Luthers Hymns

Luther's Hymns It was a saying among the Roman Catholics in the time of Luther, that "by his songs he has done more harm to the Romanists than by his sermons." And such is the fact. "For," says Mr. Coleridge, "Luther did as much for the Reformation by his hymns as by his translation of the Bible. In Germany the hymns are known by heart by every peasant; they advise, they argue, from the hymns, and every soul in the Church praises God, like a Christian, with words which are natural and yet sacred to his mind." Luther was intensely fond of both music and poetry, and his poetical talent we best perceive in his hymns. Altogether he wrote about thirty-six hymns, which may be divided as follows: (a) Translations of Latin hymns; (b) Amplifications of German hymns from the Latin; (c) Correction and revision of German hymns; (d) Hymns based upon Latin psalms; (e) Hymns based upon passages of the Bible; (f) Original hymns. Spangenberg, in his preface to the Cithara Lutheri, in 1545, speaks thus of Luther's hymns, "One must certainly let this be true and remain true, that, among all Meister-singers, from the days of the apostles until now, Luther is, and always will be, the best and most accomplished; in whose hymns and songs one does not find a vain or needless word. All flows and falls in the sweetest and neatest manner, full of spirit and doctrine, so that his every word gives outright a sermon of its own, or, at least, a singular reminiscence. There is nothing forced, nothing foisted in or patched up, nothing fragmentary. The rhymes are easy and good, the words choice and proper, the meaning clear and intelligible, the melodies lovely and hearty, and in summa all is so rare and majestic, so full of pith and power, so cheering and comforting, that, in sooth, you will not find his equal, much less his master." The most famous of Luther's hymns is the Reformation hymn, Ein'feste Burg ist unser Gott, which has been translated into very many languages. A collection of the translations of this hymn in nineteen languages has been published by B. Pick (Rochester, 1880); an enlarged edition, comprising twenty-one languages (28 English; 2 Dutch; 1 Danish; 1 Swedish; 5 Latin; 3 French; 1 Spanish; 1 Russian; 1 Polish; 1 Bohemian; 1 Wendish; 1 Lettish; 1 Lithuanian; 1 Finnish; 1 Esthonian; 1 Hebrew; 1 Accra; 1 Tshi; 1 Zulu; 1 Hungarian; 1 Italian), was published by the same author in 1883. But this is not the only hymn which has been translated into English. In fact, all his hymns are translated, as may be seen from Pick's Luther as a Hymnist (Philadelphia, 1875). An edition giving the German text, with the English translation and notes, was published by Scribner's Sons (New York, 1883). (B.P.)

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