This article investigates Beethoven’s connection to the Bavarian Catholic theologian Johann Michael Sailer (1751–1832), the importance of which has been understated or misunderstood in the existing Beethoven literature. Drawing on historical studies of the complex relationship between Catholicism and the German Enlightenment, it provides a detailed and nuanced account of Sailer’s theology, situating it within the fierce debates that took place among German Catholics in this period. The article goes on to examine the contents of three books by Sailer in Beethoven’s possession, and to show how key ideas in these books resonate with features of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, which he worked on around the time he was exposed to Sailer’s ideas. In conclusion, the article argues that a deeper understanding of Sailer and his possible influence on Beethoven should prompt a reconsideration of long-standing assumptions regarding the composer’s religious outlook, which may have been more sympathetic to Catholicism than has previously been supposed.

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