An Ode to Joy

In America’s civic life we recall that the Founders proclaimed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a right. Later politicians elevated “happiness” alone as a right, not the freedom to “pursue” happiness. A tremendous difference, since governments have taken to defining the meaning of happiness. Even more egregious, re-calibrating a Happiness Meter for its citizens, and announcing why everyone should be resentful of their lot.

So Happiness has become the secularists’ Holy Word.

Whittaker Chambers once wrote about this attitude adjustment: “The rub is that the pursuit of happiness, as an end in itself, tends automatically, and widely, to be replaced by the pursuit of pleasure with a consequent general softening of the fibers of will, intelligence, spirit.” Too true… and another example of the fact that if lines are being blurred between church and state, the guiltier party is the government, usurping the prerogatives, outreach, and role, of established religion.

Friedrich Schiller

Cover of Friedrich Schiller

The phrase “pursuit of happiness” has become a part of everyday discourse. In the same manner, many recognize the strains of Beethoven’s great “Ode to Joy” without knowing its meaning – or understanding the words, as it is Friedrich Schiller’s German poem set to music. In today’s little lesson, these words can inspire us. They remind us that Beethoven was a profound Christian, in a direct line from Johanes Kepler (not a composer but subscribing to the Pythagorean theory of “music of the spheres,” and Plato, who saw musical harmony as a reflection of heavenly perfection) in his “Harmony of the World” (1619). Enter the Enlightenment!

Today, schools teach that the Enlightenment was when smart guys threw off the shackles of religion and superstition, and let Reason illuminate mankind’s affairs. This was not so. Kepler, a skeptic about church laws that persecuted Copernicus, was nevertheless a believer, a bit of a Christian mystic. He devoted himself to seeing how mathematics and science proved God’s existence. The same with Isaac Newton. And, on the continent at the time, the musical scientist, Bach. After him, Haydn and Mozart, profound Christians… and Beethoven, whose ego was astride everything he surveyed, except Christianity: he was a humble believer.

Here, some of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” that Beethoven chose for the chorus to sing in his revolutionary Ninth Symphony. Take joy from the words!

And – to drive home my modest points in full blast-furnace fashion – try to click on this video clip. This performance is by a Japanese ensemble in an outdoor stadium. Not counting the audience, you will see 10,000 singers and musicians joining, in German, in a scale the composer would have relished, to transmit Beethoven’s genius… Schiller’s thoughts… and powerful reminders of the Joy of the Lord.

Do you fall down, you millions? Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him above the starry canopy, Above the stars He must live.

Joy is the name of the strong spring In eternal nature.
Joy, joy drives the wheels In the great clock of worlds.

Escape the tyrants’ chains, Generosity also to the villain,
Hope upon the deathbeds, Mercy from the high court!
The dead, too, shall live!

Brothers, drink and chime in, All sinners shall be forgiven,
And hell shall be no more.

A serene departing hour! Sweet sleep in the shroud!
Brothers—a mild sentence From the final judge!

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Selected portions from an article written by Rick Marshall

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