Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 October 2001
O du armer Judas, was hastu getan?
Das du deinen Herren also verrathen han,
Darumb mustu leiden in der helle pein
Lucifers gesellen mustu ewig sein,
Rooted in Catholic folk piety, the song ‘O du armer Judas’ became one of the most common expressions of religious and political belief in the popular culture of sixteenth-century Germany. The Judaslied was the ideal vehicle for musical propaganda in the Reformation, and it turned the Catholic notion of the eternally damned betrayer of Christ on its ear. Protestant polemicists rewrote the song to equate Catholic authorities with Judas, and their contrafacta forged unbreakable links between the Judaslied melody and the idea of Catholic corruption. The very strong political associations the song would come to have with the Lutheran movement might well have been reason enough for a composer to avoid setting such a controversial work polyphonically, but at least four chose it as a model.