Hymn of Comfort for an Exile

By Joseph Schaitberger

Translator’s Preface

In Professor Wagenmann’s article on Joseph Schaitberger in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, he identifies Schaitberger’s Salzburg Exile Hymn as “his most well-known.” “[It] reflects both every aspect of the distress experienced by those witnesses to the faith and their gospel-centered comfort, in simple, poignant words.”

A depiction of the Salzburg Emigrants from the front of Christoph Sancke’s Ausführliche Historie Derer Emigranten Oder Vertriebenen Lutheraner Aus dem Ertz-Bißthum Saltzburg, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1732). The passage on the top is Matthew 24:20: “But pray that your flight does not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.” A sermon by Luther on this section of Scripture was one of the emigrants’ inspirations. The man on the left is carrying a sack on which is written: “God is with us in distress” (paraphrase of Psalm 91:15). In his arms are the Augsburg Confession and Johann Arndt’s True Christianity, a popular devotional work. The lady is carrying a sack on which is written: “The Lord has done great things for us” (Psalm 126:3). In her arm is a Bible. The rhyme on the rectangular scroll reads: “Because of faith in grace alone | We banished are to lands unknown. | We leave behind our fatherland, | Still safely in our Father’s hand.”

“Those witnesses to the faith” include primarily two waves of Lutherans exiled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg. A group of 1000+ were exiled by Archbishop Maximilian Gandolf between 1684 and 1686, with 600+ of their children, including Schaitberger’s children, being confiscated from them. And a group of 30,000+ were exiled by Archbishop Leopold Anton von Firmian between 1731 and 1734, around 12,000 of whom emigrated in 1732 to Prussian Lithuania in the area in and around Gumbinnen (present-day Gusev, Russia), where King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia gave them a good start to a new life. Archbishop von Firmian’s original edict of explusion was signed on October 31, 1731 – a deliberately insulting way to “celebrate” the 214th anniversary of the Reformation – and publicly read on November 11, the anniversary of Martin Luther’s baptism. The 1731 edict also implied confiscation of children under 12 years old. Some of the harsher stipulations of his edict were later mitigated under pressure from the Protestant states in Germany, but it does appear that many children were forced to stay behind.

I translated Schaitberger’s Exile Hymn on the basis of the text as printed in his Neu-vermehrter Evangelischer Sendbrief (Nuremberg, 1733), pp. 131-133. The hymn is not found in the original 1710 edition of the Sendbrief, and thus it appears that Schaitberger composed it specially for the 1732 emigrants, on the basis of his own experience and the facts of the 1731 expulsion as he knew them. Schaitberger himself recommended singing it to the tune of “Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn” or “Hör, liebe Seel, dir ruft der HErr!” (four melodies given on pp. 154-155 here). My only hesitation in presenting it is my rhyming of “unerring” with “unsparing” in st. 7, which I know some linguistic perfectionists will not appreciate. Nevertheless, dictionaries do legitimize both pronunciations of “unerring.”

Multiple sources say that Schaitberger’s hymn was one of the most oft-sung hymns by the emigrants during their journey. The emigration created a sensation especially in all the cities and towns through which the emigrants passed. Many townspeople sang with them in the town squares. The aging Schaitberger himself was able to greet some of the exiles in Nuremberg; one can easily imagine him singing his hymn with them or teaching it to some of them.

Hymn of Comfort for an Exile

1. I am an exile, sadly banned—
This my new designation—
From cherished home and fatherland—
God’s Word the sole causation.

2. Yet I, Lord Jesus, contemplate
Your like humiliation.
If I now you must emulate,
Fulfill your inclination.

3. Through foreign streets I now must stray;
A pilgrim I am branded.
Therefore, my Lord and God, I pray
You never leave me stranded.

4. Stay with me, mighty God, I plead;
To you I am commended.
Forsake me not in all my need,
Though life itself be ended.

5. Freely the faith did I confess—
What cause, then, for compunction?
Let men me “Heretic!” address
And seek my life’s expunction.

6. Fettered and bound in Jesus’ name—
What honor such expulsion!
Thus not my crimes, but this to blame—
True doctrine’s vile revulsion.

7. Though Satan and the world divest
Me of my means unsparing,
This jewel I’ll ne’er be dispossessed:
God and the faith unerring.

8. With your will, Lord, I shall agree,
Patiently persevering.
I shall subscribe to your decree
Willingly, without fearing.

9. Though I should stay in misery,
I shall not show resistance;
Still, God, do give good friends to me
E’en in the far-off distance.

10. Time now, in Jesus’ name, to leave;
All has from me been taken.
Yet I know one day I’ll receive
The glorious crown of heaven.

11. So step I from my house away
New, foreign streets to wander.
But Lord, my children! Forced to stay!
I sigh and sob to ponder.

12. Please, let my new town be a site
Where your Word is permitted;
By it my heart, both day and night,
Shall then be benefited.

13. If in this vale of tears I must
Live in prolonged privation,
In heaven God will give, I trust,
Far better habitation.

14. The man shall here remain disguised
Who did these verses fashion;
He papal doctrine has despised
But Christ professed with passion.