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!


Augsburg Confession – Article 22 – The Sacrament in Both Kinds

Article 22 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 21, click here.)

Articles of Dissension, Where the Abuses that Have Been Changed Are Enumerated

Now since there are no articles of faith taught in our churches that are contrary to Holy Scripture or ordinary Christian churches, but only certain abuses have been changed, some of which have snuck in over time while others have been introduced by force, we are therefore necessarily required to enumerate these abuses and to provide the reason why changes are tolerated in such matters. That way, the Imperial Majesty will realize that we not acting in an unchristian or impudent manner here, but that we are compelled to allow such changes by God’s command, which one ought to regard more highly than any custom.

Article 22 – The Sacrament in Both Kinds

Among us the Sacrament is given to the laypeople in both kinds. Here is why: This is the clear directive and command of Christ in Matthew 26: “Drink from it, all of you.” Here, in speaking about the cup, Christ clearly commands that they should all drink from it.

And so that no one can attack these words or interpret them to mean that they only apply to the priests, Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 11 that the entire assembly of the Corinthian church used both kinds. And this practice continued in the church for a long time, as one can demonstrate using the histories and the writings of the Fathers. Cyprian mentions in many places that the cup was given to the laypeople at the time.1 Saint Jerome says that the priests who administer the Sacrament distribute the blood of Christ to the people.2 Pope Gelasius himself commanded that the Sacrament not be split up (Gratian’s Decretum, Part 3, Distinction 2, Chapter 12).3 And no canon can be found anywhere that commands that the Sacrament be taken in only one form. Nor is anyone able to determine when or through whom this custom of taking one kind was introduced, although Cardinal Cusanus mentions when this custom was approved.4 Now it is obvious that such a custom, introduced contrary to God’s command and even contrary to the ancient canons, is not right. Therefore it has not been fitting to burden the consciences of those who have desired to make use of the Holy Sacrament according to Christ’s institution and to force them to act contrary to our Lord Christ’s arrangement. And since the division of the Sacrament is at variance with the institution of Christ, we also omit the customary procession with the Sacrament.5

(To continue to Article 23, click here.)


1 In Epistle 53 (Oxford ed.: 57), Cyprian, together with the entire African Synod, writes to Cornelius, bishop of Rome (252 AD; original quote in cols. 855,856 here):

[We] have decided that [the lapsed who are repentant] ought to be armed and equipped for the battle which is at hand. … And, as the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose that it may be a safeguard to the receivers, it is needful that we may arm those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary with the protection of the Lord’s abundance. For how do we teach or provoke them to shed their blood in confession of His name, if we deny to those who are about to enter on the warfare the blood of Christ? Or how do we make them fit for the cup of martyrdom, if we do not first admit them to drink, in the Church, the cup of the Lord by the right of communion?

The following year Cyprian wrote to a certain Bishop Caecilius in reference to some priests who were offering water to the people instead of wine. He did not tell Caecilius to advise the priests not to offer the cup to the people at all, but rather to offer them what the Lord instituted (Epistle 62 [Oxford ed.: 63] in English, in Latin in cols. 372ff here).

2 In his commentary on Chapter 3 of Zephaniah (penned between 391 and 406 AD), Jerome talks about priests “who assist in the Eucharist and distribute the blood of the Lord to his people” (Sacerdotes…qui Eucharistiae serviunt et sanguinem Domini populis ejus dividunt; original in col. 1375 here).

3 Gelasius was the Bishop of Rome from 492 to 496. He opposed the use of only one kind in the Sacrament as an error of the Manichean sect, and ordered the Sacrament celebrated in both kinds to reveal secret Manichaeans in the church. Melanchthon’s source can be read here (type 1319 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

4 Nicolaus Cusanus, or Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), asserts in Epistle 3 to the Bohemians (Opera, 1514 Paris edition, vol. 2, fol. Bb iij) that depriving the laity of the chalice dates back to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

5 Melanchthon is referring in particular to the Corpus Christi procession, which took place on the Thursday after Holy Trinity Sunday. After Mass, there would often be a procession of the Sacrament (just the bread), generally displayed in what is called a monstrance, an open or transparent receptacle in which the consecrated host is exposed for veneration.

Pelagius, “Supreme Dimwit”?

If you think Martin Luther possessed the muse of smack talk, it may have been passed down to him from Jerome (whom, ironically, Luther didn’t particularly care for as a theologian). Here are a few excerpts from Jerome’s preface to his commentary on Jeremiah, written between 417 and 419 AD, in which he obliquely refers to Pelagius:

[My critics] suppose that they know something if they are able to disparage another man’s work, like the ignorant calumniator who recently burst onto the scene, who thought my commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians needed refuting. Nor does he understand, snoring with unbridled idiocy like he does, how commentaries work…

Nor does the supreme dimwit, loaded down with Scottish porridge,* keep in mind what we said in that same work…

* A reference to Pelagius’ portliness. (“Scottish” may have meant Irish at the time.)

Patrologia Latina 24:706-708

Luther’s Works (American Edition) 54:72, no. 445

Raising Wings Like the Eagles

Commentaries on Isaiah 40:30-31
By Tilemann Heshusius and Jerome

Translator’s Preface

I undertook the following in connection with an invitation to preach on Isaiah 40:31 at a graduation service for a Lutheran high school. I like to use such special opportunities to familiarize myself with commentary by our Christian and Lutheran fathers.

In his commentary on Isaiah 40-66 in the NICOT series, John Oswalt writes (p. 74):

The versions [i.e. ancient translations of the Bible] take [the Hebrew word אֵבֶר, pinions or wings, in Isaiah 40:31] as the object [of יַעֲלוּ], but seem to understand the verb [עָלָה] to mean “put forth” in the sense of growing new feathers (see NEB, JPS, NJB). This reading might reflect the ancient tradition that eagles grow new feathers every ten years for a hundred years (see Ps. 103:5).

While Oswalt acknowledges that this idea would nicely parallel “will renew strength” in the first part of the verse and would continue the contrast with vs. 30, he goes on to dismiss the interpretation on semantic grounds: “[T]he verb is nowhere else used in this sense of ‘put forth’ (although it is used of growing plants); and [אֵבֶר] refers to wing feathers, not feathers in general” (p. 74-75). However, with his “although” clause he weakens his first reason, and his second reason assumes that the ancient translators did not also have wing or flight feathers particularly in mind – an unwarranted assumption. (What would be the point of stressing the growth of new feathers, if those new feathers did not give the eagle renewed strength to fly?)

It seems to me unfortunate that Oswalt merely called the view that eagles grow new feathers every ten years an “ancient tradition,” and did not pursue the factuality of the tradition any further. For better or worse, serious translators today want proven science, not ancient tradition, for exegetical cruces such as this one.

The two translations that follow below verify Oswalt’s claim that this interpretation is an ancient tradition – minus perhaps the “for a hundred years” part. Heshusius’ commentary was published in 1617, though the commentary itself must have an earlier date of origin, since Heshusius passed away in 1588. (For more on Heshusius’ life, see here.) Jerome’s commentary dates to 395-400 AD.

As far as the validity of this ancient tradition for interpreting Isaiah 40:31, we must take into consideration at least the following points:

  • King Solomon (ruled 971-932 BC) was one of the wisest men ever to have lived (1 Kings 3:12), and one of the subjects he lectured on was ornithology (1 Kings 4:33). For how many years after his death was his lecture material still available, either in written form or through oral tradition?
  • We do not know which particular species of eagle, if any, Isaiah had in mind. (The Hebrew word נֶשֶׁר has also been translated griffon vulture.)
  • The modern-day bald eagle, for instance, only has an average lifespan of 20 years and its documented molting cycles do not match the every-10-years cycle of this ancient tradition. However, in addition to the previous point, the lifespan and behavior of humans have varied greatly from place to place and throughout the thousands of years of their existence. Why not also with birds and other creatures?
  • Solomon’s father David (1039-969 BC) expressly likened the renewing of one’s youth to what happens to an eagle (Psalm 103:5).

Of course, regardless of which interpretation one prefers – mounting up (Luther), soaring (modern), or growing new flight feathers (ancient) – the point is the same and must not be lost: Leaving the terms and timetable for resolution to God, patiently and willingly suffering for his sake, and trusting in his implicit goodness in Christ Jesus – all of which cannot be done without regular contact with his saving Word – results in ever-increasing and renewed strength for life here on earth and eternal life in heaven. May God always bless our study of his Word to that purpose and end.

Tilemann Heshusius’ Commentary on Isaiah 40:30-31


With this chapter and those that follow to the end of the book, the prophet Isaiah begins sermons that are new in a way. Every one of them is meant to confirm, repeat, and shed light on the promise concerning the coming of the Messiah, both regarding his spiritual and eternal kingdom and regarding his eternal benefits,1 and to strengthen the Church in faith as she awaits salvation from the Messiah. For he explicitly prophesied several times in chapters 3 and 5 that the people of Jerusalem were going to be led away into captivity. And in chapter 39 he plainly announced to King Hezekiah that all the treasures of the king of Judah were going to be carried off to Babylon, and that the sons of the king of Judah were going to be servants in the court of the king of Babylon. And in chapters 24 and 34 he predicted that Jerusalem was going to be so completely destroyed and overthrown at some point that it would never rise again. But if the Mosaic government would be eradicated and the Synagogue rejected from being the people of God, could not the pious begin to doubt and think that all hope of the Messiah’s coming was cut off? That God had changed his will and plan concerning the redemption of the human race and retracted the promise repeated in so many generations?

Therefore, in order that he may remove this doubt and strengthen the pious in faith in the coming Messiah, he preaches with absolute certainty about the Messiah’s coming, expounds his spiritual kingdom in exact detail, describes the distinguished person of the Messiah in many different ways, and comforts the Church with the news that she will be gloriously freed by the Messiah and brought to supreme glory and happiness, and that neither the extremely oppressive Babylonian captivity nor the other manifold misfortunes that will befall that people are going to prevent the coming of the Messiah, who is going to appear towards the end of the government. Yes, he predicts, in fact, that the people of Israel are going to be freed from the Babylonian captivity and that the entire Babylonian empire is going to be destroyed and overthrown by Cyrus the Persian, that Jerusalem is going to be restored and the government preserved until the promised Messiah is presented. Therefore he tells the pious to be of good cheer and to place all their confidence in the promised Messiah, and to expect certain righteousness and salvation from him, and far greater and superior blessings in the New Testament, with the Mosaic government abrogated, than they had ever possessed in the Old.

First he comforts the Church and predicts that the end of the Mosaic government and of the entire Old Testament is drawing near, and he expounds in summary fashion the future benefits of the New Testament, which of course include the free remission of sins.

Then he prophesies about John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who would cause people to leave the temple and, with sacrifices left behind, would proclaim in the wilderness that the New Testament was about to commence2 and would prepare the way for the Lord Messiah by the preaching of repentance, and would testify with a clear voice that the Messiah was at hand.

He teaches that the Lord himself would be the Messiah, and that the omnipotent God, having been clothed in human flesh, would live among humans and furnish himself for viewing and go about among the cities of Judah. He accuses the entire human race of sin and corruption, in order to warn all people that they need the help of a mediator. He encourages the Church by liberally publishing the good news that the promised Messiah will be presented.3

He describes the Messiah’s spiritual kingdom, that he will not rule with arms and armies the way other kings do, but will gather his Church together like a shepherd and will lead his faithful in a most agreeable and gentle way. He teaches that Christ will rule with divine and heavenly power, and that he will gather a holy church in the world through the ministry of the gospel, the gates of hell notwithstanding. Upon all his enemies, however, he will inflict eternal punishments.

He then preaches in splendid detail about the immense wisdom and infinite power of the Messiah, that he is the creator of heaven and earth, that he has all things in his hand, that he is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, that all the nations are nothing when considered in comparison with the Messiah, the omnipotent God. He teaches that idols and images are nothing, and that those who rely on them are extremely delusional, but that the Messiah is the most powerful of all, as the one who has heaven and earth in his hand, who reduces powerful kings and princes to nothing and makes the wise look like fools.

He teaches that God has not forgotten his Church, nor has he retracted his promise, nor does God grow weary with the passing of time. And so there should be no doubt as to the coming of the Messiah, nor should they abandon the hope of salvation; indeed, they should rather conclude that God will certainly fulfill and accomplish what he has promised, and that he is always supplied with strength and power, but that this kind of judgment will ensue for even the strongest young men, that their strength will let them down so that they fail. But those who wait on the Lord and steadfastly persist in faith will continually regain new powers and will be strengthened through the Holy Spirit. And in this way he instructs the pious to become partakers of Christ’s spiritual kingdom through faith and eager expectation, and to reap the fruit of the Messiah’s coming.

VERSES 27-31

27. Why therefore would you say, O Jacob, and (why) would you, O Israel, speak (this way): “My way has been hidden from the Lord, and my judgment escapes my God”?
28. Do you not know? Have you not heard that God is eternal, and the Lord is the one who created the ends of the earth? He neither wears out from fatigue nor can his intelligence wear out.
29. He (rather) gives strength to the faint, and to him whose powers have surely forsaken him, he supplies vigor in abundance.
30. Grown men are rendered tired and panting, and the choicest young men all fall down.
31. But those who wait for the Lord continually regain new powers; they will raise wings like the eagles. They will run and not wear out; they will walk and not get tired.

Grown men are rendered tired and panting, and the choicest young men all fall down.

He compares the powers of the impious to those of the pious, and he shows how the success is different in each case. The impious vaunt their powers, wisdom, righteousness, free will, courage, and vigor. They expect that they will be able to overcome all troubles and adversities by their own strength. They are confident that they will be able to endure God’s judgment and to overcome death by their own merits and to obtain eternal life. But in fact when troubles and adversities assail, when severe trials attack, when sins awake and they are overwhelmed with a sense of God’s wrath, when death exposes his powers, immediately they grow weary, are unable to hold out, and all fall down.

For human powers cannot endure the judgment of God, and the impious are all destitute of the work and help of the Holy Spirit and therefore must of necessity meet their ruin. Thus Saul met his ruin, Sennacherib fell, Balthasar perished, Goliath fell, the Pharisee in Luke 18 fell. And all the impious, who trust in their own works and powers, sink into despair in the end, destitute of all comfort. Even if they are the choicest young men, who stand out in wisdom, righteousness, vigor, and virtue, who are regarded as most holy, all these fall down too, both among the people of God and among all the heathens.

But those who wait for the Lord continually regain new powers; they will raise wings like the eagles. They will run and not wear out…

That is, the pious, who place their confidence and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, are continually bolstered with comfort, are revived through the Holy Spirit, receive the remission of sins, are flooded with new light, acquire new powers, are renewed and transformed from splendor to splendor [cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18]. They are sustained in all affliction and adversity, are assisted in every hardship, are strengthened in trials. And in the very courtroom of God’s justice and the sensing of the wrath of God, and also in the agony of death, they have the Holy Spirit as an advocate [paracletum], they receive a taste of eternal life, overcome all evils, and obtain eternal life.

He distinguishes the pious from the impious thus: “But those who wait for the Lord,” that is, those in whom true faith in our Lord Jesus Christ shines forth. For the pious have sins just as much as the impious do. And the pious in large part are weak and feeble. Yet they do not fall down, for they receive the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the one difference between them and the impious, that the pious wait for the Lord.

They therefore continually regain new powers. Just as eagles change their feathers every ten years and renew their strength, so the pious will blossom even in old age; they will be lush and green.

“They will run” – namely in the labors of their vocation, in the endeavor to be pious, in great dangers and trials. “…and not wear out” – namely, they will not be broken by any hardship or any adversity, since they are confirmed and strengthened through the Holy Spirit, whom they have received through faith, and in the end, with all evils overcome, they will be led into eternal life. And thus he also indicates the means through which we may apply to ourselves all the Messiah’s benefits, the remission of sins, grace and truth, an eternal reward, renewal, and eternal life.

Jerome’s Commentary on Isaiah 40:30-31

…That is why God gives sadness to those who have an impenitent heart, in order that they may recognize their sins. And since many people take pleasure in the health of the body, and think that youth and childhood last forever, he continues by saying that the flowering age of life quickly fades, and sturdy bodies waste away. But those who have confidence not in their own powers, but in God, and are always awaiting his mercy put on new strength [mutent fortitudinem] and proceed from strength to strength [de virtute in virtutem], and they take on feathers like the eagles, and they hear, “Your youth will be renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). They run to the Lord, and do not toil under his desire; they walk, and never grow weak. We have often said that the old age of eagles is revitalized by the exchanging of feathers, and that they are the only ones that gaze at the brightness of the sun and can look at the splendor of its rays with sparkling eyes, and they use this test to determine whether their chicks are of the noble kind. So too the saints become children again, and since they have taken on an immortal body, they are not affected by the hardship of mortals, but they are snatched up to meet Christ in the clouds, and according to the Septuagint they do not get hungry at all, because they have the Lord at their side as their food.


1 Latin: & de spirituali & æterno regno ipsius de ipsius æternis beneficiis,… There is either an “&” missing before the second de, or the second de should be cum.

2 I am reading exorsurum (in agreement with testamentum) for exorsurus.

3 I am reading exhibiturus for exhibitus.