Unravelling Luther’s House Postils, Part 2

Introduction to Volume 52 of the Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works
By Georg Buchwald
Superintendent of St. Peter’s and St. Kunigunde in Rochlitz in Saxony

Translator’s Preface

Dr. Georg Buchwald in 1908, while serving as pastor of St. Michaelis Church in Leipzig

Dr. Georg Buchwald in 1908, while serving as pastor of St. Michaelis Church in Leipzig

During his lifetime, Georg Buchwald was one of the foremost scholars on Luther’s works. It was he who rediscovered Georg Rörer’s transcripts of Luther’s sermons in 1893 in Jena, after their location had been unknown for nearly 300 years. He was the chief editor for Luther’s sermons for the Weimar edition of Luther’s works.

The Introduction below is found on p. VII-XI of vol. 52 of the Weimar edition (D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe [Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1915]). Everything is original except for the weblink in endnote 1. In the original book, this introduction is followed by an “Overview” (Übersicht), referred to in the introduction below, in which Buchwald meticulously compares each sermon in the two editions of Luther’s House Postil and their sources.

The information below does dispel some somewhat less-than-thorough scholarship imparted, for example, in “‘Fragments and Crumbs’ for the Preachers: Luther’s House Postils” in Logia. There the author says, for example, that “Luther preached his sermons at home later in the day, apparently when he felt stronger,” which is dispelled by the report from Georg Rörer’s widow below. The author of that Logia article also attempts to support his general bias in favor of Rörer’s edition of the House Postil, but Buchwald makes clear that this bias is by no means unqualifiedly justified.

Most interesting to me is the disputing that took place and the parties that formed over the two different editions of Luther’s House Postil. The late Georg Rörer’s widow was even interrogated as a result. Even though we know about the three Lutheran parties that developed between Luther’s death and the Formula of Concord, it still easy for us Lutherans (or at least for me) to look upon this era with stars in our eyes and to wish for the “good old days” of the Lutheran Church. But many Lutherans at this time seem to have been looking for even the most inconsequential reasons, in retrospect, to bicker with each other. It’s a good reminder that law and gospel have always needed to be preached in every age, to combat the Old Adam and to build up the new man.

I translated this in preparation for my work with Northwestern Publishing House, especially for my work on the preface. I think I am finally starting to get a handle on the history of Luther’s House Postil in general and of Luther’s 1531 Christmas sermons on Isaiah 9:6 in particular. (These are even highlighted by Buchwald toward the end of his introduction.)

May the triune God use this background information about these particular sermons of Luther to help Christians read his sermons intelligently and understand them in context, that they might also better understand the gospel that Luther preached.

Introduction

After the publication of the Church Postil had been completed in 1543, the House Postil appeared in 1544, edited by Veit Dietrich, containing “the house sermons that Luther preached at home, in his house, to his children and the members of his household on Sundays when he was not able to preach in the church on account of frailty” (p. 5, lines 36ff below). In his dedication letter addressed to the mayor and council of the city of Nuremberg (p. 3ff below), Dietrich declares more than once that these were sermons he “alone” had “taken down in shorthand” (p. 5, line 38; cf. p. 8, lines 14f). By publishing these sermons Dietrich was hoping to be of service to the heads of households, in case “they are not able to get to church on Sunday because of sickness or some other necessity, since no one should be so negligent; if he cannot listen to God’s word in church, he should still listen to it at home or read it by himself” (p. 6, lines 21ff). But he also wanted to lend a hand to the “poor pastors” who “are sometimes unfit for preaching” (p. 7, lines 2ff). He certainly had it in mind that they should be read out loud from the pulpit; he himself even acknowledges that he “has preached [them] publicly” in his parish church (p. 6, line 30). Finally, he wanted the House Postil to serve those who were not able to listen to any pure evangelical preaching. “They can read it at home, in their house” (p. 8, line 9).

Dietrich declares openly that he has “added many sermons that were omitted by [Luther], especially on the festivals that are not observed in the Saxon Order, so that this work would be complete throughout the entire year and therefore that much more useful and beneficial for everyone” (p. 8, lines 17ff). This gave Andreas Poach1 occasion to issue another edition of the House Postil in 1559. In the preface to this edition Amsdorf testifies about Dietrich’s postil that it has indeed “explained and interpreted the dear gospel in a pure and unadulterated fashion, and also [has] dealt with it in a nice, brief way.” But then he goes on to add: “Since however some, even many, of Luther’s sermons have been left out or partially altered, and other sermons have also been added, and since My Most Gracious Princes and Lords, the three brothers, dukes of Saxony, have acquired at no small cost the notebooks which Master Rörer of blessed memory has filled from Luther’s mouth, from these the lack may not only be covered and filled, but even enlarged with many sermons that are available in the books just mentioned, and those that are not Luther’s may be left out. In this way and so that Luther’s sermons alone may be found within from now on, their Princely Graces, in order that this treasure may remain with us and not be lost or suppressed, have in turn graciously entrusted it to the presses, to the praise and honor of God and to the use and benefit of their subjects and anyone else who desires it. From it everyone who but wishes can easily grasp and learn the summary and content of the gospel.”

The editor, Andreas Poach himself, expresses himself in even more detail, in an address “To the Christian reader” at the end of the House Postil, regarding the occasion and the guiding principles for his version:

But now it is obvious and as clear as day that in the previous House Postil many sermons have been mixed in that do not belong to the blessed man of God, Dr. Martin Luther. One may observe this from the fact that these foreign sermons have no indication of the year and the time in the margin, as the other sermons belonging to the man of God do. Then too, they also cannot be found in the notebooks of Master Georg Rörer, like the others can, namely those that have an indication of the year and the time in the margin. In addition, Master Veit Dietrich himself acknowledges in the preface of the previous House Postil that he has added many sermons, especially on the festivals that are not observed in the Wittenberg Order.2 And in the preface for the thirteen sermons on the Passion, addressed to Mrs. Baumgartnerin, he acknowledges that these thirteen sermons are his and not Dr. Martin Luther’s,3 and these 13 sermons are also included in the previous House Postil.4

Since then many Christians have wished and desired that the sermons and writings of Dr. Martin Luther of blessed memory might be printed by themselves and without any foreign material added, and also since it was partially for these reasons that the tomes in Jena are being newly issued and printed, I have let myself be prevailed upon by several pious Christians to oversee a new edition of the House Postil and to confer with the notebooks of Master Georg Rörer. For the purpose of carrying out this work I had also occasionally received from Master Rörer himself, while he was still alive, several notebooks in which such house- and church-sermons were taken down; I had taken up this work and now with God’s help I have finished it.

First, the foreign sermons which were not Dr. Martin Luther’s I have left out and in their place I have inserted others which are Dr. Martin Luther’s, and for every sermon I have included in the margin an indication of what year and where it was preached. Accordingly, in this present House Postil there are no foreign sermons to be found, but all of them are Dr. Martin Luther’s, prepared from Master Georg Rörer’s notebooks, faithfully and to the best of my ability.

Secondly, Christ says that the leftover pieces should be picked up, in order that nothing might go to waste. Dr. Martin Luther delivered the house sermons for three years in a row, so that in the second and third year he often preached in his house on exactly the same Gospel. So I have included these in this edition, in order that they may not go to waste, so that now there are often two or three sermons for one Gospel.

Thirdly, Master Veit Dietrich often combined two or three sermons that were not even preached in the same year into one sermon, so that he sometimes cut out the beginning, sometimes the end, sometimes even left something out in the middle, so that the sermon would not be too long. But this method is absurd, for the man of God had different thoughts in different years, and he adjusted his interpretation elsewhere when he had the opportunity. So I have left every single sermon just the way it was, and have included all two or three sermons, each with their beginning, middle, and end, as God has given them on each occasion through his human instrument.

Fourthly, the previous House Postil followed the Nuremberg and Brandenburg Church Orders, even though Dr. Martin Luther did not preach on the festivals observed in these orders, both of which facts Master Veit acknowledges in his preface.5 So I have arranged this present House Postil according to the Wittenberg Church Order, as it was observed by the man of God, so that it would not be necessary to mix in foreign sermons, and so that our descendants might see what the order was like that the man of God observed in church with regard to the festivals.”

The overview presented below shows down to the last detail how Poach went about following the guiding principles that he articulated here.

Poach had declared at the close of his remarks: “In saying all this, however, I do not mean to keep anyone from using the previous House Postil if he is more fond of that version.” Nevertheless his judgment of Dietrich’s postil did not remain without opposition. Already in the same year, 1559, Christoph Walther had a sharp writing published – “Reply to the Flacianistic Lies and False Report against the House Postil of Doctor Martin Luther.”6 He contested that Rörer “could have taken down the house-sermons from Luther’s mouth,” since he had to “serve at church while Luther was preaching these house-sermons.” Rörer had indeed “often” put forth the utmost effort to transcribe “during sermons and lectures,” “but none of it would have made any sense without Doctor [Caspar] Cruciger’s help.” With regard to the festival sermons that Dietrich composed himself and included in the House Postil, Walther maintains that they are all Luther’s sermons, just that they were delivered in church instead of at home. “For Dietrich collected all the sermons that were preached both in Luther’s house and in church and had plenty of Luther’s sermons, so that he certainly did not need to insert any foreign sermons.” Besides that, Luther himself had assigned Rörer the task of overseeing the Wittenberg printing of the House Postil. “Master Georg accepted and performed this task willingly and gladly. He thoroughly proofread and corrected this House Postil himself and took great pleasure and joy in it, also praising it in the highest terms.”

In the camp of the Jena theologians the defender of Dietrich’s House Postil was unknown. At Poach’s bidding inquiries were made of Rörer’s widow about him.7 At the same time she was asked whether her husband had been able to transcribe Luther’s house-sermons himself. She explained that Rörer was indeed working in the church at the time, but that, even if he was the one on duty that week, during the pastor’s sermon he would customarily take off his vestment and then go to the monastery in order to listen to Luther preach in his house.8 We do not wish to call into question what Rörer’s widow asserted about something that lay about 25 years in the past, but it does remain questionable, even according to her assertion, whether Rörer also transcribed Luther’s house-sermons. Dietrich certainly maintained on more than one occasion that he alone had done this. In addition the notes of the house-sermons taken down from Rörer’s hand show at first glance that they are copies of original transcripts [Abschriften von Nachschriften]; they also have a different character than his other transcripts.9

It is not necessary for us to pursue this dispute further10 since, having discovered Rörer’s transcripts in the library in Jena, we are in a position where we can determine the precise relationship between the two House Postils and the sermons that Luther actually delivered, independent of the viewpoints of those parties. If we draw a summary from what is noted for each individual sermon in the overview provided below, we end up with the following information:

1. Dietrich’s House Postil

For a critical examination of the relationship to the sermons actually delivered by Luther, we are almost exclusively directed to Rörer’s collection of transcripts, which lays claim to completeness, so that Poach considers himself justified in declaring a sermon from Dietrich’s House Postil to be inauthentic simply because it “cannot be found in the notebooks of Master Georg Rörer” (quoted above). But Rörer could not have transcribed all of Luther’s sermons himself. As was already referred to above, the notes he took down on the house-sermons in particular are probably, at best, copies of the original transcripts of another person, and we can scarcely go wrong if we assume that these transcripts originated with Dietrich’s hand.

Even if Dietrich frequently follows his master copy, especially when that copy is his own transcript of the house-sermon, still it turns out that, in agreement with Poach’s judgment, quite often he worked several sermons, as many as three (e.g. nos. 52, 53), into one sermon, without concern for the fact that one was delivered domi (at home) and the other publice (publicly, at church). When no sermon of Luther is at his disposal, he knows how to help himself out by creating his own adaptation of the pericope in question using Luther’s Annotationes in aliquot capita Matthaei [Annotations on several chapters of Matthew] (nos. 16, 92) or by utilizing Luther’s thoughts in his Conciunculae quaedam D. Mart. Lutheri amico cuidam praescriptae [Some short sermons of Dr. Martin Luther written down for a certain friend] (as he did in the Ascension sermon, which is why we have refrained from printing it). Yes, Dietrich does not even shy away from sticking a sermon of Melanchthon into the mix when he is unable to procure one delivered by Luther (as he does for St. Bartholomew’s Day; we have not printed this sermon either). In one instance he utilizes a sermon that had already appeared in print by itself (no. 46). For a number of his sermons the source cannot be verified. Poach was probably correct in reproaching Dietrich for having inserted his own sermons here and there.

2. Rörer-Poach’s House Postil

It was Poach’s endeavor to reproduce Luther’s preaching as accurately as possible on the basis of Rörer’s transcripts. When several sermons for the same day are at his disposal, he gladly incorporates several sermons in the House Postil, without concern for whether they were delivered domi or publice. Once he borrows from the weekly sermons on the Gospel of Matthew for the Sunday sermon (p. XV at no. 18). Even when he, like Dietrich, makes use of a sermon already available in print by itself (no. 46), he does not fail to reach back to Rörer’s transcript. For Christmas sermons he brings in a series of sermons that Luther delivered in church on Isaiah 9:2ff (p. XXV at no. 77). His Passion sermons he puts together from sermons preached in various years, only one of which is a house-sermon (p. XXVII). Even though he truly does himself very proud on the precise dating of Luther’s sermons, one error does creep in on him (cf. p. XVII at no. 27).

Many portions in Dietrich’s and Rörer’s postils agree word for word. The explanation for this agreement is not that both men were making use of the same master copy, but simply that Poach, especially in the house-sermons, was transferring Dietrich’s work directly into his own. He does the same thing when Rörer’s transcript is deficient (nos. 51, 57).

*****

We are reproducing the first edition of Dietrich’s postil with the omission of a few portions (see above). We are foregoing providing the variants of later editions, since these just deviate further from the master copy, and we are foregoing printing the sermons that are contained in the later editions but are still missing in the first edition, since these have to be regarded as Dietrich’s own work. The Passio (Passion), which first appears in the edition no. 5 (in 1545, thus while Luther was still alive), we are including at the end. In the beginning we are imparting two portions from Rörer’s House Postil, since these supplements fit nicely with the sermons of Luther imparted in our edition.

Endnotes

1 Cf. General German Biography [Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie] s. v. (You can also read this entry here: Andreas Poach. – trans.)

2 P. 8, lines 17f below.

3 A copy of this work printed by itself:

(The call number for the book in the Nuremberg City Library at the time was provided here.)

“PASSIO. || Oder histori vom | leyden Christi Jhesu || unsers Heylands. || Durch || Vitum Dietrich. || [Holzschnitt: Jesus in Gethsemane] || Gedrückt zu Nürnberg, || Anno, M. D. LVI. ||” Erste und 5. Zeile schwarz, die übrigen rot. Bl. b 1 b in der Widmung an “Frawen Sibilla Jeronimus Baumgartnerin”: “Solche Historia hab ich in ewrem namen yetzund, auch andern Christen zum trost und besserung, wie ichs dise fasten uber gepredigt habe, wöllen im truck auß gehen lassen.”

“PASSION. Or history of the suffering of Christ Jesus our Savior. By Veit Dietrich. [Woodcut: Jesus in Gethsemane] Printed in Nuremberg, 1556.” The first and fifth lines are black; the rest are red. Page b 1 b in the dedication to “Mrs. Sibilla Jeronimus Baugartnerin”: “I wanted to have this history sent to press at the present time in your name, as well as for the comfort and improvement of other Christians, as I have preached it during this past Lent.”

According to the preface to the House Postil (p. 6, line 30 below), this does not exclude the possibility that they are Luther’s sermons, as is also able to be proven from one of them (cf. no. 34 below).

4 Cf. the bibliography below.

5 P. 8, lines 17ff below.

6 Printed in the Leipzig edition of the works of Luther, 15:3ff (in the Preliminary Remarks [Vorbericht]).

7 Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung ungedruckter Predigten D. Martin Luthers, 1/1:VI. Cp. the note Walther took down in his own hand in the book of Men Ordained in Wittenberg (1573-1589) [dem Wittenberger Ordiniertenbuch 1573-1589]: “I, Christoph Walther, from Döbeln in the territory of Meissen, the son of a cloth-maker, have been a corrector in Wittenberg for 39 years in the practice and method of Mr. Mayor Hans Lufft’s Print Shop. I have often thoroughly read the entire Bible, have also enjoyed reading the books of the honorable Mr. Doctor Martin Luther from little on, and did so diligently, and especially in the printing business I read them all several times. I have also heard the absolutely outstanding and learned men Dr. Martin Luther, Dr. Pomeranus [Bugenhagen], Dr. Cruciger, Dr. Eber, and Mr. Philipp Melanchthon lecture and preach. Since, however, the printing presses are greatly decreasing, I was advised by many good-hearted, pious people that I should join the ministry of the Church. Therefore I have most respectfully petitioned the most illustrious high-born prince and lord, Lord August, Duke of Saxony, Grand Marshal and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire and my Most Gracious Lord, and have asked him for the parish in Holzdorf located near the Schweinitz, and His Electoral Grace has most graciously granted me this parish. For this purpose I was ordained on June 9, 1574, by the worthy and highly learned Mr. Master Bernhard Api[ti]us, archdeacon in Wittenberg.”

8 Cf. Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung, 1/1:VIf.

9 Walther says, doubtless hitting upon something correct: “It may very well be that Master Georg Rörer had copied [abgeschrieben] and smeared such house-sermons, doing away with this and adding that as he pleased” (Leipzig edition, 15:5).

10 Cf. Andreas Poachs handschriftliche Sammlung, 1/1:VII (Emericus Sylvius to Poach): “I would like it if you wrote to Amsdorf and asked him for both of Walther’s writings against Rörer, as well as his (Amsdorf’s) two writings against Walther, one of which was printed while the other was merely written.” Our searches for these writings, one of which was utilized previously according to the printing in the Leipzig edition of the works of Luther, have been unsuccessful.

Unravelling Luther’s House Postils, Part 1

Foreword to Volume 1 of the Second Edition of the Erlangen Edition of Luther’s Works
By Ernst Ludwig Enders
Preacher in Frankfurt am Main and editor of Luther’s sermons

Translator’s Preface

The process of working with Northwestern Publishing House to publish Luther’s 1531 Christmas sermon series on Isaiah 9:6 has been somewhat mind-boggling. Part of the problem is trying to unravel the mystery of the history of, and relationship between, the various publications of Luther’s sermons.

This mystery is not without consequence for the modern-day reader of Luther’s sermons. For instance, I found out that the 20 new volumes of Luther’s works being put out by Concordia Publishing House are not going to include Luther’s House Postil(s), in part because these have already been published in a three-volume series by Baker Books in 1996, edited by Eugene F. A. Klug.

Klug’s translation itself flows well. But it is not based on the more critical Weimar edition of Luther’s works, and so the content is often incorrect (e.g. §15 in 3:215, which Luther did not actually say) or incomplete (e.g. §20 in 3:228, which is incomplete because it does not take the Nuremberg copy of the sermon into account, where Luther refers to his health and leaves the completion of the series in doubt; and §1 in 3:229, which omits the entire first part of Luther’s sermon when he preached on the Gospel before continuing with his series on Isaiah).

Until someone undertakes a complete re-translation of what has been previously known as Luther’s House Postil(s), on the basis of the Weimar edition instead of just on the basis of one of the German editions, this treasure trove of sermons will be in large part closed to the English-speaking public.

Read for yourself and see how these German editions came into being. I will also include an Afterword about the Rörer edition.

Foreword to Volume 1 of the Second Edition of the Erlangen Edition of Luther’s Works

Concerning the origin of the House Postil,1 J. G. Plochmann, of blessed memory, imparts the following information in the foreword to the first edition:

This collection of sermons bears the name House Postil…because by and large it contains sermons that Luther delivered at home on Sundays and festivals. Luther writes in the foreword that he prepared for Dietrich’s edition, “I delivered these sermons in my house at various times, to the members of my household, so that as the head of the household I might do my part in instructing those under me how to lead a Christian life.” Veit Dietrich, about whom we will say more later, confirms this in his dedication when he says that Luther preached these sermons at home, in his house, to his children and the members of his household on Sundays when he could not preach in the church on account of frailty.

Unfortunately the sermons contained in the House Postil do not come from Luther’s quill, but from his mouth, through the faithful, though often unsuccessful, diligence of two of his listeners, Veit Dietrich and Georg Rörer. That’s why it is that two editions of the House Postil gradually appeared that vary so widely from each other, which people have attempted to unite into one under the name “Doubled House Postil.” Veit Dietrich stayed with Luther in Wittenberg for a long time, enjoyed his special confidence, was his table and traveling companion, and carefully copied his lectures and sermons. He later served the Church as an evangelical preacher at St. Sebald in Nuremberg, where he died in 1549.2 Georg Rörer was the first man Luther ordained as an evangelical preacher and deacon in Wittenberg in 1525. He was a faithful assistant and coworker of Luther who took a special interest in correct editions of Luther’s writings. He died in 1557 in Halle. Both men copied, among other things, the sermons that Luther delivered in his house from 1530 to 1534, and from their manuscripts the two widely differing editions of Luther’s House Postil have appeared.

Dietrich’s edition appeared first. He oversaw it himself and sent it to press in Nuremberg in 1544, with a dedicatory epistle to the mayor and council of Nuremberg. In that epistle he as the editor says that he had taken down these house postils in shorthand and had kept them to himself, but now he also wanted to share them with other Christians, being the precious treasure that they are. He especially hoped that both the uneducated pastors in the country and the heads of households would be able to use them with great benefit. For this edition Luther wrote a foreword, also included in our edition, in which he not only acknowledges the sermons copied by Dietrich as his own, but also praises the efforts and the enterprise of the editor. This edition by Dietrich was also printed in Leipzig the same year, again a year later in both Nuremberg and Wittenberg under Luther’s oversight, and then many more times in Wittenberg, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Lüneberg, and in other places after that. It was translated into Latin already in 1545 by Michael Roting, professor of Greek and Latin at the Aegidian Preparatory School in Nuremberg3 and a trusted friend of Veit Dietrich.

In the dedication to the Nuremberg council Veit Dietrich had said, among other things, that he had added many sermons that were omitted by him (Luther), especially on the festivals which were not observed in the Saxon Order. He did this so that the work would be complete for the entire year, and therefore that much more useful and beneficial for everyone. By making this statement, there was the chance that after Luther’s death the authenticity of Dietrich’s edition of the House Postil might be thrown into doubt, since people would feel constrained to conclude from Dietrich’s own admission that he had added his own sermons to Luther’s. Therefore in 1559 a new edition of Luther’s House Postil appeared, which a certain Andreas Poach prepared from the manuscripts that the late Georg Rörer had left behind. Poach had also been a student of Luther, then the deacon at Halle, archdeacon at Jena, pastor at Nordhausen, and professor at Erfurt. He died in 1585 while serving as pastor at Utenbach.4 For Poach’s edition the famous Nikolaus von Amsdorf wrote a foreword in which he explained that this new House Postil had been sent to press by command of the three brother dukes in Saxony, who had acquired the notebooks of Master Rörer at no small cost.5 It too was later reprinted many more times, namely in Jena in 1562 and 1579, in Torgau in 1601, and in Leipzig in 1655, 1679, and 1702. Johann Wanckel, professor of history in Wittenberg, translated it into Latin, and in 1567 it was translated into Dutch (printed in Oberursel).

In the introduction to this edition of Luther’s House Postil, prepared in Jena by Andreas Poach, Poach reproaches Dietrich for mixing his own sermons into Luther’s House Postil, for frequently combining two or three sermons which Luther had not even delivered in the same year, and especially for inserting other sermons for the festivals for which no sermons of Luther were available. He, on the other hand, claimed to have avoided all of this in his edition. He left out the foreign sermons that were not Luther’s work. When Luther preached three years in succession and sometimes preached several times on the same Gospel in his house, Poach presented all of the sermons delivered by him. And Poach left the sermons entirely in the condition in which they were delivered by Luther. “So whoever wants Dr. Luther’s sermons and nothing more, this book is at your service.”

Soon, however, a certain Christoph Walther came out against these reproaches directed at the Dietrich edition of Luther’s House Postil with a writing entitled “Reply to the Flacianistic Lies and False Report against the House Postil of Doctor Martin Luther” (Wittenberg, 1559, in quarto).6 Walther was a typesetter in the Luft Print Shop [Luft’schen Buchdruckerei] in Wittenberg. In this writing he attempted not only to defend and vindicate the Dietrich edition, but also to call the authenticity of the new Jena House Postil into doubt in the most forceful way. “The precious, learned man, Master Veit Dietrich,” he says in this writing, “has taken down the House Postil of Luther in shorthand from the mouth of the reverend father in Christ, Dr. Martin Luther. And when he became the pastor in Nuremberg, he had it printed by the allowance and permission of our dear father Luther. Several times Luther began to have it printed also in Wittenberg and entrusted Master Georg Rörer with the task of correcting it. Therefore, as an old servant in the print shop and as someone who, in addition to Master George Rörer, also often helped to read and correct this house postil in Wittenberg, I feel obligated to reply to such malicious information of the Flacianists.” He then went on to affirm that Veit Dietrich had added nothing of his own work, and that the passage in the dedicatory epistle to the Nuremberg council, where Dietrich says that he has added many sermons that were omitted by Luther, was to be understood as saying that in the place of such omitted house sermons Dietrich had inserted several church sermons delivered by Luther, which he had copied from Luther just as he had the house sermons. Therefore the Poach edition of the House Postil was inauthentic, Walther claimed, because Veit Dietrich was the only one who transcribed the blessed Luther when he preached at home, not also Georg Rörer, because Rörer was still deacon in Wittenberg at the time, and he generally did not have the gift especially of copying and getting everything down with shorthand.

Be that as it may, at the same time it cannot be denied that these two widely differing editions of Luther’s House Postil each have their peculiar advantages and disadvantages. The Dietrich edition has Luther’s own preface as its seal of certification – a decided advantage over the Rörer edition. But it definitely cannot avoid the reproach that a number of the sermons contained in it have grown to an extraordinary length, so that one has no choice but to conclude that they are melted together from two or three discourses of Luther that were delivered at different times. On the other hand, the sermons in Rörer’s collection are shorter, and for every Sunday there are usually two, or even three, sermons recorded, which very likely could have been delivered by Luther and collected by Georg Rörer. For in both content and style, they have absolutely nothing that would contradict this assumption.7 But in the sermons common to both editions there are variant readings, both in individual words and in entire sentences and sections, whose origin or reason cannot be ascertained with any certainty whatsoever.

Only the two most recent editions of Luther’s complete works, the Leipzig and the Walch, have included the Doubled House Postil. In the former it comprises the 15th and 16th parts, in the latter the 13th part. Dr. Börner, the editor of the Leipzig edition, had each of the two house postils printed separately – the Dietrich edition in the 15th part and the Rörer edition in the 16th part. Walch on the other hand drew both postils together and combined them into one work in such a way that the entire sermons which are missing from the Dietrich edition are inserted at the proper spot from the Rörer edition. Also, for the sermons that can be found in both editions, the places where they vary from each other were carefully noted. This method has a very cumbersome element to it for the person who wants to read Luther’s sermons devotionally, since he will keep running into endless repetitions, and will often have to read the same thought two or three times on one page, and with completely inconsequential variants for the most part. The reader cannot stay in the train of thought at all.

As far as this new edition is concerned, I have returned to the arrangement of the Leipzig edition by providing the Dietrich House Postil first, followed by the Rörer, so that the Rörer sermons which were missing in the first edition will also have a place here. The Dietrich postil makes up the first three volumes, the Rörer postil the next three. Even though this has naturally resulted in a different pagination, an excerpt from the index volumes (vols. 66 & 67 of the entire edition) embracing these six volumes will be added at the end of the sixth volume. This arrangement has likewise made these six volumes larger. In order to save some space, the life of Luther that was added to the first edition has been left out, considering that there have been plenty of writings on Luther’s life that have appeared since 1826, and the one that was provided in the first edition is now available in a separate publication (from Liesching in Stuttgart).

The text itself has also been painstakingly revised according to the oldest printings. For the text of the Dietrich postil, however, the only editions referred to were those that appeared while Veit Dietrich was still alive, and thus could have been improved or supplemented by his own hand or perhaps from his papers. The following editions were compared for this purpose:

  1. Houspostil || D. Martin || Luther. || Nürnberg. || M. D. XLIIII. 243 Blatt Fol. und 12 Blatt Register. (Die Winter- und Sommerpostille enthaltend.) — Hauspostil || D. Martin || Luther, von für- || nemsten Festen || durchs Jar. || Nürnberg. 80 Bl. u. 3 Bl. Register. Am Schlusse: Gedruckt zu Nürnberg, durch Johann vom Berg und Ulrich Neuber, wonhafft auff den Newenbaw, bei der Kalchhütten. 1544. Auf der letzten Seite ist die Verklärung Christi auf dem Berge abgebildet, mit der Unterschrift: Psal. LXXXIX. Wol dem volck das jauchtzen kan.

    House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther. Nuremberg. 1544. 243 pages in folio and a 12-page index. (Containing the winter and summer postils.) — House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther, on the chief festivals throughout the year. Nuremberg. 80 pages and a 3-page index. At the end: Printed in Nuremberg, by Johann vom Berg and Ulrich Neuber, residing in the new building by the lime kilns. 1544. On the last page the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain is portrayed, with the inscription: Psalm 89. Blessed are the people who can shout with joy.

  2. Haus- || postill || D. M. Luth. || Wittenberg. || M D XLIIII. 2 Bde. in 8. Der erste Band enthält auf 274 Blatt die Predigten vom ersten Advent bis zum Karfreitag, sowie auf 88 Blatt: Hauspostill || D. M. Luthers || auf die fürnemesten || Feste, vom Ad- || vent bis auff || Ostern. || Wittenberg. || M. D. XLIIII. Am Schlusse: Gedruckt zu Leipzig, durch Nickel Wolrab. 1544. — Der zweite Band enthält auf 395 Blatt die übrigen Sonntagspredigten, ebenfalls bei Wolrab gedruckt; sowie auf 141 Blatt: Hauspostill || D. M. Luthers || auff die fürnemesten || Feste, von Ostern || bis aufs Ad- || vent. || Wittenberg. || M. D. XLIIII. Am Schlusse: Gedruckt zu Leipzig durch Jacob Berwald.

    House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther. Wittenberg. 1544. 2 volumes in octavo. The first volume contains the sermons from the first Sunday in Advent to Good Friday on 274 pages, as well as the following on 88 pages: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther on the chief festivals, from Advent to Easter. Wittenberg. 1544. At the end: Printed in Leipzig, by Nickel Wolrab. 1544. — The second volume contains the remaining Sunday sermons on 395 pages, likewise printed by Wolrab, as well as the following on 141 pages: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther on the chief festivals, from Easter to Advent. Wittenberg. 1544. At the end: Printed in Leipzig by Jacob Berwald.

  3. Haußpostil D. Mar || tin Luthers, uber die || Sonntags und der fürnembsten || Fest Euangelia, durch || das gantze Jar. || Mit fleis von newem corrigirt || und gemeret mit XIII. Pre- || digen, von der Passio oder || histori des leidens Christi. || Nürmberg || M. D. XLV. — Nach der Vorrede 4 Blatt Register und auf 170 Blatt den Wintertheil, auf dem letzten Blatt 3 Errata und das Bild wie bei Nr. 1. — Ferner: Haußpostil || D. Martin || Luth. von Ostern || biß auffs Ad- || vent. || Nurmberg 1545. Auf 163 Blatt den Sommertheil enthaltend, am Schluss dasselbe Bild, und als Druckort: Gedruckt zu Nürmberg, durch Johann vom Berg, und Ulrich Newber, wonhafft auff dem Newenbaw, bey der Kalckhütten, Anno &c. M. D. XLV. — Und endlich auf 111 Blatt: Haußpostil || D. Martin || Luther, von für- || nembsten Festen || durchs Jahr. || Nurmberg 1545. Am Schlusse Bild und Druckort wie vorher.

    House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther, on the Gospels for the Sundays and chief festivals throughout the year. Diligently and newly corrected and enlarged with 13 sermons on the Passion or history of the suffering of Christ. Nuremberg 1545. — After the Foreword there is a 4-page index and the winter portion on 170 pages. On the last page are printed 3 errors and the picture as with #1 above. — After that: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther from Easter to Advent. Nuremberg 1545. Containing the summer portion on 163 pages, the same picture at the end, and the place of publication as follows: Printed in Nuremberg by Johann vom Berg and Ulrich Neuber, residing in the new building by the lime kilns. AD 1545. — And finally on 111 pages: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther, on the chief festivals throughout the year. Nuremberg 1545. At the end the picture and place of publication as previously.

  4. Derselbe Titel wie bei Nr. 3, nur mit der Jahrszahl M. D. XLVII. Nach der Vorrede und 4 Blatt Register auf 175 Blatt den Winter-, auf 179 Blatt den Sommer- und auf 116 Blatt den Festtheil enthaltend. Auf dem letzten Blatt das Bild und der Druckort wie bei Nr. 3.

    The same title as with #3, except with the year 1547. After the Foreword and a 4-page index, contains the winter portion on 175 pages, the summer portion on 179 pages, and the festival portion on 116 pages. On the last page are printed the picture and the place of publication as with #3 above.

Edition #4 was chosen as the basic text since it is the last one to appear during Dietrich’s lifetime, as far as I know. The variants of the other three editions were noted under the text. There a. designated the 1544 Nuremberg edition, b. the 1544 Wittenberg edition, and c. the 1545 Nuremberg edition. Unfortunately the printing of the first volume had already begun when I obtained editions #1 and 2, so I had to relegate the variants for this volume to an appendix. Regarding the relationship of the individual editions to each other, generally speaking #1 and #2 agree with each other, and #3 and #4 agree with each other, but #2 and #3 have fuller forms than #1 and #4 (e.g. derselbige instead of derselbe, also instead of so, sondern instead of sonder, etc.).

For the Rörer edition of the postils the basic text chosen was:

Hauspostill || uber die Sontags und der für- || nemesten Feste Euangelien, durch das gantze Jar, || von D. Martino Luthero seligen gepredigt, aus M. Georgen Rö- || rers seligen geschriebenen Büchern, wie er die von jar zu jar aus sei- || nem des Doctors Mund auffgefasst und zusamen bracht, Trew- || lich on alle Enderung, Abbruch, oder Zusatz, auffs new || zugericht, und in Druck geben. || II. Petri I. || Wir haben ein festes Prophetisch Wort, Und jr thut wohl, das jr drauff achtet, als || auff ein Liecht, das da scheinet in einem tunckeln ort, bis der Tag anbreche, und der || Morgenstern auffgehe in ewren Hertzen. Und das soll jr für das erste wissen, Das || keine Weissagung in der Schrifft geschicht aus eigener Auslegung. Denn es ist noch || nie keine Weissagung aus menschlichem Willen erfür bracht, Sondern die heiligen || Menschen Gottes haben geredt, getrieben von dem heiligen Geist. || Gedruckt zu Jhena, durch Christian Rödingers Erben. || Anno M. D. LIX. — Nach der Vorrede von Niclas von Amsdorff auf 497 Blatt die 3 Theile enthaltend. Bl. 181. Titelblatt: Sommer Teil der Hauspostillen, Doctoris Martini Luther; ebenso Bl. 427: Das dritte Teil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Luther, von den fürnemesten Festen durchs Jar, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchen ordnung. Sodann Bl. 498. ein Nachwort: „An den Christlichen Leser“, unterzeichnet: „Andreas Poach Prediger“, 6 Bl. Register und 1 Bl. Correctur. Am Schluß: Gedruckt zu Jhena durch Christian Rödingers Erben.

House Postil on the Gospels for the Sundays and chief festivals throughout the whole year, preached by Dr. Martin Luther of blessed memory, taken from the notebooks of Master Georg Rörer of blessed memory, as he took them down and collected them from year to year from his (the Doctor’s) mouth, newly and faithfully prepared and sent to press without any alterations, truncations, or additions. 2 Peter 1: We have a sure prophetic Word, and you do well to pay attention to it as to a light which shines in a dark place, until the Day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts. And you should know this above all, that no prophecy in Scripture happened from private interpretation. For there has never been a prophecy produced from human will, but the holy men of God have spoken, moved by the Holy Spirit. Printed in Jena by the heirs of Christian Rödinger. 1559. — After the Foreword by Nikolaus von Amsdorf, it contains the three portions on 497 pages. The title page on p. 181 reads: Summer portion of the house postils of Doctor Martin Luther. Likewise on p. 427 it reads: The third part of the house postils of Doctor Martin Luther, on the chief festivals throughout the year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Then on p. 498 there is an Afterword “To the Christian reader,” signed, “Andreas Poach, Preacher,” a 6-page index and 1 page of corrections. At the end: Printed in Jena by the heirs of Christian Rödinger.

Since Rörer had already died by the time this edition was printed, it seemed superfluous to compare any later editions.

In regard to orthography, etc., I refer to the principles laid down by [Dr. Johann Konrad] Irmischer of blessed memory in the Foreword to the first volume of the reformatory-historical writings (vol. 24 of the entire edition), which were also the standard for this new edition.

Let me conclude with the same wish which the editor of the first edition expressed and which was certainly fulfilled for many people: “May the reader of this House Postil have the same blessed experience that was had already by the highly praiseworthy elector, Duke Johann Friedrich of Saxony, which he expressed in these words: Dr. Martin Luther’s books strengthen the heart. They pass through marrow and bone, and there is more savor and strength, also more comfort, on one little page than in the entire vault of other writers!”

Frankfurt am Main, on the [first] Sunday of Advent, 1862.

The editor

Endnotes

1 A postil can denote either a published book of sermons, or an individual sermon in such a book. Throughout this foreword it usually refers to the former. In Klug’s 1996 English edition, the entire work is referred to as The House Postils, apparently in reference to the individual sermons. – trans.

2 For more on him, rf. Herzog’s theological Real-Encyclopädie, 3:389ff.

3 So-called because of its proximity to St. Aegidius Church. Today this is the Melanchthon-Gymnasium, one of the last preparatory schools in Bavaria with an exclusively humanistic course of study. – trans.

4 According to Johann Hundorph, Poach did not die until April 2, 1605.

5 The three brother dukes were Johann Friedrich (John Frederick) II, Johann Wilhelm (John William), and Johann Friedrich (John Frederick) III. – trans.

6 Included in the Foreword to vol. 15 of the Leipzig edition of Luther’s works.

7 With the possible exception of the Latin citations that frequently occur in them.

Afterword

I can also speak from experience that, in spite of Andreas Poach’s best intentions, he did not in fact publish an edition of Luther’s sermons “without any alterations, truncations, or additions.” (Refer, however, to Georg Buchwald’s remarks on Poach’s edition in Part 2.) While he is generally faithful to Rörer’s notes, and generally does an excellent job filling them out so that they read and sound more like sermons and less like shorthand lecture notes, the fact is that he does fill them out, and sometimes he takes liberties that are distasteful (e.g. making Luther a little more uncouth than Rörer has him in his notes) or even completely incorrect. This is why, if a translation is to be made of any of the House Postils – and really, any work of Luther – it must at the very least seriously consult and compare the more critical Weimar edition, which takes the reader back to the original notes, instead of to any editor’s publication and interpretation of those notes.

Luther Christmas Sermons to Press!

The bad news: I have removed Martin Luther’s five sermons on Isaiah’s six names for Jesus from this blog.

The good news: I have removed them as a result of a contract with Northwestern Publishing House (NPH), who will, God willing, publish them in connection with the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The plan at this point is to publish them as an Advent/Christmas devotional.

This 1531 Christmas sermon series by Luther is not only thoroughly scriptural and edifying, but is also of historical value. It provides a good glimpse into Luther the man – his sense of humor, his past experiences in the Roman Church, his experience with the German Peasants’ War, and his down-to-earth manner of communicating God’s word.

Please watch for this book from NPH in 2017, and thanks for your continued support of Red Brick Parsonage Printing!

Luther the Matchmaker?

The following Luther story is often quoted in Luther biographies when talking about how Luther not only tolerated the note- and quote-takers in his house, but sometimes even encouraged them. However, the only English translation I’ve seen polishes Luther up (definitely not the first time that’s happened).

In my opinion, being faithful to Luther’s original rawness not only shows historical and factual integrity, but it also helps people to be more circumspect analysts of Luther – admiring only the admirable (of which there is plenty) and rejecting the reprehensible (which is also not lacking). In other words, it helps to keep Lutherans from being Lutherans for the wrong reasons. Presenting the original, raw Luther does not mean that one approves of him that way.

However, in this particular case, I really don’t see why the original was cleaned up. The original bares Luther’s heart better and is more entertaining.

I translated this story from the Weimar edition (WA) of Luther’s Works (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1913), TR 2:123, #1525. It was recorded by Johann Schlaginhaufen (his Latinized name is Turbicida – tur-bi-CHEE-dah) between May 7 and 13, 1532. Schlaginhaufen had been a student at the University of Wittenberg (enrolled in 1520) and was a regular guest in Luther’s home from late 1531 to 1532, when he became a pastor in the village of Zahna near Wittenberg.

After the doctor [Luther] had climbed into his bed, a man came to the door, sent by a widow of a pastor in Belgern to ask for a husband. Luther said to the messenger, “Give me a break! She is not seven years old any more! She’s the one who must look for a man she can take; I do not have any man to give her.” When the messenger had left, he laughed and said to me, “For God’s sake, Turbicida, I beg you, write that one down! Isn’t it a nuisance? Am I really their first option for getting husbands for the women too? I think that they must take me for a brothel keeper! Phooey on you, you dumb world! Friend, write it and note it!”

Prudentius’ Holy Innocents Hymn

“All Hail! You Infant Martyr Flowers”
By Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-c. 413), sts. 1-4,6,7; Peter M. Prange, st. 5
Translated by Peter M. Prange

Translator’s Preface

As you prepare to celebrate the Festival of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, on Sunday, December 28, consider making use of Prudentius’ hymn below, translated by Pastor Peter Prange. Regarding his translation, Pastor Prange shares the following:

The original Latin stanzas of Prudentius’ hymn can be found here. The entire hymn can be found here, along with other hymns of Prudentius.

I produced this translation in 2008 when the congregation I serve (Jerusalem, Morton Grove, IL) was planning to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Stanza five is not part of Prudentius’ original Latin text but an original, additional stanza that I authored in order to include Matthew’s point that this event happened as a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.

Pastor Prange set the hymn to the tune, “O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf” (Christian Worship 22).

All Hail! You Infant Martyr Flowers

1. All hail! You infant martyr flow’rs,
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours;
Like rosebuds, snapped in dreadful strife,
When Herod sought our Savior’s life.

2. With terror does the tyrant hear
That God’s own Son to us draws near.
On David’s throne he comes to dwell
And reign as King of Israel.

3. King Herod rages at the Word:
”Go, soldier, with your ruthless sword
To Him, who stands where we have stood,
And stain the Infant-crib with blood!”

4. O, what is gained from this offense?
What profit comes from violence?
The Savior-King survived the day,
As Christ was safely whisked away!

5. A voice is heard in bitter pain,
As Rachel mourns the infants slain,
Refusing comfort – sacred lore –
Because her children are no more!

6. Of you, O little lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ our King:
Beneath the heav’nly altar’s ray
With martyr-palms and crowns you play!

7. To you, the Virgin-born, we raise
Thanksgiving and eternal praise,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.

Alberus’ Thanksgiving Hymn

“To You, O God, Our Thanks We Give”
Erasmus Alberus (c. 1500-1553), 1537

Translator’s Preface

With this translation, I think I have finally crossed the finish line of my quest for meal-time prayer variety. I translated what follows from August Pieper’s Biblische Hausandachten (Family Meditations from the Bible), 2nd ed. (Milwaukee: NPH, 1912), p. 417.

This one-verse hymn is attributed to Erasmus Alberus, who studied under Luther at the University of Wittenberg and was an active helper in the cause of the Lutheran Reformation. Apart from his hymns, he is probably best known for his satire Der Barfuser Münche Eulenspiegel und Alcoran (Owlglass and Koran of the Franciscans), which ridiculed the Franciscan Order and was published in 1542 with a preface authored by Luther himself. After Luther’s death, Alberus sided with Matthias Flacius and the Gnesio-Lutherans.

Alberus’ thanksgiving hymn appears as hymn 458 in the current Evangelisches Gesangbuch, the official hymnal of the Protestant State Church in Germany. There it is set to an abridged version of the melody for Psalm 105 composed by Pierre Davantès and found in the 1562 Genevan Psalter. (You can hear Alberus’ German hymn sung to this setting here.) That melody is not particularly attractive or memorable, and I’m guessing these lyrics penned by a staunch Lutheran were combined with a melody from the Genevan Psalter, which was created under the supervision of John Calvin, in order to further the union agenda of the Protestant State Church, which seeks to combine the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.

In addition, the original meter – 99 88 88 99 – is quite rare, if not nonexistent, in current Lutheran hymnody. I found it easier to translate the text into 88 88 88 88 meter, but this did not help me in finding a suitable tune. (The only hymn I know with this meter is “The Tree of Life” – Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary 302, Christian Worship Supplement 754).

So this project became a unique one for me, since it prompted me not only to translate German poetry, but also to compose music.

The original German stanza with a literal English translation:

Wir danken Gott für seine Gaben,
Die wir von ihm empfangen haben,
Wir bitten unsern lieben Herrn:
Er woll’ uns hinfort mehr bescher’n,
Er woll’ uns speisen mit sei’m Wort,
Daß wir satt werden hier und dort.
Ach lieber Herr, du wollst uns geben
Nach dieser Welt das ew’ge Leben. Amen.

We thank God for his gifts,
Which we have received from him,
We ask our dear Lord:
He would henceforth bestow more upon us,
He would feed us with his Word,
So that we get satiated here [in time] and there [in eternity].
Ah, dear Lord, [we ask that] you would give us
After this world the eternal life. Amen.

The primary difference between the original hymn and my translation below is the person. In the original, the one praying addresses God in the third person until the last two lines, almost as if the speaker is not actually praying, but rather telling someone else about how he prays after meals. I am familiar with this type of prayer perspective, but I am not a fan. It’s almost as if we are asking God simply to tune in to our recitation, if he likes, and to admire our ability to memorize. So I transformed the entire prayer into a second person address.

Click here for an original two-part setting composed just for this hymn. It is arranged for one party to sing the melody, and another party to sing an alto part, which would work just as well as a bass part when moved an octave lower.

I pray that the Holy Spirit has used this series of meal-prayer translations to aid Christian families in their prayer life and to further their love for music. May the triune God continue to provide for us on earth, body and soul, that we may praise his goodness forever in heaven.

To You, O God, Our Thanks We Give
A Hymn of Thanks After Meals

To you, O God, our thanks we give
For these your gifts we have received.
Since you redeemed us with your blood,
Bestow on us much more than food:
Our souls with your pure gospel feed;
Contentment then shall death exceed.
Dear Lord, when bread no more sustains,
Grant us to dwell in heav’n’s domains. Amen.

Bless These Your Gifts

Anonymous, 1561, Frankfurt an der Oder, st. 1-2; anon., 1660, Bayreuth, st. 3

Translator’s Preface

In the continuing quest for meal-prayer and meal-hymn variety, the following is a translation of hymn #595 in the “Jahreszeiten” (Seasonal) section of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin and Other States’ old German hymnal, Evang.-Lutherisches Gesangbuch für Kirche, Schule und Haus (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal for Church, School, and Home), published by Northwestern Publishing House in Milwaukee.

The hymn is titled, “Geseg’n uns, Herr, die Gaben dein,” and was familiar enough to our German ancestors. For example, August Pieper included the first two stanzas in the “Andre Gebete vor Tisch” (Other Prayers Before Meals) section of his Biblische Hausandachten (Family Meditations from the Bible). A literal translation yields:

Bless for us richly, Lord, your gifts,
Cause (this) food to be our nourishment;
Grant that through it (may) be invigorated
The frail body on this earth.

For this temporal bread alone
Is not able to suffice for us for life,
Your divine Word feeds the soul,
Helps us for life most of all.

Therefore give us both, Lord God,
Help (us) finally also out of every need,
So let us praise your goodness
Here and also there into eternity. Amen.

The suggested tune in the Gesangbuch is “Christ, der du bist der helle Tag,” a quite unfamiliar tune. (Ironically, despite the fact that its tune is suggested, the text of that hymn does not even appear in the Gesangbuch.) Another printed suggestion is “Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht,” a popular Lutheran tune (e.g. Christian Worship 404).

In an effort to resurrect an ancient Latin hymn melody that was converted into a German Lutheran hymn that now seems to be fading from use, I have set the translation below to the tune “Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht,” which setting you can access here. A complete four-part setting of this melody can be found in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1996), no. 571.

Regarding the translation itself, the most notable departure from the original occurs in stanza 2. The original stanza begins with an explanatory “For.” In other words, the author is explaining why we are duty-bound to ask God’s blessing on our food. I did not find this connection entirely apparent, nor was I convinced that the thoughts about God’s Word in stanza 2 were parallel to the concept of God’s blessing in stanza 1.

In stanza 1, we are acknowledging that no food would do us any good if God did not also add his word of blessing to it and in effect say to the food, “Nourish this human” – a blessing which God regularly extends even to unbelievers. In stanza 2, we are acknowledging that even if God were to add this blessing to our food for the duration of our lives, but we were unfamiliar with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we would still have no true happiness in this life and in the end we would still perish eternally in hell. In other words, the food would still, in the final analysis, have done us no good whatsoever (though God would have worked our life and its activity to the advantage of his Church).

Therefore I thought that beginning stanza 2 with an adversative “But” would actually lend strength to both stanzas by clearly dividing these separate but related thoughts.

May the triune God promote a spirit of pious thanksgiving among us not only at meal times, but in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Update (11-8-14):  The title of the hymn and the first line of the first stanza were changed from “Bless Now This Food” to “Bless These Your Gifts.” My original translation simply asked God to add his blessing to the food in front of us, but was silent on the question of whence the food came. The updated translation, more closely reflecting the original German, praises God, and reminds us, that the food is there in front of us in the first place because God has graciously given it to us.

Bless These Your Gifts

1. Bless these your gifts, Lord, from on high,
That they may nourish us thereby;
Frail bodies do with strength imbue,
That we our duties well pursue.

2. But earthly bread alone would fail
To make us happy, hearty, hale;
Your Word alone does feed the soul
And make our health complete and whole.

3. So give us both, Lord God, we plead,
And help us out of every need;
Then all your goodness we shall praise
Both here and there, in endless days. Amen.

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