Ludwig van Beethoven

On this date in 1770, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, into a Roman Catholic family. After working as an assistant organist, he studied in Vienna under Haydn. Beethoven was an admirer of Goethe who rejected Christianity in favor of a pantheistic viewpoint. When his friend Moscheles returned a manuscript to Beethoven with the words "With God's help" on it, Beethoven reportedly wrote instead: "Man, help thyself." (Cited in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists by Joseph McCabe.) Biographer and friend A. Schindler wrote that Beethoven was "inclined to Deism." Although he received Catholic ministrations at the insistence of religious friends, Beethoven reportedly said in Latin, after the priest left: "Applaud, friends; the comedy is over." (Nohl, Beethoven's Brevier, 1870). In his Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography, Sir G. MacFarren described Beethoven as "a free thinker." According to McCabe, the Catholic Encyclopedia chose to omit Beethoven. "Ode to Joy," in his 9th Symphony, sets to music the humanistic words of Schiller. D. 1827.

“There is no record of his ever attending church service or observing the orthodoxy of his religion. He never went to confession. . . . Generally he viewed priests with mistrust.”

—George Marek, Beethoven: Biography of a Genius (1969), cited by James Haught in 2,000 Years of Disbelief

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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