Praetorius on the Effect and Value of Choral Church Music

What follows is an excerpt taken from an article submitted to the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly for publication in 2021. To access the full article, check back on Red Brick Parsonage’s “Published” page periodically (I will post more details there once it is published, God willing), or you can use the link above to subscribe to the Quarterly.

Translator’s Introduction

[Michael] Praetorius planned four installments for his Syntagma Musicum (Musical Compendium) series: 1) a complete overview of the history and significance of both sacred and secular music from their beginnings, 2) a description of all ancient and modern instruments, with a special focus on the pipe organ (this eventually included an appended, forty-five-page section of woodcut illustrations done to scale), 3) a treatment of music theory, terminology, and performance, and information about new musical developments taking place in Italy,1 and 4) a comprehensive composition manual. Only the first three volumes are extant, though Praetorius evidently also completed the fourth.

Title page of volume I (Wittenberg, 1615) of the Syntagma Musicum by Michael Praetorius

The first volume of this series was published in Wittenberg in 1615 under the title Syntagmatis Musici Tomus Primus (The First Volume of the Musical Compendium). Of the three extant volumes of the Syntagma, this one has received the least attention, probably because it was the only volume Praetorius authored in Latin and because it is the most religious of the three (and therefore of less interest to secular music historians). …

In light of this anniversary year, and in light of ongoing discussions and debates about church music in Lutheran circles, I decided to provide for this submission a fresh translation of Chapters 3, 5, and 6 of Part 1, Section 1 of the first volume of Praetorius’s Syntagma (pp. 8–10, 16–19), which deal with the purpose, effect, and value of choral church music. [Only Chapter 3 is included in this online excerpt.] In these chapters, Praetorius regularly uses the term psalmody (which literally means “psalm-singing”) to refer to sung church music in general, though he also uses it to refer to the actual singing of biblical psalms.2 The context usually makes clear which he has in mind. All of the content in brackets and parentheses is Praetorius’s own, except in the case of Scripture citations and where I include Praetorius’s original Latin.

How much Praetorius himself was influenced by the content of these chapters is evident from his inclusion of its content in his other writings, most notably his dedicatory epistles for Urania (1613) and Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica (1619). Between these three sources, we find basically a threefold purpose for choral church music:

  1. To aid believers in proclaiming God’s grace and truth and in praising and honoring him “all the more joyfully and gladly”;
  2. To more easily and deeply inculcate “the doctrine about the true God and all divine exhortations, comfort, praise, and thanksgiving” in human hearts, which are naturally inclined away from God and toward sensual pleasure;3 and
  3. To ready believers for their participation in the glorious music of heaven.4

Since Praetorius prominently quotes two longer sections from Basil the Great’s (330–379) brilliant introductory remarks on the Psalms in affirming especially the second of these purposes, I include a fresh translation, from the Greek, of those sections taken together in an appendix at the end [not included in this online excerpt]. Praetorius also quotes a number of other church fathers; my abbreviated citations “PL” and “PG” refer to Jaques Paul Migne’s Latin (1844–1855) and Greek (1857–1886) series, respectively, of his Patrologiae Cursus Completus. …

Syntagma Musicum

Volume 1, Part 1, Section 1

Chapter 3
The Effects of Psalmody in General, When Combined with a Procedure and Discipline of Singing Devoutly and Modestly

This marks the μετάβασις or transition into the efficacy and benefits of psalmody, and the second and most important part of the Διανοίας [Discourse].5

Justin details just how supremely wonderful the effects of psalm-singing are: Ἡδύνει γὰρ [ἡ ψαλμῳδία] τὴν ψυχὴν πρὸς ζέοντα πόθον etc.6 That is:

  1. The singing of psalms arouses the soul to a burning desire for that which is desirable in song-tunes.
  2. It stifles the emotions that arise from the flesh.
  3. It disperses the wicked thoughts that are inspired in us by our invisible enemies.
  4. It incites the soul to bear the fruits of God’s blessings [bonorum].
  5. It makes the noble combatants [1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12] perfect in piety so that they can persevere in adverse circumstances.
  6. It is a remedy for the pious for all their griefs in life.
  7. Paul calls it “the sword of the Spirit” [Eph. 6:17], since it equips the soldiers of piety with weapons against their invisible enemies. Ῥῆμα γὰρ ἐστι Θεοῦ, τὸ καὶ ἐνθυμούμενον, καὶ ᾀδόμενον, καὶ ἀνακρουόμενον. (For it is the Word of God whether it is pondered in the mind, or sung, or conveyed by striking an instrument.)
  8. It is an ἀπελατικὸν for demons, that is, it drives them away.
  9. Those things that the pious acquire from ecclesiastical songs make the soul perfect in the virtues of piety.

So says Justin.7

Pope John XXII also suggests that there is a twofold effect of hymns in the church: While psalm singers are reciting the divine words, they are receiving God in their heart, and devotion is kindled toward God by songs of this kind. He says this in Extravagantes communes, Book 3, De vita et honestate clericorum:

An altogether sweet sound resounds in the mouth of psalm singers, since they are receiving God with their heart as they recite with their words, and they are kindling devotion toward him with their songs. And that is exactly why the singing of psalms is commanded in the churches of God, that the devotion of the faithful may be aroused. For this purpose the nightly and daily office and the celebrations of masses are continually sung by clergy and people with a mature pitch [tenore] and distinct inflection [gradatione], in order that they may take pleasure in that same distinction and delight in the same maturity.8

Here the pontiff likewise teaches that hymns were introduced and accepted in the church especially for this purpose, that devotion toward God might be kindled and stirred up.

But in order for psalm singing to awaken its virtue in souls by the effectual grace of the Holy Spirit, it is also truly necessary to observe a manner of psalm-singing that is pleasing to God. And in this regard, the following sentence was prescribed for hymns and cantors in the Fourth Synod of Carthage: “See that what you sing with your mouth, you believe in your heart, and what you believe in your heart, you prove with your deeds.”9

The apostle also requires of them that they sing and make music to the Lord in their hearts in Ephesians 5[:19]. When Jerome explains this passage in Book 3 of his commentary on Ephesians 5, he addresses singers thus: “Let those who have the duty of singing psalms in church listen carefully: Songs should not be sung to God with the voice, but with the heart. … Songs should be heard in fear, in deeds, in knowledge of the Scriptures.”10 The same precept of Jerome is included in canon law, Part 1, Distinction 92, Chapter 1.11 The gloss there adds two lines of verse:

Non vox, sed votum: non chordula musica, sed cor:
Non clamans, sed amans: cantat in aure Dei.

Not the voice, but prayer; not a musical string, but the heart;
Not one who cries out, but one who loves—sings in the ear of God.12

And Chrysostom says in a sermon on the Davidic songs:

So let us sing Davidic songs to the soul [troubled by the devil or by terrible suggestions of the flesh], in addition to other passages from Sacred Scripture, and in such a way that the mouth, by singing, may educate the mind. Nor indeed should this be regarded as petty and trifling since, whenever we instruct the tongue to sing, the soul—even the one [otherwise] feeling the opposite way—is ashamed not to imitate what is being sung, at least while singing it.13

And in the church, diligent care was taken that nothing would be done casually and without restraint [leviter & lascivè], but that everything would be done in a dignified and decent manner, accompanied by singing, and we read that the utmost reverence and decorum were observed by the singers and attendants. For “the learned authority of the holy fathers has decreed,” as the supreme pontiff, John XXII, says at the beginning of his decretal De vita et honestate clericorum in Book 3 of Extravagantes communes, “that in the services of divine praise, whatever belongs to the submissiveness of servitude should be exhibited, everybody’s mind should be alert, the sermon should not falter, and the unassuming dignity of the psalm singers should echo in their gentle modulation, since a sweet sound was resonating in their mouth.”14 In this decretal letter, the pontiff strongly reprehends those singers who were taking undue liberties [nimis lasciviebant] in their melodies, contrary to clerical respectability, and, in order that they might abstain from such levity in the future, he forbids them under threat of punishment. Nor indeed “should the throat and pharynx be coated with sweet medicament like the tragic actors do, so that theatrical modes and songs can be heard in church,” as Jerome says in the decretal in Part 1, Distinction 92, Chapter 1 of canon law.15

Likewise, the value the fathers placed on Paul’s rule about veiling the head, handed down in 1 Corinthians 11, is evident from the book On the Veiling of Virgins, which Tertullian, a very ancient ecclesiastical writer, wrote in its entirety. In this book he demonstrates, among many other arguments, that it is dishonorable for virgins16 to be uncovered during the psalms or at any mention of God:

How severe a chastisement do those women deserve who insist on remaining uncovered during the psalms or at any mention of God? Are they in the right when, even during prayer itself, they so readily place a fringe or tuft or any sort of thread on the crown of their head and then think themselves covered? So highly do they value their head!17

Now then, up to this point in the discourse, we have been able examine choral music’s origins in ecclesiastical psalmody and the practice of singing in multiple choirs that was introduced in the churches of the Old and New Testaments. We then examined its actual singing, the distinct variety of its modulation, its manifold effect, the manner of singing it devoutly, and the discipline and reverence of which it was deemed worthy. Now we must press the discourse more deeply into the broad field of its very frequent usefulness—a field of study that will amply demonstrate that choral music is filled with the activity of the Holy Spirit, pleasing to God, necessary for the Church, and beneficial to pious souls.


1 As you can imagine, volumes II and III are of incalculable worth to the study and practice of period-correct performance.

2 In Chapters 1 and 2, Praetorius discusses the “choral psalmody instituted by David and Solomon, which was later adopted by the choirs of the Greek and Latin churches,” and “the modulation [or melodies] of the ancients in psalm-singing, its purpose, the various kinds of ecclesiastical singing, and the ritual suggested in the psalms of ascents.”

3 Siegfried Vogelsänger, Heaven Is My Fatherland (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020), 61–62. Praetorius therefore also stresses in two of his dedicatory epistles the necessary balance in worship between concio and cantio—sermon (spoken proclamation of the Word) and song (musical proclamation of the Word). Elsewhere Praetorius wrote in a prayer of elegiac stanzas, in reference to his father and maternal grandfather: “One and the same is the aim (not to mention the zeal and the fervor): | What they endeavored with words, I seek with strings and with song” (Heaven Is My Fatherland, 55).

4 He makes this purpose clear in his dedicatory epistle for Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica; see Gesamtausgabe der Musikalischen Werke von Michael Praetorius, 17:viii–ix.

5 Praetorius divided the first volume of his Syntagma Musicum into two parts—the first on sacred music and the second on secular music. He further divided the first part into four sections: 1) Διάνοια or discourse on the choral music or sacred psalmody of the ancients, 2) Ὑπομνήματα or commentaries on the main liturgy, 3) Ἐξήγημα (elsewhere called Ἐξήγησις) or explanation of the liturgical songs of matins and vespers, and 4) Θεωρία ὀργανικῆς Sioniae or contemplation of the instrumental music used in both the Old and New Testament church. Even though he could have used the same label (discourse, commentaries, explanation, or contemplation) for all four sections, he chose different ones so that he could use each label as a shorthand reference for each section.

6 The author of this quote (not actually Justin Martyr; see next endnote) is answering this question: “Songs were devised by the unbelievers for deceit, and were introduced by those under law on account of the immaturity of their minds. Why then have those who have received the perfect knowledge of grace, and knowledge alien to the just-mentioned customs, continued to make use of those songs in their churches, the way the immature did who were under the law?”

7 PG 6:1353–56. This quote is taken from Quaestiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos (Questions and Answers for the Orthodox), Question 107, which Praetorius, like many before him, falsely attributed to the second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr. Scholars now generally date this work to the late fifth century.

8 The idea seems to be: The type of music used and the decorum and style employed in church singing will hopefully carry over into everyday life and have a moderating influence on one’s conduct. Since God wants us to exercise discipline and self-control (1 Thess. 5:6–8), to lead hard-working and unassuming lives (1 Thess. 4:11), to distinguish ourselves from the world around us (2 Cor. 6:14–18), and to have our minds set on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1,2), the church’s music will reflect and encourage these characteristics. Regarding Praetorius’s source for this quote, the Corpus Juris Canonici (Collection of Canon Law) published in Rome in 1582 contained three volumes. Volume 1 contained Gratian’s collection of church laws and decretals. Volume 2 contained five books of additional decretals. Volume 3 contained a sixth book of additional decretals, the Clementine Constitutions, and the so-called decretales extravagantes or supplementary decretals, divided into the Extravagantes Johannis XXII and the Extravagantes communes. You can view the same page Praetorius likely consulted here: Praetorius must have had a particular affinity for this quote, since he cites more of it later, and he included the entire section from which it was taken in an appendix on pages 456–57.

9 Karl Joseph von Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church from the Original Documents, vol. 2, trans. Henry Nutcombe Oxenham (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), 412, no. 10. For more on the so-called Fourth Synod of Carthage, see pp. 409–410: “These 104 canons are certainly very old, but…the heading which ascribes them to the Carthaginian Synod of 398 is spurious.”

10 PL 26:528. Jerome’s entire quote may be of interest: “Let young people listen carefully to these words. Let those who have the duty of singing psalms in church listen carefully: Songs should not be sung to God with the voice, but with the heart. Nor should they have their throat and pharynx coated with sweet medicament as the tragic actors do, so that theatrical modes and songs can be heard in church. No, songs should be sung in fear, in deed, in knowledge of the Scriptures. Show me anyone you like that people are accustomed to call κακόφωνος [ill-sounding]; if he has good works, he is a sweet singer to God.” Praetorius refers to more of this quote later.

11 Praetorius cites the chapter using the first Latin word, Cantantes, &c.

12 Regarding the source, see endnote 8. You can view the same page Praetorius likely consulted here: I included the original Latin so that the reader could see the play on words.

13 J.-P. Migne refers to this introduction in PG 55:31–32, but does not include it even among Chrysostom’s spurious works because of a lack of a Greek original. However, parts of this sermon are very similar to thoughts appearing in another introduction to the Psalms falsely ascribed to Chrysostom that does have a Greek original (PG 55:536–37).

14 Same source as cited in endnote 8. In other words, since what the singers were singing was inherently sweet by virtue of its content, the singers should not spoil its sweetness, or attempt to overshadow it, with their own fanciness or showiness. Praetorius would not have objected to the use of some artful and tasteful singing techniques (see e.g. Heaven Is My Fatherland, 107), but he was definitely in favor of comporting oneself with unassuming dignity while singing in church, and of putting oneself completely in the service of the music and especially the textual content.

15 See endnotes 10–12.

16 Actually, in the final chapter of On the Veiling of Virgins, from which the following quote is taken, Tertullian is making an appeal to women in general, including married women.

17 PL 2:913; cf. Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4:37.2.

Sacred Concertos and Songs by Schütz

Christoph Spätner, Heinrich Schütz, c. 1660

Preliminary Acknowledgment

These fourteen pieces by the confessional Lutheran composer Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) were recently performed by Ensemble VIII. I was graciously given the opportunity to work with these lyrics in connection with this concert, for which I hereby express my deepest gratitude to the ensemble’s board of directors. I also wish to acknowledge the lovely performances by the ensemble’s singers and instrumentalist. The texts and translations below follow the order in which they were presented in the concert, under the headings Love, Lament, Deception, and Desire.

As usually happens with work like this, not only was my love for my Savior Jesus strengthened, but I grew in my ability to express it with greater breadth, profundity, and consonance with my Christian forebears. My prayer is that readers of this post will experience the same benefit.

SWV 308 – O Jesu, nomen dulce


This text of unknown authorship was adapted from Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermon series on Solomon’s Song of Songs, especially Sermon 15 (c. 1137 AD) on the name of Jesus: “But the name of Jesus is not just light; it is also food. Or are you not fortified precisely as often as you recall it? What equivalent can so enrich the mind of the one who contemplates it? … Whatever you write will not taste good to me unless I find Jesus there. Whatever you discuss or bring up will not taste good to me unless I hear the sound of Jesus there. Jesus is honey in my mouth, in my ears a song, in my heart a cry of joy” (J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina 183:846,847; translation mine).

Published: Kleine Geistliche Konzerte II (Leipzig, 1639)

O Jesu, nomen dulce,
nomen admirabile,
nomen confortans.
Quid enim canitur suavius
quid auditur jucundius
quid cogitatur dulcius
quam Jesus, Dei filius?
O nomen Jesu,
verus animae cibus,
in ore mel,
in aure melos,
in corde laetitia mea.
Tuum itaque nomen, dulcissime Jesu,
in aeternum in ore meo portabo.

O Jesus, sweet name,
wonderful name,
fortifying name!
For what is more pleasant to sing about,
what is more agreeable to listen to,
what is sweeter to contemplate
than Jesus, God’s Son?
O name of Jesus,
true food for the soul,
honey in my mouth,
a song in my ears,
my happiness in my heart!
And thus your name, sweetest Jesus,
I will carry in my mouth into eternity.

SWV 284 – Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen


Even though this text closely follows Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 111, what sets Schütz’s corpus of biblical settings apart is his familiarity with the original Hebrew and Greek of the Scriptures. It infuses his compositions with a fresh spirit of originality and personal intimacy. Schütz once advised his student Matthias Weckmann “to get acquainted with the Hebrew language, not as though it were necessary, but because it would come in handy when setting an Old Testament text to music” (Johann Mattheson, Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte [Hamburg, 1740], pp. 395-396; translation mine).

Published: Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten (Leipzig, 1636)

Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen
im Rath der Frommen und in der Gemeine.
Groß sind die Werke des Herren;
wer ihr achtet,
der hat eitel Lust dran.
Was er ordnet, das ist löblich und herrlich,
und seine Gerechtigkeit währet ewiglich.
Er hat ein Gedächtnis gestiftet seiner Wunder,
der gnädige und barmherzige Herr.
Er gibt Speise denen, so ihn fürchten;
er gedenket ewiglich an seinen Bund.
Er läßt verkündigen seine gewaltige Thaten
seinem Volk,
daß er ihnen gebe das Erbe der Heiden.
Die Werk seiner Hände sind Wahrheit und Recht;
alle seine Gebot sind rechtschaffen,
sie werden erhalten immer und ewiglich
und geschehen treulich und redlich.
Er sendet ein Erlösung seinem Volk;
er verheißt, daß sein Bund ewiglich bleiben soll.
Heilig und hehr ist sein Name.
Die Furcht des Herren ist der Weisheit Anfang,
das ist eine feine Klugheit;
wer darnach thut, des Lob bleibet ewiglich.

I give thanks to the Lord with all my heart
in the council of the pious and in the assembly.
Great are the works of the Lord;
whoever considers them
finds nothing but pleasure in them.
What he ordains is laudable and glorious,
and his righteousness endures eternally.
He has erected a monument with his wonders,
the gracious and merciful Lord.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant eternally.
He causes his mighty deeds to be proclaimed
to his people,
that he may give them the inheritance of the heathens.
The works of his hands are truth and justice.
All his decrees are just;
they are upheld for ever and ever
and are carried out faithfully and fairly.
He is sending a redemption to his people;
he promises that his covenant shall endure forever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—
this is an excellent insight;
whoever follows it, his fame will endure forever.

SWV 330 – Wer will uns scheiden von der Liebe Gottes


This text follows Martin Luther’s translation of Romans 8:35,38-39.

Wer will uns scheiden von der Liebe Gottes,
Trübsal oder Angst, oder Verfolgung,
oder Hunger, oder Blöße,
oder Gefährlichkeit, oder Schwerdt?
Denn ich bin gewiss, daß weder Tod noch Leben,
weder Engel noch Fürstenthum noch Gewalt,
weder Gegenwärtiges noch Zukünftiges,
weder Hohes noch Tiefes noch kein andre Creatur
mag uns scheiden von der Liebe Gottes,
die in Christo Jesu ist, unserm Herren. Amen.

Who will separate us from the love of God—
tribulation or anxiety, or persecution,
or hunger, or nakedness,
or danger, or sword?
For I am certain that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor principalities nor powers,
neither things present nor things to come,
neither things high nor deep nor any other creature
may separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

SWV 56 (Prima pars) – Quid commisisti, O dulcissime puer
SWV 57 (Secunda pars) – Ego sum tui plaga doloris
SWV 58 (Tertia pars) – Ego enim inique egi


Schütz gleaned these three texts from a devotional work edited by the staunch Lutheran doctor of theology Andreas Musculus (1514-1581). Titled Precationes (Prayers), Musculus compiled the work “from the ancient orthodox teachers, from the hymns and songs of the Church, and finally from the Psalms of David,” and organized it topically. The prayer on which these motets are based is found in the sixth section. Musculus culled several of the prayers in this section from meditations on the suffering of Christ that are reminiscent of Isaiah 53:4-6 and were alleged to have been written by Augustine (354-430; cf. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina 40:905-906). Subsequent scholarship, however, has demonstrated that this attribution is false and more likely belongs to Jean de Fécamp (d. 1078). These meditations were very popular at the time; just five years after Schütz published his Cantiones Sacrae, Johann Heermann published his still-beloved hymn, “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” (“O Dearest Jesus, what law have you broken”), based on the exact same text as these motets.

Schütz did some minor editing in this three-part motet. For example, in reference to the eighth line in the third part, de Fécamp and Musculus originally had equuleum or eculeum, a wooden torture-rack for criminals in the shape of a horse, as a metaphor for Christ’s cross. But at least one subsequent edition, including the one in Schütz’s possession, printed aculeum, “sting.” (Compare, e.g., col. 906 in the Patrologia Latina link in the previous paragraph and fol. 48 verso in this 1561 edition with p. 88 in the 1573 edition also linked in the previous paragraph.) So Schütz filled out the expression – mortis aculeum, “sting of death” – with an allusion to 1 Corinthians 15:55,56.

The references to Jesus as a boy or young man are used a) as synonyms for “Son” (in relation to God the Father), b) to underscore his relative youth (he was crucified in his 30s), and c) to underscore his innocence.

Published: Cantiones sacrae (Freiberg, 1625)
Sample Performance

Quid commisisti, O dulcissime puer,
ut sic judicareris?
quid commisisti, O amantissime juvenis,
ut adeo tractareris?
Quod scelus tuum,
quae noxa tua,
quae causa mortis,
quae occasio tuae damnationis?

What wrong did you commit, O sweetest Boy,
that you would be sentenced thus?
What did you commit, O kindest Young Man,
that you would be so badly treated?
What is your crime,
what is your offense,
what is the cause of your death,
what is the basis for your condemnation?

Ego sum tui plaga doloris,
tuae culpa occisionis.
Ego tuae mortis meritum,
tuae vindictae flagitium.
Ego tuae passionis livor,
cruciatus tui labor.

I am the blow of your pain,
the fault of your murder.
I am the merit of your death,
the shame of your punishment.
I am the injury of your suffering,
the agony of your torment.

Ego enim inique egi,
tu poena mulctaris.
Ego facinus admisi,
tu ultione plecteris.
Ego superbivi, tu humiliaris.
Ego tumui, tu attenuaris.
Ego praesumpsi vetitum,
tu mortis subiisti aculeum.
Ego pomi dulcedinem,
tu fellis gustasti amaritudinem.

For I acted unjustly;
you are beaten in punishment.
I am responsible for the deed;
you are struck in retribution.
I was haughty; you are humbled.
I was swollen with pride; you are deflated.
I dared to do the forbidden;
you submitted to the sting of death.
I tasted the sweetness of the fruit;
you the bitterness of the gall.

SWV 282 – Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten


This text follows Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 70.

Published: Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten (Leipzig, 1636)

Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten,
Herr, mir zu helfen.
Es müssen sich schämen und zu Schanden werden,
die nach meiner Seelen stehen.
Sie müssen zurücke kehren und gehöhnet werden,
die mir Übels wünschen,
daß sie müssen wiederum zu Schanden werden,
die da über mich schreien: Da, da.
Freuen und fröhlich müssen sein in dir,
die nach dir fragen und dein Heil lieben,
immer sagen: Hoch gelobt sei Gott.
Ich aber bin elend und arm.
Gott, eile zu mir,
denn du bist mein Helfer und Erretter;
mein Gott, verzeuch nicht.

Hasten, God, to deliver me,
Lord, to help me!
Those must be put to shame and disgraced
who make attempts on my soul.
They must turn back and be ridiculed,
those who wish evil on me,
so that they must be disgraced as a result,
those who cry out over me, “Ha, ha!”
They must rejoice and be glad in you
who seek after you and love your salvation,
always saying, “God be highly praised!”
But I am wretched and poor.
God, hasten to me,
for you are my helper and deliverer;
my God, do not delay!

SWV 307 – Was hast du verwirket


This German text has the same basis as SWV 56 & 57 above. See the Foreword there for more information. It is noteworthy that, even though Musculus produced his own German translation of his Latin prayer book, Schütz did not make use of Musculus’ translation or of Martin Moller’s translation, but appears to have produced his own from the Latin. Here Schütz imaginatively reinterprets “the shame of your punishment” from the Latin as “the condemnable vice that could be smelled on you.” He also concludes by taking an additional rhetorical question from his source that he did not employ in the earlier pieces: “Quo nate Dei, quo tua descendit humilitas?” “Ah, how far, O Son of God…?”

Source: Kleine Geistliche Konzerte II (Leipzig, 1639)

Was hast du verwirket,
O du allerholdseligster Knab, Jesu Christe,
daß du also verurtheilt warest?
Was hast du begangen,
O du allerfreundlichster Jüngling,
daß man so übel und kläglich mit dir gehandelt?
Was ist doch dein Verbrechen und Misshandlung?
Was ist deine Schuld,
was ist die Ursach deines Todes?
Was ist doch die Verwirkung deiner Verdammniß?
O, ich bin die Ursach und Plage deines Leidens,
ich bin die Verschuldung deines Hinrichtens,
ich bin das Verdienst deines Todes,
das todwürdige Laster,
so an dir gerochen worden.
Ich bin die Öffnung der Wunden deines Leidens,
die Angst deiner Peinigung.
Ach, wohin, du Sohn Gottes,
hat sich deine Demuth geniedriget?

What did you perpetrate,
O you absolute most charming boy, Jesus Christ,
that you would be sentenced thus?
What wrong did you commit,
O you absolute kindest young man,
for them to have dealt so cruelly and deplorably with you?
Just what is your crime and misdeed?
What is your offense,
what is the cause of your death?
Just what is the basis for your condemnation?
Oh, I am the cause and misery of your suffering,
I am the fault of your execution,
I am the merit of your death,
the condemnable vice
that could be smelled on you.
I am the opening of the wounds of your suffering,
the agony of your torment.
Ah, how far, O Son of God,
has your humility lowered itself?

SWV 309 – O misericordissime Jesu


Schütz appears to have patched this text together. It contains excerpts from two different prayers (here and here) by Pseudo-Augustine in the eighth section of Musculus’ compilation of prayers (one perhaps traces back to the aforementioned de Fécamp, the other perhaps to Anselm of Canterbury, d. 1109). There are also phrases found in Melchior Franck’s three-part motet “O bone Jesu” (1604), which in turn borrows from Chapter 25 of Bonaventure’s Vitis Mystica (The Mystical Vine), among other sources. (In the Patrologia Latina, Vitis Mystica is included with works by Bernard of Clairvaux, but Migne does preface the work by saying that it is not by Bernard.) The thoughts of the text are variously expressed in the Psalms, especially in 25, 31, 37, 86, and 143. The reference to Jesus’ name alludes to Matthew 1:21.

Published: Kleine Geistliche Konzerte II (Leipzig, 1639)

O misericordissime Jesu,
O dulcissime Jesu,
O gratiosissime Jesu,
O Jesu, salus in te sperantium,
O Jesu, salus in te credentium,
O Jesu, salus ad te confugientium,
O Jesu, dulcis remissio omnium peccatorum,
O Jesu, propter nomen sanctum tuum,
salva me, ne peream.
O Jesu, miserere,
dum tempus est miserendi,
neque me damnes
in tempore judicandi.
Si enim admisi,
unde me damnare potes,
tu non amisisti,
unde me salvare potes.
Sis ergo mihi Jesus,
propter hoc nomen tuum,
et miserere mei,
fac mihi secundum hoc nomen tuum.
Respice me miserum
invocantem hoc nomen amabile tuum: Jesus.

O most merciful Jesus,
O sweetest Jesus,
O most gracious Jesus,
O Jesus, salvation of those who hope in you,
O Jesus, salvation of those who trust in you,
O Jesus, salvation of those who take refuge in you,
O Jesus, sweet remission of all sins,
O Jesus, for the sake of your holy name
save me, lest I perish.
O Jesus, have mercy,
while there is still time to show mercy,
and do not condemn me
when it comes time to judge.
For if I am guilty,
which is why you are able to condemn me,
you have pardoned,
which is why you are able to save me.
May you therefore be for me a Jesus,
for the sake of this your name,
and have mercy on me;
deal with me according to this your name.
Take note of me, wretch that I am,
as I invoke this your lovely name: Jesus.

SWV 310 – Ich liege und schlafe


This text follows Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 3:5-8.

Published: Kleine Geistliche Konzerte II (Leipzig, 1639)

Ich liege und schlafe,
und erwache,
denn der Herr hält mich.
Ich fürchte mich nicht
für viel Hunderttausenden,
die sich umher wider mich legen.
Auf, Herr, und hilf mir, mein Gott,
denn du schlägest alle meine Feinde auf den Backen,
und zerschmetterst der Gottlosen Zähne.
Bei dem Herren findet man Hülfe
und deinen Segen über dein Volk, Sela.

I lie down and sleep,
and awake,
for the Lord sustains me.
I am not afraid
of the many hundred thousands
who encamp against me all around.
Up, Lord, and help me, my God,
for you strike all my enemies on the cheek
and shatter the teeth of the godless.
With the Lord one finds help
and your blessing upon your people. Selah.

SWV 72 – Quid detur tibi


This text follows Jerome’s translation of Psalm 120:3,4 (119:3,4 in the Vulgate).

Published: Cantiones sacrae (Freiberg, 1625)

Quid detur tibi,
aut quid apponatur tibi
ad linguam dolosam?
Sagittae potentis acutae,
cum carbonibus desolatoriis.

What reward should you get,
or what more should be done to you
for a deceiful tongue?
The sharp arrows of a mighty man,
with coals that bring desolation.

SWV 294 – Eins bitte ich vom Herren


This text follows Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 27:4.

Published: Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten (Leipzig, 1636)

Eins bitte ich vom Herren,
das hätte ich gern,
daß ich im Hause des Herrn möge bleiben
mein Lebelang,
zu schauen die schönen Gottesdienst des Herren,
und seinen Tempel zu besuchen.

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I would like:
that I may remain in the house of the Lord
my entire life,
to behold the beautiful worship of the Lord
and to frequent his temple.

SWV 285 – O süßer, O freundlicher


Schütz took this text from part 2 of Martin Moller’s Meditations of the Holy Fathers (Görlitz, 1591).

Published: Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten (Leipzig, 1636)

O süßer, O freundlicher,
O gütiger Herr Jesu Christe,
wie hoch hast du uns elende Menschen geliebet,
wie theur hast du uns erlöset,
wie lieblich hast du uns getröstet,
wie herrlich hast du uns gemacht,
wie gewaltig hast du uns erhaben.
Mein Heiland, wie erfreuet sich mein Herz,
wenn ich daran gedenke,
denn je mehr ich daran gedenke,
je freundlicher du bist, je lieber ich dich habe.
Mein Erlöser, wie herrlich sind deine Wohlthaten,
die du uns erzeiget hast,
wie groß ist die Herrlichkeit,
die du uns bereitet hast.
O, wie verlanget meiner Seelen nach dir,
wie sehne ich mich mit aller Macht
aus diesem Elende
nach dem himmlischen Vaterland.
Mein Helfer, du hast mir mein Herz genommen
mit deiner Liebe,
daß ich mich ohn Unterlaß nach dir sehne.
Ach, daß ich bald zu dir kommen
und deine Herrlichkeit schauen sollte.

O sweet, O kind,
O gracious Lord Jesus Christ,
how deeply you have loved us miserable humans,
at what great cost you have redeemed us,
how sweetly you have comforted us,
how glorious you have made us to be,
how mightily you have exalted us!
My Savior, how my heart rejoices
when I reflect on this,
for the more I reflect on it,
the kinder you are, the more I love you.
My Redeemer, how glorious are the kindnesses
that you have shown us,
how great is the glory
that you have prepared for us!
O what a longing my soul has for you,
how I yearn with all my strength
to leave this exile
and go to my heavenly fatherland!
My Helper, you have captured my heart
with your love,
so that I yearn for you without ceasing.
O that I might come to you soon
and behold your glory!

SWV 336 – Quemadmodum desiderat cervus


Once again Schütz takes a text from Musculus’ compilation of prayers, this time from the sixteenth section, where Chapter 35 of Pseudo-Augustine’s Soliloquia Animae ad Deum is partially reproduced. These soliloquies – which are not to be confused with another genuine work by Augustine titled Soliloquia – comprise an anonymous work dating to around the 13th century (cf. Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina 40:894). Based on Psalm 42:1,2, this meditation also has strong allusions to Psalm 63:1; Matthew 25:21,23; Philippians 2:9-11; and Revelation 22:4,5.

Published: Kleine Geistliche Konzerte II (Leipzig, 1639)

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus
ad fontes aquarum,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te,
Deus clementissime et misericordissime.
Sitivit anima mea ad te,
Deum fontem vivum,
quando veniam
et apparebo ante faciem tuam?

O fons vitae, venum aquarum viventium,
quando veniam
ad aquas dulcedinis tuae?
Quando veniam
de terra invia et inaquosa,
ut videam virtutem tuam et gloriam tuam
et satiem ex aquis misericordiae tuae
sitim meam?

Sitio, Domine,
fons vitae, satia me,
sitio, Domine, sitio te, Deum vivum.
O quando veniam et apparebo,
Domine, ante faciem tuam?
O dies praeclara et pulchra,
nesciens vesperum,
non habens occasum,
in qua audiam vocem laudis,
vocem exultationis et confessionis,
in qua audiam:
Intra in gaudium Domini tui,
intra in gaudium sempiternum,
in domum Domini Dei tui.
O gaudium super gaudium,
gaudium vincens omne gaudium,
extra quod non est gaudium.

As the deer longs
for springs of water,
so longs my soul for you,
God most compassionate and merciful.
My soul has thirsted for you,
God, the living spring:
When shall I come
and appear before your face?

O Spring of life, Channel of living waters,
when shall I come
to the waters of your sweetness?
When shall I come
away from an impassable and waterless land
to see your virtue and your glory
and to satisfy from the waters of your mercy
my thirst?

I am thirsty, Lord;
Spring of life, satisfy me.
I thirst, Lord, I thirst for you, the living God.
O when shall I come and appear,
Lord, before your face?
O day gorgeous and beautiful,
not knowing any evening,
not having any sunset,
on which I shall hear the sound of praise,
the sound of exultation and confession,
on which I shall hear:
“Enter into the joy of your Lord,
enter into joy everlasting,
into the house of the Lord your God!”
O joy beyond joy,
O joy superior to every joy,
without which there is no joy!


Three Bach Cantatas


Preliminary Acknowledgment

These three cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) were recently performed by La Follia Austin Baroque. I was graciously given the opportunity to work with these cantatas in connection with this concert, for which I hereby express my deepest gratitude to the ensemble’s director. As a result of this work, my faith in my Savior Jesus was strengthened, as was my ability to express it, and my prayer is that readers of this post will experience the same benefit. I also wish to acknowledge the lovely performances in that concert by the singers and instrumentalists, especially of the arias.

BWV 151 – Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt


This cantata was first performed on December 27, the Third Christmas Day, in 1725. However, while it was the first time this text was set to Bach’s music, it was very likely not the first time this text had ever been set to music. Bach took this text from a book titled Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer (God-Pleasing Offering for Worship), written by Georg Christian Lehms (Darmstadt: Johann Levin Bachmann, 1711). In his foreword, Lehms said that he wrote the book for use in the city of Darmstadt, and that the plan was to have one of his pieces of poetry sung to accompaniment every Sunday and festival, and he wanted as many people as possible to have his book in front of them as the words were being sung so that they could, as he put it, “really fix the words into [their] soul.” That means it was most likely set to music by some composer in Darmstadt in 1711, or perhaps 1712, but that composer’s cantata setting is unknown…because that composer was not Johann Sebastian Bach.

This particular libretto by Lehms is based on the appointed Gospel from the Third Christmas Day, John 1:1-14, in which John, one of Jesus’ apostles, meditates on the mystery of the incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by the Son of God and his dwelling in our midst. Borrowing from John’s thoughts and others elsewhere in the Bible, Lehms puts himself as a representative Christian in the stable of Bethlehem, watching from a distance as Jesus is being born and applying to himself the beauty of the moment, and the profound, invisible, and eternally signficiant truths behind it.

Bach takes the meditations of that spectator in Bethlehem’s stable and makes them soar on the wings of music. You can watch a performance of his beautiful music here.

A few notes on the German text: In the opening aria, kömmt is simply an older variant of kommt, the regular third person, singular, present tense form; Lehms perhaps considered it a more poetic form (somewhat akin to cometh for comes in English). It is also important to note that, although many translations render the second line simply, “Jesus is now born,” wird geboren is an emphatic present passive construction – is being born – not a present perfect construction like ist geboren – is/has been born. This is underscored by the addition of anitzt, “under the present circumstances, at present, presently, now.”

Unless it was simply a hasty mistake (possible, but not likely), Bach made a telling change in the fourth movement, the tenor recitative. In the original, Lehms says that since Jesus has left his Father’s home out of love for us, we in turn desire “to let” (lassen) Jesus into our heart. I do not know the extent to which Lehms was influenced by Pietism or might have been a Pietist himself, but regardless, the language of “letting Jesus into one’s heart” is Pietistic language (and has carried over into much of modern day American Christianity). Bach changed lassen to fassen; instead of letting Jesus into our hearts, Bach has us fixing him more firmly, or framing him, in our hearts. In other words, Bach recognized that if we believe that Jesus is our Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell, Jesus is already there in our hearts through such faith (a fact which Pietism seemed to enjoy calling into doubt). But the more we consider Jesus’ self-giving love for us, the more we want to make sure he is fixed there firmly, stays there, and holds more sway there.

For the chorale, Lehms incorporated the final (eighth) stanza of Nicolaus Herman’s Christmas hymn, “Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich,” which is usually dated to 1560, when it first appeared in print in its complete form. However, a four-stanza version had already appeared in print around 1550, though with serious typographical errors.

1. Soprano Aria

Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt,
Jesus wird anitzt geboren!
Herz und Seele freuet sich,
Denn mein liebster Gott hat mich
Nun zum Himmel auserkoren.

Sweet comfort, my Jesus is coming;
Jesus is now being born!
Heart and soul rejoice,
for my God most dear has
now selected me for heaven.

2. Bass Recitative

Erfreue dich, mein Herz,
Denn itzo weicht der Schmerz,
Der dich so lange Zeit gedrücket.
Gott hat den liebsten Sohn,
Den er so hoch und teuer hält,
Auf diese Welt geschicket.
Er läßt den Himmelsthron
Und will die ganze Welt
Aus ihren Sklavenketten
Und ihrer Dienstbarkeit erretten.
O wundervolle Tat!
Gott wird ein Mensch und will auf Erden
Noch niedriger als wir und noch viel ärmer werden.

Be jubilant, my heart,
for now the pain departs
which has so long burdened you.
God has his Son most dear,
whom he so esteems and cherishes,
sent down to this world.
He leaves the throne of heaven
and will the entire world
from its chains of slavery
and its bondage deliver.
O marvelous deed!
God becomes a human, and wishes to become on earth
still lowlier than we and still far more wretched.

3. Alto Aria

In Jesu Demut kann ich Trost,
In seiner Armut Reichtum finden.
Mir macht desselben schlechter Stand
Nur lauter Heil und Wohl bekannt,
Ja, seine wundervolle Hand
Will mir nur Segenskränze winden.

In Jesus’ humility I can find comfort,
in his poverty, riches.
For me this man’s sorry state makes known
nothing but pure happiness and well-being;
yes, his marvelous hand
will only twine wreathes of blessing for me.

4. Tenor Recitative

Du teurer Gottessohn,
Nun hast du mir den Himmel aufgemacht
Und durch dein Niedrigsein
Das Licht der Seligkeit zuwege bracht.
Weil du nun ganz allein
Des Vaters Burg und Thron
Aus Liebe gegen uns verlassen,
So wollen wir dich auch
Dafür in unser Herze fassen.

O precious Son of God,
now you have opened heaven to me
and through your humiliation
the light of salvation have restored.
Since you now, all on your own,
the Father’s castle and throne
have left out of love toward us,
so we desire also,
in return, to frame you in our heart.

5. Chorale

Heut schleußt er wieder auf die Tür
Zum schönen Paradeis,
Der Cherub steht nicht mehr dafür,
Gott sei Lob, Ehr und Preis.

The door to paradise so fair
He op’ns again today,
No more a cherub guarding there—
To God all praises pay.

BWV 82 – Ich habe genung


Bach composed this cantata in preparation for the Festival of the Purification of Mary (sometimes also called the Presentation of Our Lord) in 1727, though he had already composed the second and third movements for his wife Anna Magdalena at least two years earlier. Since the Law of Moses pertaining to purification after childbirth said that the appropriate sacrifices were to be made 40 days after the birth (Leviticus 12:1-8), the Festival of the Purification was fixed on February 2 – 40 days after Christmas Day, counting inclusively.

In preparing this cantata, Bach as usual had the appointed Gospel reading for that festival in mind, Luke 2:22-32. Here is a portion of Martin Luther’s translation of that text, to which Bach would have referred:

And when the days of [Mary’s] purification arrived, according to the Law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… And behold, a man named Simeon was in Jerusalem, and he was pious and God-fearing and was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had first seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came into the temple at the instigation of the Spirit. And when the parents brought the child Jesus into the temple…he took him in his arms, praised God, and said, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, just as you said, for my eyes have seen your Savior, whom you have prepared before all peoples, a light to enlighten the heathens and for the glory of your people Israel.”

The particular libretto Bach selected especially seized and expanded upon the little word “now,” spoken by Simeon, and the contentment with which that word is positively dripping. Why was Simeon ready now? What was he now ready for and looking forward to? How can the peace and contentment conveyed in that word now be ours? And how might we put that resignation and contentment into our own words today?

In order to answer these questions, the as-yet unknown poet juxtaposes Simeon’s physical taking of the Christ into his arms, especially in view in the first half of the first movement, with our spiritual embracing of Christ through faith in him, which is in view in the subsequent movements. And Bach puts the poet’s resultant readiness, even eagerness, to face death to music. There is perhaps no better piece of music a Christian could be listening to, pondering, or singing as he or she dies than the aria constituting the third movement. You can watch a performance of this cantata here.

A few notes on the German text: The most discussed word in this cantata is usually the third – genung. Most performances and printings of the text today will use the modern genug, but it is clear that Bach himself, probably relying on his source text, consistently used the variant genung, which dates back to the 14th century and – according to the Deutsches Wörterbuch (1961), the definitive German language dictionary based on work begun by the Brothers Grimm in 1838 – “also appeared often enough in the 18th century both in prose and in verse.” Regarding the pronunciation, the Wörterbuch says:

[This form of this variant] is Middle German in the widest sense, including Franconia and the Rhine, but it also appears in Upper [i.e. Southern] German in isolated instances. It was pronounced genunk, which is also how it was written at first, for the form cannot be explained from the pronunciation standpoint of genûch or genŭch, but only from the standpoint of genŭk, which thus must also date back to the 14th century.

However, poets like Lessing (1729-1781) and Göthe (1749-1832) would occasionally rhyme genung with words like jung, suggesting that perhaps by the (late?) 18th century, when used, it did not retain its original pronunciation. Bach’s libretto does not help, since the word is not rhymed with anything, except perhaps itself. I personally cannot imagine Bach wanting the word to get lost in the back of the throat at the end of the phrase, especially considering its importance to the cantata’s message, and I therefore personally prefer the genunk pronunciation, although I have only heard it employed by one virtuoso (very beautifully, I might add).

As for the phrase “Ich habe genung” itself, the literal rendering “I have enough” communicates almost nothing clearly in English. The phrase is an idiomatic one in the biblical and liturgical context, which could be paraphrased, “There is nothing else I need and I am completely prepared to die.” Thus my rendering: “I am content.” There is some precedence for this; there is an Easter hymn titled, “Es ist genug,” that has been translated “I am content!”

Another mistake commonly made in translations is to render the first line of the fifth movement, “I rejoice in my death.” Sich freuen auf etw. (acc.) is an idiomatic phrase meaning “to look forward to/eagerly anticipate something.” A literal translation misses the full impact of this powerful expression of faith in Christ.

1. Bass Aria

Ich habe genung,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genung!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.
Ich habe genung.

I am content;
the Savior, the hope of the pious,
I have taken into my eager arms.
I am content!
I have beheld him;
my faith has pressed Jesus against my heart.
Now I wish—gladly were it yet today—
to depart from here.
I am content.

2. Bass Recitative

Ich habe genung.
Mein Trost ist nur allein,
Daß Jesus mein und ich sein eigen möchte sein.
Im Glauben halt ich ihn,
Da seh ich auch mit Simeon
Die Freude jenes Lebens schon.
Laßt uns mit diesem Manne ziehn.
Ach! möchte mich von meines Leibes Ketten
Der Herr erretten;
Ach! wäre doch mein Abschied hier,
Mit Freuden sagt ich, Welt, zu dir:
Ich habe genung.

I am content.
My comfort is just this alone,
that Jesus can be mine and I his very own.
In faith I hold him,
since I too see with Simeon
the joy of that life already.
Let us go with this man.
Ah! If only from the chains of my body
the Lord would deliver me.
Ah! Even if I were to depart right here,
gladly would I say, world, to you:
I am content.

3. Bass Aria

Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen,
Fallet sanft und selig zu!
Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier,
Hab ich doch kein Teil an dir,
Das der Seele könnte taugen.
Hier muß ich das Elend bauen,
Aber dort, dort werd ich schauen
Süßen Friede, stille Ruh.

Sleep sweetly, you weary eyes,
close gently and happily!
World, I will stay here no longer;
there is simply no part of you
that could be of use to my soul.
Here must I heap up misery,
but there, there shall I see
sweet peace, quiet rest.

4. Bass Recitative

Mein Gott! wann kömmt das schöne: Nun!
Da ich im Friede fahren werde
Und in dem Sande kühler Erde
Und dort bei dir im Schoße ruhn?
Der Abschied ist gemacht,
Welt, gute Nacht.

My God, when is that beautiful “Now!” coming
when I will depart in peace
and rest in the sand of the cool earth
and there with you in your embrace?
My farewell has been said,
world, good night.

5. Bass Aria

Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod,
Ach, hätt er sich schon eingefunden.
Da entkomm ich aller Not,
Die mich noch auf der Welt gebunden.

I look forward to my death—
ah, had it but arrived already!
There shall I escape all the trouble
which has as yet confined me to the world.

BWV 8 – Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben


The early 16th century Scottish poet William Dunbar, in his famous “Lament for the Makars,” writes:

Since there for death is rem’dy none,
Best is that we for death dispone,
After our death that live may we.
The fear of death discomfits me.

In this cantata, Bach attempts to help his audience do just that—dispone or prepare for death. He composed it in preparation for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1724, which fell on September 24 that year. In preparing it, he once again had the appointed Gospel reading for that Sunday in mind, Luke 7:11-17. Here is a portion of Martin Luther’s translation of that text:

But as [Jesus] was drawing near the town gate [of Nain], behold, a dead man was being carried out who was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and many people from the town were accompanying her. And when the Lord saw her, he was grieved for her and said to her, “Don’t cry.” And he stepped forward and touched the coffin, and the pallbearers stopped, and he said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and he gave him to his mother.

With that concept in mind of Jesus bringing comfort in the midst of death and its sorrow, Bach selected a libretto for his cantata that was based on a hymn written around 1690 by Kaspar Neumann, who had been a well-known Lutheran pastor in Breslau, Silesia – today Wrocław, Poland. Even though only the first and fifth stanza of Neumann’s hymn are incorporated word for word as the first and last movements of the cantata, the other movements, written by an as-yet unknown poet, are based on all the intervening stanzas of Neumann’s hymn. One can therefore effectively argue that Kaspar Neumann is really ultimately responsible for all of the textual content of this cantata.

What Bach heard in this libretto, and in Neumann’s hymn on which it was based, was a personal meditation on Jesus’ words, “Don’t cry.”

Neumann first squarely confronts the fact that death is unavoidable, due to original sin—the teaching that we are not born with a blank slate, but a blackened one, and are therefore deserving of death and headed for death. Bach reflects Neumann’s expression of the inexorable countdown to death with a very clock-like rhythm in the first movement.

Neumann then acknowledges and addresses the fears that all people, including Christians, have as they consider the inevitable reality of death.

But then the voice of his faith in Christ takes over and Neumann concludes by expressing the serenity he is able to have in the face of death because of Christ’s saving work and his promise to raise the bodies of believers from death on the Last Day and bring them safely to his side.

You can read a rhyming translation of Neumann’s original hymn here.

1. Chorus

Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?
Meine Zeit läuft immer hin,
Und des alten Adams Erben,
Unter denen ich auch bin,
Haben dies zum Vaterteil,
Daß sie eine kleine Weil
Arm und elend sein auf Erden
Und denn selber Erde werden.

Dearest God, when will I die?
My time continually slips away,
and heirs of the old Adam,
among whom I too am included,
have this as their patrimony,
that they for a short while
are poor and miserable on earth
and then themselves turn into earth.

2. Tenor Aria

Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,
Wenn meine letzte Stunde schlägt?
Mein Leib neigt täglich sich zur Erden,
Und da muß seine Ruhstatt werden,
Wohin man so viel tausend trägt.

Why, my spirit, do you shudder at the thought
of when my final hour will strike?
My body draws closer to the earth each day,
and there must eventually be laid to rest,
where so many thousands are carried.

3. Alto Recitative

Zwar fühlt mein schwaches Herz
Furcht, Sorge, Schmerz:
Wo wird mein Leib die Ruhe finden?
Wer wird die Seele doch
Vom aufgelegten Sündenjoch
Befreien und entbinden?
Das Meine wird zerstreut,
Und wohin werden meine Lieben
In ihrer Traurigkeit
Zertrennt, vertrieben?

I confess my weak heart does feel
fear, worry, distress:
Where will my body find its rest?
Who is going to be the one
to free and unfasten my soul
from the yoke of sin imposed upon it?
What’s mine will be dispersed,
and where will my loved ones,
left behind in their sorrow,
be separated and scattered?

4. Bass Aria

Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!
Mich rufet mein Jesus: wer sollte nicht gehn?
Nichts, was mir gefällt,
Besitzet die Welt.
Erscheine mir, seliger, fröhlicher Morgen,
Verkläret und herrlich vor Jesu zu stehn.

No! Begone, you absurd, useless worries!
The one calling for me is my Jesus; who would not go?
Nothing I truly enjoy
is in the world’s possession.
Show yourself, blessed, joyful morning,
when I get to stand transfigured and glorious before Jesus.

5. Soprano Recitative

Behalte nur, o Welt, das Meine!
Du nimmst ja selbst mein Fleisch und mein Gebeine,
So nimm auch meine Armut hin;
Genug, daß mir aus Gottes Überfluß
Das höchste Gut noch werden muß,
Genug, dass ich dort reich und selig bin.
Was aber ist von mir zu erben,
Als meines Gottes Vatertreu?
Die wird ja alle Morgen neu
Und kann nicht sterben.

Go ahead, O world, keep what’s mine!
You’re already taking my flesh and my bones for yourself,
so take away, too, my poor possessions.
It’s enough that, out of God’s great bounty,
I still get to have the highest good;
it’s enough that I am rich and blessed there in heaven.
What really is there to inherit from me,
except my God’s paternal faithfulness?
That is new every single morning
and cannot die.

6. Chorale

Herrscher über Tod und Leben,
Mach einmal mein Ende gut,
Lehre mich den Geist aufgeben
Mit recht wohlgefaßtem Mut.
Hilf, daß ich ein ehrlich Grab
Neben frommen Christen hab
Und auch endlich in der Erde
Nimmermehr zuschanden werde!

Ruler over death and life,
make one day my end a good one;
teach me to give up my spirit
with truly calm and composed courage.
Grant that I have a decent grave
next to pious Christians
and also that at last, in the earth,
I nevermore be put to shame.


Luther Visualized 19 – In Decline

Luther’s Decline in Old Age

Left: Luther’s most infamous work, On the Jews and Their Lies (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1543). Right: Luther’s probably second-most infamous work, Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545). For more on the accompanying woodcut by Lucas Cranach, see #8 below.

Luther historians like Martin Brecht would have us “guard against too hastily explaining Luther’s actions in the last years of his life as the grumpiness of an old man.” But those who think this is too easy or simple an explanation have not fought the fight Luther had to fight or experienced his frustrations and disappointments. (Rf. Daniel Deutschlander’s brilliant treatment of the Christian’s struggles in the so-called golden years in The Theology of the Cross, pp. 187-193. Luther’s struggles were compounded many times over.) In a letter to Jakob Probst, bishop of Bremen, dated March 26, 1542, he wrote, “I am exhausted by age and work, ‘old, cold, and sorry to behold’ (as they say).” He closed by saying, “I have had enough of this life, or more accurately, of this extremely bitter death.”

Nevertheless, increasing cantankerousness in advancing age is an explanation, not an excuse. Two of his mounting frustrations in particular got the better of him in these years.

That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (Wittenberg: Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring, 1523).

Luther and the Jews
In 1523 Luther had written That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. In addition to defending himself against false rumors in it, he also attempted to win the Jews of his day as converts to the Christian gospel. He suspected that the reason more Jews hadn’t converted to Christianity up to that point was because the only Christianity they had been able to convert to was that of the pope and his followers. “[T]hey have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs and not humans; they have afforded them nothing more than to insult them and take their property. … I hope that, if we deal with the Jews in a friendly way and give them careful instruction from Holy Scripture, many of them will become true Christians and return to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and patriarchs.”

Luther then went on to demonstrate patiently and thoroughly that the Christian faith was indeed the faith of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. He thought it enough to convince the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah; the teaching of Jesus’ divinity could wait for the time being. “For they have been led astray so badly and for such a long time that we must proceed cautiously with them… If we want to help them, then we must not practice the pope’s law with them but the law of Christian love, receiving them cordially and permitting them to trade and work with us. That way they will acquire the occasion and opportunity to be with us and around us and to hear and witness our Christian teaching and living.” He even joked that the papists might now begin to denounce him as a Jew as a result of the book.

Judensau, sandstone relief on the exterior of the parish church chancel in Wittenberg, c. 1304 (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2013).

Indeed, this book is remarkable when placed in the context of Luther’s thoroughly anti-Semitic culture. To this day you can visit the parish church in Wittenberg and see an anti-Semitic sandstone relief on the southeast corner of the building, called the Judensau or Jewish Sow, which preceded Luther’s arrival in Wittenberg by more than 200 years. It depicts Jewish boys suckling from a sow – an unclean animal in the Jewish religion (rf. Leviticus 11:1-8) – and a Jewish rabbi looking into the sow’s rear end to read the Talmud. This characterizes the world in which Luther grew up, lived, and worked.

But Luther’s hopes for the conversion of many Jews – hopes he also expressed in a letter he wrote to his friend Bernhard, a baptized Jew, in May or June 1523 – were not realized, and he grew increasingly frustrated with them on the whole. In part, his disappointments were fueled by reports and rumors about the Jews originating with Jewish converts to Christianity. After receiving and reading an unidentified treatise containing a dialogue between a Jew and a Christian in an attempt to convert Christians to Judaism, Luther penned On the Jews and Their Lies (pictured at the head) at the end of 1542. The first two sections were relatively tame, but the third section is now infamous. In view of the frightful rumors surrounding their activity and their supposedly negative effect on the economy, Luther advised the following (directly quoted from the book):

  1. to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn…
  2. that their houses also be razed and destroyed. … Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies.
  3. that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings…be taken from them.
  4. that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.
  5. that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.
  6. that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. … Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest.
  7. putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow… But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., if they had to serve and work for us…then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc. [further proof of the anti-Semitic world in which Luther lived], compute with them how much their usury has extorted from us, divide this amicably, but then eject them forever from the country.

Martin Sasse, Regional Bishop of Thuringia, ed., Martin Luther on the Jews: Away with Them!, a 1938 pamphlet defending the events of the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).

Not surprisingly, this work was later utilized by Hitler and the Nazis to try and attract Christians to their cause.

On the one hand, it is folly merely to equate Luther’s religious post-judice (frustration resulting from the Jews’ rejection of the gospel) with Hitler and the Nazi leaders’ racial prejudice (fundamental disdain for the Jewish ethnicity). On the other hand, especially if we are Lutheran, we must acknowledge two things:

  1. The deep contradiction in Luther’s own theology, not only when compared to what he condemned and advocated in his earlier and better 1523 work, but also when compared to his previous assertions about the distinction between Church and State and the roles of each. For example, in his Admonition to Peace (1525) he had written that “no ruler ought to prevent anyone from teaching or believing what he pleases, whether it is the gospel or lies. It is enough if he prevents the teaching of sedition and rebellion.” But in On the Jews and Their Lies Luther tries to defend and advance Christ’s kingdom using the power of worldly government, even though Christ himself said his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
  2. Even supposing that it were biblical to enlist the power of the State in defending and advancing Christ’s kingdom, Luther’s advice in this work would still be unchristian and abominable. How could such treatment ever win hearts, which is what Christianity is always after?

Luther and the Pope
This series has already covered Luther’s biblical conviction of the papacy as the Antichrist. In February and March 1545 Luther gave full, unrestrained vent to his pent-up frustrations with the pope, who had already convoked the Council of Trent (rf. woodcut #3 below). The result was Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil (pictured at the head), printed at the end of March.

While he was working on this book, he also designed a series of ten depictions of the papacy—not in the sense of drawing them himself, but in the sense of describing what he wanted artist Lucas Cranach to produce for him. He also composed a short poem, consisting of two distichs, to accompany each one. Cranach then created the woodcuts according to Luther’s designs and had them published with a Latin title at the top and Luther’s poem at the bottom of each. Today this collection of woodcuts is called Abbildung des Papsttums, or Portrayal of the Papacy. They consist of the following, with Luther’s corresponding poem as the caption of each:

1. Birth and Origin of the Pope – A she-devil gives birth to the pope and cardinals. In the background on the right Megaera, one of the Furies in Greek mythology (the Furies executed the curses pronounced on criminals), serves as the baby pope’s wet-nurse. Alecto, another of the Furies, serves as his nursemaid, rocking him and feeding him honey. Tisiphone, the last of the Furies, teaches the toddler pope to walk. Luther himself criticized Cranach for depicting the pope’s birth so crudely, saying that he should have been more considerate of the female sex.

Hier wird geborn der Widerchrist
Megera sein Seugamme ist:
Alecto sein Kindermegdlin
Tisiphone die gengelt jn.

2. The Monster of Rome, Found Dead in the Tiber River in 1496 – This was actually a reprint of a 1523 woodcut by Cranach. The births of freaks or “monsters” in Luther’s day were viewed as evil omens or signs (informative post on this here). So when Melanchthon found out about an alleged monster that had been found dead in the Tiber River in 1496 with head of a donkey, the body of a woman, the skin of a fish, different kinds of feet, and so on (see all the details in the woodcut), and shared it with Luther, Luther of course took it as a sign that God was telling people what the bishop of Rome had become. This depiction was commonly called der Papstesel, the pope-ass, which also unfortunately became the common way not a few German evangelicals referred to the pope.

Was Gott selbs von dem Bapstum helt
Zeigt dis schrecklich bild hie gestelt:
Dafür jederman grawen solt
Wenn ers zu hertzen nemen wolt.

3. The Pope Gives a Council in Germany – The council initially announced in 1536 (the announcement that prompted the Smalcald Articles of 1537) was finally convened by the pope in Trento—a city at the time in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation—in December 1545, the now infamous Council of Trent. However by that time Luther and his followers had given up all hope of a council correcting Roman doctrine and practice and restoring the relationship between the Roman Church and the Lutherans. Here the pope giving a council is depicted as him riding a sow with a handful of his own waste in his hand, which the sow sniffs at greedily and to which the pope gives his paternal blessing. Basically Luther is saying that the pope views Germany as a sow which he can ride as he wishes and to which he can feed his waste—namely whatever decisions the council would render—and the pope expects Germany to be happy with all of it.

Saw du must dich lassen reiten.
Und wol sporen zu beiden seiten.
Du wilt han ein Concilium
Ja dafür hab dir mein merdrum:

4. The Pope as Doctor of Theology and Master of the Faith – Luther’s own biting poem beneath this woodcut says it all: “The pope alone can interpret the Scriptures and sweep out error—just as much as the ass alone can play the pipes and understand the notes correctly.”

Der Bapst kan allein auslegen
Die schrifft: und jrthum ausfegen
Wie der Esel allein pfeiffen
Kan: und die noten recht greiffen.

5. The Pope Thanks the Emperors for the Immense Benefits He Has Received – Pope Clement IV is depicted as beheading Conradin of Hohenstaufen (1252-1268), King of Sicily and Naples. Clement doubtless did not perform the execution himself, but was responsible for it. Luther used this as a metaphor for the pope’s ingratitude for all the benefits that had been given to the papacy by the emperors over the years.

Gros gut die Kaiser han gethan
Dem Bapst: und ubel gelegt an.
Dafür jm der Bapst gedanckt hat
Wie dis bild dir die warheit sagt.

6. Here the Pope, Obedient to St. Peter, Pays Honor to the King – This woodcut, not pictured here, also was not included in some editions of the collection. It shows the pope placing his foot on the neck of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and so the title is clearly sarcastic. The apostle Peter says to submit to kings and honor them (1 Peter 2:13,17), but the pope, who is the supposed successor of St. Peter, does the opposite. Luther’s accompanying poem reads: “Here the pope openly shows by his deeds that he is the enemy of God and men. What God creates and wants to have honored, the most holy man tramples with his feet.”

7. The Just Rewards of the Most Satanic Pope and His Cardinals – In his poem, Luther said that if the pope and cardinals were to receive what they deserved in the form of earthly punishment (and not just the eternal punishment they can anticipate), this is what it would look like. The pope (on the far right) and three cardinals hang from a gallows. Because of their blasphemies against God and his word, their tongues are nailed to the gallows next to their heads (the hangman is in the process of nailing the pope’s tongue to the crosspiece). Demons receive their souls and carry them away.

Wenn zeitlich gestrafft solt werden:
Bapst und Cardinel auff erden,
Jr lesterzung verdienet het:
Wie jr recht hie gemalet steht.

8. The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope (2 Thessalonians 2) – This is by far the most famous of the woodcuts, since it was also used for the title page of Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil. The pope, with long donkey ears, sits enthroned in the jaws of hell and is waited on by various demons.

Jn aller Teufel namen sitzt
Alhie der Bapst: offenbart jtzt:
Das er sey der recht Widerchrist
So in der schrift verkündigt ist:

9. Here the Kissing of the Pope’s Feet Is Taunted – The pope is holding his ban or excommunication, which is emanating rays. In order to avoid having the ban fall upon them, these two peasants have been summoned to kiss the pope’s feet in repentance. Instead they curse his ban (“Maledetta” is Italian for “damned or accursed thing”), turn around to leave, moon him (in his poem, Luther calls this showing the pope the “Bel vedere,” Italian for “beautiful sight”), and pass gas at him as they go.

Nicht Bapst: nicht schreck uns mit deim bann
Und sey nicht so zorniger man.
Wir thun sonst ein gegen wehre
Und zeigen dirs Bel vedere.

10. The Pope Is Worshipped As an Earthly God – On a podium (altar?) decorated with the papal keys (which, however, are mere skeleton keys, showing that they have no power, because the pope does not use them according to Christ’s institution) sits an inverted papal tiara or crown. A peasant is defecating into it, while another one gets ready to do so. Luther’s poem for this woodcut reads: “The pope has done to Christ’s kingdom as they are treating his crown here. ‘Pay her back double,’ says the Spirit [in Revelation 18:6]. ‘Go ahead and fill it up’ [a play on his own translation of Rev 18:7]—it is God who says so.” To paraphrase: After all the “crap” the pope, as fallen Babylon, has given you true Christians, put twice as much crap in his crown for him to wear.

Bapst hat dem reich Christi gethon
Wie man hie handelt seine Cron. (Apo. 18)
Machts jr zweifeltig. spricht der geist
Schenkt getrost ein: Got ists ders heist

It will come as no surprise that, as went the woodcuts, so went the book. Luther speaks the truth, but he does so in such incredibly crude and indefensible ways that he must fall under the apostle Paul’s judgment of being “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Here is a characteristic excerpt:

This, this, this is how one should lie and blaspheme if he wants to be a real pope. Dear God, what a completely and exceedingly brazen and blasphemous lying yapper the pope is. He speaks just as though there were no one on earth who knew that the four chief councils, and many others besides, were held without the Roman Church. Instead he thinks this way: “Since I am an uncivilized ass and do not read books, then there must not be anyone in the world who reads them. But when I sound out my assy braying – Hee-aw! Hee-aw! [German: Chika, Chika] – or if I just let out an ass fart, then they had better regard it all as an article of faith. If not, then Saints Peter and Paul, yes, God himself will be angry with them.” For God is not God anymore; there is only the Ass-God in Rome, where the great, uncivilized asses (the pope and the cardinals) ride on asses that are better than they.

It should go without saying that no Lutheran wears that badge because he worships Luther or thinks he was inspired by the Holy Spirit or without sin. Lutherans wear that badge because of Luther’s Christo-centric theology with its emphasis on grace, faith in Christ, and the authority of Holy Scripture.

Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, fünfter Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1828), pp. 450-452 (no. 2056)

Woodcuts and distichs from Abbildung des Papsttums in Ein Buch allerlei Rüstung von der Hand darein zu schreiben geistlich und weltlich, pp. 42-59

Helmar Junghans, Wittenberg als Lutherstadt, 2nd ed. (Union Verlag Berlin, 1982), picture #10

Helmut T. Lehmann and Eric W. Gritsch, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 41:257ff

Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962), 45:195ff

Helmut T. Lehmann and Robert C. Schultz, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 46:22

Helmut T. Lehmann and Franklin Sherman, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Martin H. Bertram (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 47:121ff, esp. pp. 137,268ff

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 112-113

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 229-235, 333-351, 357-367

Martin Luther, Das Jhesus Christus eyn geborner Jude sey (Wittenberg: Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring, 1523)

Martin Luther, Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545)

St. Louis Edition of Luther’s Works 20:1822-1825

Luther Visualized 18 – Physical Appearance

Martin Luther’s Physical Appearance

Luther historian E. G. Schwiebert wrote that Lucas Cranach’s “zeal in reproducing the Reformer outstripped his talent,” and called it “most regrettable” that Luther was never sketched or painted by a more talented artist like Albrecht Dürer or Hans Holbein the Younger (p. 571). However, while Cranach’s reproductions are not exactly photographic, he and the members of his studio were certainly not lacking in skill.

Apart from Cranach’s reproductions of the man, which began in 1520, there was, to our knowledge, only one earlier depiction of him, an anonymous woodcut (#9 below) on the title page of Ein Sermon geprediget tzu Leipßgk uffm Schloß am tag Petri un pauli ym .xviiij. Jar / durch den wirdigen vater Doctorem Martinum Luther augustiner zu Wittenburgk (A Sermon Preached at the Castle in Leipzig on the Day of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Year [15]19 by the Worthy Father, Doctor Martin Luther, Augustinian in Wittenberg), printed by Wolfgang Stöckel in Leipzig. Both this woodcut, originally printed in reverse, and another anonymous woodcut, not included in this post, are consistent with Schwiebert’s assertion that for “the first thirty-eight years of his life [up until 1521] he was extremely thin” (p. 573). The latter woodcut is consistently depicted but erroneously cited in Luther biographies (e.g. Schwiebert, p. 574, where he calls it the “earliest known likeness” without citation or proof, and Brecht, vol. 1, p. 412, where he gives an erroneous source, as evidenced from the actual source he cites, whose woodcut is based on #1 below).

As for the reproductions originating with Cranach and his studio in Wittenberg during Luther’s lifetime (#8 excepted), they can be classified into 8 groups (medium and year[s] that the depictions originated and flourished in parentheses):

  1. Luther the Monk (copper engraving, 1520; variously copied and embellished by a number of artists)
  2. Luther the Doctor of Theology (paintings, c. 1520; copper engraving, 1521)
  3. Luther as Junker Jörg (paintings and woodcut, 1521-1522)
  4. Luther the Husband (paintings, 1525 & 1526)
  5. The Classic Luther (paintings, 1528-1529)
  6. Luther the Professor (paintings, 1532-1533)
  7. Luther the Aging Man (paintings, 1540-1541)
  8. Luther on His Deathbed (painting based on Lukas Fortennagel’s sketch of the dead Luther, 1546)

The other three visual depictions included below are the already mentioned anonymous woodcut (#9), a sketch of Luther lecturing by Johann Reifenstein (#10), and Fortennagel’s already mentioned painting (#11). Scroll down beneath the engravings, woodcuts, and paintings for more on Luther’s appearance.

1. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk, copper engraving, 1520. The caption reads: “The eternal images of his mind Luther himself expresses, while the wax of Lucas expresses the perishable looks.”

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther with Doctor’s Cap, copper engraving, 1521. The caption reads: “The work of Lucas. This is a transient depiction of Luther; the eternal depiction of his mind he himself expresses.”

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk with Doctor’s Cap, oil on panel, c. 1520 (erroneous “1517” in the upper left-hand corner); housed in a private collection. These paintings circa 1520 are lesser known and therefore both are included here.

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on panel, c. 1520, since transferred to canvas; housed in the Lutherhaus Museum in Wittenberg.

3. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as Junker Jörg [Squire George], oil on beechwood, 1521-1522; housed in the Weimar Classics Foundation. Martin Luther likely posed for this painting during his secret trip to Wittenberg in the first half of December 1521, but cf. next image.

3. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as Junker Jörg, woodcut, 1522. The Latin superscription accompanying this woodcut read: “The image of Martin Luther, portrayed as he appeared when he returned from Patmos [Luther’s own biblical nickname for the Wartburg Castle] to Wittenberg.”

4. Lucas Cranach, Portraits of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, oil on beechwood, 1525; housed in the Basel Art Museum.

4. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Portraits of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, oil on beechwood, 1525-1526; housed in the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster.

5. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on panel, 1528; housed in the Art Collections of the Veste Coburg. Cf. the similar painting in the Lutherhaus Museum.

6. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on beechwood, 1533; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. The prototype for this painting, done on parchment in 1532 and housed in Drumlanrig Castle in Thornhill, Scotland, is one of Cranach’s boldest and finest depictions of Luther.

7. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Martin Luther, oil on panel, c. 1541; housed in the Lutherhaus Museum, Wittenberg.

8. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Martin Luther on His Deathbed, oil on oak, 1546; housed in the Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover. See commentary above.

9. Anonymous, Doctor Martin Lutter [sic] Augustinian, woodcut, 1519. See commentary above.

10. Johann Reifenstein, Luther lecturing in the classroom, sketch, 1545. The inscription was added in 1546 by Melanchthon. It begins with oft-quoted words of Luther: “While alive, I was your plague; when I die, I will be your death, O pope.” After some obituary-esque information, it concludes: “Even dead, he lives.”

11. Lukas Fortennagel, The Dead Luther, sketch, February 19, 1546.

While Cranach did have a virtual monopoly on Luther with regard to visual depictions, there are also written depictions that help us to complete our image of the man. Schwiebert gives the most complete treatment on the subject that I have read:

Vergerio, the papal nuncio, noted that Luther had a heavy, well-developed bone structure and strong shoulders… The Swiss student Kessler accidentally met Luther at the Hotel of the Black Bear in Jena when Luther was returning to Wittenberg from the Wartburg, still dressed as a knight. Kessler wrote in his Sabbata that Luther walked very “erect, bending backwards rather than forwards, with face raised toward heaven.” Erasmus Alber, the table companion, described Luther as well-proportioned and spoke of his general appearance in highest praise. …

One important aspect of his general appearance, noted by every observer, was Luther’s unusual eyes. Melanchthon made a casual remark that Luther’s eyes were brown and compared them to the eyes of a lion or falcon. Kessler, when he became Luther’s pupil, observed that his professor had “deep black eyes and brows, sparkling and burning like stars, so that one could hardly bear looking at them.” Erasmus Alber also likened them to falcon’s eyes. Melanchthon added the observation that the eyes were brown, with golden rings around the edges, as in the case of eagles or men of genius. Nikolaus Selnecker also compared Luther’s eyes to those of a hawk, falcon, fox, and eagle, having a fiery, burning sparkle. …

[Roman] Catholics, on the other hand, saw in these eyes diabolic powers. After the first meeting with Luther at Augsburg, [Cardinal] Cajetan would have no more to do with this man, the “beast with the deep-seated eyes,” because “strange ideas were flitting through his head.” Aleander wrote in his dispatches to the Pope that when Luther left his carriage at Worms, he looked over the crowd with “demoniac eyes.” Johannes Dantiscus, later a [Roman] Catholic bishop, visited Wittenberg in 1523 and noticed that Luther’s eyes were “unusually penetrating and unbelievably sparkling as one finds them now and then in those that are possessed.” His enemies also commonly compared him to a basilisk, that fabulous reptile which hypnotizes and slowly crawls upon its helpless prey. …

Another attribute which greatly enhanced Luther’s physical qualifications as a preacher and professor was his voice. It was clear, penetrating, and of pleasing timbre, which, added to its sonorous, baritone resonance, contributed much to his effectiveness as a public speaker. … Luther’s students enjoyed his classroom lectures because of the pleasing qualities of his delivery. Erasmus Alber added that he never shouted, yet his clear, ringing voice could easily be heard.

Cranach Digital Archive, combined with the power of Google

E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), pp. 571-576

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 318,412

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), Plates between pp. 14 & 15, and p. 378

Luther Visualized 17 – Smalcald Articles

The Smalcald Articles

MS (employed in Lucas Cranach’s studio), The Eighteenth Figure, woodcut, 1534.

This figure was printed immediately above Revelation 13 in the first edition of Luther’s translation of the entire Bible (1534). That chapter first describes a seven-headed beast coming out of the sea, representing civil government in its antichristian aspect, and then a beast coming out of the earth with two horns like the Lamb but speaking like the Dragon, representing the Antichrist himself. About the second beast, the apostle John says, “He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast… And he performs great signs so that he even makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men” (Rev 13:12,13). Notice that the artist portrayed the beast out of the earth wearing a monk’s cowl and cloak, as Lucas Cranach had in the 1522 New Testament.

At first Martin Luther was befuddled and frustrated about the refusal of the pope and his legates to hear him out and to join him in reforming the church on the basis of clear testimonies of Holy Scripture. But as he continued to study Scripture, he gradually came to a realization of what or whom he was actually up against. This growing suspicion was confirmed for him when on October 10, 1520, he received the pope’s bull (official decree) threatening his excommunication if he did not retract his teachings. The next day he wrote to his friend Georg Spalatin, the elector’s court secretary: “I feel much more free now that I am made certain that the pope is the Antichrist.”

Luther most clearly articulated his views on the Antichrist in the articles of faith he prepared in 1536 in preparation for a council that Pope Paul III had convoked, to be held in Mantua, Italy, in May 1537. Elector John Frederick had asked Luther to compose the articles on the Lutherans’ behalf. He wanted Luther to distinguish between articles of faith in which they could not yield anything without committing treason against God and his Word and articles in which they could perhaps yield something for the sake of Christian love without violating God’s word. But he also asked Luther for a confession that was clearer than the Augsburg Confession with respect to the pope.

Luther finished the rough draft in December 1536 and submitted it to seven other theologians. With very few changes it was unanimously adopted (though Melanchthon gave it a somewhat qualified subscription), and the elector was also pleased with it. The council never took place during Luther’s lifetime, but the confession Luther composed still gained widespread acceptance among Lutheran theologians in the following years. It became known as the Smalcald Articles because it was circulated and read at Schmalkalden by the large number of theologians and scholars that assembled there in February 1537. Even though it was never officially discussed or accepted there due to Melanchthon’s intrigues and Luther’s illness, Johannes Bugenhagen did present it to them for their voluntary, personal subscription after official business had been concluded, and 44 men signed it in all. It received official confessional status when it was included in the Book of Concord of 1580. (You can read it online here.)

MS (employed in Cranach’s studio), The Twenty-First Figure, woodcut, 1534. This image is based on Revelation 17. The great prostitute of Babylon, representing the unfaithful element within the visible Christian church, sits upon the seven-headed, ten-horned beast (Rev 13:1-10). In her left hand she holds “a golden cup…full of abominations and the filth of her adulteries” (17:4). Note also the triple-tiered papal tiara on her head.

The Smalcald Articles stand out in at least three ways. First, Luther presents the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone as the core of Scripture from which all other scriptural doctrine emanates and radiates. Second, he also gave a clearer confession about the Lord’s Supper than even the Augsburg Confession did. And third, he also gave a clear confession about the bishop of Rome. He wrote:

[T]here stand all [the pope’s] bulls and books, in which he roars like a lion…that no Christian can be saved without being obedient and subject to him in all that he wishes, all that he says, all that he does. … All of this powerfully demonstrates that he is the true christ of the end times or Antichrist, who has opposed and exalted himself over Christ [cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4]. For he will not permit Christians to be saved apart from his power, even though his power is nothing, neither established nor commanded by God. … Finally, it is nothing but the devil himself at work when [the pope] pushes his lies about masses, purgatory, the monastic life, and human works and worship [cf. Mark 7:6-8] (which is in fact the essence of the papacy) over and against God, and condemns, kills, and harasses all Christians who do not exalt and honor this abomination of his above all things.

Lucas Cranach’s Studio, woodcut opposite Chapter 11 of Revelation in the September 1522 edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament (left) and the December 1522 edition (right). Note the difference between the beast’s crown in each.

Once Luther was convinced that the Roman papacy was the Antichrist, he wasted no time making it known in his writings and using the artist at his disposal, Lucas Cranach, to reinforce it visually. He had Cranach portray “the beast that comes up from the Abyss” with the triple-tiered papal tiara to accompany Revelation 11 in the first edition (September 1522) of his translation of the New Testament. Probably at the complaint of the Imperial Council of Regency (Reichsregiment), the papal tiara had to be replaced in the second edition (December 1522) by a simple crown.

MS (employed in Cranach’s studio), The Fifteenth Figure, woodcut, 1534. This image corresponds to Cranach’s images from 1522 above.

However, when Luther’s translation of the entire Bible was being prepared for publication in 1534, and the as-yet-unidentified MS from Cranach’s workshop was preparing woodcuts for it based in large part on Cranach’s previous woodcuts, the triple-tiered papal tiara was restored. (See image on the right.)

Christoph Walther, a proofreader and typesetter in Hans Lufft’s print shop in Wittenberg, confirmed that Luther wasn’t just responsible for the translation, but also for much of the artwork:

Luther himself dictated to some extent how the figures in the Wittenberg Bible were supposed to be depicted and portrayed, and demanded that the content of the text be portrayed and depicted in the simplest way, and he would not tolerate anything superfluous or useless that did not benefit the text getting smeared in with the rest.

Lucas Cranach’s Studio, woodcut opposite Chapter 17 of Revelation in the September 1522 edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament (left) and the December 1522 edition (right). Note the difference between the prostitute’s crown in each. These images were the basis for MS’s The Twenty-First Figure above.

Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, erster Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1825), pp. 238ff (no. 127), 419f (no. 204), 494f (no. 262)

Friedrich Bente, Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 109-138

Hans Lietzmann, Heinrich Bornkamm, et al., eds., Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955), pp. xxiv-xxvii

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 46-56

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 95-102,178-185

Stephan Füssel, Die Luther-Bibel von 1534: Ein kulturhistorische Einführung (Cologne: Taschen, 2012), pp. 43-44,61

The September (New) Testament (1522)

The December (New) Testament (1522)

Biblia / das ist / die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch: Das Newe Testament (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1534)

“Die Schmalkaldischen Artikel” in the Weimarer Ausgabe, vol. 50, pp. 160ff, esp. pp. 213ff

Luther Visualized 16 – Busyness and Health

Luther’s Busyness and Ill Health

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Predella of the Reformation Altar in Wittenberg, oil on panel, 1547.

The painting shows Luther preaching, of which he did plenty. From May 1528 to June 1529 and from October 1530 to April 1532, for example, the parish church’s regular pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen, was on leave introducing the Reformation in cities like Brunswick (Braunschweig), Hamburg, and Lübeck, and Luther had to take over his preaching duties in the meantime. Toward the end of 1531, Luther told his table companions, “I am extremely busy. Four people are relying on me, and each one of them was in need of someone all to him- or herself. I’m supposed to preach four times during the week, lecture twice, marriage cases need to be heard and letters need to be written, plus I’m supposed to work on books for publication.”

The pulpit from which Luther preached thousands of sermons in the Wittenberg parish church, today housed in the Lutherhaus museum in Wittenberg (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2013). The two reliefs are of the apostles and evangelists Matthew (left) and John (right).

Several details in the Cranach painting above merit further comment. The writing in Luther’s Bible is indistinct; regardless of his sermon text, he can and ought to point his audience to Jesus (John 5:39). The audience consists of people of every age; the gospel of Jesus is for all (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15; Luke 18:15-17). Cranach painted himself in the front of the male audience; he viewed the message of Christ crucified for sinners as one needed by him first (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15,16). Katy and little Hans Luther are in the front of the female audience; even the reformer’s son needed to be restrained and taught to stay still and listen. In spite of the fact that the great reformer himself is preaching, there are still some in the audience paying attention to the “picture-taker” and not to God’s Word. At his table in the evening of December 26, 1531, Luther told his companions, “My preaching is useless. It’s like a man who sings in a forest to the trees and hears only the glad-sounding echo in return.” And yet, as he went on to say, “although many people badmouth [gospel preaching], it is still good to preach Christ for the sake of the few who do not.”

In addition to the strain of his professional duties and callings as husband and father, Luther also suffered at various times from the following health issues:

  • Periods of depression occasioned by personal doubts, disease and death in his circle of family and friends, disturbances in the church, and the other health problems in this list
  • Constipation
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Ménière’s (pronounced mane-YAIRZ) disease
  • Recurring dizzy and fainting spells (likely caused by the previous)
  • Soreness in his teeth and throat
  • Recurring kidney stones (the most famous instance in February 1537)
  • Gallstones
  • Abscess on the lower part of one of his legs
  • Recurring colds
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe heart attack in December 1536
  • Dysentery
  • Abscess on his neck
  • Recurring headaches toward the end of his life
  • Gout
  • Arthritis
  • Loss of sight in one eye (cataract?)
  • Exacerbation of health issues from ill-advised treatments

Luther had definitely abused his body earlier in his life with, for example, his excessive fasting in the monastery. His life then changed drastically when he got married and went from not taking good care of himself to eating regular homemade meals prepared by his wife—a change to which his body probably never completely adjusted. But ultimately, it was the Lord who used these recurring health issues to keep Luther from becoming conceited, to show him the all-sufficiency of his grace, and to demonstrate that his power is made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), pp. 580,581,748-750

Kurt K. Hendel, Johannes Bugenhagen: Selected Writings, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), pp. 33-53

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 204-211,429-433

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 21-23,185-188,229-235

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 1:73, no. 154; 2:417-418, no. 2320

Martin Luther’s Favorite Christmas Hymn?

This woodcut was printed on the page before the hymns “Dies est laetitiae” and “Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich” in the 1535 edition of Luther’s Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert.

The final section of the 1535 Wittenberg edition of Martin Luther’s Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert (Spiritual Songs, Improved Edition), and possibly also of its no-longer-extant 1529 predecessor, was prefaced, “Here follow several hymns composed by the ancients.” The next page read:

These songs of old on the following pages we have also compiled as a testament to several pious Christians who lived before our time in the great darkness of false doctrine, so that you can see how there have still been people at all times who have known Christ rightly and quite amazingly persevered in that knowledge by God’s grace.

The section opens with the Latin Christmas hymn “Dies est leticiae” (Dies est laetitiae) in four stanzas, immediately followed by a loose German translation of that hymn under the title “Der tag der ist so frewden reich” (Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich). The first two stanzas of the German hymn read as follows:

Der tag der ist so frewden reich
aller creature
Denn Gottes Son von himel reich
uber die nature
Von einer jungfraw ist geporn
Maria du bist aus erkorn
das du mutter werest
was geschach so wunderleich?
Gottes Son von himel reich
der ist mensch geporen.

Ein kindelein so löbelich
ist uns geporen heute
Von einer jungfraw seuberlich
zu trost uns armen leuten
Wer uns das kindlein nicht geporn
so wer wir all zumal verlorn
das heil ist unser alle
Ey du süsser Jhesu Christ
das du mensch geporen bist
behüt uns für der helle.

Even though the hymn includes two more stanzas, these first two are the most significant. Each might have appeared independently of the other, and each was often used as its own hymn at first. The second stanza, for instance, was sung by itself after Luther’s sermon on Christmas Eve in 1531.

In fact, one could easily surmise that the second stanza was Luther’s favorite Christmas hymn. He quoted it at least five times in his Christmas sermons. He was no doubt responsible for the paragraph above which cited this hymn, among others, as proof of the perpetuation of the correct knowledge of Christ even in the darkness of the papacy. In the just-mentioned 1531 Christmas Eve sermon, the first of a series on Isaiah 9:6, he quoted it and then commented:

But no one knows what’s being sung. You should be able to sing this song from the heart and not snore so much while you’re singing it, like the world does. It is taken right from the prophet Isaiah.

The following year, in his morning sermon on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, he commented on the hymn more extensively:

Now the angels point to him with their song [like the prophets did in their writings] as the one who does it all and in whom all that we need is found. Their song beats back all the devils who wish to lead people to salvation in a different way. If this newborn child is the Savior, then the Franciscan, Augustinian, and Carthusian orders are most certainly not.

And actually the whole world has cried out against Mary and the priests and monastic orders, and the priests and monks themselves have sung against her at their altars and cried for judgment on their own necks, and we did too. And still today the angel’s words, “A Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord,” are sung in all the churches in the beautiful song “For Us Today Is Born a Child [Ein Kindelein so löbelich].” For what do we sing? “Were he not born, we all had dwelled In fear and fire, from God expelled— Salvation’s ours forever!”

And what does that mean—“we all had dwelled”? Whoever composed this song was a spiritual man, and everyone, both young and old, sings his song. It is a song that glorifies and praises Christ and cries for judgment on all the monks and priests, since when it says “we all had dwelled,” it includes them too. Therefore throughout the world a public judgment of condemnation is sung by every mouth against those who lead people away from Christ, yet no one was able to realize this and no one still does. It is sung everywhere.

Therefore, as I have often urged you, ask God to provide faithful preachers, otherwise, unless he himself should rouse the people, we will keep on singing and reciting those words, but we will not understand them. They are supposed to be aroused in the sermon, from the Gospel, from the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the sacraments, and the canticles. Even the adversaries have all these things that we have—baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, the angel’s song, and the child in the manger. But since they are lacking a man in the pulpit who will open the people’s eyes and make the words in the text clear, so that they know what it says, they consequently have these things in a manner of speaking, but they do not really have them.

Both stanzas date back to at least the early 15th century, and the tune likewise dates to the same century. The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) included W. Gustave Polack’s 1940 translation “Hail the Day So Rich in Cheer” (#78). The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELS, 1996) also includes it (#131) with a livelier version of the tune, stanza 1 being an altered version of Polack’s translation – “Now Hail the Day So Rich in Cheer” – and stanza 2 an altered version of a translation by C. Døving (1867-1937). The Hymnary’s version did have some influence on my translation below.

This hymn deserves to be resurrected in any circles in which it is not currently popularized. The content is rich, and especially the Hymnary’s setting of the traditional tune is both very joyful (and thus a fitting reflection of the text) and eminently singable.

This Day! So Filled with High Delight
A new translation of Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich and Ein Kindelein so löbelich

1. This day! So filled with high delight
For ev’ry earthborn creature!
God’s Son, from realms of heav’nly light
Beyond the world of nature,
Is born into the human race
Of Mary, God’s own choice of grace
To be the virgin mother.
What awesome, wondrous deed is this?
God’s Son, from realms of heav’nly bliss,
Came down to be our brother!

2. For us today is born a child,
A perfect son so peerless,
Of Mary, fair maid undefiled,
To cheer mankind so cheerless.
Were he not born, we all had dwelled
In fear and fire, from God expelled—
Salvation’s ours forever!
To you, sweet Jesus, glory be
For sharing in humanity!
Let hell subdue us never!

Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary Handbook

The Free Lutheran Chorale-Book

Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Geschichte des Deutschen Kirchenliedes bis auf Luthers Zeit (Hannover: Carl Rümpler, 1854), pp. 196-197

Martin Luther, ed., Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert (Wittenberg: Joseph Klug, 1535)

Martin Luther, Luther at the Manger (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017), pp. 8-10

Philipp Wackernagel, Das deutsche Kirchenlied von der ältesten Zeit bis zu Anfang des XVII. Jahrhunderts, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von B. G. Teubner, 1867), pp. 520-527

Weimarer Ausgabe 36:399-400; 52:50-51

Luther Visualized 15 – Treasures of the Reformation

The Law and the Gospel

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on panel, after 1529; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

I am posting this out of order; it was originally intended to be the last post in this series. However, it is fitting to post it on this day commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

There are any number of treasures or hallmarks of the Reformation that could be highlighted on this day—the three solas, as just one example. But in 1549, three years after Luther’s death, when a young Martin Chemnitz accompanied his relative Georg Sabinus on a trip to Wittenberg and “in a letter written in Greek” asked Philipp Melanchthon “to show [him] a method of properly instituting and shaping the study of theology,” Melanchthon gave a response that bespoke Luther’s lasting influence on him. He “replied that the chief light and best method in theological study was to observe the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.”

If a person could only be given one piece of advice before opening and reading the Bible on his own, this would indeed be the best. There are two main teachings in the Bible, the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and how we should live. It shows us that we can never measure up to God on our own, and therefore it threatens, terrifies, and condemns us and thereby prepares us for the Gospel. The Gospel shows us our Savior Jesus and how he has lived and died for us. It showcases God’s gracious promises to us, and so it comforts, assures, and saves us. This distinction is the single greatest aid for reading and understanding the Bible. As the apostle John wrote, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And if there is one piece of artwork that correctly and beautifully captures that distinction, yes, encapsulates all of the Reformation’s and confessional Lutheranism’s theology, this painting by Cranach is it.

The left half of the painting depicts the Law. The defenseless sinner is driven by death and the devil towards eternal destruction in hell, having been judged guilty by Jesus, enthroned in heaven above as Judge of the world. The man was unable to keep God’s law and earn God’s favor because of original sin, inherited as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, portrayed in the background. In the foreground on the right, the chief prophet Moses, holding the two tables of God’s law, explains to the other Old Testament prophets that the Law can only condemn and hope must be sought elsewhere. The tree on the right is bare, representing how the Tree of Life is not accessible to fallen mankind by his own powers, or how fallen mankind is spiritually dead and can produce no good fruits (works pleasing to God).

The right half of the painting depicts the Gospel. Jesus is portrayed not as Judge of the world, but as the Savior of the world. John the Baptist points the defenseless sinner to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) through the atoning sacrifice of his life on behalf of sinners. Through this good news, the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, instills faith in the sinner’s heart, and thus the sinner receives the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice; the sinfulness of his heart is covered by Jesus’ blood. The rest of the panel depicts, for the most part, scenes from Jesus’ life. In the background, instead of judging from heaven, he comes down from heaven to share in our humanity and suffer our condemnation in our place (the incarnation in the womb of the virgin Mary). In the foreground, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is portrayed as the ultimate proof of his victory over death, the skeleton under his left foot, and the devil, the dragon under his right foot. In the upper right hand corner, Jesus ascends into heaven, the nail-marks in his feet still showing. The counterpart to the serpent’s tempting and mankind’s fall into sin in the left half is the prefiguring or foreshadowing of Jesus’ redeeming work through the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9) in the right half. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15). The tree in this panel is leafy, representing how the Tree of Life is accessible to fallen mankind through faith in Jesus, or how the one who believes in Jesus has spiritual life and produces good fruits.

What God does in his law demand
And none to him can render
Brings wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the law requires,
And lost is our condition.

Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;
Your death is now my life indeed,
For you have paid my ransom. – Paul Speratus, 1523

Today is an anniversary celebration like none other. Happy Reformation Day, dear readers!

August L. Graebner, “An Autobiography of Martin Kemnitz” in Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, October 1899), p. 480

Cranach Digital Archive here and here

Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1993), #390

Quote of the Week – Commands and Promises

Similar Paintings

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on oak panel, early 1530s; housed in the Scottish National Gallery

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) was a renowned artist and contemporary and sympathizer of Luther. This painting, clearly influenced by Cranach’s above, is usually titled An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments or even The Old and the New Law, but the painting itself clearly identifies its contrast between the law (lex) and grace (gratia). (The painting correctly shows that both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim grace in Christ.) On the left the two tables of the law are given from heaven to Moses. The law makes us conscious of our sin (peccatum; Romans 3:20; 7:7-13), inherited from Adam as a result of the fall into sin (Romans 5:12-19). The wages of sin is death (mors; Romans 6:23). Nevertheless our justification was foreshadowed (mysterium justificationis) through the bronze serpent erected on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9), and Isaiah the prophet (Esayas propheta) foretold of salvation through the coming Christ (“Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son [Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium]” – Isaiah 7:14).

At the center of the painting is man (homo). “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body subject to death [Miser ego homo, quis me eripiet ex hoc corpore morti obnoxio]?” – Romans 7:24.

On the right, John the Baptist (Ioannes Baptista) points sinful man to Jesus, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), who takes away the sin of the world (Ecce agnus ille Dei, qui tollit peccatum mundi – John 1:29). His coming down from heaven to take on human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary is the token of God’s grace. An angel announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the valley below. Jesus as the living bread who came down from heaven (John 6:51) on the right side is the antitype to the bread that was rained down from heaven on the Israelite camp in the wilderness, depicted on the left side (Psalm 78:23-25). As an adult, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he came to seek and to save what was lost and that he must suffer, die, and rise again in order to do so (Mark 8:31; Luke 19:10). His crucifixion is pictured as our justification or acquittal from sin (justificatio nostra) and his resurrection from the dead as our victory (victoria nostra) over death and the devil (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Middle Panel of the Epitaph Altar for John Frederick the Magnanimous in the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Weimar, oil on lindenwood panel, 1555.

Duke John Frederick I of Saxony commissioned the work to the left a couple years before his death. Lucas Cranach himself died the following year, so the project was taken up and completed by his son. 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 4:16; and John 3:14,15 are printed on the pages of Martin Luther’s open Bible. John the Baptist points to Christ with his finger; Luther points to him with his gaze. Cranach the Elder painted himself in between the two, with Christ’s blood spilling onto his head. (He has made himself the counterpart to “the defenseless sinner” of his earlier painting.) His gaze is directed at the viewer, inviting him or her to worship Christ as Savior with him. The other unique detail is the angel flying in midair in the background over the shepherds, which has a double allusion. The first allusion is to the angel who announced the birth of Christ. This second allusion, indicated by the scroll he holds, is to Revelation 14:6,7. Johannes Bugenhagen, the pastor of the parish church in Wittenberg, preached on those verses for Luther’s funeral and identified Luther as the angel or messenger mentioned there. (Subsequent Lutheran preachers have also not shied away from that identification, though they also apply it to any Christian who faithfully proclaims the gospel.) The words printed on the victory banner borne by the lamb beneath the cross are those of John 1:29. The other details correspond exactly to Cranach’s earlier painting above.

Luther Visualized 14 – Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession

Left: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Elector John the Steadfast of Saxony, oil on panel, c. 1533; housed in the National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen. Right: Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Philipp Melanchthon, oil on panel, 1532; housed in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

Around 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, 1530, Ferdinand, King of Hungary and Bohemia, and all the other electors, princes, and imperial estates assembled before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V “in the large downstairs room” or chapter hall of the episcopal palace in Augsburg, where the emperor was lodging for the duration of the diet he had convened that year. The Saxon chancellor Christian Beyer stepped forward with the German copy of the confession that Philipp Melanchthon (pictured above right) had prepared and that seven princes and representatives of two free imperial cities had signed. The chancellor read it “so clearly, distinctly, deliberately, and with a voice so very strong and rich that he could be clearly heard not only in that very large hall, but also in the courtyard below and the surrounding area.” It took him two hours to finish, and his copy and a Latin copy were then handed over to the emperor.

Because of how the Romanists received the confession, its presentation subsequently came to represent the birthday of the Lutheran Church and the official split from the Roman Catholic Church. Confessional Lutheran churches and church bodies still subscribe to its doctrine without qualification today. It covers a wide range of subjects from God to original sin to justification to the sacraments to free will to monastic vows. (You can read it online here.) Martin Luther, writing from the Coburg Fortress, where he stayed for the duration of the diet since he was still an outlaw, commented on an early draft of the confession, “It pleases me quite well and I know nothing to improve or change in it, nor would it work if I did, since I cannot step so gently and softly.”

The princes and representatives who signed the confession are as follows:

  • John, Duke of Saxony, Elector (pictured above left)
  • George, Margrave of Brandenburg
  • Ernest, Duke of Lueneberg
  • Philip, Landgrave of Hesse
  • John Frederick, Duke of Saxony (the son of Elector John; regarding the high esteem in which he held the confession, see here)
  • Francis, Duke of Lueneberg
  • Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt
  • The City of Nuremberg
  • The City of Reutlingen

Georg Coelestin, Historia Comitiorum Anno M. D. XXX. Augustae Celebratorum (Frankfurt an der Oder: Johannes Eichorn, 1577), fol. 141

Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, vierter Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1827), p. 17

Carolus Gottlieb Bretschneider, ed., Corpus Reformatorum, vol. 2 (Halle: C. A. Schwetschke and Son, 1835), cols. 139ff, esp. col. 142

Theodor Kolde, Historische Einleitung in die Symbolischen Bücher der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche (Gütersloh: Druck und Verlag von C. Bertelsmann, 1907), pp. xix-xx

Hans Lietzmann, Heinrich Bornkamm, et al., eds., Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955)

Augusta iuxta figuram quam hisce temporibus habet delineata, woodcut, 1575 (coloring subsequent), based on Hans Rogel, Des Heiligen Römischen Reichs Statt Augspurg, woodcut, 1563

This famous bird’s-eye view woodcut of Augsburg by Hans Rogel was published in Georg Braun’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp: Aegidius Radeus, 1575). It is oriented with west on top. #105 marks the palace of the prince-bishop, where the Augsburg Confession was presented, just west of the Cathedral of Our Lady (#32). Only the tower from the original palace remains today, attached to a late-Baroque style building that now houses government offices for the district of Swabia. A single plaque on the outside of this building is the only tribute to the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. It reads:

Hier stand vordem die bischöfliche Pfalz in deren Kapitelsaal am 25. Juni 1530 die CONFESSIO AUGUSTANA verkündet wurde.

This is where the episcopal palace once stood, in whose chapter hall the AUGSBURG CONFESSION was delivered on June 25, 1530.

District Government of Swabia, Augsburg (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018). Note the small, gray, rectangular plaque near the bottom of the building.

The plaque commemorating the reading of the Augsburg Confession (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018).