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!

Sources
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

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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!

Sources
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 Elder and 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, begun in 1552, completed in 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.

Joseph Schaitberger: Life and Work

By Julius August Wagenmann

Translator’s Preface

Portrait of Joseph Schaitberger, sketched by P. Decker ad vivum and printed by Martin Engelbrecht in 1732

Until recently, the term “Salzburgers” as it relates to Lutheran history had completely escaped me, to my own detriment. The history of Lutheranism in the former Archbishopric of Salzburg (whose land now comprises part of Austria since being annexed in 1805) is one of repeated persecution, dating back to the expulsion of Paul Speratus in 1520, for expressing his evangelical views too openly, and the beheading of Georg Scherer (or Schärer) in Radstadt on April 13, 1528, for refusing to recant the Lutheran doctrine he was preaching. There were also exiles decreed in 1588 and 1613-15.

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was supposed to put an end to such persecution, but in the Archbishopric of Salzburg it did not. The article below – translated from the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker & Humblot, 1890), vol. 30, pp. 553-555 – describes the cruel banishment of Joseph Schaitberger and more than 1000 others in 1685-1686. And thus Joseph Schaitberger became an inspiration to the many more thousands who were banished by a later archbishop on October 31, 1731 (not a coincidental date), and who emigrated in 1732.

God willing, this is the first in a series of translations pertaining to Schaitberger and the Salzburg exiles that will appear here. I pray that these translations remind us just how precious our gospel-centered faith is, and strengthen us in the conviction that it is founded on the pure Word of God and is therefore worth any distress we might have to undergo for believing it and sharing it.

Joseph Schaitberger: Life and Work

Joseph Schaitberger, as depicted in a 1733 Nuremberg edition of his Neu-vermehrter Evangelischer Sendbrief, probably based on the portrait above.

Schaitberger: Joseph S. (or Scheitberger), Salzburg exile and evangelical author of devotional literature, born on March 19, 1658, in Dürrnberg by Hallein in the Salzkammergut, died on October 2, 1733, in Nuremberg. — His parents were the peasant and miner Johann Schaitberger and Magdalena née Danner from Berchtesgaden, both devoted to the evangelical religion, which had already found acceptance in Salzburg territory in the 16th century and from then on always had many secret allies among the mountain dwellers. Educated in reading and writing by his brother, who was schoolmaster in Dürrnberg, he devoted himself to the miner’s vocation and married Margarethe née Kümmel from Berchtesgaden when he was 25. In addition to working hard as a miner, however, he constantly and fervently occupied himself with the reading of Holy Scripture, Luther’s House Postils, and other evangelical devotional writings. When a religious persecution broke out in 1686 under Archbishop Maximilian Gandolf in the Tefferecker [or Tefferegger or Defereggen] Valley against the secret Protestants there, Schaitberger was also arrested along with others of his fellow believers, brought to Hallein in fetters, from there was delivered to the royal court in Salzburg, and was imprisoned there under harsh conditions for 50 days. During this time two Capuchin monks made fruitless attempts to bring him back to the fold of the Roman Church. Thereafter he was set free again, with an order to draw up his confession of faith in writing and submit it to the Archbishop of Salzburg. He openly and freely professed Luther’s doctrine and the Augsburg Confession and petitioned the archbishop that he and his fellow believers be left undisturbed in their worship and be returned the children that had been robbed from them. Instead he was dismissed from his mining job, divested of his possessions, condemned to fourteen days of penal labor on bread and water, and finally, since he refused to solemnly renounce his evangelical faith, was driven from the country with other evangelical Teffereckers [or Defereggers], more than 1000 in number, being forced to leave their possessions and children behind. He found a place of refuge in Nuremberg, where he was cordially welcomed and where he remained until the end of his life, earning his living as a day laborer, woodworker, and wire-drawer. After the death of his first wife (d. 1687), he entered into a second marriage with Katharina Prachenberger from Berchtesgaden, who bore him four sons but died already in 1698. Twice he dared to return to his homeland secretly and at risk to his life, partly to strengthen in faith and patience the fellow believers he had left behind there and partly to get his children out. Only one of his daughters followed him back, with the intention of winning him over to the Roman Church. But the opposite happened: She became convinced of the truth of the evangelical faith and decided to stay with her father, where she made a meager living by knitting. Schaitberger himself, once he grew old and was no longer able to work, was accepted by the Nuremberg council into the so-called “Mäntel Foundation of the Twelve Brothers [Mäntel’sche Stift der zwölf Brüder],” a charitable institution otherwise dedicated only to Nuremberg citizens. He also received financial assistance from friends abroad, who respected him highly for his simple piety and his unwavering confession of the evangelical truth, including the Augsburg preacher and senior Samuel Urlsperger, as well as the Memmingen Preacher J. G. Schelhorn, who gathered a generous collection for him in December 1732 and refreshed him with it shortly before his blessed end. Not long before his death he also greeted in Nuremberg the new Salzburg emigrants, who had been banished from their homeland in 1731 by Archbishop Firmian and were once again seeking a place of refuge in Germany.

Soon after his arrival in Nuremberg, Schaitberger had begun to write a series of evangelical tractates at the instigation of a certain Preacher Ungelenk there. Schaitberger did this partly for his own edification and partly for the instruction and strengthening of the fellow believers he had left behind in his Salzburg homeland. At first he had them printed individually as pamphlets (Schwabach, 1688ff) and sought to distribute them in many thousands of copies, especially among his countrymen. He finally issued them in a collected edition (1710 in Schwabach and Nuremberg) under the title: Neu-vermehrter Evangelischer Send-Brieff, Darinnen zwei und zwantzig nutzliche Büchlein enthalten, Geschrieben an die Lands-Leut in Saltzburg und andere gute Freund, dadurch dieselbige zur Christlichen Beständigkeit, in der Evangelischen Glaubens-Lehr, Augspurgischer Confession, in ihrem Gewissen, aufgemuntert werden1 (Newly Enlarged Evangelical Circular, Containing Twenty-Two Useful Booklets, Written to Countrymen in Salzburg and Other Good Friends, Through Which Their Consciences Are Encouraged to Christian Perseverance in the Evangelical Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession). This “Circular,” in addition to Luther’s and Spangenberg’s postils and Arndt’s True Christianity, became the most treasured devotional book of the evangelical Salzburgers, such as the inhabitants of the Ziller Valley who emigrated from their homeland in the Tyrol in 1837. It was later repeatedly printed, e.g. in Nuremberg in 1732 et al. and up to the most recent times, and was more broadly distributed as a devotional book; a so-called jubilee edition of it just appeared in 1889 with a short biography and portrait of the author (Reutlingen: Baur, 608 pages in octavo).2 The contents are as follows: 1) Schaitberger’s circular to the countrymen he has left behind, containing the confession of faith he had composed earlier, 2) account of the Salzburg reformation of 1686, 3) religious conversation between a Catholic and an evangelical Christian, 4) spiritual Christian mirror or guide for Christian living, 5) golden nourishing art of the children of God, 6) useful meditations on death, 7) evangelical dying school for the children of God, 8) Christian art of dying, 9) repentance-blaring trumpet of judgment, 10) two short consolations, 11) melancholy circular to his children still in Salzburg territory, 12) circular to his brother, 13) biblical passages of comfort, 14) evangelical Christian duty, 15) consolations for distressed consciences and afflicted souls, 16) report on religion, 17) answers to four religious questions, 18) simple questions on the parts of the Catechism with which fathers can instruct their children, 19) evangelical repentance-alarm bell, 20) traveling conversation between an Old Lutheran and a new Pietist, 21) four Christian reflections, and 22) miscellaneous hymns and prayers.3 He also composed a number of hymns, of which two were included in the appendix of the Coburg Hymnal (1717), “Du Spiegel aller Tugend [O mirror of all virtue]” and “Jesu meine Lieb’ und Leben [Jesus, my love and life].” His most well-known hymn, however, is his hymn for Salzburg exiles, which reflects both every aspect of the distress experienced by those witnesses to the faith and their gospel-centered comfort, in simple, poignant words. The original text of this “Hymn for Salzburg Exiles” begins and ends as follows (according to a printing from 1732): “I am an exile, sadly banned— | This my new designation— | From cherished home and fatherland— | God’s Word the sole causation. • Yet I, Lord Jesus, contemplate | Your like humiliation. | If I now you must emulate, | Fulfill your inclination. … 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. • If in this vale of tears I must | Live in prolonged privation, | In heaven God will give, I trust, | Far better habitation.”4

Cf. Samuel Urlsperger, Joseph Schaitberger (1732). • J. G. Schelhorn, De Religionis Evangelicae in Provincia Salisburgensi Ortu Progressu et Fatis Commentatio Historico-Ecclesiastica (Leipzig, 1732). • J. G. Schelhorn, Ergötzlichkeiten aus der Kirchenhistorie und Literatur (Ulm und Leipzig, 1762), I:494ff. • Georg Andreas Will, Nürnbergisches Gelehrten-Lexicon (Nuremberg und Altdorf, 1757), III:481ff. • Hirsching, Friedrich Carl Gottlob and Johann Heinrich Martin Ernesti Ernesti, Historisch-literarisches Handbuch berühmter und denkwürdiger Personen, welche in dem achtzehnten Jahrhundert gelebt haben (Leipzig, 1808), X/2:227ff. • Johann Heinrich Zedler, Grosses vollständiges Universal Lexicon Aller Wissenschafften und Künste (Halle und Leipzig, 1742), XXXIV:815ff. • Johann Caspar Wetzel, Historische Lebens-Beschreibung Der berühmtesten Lieder-Dichter (Herrnstadt, 1724), III:29ff. • Christian Friedrich David Erdmann, “Salzburger” in Real-Encyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1884) XIII:323ff. • Karl Panse, Geschichte der Auswanderung der evangelischen Salzburger (Leipzig, 1827).

Endnotes

1 I edited the title Wagenmann gave to reflect that found in the original 1710 edition at my disposal and available online. Wagenmann’s title reads: Neuvermehrter evangelischer Sendbrief, darinnen 24 nützliche Bücher enthalten, geschrieben an die Landsleute in Salzburg und andere gute Freunde, darin dieselben zu christlicher Beständigkeit in der evangelischen Glaubenslehre Augsburgischer Confession in ihrem Gewissen aufgemuntert werden.

2 These later editions were expanded to include “Twenty-Four Useful Booklets,” and the “Hymn of Comfort for an Exile,” which Wagenmann mentions later, was also inserted. The two extra booklets were “Comfort for the Dying” and “Comforting Thoughts for the Dying.”

3 I also edited Wagenmann’s summary of the contents (cf. endnote 1). Wagenmann’s summary reads: 1) Schaitberger’s circular to the countrymen he has left behind, containing the confession of faith he had composed earlier, 2) an account of the Salzburg reformation, 3) religious conversation, 4) tractate on the young man and the old man, 5) Christian mirror, 6) the golden nourishing art of the children of God, 7) meditations on death, 8) the art of dying, 9) comfort for the dying, 10) repentance-blaring trumpet of judgment, 11) circular to his children in Salzburg territory, 12) to his brothers [sic], 13) evangelical Christian duty, 14) conversation about true and false Christianity, 15) tractate on perfection, 16) consolations for distressed and afflicted souls, 17) report on religion, 18) religious questions, 19) traveling conversation, 20) tractate on infant baptism, 21) on the appearances of angels, 22) works of repentance, 23) reply to the letter of a Nicodemite, 24) on the certainty of faith and the true knowledge of Christ. The content listed by Wagenmann is all in Schaitberger’s work, with the exception of “works of repentance [Bußwerke],” which appears to be a misspelling of “Buß-Wecker.” But much of what he labels as its own booklet is actually a sub-theme of a different booklet. For example, his #4 (which, however, should be “conversation between a young man and a poor man”) is included in what he labels #10. His #14 and #15 are both included in what he labels #13, and his #20, #21, #23, and #24 are all included in the actual #21, “Four Christian Reflections.”

4 In all the editions of Schaitberger’s Sendbrief at my disposal, in which his hymn for exiles is found, there is one more stanza after the one with which Wagenmann concludes: “The man shall here remain disguised | Who did these verses fashion; | He papal doctrine has despised | But Christ professed with passion.” However, at the time of this posting, I did not have access to any 1732 edition.

A Child Was Born to Us Today

Uns ist ein Kindlein

“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn” as it first appeared in Gesius’ Geistliche Deutsche Lieder (1601). Source.

“Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn”
Anonymous

Translator’s Preface

In 1601, Bartholomäus Gesius (c. 1555-1613) published the first volume of his Geistliche Deutsche Lieder D. Martini Lutheri und anderen frommen Christen (German Spiritual Songs by Dr. Martin Luther and Other Pious Christians). According to the rest of the title, the hymns in the collection “were customarily sung throughout the year in Christian churches,” and were arranged by the author “with four or five voices, according to the usual choral melodies, in a proper and pleasing manner.”

For other hymns, such as “All Praise to You, Eternal God” (folio 9) or “From Heaven Above” (folio 10), Gesius cited the author. But for the hymn on folio 16, translated below, no author was recorded. The four-voice setting is presumably his own. If the title can be applied without exception to all the hymns in Gesius’ collection, either Gesius himself had authored it before this and it had found use in one or more churches, or it may have appeared anonymously (authored by one of the “other pious Christians”) sometime between Luther and the publication of this volume.

Eight years later, when Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) published the sixth part of his Musae Sioniae (Muses of Zion) in 1609, he set the melody in Gesius’ collection to his own charming four-part setting (no. XLIX), which has been popularized in such albums as “Mass for Christmas Morning.”

I was planning to have the choir I direct sing Praetorius’ setting on Christmas Eve, and so I set about to translate it. My only departure from the original, which was admittedly not strictly necessary, was that the original two middle lines of the first stanza –

ein wahrer Mensch und wahrer Gott,
daß er uns helf’ aus aller Not.

True man, true God in full was he,
To rescue us from misery.

I changed to the following:

True man in full, yet also God,
To shatter the Oppressor’s rod.

I think it is rare when a translator is able to improve on the original, but here I was convinced such a case existed. The rest of the first stanza is basically a summary of Isaiah 9:1-7, which was the “Epistle” for Christmas Day at the time of the original composition. So I changed the two middle lines so that the entire stanza would be a summary of Isaiah 9:1-7 (rf. Isa 9:4). The “Oppressor” refers primarily to Satan, but also to sin and death by metonymy and association (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

This hymn just about sums up the beauty of Christian theology and the meaning of Christmas in as concise, straightforward, and lilting a way as possible. I pray it accordingly fills you, the reader, with joy and confidence.

A Child Was Born to Us Today

1. A child was born to us today
Of chosen virgin, far away –
True man in full, yet also God,
To shatter the Oppressor’s rod.
Wonder and Counsel is his name;
Through him the Father’s grace we claim.

2. What more for us could God have done
Than that he gives us his own Son,
Who from us has removed indeed
All of our sin and each misdeed,
Redeemed us from the sin and pain
Wherein we else would e’er remain.

3. Rejoice, dear saints of Christ, therefore,
And thank our God forevermore!
But hate the cunning, lies, and vice
Which cost your Savior such a price.
Fear God and live lives pure and mild
To glorify the newborn Child.

Luther’s Great Pentecost Hymn

Translator’s Preface

The first stanza of Martin Luther’s hymn, “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott” was originally a Latin antiphon (a responsive prayer or exclamation, either spoken or chanted at the beginning of the service) for Vespers on the evening before Pentecost, in use from the 11th century. Currently, in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, we still use the first part of this antiphon as a refrain for the Psalm appointed for Pentecost (Psalm 51b, Christian Worship p. 87), as the Verse of the Day for Pentecost, and there are hints of it in the Prayer of the Day for Pentecost. The antiphon, in its entirety, went thus (in English):

Come, Holy Spirit, fill up the hearts of your believers, and kindle in them the fire of your love: You who have gathered the nations in the unity of the faith through all the diverse languages. Alleluia, Alleluia.”

In the 15th century, even before Luther was born, more hymns and songs were beginning to appear in German, including a paraphrase of this antiphon with its own melody.

In the early 1520s, Luther repeatedly appealled to men like Georg Spalatin for scripturally sound, clear, and appropriate Psalm arrangements and hymns in German. His appeals basically fell on deaf ears, so Luther himself took up his pen and composed more than 20 hymns between 1523 and 1524 that appeared in the first evangelical hymnals of 1524. One of them was, “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott,” which is known at least in Wisconsin Synod circles as, “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (Christian Worship 176).

For this hymn, Luther tweaked the already existing German stanza and set it to an adapted and simplified version of its customary melody. The earliest printed version of the original German stanza went thus (in English prose):

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God
Fill up with the pot [or kettle] of your grace
The heart and mind of those believers of yours.
Your burning love kindle in them,
You who through the radiance of your light
Have gathered in one faith
The people from all the world’s tongues,
For which may praise and honor to you be sung,
Alleluia, Alleluia.

This was one of Luther’s favorite hymns, as he made clear in 1539, when he told his companions, “The hymn, ‘Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God,’ the Holy Spirit himself composed about himself, both the text and the melody” (WA TR, #4478).

One of Luther’s changes was to begin the fifth line with, “O Lord,” probably both to tie this original stanza with the two new ones he composed (whose fifth lines also begin, “O Lord”) and to emphasize the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

The most notable change to the original German stanza was the sixth line. The original stanza, as also the older Latin antiphon, emphasized the unity of the Church’s faith, into which the Spirit had gathered people from all nations and tongues. But Luther relegated the concept of unity to the word “gathered” itself, and he substituted “to the faith” for “in one faith.” Thereby he meant either to emphasize the purenesscorrectness, and truth of that faith, or to reinforce the truth that we are saved by faith alone; the gathering work of the Holy Spirit is a gathering primarily to faith. (Good works will always follow faith as a matter of course.)

Luther’s three stanzas went thus (in English prose):

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God,
Fill up with the blessing of your grace
Your believers’ heart, disposition, and mind;
Your burning love kindle in them.
O Lord, through the radiance of your light,
You have gathered to the faith
The people from all the world’s tongues.
May this, Lord, to your praise be sung.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

You Holy Light, Precious Protection,
Cause the Word of Life to shine on us
And teach us to know God correctly,
To call him Father from our hearts.
O Lord, protect from foreign doctrine,
That we seek no other master
Than Jesus with correct faith
And trust in him with all our might.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

You Holy Fiery Burning, Sweet Cheer,
Now help us joyfully and cheeredly
Steadfastly to remain in your service,
[And help] the tribulation not to drive us away.
O Lord, through your power prepare us
And fortify the timidity of the flesh,
That we here valiantly contend
And through death and life press on to you.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

With his additional two stanzas, the hymn, while not reflecting Luther’s best poetry, nonetheless is a treasure of biblical, and thus Lutheran, theology. He highlights salvation by grace alone, apprehended through faith in Jesus alone, worked through the Word alone. The doctrine and importance of the means of grace – the gospel of Jesus in Word and sacraments – is especially highlighted in st. 2. This doctrine is the driving force behind Luther’s prayer in that stanza for purity and correctness of teaching. The theology of the cross, another hallmark of Lutheranism, is highlighted in st. 3 in gripping terms.

The English translation in Christian Worship is unfortunate on a number of levels. Here is a sampling:

  • “All your graces” in line 2 of st. 1 is a misunderstanding of Luther’s “deiner Gnaden Gut,” which is really just a poetic way of saying, “your grace.” It thus misses the stress on God’s saving love in Christ.
  • Lines 6 & 7 of st. 1 turn Luther’s accomplished historical, gospel fact into a plea for something as-yet unrealized to be realized.
  • Luther’s original address, “Precious Protection” (could also be translated “Noble Refuge”), in line 1 of st. 2 somehow got turned into “Guide divine.” Thus the connection between that name and the second half of the verse is lost. (That connection is sort of redirected to the first half of the verse.)
  • “Call him Father with delight” in line 4 of st. 2 is a little unfortunate, though perhaps necessary in our modern world of broken homes and failed fatherhood in abundance. Luther’s original emphasis was simply on knowing and calling on God as a Father, period, as opposed to knowing him as an angry judge and being afraid to call on him or to have anything to do with him.
  • The translation that personally bothers me the most is the rendering of Luther’s, “rechtem Glauben” (“correct faith”), as, “living faith.” Certainly we want a living faith (as St. James makes clear), but perhaps now more than ever we need to emphasis that there is also a correct believing and an incorrect believing, and it is only correct believing (that is, believing in the truth) that can and will be living faith in the truest form. That this is the proper way to understand Luther’s phrase is probably best proved by the German compound noun which combines precisely these two words, Rechtgläubigkeit, which we would translate as orthodoxy, but many of us don’t know what orthodoxy means either – teaching and believing the right way (which implies there is a wrong way – contrary to the popular American expression, “You just gotta have faith…”).
  • “Grant us the will your work to do” in line 2 of st. 3 neither captures the connection between “süsser Trost” (line 1) and “getrost” (line 2) in Luther’s original nor the meaning and beauty of line 2 as a whole.
  • It’s always unfortunate when the concept of steadfastness gets lost in translation, as it does in line 3 of st. 3.

I was asked by a committee within our synod to study this hymn, and I found that I could not really meditate on it properly or with full edification without at least making my own attempt to rectify these problems. My own opinion is that my rendition of st. 3 below is the best of the three, while the rendition of st. 1 could probably use the most improvement (for which I will gladly take advice from readers).

The hymn itself is a prayer – a prayer especially appropriate for Pentecost, but also for every day of our lives. This powerful prayer is also my own in presenting a new translation of it below.

Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord

Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord!
In your believers’ hearts be stored
The fullness of your grace and light;
Your burning love in them ignite.
O Lord, what has your radiance done!
Within the faith you’ve made as one
People and realms of ev’ry tongue!
For this, O Lord, your praises e’er be sung!
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O Holy Light, Shield Supreme!
The Word of life upon us beam
And teach us all the highest art—
To call God, “Father,” from the heart.
O Lord, keep us from falsehood free;
Let Jesus our sole master be,
That with a faith correct and right
We place our trust in him with all our might.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O Holy Fire, Cheer so sweet!
Help us, with joy and cheer replete,
To serve you steadfast, come what may,
Nor by our trials be driv’n away.
O Lord, lend power for the fight,
Repress for us Old Adam’s fright,
That we as knights wage battle brave,
Press on to you in heav’n through grief and grave.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Prudentius’ Holy Innocents Hymn

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

Translator’s Preface

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

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

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

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

All Hail! You Infant Martyr Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberus’ Thanksgiving Hymn

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

Translator’s Preface

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

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

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

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

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

The original German stanza with a literal English translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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