Church of England approved the use of non-psalm-bound texts for worship services , there was a blossoming of English -language hymn poetry, of which Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was the outstanding representative .

Numerous hymns were written as a result of the English revival movement in the 1730s. Songs by Charles Wesley (1707–1788), John Newton (1725–1807) and William Cowper (1731–1800) achieved widespread use in Methodism and in the Protestant churches of English-speaking countries. German hymns in English translation also found their way into English hymn books. A well-known translator in this context was Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878).

United States

The psalm chants of the Puritan and Protestant immigrants were initially widespread as hymns in the American colonies . Driven by traveling singing masters who taught the elementary terms of (worship) singing according to music in local weekly courses, the First New England School, an originally American four -part a cappella church song culture , emerged in the 18th century .

Local singing schools in the 19th century led to the spread of Shape Note Music , a sacred four-part a cappella music whose noteheads were printed in different shapes depending on the level in the scale. The countermovement to Shape Note Music was the Better Music movement, coined by Lowell Mason (1792–1872) , which advocated unanimous community singing accompanied by the organ and based musically on European standards.

As a result of the American awakening movements , especially the Second Great Awakening , the Sunday School Song and the American Awakening Song emerged from the mid-19th century , which were strongly influenced by American popular music and the music of American brass bands . With the abolition of slavery , a new interest in black religious music emerged. Negro Spirituals and Black Gospel achieved worldwide distribution. In the second half of the 20th century originated with Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and praise and worship (Praise and Worship Music) other traditions of popular music influenced spiritual song.

Church hymn book

Most denominations have their own church hymn books , some with special editions for individual countries or regions. The Catholic prayer and hymn book from 1975 for all German-speaking dioceses except Switzerland is called God's Praise . The current hymn book of the Evangelical Church has been the Evangelical Hymnbook since 1993 and 1996 . Many church hymn books contain songs from a period from the 4th to the 20th century that reflect the different styles of music and piety of these epochs. In addition to hymns, the hymn book usually also contains prayers and agendas for church services .

Ecumenical hymns

There are efforts in the direction of a common songbook for all Christian denominations. More realistic, however, are the ecumenical songs already listed in practically all recent hymn books with the same text and melody for all denominations. These songs are usually marked with "ö" or "(ö)". There, too, there can be problems: the Methodist Church has z. B. a hymnbook for the entire German-speaking area, whereupon with many ecumenical songs the question arises whether the German, Swiss or Austrian version of the text should be used - the Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed and Catholic hymnbooks each use the version of their own country.

Hymn arrangements

Well-known composers who have used hymns in their works are Johann Sebastian Bach , Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Heinrich Schütz .


See also

Web links

Commons : Hymn  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Hymn  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Hymns  - Sources and Full Texts