Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Reformation Day!

As a child, I used to love the hymns of All Saints’ Day. So imagine my surprise during my first fall at our local LCMS parish, when I found that taking priority over All Saints’ Day every year was Reformation Day, commemorating Oct. 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door.

Oddly, the Lutheran Service Book (the 2006 LCMS hymnal) lists only four hymns for the occasion. Not surprisingly, one is Martin Luther’s greatest hit, Ein Feste Burg, presented in both the 1941 (The Lutheran Hymnal) metric familiar to LCMS German-Americans and a rhythm that sounds more normal to my ex-ECUSA ears. [Correction] Thanks to the translation by F.H. Hedge, it appears in all the American and English hymnals, and so American Christians (if there are any left) will be singing Luther’s 1529 hymn on its sexcentennial if not its septcentennial or millennial anniversary.

Two others in the LSB list I’d never heard of: “God’s Word is our great heritage” and “O little flock, fear not the foe.” (The latter is a Winkworth translation of a lyric by Johann Altenburg).

The fourth was a Winkworth translation of a Luther hymn, in this case the 1541 “Er halt uns, Herr, bei dein em Wort.” The CyberHymnal reports the three verses as:
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.
As far as I can tell, it’s not in either of H40 or H82. says it appears in the 1977 and 1999 editions of the Australian Anglican hymnal, but nowhere else among the many Anglican hymnals that it indexes.

The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) has 12 hymns rather than 4 for Reformation, including the three aforementioned Winkworth translation of German hymns. But what really caught my eye was another Winkworth translation — listed as “O Lord, Our Father, shall we be confounded” (#269) but originally written by Winkworth as “Ah! Lord our God, let them not be confounded.”

The original words were written by Johann Heermann in 1630. No matter what the words, the bonus for this hymn is the use of the 1640 tune Herzliebster Jesu by Johann Crüger. Singing Crüger is one of the things I miss most from my Lutheran period.

The CyberHymnal reports the TLH words for the five verses:
O Lord, our Father, shall we be confounded
Who, though by trials and woes surrounded,
On Thee alone for help are still relying,
To Thee are crying?

Lord, put to shame Thy foes who breathe defiance
And vainly make their might their sole reliance;
In mercy turn to us, the poor and stricken,
Our hope to quicken.

Be Thou our Helper and our strong Defender;
Speak to our foes and cause them to surrender.
Yea, long before their plans have been completed,
They are defeated.

’Tis vain to trust in man; for Thou, Lord, only
Art the Defense and Comfort of the lonely.
With Thee to lead, the battle shall be glorious
And we victorious.

Thou art our Hero, all our foes subduing;
Save Thou Thy little flock they are pursuing.
We seek Thy help; for Jesus’ sake be near us.
Great Helper, hear us!
I could not find the hymn reported in Oremus using Google or its Catherine Winkworth index, suggesting that it may not be used by Anglicans anywhere. It’s too bad — not just because of the doctrinal content, but because the Crüger tune should be easy for most congregations to sing.

So if I’m asked to contribute to the New Anglican Hymnal, this timeless hymn is going to join Ein Feste Burg as part of the canon of borrowed Lutheran hymns.


Anonymous said...

Winkworth? Check again.

9.West said...

You're right, it wasn’t Winkworth this time. I must have had her on the brain. Thanks for catching this.

Alas, it's a case where the story is more complicated than some of the other hymns. According to Hymnal 1940 Companion, the Brits use a translation by Thomas Carlyle, while ECUSA adopted the 1852 translation of Frederic Henry Hedge starting with Hymnal 1916.