Friday, November 21, 2014

2 convert to Catholicism after hearing Lutheran Bach

An elderly independent scholar told me recently at lunch that he knows of two Catholic converts whose journey into the Catholic Church was sparked by listening to the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) by Johann Sebastian Bach, a Lutheran.

Those of us who have fallen under the spell of Bach's music can readily appreciate it's unspeakable profundity and beauty. How it could lead one to Catholicism is not immediately apparent, particularly given the contemporary state of Catholicism in the world today, as attested in a heart-rending story by Jennifer Mehl Ferrara, "Becoming Catholic: Making It Hard" (First Things, January 1999). But for those versed in the history of sacred music and who understand something of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, it's quite possible to see how one might see historical Catholicism in certain respects as the font of beauty in Christian tradition.

I've quoted Karl Barth before, who said: "It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart." Yes, indeed. However Barth's saying can be inverted as well to read: "It may be that when the angels are together en famille playing music for themselves, they play Mozart. I am sure, however, that when they play for God, they play only Bach."