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Lutheran Theological Review
published jointly by the faculties of
Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary
St. Catharines, Ontario
Concordia Lutheran Seminary
Edmonton, Alberta
Edward G. Kettner
Thomas M. Winger
Technical Editor
Thomas M. Winger
St. Catharines
Thomas M. Winger, Th.D.,
Acting President
James E. Keller, M.A., M.Div.
William F. Mundt, Dr.Theol.
John R. Stephenson, Ph.D.
Manfred Zeuch, B.D., Ph.D.,
Stephen L. Chambers, Ph.D.
Edward G. Kettner, Th.D.
Jonathan W. Kraemer, M.Div.
Lutheran Theological Review is published by the seminary faculties of
Lutheran Church–Canada. The periodical exists for the discussion of theological issues within the frame of reference of confessional Lutheranism, but
the views represented by the individual writers are not necessarily those of
the faculties. Guidelines for Contributors are available upon request.
Changes of address, paid subscriptions, and other business matters should
be addressed to:
Lutheran Theological Review
c/o Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary
470 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catharines, ON L2T 4C3
Annual subscription rate: $10.00 (Canada); $15.00 (International)
Copyright © The Faculties of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St.
Catharines, and Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.
Permission is granted to reproduce individual articles without alteration for
non-profit, educational use, so long as no charge is levied beyond the cost of
reproduction and full citation is given.
Contact Information:
Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary
470 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catharines, ON L2T 4C3
+1 (905) 688-2362
[email protected]
Concordia Lutheran Seminary
7040 Ada Boulevard
Edmonton AB T5B 4E3
+1 (780) 474-1468
[email protected]
Lutheran Theological Review
Volume 20
Academic Year 2007-08
Standard Abbreviations ............................................................................ 4
Editorial Foreword................................................................................... 5
Short Studies
Hymn to Homily: Reflections on Writing a Sermon Based on Paul
Gerhardt’s “Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow” ...................................... 8
Kurt A. Lantz
From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler (Angelus Silesius):
Poetry and Polemic in the Baroque Era....................................................11
Peter C. Erb
What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt? ..................................................26
Joseph Herl
Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1 .........................37
John W. Kleinig
Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2 .........................55
John W. Kleinig
Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song...........................................67
Gerald Krispin
Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow........................................................113
Kurt A. Lantz
Standard Abbreviations
Luther’s Works, American edition, 55 vols (St. Louis: Concordia, and
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958- ).
Bauer, Walter, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
1st ed., edited by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 1957.
2nd ed., edited by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker,
3rd ed., edited by Frederick W. Danker, 2000.
Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 12 editions
[cite edition used] (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1930- ).
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006).
Lutheran Worship (St. Louis: Concordia, 1982).
Novum Testamentum Graece, ed. Kurt and Barbara Aland, et al.
(Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993).
Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of
the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 10 vols (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964- ).
The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia, 1941).
Walch, Johann Georg, ed. D. Martin Luthers sämtlichen Schriften, 2nd
[“St. Louis”] ed., 23 vols (St. Louis: Concordia, 1880-1910).
D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Weimarer Ausgabe
[“Weimar ed.”] (Weimar: Hermann Böhlau, 1883- ).
WA DB Weimarer Ausgabe Deutsche Bibel [German Bible]
WA Br Weimarer Ausgabe Briefe [Letters]
WA Tr Weimarer Ausgabe Tischreden [Table talk]
Abbreviations for the Lutheran confessional writings:
Augsburg Confession
Apology of the Augsburg Confession
Smalcald Articles
Tractate/Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
Small Catechism
Large Catechism
Formula of Concord, Epitome
Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration
Copyright notice:
BWHEBB [Hebrew] and BWGRKL [Greek] TrueType™ fonts Copyright © 1994-2002
BibleWorks, LLC. All rights reserved. These Biblical Greek and Hebrew fonts are used with
permission and are from BibleWorks, software for Biblical exegesis and research.
Editorial Foreword
“WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT PAUL GERHARDT?” asks Joseph Herl. Perhaps part of
the answer lies not in Gerhardt but in the church in which he served as
pastor, poet, and confessor. We Lutherans value him so highly because he is
(in our estimation) second only to Luther himself as poet laureate of our
confession. But before we value him, we value hymnody. Gerhardt’s hymns
epitomize what we seek in congregational song: not pure adoration of either
God or man, but true praise that proclaims the saving works of God to Him
and to one another. That is to say, we value great hymnody because it is
filled with Gospel. We love Gerhardt because we love the Gospel.
This volume of LTR contains the most significant essays from a
symposium on the life and work of Paul Gerhardt, sponsored by Concordia
Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, and held at Christ Lutheran
Church, St. Catharines, 7-9 May 2007. The symposium honoured the 400th
anniversary of Gerhardt’s birth. Like the warmly received Hermann Sasse
symposium of 1995, it was combined with the LCC East District Pastors’
Conference (now pastors and deacons).
In contrast to the C. S. Lewis Symposium, held in conjunction with
Brock University in March 2006, the Gerhardt symposium was a distinctly
churchly event, and was held in a church building to allow for regular and
lively singing of the hymns themselves in the appropriate context of Matins
and Vespers. We were grateful for the contribution of Cantor Richard Resch
and the Kantorei of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, for their
offering of a choral Vespers on the first evening. Thanks are due also to
Joseph Herl for his virtuosic organ playing, and to a small choir of pastors
who showed what the home team can do.
Gerald Krispin, newly-installed president of Concordia University
College of Alberta in Edmonton, is widely recognized for his expertise on
Paul Gerhardt. In a typically lively display, Krispin presented photos,
artwork, and texts that brought Gerhardt to life. He focussed on the
historical setting of Gerhardt’s life in that moment of confession when the
Elector of Brandenburg tried to force his Lutheran pastors to deny the Real
Presence and adopt the Reformed position. Gerhardt suffered greatly for his
refusal. In this volume of LTR we offer the full text of Krispin’s extensive
study of the matter. Though it is somewhat longer than our customary
offerings, we present it with the realization that this busy new president may
not have the time to bring his long-awaited biography of Gerhardt to print!
In characteristic manner, John Kleinig, the keynote speaker, brought
together solid scholarship and “spirituality”. That oft-maligned word takes
on new meaning as Kleinig roots it in a Lutheran ethos of liturgicallylocated Word and Sacrament. Though Gerhardt’s hymns are found to be
“pious”, they are certainly not “Pietistic”. Kleinig deftly weaves a path
through Gerhardt’s hymns that finds the “Christ for me” without
degenerating into “me, me, me”.
Joseph Herl, who must be acknowledged as one of the greatest living
experts on early Lutheran hymnody (witness his doctoral dissertation
recently published by Oxford University Press), enlightened the masses on
what precisely made Gerhardt’s hymns great. Herl’s essay offers a concise
survey of how Gerhardt’s collected hymns came into print, and what we can
learn from surveying the mix.
Peter Erb was a delightful departure from the usual myopia of Lutheran
conferences. A former Mennonite turned Roman Catholic, Erb offered an
outsider’s view. While comparing Gerhardt to Silesius, a contemporary who
abandoned the Lutheran Church to become Roman Catholic, Erb
surprisingly gives superior marks to Gerhardt’s accomplishments. At the
same time, Erb shows great theological dexterity in identifying how Silesius’
hymns were modified to make them suitable for use in the Lutheran
Finally, Kurt Lantz came off the bench for the home team,
demonstrating how well suited good Lutheran hymnody is for preaching. In
a short study, he shows how the move from hymn to homily is made, and
the sermon is given so the reader can decide how it came off.
Our two small seminaries in Lutheran Church–Canada cannot hope to
match the resources of larger institutions that can do symposia every year.
But we hope to offer the occasional alternative, and are pleased to hear
comments from attendees like “That was the best conference I’ve ever
attended!” We look forward to the Luther 2017 Countdown!
With this volume, the new series of LTR enters its 20th year. We thought
a slight refresh of the design was in order. We hope that the new layout is
also more suitable to the electronic format available on our websites. You
may download this issue, and all previous issues, at:
Epiphany 2009
Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76
Emil Fröhlich, Paul Gerhardt, oil on canvas, 148x120cm, 1935
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 8-10
Short Study
Hymn to Homily: Reflections on Writing a Sermon Based
on Paul Gerhardt’s “Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow”*
Kurt A. Lantz
in different ways. The most common is likely
quoting a couple of lines to underscore a major theological point. In the
recent past it was not uncommon for the preacher to conclude his sermon
with one or two stanzas of a hymn. When the hymn itself becomes the topic
of the sermon it is a slightly different game.
I heard that on Super Bowl Sunday a pastor preached a sermon naming
all of the teams of the National Football League. You could probably do the
same with the hymns of Paul Gerhardt, combining the first lines into a
specific order, and come up with a much better sermon, but such triviality
ought not to be exercised in the preaching task. We are not called to
proclaim the NFL franchises, nor the hymns of any poet (Christian or
pagan) but the Word of God. So the task of turning hymn to homily begins
by retracing Paul Gerhardt’s process of turning the Word of God into
For some of Gerhardt’s hymns this is easier than for others. “A Lamb
Goes Uncomplaining Forth” (LSB 438) immediately calls to mind Isaiah
53:7, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its
shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth”; and the words of John the
Baptist “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”
(John 1:29). But some of Gerhardt’s hymns do not immediately cause you
to recall any specific Scripture; rather, they seem to launch off from a small
starting pad into a whole universe of theology.1 “All My Heart, Again
Rejoices” (LSB 360) begins with reference to the angelic proclamation of the
Saviour’s birth, which we can easily cite from Luke 2; but then off the hymn
In the fall of 2006 Rev. Todd Hoeffs of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Edmonton, Alberta,
contacted several other LCC pastors, including me, in order to arrange a series of sermons
for the 2007 season of Lent. In order to commemorate this 400th anniversary year of the
birth of Paul Gerhardt in our parishes, Pastor Hoeffs suggested basing our sermons on
Gerhardt hymns or the Scripture texts on which they were based. This essay was
presented to the Paul Gerhardt Symposium, hosted by Concordia Lutheran Theological
Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, 8 May 2007.
Here LSB does us a tremendous service by citing an exhaustive list of Scripture references
beneath the hymns.
Lantz: Hymn to Homily
soars to speak of the Conqueror over sin, woe, death and hell (redemption);
atonement; sanctification; providence; and eternal life.
Indeed, Gerhardt’s hymns are, for the most part, not expositional in the
sense of expounding one passage of Scripture phrase by phrase. No,
Gerhardt invites the Divine Word to enter into the human experience in
order to heal humanity’s frailty, as our Saviour did Himself in His
incarnation. The Word became flesh. Within the Christian hymn writer, the
Word of God first becomes a part of his flesh and he then expresses it on
paper. Is this not also what we strive for as preachers?
I chose to write a homily on a Gerhardt hymn that is a favourite of
many, “Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow”, thinking it appropriate, too,
that it would be used in midweek evening services.2 Where is the Divine
Word that inspired Gerhardt to pen these lines?3 Gerhardt does not
necessarily start with a specific passage of Scripture. Rather, first the
Scripture is in his heart, not just as a series of memorized Bible passages, but
as the Word indwelling him through his years as a recipient of God’s grace.
The Word entered his flesh through the preaching he heard from himself
and others, through his Baptism and subsequent baptismal life, and through
his eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then the Christian
poet allows the Word to flow through him and out of him to express the
condition of his own life redeemed by Christ, the union of himself with the
Divine Word. So, although Lutheran Service Book lists a few Scripture
passages under the hymn “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow”, the hymn
is perhaps more truthfully referencing the Christian life experiencing all that
the Word tells us and works in us.
The Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (1931) has all 9 stanzas in English
translation. They help to follow Gerhardt’s direction in thought through the
hymn. In stanza 1, as the world settles in for the night, our hearts are stirred
to thank our God. In stanza 2 we confess that Jesus Christ is our Light even
after the sun has set. In stanza 3 going to sleep at night is compared with the
sleep of death. In stanza 4, as we undress for bed, we are reminded that we
will be undressed of this body in death, and we will be clothed with
immortality at the resurrection. In stanza 5, the rest from the day’s toil
points to the relief from the curse of sin. Stanza 6 reminds us that death is
inevitable. Stanza 7 declares that we must commend ourselves into the
hands of God. Stanza 8, perhaps the most beloved, is our prayer for God’s
protection through the night, along with stanza 9 which proclaims our
confidence that God hears and will answer this prayer.
[The resulting sermon is reproduced at the end of this volume of LTR – ed.]
Preparation for this homily began before the release of LSB, which references Ps. 4:8; 91:4,
11-12; Lk. 1:78-79; Ps. 139:11-14.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
In addition to the text of the hymn itself, we have some of the details of
Paul Gerhardt’s life, the trials and tribulations he experienced himself as
well as the struggles and hardships of those to whom he preached. I am
indebted to Theodore Brown Hewitt’s Paul Gerhardt as a Hymn Writer and His
Influence on English Hymnody.4 From this document I gleaned illustrations of
night-time fear from Swedish marauders. Of course, the people in my parish
do not get night terrors about Swedish marauders. Some of them, however,
are terrified by dark visions, and all of them have the darkness of their own
sin, which needs the Light of Christ in order to have a quiet night and peace
at the last.
So now, the hymn is beginning to take the form of homily. Scripture
passages begin to suggest themselves, including Psalm 4:8, “I will both lie
down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in
safety.” Gerhardt’s hymns and historical accounts from his life-time are
applicable to the people in the parish today because the great Lutheran poet
has let the Word have its way with him and given expression to his
experience of God’s grace.
Rev. Kurt Lantz is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Kincardine, and
Southampton Lutheran Church, Southampton, Ontario.
(Yale University Press, 1918). Hypertext version of this book is available from the
Christian Classic Ethereal Library at <>.
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 11-25
From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler (Angelus Silesius):
Poetry and Polemic in the Baroque Era*
Peter C. Erb
drawn to his central character, the unassuming George Smiley, who
negotiates the twisted halls of MI5 during the day and returns home in the
evening to polish his eye-glasses with his tie and relax with the rhythms of
German baroque literature. A cursory reading of the Le Carré novels might
lead one to suppose that Smiley’s evening solitude with poetry was the
means by which he escaped the East-West polemics of the day, and that the
insanity of his vocation was healed, or at least managed, by his aesthetic
avocation, whereas, in fact, Smiley’s tragedy is that the world of his nighttime reading mirrored his daily world shaped by the paradoxes of cold-war
intrigue. As Smiley himself noted, his world and that of the seventeenth
century baroque into which he escaped for his evening reverie, reflected the
dilemma of a life in which one was required to be “inhuman in defence of
our humanity, ... harsh in the defence of compassion ... single-minded in
defence of our disparity.”1
It serves us well to keep Smiley’s dilemma before us when we interpret
writers such as Paul Gerhardt (1607-76). However much we may separate
the violent conflicts of his time, sealing off the polemical from the poetic, the
theological and national wars that raged during his life from the beauty of
his hymns, so as to suit our present purposes, Gerhardt and his
contemporaries could and did not do so, and by their practice call us to
reflect more closely on the polemical framework of our own past and
present traditions. In the following paper, as a result, I have chosen to
comment on Gerhardt’s poetry in the context of his theological opponents:
on the one side, the radical “mystical spiritualists”, Jakob Boehme and his
followers, including those Lutheran and Reformed Pietists, his ostensible
supporters, who would later use and misuse Gerhardt’s hymns for their own
purposes, and on the other, the Catholic poets and spiritual writers, who so
fiercely opposed the Lutheran tradition, often, like Gerhardt’s intraLutheran opponents, formulating an apologetic that was at times “inhuman
Presented at the Paul Gerhardt Symposium, hosted by Concordia Lutheran Theological
Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, 8 May 2007.
JOHN LE CARRÉ, The Honourable Schoolboy (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977), 522.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
in defence of ... humanity, ... harsh in the defence of compassion ... singleminded in defence of ... disparity.”2
Few today would support the ongoing polemic that marked the baroque
or the cold-war eras, but since the collapse of the iron-curtain and the
resulting rise in global religious tensions, even fewer would suppose that we
can bracket deep-rooted political, ideological, and theological contentions
with impunity. What we face with the end of “enlightened” Liberalism is
not the death of ecumenical hope for a united Christianity, but the
recognition that such hope must be pursued in full and clear acceptance of
differences which cannot be swept aside as mere adiaphora, and that in a
manner, unlike that of the Le Carré world, it must be intended to humanize
the defence of humanity and irenicize that of compassion, while remaining
necessarily single-minded in defence, not of disparity, but of respective
diversities. One small way to begin such a programme within a Christian
framework is to consider Gerhardt from the perspective of a single
opponent—in this case one who combines in his own work the two
disparities noted above (the “mystical-spiritualist and the Catholic)—
Gerhardt’s contemporary, Johann Scheffler (1634-77), who wrote under the
pen name, Angelus Silesius (Silesius, after his homeland). Both parts of my
argument, the comparison of the two poets and an analysis of the ways in
which Lutherans and the Lutheran Church in Canada in particular have
made use Scheffler’s work, are developed toward a better understanding of
Gerhardt’s own writing in the broader context of his time and toward a
fuller exposition of the Christian hymnic tradition as a whole in
contemporary ecumenical dialogue.3
For bibliography and overview of the various aspects of these debates see my “Gottfried
Arnold” in CARTER LINDBERG, ed., The Pietist Theologians (Oxford: Blackwells, 2004),
175-91; the Lindberg volume generally; and my Pietists, Protestants, and Mysticism: The Use
of Late Medieval Spiritual Texts in the Work of Gottfried Arnold (1666-1714) (Metuchen, NJ:
Scarecrow Press, 1989).
For examples of the “mis-use” of earlier mediaeval, Catholic, and, mutatis mutandi, earlier
Lutheran writing, see my Pietists, Protestants, and Mysticism, passim, “Gottfried Arnold’s
Defense of Mystical Theology” in DIETRICH MEYER and UDO STRAETER, eds, Zur
Rezeption mystischer Tradition im Protestantismus des 16. bis 19. Jahrhunderts (Köln: Rheinland
Verlag, 2002), 203-22; the strikingly different context outlined in my “Pietism and
Tractarian Oxford: Edward Bouverie Pusey, Evangelicalism, and the Interpretation of
German Theology” in WOLFGANG BREUL-KUNKEL and LOTHAR VOGEL, eds, Rezeption
und Reform: Festschrift für Hans Schneider zu seinem 60. Geburtstag (Darmstadt und Kassel:
Verlag der hessischen Kirchengeschichtlichen Vereinigung, 2001), 399-412; in this respect
note as well the ongoing practice of “redirecting” earlier writing for later purposes in the
reprint of GERARD TERSTEEGEN, The Quiet Way: A Christian Path to Inner Peace, trans.
Emily Chisholm [reprint of 1950 edition] (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2008),
somewhat mitigated by my “Introduction”, vi-xxvii.
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
The hymnists in their time
The lives of Paul Gerhardt and Johann Scheffler are strikingly similar.
Although Scheffler was born seventeen years later than Gerhard, they died
within a year of one another, both were orphaned in their early teens,4 and
both were born Lutherans, Scheffler to an irascible and wealthy Polish
nobleman (he seems to have inherited the personality trait along with
parental monies) in Breslau, Silesia. In 1628, when Gerhardt entered
theology at Wittenberg, Scheffler was but four years old; and in 1643 when
Gerhardt was first appointed a candidate in Berlin, Scheffler began to study
medicine and law in Strasbourg, moving on to Leiden and then Padua. He
was appointed as private physician to firmly orthodox Duke Silvius Nimrod
of Oels in his native Silesia in 1649. Silesia at the time was in many areas
largely Lutheran, but Counter-Reformation action under the Jesuits was
already underway there, and, unlike Gerhardt, Scheffler’s religious
experience was shaped not so much by the devastation of the Thirty Years
War as by the politico-theological battles that followed the complex
religious compromises in the Treaty of Westphalia and the physical reappropriation of Lutheran churches to Roman Catholic control.
Although a Lutheran, Scheffler was not attracted by the central formulae
of that tradition. In Silesia he became close friends with Abraham von
Franckenberg (1593-1652), the disciple of the Breslau shoemaker and
mystic, Jakob Boehme (1575-1624),5 and the Boehmist circle in
Ludwigsdorf nearby Oels, immersing himself as did they and his fellow
Silesian poet, Daniel Czepko von Reigersfeld (1605-60), in the spiritual
(and medical) significance of alchemical imagery, the search for holiness,
the celibate love of the Virgin Sophia, and, above all, the Christian mystical
tradition. Like many in this group, Scheffler’s “Lutheranism” differed
significantly from that of Gerhardt’s firm adherence to the “Formula of
Concord”. When asked by his duke whether he was Catholic, Lutheran, or
Calvinist, he is supposed to have replied: “I am the heart of these religions.”
Scheffler was not to retain such a position for long. In 1652 (one year
after Gerhardt’s appointment as Inspector in Mittenwalde), Frankenberg
died, leaving the poet his extensive library. Scheffler compiled an anthology
of mystical texts, but publication was forbidden by the Lutheran censor.
Almost immediately on hearing the decision, Scheffler returned to Breslau,
Gerhardt died on 27 May 1676, Scheffler on 9 July 1677. Gerhardt lost his father at 11, his
mother at 14; Scheffler lost his father at 13 and his mother, the daughter of the Court
Physician at Breslau, at 15.
On Boehme see, above all, ANDREW WEEKS, Boehme: An intellectual Biography of the
Seventeenth-century Philosopher and Mystic (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1991).
Lutheran Theological Review 20
engaged in a more intensive study of the mediaeval mystics and other
Catholic works, and, shortly after, in 1653, was received into the Roman
Catholic Church. He was befriended by Sebastian von Rostock (1607-71),
Vicar-General of the Cathedral at Breslau and a member of the Imperial
Commission responsible for furthering the counter-reformation in Silesia,
who found Scheffler a position as court physician at Breslau in 1654. Then
as now much speculation has been directed to the reasons for Scheffler’s
conversion. He was certainly offended by the act of the Lutheran censor,
and counter-reformation activity in Silesia at the time was at its heights,
offering him rapid rise in status (the charge of opportunism was quickly
laid), but psychological and political explanations, all too common in our
own time, fail to recognize that theology was then and can still be taken
seriously, and his action was a reasonable direction for a Boehmist of his
type. He was, after all, deeply imbued with the mediaeval mystical tradition
and its ongoing development in baroque Catholicism, and his Boehmist
orientation provided him with a high anthropology and an essentialist view
of human growth in holiness, much more Catholic than Lutheran. Nor
should one be surprised that in the highly-charged atmosphere of his day
Scheffler immediately published a polemical tract against his former
religionists, defending these and other theological themes against his former
co-believers,6 or that the tone of his polemic was as “hot-blooded” or
“intemperate” as it was. In the contentious atmosphere of the time,
Gerhardt’s “firm” and “principled” Lutheran stance against Reformed
teachings in the 1660s appeared equally “intemperate” to his opponents.
Scheffler’s most important works, the Geistliche Sinn- und Schlußreime7
and the Heilige Seelen-Lust Oder Geistliche Hirten-Lieder,8 were published four
Johannis Schefflers ... Gründtliche Ursachen und Motiven, Warumb er von dem Lutherthumb
abgetretten / Und sich zu der Catholischen Kyrchen bekennet hat: ... mit beygefügten 16 ReligionsFragen (Ingolstatt: Hänlin, 1653). See also the Latin version, Caussae Fundatae: Denuo
Pleniusque Redditae; Propter quas, abiecto Lutheranismo, Catholicam Religionem sibi capessendam
fuisse, animadvertit (Straubingae: Gallus, 1654); and Idea Causarum Fundatarum, Cur, Eiurato
Sectariorum consortio, in Ecclesiae Catholicae gremium necessario coniecerint sese Joannes
Schefflerus, aliaeque magnae ... Animae ... Adiuncta est Paraenesis R. P. Iodoci Kedd Societatis Jesu
... (Ingolstadii: Haenlin, 1653). For a Lutheran defence see Christian Chemnitz (1615-66),
Veritas Religionis Lutheranae Defensa. Sive Breve Examen Argumentorum & Fundamentorum,
Quibus Johannes Schefflerus, Wratislaviensis, Phil. & Medic. Doctor, antehac Archiater Ducalis
Oelsensis, Religionem nostram impugnavit, & quibus se ad Apostasiam commotum fuisse, publico
scripto est testatus: Cui sub finem, ipsum scriptum Germanicum est subiunctum (Ienae: Nisius,
Geistreiche Sinn- und Schlussreime Johannis Angeli Silesii (Wien: Kürner, 1657). For a
complete edition of Scheffler’s poetic corpus see ANGELUS SILESIUS, Samtlich Poetische,
ed. Hans Ludwig Held, 3 vols (München: C. Hanser, 1949-52). Note as well Angelus
Silesius sämtliche poetische Werke und eine Auswahl aus seinen Streitschriften: mit einem
Lebensbilde, ed. Georg Ellinger, 2 vols (Berlin: Propyläen-Verlage, 1923).
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
years later, in 1657, the year of Gerhardt’s appointment as Deacon at St
Nicolai in Berlin. The Geistliche Sinn- und Schlußreime, best known through
its later expanded edition, the Cherubinischer Wandersmann,9 was a collection
of five books of short couplets and quatrains, most dependent on earlier
mystical writings, the Boehmist tone not fully removed in all cases.10
Scheffler, hereafter best known under his chosen name, Angelus Silesius,
gained an imprimatur for the work from von Rostock, who also wrote a
preface to the verses, interpreting what may have been seen as dubious
passages in an orthodox Roman Catholic light. The Heilige Seelen-Lust was a
compilation of his 205 finest hymns, gathered into five books, comprising,
as the title indicates of lyrics addressed by the beloved soul to Jesus. It is this
work on which his reputation as a hymnist depended.
In May of 1661, the year before Gerhardt’s association with the
Lutheran-Reformed conversations, Scheffler was ordained a priest; his life
thereafter was marked by a generous philanthropy and service to the poor,
but much more by highly aggressive Roman Catholic evangelical activities,
closing for the most part his creative poetic career and furthering his
composition of fierce anti-Lutheran tracts (55 in all under varying
pseudonyms11 and genres—and published together in the last year of his life
as Ecclesiologia oder Kirchen-Beschreibung12) and his promotion of deliberately
confrontational, elaborate religious processions in Lutheran areas. In 1664
von Rostock was consecrated Bishop at Breslau and immediately raised
Scheffler to the office of Court Marshal. With the death of his bishop in
1671, Scheffler turned for support to the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery
Heilige Seelen-Lust/ Oder Geistliche Hirten-Lieder / Der in ihren Jesum verliebten Psyche /
Gesungen Von Johann Angelo Silesio, Und von Herren Georgio Josepho mit auszbundig schönen
Melodeyen geziert ... zu Lob und Ehren Gottes an Tag gegeben (Breszlaw: Baumannische
Drukkerey, 1657). Note as well the edition (used throughout this study) with a biography
of the author, Heilige Seelenlust, oder, Geistliche Hirtenlieder der in ihren Jesum verliebten Psyche
1657, 1668, ed. Georg Ellinger (Halle a. S.: Max Niemeyer, 1901).
Cherubinischer Wandersmann oder Geist-Reiche Sinn- und Schlußreime zur Göttlichen
beschauligkeit anleitende Ausgabe: Von dem Urheber aufs neue übersehn / und mit dem Sechsten
Buche vermehrt / den Liebhabern der geheimen Theologie und beschaulichen Lebens zur Geistlichen
Ergötzligkeit zum andernmahl herauß gegeben (Glatz : Schubarth, 1675).
For a brief source analysis see the introduction and notes to the edition of the
Cherubinischer Wandersmann by WILL-ERICH PEUCKERT (Leipzig: Dieterich, o.d.).
Christian Bonamicus, Christianus Conscientiosus, Candidus Philalethes, among others.
D. Johannis Schefflers Der H. Römischen Kirchen Pristers Ecclesiologia Oder Kirche-Beschreibung:
Bestehende In Neun und dreyssig unterschiedenen außerlesenen Tractätlein von der Catholischen
Kirche und dero wahren Glauben / wie auch von den Uncatholischen Gelachen und dero falschem
Wahn ... (Grüssau: Rosa und Neysz, Glatz: Schubart, 1677). Note as well his earlier
works, Sinnliche Beschreibung Der Vier Letzten Dinge: Zu heilsamem Schröken und
Auffmunterung aller Menschen inn Druck gegeben ... (Schweidnitz: Jonisch, 1675).
Lutheran Theological Review 20
at Grüssau. There he died, increasingly isolated by foes and friends, who,
even in the latter case, had reservations with his proselytizing tactics.
Parallel themes, differing perspectives
The differences observed in the biographies of these two contemporaries
become even more evident in their writing, choosing as they often did
(along with other baroque writers of their time) similar themes. For present
purposes, we can note their distinctive and differing perspectives best by
comparing their treatment of the Nativity. We begin with Gerhardt’s
“Kommt, und laszt uns Christum ehren”13 which I quote in full with the
translation from The Lutheran Hymnal for discussion:
1. Come, your hearts and voices raising,
Christ the Lord with gladness praising;
Loudly sing His love amazing,
Worthy folk of Christendom.
5. Jacob’s Star in all its splendour
Beams with comfort sweet and tender,
Forcing Satan to surrender,
Breaking all the powers of hell.
2. Sin and death may well be groaning,
Satan now may well be moaning;
We, our full salvation owning,
Cast our every care away.
6. From the bondage that oppressed us,
From sin’s fetters that possessed us,
From the grief that sore distressed us,
We, the captives, now are free.
3. See how God, for us providing,
Gave His Son and life abiding;
He our weary steps is guiding
From earth’s woe to heavenly joy.
7. Oh, the joy beyond expressing
When by faith we grasp this blessing
And to Thee we come confessing,
That our freedom Thou hast wrought!
4. Christ, from heaven to us descending
And in love our race befriending,
In our need His help extending,
Saved us from the wily Foe.
8. Gracious Child, we pray Thee, hear us,
From Thy lowly manger cheer us,
Gently lead us and be near us
Till we join the angelic choir.14
German text from PHILIPP WACKERNAGEL, ed. Paulus Gerhardts geistliche Lieder getreu
nach der bei seinen Lebzeiten erschienenen Ausgabe wiederaufgedruckt, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: S. G.
Liesching, 1853), 6. The English is a composite translation from TLH 90.
1. Kommt und laßt uns Christum ehren, / Herz und Sinnen zu ihm kehren! / Singet
fröhlich, laßt euch hören, / Wertes Volk der Christenheit!
2. Sünd’ und Hölle mag sich grämen, / Tod und Teufel mag sich schämen. / Wir, die
unser Heil annehmen, / Werfen allen Kummer hin.
3. Sehet, was hat Gott gegeben! / Seinen Sohn zum ew’gen Leben! / Dieser kann und will
uns heben / Aus dem Leid in’s Himmels Freud’.
4. Seine Seel’ ist uns gewogen, / Lieb’ und Gunst hat ihn gezogen, / Uns, die Satanas
betrogen, / Zu besuchen aus der Höh’.
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
What needs first to be noted in this hymn is the nature of the apostrophe
(the address). The poet calls on us (uns [cf. the pro nobis of the Creed]), his
fellow worshippers, to join together with him and sing the praises of the
Christ. The address to this communal “we” is maintained through the first
six stanzas, as is the objective tone of the piece as a whole. What the singers
are directed to is the child Jesus in the manger—the “historical” Jesus; they
are led back to the event of the Nativity and the salvific act of God in the
real time of history. Here there is little mark of what Charles Taylor has
designated as the birth of the modern punctular (and egocentric) self.15
Gerhardt directs all attention outward from the “interior”. The opening
stanza is doxological—it calls worshippers to “raise” their hearts, the sursum
corda here linking hearts to the “loud” physicality of voice, negating any
psychological turn to a theology of human glory and focussing the
“gladness” communally focussed on its end (“His love amazing”) rather
than on an individualistic and personally experienced emotion. The
emotions are those of sin, death, and Satan, now groaning and moaning
before God’s gracious provision. On the part of the believer, “cares” are
cast aside; indeed, all emotional language related to the believer in the first
seven stanzas (the German original here makes this more obvious than the
translation) are objective states (bondage and captivity oppresses, stanza 6)
and are structured against a reified eschatological victory (joy, height, – cf.
the closing words of stanzas 3-4). Indeed, as stanza 5 indicates, the sehnliche
Verlangen of human desire is stilled by the rise of Jacob’s star and the
“breaking [of] all the powers of hell.”
Only in the seventh stanza is the perspective shifted, the hymnist no
longer addressing the worshippers and their redeemed state; but now, in the
opening line and in full continuity with his earlier focus on the manger,
Gerhardt moves to consider not the place of the Nativity, but its time,
demarking that “hour” (Stunde) both as the moment of the Incarnation and,
by allusion, of the Crucifixion, as well as the objective historical moment
“when we ... believed” from the very ground of our being (Hertzensgrunde).
This opening change of perspective allows the poet a further move in the
5. Jakobs Stern ist aufgegangen, / Stillt das sehnliche Verlangen, / Bricht den Kopf der
alten Schlange / Und zerstört der Hölle Reich.
6. Unser Kerker, da wir saßen / Und mit Sorgen ohne Maßen / Uns das Herze selbst
abfraßen, / Ist entzwei, und wir sind frei.
7. O du hochgesegn’te Stunde, / Da wir das von Herzensgrunde / Glauben und mit
unserm Munde / Danken dir, o Jesulein!
8. Schönstes Kindlein in dem Stalle, / Sei uns freundlich, bring uns alle / Dahin, wo mit
süßem Schalle / Dich der Engel Heer erhöht!
Above all in his Sources of the Self (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989).
Lutheran Theological Review 20
final line of the stanza to maintain the worshippers’ continuing act of thanks
and subtly to shift the apostrophe to the child Jesus. It continues this
direction in the final stanza, although here again, avoiding any personal
focus on an inner emotion that might be confused with a prideful assurance.
The prayer is that the child lead the worshippers to the final end of the
doxological initiation and setting of the hymn, their full praise of the divine
in glory.16
What Scheffler might have thought of these Gerhardt hymns we cannot
say. Despite his fierce polemicism, it is unlikely he would have been greatly
troubled (supposing he did not know they were by a Lutheran!); in fact,
considering the way in which he treats other texts, it is far more likely that
he would simply have read them “into” his own world. But it is highly
doubtful that he would have chosen to use them. Scheffler’s “approach” is
strikingly different from Gerhardt’s, and, one might argue, that it is his
poetic “approach” that determined his eventual religious and theological
choice. A brief review, for example, of Scheffler’s Nativity lyric,
“Willkommen Edles Knäbelein”,17 distinguishes him immediately from
1. Willkommen Edles Knäbelein,
Willkommen liebes Kind:
Willkommen süsses Jesulein
Durch dich mein Leid verschwindt:
Du bist mein Heil und Seligkeit,
Du bringst mir tausend Freuden:
Du machst dasz ich in Ewigkeit
Von Gott bleib ungescheiden
3. Ich bin ganz unauszsprechlich froh,
Dasz du gekommen bist;
Dasz du ob zwar auff Heu und Stoh,
Wirst Mensch und Kind gegrüst:
Ach lasz dein Sukker Mündelein
Mein’ arme Seel erquikken,
Und die verliebten äugelein,
Erfreulich auff mich blikken.
Compare as well in this respect Gerhardt’s “O Jesu Christ, Dein Kripplein ist” (German
text from WAKERNAGEL, 8, comprising 15 stanzas). The abbreviated English composite
translation appears in TLH 81. Although the piece is initially addressed to the child in the
manger and is the response of an individual, rather than the community, the piece shifts
quickly to a “we” perspective in the second stanza and a similar “objective stance is taken
throughout. Note also “Froehlich soll mein Hertze springen” (WACKERNAGEL, 5; TLH
77, “All my Heart this night rejoices”) and “Wir singen dir Immanuel” (WACKERNAGEL,
10; TLH 108, “We sing, Immanuel Thy praise”).
Heilige Seelenlust, 1:16.
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
2. Du bist mir lieber als die Welt
Und hundert Himmel seyn:
Auf dasz ich all mein Tun gestelt,
Du wehrtes Jesulein:
Der wil ich was ich hab und bin
Von Grund desz Hertzens schenken;
Auf dich sol mein Gemüt und Sinn
Ohn unterlasz gedenken.
4. Wie hertzlich sehn’ ich mich nach dir
O freudenreiches Kind!
Verlasz die Kripp’ und komm zu mir,
Komm eilends komm geschwind:
Ich will ein kleines Krippelein
Ausz meinem Hertzen machen,
Dasz du darin mein Jesulein
Stäts schlafen solst und wachen.
What the reader will notice immediately in this piece is the nature of the
apostrophe: the poet addresses Christ directly. The setting is ahistorical and
the noble, beloved, sweet child Jesus is welcomed not into the world in
which the poet resides, but “into” the poet, with immediate emotional
results: sorrow disappears, salvation (Heil) is accompanied by bliss
(Seligkeit), and the child brings “a thousand joys”. This psychological
concern (the title of the collection in which the poem designates the speaker
in good baroque fashion as the “Psyche”) shapes the closing lines of the first
stanza, making present and permanent the eschaton (Ewigkeit). Likewise in
the second stanza, action is initiated by the poet, playing the role of the
lover and not the beloved: it is the human person who is able to reach to the
ground of his being (contrast the place of “Herzensgrund” in the Gerhardt
piece quoted above), give all that he “has and is,” and, not surprisingly as a
result, maintain a permanent (ohn unterlasz) interior thought-union in mind
and sensation (Gemüt und Sinn). The third stanza intensifies the egocentricity
of the piece. It is the poet’s happiness at Christ’s coming, not the latter, that
is enunciated. What is emphasized is the sweetness in the poet’s mouth, the
revitalization of his impoverished soul, the joy at the beloved’s glance.
In the fourth stanza the clearly allegorical nature of the piece becomes
evident. Gerhardt’s hymn is consistently rooted in history; Scheffler’s
consistently allegorical. In an important sense the Lutheran Gerhardt is premodern—the literal-historical interprets reality and the poet in it; the biblical
letter is carried across (meta-phor) to the human situation. Scheffler’s
baroque Catholicism has already shifted into modernity, readjusting
medieval mystical themes of the birth of Christ in the soul to serve as a
foundational framework on which to build a personal identity. A theocentric
world has shifted to an anthropocentric one: The individual strains toward
the divinity (“Wie hertzlich sehn’ ich mich nach dir”) on the basis of his
own emotional intensity (hertzlich is here adjectival and not a structural
Grund) and its end is not the child but the kingdom of joys the child brings
(freudenreiches Kind). The “I/me” vocabulary in the final stanza has a
possessive ring, distant from a pro me theology, and so reformulates kenotic
themes that self-giving is ever that of the other. The objective crib is to be
forsaken for the sake of “this” soul alone, a soul demanding immediate and
sudden satisfaction (eilends ... geschwind), willing to serve as a personal crib
for the divine child in which it is to (solst) remain continuously interiorized,
Lutheran Theological Review 20
sleeping or waking. What we have, as it were, is an historical Heilsgeschichte
transmuted into a personalized spiritual ordo salutis, in which so much
attention is directed to the sensitive Self, that a twenty-first century reader
cannot avoid comparing the thought structure to that of a New Age
spirituality, perhaps find the latter’s sources in this baroque form, or at least
not be surprised that her contemporary “spiritual but not religious”
advocates return regularly to highly selective translations of Silesius
Cherubinischer Wandersmann.
In contrast it is useful to consider Gerhardt’s “Ich steh an deiner
Krippe”,18 which bears some similarities to the Scheffler’s piece, but despite
parallels stands in radical juxtaposition to it. In Gerhardt’s hymn the Christchild’s crib remains the objective reality against which the poet is formed.
To this place he brings his interiority (spirit and sense, heart, soul, and
mind) to be pleasing to the child, not himself.19 The child was born, chose
him, and illuminated his world before the poet was born.20 Internal joys and
comfort from cares are found in faith’s reflection on this reality.21 The birth
of Christ in the soul remains a theme in the piece but it is so as a hope in
faith22 and never aside from a clear sense of one’s own nothingness before
so great a creator.23
German text hereafter from WACKERNAGEL, 9.
1. Ich steh an deiner Krippe hier, / O Jesu du mein Leben; / Ich komme, bring und
schenke dir, / Was du mir hast gegeben. / Nimm hin, es ist mein Geist und Sinn, / Herz,
Seel und Mut, nimm alles hin / Und laß dir’s wohlgefallen.
3. Da ich noch nicht geboren war, / Da bist du mir geboren / Und hast mich dir zu eigen
gar, / Eh ich dich kannt, erkoren. / Eh ich durch deine Hand gemacht, / Da hast du
schon bei dir bedacht, / Wie du mein wolltest werden.
5. Ich sehe dich mit Freuden an / Und kann mich nicht satt sehen; / Und weil ich nun
nichts weiter kann, / Bleib ich anbetend stehen. / O daß mein Sinn ein Abgrund wär /
Und meine Seel ein weites Meer, / Daß ich dich möchte fassen!
14. Eins aber hoff ich wirst du mir, / Mein Heiland, nicht versagen: / Daß ich dich möge
für und für / In meinem Herzen tragen. / So laß mich doch dein Kripplein sein; / Komm,
komm und lege bei mir ein / Dich und all deine Freuden!
15. Zwar sollt ich denken, wie gering / Ich dich bewirten werde: / Du bist der Schöpfer
aller Ding, / Ich bin nur Staub und Erde. / Doch du bist so ein frommer Gast, / Daß du
noch nie verschmähet hast / Den der dich gerne siehet.
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
Transferring traditions: Use or Abuse?
Reflecting on these poets, one is reminded of the now well-know adage from
Lateran IV: “The greater the similarity, the greater the dissimilarity”,24 and
the insights to be gained by applying it to both Gerhardt’s “Ich steh an
deiner Krippe” in itself and the comparison between Gerhardt and Scheffler.
But comparisons always have their danger, particularly in theological or
religious matters. In the present case, comparing a Lutheran and a Catholic,
the danger is a metonymic one, making use of a particular to represent a
whole, falling prey again to Smiley’s Cold-War strategies, remaining
“inhuman in defence of our humanity, ... harsh in the defence of
compassion... single-minded in defence of our disparity”, and at the best
settling for religious détante. The difficulty is that, although both men were
contemporary baroque figures, the periodized “baroque” is not our modern
or post-modern era and, as already noted, despite their biographic parallels,
Scheffler already in his own time represents a turn to modernity. As such,
he serves as a case study, not so much to illuminate Lutheran-Roman
Catholic distinctions, as to offer a monition to his chosen religious tradition,
contemporary Roman Catholics and our own struggles with the very mixed
baroque theology and pieties we have inherited. The propositional and
dogmatic aspects of this inheritance have often been noted. What is
sometimes forgotten however, is the quite different spirituality that lurks
alongside it. Some elements of a strict order Thomism may raise problems
for the health of contemporary Christianity, but fade before those of a now
widely inculcated, but no longer named, progressive spirituality, the latter
often as mistaken in its reading of earlier Catholic mystics and the doctrine
of the birth of God in the soul, as, for example, was the character in the
“Catholic” Martin Scorcese’s 1991 film, “Cape Fear”, who quoted Silesius:
“I am like God and God like me ….”25
Nor is the problem simply one for Roman Catholics: the transmission of
earlier religious materials, unless carefully monitored, bears its own perils,
however comic some might be. I recall attendance at a Mass one evening
during which “This little light of mine” served as an announced “traditional
Catholic” processional hymn and the “congregation” was encouraged to
sing as a recessional “that well known and long loved Catholic [sic] hymn
“For between creator and creature there can be noted no similarity so great that a greater
dissimilarity cannot be seen between them”, NORMAN P. TANNER, ed., Decrees of the
Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols (London: Sheed & Ward, 1990); “Lateran IV”, sect. 3.
Cherubinischer Wandersmann, 1:10: “Ich bin so grosz als Gott, er is als ich so klein; / Er
kann nicht unter mich, ich unter ihm nicht sein.” For a full discussion of the theological
complexities in the uses of the mediaeval theme of the birth of God in the soul, see HANS
URS VON BALTHASAR, Theo-Drama V (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), 433-62 and ff.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
‘How great Thou art’.” Fortunately, I could recall happily at the time a
number of Protestant services in which a fiercely anti-Catholic sermon was
followed by the singing of “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” and “Faith
of our Fathers”, the worshippers unaware that both were the compositions
of an ultramontane Catholic convert, Frederick W. Faber (1814-63). An
equally delightful case is that of the ultra High Anglo-Catholic, Sabine
Baring Gould (1834-1924), who wrote the now fully “Evangelical” hymn,
“Onward Christian Soldiers”, to serve for processions with the Sacrament,
and when forbidden to use it by a Low Church Bishop, offered to change
the refrain to “with the Cross of Jesus, hid behind the door.”26
Less comic and perhaps more insidious examples of such re-visionary
activity can be noted in the translations made of Scheffler poems and their
use in Lutheran hymnals. The reasons for the changes made will be
immediately obvious; the difficulties arise when they are not noted and then
used as they appear in their new forms to serve as examples of an
“ecumenical” spirit. Thus, Scheffler’s “Ich will dich lieben, meine Stärke”27
appears in Lutheran Service Book (2006), 694, “Thee will I love”,28 in a
composite translation based on that of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878):29
1.30 Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower;
Thee will I love, my Hope, my Joy;
Thee will I love with all my power,
With ardour time shall ne’er destroy.
Thee will I love, O Light Divine,
So long as life is mine.
2. Thee will I love, my Life, my Saviour,
Who art my best and truest Friend;
Thee will I love and praise forever,
For never shall Thy kindness end;
Thee will I love with all my heart,
Thou my Redeemer art.
6. Oh, keep me watchful, then, and humble
And suffer me no more to stray;
Uphold me when my feet would stumble,
Nor let me loiter by the way.
Fill all my nature with Thy light,
O Radiance strong and bright!
7. Oh, teach me, Lord, to love Thee truly
With soul and body, head and heart,
And grant me grace that I may duly
Practice fore’er love’s sacred art.
Grant that my every thought may be
Directed e’er to Thee.
On both Faber and Baring Gould see entries in The Dictionary of National Biography
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Heilige Seelen Lust, 1:10.
See also LW 375 and TLH 399.
The Chorale Book for England; A Complete Hymn-book for Public and Private Worship, in
Accordance with the Services and Festivals of the Church of England, the Hymns from the Lyra
Germanica and other Sources, trans. Catherine Winkworth; The Tunes from the Sacred Music of the
Lutheran, Latin, and other Churches, ... Compiled and ed. WILLIAM STERNDALE BENNETT,
Professor of Music in the University of Cambridge, and OTTO GOLDSCHMIDT (London:
Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1863), 150. On Winkworth see The
Dictionary of National Biography.
Stanza numbers according to the number in Scheffler’s original.
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
5. I thank Thee, Jesus, Sun from heaven,
Whose radiance hath bro’t light to me;
I thank Thee, who hast richly given
All that could make me glad and free;
I thank Thee that my soul is healed
By what Thy lips revealed.
8. Thee will I love, my Crown of gladness;
Thee will I love, my God and Lord,
Amid the darkest depths of sadness,
Not for the hope of high reward—
For Thine own sake, O Light Divine,
So long as life is mine.
As expected Scheffler’s, “mit dem Werke” in the first stanza is replaced
by “with all my power”,31 and his “Solange mich dein Glanz bescheint,/
Ich will dich lieben, Gottes Lamm, / Als meinen Bräutigam” suitably
reworked in the second. Nor is it surprising that Scheffler’s third and fourth
stanzas (here quoted from Winkworth’s translation) are omitted from the
Lutheran publication with their baroque Catholic allusions to Augustine’s
“Too late have I love Thee”:32
3. Alas! that I so late have known Thee,
Who art the Fairest and the Best;
Nor sooner for my Lord could own Thee,
Our highest Good, our only Rest!
Now bitter shame and grief I prove
O’er this my tardy love.
4. I wander’d long in willing blindness,
I sought Thee, but I found Thee not,
For still I shunn’d Thy beams of kindness,
The creature light fill’d all my thought;
And if at last I see Thee now,
’Twas Thou to me didst bow!
Likewise the closing of Scheffler’s fifth stanza with its doctrine of growth in
holiness required change as did his seventh:33
Winkworth’s original reads “Thee in Thy works, with all my power.” Compare as well
here Wesley’s “Methodist” rendition: “THEE will I love, my strength, my tower, / Thee
will I love, my joy, my crown, / Thee will I love with all my power, / In all thy works,
and thee alone; / Thee will I love, till the pure fire / Fill my whole soul with chaste
desire.” A Collection of Hymns, for the Use of the People called Methodists. By the Rev. John
Wesley, ... With a New Supplement (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Book-Room, 1889), 210.
3. Ach, daß ich dich so spät erkennet, / Du hochgelobte Schönheit du! / Und dich nicht
eher mein genennet, / Du höchstes Gut und wahre Ruh! / Es ist mir leid und bin betrübt,
/ Daß ich so spät geliebt.
4. Ich lief verirrt und war verblendet, / Ich suchte dich und fand dich nicht, / Ich hatte
mich von dir gewendet / Und liebte das geschaffne Licht. / Nun aber ists durch dich
geschehn, / Daß ich dich hab ersehn.
Compare Wesley’s lesser concern and more literal translation of 7: “Give to mine eyes
refreshing tears, / Give to my heart chaste, hallowed fires, / Give to my soul, with filial
fears, / The love that all heaven’s host inspires; / That all my powers, with all their might,
/ In thy sole glory may unite.”
Lutheran Theological Review 20
5. Ich danke dir, du wahre Sonne,
Daß mir dein Glanz hat Licht gebracht,
Ich danke dir, du Himmelswonne,
Daß du mich froh und frei gemacht.
Ich danke dir, du güldner Mund,
Daß du mich machst gesund.
7. Gib meinen Augen süße Tränen,
Gib meinem Herzen keusche Brunst,
Laß meine Seele sich gewöhnen,
Zu üben in der Liebe Kunst.
Laß meinen Sinn, Geist und Verstand
Stets sein zu dir gewandt.
Similar theological shifts can be seen in the use of “Come Follow me”,34
based on Scheffler’s “Mir nach / spricht Christus unser Held”,35 “O Love,
who madest me to wear”36 (Scheffler’s “Liebe, die du mich zum Bilde”37)
and “Jesus, Saviour, Come to Me”38 (Scheffler’s “Jesu, komm doch selbst
zu mir”39).
It may be objected that such comparisons as here outlined prove once
again the effective intolerance of dogmatic religion, its “inhuman[ity] in
defence of [its own particular form of] humanity, ... [its] harsh[ness] in the
defence of [a supposed] compassion [for the benighted souls led astray by a
false poetic rhetoric] ... [and its] single-minded[ness] in [editorial revision
and] defence of [its own distinctive] disparity.” According to this argument,
the practice of writing hymns (or silently revising them) to proselytize for a
singular theological proposition functions solely as a closed conversation in
a now open, multi-cultural, pluralistic society; it is the stuff of the Thirty
Year’s War, the bull-headness of Gerhardt against Reformed infiltrations,
the militant, aggressive subjugation of Lutheran churches favoured by
Scheffler—in sum: an unacceptable, polemical, baroque theology.
Implicitly, from such a point of view, there is little place for a Gerhardt
symposium, and none for a Gerhardt celebration.
“Tolerance” and “dialogue” bear many connotations, however, too
complex to discuss at length at the close of a paper such as this. A few
comments must suffice. First, the obvious: without “particulars” (I prefer
this term to “opposites”) there can be no dialogue, and for the sake of a
healthy dialogue, it behoves participants to strengthen their and their
partner’s particular identities so as to maintain the dialogue. In the case of
Gerhardt and Scheffler, the point is not to set aside their differences or the
ways in which their respective traditions recycled their creations, but rather
LSB 688; LW 379, and TLH 421.
Heilige Seelen Lust, 5:16.
TLH 397.
Heilige Seelen Lust, 3:197.
TLH 356; trans. Matthias Loy (1828-1915).
Heilige Seelen Lust, 1:3.
Erb: From Paul Gerhardt to Johann Scheffler
to clarify them.40 Second, and more importantly, in the Christian tradition,
life and dialogue are co-extensive: We have been created “male and
female”—“it is not good that man should live alone.” Contrast and
therefore dialogue lies at the root of our created being. Indeed, it maintains
being: God, the perichoretic Trinity or divine persons, speaks the world and
the world is called to answer. Fittingly, then, in numerous copies of
Gerhardt’s collected poetry, Colossians 3:16 (that other 3:16 passage) serves
as an introductory admonition41 (fulfilled by Gerhardt and Scheffler, I
would argue), and as an invitation to us as readers and singers to participate
with them in their poetry: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach
and admonish one another [dialogue?] in all wisdom, and sing psalms and
hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Peter C. Erb, Ph.D., is Professor, Department of Religion and Culture, Wilfrid
Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario.
The argument here owes much to the practice of Hans Urs von Balthasar; for a survey of
his views, particularly with respect to Luther, see RODNEY A. HOWSARE, Hans Urs von
Balthasar and Protestantism: The Ecumenical Implications of his Theological Style (London: T&T
Clark, 2005).
See for example, WACKERNAGEL, xxxii.
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 26-38
What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?*
Joseph Herl
Fischer’s scholarly collection of seventeenth-century Protestant hymn texts,
published in the early twentieth century, runs to six volumes, and it only
scratches the surface.1 Somehow Paul Gerhardt’s hymns have managed to
stand out from the crowd. What makes his hymns so special that they were
universally praised by his contemporaries, Orthodox and Pietist alike? Why
do present-day German Lutherans cheerfully memorize twelve or fifteen
stanzas of a single Gerhardt hymn? And why are we devoting an entire
conference to his work?
The answer lies in a combination of the hymns themselves and the
historical circumstances that led to their popularity among Gerhardt’s
contemporaries. Regarding the texts themselves, we may note in particular
their poetic style, their devotional content, and their theology. The poetic
style of seventeenth-century German hymns differs greatly from those of the
sixteenth century. This is due largely to the influence of the most important
German poet of the early seventeenth century, Martin Opitz. We know him
for his hymn “Arise and Shine in Splendour”, but to his contemporaries he
was the author of a book that turned the craft of writing poetry in German
on its head: the Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey (“Book of German Poetic
Writing”) of 1624. In it, he put forth the idea of bringing German poetry
closer in style to that of Latin and the Romance languages. Opitz suggested
several methods for doing this, but for our purposes the most important one
was to take word stresses into account when writing verse so that stressed
syllables in a line of verse alternate with unstressed syllables in a regular
pattern. We take this for granted in English poetry (“Shall I compare thee to
a summer’s day?”), but this was not yet the case in sixteenth-century
Germany. Witness, for example, Luther’s translation of the Latin hymn
Veni redemptor gentium (“Saviour of the Nations, Come”). In German, the
first line is “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland”. The stresses in this phrase
do, in fact, fall on every other syllable, but they fall exactly opposite where
they should when sung to the proper tune: NUN komm, DER Hei-DEN
Presented at the Paul Gerhardt Symposium, hosted by Concordia Lutheran Theological
Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, 9 May 2007.
ALBERT FISCHER, Das deutsche evangelische Kirchenlied des 17. Jahrhunderts, completed
after the author’s death by WILHELM TÜMPEL, 6 vols (Gütersloh: 1904-16).
Herl: What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?
Hei-LAND. The stresses in phrases 2 and 3 are correct, but the fourth
phrase has one syllable out of place: instead of “GOTT solch Ge-BURT
IHM be-STELLT” the tune requires “GOTT solch GE-burt IHM beSTELLT.”
This casual approach to poetic meter came to an end in the seventeenth
century through the influence of Opitz’s ideas, with which Gerhardt was
familiar. To us today, German hymns of the sixteenth century seem more
rugged than later hymns, but also less polished, and any discrepancies
between metrical stress and tune meter are immediately apparent. They are
still sung, especially those of Luther, because they are so familiar and so
valuable. But seventeenth-century hymns are closer to the modern poetic
spirit and thus easier in form to grasp and retain.
Simplicity of language is another characteristic of Gerhardt’s hymns.
Uncommon words are rare, and most words have only one syllable. That is
not to say that the language itself is common: it abounds in devices that
make it attractive and memorable, especially the use of similar vowels and
consonants in close proximity with one another.
But this is not a lecture on German poetry, so let us move on to the
second characteristic of Gerhardt’s hymns: their devotional content. It is
impossible to appreciate Gerhardt’s hymns fully without knowing
something about the historical and social context in which they appeared.
The Thirty Years’ War, which began in 1618, was devastating. The war
itself affected individual cities and towns only occasionally during the thirty
years; but the economic impact was huge, and the war’s privations hastened
the spread of disease. By the time it was over, people had long been ready
for peace, and they were asking the question “Why can’t Christians treat
each other better?”
Even before the war, the conduct of Christians toward each other was a
concern as pastors wondered why the Gospel teaching of the Reformation
seemed to bear so little fruit in people’s lives. One of those concerned was
Johann Arndt, pastor of St Martin’s Church in Braunschweig and later
general superintendent of the duchy of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. In 1605 he
brought out a little book bearing the title Vom wahren Christenthum (“True
Christianity”), in which he challenged his readers, and especially his fellow
pastors, with the question “You know you have been saved solely by the
grace of God; now how are you going to respond?” This book proved so
successful that he brought out three more volumes over the next several
years. These later volumes, which dealt more with the consolation of Christ
than with a call to repentance, were soon gathered together with the first
book into a single volume called, oddly enough, Four Books on True
Christianity. After Arndt’s death two more books were added containing
excerpts from his other writings, for a total of six books in one volume.
True Christianity was well received by its Orthodox Lutheran
contemporaries, with the only serious criticism being a review published in
Lutheran Theological Review 20
1623 by the theology faculty of the University of Tübingen, who objected
especially to Arndt’s reliance on mystical writers, notably Johann Tauler.2
Another book by Arndt also became popular: the Paradies-Gärtlein (“Little
Garden of Paradise”) of 1612, a collection of meditations on various aspects
of the Christian life set in the form of prayers. The headings to five of Paul
Gerhardt’s hymns reference specific sections of this book.
Arndt’s True Christianity has acquired a less-than-stellar reputation
among our theologians today, largely because it was an inspiration to the
Pietist movement of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. But
we must not look at Arndt’s book as simply a precursor to Pietism which,
after all, did not come into its own as a movement until over seventy years
after the book was first published. In fact, True Christianity, judging from the
number of reprints, translations into other languages, and quotations in
other sources, appears to have been after the Bible nothing less than the
most widely read book in the history of Protestantism. The concerns it both
reflected and unleashed are better viewed as a desire for piety, not Pietism.
It was not the only such influence on Gerhardt. The book in which his
hymns first appeared in 1647 was called Praxis pietatis melica (“Musical
Practice of Piety”). Its compiler was Johann Crüger, the cantor of St
Nicholas Church in Berlin and a colleague of Gerhardt. We do not know for
sure how Crüger came up with the book’s title; but his readers could not
have failed to notice, and Crüger may well have intended it, that the title
was quite close to that of another book popular at the time, Praxis pietatis, a
German translation of a devotional manual by the Welsh divine Lewis
Bayly. Bayly’s book The Practice of Piety was first published around 1611 (the
same year as the King James Bible), when Bayly was chaplain to Prince
Henry; he was later appointed bishop of Bangor. It appeared in a German
translation in 1630, and both the English original and its many translations
were frequently reprinted during the course of the century.
Bayly’s theology was essentially Calvinist, especially his views on
predestination. What is distinctive about his book is its emphasis on
meditation: the immediate effect of, for example, a sermon is limited; it
achieves its full effect only after the hearers meditate on it, then carry it out
in their lives. Bayly’s views do not appear to have had any direct effect on
Gerhardt, but the title of Crüger’s hymnbook demonstrates the
interconnectedness and ubiquitous influence of the piety movements of the
early to mid-seventeenth centuries. Gerhardt’s hymns drew upon this
movement and the popular desire for “something more” in one’s religion,
and they gave the people an outlet and form of expression for their
Theologisches Bedencken und christlich-treuhertzige Erinnerung über Arndts Wahres
Christenthum (Tübingen: 1623).
Herl: What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?
devotional impulses. They served a function similar to that of Christian
radio today.
The third feature that contributed to the continuing success of Gerhardt’s
hymns is their theology. Simply put, Gerhardt was extremely careful that
what he wrote reflected the understanding of God’s work and our place in it
that he had learned through a study of the Lutheran Confessions and other
Lutheran works. In 1694 Conrad Tiburtius Rango, general superintendent
of Pomerania, objected to the introduction of new hymns into the church
because so many of them contained poor theology. But he made an
exception for those of Gerhardt, “because they stem not from a fantastical
kind of poetry, but from a theological spirit.”3
Paul Gerhardt’s first German poem was published in 1643, a wedding
poem beginning “Der aller Herz und Willen lenkt”.4 The following year
another wedding poem appeared. Then in 1647 Johann Crüger published
his Praxis pietatis melica. The first edition of this book contained eighteen
hymns by Gerhardt. Forty-five editions of the hymnal were published in
Berlin through 1736, and fifteen appeared in Frankfurt. The 1653 edition
contained eighty-two Gerhardt hymns, and a few more appeared from time
to time in various subsequent editions.
In 1655 Gerhardt married Anna Maria Berthold, who was fifteen years
his junior. They had five children, four of whom died in infancy, a situation
all too common at the time. By this time Gerhardt was provost (senior
pastor) in the town of Mittenwalde, which had about 700 people. He
returned to Berlin in 1657, accepting a call as first deacon at St Nicholas. In
this position he was the third pastor in seniority after the provost and the
archdeacon. He was therefore able to work closely with cantor Johann
Crüger for another five years until Crüger’s death in 1662.
Crüger was succeeded by Johann Georg Ebeling, who was to play a
significant role in disseminating Gerhardt’s hymns. This might never have
happened had it not been for the religious controversies that came to a head
in the next few years. The trouble had started all the way back in 1613,
when Elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg converted to Calvinism,
but his subjects remained Lutheran. Over the next few decades Calvinists
gradually accumulated greater influence in political and religious circles. In
1662 Elector Friedrich Wilhelm promulgated the Edict of Toleration, which
forbade Lutheran pastors from stirring up controversy by preaching against
Calvinist doctrines. In the same year the Formula of Concord was removed
Von der Musica, alten und neuen Liedern (Greifswald: 1694), 6, 29.
Most of the biographical information in this and the following paragraphs is from
CHRISTIAN BUNNERS’ excellent biography Paul Gerhardt: Weg, Werk, Wirkung, rev. ed.
(Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).
Lutheran Theological Review 20
from the list of Lutheran confessions, and students from the Electorate were
forbidden to study theology at the university in Wittenberg, which was
regarded as too solidly Lutheran.
The Edict of Toleration was renewed in September 1664, and pastors
were now required to subscribe to it. The provost of St Nicholas refused to
subscribe and was removed from office the following April; another leading
pastor was exiled from the country. In February 1666 Gerhardt notified the
consistory of his intention not to sign the edict, and he was removed from
office within the month. But Gerhardt was especially popular among the
people, and the citizens of Berlin began a campaign to have him reinstated.
It was at this time that Ebeling began to edit Gerhardt’s collected hymns to
date. They were published as a series of ten booklets that appeared between
February 1666 and May 1667.
The publication of Gerhardt’s hymns at this time may be seen first of all
as an attempt to rally support for Gerhardt in his effort to have his position
reinstated and secondly as a way to provide him with some income during a
time when his usual salary would not have been forthcoming. Buying
Gerhardt’s book would have been one of the few ways in which ordinary
people could show their displeasure with the Elector for leading his realm in
a Calvinist direction. It is possible that Gerhardt’s hymns might have
become widely known even without this historical circumstance, but it is
unlikely that it would have happened either so quickly or so definitively.
For us, Ebeling’s publication is a treasure trove, as the booklets
collectively contain twenty-six previously unpublished texts by Gerhardt.
The first booklet contains hymns on Christ’s passion, beginning with “A
Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” and another hymn. The next seven
hymns in the set are meditations on various parts of his body: the knees, the
hands, the side, the chest, the heart, and the face (this one is “O Sacred
Head, Now Wounded”). Four other hymns conclude the first book. Book 2
contains hymns of consolation, many of which are based on psalms. Book 3
contains hymns for times of day and seasons (including one headed “On the
Appearance of a Comet”) and a few miscellaneous hymns. Book 4 has more
of the same. Book 5 contains hymns for Advent, Christmas, and New
Year’s. Book 6 includes five hymns based on sections of Johann Arndt’s
Little Garden of Paradise and several hymns on the subject of death. Book 7
contains hymns for Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity. Book 8 contains
miscellaneous hymns. Book 9 contains hymns based on psalms. Book 10
contains hymns of praise and sacramental hymns. Throughout the ten
booklets, some hymns indicate a familiar hymn tune to be used for singing,
while others include a new tune by Ebeling.
A recent editor of Gerhardt’s hymns, Eberhard von Cranach-Sichart, lists
the hymns by subject matter. Of the 134 hymns, he writes, there are 29
hymns of cross and comfort, 24 hymns of praise and thanksgiving, 19 on
death and eternal life, and 16 on prayer and penitence, with most of the
Herl: What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?
remainder dealing with liturgical seasons and times of day. There are only
two sacramental hymns, one each on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.5
During the time that Gerhardt’s collected hymns were being published,
the situation in Berlin for Lutheran pastors went from bad to worse. The
provost of the church in nearby Cölln fled the country after being removed
from office; he finally settled in Prague, where he converted to Catholicism.
The recently installed second deacon at St Nicholas accused the government
in a sermon of spying on pastors; in retrospect this was probably not a good
idea, as he spent four and a half months in jail. In Gerhardt’s case, the
government finally gave in to pressure and reinstated Gerhardt, but this was
not to last: Gerhardt could not in good conscience continue in his post while
other pastors were being removed and exiled; and although the city council,
which was Lutheran, tried for several months to save Gerhardt’s job, his
position was finally declared vacant, and his successor was installed in
August 1668, five months after Gerhardt’s wife Anna Maria died following
a long illness (probably tuberculosis). That same year cantor Ebeling left
Berlin for Stettin, where he became cantor and professor of Greek; he died
just eight years later at age 40.
Gerhardt, for his part, at age 62 accepted a call as archdeacon in the city
of Lübben (which happens to be the German sister city of Seward,
Nebraska, where I live). His tenure there began poorly, as Gerhardt refused
to move until the archdeaconage, which had fallen into disrepair during the
war, could be repaired and enlarged. Gerhardt also wanted the city council
to add a couple of clauses to his contract. First, he wanted the council to
agree to provide a substitute to visit the sick in times of pestilence (this isn’t
so odd as it seems, as there was apparently precedent in other cities);
second, he wanted permission to import non-local beer for the use of his
household. The council denied both requests and told Gerhardt that he must
take up his post by Pentecost. Gerhardt did so—barely—and began his work
there. At first he was paid poorly and late due to the economy having been
devastated by the war.
We know little about Gerhardt’s tenure in Lübben, but by and large it
seems that he was not received nearly so well there as he had been in Berlin.
In his fifth year there, he was accused of cancelling midweek services. He
responded that he had done so on account of his advanced age. In response,
the consistory instructed Gerhardt to procure (and pay) a substitute if
necessary. Gerhardt protested the decision to the duke, whereupon the
consistory accused Gerhardt of obstinacy, negligence, and dereliction of
duty. They further charged that he had run up considerable expense in his
EBERHARD VON CRANACH-SICHART, ed., Paul Gerhardt: Gesamtausgabe seiner Lieder und
Gedichte, (Wuppertal: Oncken, 1982), 16.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
move from Berlin and for renovations to his house, and that he had also
introduced novelties into the church, such as having a rail constructed
around the altar, a reading stand placed on it, and a chair set up for him to
sit in while dispensing the Sacrament. As a final jab, the consistory
pointedly remarked that Gerhardt was ill suited by the wig he wore while
Gerhardt served eight years in Lübben until his death in 1676. No hymns
by him from this time survive, and it is unknown whether he even wrote
any. Lübben was in any case a backwater compared with Berlin: he had
there neither a supportive cantor championing his cause, nor easy access to
a publisher, nor an eager public waiting for his next publication. We can be
all the more grateful that earlier in his career Gerhardt was in the right place
at the right time with just the skills needed to produce devotional poetry that
has stood the test of time. Of course, as Gerhardt would readily admit, it
was all God’s doing.
Joseph Herl, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Music at Concordia University,
Seward, Nebraska, U.S.A.
Herl: What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?
Appendix: Events in the Life of Paul Gerhardt6
1606 Christian Gerhardt born.
1607 (12 March) Paul Gerhardt born.
1612 Anna Gerhardt born.
1618 Thirty Years’ War begins.
1619 Agnes Gerhardt born; Gerhardt’s father dies.
1621 Gerhardt’s mother dies.
1622 (4 April) Paul enrols in the Fürstenschule.
1627 (December) he leaves Grimma for Wittenberg.
1628 (2 January) he matriculates at the university.
1642 (26 April) first datable poem by Gerhardt, a Latin congratulatory poem for a
fellow student.
1613 Elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg converts to Calvinism, but his
subjects remain Lutheran; during the following decades Calvinists gradually
achieve greater influence in political and religious circles.
1619 Johann Sigismund dies; Georg Wilhelm becomes Elector.
1622 Johann Crüger (1598–1662) becomes cantor of the Nicolaikirche in Berlin.
1640 Georg Wilhelm dies; Friedrich Wilhelm becomes Elector.
1640 Crüger publishes his first hymnal, the Neues vollkömmliches Gesangbuch
Augsburgischer Confession.
1642 or 1643 Gerhardt arrives in Berlin.
1643 first German poem of Gerhardt published, the wedding poem “Der aller Herz
und Willen lenkt”.
1644 another wedding poem published, “Also treten wir nun an”.
1647 Crüger publishes Praxis Pietatis Melica in Berlin, which contains 18 hymns by
Gerhardt. Forty-five Berlin editions published through 1736.
1648 Peace of Westfalia ends Thirty Years’ War.
1648 “Nun, du lebest unsre Krone” written upon the death of Dr Petrus Fritze,
consistory president.
1650 dedicatory poem “Weltskribenten und Poeten” for Michael Schirmer’s
Biblischen Lieder und Lehrsprüche.
Compiled mostly from CHRISTIAN BUNNERS, Paul Gerhardt: Weg, Werk, Wirkung (Berlin:
Buchverlag Union, 1993; rev. ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).
Lutheran Theological Review 20
1651 (28 September) Gerhardt preaches an audition sermon in Mittenwalde.
1651 (18 November)ordained to the pastorate at the Nicolaikirche in Berlin.
1651 (end of November)installed as provost (chief pastor) in Mittenwalde, a town of
about 700 (prewar population ca. 1000).
1653 5th edition of Praxis Pietatis Melica is published in Berlin with 500 hymns (82
by Gerhardt).
1655 funeral sermon for Joachim Schröder published.
1655 (11 February) Gerhardt marries Anna Maria Berthold (1622–1668), daughter
of a Berlin jurist with whom Gerhardt had boarded while in Berlin.
1656–1660 military expenditures lead to economic hardships and inflation in
1656 subscription to the Formula of Concord no longer required for new pastors.
1656 an edition of Praxis Pietatis Melica published in Frankfurt am Main, with 3
additional hymns by Gerhardt. Fifteen editions appear in Frankfurt through
1656 Twenty-five hymns of Gerhardt appear in a Dresden hymnal.
1656 (19 May) Maria Elisabeth Gerhardt born.
1657 (14 January) Maria Elisabeth Gerhardt dies.
1657 (4 June) Gerhardt accepts a call as first deacon (third pastor in seniority) of
the Nicolaikirche in Berlin. The pastors of this church are, in order of
seniority: provost, archdeacon, first deacon, second deacon.
1658 (15 January) Anna Katharina Gerhardt baptized.
1659 (25 March) Anna Katharina Gerhardt buried.
1659 Fifty-three hymns of Gerhardt appear in Heinrich Müller’s Geistliche
1659 funeral sermon for Nicolaus Wernicke published.
1659 “Leid ist mirs in meinem Herzen” written for a child’s death.
1660 funeral sermon for Friederich Ludowig Zarlang published, with poem “Liebes
Kind, wenn ich bei mir”.
1660 Andreas Gerhardt born; dies shortly thereafter.
1661 funeral sermon for Anna Flörings published.
1661 10th edition of Praxis Pietatis Melica published, with four new texts by
1662 (23 February) Nicolaikantor Johann Crüger dies; succeeded by Johann Georg
Ebeling (1637–1676).
1662 (2 June) Edict of Toleration promulgated: Formula of Concord omitted from
list of Lutheran confessions; Lutheran pastors forbidden to stir up controversy
regarding Calvinist doctrines.
1662 (21 August) the Elector closes the theology and philosophy programmes at
the partisan Lutheran University of Wittenberg to students from his territories.
1662 (25 August) Paul Friedrich Gerhardt baptized.
1662 (1 September) to 1663 (29 May) doctrinal discussions between Lutherans and
Calvinists held in Berlin, in which Gerhardt participates.
1664 (February) Andreas Christian Gerhardt born.
1664 (September) Andreas Christian Gerhardt dies.
Herl: What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?
1664 (16 September) Edict of Toleration renewed, with added provision that the
exorcism be omitted from Baptism if parents so request; pastors are now
required to subscribe to the Edict.
1665 (28 April) the two leading Lutheran pastors in Berlin, one of whom is the
provost of the Nicolaikirche, refuse to subscribe to the Edict of Toleration and
are removed from office; the provost of the Nicolaikirche is later reinstated
but dies shortly thereafter, and the other is exiled.
1666 (6 February) Gerhardt notifies the consistory of his intention not to sign the
Edict and is removed from office within the month. The citizens of Berlin
begin a campaign to have the popular Gerhardt reinstated.
1666 (16 February) to 1667 (12 May) Gerhardt’s collected hymns to date are
edited by Nicolaikantor Johann Georg Ebeling and published as a series of 10
booklets collectively titled Pauli Gerhardi Geistliche Andachten. Twenty-six
previously unpublished texts by Gerhardt are included.
1666 (20 July) the provost of the church in nearby Cölln flees the country after
being removed from office; he finally settles in Prague, where he converts to
1667 (1 January) the recently installed second deacon at the Nicolaikirche accuses
the government in a sermon of spying on pastors; he subsequently is jailed
for 23 weeks.
1667 (9 January) upon petition from the Berlin council, the Elector restores Gerhardt
to his prior office at the Nicolaikirche; the official bringing Gerhardt the news
informs him that even though he was granted an exception to subscribing to
the Edict in writing, he is nonetheless expected to conform to it.
1667 (19 January) Gerhardt writes to his employer, the city council, asking for a
clarification of the Elector’s action and its meaning for himself.
1667 (22 January) the city council sends Gerhardt the official minutes of the 9
January meeting with the Elector, which do not mention the expectation
transmitted to him orally.
1667 (26 January) Gerhardt requests the city council to intercede for him a final
time, stating that he cannot perform his duties with good conscience if he is
not free to adhere to the Lutheran confessions, including the Formula of
1667 (4 February) the Elector instructs the council to declare Gerhardt’s post
vacant if he is not willing to fulfil his duties. The council prevaricates for
several months while officials try to save Gerhardt’s job.
1667 (6 June) upon pressure from the nobility, the requirement for pastors to
subscribe to the Edict is lifted; but adherence to it is still expected, and civil
servants are now required to report pastors who violate it.
1667 (autumn) a new pastor is called to fill the position of second deacon, but
does not plan to arrive until the following year. The Elector makes a
temporary appointment to fill the vacancy, but the city council locks the doors
of the church so he cannot conduct services.
1668 (February) Gerhardt writes “Wer selig stirbt, stirbt nicht” upon the death of a
city councillor.
1668 (5 March) Anna Maria Gerhardt dies at age 46 after a long illness, probably
tuberculosis, having been married 13 years.
1668 (summer) the archdeacon of the Nicolaikirche is dismissed and exiled after
refusing absolution and communion to the new provost, who had signed the
Lutheran Theological Review 20
1668 (15 August) Johann Ernst Schrader is installed to fill Gerhardt’s position as
first deacon; within a few months he is promoted to archdeacon.
1668 Johann Georg Ebeling accepts a position in Stettin as cantor and professor of
Greek; he dies in 1676 at age 40.
1668 (20 September) The 62-year-old Gerhardt is invited to apply for the position
of archdeacon at Lübben.
1668 (14 October) Gerhardt preaches an audition sermon in Lübben. The next day
he indicates his willingness to accept a call, should it be offered.
1668 (29 October) Gerhardt is issued a call to Lübben.
1668 (4 November) Gerhardt accepts the call, but delays moving until the
archdeaconage, which had fallen into disrepair during the war, can be
repaired and enlarged. In the meantime, though, he travels from Berlin to fill
in as preacher at Christmas 1668 and Easter 1669.
1669 (6 June) Gerhardt moves to Lübben with his son and household, which
includes his widowed sister-in-law, who manages the house, and her son, a
theology student. In Berlin Gerhardt also had at least three servants, but it is
not clear whether they moved with him.
1669 (16 June) Gerhardt is installed as archdeacon. At first he is paid poorly and
late due to the economy having been devastated by the war.
1673 A complaint is issued against Gerhardt that he has cancelled midweek
sermons. He responds that he has done so on account of his advanced age.
The consistory instructs Gerhardt to procure a substitute if necessary.
Gerhardt protests the decision to the duke. The consistory thereupon accuses
Gerhardt of obstinacy, negligence, and dereliction of duty.
1674 (27 May) Gerhardt’s sister-in-law is buried.
1675 Gerhardt contributes a 3-stanza poem (“Tapfre Leute soll man loben”) to
Samuel Sturm’s collection Lob und Trauerreden; this is the last datable poem
by Gerhardt.
1676 (27 May) Paul Gerhardt dies and is buried in the Lübben church.
1678 Paul Friedrich Gerhardt, aged 18, begins theological study in Wittenberg; he
dies in 1716.
Herl: What’s So Special about Paul Gerhardt?
14. Make for Your Spirit ample room,
that thus I may forever bloom,
like plants that root have taken;
oh, let me in Your garden be
a flourishing and righteous tree,
which never shall be shaken.
15. Elect me then to paradise,
let soul and body, till I rise
still flourish, tiring never;
in You alone I shall abide,
Your glory serve, and none beside,
both here and there for ever.
10. What high delight, what joyful glee
in Christ’s own garden must there be,
what sounds forever ringing,
where thousand seraph hosts rejoice,
with ceaseless and unwearied voice
their hallelujahs singing!
11. Oh, that with God’s exulting band
I even now might take my stand,
with them might now adore Him,
and, bearing high victorious palms,
sing praise in thousand joyful psalms,
as angels do before Him!
6. Th’unwearied bees, on busy wing,
from flower to flower flit murmuring,
and seek their honeyed treasure;
while on the vine, from day to day,
new strength the tender shoots display,
each day increase in measure.
7. Green ears the cornstalks now unfold,
and all rejoice, both young and old,
the God of harvest praising;
from whom this rich abundance flows,
who every precious gift bestows,
our hearts with gladness raising.
Translation by Joseph Herl
13. Bless me with blessings from above,
and cause the fruits of faith and love
to grow in me and flourish;
oh, may the summer of Your grace
make fruitful each unfruitful place
and every virtue nourish.
9. Such beauty all around I see;
if this be earth, I eagerly
await the coming splendour.
If worldly scenes delight us so,
to heaven I would gladly go
and there my praises render.
12. Nor will I, while I here remain
Nor can I rest when all around
and bear this yoke of flesh, refrain
such great and wondrous works abound,
from praises and thanksgiving:
their Maker’s goodness showing;
my heart, in this and every place,
when heaven and earth their praises swell,
shall magnify Your lavish grace
and field and wood God’s glory tell,
as long as I am living.
I join in praise o’erflowing.
5. The brooklets murmur in the sand,
surrounded there on either hand
by myrtle deep in shadow;
the shepherds and the sheep rejoice,
in joyful mirth they send their voice
across the bounding meadow.
4. The clucking hen leads forth her brood,
the sparrow gives her children food,
the stork protects her dwelling;
the stag and doe, with footsteps light,
come bounding from the neighb’ring height,
joy in their movements telling.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 39-54
Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1*
John W. Kleinig
1. Singing with Devotion
as a foreword to a book of poems
by his fellow poet and close friend Joachim Pauli. It goes like this:
In the circle of the living
Each man works at his own craft,
Which, he knows, is duly fruitful;
Yet the one that gains most praise
Brings high honour to his God
With the songs that praise his name.
In his circle every singer
Who has made a skilful song
As a present to his Maker
Will receive his due reward;
But the best is he who sings
With devotion in his song.1
In this charming little poem of two verses Gerhardt claims that all those
craftsmen who work diligently at their craft, no matter what it may be, reap
the fruit of their work if they stick at it. They all get their due recognition.
But those poets who honour God by singing His praises receive the highest
praise of all. Then Gerhardt goes one step further than that. While God is
pleased with all those religious poets who sing His praises with well-crafted
songs as an offering to Him their Creator, He is most pleased with those
who sing them with devotion.
Presented at the Paul Gerhardt Symposium, hosted by Concordia Lutheran Theological
Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, 7 May 2007.
See EBERHARD VON CRANACH-SICHART, Paul Gerhardt: Wach auf, mein Herz, und singe.
Vollständige Ausgabe seiner Lieder und Gedichte, 4th ed. (Brockhaus: Wuppertal, 2007),
number 48. Henceforth each song will be cited as ECS with the number assigned to it in
this collection. His songs will also be cited with the letters PW with the number assigned
to it in the well-known but now incomplete collection compiled by PHILIPP
WACKERNAGEL, Paulus Gerhardts geistliche Lieder (Stuttgart: Samuel Gottlieb Liesching,
1861). This is my translation. The German text is:
Unter allen, die da leben,
Hat ein jeder seinen Fleiss
Und weiss dessen Frucht zu geben;
Doch hat der den grössten Preis,
Der dem Höchsten Ehre bringt
Und von Gottes Namen singt.
Unter denen, die da singen
Und mit wohlgefasster Kunst
Ihrem Schöpfer Opfer bringen,
Hat ein jeder seine Gunst;
Doch ist der am besten dran,
Der mit Andacht singen kann.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
In this Gerhardt tells us something about his own work as a song maker
and singer. Singing with devotion is the hallmark of the songs that he
composed, the reason why they still sing for us today and touch us so
deeply. As a devotional hymn writer he is one of the outstanding teachers of
Lutheran spirituality. His songs help us in our practice of evangelical
spirituality. Yet that is not a word that Gerhardt and his contemporaries
ever used. The term that they used was piety (Latin: pietas), godliness
(German: Gottseligkeit).2
Gerhardt was part of a profound devotional movement that swept
through the Lutheran churches of Germany in the first half of the
seventeenth century.3 This movement promoted a practice of piety that was
characterized by personal devotion to Jesus. Unlike the later Pietists, its
advocates held that liturgy and piety went hand in hand together. They
linked orthodoxy in teaching with orthopraxy in corporate worship and
personal devotions. The focus of their teaching on piety was the mystical
union, from heart to heart, of Christ with each faithful Christian.4 The
leading lights of that devotional movement worked hard to forge a
distinctive kind of evangelical piety for themselves and their Lutheran
congregations, a piety that focussed on reception rather than performance.
Its most obvious instigator and advocate was Johann Arndt in his bestselling book, True Christianity, which came out in seven volumes from 1605
to 1610. Its impact was huge. His influence on Paul Gerhardt is evident
from the six songs that were inspired by Arndt’s devotions in a book called
the Little Garden of Paradise. Arndt was followed by his friend Johann
Gerhard, the greatest Lutheran teacher of theology in that century. He wrote
two influential treatises, a book that was meant to teach the art of
meditation called Sacred Meditations (1606)5 and a handbook on Lutheran
See the use of this term in Acts 3:12; I Tim. 2:2; 3:16; 4:7, 8; 6:3, 5,6 ,11; II Tim. 3:5: Tit.
1:1; II Pet. 1:3, 6; 3:11.
See UDO STRÄTER, Meditation und Kirchenreform in der lutherischen Kirche des 17.
Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1995).
It is significant that the leading teacher of theology at Wittenberg during the time that
Gerhardt studied there, Johann Hülsemann, seems to have been the theologian that
introduced the topic of the mystical union into dogmatic theology. See CHRISTIAN
BUNNERS, Paul Gerhardt: Weg-Werk-Wirkung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
2007), 186.
This work was so popular that by 1700 it had appeared in at least 115 editions in 12
different languages. An English translation of it by C. W. Heisler, which was published in
1896 by the Lutheran Publication Society, Philadelphia, has been reissued by Matthew
Harrison with the original Latin text by Concordia Theological Seminary Press, Fort
Wayne, Indiana.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
spirituality called The School of Piety (1622).6 These two men were not
isolated examples but were surrounded by many other teachers and
preachers,7 musicians and hymn writers,8 who joined with them in this
Most of this work on Lutheran spirituality has been lost due to the
ravages of the Enlightenment and its split of the head from the heart and the
body. Even those of us who claim to be the heirs of Lutheran orthodoxy
know far too little about this aspect of our heritage. The little that we know
has come down to us in the few hymns of Gerhardt that are found in our
hymnals, such as “O Sacred Head” or “Now Rest Beneath Night’s
Shadows”. In this paper I would like to explore what we can learn from
Gerhardt about the place of meditation and prayer in Lutheran piety. He
presents us with a brand of receptive piety that is scriptural, liturgical,
sacramental, physical, and joyful.
a. Scriptural Piety
In Colossians 3:16 Paul urges his hearers to let the Word of Christ dwell
richly in them, so that it would produce songs in which they teach each
other the Gospel communally and respond to the Gospel devotionally. This
is what Paul Gerhardt does with his hymns. They do not just arise from
meditating and praying scripturally; they, too, teach those who sing them to
meditate scripturally and to pray scripturally. They get people to use God’s
Word to sing His grace and His Holy Spirit into their hearts. They show
them how to exercise their faith in Christ and His Word. By his meditations
on God’s Word he teaches the art of meditation.
This happens in a number of different ways. First, many of his songs
simply paraphrase Scripture. The most obvious instances of this are his
metrical psalms. In all, he recasts 26 psalms in metrical form for singing in
the church.9 This seems to have been part of a deliberate project to get
people to sing the Psalter, liturgically and devotionally, because he does not
provide versions of those psalms that Luther had already paraphrased.
Besides these psalms, he also composed extended paraphrases of other parts
of the Bible, such as Paul’s confession of faith in God’s grace in Romans 8
JOHANN GERHARDT, Schola Pietatis (Jena: Tobias Steinmann, 1622).
See LUDWIG DUNTE, Übung des rechtmässigen Christentums (Lübeck, 1630); and JOHANN
SCHMIDT, Zelus Pietatis (Stassburg, 1641).
The most noteworthy and most influential teachers of this new Lutheran spirituality were
hymn writers such as Philipp Nicolai, Valerius Herberger, Johann Hermann, Johann
Meyfart, and Georg Neumark.
They are 1, 13 (2x), 23, 25, 27, 30, 34, 39, 42, 49, 52, 62, 71, 73, 85, 90, 91, 103, 111, 112,
116, 121, 139, 143, 145, 146.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
in “If God Himself Be For Me” (LSB 724).10 So Gerhardt, quite deliberately,
turns Scripture into poetry that can be easily sung and memorized by being
Second, all of Gerhardt’s hymns are prayerful meditations on texts from
the Scriptures. The most artful of these is the acrostic hymn “Entrust Your
Days And Burdens” (LSB 754), which many of you will know as “Commit
Whatever Grieves Thee” (TLH uses the words of Psalm 37:5: “Commit/ to
the Lord/ your/ way/ and/ hope/ in/ Him/; He/ will/ well/ do it” to
provide the initial word for each of the twelve verses of that hymn.11 While
many of these songs look like versified sermons, complete with text,
exposition, and application, they do not address people with God’s Word,
but use God’s Word to evoke the response of faith in those who sing them.
They are meant to arouse devotion and foster piety. In them meditation on
God’s Word usually culminates in prayer, or else prayer prepares for further
meditation on it.
More generally, Gerhardt’s songs are steeped in the language, contents,
and imagery of the Bible, so much so that almost every phrase and sentence
alludes to some passage from it. They sing God’s Word from the head into
the heart and respond to it in meditation and prayer. The theological reason
for this use of the Scriptures is profound and highly significant. Like his
peers, Gerhardt held that God-pleasing piety, true godliness, was not
produced by human effort or commitment, but by the Holy Spirit. It is a gift
of the Spirit. The Spirit works in people’s hearts through God’s Word and
faith in that word, for God’s Word is not just inspired by the Spirit but is
also filled with His Spirit. The Word is the means of the Spirit. The Spirit
does not just produce faith in the hearts of those who hear the Word; it
produces meditation and prayer and song in those who pay faithful
attention to it. Since it is the Spirit-filled, Spirit-giving Word of God, it is
performative and productive; it is both effective and affective. Just listen to
how Gerhardt himself describes this connection between the Word and the
Spirit in the fourth verse of “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises”, a verse which
is omitted in all English hymnals:
ECS 82, PW 63. See too the song of Moses in Deut. 32:1-43 (ECS 111, PW 88); Job’s
confession of hope in his redeemer in 19:25-27 (ECS 130, PW 121); the prayer for
moderate wealth from Prov. 30:7-9 (ECS 54, PW 41); the song of praise for a good wife in
Prov. 31:10-31 (ECS 45, PW 109); the fourth servant song in Is. 52:13–53:12 (ECS 15, PW
14); God’s lament for Ephraim in Jer. 31:16-20 (ECS 67, PW 77) and Hos. 11:8-9 (ECS
68, PW 78); the call for repentance in Hos. 6:1-4 (ECS 69, PW 79); the prayer of
repentance from Micah 7 (ECS 77, PW 56); a meditation on I Tim. 6:6-19 (ECS 72, PW
53); and the vision of John in Rev. 7:9-17 (ECS 134, PW 123).
ECS 84, PW 66. The German text of the verse is: “Befiehl dem Herrn deine Wege und
hoffe auf ihn, er wirds wohl machen.”
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
In his Word God gives His Spirit
To me daily as my guide,
As I travel on my journey
Through this world to be with God.
By His Spirit He enlightens
Me with faith, that radiant light,
Conquering the realm of darkness,
Breaking death and hushing hell.12
The Holy Spirit lights up the lamp of faith and keeps it alight. He speaks
sweet words within us, words that encourage and empower us, words that
teach us how to sing and pray, words that produce prayer to God the Father
and a song of praise in our hearts.13 Thus the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of piety
and devotion.
So Gerhardt uses God’s Word in a way that has become rather alien to
us who have been so deeply steeped in generic Protestant piety. He does not
use it to show us what we need to do devotionally in response to what God
has done for us and in our commitment to Him. Instead, he encourages us
to listen to God’s Word faithfully in order to receive the Holy Spirit and all
the many gifts that God offers to us, day by day, as He accompanies us and
travels with us through life here on earth. He helps us who hear God’s Word
to see what it says, to feel its warmth, and to taste what it gives us. All his
songs come from faithful meditation on God and so teach us the art of
receptive meditation on God’s Word.
b. Liturgical Piety
Under the influence of pietism in the eighteenth century and of the revival
movements that have come in its wake, hymnody has become increasingly
disconnected from the divine service in the Lutheran church. It has become
privatized. Even though songs are still sung in it by the congregation, their
function seems to have changed. They no longer enact the Word of God as
ECS 99, PW 81, v.4. This is my translation. The German text is:
Seinen Geist, den edlen Führer,
Gibt er mir in seinem Wort,
Dass er werde mein Regierer
Durch die Welt zur Himmelspfort,
Dass er mir mein Herz erfülle
Mit dem hellen Glaubenslicht,
Das des Todes Reich zerbricht
Und die Hölle selbst macht stille.
Alles Ding währt seine Zeit,
Gottes Lieb in Ewigkeit.
See ECS 29, PW 32, v. 5, 6; ECS 82, PW 63, v. 9.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
Law and Gospel and respond to it in faith, but they have become
instruments of religious self-expression, or aids for spiritual ascent, as on a
ladder, from earth into the heavenly realm. Even if they are still used in their
traditional places in the liturgy, they no longer serve a clear liturgical
function there. They are no longer based on the readings for the day and no
longer relate to the whole counsel of God as it is proclaimed in the year of
the church and enacted in the divine service.
At first glance Gerhardt’s hymns also seem to promote religious selfexpression rather than the liturgical reception of God’s gifts together with
the congregation, as is the case in the classical Lutheran chorales. But that is
rather deceptive. His use of the “I” is corporate and inclusive, like the “I” in
the psalms. It is used to speak of our common reception and experience of
God’s grace. It is the “I” of personal meditation and prayer. Thus his songs
still make good sense if that “I” is changed to “We”. So Gerhardt speaks
personally to promote Lutheran liturgical piety in which faith receives what
the triune God gives to each person through His Word.
The clearest evidence for this is his cycle of songs, 39 in all, that follow
the liturgical year as they embed the devotional life of the faithful in the
divine service. As far as I can gather, he seems to have been the first
Lutheran hymn writer to set out to compose a cycle of hymns for the main
parts of the liturgical year. Thus we have two hymns for Advent, the most
famous of which is “O Lord, How Shall I Greet You” (LSB 334),14 seven
hymns for Christmas, three of which are included in LSB (360, 372, 375), a
hymn for New Year’s Eve and another for the Circumcision of our Lord,
fourteen hymns for Lent and Holy Week, three of which are included in the
LSB (438, 449, 453). He also composed three Easter hymns, one of which is
“Awake, My Heart, With Gladness” (LSB 467),15 three Pentecost hymns,
one hymn for the Holy Trinity, and a series of six songs for the last three
Sundays in the church year.16
Gerhardt’s hymns clearly promote the exercise of personal liturgical
piety. Their function is both liturgical and devotional; they encourage
involvement in public worship as well as the practice of personal spirituality.
This dual function is most evident in Gerhardt’s five daily office hymns,
which contain some of his finest poetry. He wrote three hymns of prayer
ECS 1, PW 2.
ECS 26, PW 29.
See ECS 128, PW 112; ECS 129, PW 113; ECS 115, PW 120; ECS 130, PW 121; ECS
120, PW 122; ECS 134, PW 123. In many of the Lutheran churches the last three Sundays
of the church year focussed on the three last things: death, the Last Day as the day of
resurrection and judgement, and eternal life in heaven.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
and praise for the morning, including “The Golden Morning”,17 of which
four verses are given in LSB, beginning with “Evening And Morning” (LSB
726).18 He also composed two hymns of meditation, prayer, and praise for
the evening, including the one that is perhaps still his best loved song, “Now
Rest Beneath Night’s Shadows” (LSB 880). All of these songs function
equally well as songs for Matins and Vespers, for morning and evening
prayer and praise at the family altar as taught in Luther’s Small Catechism,
and for daily personal devotions. They envisage each day as our whole life
in miniature, a life in which we rise with Christ and die with Him, a life that
is marked by the daily thanksgiving and prayer, daily reception of God’s
gifts and repentance for sin, and daily reliance on protection from Satan and
daily commitment to God. Their riches and beauty have yet to be
discovered and appropriated by us English-speaking Lutherans.
c. Sacramental Piety
Gerhardt teaches Lutheran sacramental piety, a piety that presupposes
regular participation in the divine service. His songs help those who sing
them to meditate on the sacraments and connect all aspects of Christian
teaching and life with them.
Thus we have a hymn of twelve verses in which he meditates on the
benefits of Holy Baptism, called “All Christians Who Have Been
Baptised”.19 This didactic song addresses God’s people personally as single
person, “you”. It begins with a call for me, named as I have been by Christ,
to consider the blessings of my Baptism (v. 1). This is followed by a
meditation on original sin, its devastating effect of me, and my consequent
imprisonment by Satan (vv. 2-4). All this was ended, I am told, by my
release from the dominion of Satan, my adoption as God’s son and heir,
and my investiture with Christ and His holiness in Baptism (vv. 5-8). Then
Baptism itself is praised for its wonder-working power which comes from
God’s creative Word and his life-giving Spirit (vv. 9-10). The last two verses
of the song call on me to prize my Baptism with thanksgiving for the
nourishment that it brings as long as I live, and to use it well by living out
my life on earth as a person who been cleansed by Christ and destined for
divine honours at my investiture in a royal robe for eternal celebration in the
palace of the heavenly king (vv. 11-12).
ECS 37, PW 98.
See also the fine translation of six verses of Gerhardt’s “Morgenlied” (ECS 36, PW 100)
by Friedemann Hebart from one of these, “Praise God the Saviour” in Lutheran Hymnal
with Supplement (Adelaide: Openbook Publishers, 1989), 890.
ECS 33, PW 33. Six of its twelve verses have been included in LSB 596.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
That meditation on the benefits of Baptism is matched by a prayerful
meditation on the Lord’s Supper.20 In this song the accent falls on the
provision of rest for the troubled heart in Holy Communion. This meditative
prayer begins with an admission that whenever my heart is not fixed on
what Christ has won for me by his suffering and death, Satan uses my
uneasy, guilty conscience to confuse me and draw me away from Christ (vv.
1-2). To counter the devil’s demoralizing attacks on me, Christ hosts the
meal in which He gives me His body that was put to death for me and His
blood that was shed in payment for my guilt, so that I may remember Him
and His faithfulness to me as my redeemer (vv. 3-4). So, whenever I receive
His body and blood, I contemplate His longing for me and my salvation that
is evident in three things, His suffering for me, His payment of His body and
blood as a lasting ransom for me to God the Father, and His gift of them to
me as a pledge of His acceptance of me (vv. 5-7). The meditation culminates
in a call for all, including those whom Satan has led astray, to receive rest
for themselves from Christ in the Sacrament. It concludes with a prayer for
healing and for hunger and thirst for the Sacrament as a prelude to my final
ennoblement by Him as a prince in His heavenly palace (v. 8).
While Gerhardt wrote only two songs on the sacraments, he mentions
them and alludes to them much more often than we can ascertain from our
English translations. Thus in his lovely hymn for the invocation of the Holy
Spirit, “Zeuch ein zu deinen Toren”, he uses vivid imagery to acknowledge
the work of the Spirit as life-giver and consecrator in baptism in these two
You pruned my dying branches
That could produce no wine;
By grafting me in Jesus,
Made me a living vine.
In your baptismal flood
You drowned cruel death, that tyrant,
And made my spirit vibrant
Through Jesus and His blood.
You give us your anointing
Through God’s most holy Word.
You’ve made us priests and prophets
And kings with Christ our Lord.
You are the holy oil,
The oil of consecration
That makes us Christ’s possession
And marks us with His seal.21
ECS 34, PW 34. A fine translation of this hymn by Kurt E. Reinhardt is published by
JOHN R. STEPHENSON, The Lord’s Supper, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, vol. 12 (St.
Louis: The Luther Academy, 2003), 1-2.
ECS 29, PW 32, v.3, 4. This is my translation. The German text is:
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
We also find allusions to Baptism and its ongoing effect in the life of the
Christian. Thus the fourth verse of his famous evening hymn: “Now Rest
Beneath Night’s Shadow” alludes to Baptism as putting off the old self and
putting on the new self (TLH 554):
To rest my body hasteth,
Aside its garments casteth,
Types of mortality;
These I put off and ponder
How Christ will give me yonder
A robe of glorious majesty.22
Here the act of undressing before going to bed anticipates the experience of
death and interprets it as prelude to my investiture by Christ with a new
glorified body in the resurrection. So Baptism interprets the experience of
falling sleep, while the experience of falling asleep throws light on what
happens when we die.
In his hymns Gerhardt also refers to the Lord’s Supper and alludes to it.
So, for example, verses 7-9 of the hymn “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining
Forth”23 meditate on the blood that flows from the wounds of Jesus. The
first four verses of this Eucharistic hymn speak about the Father’s slaughter
of His Son as the sacrificial lamb. He Himself opens up the wounds of Jesus
so that the blood flows from His arteries and drains His heart. In verses 5
and 6 I, the contemplative believer, embrace Jesus in devotion just as He has
embraced me and I dedicate myself to Him in thanksgiving and love. Then
in the last four verses my heart is depicted as a shrine for the reception and
retention of Christ’s blood. This is transfused from His heart into mine.24
Now, even though the Lord’s Supper is not explicitly mentioned, the lyrics
Ich war ein wilder Reben,
Du hast mich gut gemacht,
Der Tod durchdrang mein Leben,
Du hast ihn umgebracht
Und in der Tauf erstickt,
Als wie in einer Flute,
Mit dessen Tod und Blute,
Der uns im Tod erquickt.
Du bist das heilig Öle,
Dadurch gesalbet ist
Mein Leib und meine Seele
Dem Herren Jesu Christ
Zum wahren Eigenthum,
Zum Priester und Propheten,
Zum Kön’ge, den in Nöten
Gott schützt vom Heiligtum.
ECS 38, PW 102, v. 4.
ECS 12, PW 13. All of these are missing from LSB 438. While verse 8 is included in TLH
142, it there refers to Christ rather than His blood.
The Lutheran Hymnal, which translates only six of the ten verses of this hymn, obscures its
sacramental orientation. It omits verses 4, 6, 7, and 9, and shifts the focus from the
reception of life from Christ’s blood to the gift of life by Him through His death on the
Lutheran Theological Review 20
make little sense unless they are taken sacramentally.25 The greatest treasure
in the world is the blood of Jesus that flows from His wounds. It gives me
protection in the battle, laughter in sorrow, music in celebration. It provides
manna when all other food has become tasteless, gives drink to quench
thirst, and speaks to me in my loneliness. The blood of Jesus offers me life in
the face of death, shelter in times of heat, relief from the pain of depression,
and an anchor in the storms of life. But best of all it covers me as with a
purple robe and the crown of a queen for my appearance with Christ as His
bride before the heavenly Father. All this imagery is inappropriate and
overblown unless it refers to the reception of Christ’s blood in Holy
More broadly, all the language of the mystical union and communion
between Christ and the believer is based on Christ’s gift of Himself in love in
Holy Communion. Similarly Gerhardt’s talk about “tasting” the sweetness
of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit arises from meditation on
the significance of the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual life.26
d. Physical Piety
The songs of Gerhardt present us with a kind of piety that is alien to our
dissociated modern sensibility and our discarnate post-modern cybersensibility. It is much more physical and yet also more spiritual, much more
this worldly and yet more other-worldly than our religious poetry. It
presupposes a holistic way of knowing and experiencing that integrates the
body as a physical entity with the mind as the seat of thought and emotion
and with the heart as the seat of the human soul. So curiously it gives far
greater weight to the physical realm than we do in our preaching and
Gerhardt’s songs are intensely physical. Their distinctive feature is his
poetic appeal to our whole imagination. By imagination I refer to the use of
verbal imagery in his poetry to evoke the five senses: sight, smell, taste,
touch, and hearing. The senses were important to him, because, like most of
his contemporaries, he held that the natural realm, the realm of creation,
was God’s work of art in which He communicated His goodness and
blessings physically and mentally to those who were properly disposed to
receive them. So both in the church and in the world God uses created
things to reach out to us physically in our bodily existence.
In his hymns Gerhardt regards our senses as organs for the reception of
God’s gifts. In one of his morning songs, “Lobet den Herren”, he calls on us
For this sacramental interpretation, see ELKE AXMACHER, Johann Arndt und Paul Gerhardt
(Tübingen: Franke Verlag, 2001), 209-32.
ECS 29, PW 32 v. 2; ECS 51, PW 35 v. 12; ECS 105, PW 91 v. 4.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
to praise God for the newly awakened senses that we have as a gift from
God for our enjoyment of our daily lives.27 God has not just given us our
five senses to discover the world around us; their God-given purpose is to
find joy in all the good things that he gives us for our enjoyment and delight
in God Himself as our loving benefactor. Thus in his marvellous “Summer
Song” he encourages himself to seek joy and delight in the natural world
because God uses the coming of spring to “awaken” all his five senses. He
I cannot rest, I must not rest,
When these great deeds from my great God
Awaken all my senses.
I too must sing when all things sing
And let my song flow from my heart
To God on high in heaven.28
God uses our senses to set our hearts rejoicing, so that we can use our
“delighted senses”, already now in this life, to please Him physically and to
praise Him verbally.29 Sadly our senses are so darkened, deluded, and
ECS 36, PW 100, v.3. The English translation of the two relevant verses in the Australian
Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement (Adelaide: Openbook Publishers, 1989), 890, is:
Lord, you have made us, and the life you gave us
all night was safely in your care and keeping.
You have awakened us with joy from sleeping:
Praise God the Saviour.
That we can daily
use our senses freely,
our hands and feet, our tongue and lips at leisure
All this we owe to his most gracious pleasure:
Praise God the Saviour.
ECS 40, PW 103, v. 8. This is my own translation of that verse. The German text is:
Ich selbsten kann und mag nicht ruhn;
Des grossen Gottes grosses Tun
Erweckt mir alle Sinnen;
Ich singe mit, wenn alles singt,
Und lasse, was dem Höchsten klingt,
Aus meinem Herzen rinnen.
ECS 100, PW 82, v. 14. This comes from a wonderful song that thanks God for the gift of
good health, for only if our bodies are healthy can we use our senses properly. Here is my
translation of the first two and the last two verses of this song:
Lutheran Theological Review 20
disturbed that our hearts do not rightly receive the blessings that God
showers on us day by day. Sin and the envy of Satan diminish our capacity
for enjoyment. That’s why God “opens up” both our minds and our senses
through the hearing of His word and the illumination of His Holy Spirit, so
that we can begin to take in and enjoy what He so graciously gives us.30 So
in keeping with classical teaching on the art of meditation, Gerhardt
exercises all his five senses as he meditates.
Since Gerhardt was such an ardent exponent of orthodox Lutheran
theology and such a fierce defender of the Formula of Concord, we would
expect him as a poet to privilege the sense of hearing in his songs. It is true
that he does repeatedly urge us to listen to the voice of God as it addresses
us personally. But that is not at all as frequent as the call to see what God
says to us and to envisage what He gives us. He communicates his theology
affectively mainly by the use of vivid Biblical images which evoke a vision
of God’s gracious and paradoxical involvement with us in our lives. Let me
give just one case of this that appeals to me most vividly. In his song about
the coming of spring Gerhardt is amazed at how God dresses up the
Let us, if we have good health,
Raise our hearts with gladness;
Let us lift our voices high
For God’s lavish goodness,
Thanking Him with healthy songs,
Daily, nightly, always,
Since He has provided us
With our healthy members.
So as long as I still have
Life and breath within me,
Help me to begin to use
Every breath to praise You.
Help me use my healthy mouth
And delighted senses
Always with each breath I take
To delight and please You.
Healthy body, healthy blood,
Make for life’s enjoyment.
If we have this gift from God,
That’s enough for living
Well and cheerful here on earth,
Since we have a foretaste
Of still better things to come,
Kept for us in heaven.
Keep me well and give me strength,
Now that I am ageing,
Up until the hour shall come
For my death and burial.
Grant me, while I live on earth,
No undue affliction
And then in eternity
Full complete enjoyment.
ECS 81, PW 61, v.10. Here is my translation of that verse:
Daily God’s Word brings me life
as I taste the teachings
that all Christians long to hear
for their sweet refreshment.
Thus He opens up my mind
with His Holy Spirit,
for my senses to absorb
all His loving kindness.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
formerly barren winter landscape with a fresh green dress.31 Then his
admiration for the greening of the earth moves him to pray for God’s
greening of him, body and soul, for the whole of his journey here on earth.32
He uses the same image in a different way in his famous Advent hymn.
There he promises that he will green his own heart with thanksgiving and
praise as he welcomes his coming Lord.33 Visual images from the Bible, like
this, provide the main stimulus for his practice of meditation. Sadly, most of
them are either obscured or lost in our English translations that try to copy
his rhyming and attempt to communicate his concepts rather than his
In his songs Gerhardt also appeals to the sense of taste in many different
and surprising ways, some of which seem rather far-fetched and perhaps
even grotesque to us with our literal modern mentality. So for example, he
evokes the sense of taste repeatedly by his literal and metaphorical use of the
adjective “sweet”.34 Thus he relishes the sweet mouth of Jesus that tastes
much better than wine and milk and honey.35 Rather strangely for us, he
uses this adjective for what is pleasing to the other four senses besides the
sense of taste. So he speaks about the sweet words from the mouth of
Jesus.36 He also enjoys the sweet touch of Christ’s embrace,37 and the sweet
perfume of Christ’s blood that smells better than wine.38 He even claims that
through His love Christ sweetens human suffering and pain.39
Like his contemporaries who were adept in meditation, Gerhardt also at
times evokes the sense of smell and appeals to it. A startling instance of this
is found in his passion hymn of devotion to the bleeding heart of Jesus as He
hangs on the cross. The heart of Jesus is compared with a fragrant blooming
rose. Like a rose, His open heart sheds the fragrance of its nectar in order to
unite the heart of the singer with itself. It nourishes the human heart with its
ECS 40, PW 103, v. 1, 2.
See also ECS 61, PW 46, v. 3.
ECS 1, PW 3, v. 2. The translation in the LSB changes the image by speaking about the
“blooming” of the heart instead of its “greening”.
For an analysis of the use of “sweet” by Gerhardt and his contemporaries, see WALTRAUT
INGEBORG SAUER-GEPPERT, Sprache und Frömmigkeit im deutschen Kirchenlied (Kassel:
Johannes Stauda Verlag, 1984), 35-50.
ECS 6, PW 9, v. 6.
ECS 2, PW 2, v. 8; ECS 53, PW 36, v. 6.
ECS 5, PW 5, v. 12.
ECS 21, PW 19, v. 3.
ECS 21, PW 19, v. 4; ECS 82, PW 63, v. 10.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
sweetness and sets it alight with its love.40 The appeal to the sense of smell,
like the appeal to the sense of taste, emphasizes the involvement of the body
in meditation and prayer as well as the importance of reception and
appreciation in the devotional life.
The most physical of all the senses is the sense of touch. Yet despite that,
or, more exactly because of that, Gerhardt evokes it again and again in his
hymns. One of his favourite tactile images is the use of our human hands to
show affection and love, whether it be the hugging of a child by its father
and in its mother’s lap, or the holding of hands, or the warm embrace of two
bodies. Let me give three examples of this. In his Christmas hymn “Beside
Thy Manger Here I Stand” he imagines that the infant Jesus smiles and
laughs with joy as he reaches out to us with His little hands.41 In a hymn for
New Year’s Eve he compares God’s protection of us to a mother who holds
her frightened child in her lap during a fierce thunder storm.42 The last verse
of “Why Should Cross And Trial Grieve Me” prays that Jesus will embrace
our resurrected bodies with His own body physically as He welcomes us
into eternal life with Him.43 So the sense of touch is used to communicate
the physical comfort and emotional warmth44 that we receive from God the
Father and His Son. It affirms the incarnation and real presence of Jesus
with us bodily here on earth.
e. Joyful Piety
The hymns of Paul Gerhardt inculcate a paradoxical kind of spirituality, the
spirituality of the cross. They encourage us to embrace the life that comes
through dying with Christ and the joy that comes through suffering with
Him. Even though they vividly lament human suffering and pain and
sorrow, that is not their dominant theme. Their keynote is joy. Whether
times are good or bad, his songs lead us on our way through life, singing
and rejoicing.
The monastic teachers of spirituality often used the picture of a ladder or
a stairway to heaven in their teaching of spirituality. They spoke about the
ladder of devotion by which the faithful climbed, step by step and stage by
stage, from earth to heaven, the ladder by which they came closer and closer
to God until they were united with Him. Amazingly, Gerhardt turns this
ECS 23, PW 21, v. 4, 6.
ECS 6, PW 9, v. 8.
ECS 10, PW 12, vv. 4, 5.
ECS 83, PW 64, v. 12.
It is surprising how frequently he speaks about being warmed by God (e.g. ECS 20, PW
18, v. 3; ECS 21, PW 19, v. 5; ECS 23, PW 21, v. 3; ECS 63, PW 48, v. 4).
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 1
image around in the passion hymn that he devoted to the heart of the
crucified Saviour. There he contemplates Jesus as He bends down and
reaches out with His heart to him to bring his heart, step by step, in rejoicing
up the ladder of devotion. So for Gerhardt the ladder of devotion is the
ladder of joy. Here is my translation of that verse:
With all my heart I cry to you,
My heart that keeps my heart awake;
Please answer my petition!
Come, bend right down to open up
The door of my poor heart and lift
Me up in warm devotion
From step to step and joy to joy.
And let my heart in love and pain
Remain devoted to you,
So that I always serve you well
With all my heart in every place
And honour you for ever.45
Here Jesus is regarded as the author and agent of devotion.46 This is the
voice of a new kind of piety, the piety of reception, an evangelical piety that
has nothing to do with spiritual self-promotion and self-advancement and
everything to with the enjoyment of God’s grace and love.
So the keynote, the main theme of Gerhardt’s songs, is joy. They take us
on a joyful journey through life, our journey together with the crucified and
ECS 23, PW 21, v. 5. The German text is:
Ich ruf aus aller Herzensmacht
Dich, Herz, in dem mein Herz erwacht,
Ach lass dich doch errufen!
Komm, beug und neige dich zu mir
An meines Herzens arme Tür,
Und zeuch mich auf die Stufen
Der Andacht und der Freudigkeit,
Gib, dass mein Herz in Lieb und Leid
Dein eigen sei und bleibe,
Dass dir es dien an allem Ort,
Und dir zu Ehren immerfort
All seine Zeit vertreibe.
The same idea is also found in the second verse of the passion hymn that is devoted to the
breast of Jesus (ECS 22, PW 20, v. 2). Here is my translation of it:
My Jesus, bend right down to me;
Reach out and press me to Your breast
And fire my heart with Your own love,
So that it leaves the world behind.
Arouse devotion in my heart
And harmonize my will with Yours.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
risen Lord Jesus. That heavenly journey does not take us on a detour
around trouble and pain, but takes us right through them. It does not offer
us a way of escape from all the difficulties of human life on earth, difficulties
that Gerhardt knew all too well and lamented so often. Nor does that
heavenly journey bypass all that is good in this good world. Rather it takes
us from blessing to blessing, blessings that we receive with thanksgiving to
God as his gifts for our enjoyment. Here on earth we are His guests who live
in His tent for a while and enjoy His hospitality.47 Yet our journey does not
end here with death. All that is good in God’s good world is but a foretaste
of the best that is still to come. We therefore look forward to a life of full,
complete enjoyment,48 eternal life in God’s lovely house in heaven.49
In his songs Paul Gerhardt is one of the great teachers of Lutheran
spirituality. He does not theorize about it, but actually invites us join with
him as he mediates on God’s Word and responds to it in prayer. He invites
us to travel with him and the risen Lord Jesus on the eternal way. That way
is the Freudenbahn, the way of joy.50 It takes us from joy to joy, as we go on
our way rejoicing.
Rev. John Kleinig, Ph.D. (Cantab.), is Old Testament Lecturer at Australian
Lutheran College, Adelaide.
ECS 72, PW 53, v. 2.
See ECS 100, PW 82, v. 15.
See ECS 74, PW 51, v. 16.
See ECS 66, PW 50, v. 20.
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 55-66
Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2*
John W. Kleinig
2. Singing the Devil Away
Blind spots obscure our vision, so that we
just don’t see what’s there before us. The worst of these are our mental and
spiritual blind spots. They are imposed on us by our culture with its
fashionable demands for social, moral, and spiritual correctness. If we
follow the demands of spiritual correctness, we choose not to see something
that is presented to us by the Scriptures and confirmed by experience. We
are embarrassed by any reference to that topic and ignore anything that
reminds us of it.
As I read what was written about the songs of Paul Gerhardt on this the
400th anniversary of his birth, I have been pleasantly surprised by much of
what has been said in appreciation of his songs. I have been even more
surprised by the effort that these writers have made to understand Gerhardt
himself, his faith, and his Lutheran vision of life. This applies even to his
defiance of King Friedrich Wilhelm, who, under the pretext of religious
tolerance, forbade the Lutheran pastors of his realm to teach and preach
according to the Formula of Concord. Yet despite all their sympathies for
him, there is one aspect of his piety that they dismiss, because they are
obviously embarrassed by it. It is so embarrassing for them that they dismiss
it as outdated before they explain it away. The reason for their
embarrassment is his belief in Satan and his repeated reference to spiritual
warfare in his songs.
Let me give you just two examples of this. The leading German
Lutheran expert on Gerhardt is Christian Bunners. He is the current
president of the Paul Gerhardt Society and the author of the best book on
him in German. Yet when he comes to the topic of spiritual warfare, this is
all he has to say:
Suffering raises the question of “salvation” and “grace” most acutely. It
seems to us as if God Himself has written us off, as if “He no longer asks
how we are.” Gerhardt associates this temptation with the Biblical discourse
Presented at the Paul Gerhardt Symposium, hosted by Concordia Lutheran Theological
Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, 8 May 2007.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
about Satan. For him it has to do with final annihilation. So too his discourse
about hell indicates the conglomeration of all negative powers.1
On a much more popular level Frank Pauli has written a lovely little
book on Gerhardt.2 He ends this book with an imaginary letter to Gerhardt
in which he engages with him on a number of issues. One of the things that
bothers him and so, too, we would surmise, his readers, is Gerhardt’s talk
about Satan.3 He admits that Gerhardt would find the disappearance of talk
about Satan from the Protestant churches in Germany rather odd and
perhaps even silly. How can we deal with evil properly if we do not name it
accurately? Yet, while he acknowledges that the silence in the church about
Satan impoverishes and damages the life of faith, he cannot accept Satan as
anything more than a symbol of evil.
We do, indeed, have some reason to sympathize with this point of view.
The unhealthy obsession that many Protestants have with demonology and
the exorcism of demons does not commend the topic of spiritual warfare to
us. Yet I would maintain that we as Lutherans have something unique to
offer the church catholic on this topic. Luther’s teaching on spiritual warfare
is, I would maintain, an integral part of our piety. That is its proper context.
His teaching on spiritual warfare is something that we need to recover if we
are going to meet the challenge from the Pentecostals and engage effectively
in evangelism at home and abroad.
Luther summed up his practice of spirituality quite succinctly and
memorably in the Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings
from 1539.4 In that short essay he spoke about his three rules for the
affective study of theology—oratio: prayer to God the Father for the gift of
the Holy Spirit as his spiritual director; meditatio: meditation on the external
Word as the means for the operation of the Holy Spirit; and tentatio:
temptation, spiritual attack by Satan on those whose hearts receive God’s
Word and the Spirit through the Word.5 The German word that Luther uses
for temptation is Anfechtung, attack. Our experience of attack by the devil is
the touchstone of genuine Christian spirituality, for, as we come under
attack, we, paradoxically, “experience how right, how true, how sweet, how
See CHRISTIAN BUNNERS, Paul Gerhardt: Weg-Werk-Wirkung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 2007), 184.
FRANK PAULI, Im Himmel ist ein schönes Haus: Skizzen zu Paul Gerhardt (Berlin: Wichern
Verlag, 2006).
See PAULI, 117f.
See EA 34:283-393.
See my analysis of this in “Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio: What Makes a Theologian?”
Concordia Theological Quarterly 66.3 (2002): 255-67.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2
lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond
wisdom.”6 The attacks of the devil teach us “to seek and love God’s Word.”
In this second address on Paul Gerhardt as a teacher of Lutheran
spirituality I want first to summarize his teaching on spiritual warfare and
then to examine the one song that deals with it at some length, “Rise, My
Soul, Up High to God.”
a. Silencing Satan
In his songs Gerhardt often refers in passing to Satan and his battle against
the people of God. There is little that is original in what he has to say on this
topic apart from the way that he says it. He has no interest in demonology
as a topic in its own right. His main concern is for competence in spiritual
warfare as part of the practice of piety.
Satan is, quite simply, “the enemy of souls”,7 “my enemy”.8 He has
gained his power over us through the fall of our primeval parents.9 Yet even
though Satan exercises his power in the world of fallen humanity, Gerhardt
pays little attention to his works in the chaotic world around him as he well
might have, since he lived through the terrible devastation of the 30 years
war. His interest lies in the main battlefield of Satan, the conscience of the
faithful, for Satan is the accuser of those who are one flesh with their blood
brother, Jesus.
Satan is most crafty and devious in the tricks that he uses to attack our
conscience. If we have sinned, he accuses us of falling with Adam10 and acts
as if he has the right to condemn us.11 Once guilt sets in he fills us with the
fear of death and forebodings of punishment.12 He deceives us by using
God’s Law to condemn us, so that we deny His grace.13 He attacks us, when
we are most vulnerable, in the witching hours of the night.14 Even if we have
not sinned, he still nags and gnaws at us, like a dog on a bone, trying to
draw us away from Christ by undermining our faith in Him; he spreads the
fog of doubt over us, doubt about our salvation and the things that God has
EA 34:287.
Seelenfeind, ECS 4, PW 8, v. 4.
ECS 34, PW 34, v. 2.
ECS 31, PW 31, v. 3.
ECS 4, PW 8, v. 4.
ECS 81, PW 61, v. 3.
ECS 25, PW 23, v. 5.
ECS 2, PW 2, vv. 2-3; ECS 8, PW 6, v. 5; ECS 25, PW 23, vv. 12-14.
ECS 35, PW 99, vv. 2-5.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
instituted for our salvation, such as Baptism, the Absolution, the preaching
of the Gospel, and the gift of Christ’s blood.15 Yet despite all that, he has so
little hold on us that he has to resort to mockery and ridicule, the weapons
of one who has been vanquished and disempowered.16
There is one image that recurs repeatedly in Gerhardt’s depiction of
spiritual warfare. Satan is an evil snake that poisons us with his sting. He
injects his venom, his gall, into us, so that we become as bitter and hateful
and ill-tempered as he is.17 He does this in a most unusual way. With his
fangs he injects his poison into the wounds that we have in our hearts and
on our conscience, the wounds that we inflict on ourselves by our sin as well
as the wounds that are inflicted on us by those who have injured us, such as
when they slander us.18 Here is how he describes Satan’s attack on us:
Satan comes with his deception
And annuls the grace of God,
Just as if I too were prisoned
There with him in hell itself.
Yet still worse than that, my conscience
Bites and stings me like a snake.
He torments me in my anguish
With devouring toxic venom.19
The pangs of conscience are “the poisoned wounds”, the toxic injuries,
that Christ comes to heal with His incarnation.20 Christ, the snake-treader,
removes the snake’s sack of venom, so that he can no longer poison us when
he sinks his fangs in us.21
In all this Satan is motivated by two things. On the one hand, he hates
Jesus and all those who are associated with Him; he, quite rightly, regards
ECS 34, PW 34, v. 2.
ECS 82, PW 63, v. 11; ECS 83, PW 64, v. 6.
ECS 4, PW 8, v. 4.
ECS 37, PW 98, v. 5.
ECS 2, PW 2, v. 3. This is my own translation. The German text is:
Dazu, kommt des Teufels Lügen,
Der mir all Gnad absagt,
Als müsst ich nun ewig liegen
In der Höllen, die ihn plagt;
Ja auch, was noch ärger ist,
So zermartert und zerfrisst
Mich mein eigenes Gewissen
Mit vergift’ten Schlangenbissen.
ECS 5, PW 5, v. 10.
ECS 26, PW 27, v.3.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2
Jesus as such a threat to him that he shuns Him.22 That’s why he had his
one moment of triumph when Jesus was buried in the grave, for he
imagined that he was at last rid of his great enemy.23 On the other hand, the
devil is filled with envy for the human race since God has honoured it by
making it physically in his image and by exalting it physically together with
Jesus over all creation.24
For all his huffing and puffing and bluffing, Satan has no power over
those who are united with the risen Lord Jesus,25 for just as the rising sun
banishes the darkness, so Christ has vanquished him by His incarnation,
death, resurrection and ascension.26 Together with his cronies, sin and death
and hell, the devil has been put to shame by the incarnation of God’s Son.27
By His death He has crushed the devil’s head, like the head of a snake, and
has harrowed hell.28 Satan has been forced to submit to the risen Lord Jesus
who binds him hand and foot and puts him under His feet.29 Yet Jesus does
none of this by Himself and apart from us. He took us with Him as His
companions when He fought His way through sin and death and hell.30 By
raising us with Him as His own flesh and blood to the right hand of the
Father, He has silenced the devil once and for all and has seated us safely
with Him in the heavenly realm.31 Through the waters of Baptism He has
freed us from the shackles of Satan and has put all the armies of hell under
our feet.32
Yet for all that, Satan is still not finished with us. He still uses the
darkness in our hearts to attack us, the darkness of guilt and shame, anxiety
and fear, pain and sorrow, resentment and hatred, doubt and despair, selfpity and depression. He uses these things to undermine our faith in God’s
word, to disconnect us from Jesus, and to drive the Holy Spirit from our
ECS 82, PW 63, v. 11.
ECS 26, PW 27, v. 2.
ECS 4, PW 8, vv. 4-5; ECS 43, PW 106, v. 15.
ECS 28, PW 28, vv. 6-7.
ECS 4, PW 8, vv. 5-6.
ECS 8, PW 6, v. 2.
ECS 4, PW 8 ,v. 6; ECS 8, PW 6, v. 5.
ECS 26, PW 27, v. 3.
ECS 26, PW 27, v. 7.
ECS 4, PW 8, vv. 3-5.
ECS 33, PW 33, vv. 4-7.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
hearts. We therefore are caught up in a lifelong battle against Satan who
dogs and hounds us on our journey through life.33
In this battle we have two main weapons: meditation on God’s Word
and prayer as guided by God’s Word.34 As we listen to the voice of Jesus,
the voice of Satan is silenced inside us.35 We can also pray for the Holy
Spirit, the Spirit of victory.36 He keeps the lamp of faith alight in the storms
of life and frees us from all that ails our hearts;37 He drives away the evil
spirit when he attacks us and tries to confuse us;38 He gives joy and power to
resist the devil and all his works.39
Just as the evil spirits join Satan in his battle against us, so God sends us
His holy angels, the golden heavenly army, as our bodyguards on our
journey through life.40 We may therefore pray for their protection.41 In this
he follows Luther with his prayers for each evening and morning. The holy
angels protect us at night when we are most open to spiritual attack.42 So in
the hymn “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow” we ask Jesus to post them
at our bedsides as our bodyguards and to bid them to sing the devil away
from us.43 They also travel with us daily on our journey through life as they
did with Jacob on his journey to his homeland in Canaan.44
ECS 29, PW 32, v. 15; ECS 81, PW 61, v. 12.
ECS 91, PW 59, v. 8.
ECS 28, PW 28, vv. 4-6.
ECS 31, PW 31, v. 7.
ECS 31, PW 31, v. 8.
ECS 29, PW 32, v. 14.
ECS 29, PW 32, v. 15.
ECS 2, PW, 2, v. 10.
ECS 38, PW 102, vv. 8-9.; ECS 39, PW 101, v. 5.
ECS 56, PW 49, v. 4; ECS 35, PW 99, vv. 2-5; ECS 36, PW 100, v. 5; ECS 39, PW 101, v.
5; ECS 38, PW 102, vv. 8-9.
ECS 38, PW 102, v.8. See LSB 880, v. 4:
Lord Jesus, since you love me,
Now spread Your wings above me,
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would devour me,
Let angel guards sing o’er me:
This child of God shall meet no harm.
ECS 2, PW 2, v. 10; ECS 99, PW 81, v. 8; ECS 43, PW 106, vv. 1-11, 15.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2
b. Calling the Devil’s Bluff
Gerhardt wrote a remarkable song about how to deal with the devil and call
his bluff in spiritual warfare. He entitled it “A Song of Comfort in
Depression and Attack”.45 In this song he does not begin, as we might
expect, with his experience of guilt; he begins with his experience of
depression. Just as joy is the hallmark of life with Christ, so depression is the
evidence of a soul under attack by Satan.
The song begins with a call to his soul to renounce depression:
Rise, my soul, up high to God
From the pit of sadness!
Why remain down there, depressed?
Why despise his goodness?
Can’t you see the devil’s tricks,
Scheming to attack you?
He is set to fog and mute
Christ’s good words of comfort.
Our attention is immediately arrested by what is said here. By the use of
a pun, the “pit” of depression, Höhle in German, is associated with the
“hell” of depression, Hölle in German. When we wallow in depression we
side with Satan. Our decision to remain in that state may therefore be
regarded as mockery of God, scornful disregard of Him and His goodness.
So when we yield to depression and revel in it, we fall for the devil’s
trickery. Even though Satan does not create depression, he uses it, like a
grey fog that envelops us and removes all colour from the world around us,
to blot out the comfort that we have in Jesus and to mute the message of the
Gospel. That’s why the singer urges his gloomy soul to turn to God, as to
the sun, and rise up to Him, like an eagle uplifted on a thermal current.
In the next three verses he addresses the devil and sends him packing:
I will shake my head and say:
“Flee, you snake, you dragon!
You can’t strike me with your sting;
You can’t make me fearful!
Christ has crushed your toxic head
With His painful passion.
He has snatched me from your reach
To His hall for feasting.
“If you tell me I have sinned,
I will answer boldly:
I don’t take my lead from you
For my self-appraisal.
Who has given you the right
To condemn God’s people?
Aren’t you now already stuck
In hell’s fiery fury?
“If I’ve sinned and done what’s wrong,
Then I say I’m sorry.
ECS 81, PW 61.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
My one antidote for guilt
Is the blood of Jesus.
That’s the ransom for my soul
From all evil-doing.
If I show it at God’s throne,
I have His approval.”
He defies the devil because he no longer has any power over him; he has
nothing to fear from his toxic insinuations. Christ, the snake-treader, has
crushed the snake’s head and removed the poison from his fangs. He has
snatched the believer from the reach of Satan and brought him, enraptured,
to the hall of joy, the bridal hall, the Eucharistic chamber, the place for
feasting and celebration where Satan cannot come.46 So all Satan’s efforts to
discount God’s approval of him and to keep him depressed are an audacious
bluff, for he whom Christ has condemned to hell has no right to accuse and
condemn anybody. Even if a Christian has sinned, Satan cannot use that
against him, for the Christian has the blood of Jesus as his antidote to sin,
the ransom for his misdeeds and the proof of God’s acceptance of him.
In two vivid verses the singer then meditates on the comfort and
protection that he has in Christ.
Jesus is my innocence,
Righteousness and glory.
He has gained for me a place
Where I live in safety,
Like a fortress so secure
That no foe can conquer.
Even hell’s artillery
Cannot break and take it.
Let the devil rant and rage;
Death has lost its danger.
God protects me from his threats
With His grace and favour.
Since He honours me and loves
Me as He loves Jesus,
All the devil’s scornful taunts
Will not make me gloomy.
Like a well-fortified fortress that is safe against the cannon fire of an
army that besieges it, Jesus is the one safe place from Satan and all the
powers of hell. Because the singer is covered with Christ’s blood, everything
that belongs to his blood brother Jesus, such as His innocence, His
righteousness and all His achievements, belongs to him. So, since God the
Father favours him and honours him together with Jesus, death has lost its
power to harm him. With all this backing he therefore has good reason to
dismiss the devil and his threats.
In three new verses the singer turns away from the devil and defies his
ally, the world, the world of godless humanity that contradicts his faith in
Jesus and in God’s acceptance of him.
This is one of Gerhardt’s favourite images (e.g. ECS 1, PW 3, v. 10; ECS 29, PW 32, v. 6).
It comes from the Song of Songs 2:4.
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2
Let the crazy world shout out:
”God does not accept you.”
That is nothing but a lie,
Nothing but deception.
If God were displeased with me,
He would not have given
All the good things I’ve received
For my sheer enjoyment.
What in all the sky above,
Or below the ocean,
What is good that does not serve
Me and my existence?
All the stars that shine at night,
All the wind and water,
All that’s good in all the world
Is for my enrichment.
For my good the rain and dew
Wet the earth’s dry surface.
For my good the grass grows green,
Trees and plants all flourish.
Yes, for me God’s blessing fills
Hills and fields and forests.
To delight me He provides
This good earth to house me.
The argument here is quite simple and yet effective. It runs from the lesser to
the greater. Since God has given me so many good things in this good world
for my bodily sustenance and enjoyment, God is not my enemy; He is not
angry with me. Rather, He must be pleased with me and ready to give me
still greater spiritual gifts.
The next three verses develop that rich theme.
Daily God’s Word brings me life
As I taste the teachings
That all Christians long to hear
For their sweet refreshment.
Thus He opens up my mind
With His Holy Spirit,
For my senses to absorb
All His loving kindness.
All that the apostles say,
Which confirms the prophets,
Is a light in a bleak place,
Bright with welcome radiance,
Driving shadows from my heart,
Bringing me assurance
With a faith that’s firmly fixed
By a peaceful conscience.
On this holy ground I build
All my thoughts and actions,
Even though the hound of hell
Howls and snaps against it.
Satan cannot ever shake
What God has established.
Everything the devil plans
Must collapse and vanish.
By itself the experience of all the good things in God’s good creation is
not enough to banish depression. It is not enough just to silence the
combined message of Satan and fallen humanity. So God also gives His
Word and Holy Spirit. These two work together to enlighten the mind and
the heart of the singer. Through His Word God keeps on giving His Spirit,
Lutheran Theological Review 20
just as the sun keeps on giving its light to those who welcome it. The Spirit
enlightens the mind of the singer so that he can recognize and enjoy God as
the giver of all the good things that he experiences with his five senses.
Through the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures the Spirit also illumes his
heart, so that he has the assurance of salvation and such a secure foundation
for his faith that it not only withstands the rage of Satan, the hound of hell,
but also brings about his undoing.
After setting out these things as the foundation for his Gemüthe, his
mood, his good temper, the proper way of thinking and feeling about
himself and his world, the singer tackles the practical problem of depression
in its two main guises: its extreme lows and its oscillation between extreme
highs and lows.
I am God’s and He is mine;
Who can ever part us?
Even if the cross slips in
Painfully between us,
Let it be because it comes
From my God who loves me,
Making, in His time, a door
Open up before us.
God treats Christian people well
Even in their troubles.
Those who cry a while on earth
Will not wail for ever.
They will take complete delight
In Christ’s heavenly garden
Which He has prepared for them
For their full enjoyment.
Children whom a father trains
In what’s good and wholesome,
Seldom grow and flourish well
Without firm correction.
So if I am God’s dear child,
Why should I resist Him
Who instructs me from my sins
To receive His blessings?
Though God’s children sow with tears
In a time of sorrow,
Yet at last the year brings on
More than they have longed for.
After winter comes the time
To bring in the harvest;
Then their pain and trouble bear
Fruit in joy and laughter.
Here Gerhardt is not interested in arguing for the truth of St Paul’s teaching
that all things work together for good for those who love God. Rather he
draws on the wisdom that comes from the practice of piety, the wisdom that
is taught by God’s Word and His Holy Spirit in the school of life. Those
who live wisely do not dwell on the misery of depression, nor do they crave
a life of untrammelled happiness. They learn the lessons of life. The spiritual
sting of depression has to do with the attack of Satan upon us. He
exaggerates it and uses it to propagate his message. The secret of managing
depression spiritually is also the secret for the full enjoyment of life. It is the
secret of the cross, the holy Easter journey through death to life, through
sorrow to joy, through hell to heaven. God is equally at work in times of
trouble and in times of happiness. He, in fact, uses our sins and our troubles
to refine us and increase our capacity for richer and fuller and deeper
enjoyment, both in this life and in the life to come.
In the last verse of the song the singer actually does what he had urged
himself to do in the first verse. He renounces his depression:
Kleinig: Paul Gerhardt as a Teacher of Lutheran Spirituality, pt 2
So then let me take my pain,
My depression boldly,
Take and throw it all away
Joyfully behind me.
Like a candle, let me burn
With increased devotion,
Praising God for all His help,
For His comfort! Amen.
Comforted and strengthened by his faith in Christ, he gets rid of his sadness
and pain, as if it now no longer burdened him, as if it had nothing to do
with him. In a bold act of will he picks it up and throws it far behind him.
He does not hold on to it, nor does he pretend that it does not bother him.
He sings it away. Yet he does not just sing it away. By singing it away, he
sings the devil away as well.47
c. The Singing Heart
In Colossians 3:16 Saint Paul urges his hearers to let the Word of Christ
dwell richly among them and in them, so that it may bring God’s grace into
their hearts and produce a heartfelt song of thanksgiving and praise to God
the Father. Gerhardt and his contemporaries therefore rightly concluded
that the practice of piety included the song of the heart. They maintained
that Kirchengesang, singing the psalms of the Old Testament and the hymns
of the church, was meant to produce Seelengesang, the song of the soul,
“spiritual songs”. Gerhardt is a great teacher of Lutheran spirituality
because he composed devotional songs that were both hymns of the church
and songs of the heart.
Gerhardt’s songs teach our hearts to sing at all times and in all places.
His songs sing the word of Christ and the Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that
they set our hearts singing. Whether we are awake or asleep, they sing the
song of Jesus. Whether we lament or rejoice, they keep on singing about the
grace of God the Father. They sing in summer and in winter, in prosperity
and adversity, in our highs and in our lows, in health and in sickness, in life
and in death. Here on earth they begin to sing the song that never ends. And
as they sing, they sing the devil away, for he has no hold on the heart that is
devoted to Jesus.
See ECS 137, v. 1. There Gerhardt claims that whenever David became distempered and
despondent from the attack of the Enemy on his heart, he routed the Enemy by singing a
song of praise to God.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
Rev. John Kleinig, Ph.D. (Cantab.), is Old Testament Lecturer at Australian
Lutheran College, Adelaide.
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 67-112
Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Gerald Krispin
of the 400th anniversary of Paul Gerhardt’s birth,
many symposia such as this are being staged. In all of these, Gerhardt is
celebrated as the most endearing of hymn writers, a man acquainted with
sorrow and suffering, yet who wrote hymns that helped him and others
overcome the crises of life and faith. He is a man of deep piety, a singer of a
joyful and steadfast faith. Doubtless many Lutherans are familiar with his
hymns, since a significant number occur in the major Lutheran hymnals,
many of which are frequently sung during the church year. Yet while his
hymns are known, Paul Gerhardt himself shares largely in the anonymity of
the vast majority of hymn writers who are but footnotes of acknowledgment
within the hymnbooks containing their work; the life and thought of writers
and composers behind the hymns remains largely the domain of
hymnologists and liturgical scholars. At best the layperson has available to
him anecdotal stories, which unhappily are often more apocryphal than
This state of affairs is already lamented by Hermann Petrich, who in the
early part of the 20th century wrote the first scholarly biography of Paul
Gerhardt. Petrich noted that such stories arose within the work of various
well-meaning 18th-century writers, whose purpose in writing was to be more
inspirational than informative. Unhappily their pious fictions were
uncritically received as facts by later 19th-century writers. Nor were these, or
later 20th-century writers, immune from recreating a Paul Gerhardt in their
own theological image. He was consequently seen by some to have donned
the mantle of Johann Arndt’s mysticism, only to emerge as a precursor to
Pietism, and is often celebrated as such.
Others made the rather disingenuous attempt to dissociate Paul Gerhardt
the hymn writer from Paul Gerhardt the ardent defender of Lutheran
orthodoxy, deeming the latter to be the result of a rather unhappy infliction
upon a rather impressionable soul by the polemical spirit of the times. In
other words, there existed an unknown dark side to Paul Gerhardt. This is a
Gerhardt who had been forced to drink the vitriol of the Formula of
Concord from his youth, which had scarred him with its execrations and
acerbic spirit.1 This is the unknown and best-forgotten Gerhardt, who
Paul Wernle, in a not un-partisan spirit, makes the comment that it is “the purest heretichating spirit of Luther and those of Wittenberg which one can perceive here.” PAUL
Lutheran Theological Review 20
exuded malevolent religious intolerance in his preaching and writing,
especially with respect to the Reformed Calvinists of his day.2 At best, this
side of Paul Gerhardt is lamented as the sad legacy of Lutheran polemical
theology of which he was himself a victim; yet his hymns prove that one can
even be healed from wounds as deep as those inflicted by religious strife and
intolerance. It was therefore argued that only in his hymnody, which was
deemed happily divested of the acrimonious tendencies within Lutheran
theology, was the true evangelical Gerhardt able to come to the fore; and
only such a Gerhardt would be palatable in keeping with the spirit of more
tolerant and ecumenical times.
Yet a Paul Gerhardt purged of his Lutheran orthodox faith never lived
nor ever wrote any hymn. It is the contention of this paper that Gerhardt’s
perceived “dark side” was in fact the very source of his joyful, pastoral, and
endearing hymnody; in other words, that it was precisely the confessional
certainty of the Book of Concord as a whole, and the definitive confessional
position of the Formula of Concord in particular, that gave Gerhardt the
foundation that made his joyful and enduring hymnody possible. This will
be proven as especially evident in Paul Gerhardt’s confession of Christ in his
songs and in his confession of Christ in the sacraments.
Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
The polemics of the Thirty Years War in particular overshadow practically
all of Gerhardt’s life, from his school-days at Grimma, his studies at
Wittenberg, to his initial sojourn in Berlin as a live-in tutor. The war had
also precluded his receiving a call into the Holy Ministry until he was finally
called to be provost in Mittenwalde in 1651 at the age of forty-four. Yet
precisely these years of waiting in Berlin, followed by his years at
WERNLE, Paulus Gerhardt (Tübingen: J.C.B.Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1907), 14. The “here”
refers to Gerhardt’s writings in the context of the Berlin Colloquies of 1666 that will be
discussed below. All translations from the German sources quoted in this paper are my
This judgement prevailed and prevails to the present. Fr. W. Krummacher, during the
latter part of the 19th century put the matter in the following light: “But the wellintentioned endeavours [of the Reformed elector Friedrich Wilhelm] were frustrated by
the recalcitrance of the Lutheran theologians.” Paul Gerhardt was their secretary and the
object of this evaluation. FR. W. KRUMMACHER, “Paul Gerhardt”, Die Zeugen der
Wahrheit, ed. Ferdinand Piper, 4 vols (Leipzig: Verlag von Bernhardt Tauchnitz, 1875),
4:446. More recently this lament was struck again: “Among those who were not able to
obey the commandment of Christian love for their enemies was our Gerhardt ….”
WALTER FREI, “Gedanken zum 300. Todestag von Paul Gerhardt”, Reformatio 25 (1976):
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Mittenwalde, provided Gerhardt with the quietude in which he was able to
write much of his hymnody.
It was while he was employed as a tutor in Berlin that the first 18 hymns
of Paul Gerhardt appeared in the 1648 edition of Johann Crüger’s Praxis
pietatis melica.3 The most well-known among them (from an Englishspeaking perspective) are the Passion hymns “A Lamb Goes
Uncomplaining Forth” and “Upon the Cross Extended”; the Easter hymn
“Awake My heart with Gladness”, and his Evening hymn, “Now Rest
Beneath Night’s Shadows”.4 Whether these and the other fourteen had
earlier been circulated as tracts, either individually or in combination, is
difficult to determine. Nor is it possible even to speculate as to any specific
historical circumstances that led to their composition as a result. It seems
unlikely that they were written all at once; yet, whatever the specific
occasion for their composition was will remain a mystery. No manuscripts
have survived. With the printed version found in the Praxis pietatis melica
they make their first appearance, outfitted with specifically-composed
melodies by Johann Crüger; in this rather non-circumstantial manner
Gerhardt thus begins his entry into the hearts and minds of the German
Lutheran church as the most celebrated writer of Lutheran hymns after
Martin Luther.
To the first eighteen hymns found in the 1648 edition of the Praxis Pietatis
melica a further 63 were added within four years to its 5th edition. During
these years Gerhardt had finally been called to be a pastor in the near-by
village of Mittenwalde. However, whether these new hymns were all written
by Gerhardt while still in Berlin, or during the years of his first pastorate in
Mittenwalde, is difficult to say. What can be said is that it was at this point
Arnold Schering mentions editions of the Praxis pietatis not noted by other authors.
According to Schering the first edition appeared in 1644; the second in 1647. Both
appeared lost when Schering wrote in 1930, though the title page of the 1647 edition cited
by Fischer/Tümpel above indicates that something of these books must have survived into
the late 19th century. However, he does not indicate what hymns of Gerhardt, if any, were
in the lost 1644 first edition. Thus, whether first, or second, the 1647 edition is the first
known to include the first of Gerhardt’s 18 hymns. In his reckoning, a third edition
already appeared in 1648. ARNOLD SCHERING, “Evangelische Kirchenmusik”, Handbuch
der Musikgeschichte, ed. Guido Adler, 3 vols, 2nd ed. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch
Verlag, 1930), 2:465.
The 18 hymns included were the following: “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld”;
“O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben”; “Auf, auf mein Herz mit Freuden”; “O du allersüßte
Freude”; “Wach auf, mein Herz und singe; Nun ruhen alle Wälder”; “Nun danket all und
bringet Her”; “Ich habe in Gottes Herz und Sinn”; “Nicht so traurig, nicht so sehr”;
“Herr, höre, was mein Mund”; “Ich erhebe, Herr, zu dir”; “Mein Gott, ich habe mir”;
“Nach dir, o Herr, verlanget mich”; “O Gott, mein Schöpfer, edler Fürst”; “O Mensch,
beweine deine Sünd”; “Warum machet solche Schmerzen”; “Weg, mein Herz, mit den
Gedanken”; “Zweierlei bitt ich von dir”.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
that the first hand-written document that can be attributed to Paul Gerhardt
appears: this was his ordination vow, the confessional subscription he made
as he was ordained by his future brother-in-law, Jakob Fromm, in Berlin in
1651. The ordination book bears the entry of his ordination on 18
November 1651 in his own hand:
In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Amen. I confess and promise
to preach and defend the teaching which is contained in the first and not in
the smallest bit Unaltered Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the
Smalcald Articles, both Catechisms of Luther and the Formula of Concord,
that is, the entire Book of Concord, which are supported by the clearest and
most firm witnesses of the prophetic and apostolic writings and with the help
of divine grace I intend and will steadfastly persevere in this faith until the
end of my life.
Paul Gerhardt
Called prior of the church of Mittenwalde
on this day of my ordination,
the 18th of November, 1651.5
What is clearly expressed here is that the Lutheran confessions were, in fact,
the bedrock upon which Gerhardt’s faith was built, and consequently the
same foundation upon which his hymnody was established.6 It would
therefore be contrary to fact to laud Gerhardt for having overcome and
broken down the dogmatic barriers of Lutheran Orthodoxy with his
hymnody. For Gerhardt there could not be a confession of the mouth
without the corresponding faith of the heart.7 He was able to compose his
EBERHARD VON CRANACH-SICHART, Paul Gerhardt Dichtungen und Schriften (Munich:
Verlag Paul Müller, 1957), 474. All the numbers in the text next to the German hymn
stanzas reflect the numbering of this edition of Gerhardt’s hymns. Cf. [K?], “Paul
Gerhardt der Bekenner,” Lehre und Wehre 2 (1907): 54. Both offer a German translation
for Gerhardt’s Ordination entry.
Nelle, who earlier had ascribed extra-confessionalism to Gerhardt, concedes that the
Lutheran confessions are the source of his hymnody: “in his poetic activity [Gerhardt
appears] ever and again as the man for whom the Reformational confession is the source
of the entire spiritual life, who neither can nor wants to go beyond the content of this
confession.” NELLE, Paul Gerhardts Lieder und Gedichte, XLI. Cf. DR. GEBHARDT, “Paul
Gerhardt, der Sänger des fröhlichen Glaubens”, Pastoralblätter 29 (1907): 342. See also
ERNST BARNIKOL, “Paul Gerhardt—Seine geschichtliche, kirchliche und ökumenische
Bedeutung”, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Martin-Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg 7.2
(1957): 429-50. Barnikol nevertheless finds it possible to dissociate Gerhardt’s confession
of the mouth with the faith of this heart, and thereby establishes that “the independent
right of the faith of the heart and its irresistible living language defends against all
preconceptions and reservations of the man-centred knowledge of humanism and presses
forward to a blessed, and in turn blessing, certainty of God’s guidance that supersedes all
dogmas and ideologies.” Yet it seems most dubious to attempt such a divorce of
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
hymns not despite, but precisely because of what would in the 20th century
be lamented as his theological intransigence. Yet Gerhardt’s unyielding
conviction that the clear Gospel can only be understood in terms of the
Lutheran confessions simply cannot be dissociated from his hymnody.8
Accordingly, Gerhardt’s hymns are part of the same confessional structure
as the hymns of the sixteenth century.9
The fact of Gerhardt’s decidedly Lutheran confession is clearly in
evidence in his hymnody, albeit coupled with an apocalyptic tenor that was
doubtless spawned by Thirty Years’ War. In view of ever immanent death
due to war or pestilence, themes of judgement and eternity are coupled with
Gerhardt’s theology from his hymnody. As heart and mouth belong together (Rom. 10:10)
so confession and hymnody are inextricably interwoven. Yet Rudolf Günther finds in
Gerhardt a remarkable confluence of contributing factors. In light of these, Günther asks:
“And why should the mythological and magical elements of Lutheranism not be found in
him? [Yet] they are of less significance for the imagination of the composer and have
more meaning for the dogmatician … so that we encounter mystical and enthusiast
suppositions in this ardent devotee of the Formula of Concord.” GÜNTHER, 246-47. Only
Günther’s own presupposition of an adogmatic hymnody can lead him to the conclusion
that Gerhardt was helpless in succumbing to “mystic” and “enthusiast suppositions”, the
question of the mythological and magical elements of Lutheranism not withstanding. Nor
is Günther’s observation that Gerhardt was an “ardent devotee” of the Formula of
Concord altogether correct. The Formula, as well as the whole Book of Concord, was not
merely an object of zealous devotion by Gerhardt, but the articulation of his faith to which
he subscribed whole-heartedly as his life and theological struggle in Berlin adequately
attests. Günther’s conclusions are neither historically founded nor fair to Gerhardt.
WILHELM LUECKEN, “Zur Gesangbuchreform der Gegenwart”, Theologische Rundschau 19
(1951): 257, makes the observation: “We have become conscious of the fact, more
strongly, perhaps, than has previously been the case, that the hymnbook has its place
immediately next to the confessions.” What Luecken says of hymnals as a whole is
doubtless also the case of the hymns themselves, which give voice to the confessions. Cf.
BEYSE, 130. Beyse goes as far as saying that there is only one measure for the hymn: the
confession of the church. “That which is not in consonance with the confession of the
church has no right to be in a Lutheran hymnbook.” Barnikol’s contention that Gerhardt’s
hymnody grew “out of his immediate communion with God” lacks substantiation. See
BARNIKOL, 447. Gerhardt’s “communion” with God was doubtless personal. He speaks
with God as a child with his father. Yet this is always mediated: through Christ,
specifically the Christ whom he had learned to confess through the doctrine of the
Lutheran church as found in the Book of Concord. This Christology and confession into
which Gerhardt placed his life cannot be separated from Gerhardt’s hymnody in favour of
imposed presuppositional criteria. Gerhardt did not compose in an idyllic vacuum but
within confessional certainty.
KÖBERLE, Rechtfertigung und Heiligung, 165, notes that Gerhardt is frequently presented
dichotomously, where beside the warm-hearted poet regrettably stands the rigid
theologian. “However, one tends to forget that he was only able to write such morning,
evening, and summer hymns because he was a confessionally faithful son of his Lutheran
church.” Cf. KÖBERLE, Quest for Holiness, 132-33.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
rejoicing in the certainty of salvation that the Gospel has given.10 All of this
is the result of a faith that knows itself personally secure in Christ.11 The
heart of Gerhardt’s confession, as it comes to expression within his hymns is
consequently “the loving fellowship between God and man that God has
Cf. CORNELIS PIETER VAN ANDEL, “Paul Gerhardt, Ein Mystiker zur Zeit des Barocks”,
Traditio-Krisis-Renovatio, Festschrift für Winfried Zeller, eds Bernd Jaspert and Rudolf
Mohr (Marburg: N. G. Elwert Verlag, 1976), 183. Van Andel also points to this note of
joy inherent within Gerhardt’s confession: “Next to his praise and confession of the faith,
his hymns radiate the joy of having received salvation.”
See especially the hymns: “If God Himself Be for Me [Ist Gott für mich, so trete]” CS 82.
“Why Should Trial and Cross Grieve Me [Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen]”, CS 83.
Röbbelen regards the confession of Gerhardt as being nothing other than the confession of
man’s own love and faithfulness for God. Ingeborg Röbbelen, Theologie und Frömmigkeit im
deutschen evangelisch-lutherischen Gesangbuch des 17. und frühen 18. Jahrhunderts (Göttingen:
Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1957), 417. Though acknowledging that the work and love of
Christ “establishes the conditions” for Gerhardt’s statements, such an anthropocentric
confession would nevertheless no longer be “a confession of faith”. She notes that
Gerhardt’s confession sometimes occurs without “a direct Christological reference point”,
citing verse 13 of “Schwing dich auf zu deinem Gott [Lift Yourself Up Unto God]” as an
example: “Ich bin Gottes, Gott ist mein: wer ist, der uns scheidet?” [I am God’s, He is
mine: who then can divide us?] CS 81.13. Röbbelen’s presentation of evidence is,
however, somewhat dubious. The “Christological reference point” may not be in verse
seven, but what of verse 1:
Er will durch sein kämpfen
deinen Trost, den Jesus Christ
dir erworben, dämpfen.
[Satan would] through his attacks dampen
The consolation which Jesus Christ
Has wrought.
or verse 5,
Christi Unschuld ist mein Ruhm,
Sein Recht meine Krone,
Sein Verdienst mein Eigentum,
Da ich frei in Wohne
Als in einem festen Schloß
Christ’s innocence is my glory,
His righteousness my crown,
His merit my possession,
So that I can live freely,
As in a secure castle
or verse 6, (FT 4)
Stürme, Teufel und du Tod,
Was könnt ihr mir schaden?
Deckt mich doch in meiner Not
Gott mit seiner Gnaden.
Der Gott, der mir seinen Sohn,
Selbst verehrt aus Liebe,
Daß der ewge Spott und Hohn
Mich nicht dort betrübe.
Storms, Devil and you, Death,
What harm can you do?
God covers me in His grace
In the midst of all my needs.
The God, who has honoured me
With His Son in love,
So that eternal mockery and abuse
Cannot cause me grief there.
Gerhardt’s confession is clearly a confession of the Gospel and salvation, unequivocally
not anthropocentric, but very much Christological.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
established in Jesus Christ.”12 On the one hand, Gerhardt therefore
confesses that God is my Father through the act of redemption by His Son.13
The counterpart of this confession, that I am God’s child and therefore
always “joyful, confident, and undaunted”,14 also becomes the counterpart
for the tenor of his hymnody. Thus Gerhardt’s hymnody remains distinctly
confessional in character, as it certainly confesses the faith. But more than
confessing the faith, Gerhardt confesses it as my faith, even as the Apostles’
Creed, though spoken by the whole of the gathered community of believers,
begins with the words, “I believe”. And it is the confession of the second
article of that creed to which we need now turn.
With the church year as his focus and rhythm of this life of faith, Paul
Gerhardt’s hymnody flows naturally extolling the Nativity and Passion
hymns as Christ-hymns. A Christology therefore comes to the fore more in
these hymns than in the remainder of his hymnody, where it informs his
thought implicitly.15 Thus it is Gerhardt’s confession of Christ as it comes to
expression in these hymns of the church year, that becomes the point at
which his theology and piety converge. As Christological hymns, these
festival hymns are therefore christocentric, since they proclaim the saving
deeds of God in Christ. Accordingly Gerhardt is no less a confessor of
God’s acts of salvation in Christ in his hymns of the church year than is
Luther in those hymns that were part of the repertoire of the 17th-century
Lutheran church.
The Christ before whom Gerhardt stands in his hymnody is the incarnate
Son of God as he had come to know Him in Word and Sacrament and
confessed in the confessions of the Lutheran church. This doctrinal
framework reveals Gerhardt as wanting to be nothing more than a faithful
transmitter of the heritage of faith which had been handed to him.16 His
It is often asserted that Paul Gerhardt is very much a theologian of the First Article,
celebrating God the Father as creator and sustainer of the world. However, Gerhardt
knows the Lutheran confessions well enough to understand that one cannot have the First
Article without the confession of the Second.
Rudolf Günther, who appreciates Gerhardt as a hymn-writer but not a confessional
theologian nevertheless admits that Gerhardt is “nur der Dolmetscher des Luthertums; er
ist seine Blüte und seine Frucht.” RUDOLF GÜNTHER, “Zum Gedächtnis Paul
Gerhardts”, Monatsschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst 11 (1907): 246. Cf. PAUL
WERNERLE, Paulus Gerhardt, Heft 7, Religionsgeschichtliche Volksbücher für die deutsche
christliche Gegenwart (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1909), 6: “Seine Lieder sind
im Luthertum, nur allein dort möglich gewesen.” ERNST KOCHS, Paul Gerhardt. Sein Leben
und seine Lieder (Leipzig: A. Deichert’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung), 50: “An allen seinen
Lutheran Theological Review 20
Christmas hymns are therefore not only completely consistent with the
theology of the Book of Concord, but consonant with the hymnody of the
Reformation, without the latter’s polemical thrust.
The accent in Gerhardt’s hymnody is undoubtedly individual piety
within the context of the church which has and distributes pure Word and
Sacrament.17 He therefore sings of the Giver who gives the gift which is
given, and the one who is given to, though not necessarily in that order.
Gerhardt’s hymn is at the same time confession of Christ, the life of faith in
Christ, and the proclamation of Christ.18
Hymns of the Nativity of Christ
The birth of Christ leads Gerhardt not only to describe Christ’s work
beginning with His incarnation to His death, but also provides the crucial
elements which enable him to give expression to his Christology.
Liedern spürt man den Zusammenhang des Dichters mit dem besten Erbe der Väter: ohne
Luther kein Gerhardt!”
Cf. CHR. PALMER and CARL BERTHAU, “Paul Gerhardt”, Realencyklopädie für
protestantische Theologie und Kirche, ed. Albert Hauck, 24 vols (Leipzig: 1896- ), 6:562.
At this juncture a methodological question must be considered. An analysis of Gerhardt’s
hymnody could doubtless be pursued either thematically, and thereby test material from a
large number of hymns against a stated thesis, or systematically by testing stated theses
against the content of one hymn at a time. The former approach has as its advantage the
compilation and thereby an overview of what otherwise are scattered christological
statements imbedded within various contexts. The latter approach enables a full
examination of the christology which Gerhardt expresses within its immediate context,
whereby both intent and purpose of the hymn can be taken into account.
In effect Gerhardt’s hymns have to be approached both systematically and thematically.
The examination of Gerhardt’s hymnody in a systematic manner cannot be circumvented
for the following reasons: “Gestalt und Aussage sind unzertrennbar.” WALTER
BLANKENBURG, “Paul Gerhardt 1676-1976”, Musik und Kirche 46 (1976): 108. The
preservation of this unity of the form of the hymn and its message precludes the frequently
disjointed enumeration of statements which then attain meaning not from the author’s
intent, but from the stated thesis beneath which they appear. On the one hand, the most
valuable and lucid approach therefore is the study of the Christology of these hymns as
separate documents in their context of the church year, which then provides data that can
be readily verified and subsequently evaluated in a comprehensive manner. On the other
hand, the delineation of this process in the framework of this study would certainly be
cumbersome and unwieldy.
The data which therefore appear in the text are presented with this dual approach in mind.
It is hoped that the submission of the data will bear the marks of clear contextual analysis
without being tautological or monotonous and therefore lead to distinct and verifiable
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
The awe-inspiring wonder of the incarnation, especially with respect to
the confessional principle of the communication of properties, lies as the
foundation of Gerhardt’s Christmas proclamation. Virtually all of his
Christmas hymns at some juncture confess Jesus Christ as “true God, born
of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin
Mary ….”19 Not unlike Luther, Gerhardt celebrates the paradox of the Son
of God, ruler of the universe, yet born a helpless infant of the Virgin Mary:20
1. Wir singen dir, Immanuel,
Du Lebensfürst und Gnadenquell,
Du Himmelblum’ und Morgenstern,
Du Jungfrausohn, Herr aller Herr’n.
1. We sing, Immanuel, Thy praise,
Thou Prince of Life and Fount of grace,
Thou Flower of heaven and Star of morn,
Thou Lord of lords, Thou Virgin-born.
3. Nun, du bist hier. Da liegest du,
Hältst in dem Kripplein deine Ruh’,
Bist klein und machst doch alles groß,
3. Now art Thou here, Thou Ever-blest!
In lowly manger dost Thou rest.
Thou, making all things great, art small;
So poor art Thou, yet clothest all.
Bekleid’st die Welt und kommst doch bloß.
Unsurprisingly, Gerhardt holds fast to the fundamental Christian contention
that none other than the eternal God became man in the incarnation
celebrated at Christmas.21 And he reflects upon this confession very much in
the spirit of the Scriptures (the Gospel of John specifically) and the Nicene
Es wird im Fleisch hier vorgestellt,
Der alles schuf und noch erhält,
Das Wort, so bald im Anfang war
Bei Gott, selbst Gott, das lieget dar.
In human flesh presented here
is He who holds creation’s sphere
The Word that in beginning was
with God, is God, now comes to us.
(Small Catechism) BELK 511,23-6. Cf. TAPPERT, 345.
Cf. Luther in his Christmas hymns, for example, “Christum wyr sollen loben schon”:
Der selig schepffer aller ding
zoch an eyns knechtes leyb gering,
Das er das fleysch durch fleysch erworb
und seyn geschepff nicht alls verdorb ....
Des hymels Chor sich frewen drob
und die engel singen Gott lob,
Den armen hirtten wird vermeld
der hirt und schepffer aller welt.
(WA 35:4323-6, 23-26)
Cf. FC Ep VII, BELK 798, V,11; TAPPERT, 483, 5,11. See also FC SD VII, BELK 1006,
VII,I; TAPPERT, 586, 1.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
Es ist der eingeborne Sohn
Des Vaters, unser Gnadenthron,
Das A und O, der große Gott,
Der Siegesfürst, der Herr Zebaoth.
He is the one and only Son,
the Father’s own, our mercy throne,
The Alpha and Omega he,
Almighty God, Lord Sabbaoth in victory.
“Schaut, schaut was ist für Wunder da”
Along with the early church, and against a Nestorian understanding,
Gerhardt therefore has no difficulty referring to Mary as Theotokos:23
Steht und hört vor allen Dingen,
Gottes Mutter fröhlich singen
Bei dem Kripplein ihres Sohns. (9.1)
Stand and hear above all things
as God’s mother joyful sings,
by the manger of her Son.
“Alle, die ihr Gott zu ehren”
And because God came in the flesh and blood of man in Jesus Christ, he
can empathize and feel with the sufferings of all people:
Er weiß und kennt
Was beißt und brennt,
Verstehet wohl, wie zu Mute sei dem
Kranken. (4.12)
He truly knows
of all our woes
Knows all too well, the pain of all
Denn eben drum
Hat er den Grimm
In heartfelt care
he sought to bear
the cross’s wrath within his very body
so that his pain
to him remain
of our own plagues a lasting testimony.
Des Kreuzes auch am Leibe wolle tragen,
Daß seine Pein
Ihm möge sein
Ein unverrückt Erinnrung unser
Plagen. (4.13)
O Jesu Christ,dein Kripplein ist mein
O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is
On the other hand, Gerhardt cannot simply remain untouched by the
objective reality of the incarnation. The coming of Christ in the flesh
addresses his every day life.
FC SD VII, BELK 1019, (1)6-(2)7. TAPPERT, 592 (1)6-(2)7.
FC Ep VIII, BELK 806, VII; TAPPERT, 488, 7. See also FC SD VIII, BELK 1024, 24;
TAPPERT, 595, 24.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
2. Heute geht aus seiner Kammer
Gottes Held,
Der die Wel
Reißt aus allem Jammer.
Gott wird Mensch dir, Mensch,
Gottes Kind, Das verbind’t
Sich mit unserm Blute. (5.2)
Fröhliche soll mein Herze springen
2. Forth today the Conqueror goeth,
Who the foe,
Sin and woe,
Death and hell, o’erthroweth.
God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son
Now is one
With our blood for ever.
All My Heart This Night Rejoices
Jesus is therefore a helper in all need and needful, that is, He alone can avert
all of man’s destruction.
Sein Licht und Heil
Macht alles heil;
Der Himmelsschatz bringt allen
Schaden wieder.
Der Freudenquell
Schlägt Teufel, Höll und all ihr Reich
darnieder. (4.6)
O Jesu Christ,dein Kripplein ist mein
Sehet, was hat Gott gegeben!
Seinen Sohn zum ewgen Leben.
Dieser kann und will uns heben
Aus dem Leid ins Himmels Freud.
Kommt und laßt uns Christum ehren
3. Thy light and grace
our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss
Thy birth doth quell
The power of hell and Satan’s bold
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is
3. See how God, for us providing,
Gave His Son and life abiding;
He our weary steps is guiding
From earth’s woe to heavenly joy.
Come, your hearts and voices raising
With these few verses it is therefore possible to obtain a clear picture of
Gerhardt’s confessional understanding of the incarnate Christ. And it is
evident that Gerhardt’s hymns sing of justification and reconciliation as
being there within the manger, in the one who became flesh, and this within
the sobering context or every-day life with its daily temptations and worries.
For Gerhardt the coming of Christ touches the realm of personal experience
and life. In fact, it seems impossible to find in Gerhardt’s hymnody a
dichotomy between confession and life.
Nevertheless Gerhardt himself does not come to the fore with his own
personal needs and afflictions. Instead he lets his personal circumstances
pale at the birth of the Jesus Christ who is “Immanuel”. Not his own
circumstances, but the Lord who has come determines the content of his
hymns. That is why his hymns are intrinsically hymns of the Gospel. They
Lutheran Theological Review 20
are not psychologized attempts to draw upon a God of the gaps. The Christ
whom they proclaim does not call for a movement inward and upward to
God, but downward into the flesh, into lowliness, where man cannot
reasonably expect Him, but is given faith to see Him.24
2. Dem Meer und Wind
Gehorsam sind,
Gibt sich zum Dienst
Und wird ein Knecht der Sünder.
Du, Gottes Sohn,
Wirst Erd’ und Ton,
Gering und schwach
Wie wir und unsre Kinder. (4.9)
2. He whom the sea
And wind obey
Doth come to serve
The sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son,
With us art one,
Dost join us and
Our children in our weakness.
When Gerhardt therefore sings of Christ in his hymns, he sings of Him
who is both God and man, the creator and yet our own flesh and blood. In
and as our flesh and blood he addresses man and meets him in his needs and
saves him from his sin.25
Gerhardt can, in fact, go as far as to say that without that need, man
would have no part in Christ. Though he does not join with John Milton’s
Adam in declaring the felix culpa,26 he does confess that without his own
sinfulness Christ’s birth would remain meaningless:
7. Hätt’ ich nicht auf mir Sündenschuld,
Hätt’ ich kein Teil an deiner Huld;
Vergeblich wär’st du mir gebor’n,
Wenn ich nicht wär’ in Gottes Zorn.
Halleluja! (3.17)
7. Had I no load of sin to bear,
Thy grace, O Lord, I could not share;
In vain hadst Thou been born for me
If from God’s wrath I had been free.
Cf. LUTHER, WA 35:46024-27:
Bis willekom du Edler gast,
Den sunder nicht verschmehet hast,
Und kompst jns elend her zu mir,
Wie sol ich jmer dancken dir?
NORBERT MÜLLER, “Schwierigkeiten mit Paul Gerhardt?” Zeichen der Zeit 30 (1976): 160,
can go as far as to say that Gerhardt’s “Dichtung ist inspiriert von der ,Menschlichkeit
Gottes` in allen ihren Gestallten.” This is doubtless a most helpful observation, as
Gerhardt indeed rejoices in the Incarnation where he finds God pro me. Nevertheless,
Gerhardt is not prone to dissociate Christ’s humanity from His divinity as Müller’s
statement might suggest. As has been pointed out above, Gerhardt proclaims with marvel
the Son of God, who, though divine, is at once a helpless child in swaddling clothes and
lying upon straw in the manger. Gerhardt clearly paid heed to the confessions, especially
the Formula of Concord, which warn against any such division. Cf. FC SD VIII, BELK
1031, 46-47; 1035-8, 60-3; TAPPERT, 600, 46-47; 602-3, 60-3.
Paradise Lost, Book XII, 467-78.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Wir singen dir, Immanuel
We sing, Immanuel, Thy praise
Though Christ may have been born, He would not have been born for me.
But now, Jesus, who has been born, is born for me and thereby brings with
his birth the certainty of God’s love and grace. Furthermore, the child in the
manger is there for me before our knowledge and without our choosing. The
whole lot of salvation rests with this child, who has chosen us for Himself.
As Luther, Gerhardt knew of no other God aside from Jesus Christ,
specifically the Christ in the manger and upon the cross and upon the
altar.27 Indeed, Luther set the precedent for Gerhardt with his confession of
Christ which rejoiced in the incarnationality of the babe in the manger, a
confession which would make the spiritualizing theologians of glory,
including the humanists and philosophically educated sophists of his time,
cringe.28 In consonance with Luther, Gerhardt rejoices in the location of this
same Christ in the manger and in the arms of the virgin:29
Du kehrst in fremder Hausung ein,
Und sind doch alle Himmel dein;
Trinkst Milch aus deiner Mutter Brust
Und bist doch selbst der Engel Lust.
You enter in a foreign home,
Though heaven itself remains Your throne,
Drink milk from Your dear mother’s breast
yet still remain by angels blessed.
For Gerhardt the location of Christ for me is in His incarnation as God and
man. It is God in the flesh who alone makes God there for us, where His
mercy and grace are revealed, and the gifts of salvation are given.30
Gerhardt’s standing next to the manger in personal devotion therefore does
“Sey du mit der Majestate unverborren, sed bleib herunden et audi: ‘Vobis salvator’ num
venit in equis? Non, sed in praesepio …. Ratio et volum vult ascendere et quaerere supra,
sed si vis gaudium habere hunc inclinate. Ibi invenies eum puerum tibi datum, qui est
creator tuus et iacet ante te in praesepio. Et dicit cor: mebo cum illo puero, wie es seuget,
gebadet wird, stirbt … quod non gaudium sit nisis in isto pello, quo ablato statim adest
majestas quae terret …. Ich weiß von kein Gott nicht, nisi de illo qui in cunis.” WA
He could write to his wife just days before his death (7 February 1546):
Las mich zu frieden mit deiner Sorge, Ich hab einen besseren sorger, den du und alle
Engel sind, der ligt ynn der krippen und henget and einer Jungfrawen Zitzen, aber sitzet
gleich wol Zur rechten hand Gottes des allmechtigen Vaters. Darumb sey zu frieden,
Amen. WA 11:2868-12.
Cf. LUTHER, WA 35:43219-22:
Er lag ym hew mit armut gros,
die Krippen hart yhn nicht verdros,
Es ward eyn kleyne milch seyn speis,
der nie keyn voglin hungern lies.
Cf. Large Catechism, BELK, 660,18-47. TAPPERT, 419, 63-66.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
not belittle the wonder of the incarnation or the divinity of Christ; instead, it
draws those who sing with him to confesses in wonder the
unfathomableness of the incarnation before which he stands.
Ach daß mein Sinn ein Abgrund wär,
und meine Seel’ ein weites Meer,
daß ich dich möchte fassen. 6.531
Oh that my mind would boundless be,
my soul as endless as the sea,
that I might deign to grasp you.
Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier
Yet with these words he is not so much addressing the majesty of God, but
the fact that God’s coming the whole distance all the way to us in Jesus
Christ remains an objective truth outside of me. This cannot be contained or
grasped within the mind whereby we must do something or need to
calculate the distance we must cover. Our reason cannot comprehend what
has taken place. But faith can receive it. When Gerhardt therefore speaks of
his heart as the receptacle of Christ and all his gifts, he does nothing but let
God give to him what he has sought to bestow upon faith:
So laß mich doch dein Kripplein sein,
Komm, komm und lege bei mir ein,
Dich und all deine Freuden. 6.1432
So let me now Your manger be,
Come, come and please put into me,
Yourself and all Your pleasures
Cf. LUTHER, WA 35:4611-4:
Und wer die welt viel mal so weit,
Von eddelstein und gold bereit,
So wer sie doch dir viel zu klein
zu sein ein enges wigelein.
See also LUTHER, WA 35:46113-16:
Ach mein hertzliebstes Jhesulin
Mach dir ein rein sanfft bettelin,
zu rugen jnn meins hertzen schrein,
Das ich nimmer vergesse dein.
The distinct extra nos character of Gerhardt’s hymn about the Christ who gives Himself
and all of His joys stands in marked contrast to hymns which later appeared in Pietist
hymnals such as that of Freylinghausen: Geistreiches Gesangbuch. Den Kern alter und neuer
Lieder in sich haltend, In gegenwärtiger bequemer Ordnung und Form, Nach denen unter diesem
Namen alherischon edirten Gesang-Büchern eingerichtet, Herausgegeben von Joh. Anastasio
Freylinghausen, 14th ed. (Halle: In Verlegung des Waysenhauses, 1766). See for example
the hymn “O Liebe, die den himmel hat zerissen”, where in verse 5 the writer relates the
in nobis experience of the birth of Christ:
Die weisheit spielt nun wieder auf der erden,
dadurch das paradis im menschen grünt:
nun können wir aus GOtt geboren werden,
weil die geburt des HErrn dazu dient;
die wohlgebohrne seele spürrt,
daß sie ein ander geist aus ihrem ursprung rührt.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
It has been shown that a clearly orthodox Christological confession
accompanies and informs the basis for all of Gerhardt’s thought within his
hymnody. Yet in the context of his explicit pastoral purpose in these
devotional hymns, the emphasis lies upon the Christ in the manger who has
come for me. Gerhardt therefore knows himself called into the presence of
the one who has become man, and there bends down to the one who is yet
lower than the poet himself (5.7). He knows this child as the creator of the
universe and yet can approach him with joy, not fear, because God wants to
be found, held and embraced nowhere else than in this child. Not in the
soul, not in the spirit, but in the flesh and blood of this little child is Christ to
be found, and with Christ, all the gifts which are promised in the
incarnation. Gerhardt indeed brings the manger and the cross together when
he presents Christ’s becoming man not only in terms of taking on man’s
flesh and blood, but also man’s sin.
6. Er nimmt auf sich, was auf Erden
Wir getan, Gibt sich an,
Unser Lamm zu werden,
Unser Lamm, das für uns stirbet
Und bei Gott Fuer den Tod
Gnad’ und Fried’ erwirbet. (5.6)
6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life His own He tenders
And our race, By His grace,
Meet for glory renders.
Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen
All My Heart This Night Rejoices
In his Christmas hymns Gerhardt clearly proclaims the Gospel in its
totality. He proclaims that Christ, true God, born of the Father in eternity,
and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Gerhardt himself
cannot find this Christ either in glory or in the spirit, but in the flesh and in
the manger. He instead declares Him there for me in flesh and blood, lying
in the manger and at the breast of the Virgin. Here the shepherds can find
him (8). Yet here, too, many others, such as Herod and his theological host
are alienated (3.10). Such a Christ as Jesus cannot be seen by unbelief. Nor
can such a Christ of whom Gerhardt sings be embraced by any but those of
the faith.
It is Gerhardt’s grasp of the Gospel which therefore distinguishes his
hymnody from that of those who proclaim a heavenly Christ, whose
humanity remains seated at the right hand of the Father, to which they are
It is notable that Christ appears as the personification of wisdom, not in the flesh (though
verse 3 does state that “das leben selbst ist mensch geborn”, which nevertheless falls far
short of Luther’s as well as Gerhardt’s incarnational, flesh and blood Christmas
hymnody). Nor is Christ’s birth the gift in which Gerhardt rejoices, but the fulfilment of a
condition which enables God to do His work in nobis. The clear difference between
Gerhardt’s hymnody which confesses Christ and thereby proclaims the Gospel and what
is indeed anthropocentric is plainly distinguishable.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
then forced to ascend on their own through an independent and
anthropocentric love for Jesus, only to seek to attain certainty of salvation in
their religious feelings and experience. Gerhardt’s hymns of Christmas
actually confess the same Christology as the Christ who is confessed by the
orthodox Christian church. This can be none other than the God who gives
himself to the believer as this child with all His gifts. Gerhardt’s hymnody
therefore does both: it confesses the objective reality of the event and brings
it clearly before the eyes of those who believe. But it brings not only an
event, but proclaims the for us of the Gospel.
Hymns of the Passion of Christ
With the hymns of the incarnation Gerhardt gave expression primarily to
his Christological confession of the person of Christ. On the other hand, the
person of Christ and the work of Christ are for him inseparable. Gerhardt
therefore did not find it possible to speak of the manger without at the same
time pointing to the cross. Christ’s passion began with His birth in the flesh,
as He had already delivered Himself into the hands of men in weakness.
The passion which is foreshadowed in the Christmas hymnody now
becomes the focus as Gerhardt presses toward Good Friday.
Gerhardt composed fourteen hymns concerning the passion of Christ.33
The Passion hymns of Gerhardt rivet the eyes of the believer on Christ in
His suffering and death. Their content naturally reflects the work of Christ
in His suffering and death. But Gerhardt’s Passion hymnody is not merely
descriptive or even evocative. He presents the sufferings of Christ in terms of
its “use or purpose”,34 which he proclaims largely in terms of the benefit
“Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld”
“O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben”
“O Mensch, beweine deine Sünd”
“Siehe, mein getreuer Knecht”
“Hör an, mein Herz, die sieben Wort”
“Als Gottes Lamm und Leue”
“Sei mir tausendmal gegrüßet”
“Gegrüßet seist du, meine Kron”
“Sei wohl gegrüßet, guter Hirt”
“Ich grüße dich, du frömmster Mann”
“Gegrüßet seist du, Gott mein Heil”
“O Herz des Königs aller Welt”
“O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden”
“Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt”
Again Gerhardt follows Luther, who wrote in his “Sommerpostille” of 1526: “Also ist es
auch nicht gnug das wir wissen, wie und wenn der Herre Christus aufferstanden ist,
sondern muß auch predigen und wissen den nutz und gebrauch, bayde des leidens und der
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
which it delivers to the believer, and the response which this elicits in the
one who receives it. Gerhardt therefore stands beneath the cross of the
crucified Jesus, who by His passion and death elicits from him the
confession of sin. At the same time he is able to rejoice in the gifts which
Christ achieved and bestows. This focus upon the crucified Saviour
therefore reveals to the believer the knowledge of the enormity of sin and the
unfathomable love which has delivered Christ to death upon the cross for
the forgiveness of sin and our salvation.
The love of God the Father and the Son is the motivation for the willing
suffering and death of Christ:
O Wunderlieb’, o Liebesmacht,
O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
Du kannst, was nie kein Mensch gedacht,
Gott seinem Sohn abzwingen!
O Liebe, Liebe, du bist stark,
Du streckest den ins Grab und Sarg,
Vor dem die Felsen springen! (12.3)35
The Father offers up His Son!
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose word the mountains rendeth.
Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld
A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth
It has been outlined above that Gerhardt had perceived that the child lying
in the manger and in the arms of the Virgin in weakness and helplessness
was God, the creator and redeemer. Here this same one who willingly lets
Himself be delivered into the hands of men as a little child now hangs in
total helplessness upon the beams of the cross, though all the fullness of the
auffersteung, nemlich was er uns darmitt erworben hatt. Dann wann die historien allaine
da ist, so ists eine unnutze predige, die der Teüfel und die Gotloßen so wol wissen, leßen
und versteen als eben wir andern, Denn aber wann man predigt, wartzu es dienett, so ists
ein nützliche, hailsame, tröstliche predig.” WA 10I/2:2149-16.
The text at hand has a variant, which warrants a review of the text-critical considerations
of AUGUST EBELING, “Gerhardiana”, Monatsschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst 12
(1907): 307-11. In dispute is the 1647 reading of the dative “seinem” over the 1653
accusative “seinen”. That God would give His Son, the reading of the accusative, is
understandable. The more difficult reading is doubtless the reading of the dative, which
states that “die Liebe Gott dem Sohn abzwingt.” In other words, the love of God forces
the Father from the Son. In light of John 3:16 the reading is most difficult and doubtless
motivated the alteration. The subject of the hymn is not the incarnation, however, but
Christ’s way to Calvary. The Biblical Vorlage for the words “O Wunderlieb, o
Liebesmacht, / Du kannst, was nie kein Mensch gedacht, / Gott seinem Sohn
abzwingen” therefore is not John 3:16 but the synoptic account of Christ’s passion,
specifically the account of Matthew, who in 27:46 brings the cry of dereliction: “My God,
my God, why have You forsaken Me.” Gerhardt clearly had this text and its implications
in mind when he wrote this hymn. “So machtvoll ist die göttliche Liebe zu den Menschen,
daß sie den Vater selbst dem Sohne abwendig macht, ihn um der Menschen willen in
seiner schwersten Pein zu verlassen. Dieser Gedanke findet nur dann seinen
entsprechenden Ausdruck, wenn man mit den ältesten Quellen den Dativ ‘seinem Sohn`
liest” (310).
Lutheran Theological Review 20
Godhead dwells within Him.36 Christ whom Gerhardt confesses upon the
cross is God, yet God utterly in the flesh and unequivocally given into death
for us:
2. Du edles Angesichte,
Davor sonst schrickt und scheut
Das große Weltgewichte,
Wie bist du so bespeit!
Wie bist du so erbleichet!
Wer hat dein Augenlicht,
Dem sonst kein Licht nicht gleichet,
So schändlich zugericht’t?
2. Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee,
Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee
And flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
That once was bright as morn!
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Gerhardt therefore stands in awe not only at the manger, but also at the foot
of the cross as he beholds the face of the crucified. The eternal God has
veiled Himself in such weakness. Yet the eyes of faith can clearly see that
this is the Son of God who has come to bear man’s sin and give him peace
in life and in death:
Erscheine mir zum Schilde,
Zum Trost in meinem Tod,
Und laß mich sehn dein Bilde
In deiner Kreuzesnot!
Da will ich nacht dir blicken,
Da will ich glaubensvoll
Dich fest an mein Herz drücken.
Wer so stirbt, der stirbt wohl.
10. Be Thou my Consolation,
My Shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy Passion
When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well!
Consistently Gerhardt confesses Christ as true God and true Man upon
the cross, for only such a God who comes to us in Christ can actually save
us from sin, death, and the devil. For it is God in the flesh who dies upon
the cross as man for all mankind because He yearns to forgive.37 This desire
to forgive is at the heart of the dialogue which Gerhardt presents to reveal
God’s gift of salvation:
Geh hin, mein Kind, und nimm dich an
Der Kinder, die ich ausgetan
Zur Straf’ und Zornesruten.
Die Straf’ ist schwer, der Zorn ist gross,
Du kannst und sollst sie machen los
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father saith,
“And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
John 1:14; 2:21. Cf. Luther who in the Kirchenpostille of 1522 wrote of Christ: “Darumb
sollen wyr die wortt Luce auffs aller eynfeltigst vorstehen von der menscheytt Christi,
wilche ist gewesen eyn handgetzeug und hawß der gottheytt, ….” WA 10I:44711-14.
Cf. BELK 104584; 102320.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Durch Sterben und durch Bluten.
The fruit of Thy salvation.”
Ja, Vater, ja, von Herzensgrund,
Leg’ auf, ich will dir’s tragen;
Mein Wollen hängt an deinem Mund,
Mein Wirken ist dein Sagen. (12.3)38
“Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I’ll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest.”
When Gerhardt’s proclamation of Christ who comes out of love into the
flesh and is found in the manger is compared to his portrayal of Christ who
in the flesh gives Himself in love to die upon the cross, a shift in accent with
respect to Gerhardt’s Christological perception comes to light. The
Christmas hymns reveal Christ who is our flesh and blood, our friend and
brother, with the emphasis upon his utter earthliness, sharing in all of man’s
lowliness as has been established above.39 Although Christ’s humanity is
ERNST BARNIKOL, “Paul Gerhardt”, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Martin-Luther
Universität Halle-Wittenberg 7.2 (1957): 444, recognizes that Gerhardt here parallels
Luther’s “persönlichsten Bekenntnislied, wie Christus zu ihm kam als Befreier von Welt
und Teufel.” He also notes that Luther remained within “der Zucht des biblischen
Wortes ….” “Paul GERHARDT dagegen geht in den z.T. dichterisch ergreifenden
Parallellied darüber leider hinaus und wagt es, mit der Phantasie des Dichters ein
mystisches Zwiegespräch zwischen Vater und Sohn vor Weihnachten zu ersinnen, dem
zuzustimmen sicher nicht heilsnotwendig ist.” The reasons Barnikol presents to censure
Gerhardt’s hymns as mystic creations are inconclusive and not borne out by the evidence.
On the one hand, 12.2 is no more than a paraphrase of Luther’s fifth verse of “Nun freut
euch, lieben Christen gmein,” WA 35:42418-24; AE 53:220:
Er [the Father] sprach zu seynem lieben son,
Die zeyt ist hie zurbarmen,
Far hyn meyns hertzen werde kron
Und sey das heyl dem armen,
Und hilff yhm aus der sunden not,
Erwurg fur yhn den bittern tod
Und las yhn mit dyr leben.
The response of the Son in Luther’s hymn is related in terms of His obedience in deed,
while Gerhardt relates this willingness to suffer and die in words (12.3). What, then,
makes this dialogue mystic? And is what is expressed in these words of both Father and
Son not indeed heilsnotwendig?
Cf. N. MÜLLER, “Schwierigkeiten mit Paul Gerhardt”, Zeichen der Zeit 30 (1976): 161-70.
Müller addresses a number of theological queries concerning Gerhardt’s hymnody.
Among the conclusions which he reaches is the terse statement already cited above:
“Seine Dichtung ist inspiriert von der ‚Menschlichkeit Gottes‘ in all ihren Gestalten,” for
which he gives the following verse as an example:
Heute geht aus seiner Kammer
Gottes Held, Der die Welt
Reißt aus allem Jammer.
Gott wird Mensch, dir Mensch zugute;
Lutheran Theological Review 20
certainly not lost in the Passion hymns either, He nevertheless does not die
only the death of the common man. He dies the death of the sinless Lamb of
God (12.1). Christ is here the totally other with respect to His sinlessness as
compared to man’s sinfulness.
Du bist ja nicht ein Sünder
Wie wir und unsre Kinder,
Von Übeltaten weißt du nicht. (13.3)
While we must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression,
Thou deeds of evil dost not know.
O Welt sieh hier dein Leben
Upon the Cross Extended
That Christ is my brother and friend, as found in many of Gerhardt’s
Christmas hymns, notably fades into the background in the Passion
hymns.40 In fact, the intimate dialogues of Christmas cease. The Lamb who
Gottes Kind, Das verbind’t
Sich mit unserm Blute. (5.2)
Müller further supports his conclusion by citing Bonhoeffer’s appraisal of Gerhardt’s
hymnody as presenting a carefully defined “Diesseitigkeit”: “Nicht die platte und banale
Diesseitigkeit der aufgeklärten, der Betriebsamen, der Bequemen oder der Lasciven,
sondern die tiefe Diesseitigkeit, die volle Zucht ist, und der die Erkenntnis des Todes und
der Auferstehung immer gegenwärtig ist, meine ich.” Quoted on page 168 from
Widerstand und Ergebung, 3rd expanded ed. (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1972), 401. The
“Diesseitigkeit” which Bonhoeffer finds in Gerhardt’s hymnody is further defined by
Müller as “Leiblichkeit”: “Das Wort des Evangeliums meditativ auf unsere Diesseitigkeit
zu beziehen (die ausdrücklich auch als Leiblichkeit verstanden wird), es in sie
hineinzunehmen, sie dadurch ,tief‘ werden lassen, das wäre die Hilfe, die Paul Gerhardt
uns anbietet” (169).
Yet it has to be queried if it is indeed “help” for a meditative appropriation and
application that is given by Gerhardt. If that were the case, Gerhardt’s hymnody could
definitely be regarded as being mystic, in fact anthropocentric and to some degree
synergistic. For man to take the “Word of the Gospel” into “Leiblichkeit” is nothing short
of making man the agent of incarnation through meditation. Gerhardt clearly does not
offer his hymns for such an enterprise.
Gerhardt is instead consistently confessional and declarative. Rather than drawing the
Gospel into “Leiblichkeit”, he delivers to faith the reality that this has taken place in
Christ. His hymns therefore do not help to give lowliness to Christ’s incarnation, or the
means by which the Gospel is applied to “Diesseitigkeit” or “Leiblichkeit” through an in
nobis meditative exercise. This was indeed the work of God alone, as Luther points out in
his already cited Kirchenpostille of 1522: “Wyr kunden Christum nicht ßo tieff ynn die
natur und fleisch tziehen, es it unß noch tröstlicher.” WA 10I:685-7. Within this sermon
Luther rejoices and spares no words to show forth the extent of the lowliness into which
Christ came in the flesh. Cf. the English translation and discerning summation of Luther
at this juncture by NORMAN E. NAGEL, “Martinus. ‘Heresy, Doctor Luther, Heresy!’ The
Person and Work of Christ”, in PETER N. BROOKS, ed., Seven Headed Luther: Essays in
Commemoration of a Quincentenary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 40.
Even though Gerhardt does speak of Jesus as “der große Freund” in “Ein Lämmlein
geht”, for example, it is nevertheless in the third person. Nor does he stay with the thought
of friendship. “Er schlägt gleich um in die herben Vokablen ‚Sünden-Feind,‘ ,Sühner.‘ ”
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
is silent before His shearers speaks no more than His seven words from the
cross (16). In his Passion hymnody Gerhardt consequently stands before a
passive and virtually mute, suffering and dying Christ. And with Him the
Christian stands and is given to hear what Christ preaches in His silent
suffering and death upon the cross. On the one hand it proclaims the
mentioned enormity of man’s sin and the totality of the wrath and
judgement of God:
Wie heftig unsere Sünden
Den frommen Gott entzünden,
Wie Rach und Eifer gehn,
Wie grausam seine Ruten,
Wie zornig seine Fluten,
Will ich aus diesem Leiden sehen.
10. How God at our transgression
To anger gives expression,
How loud His thunder rolls,
How fearfully He smiteth,
How sorely He requiteth,
All this Thy sufferings teach my soul.
On the other hand it also reflects the certainty of his forgiveness and love:
Ich wills vor Augen setzen,
Mich stets daran ergötzen,
Ich sei auch, wo ich sei;
Es soll mir sein ein Spiegel
Der Unschuld und ein Siegel
Der Lieb und unvervälschten Treu.
9. Thy cross I’ll place before me,
Its saving power be o’er me,
Wherever I may be;
Thine innocence revealing,
Thy love and mercy sealing,
The pledge of truth and constancy.
Gerhardt therefore stands at the side of both John the Baptist (John 1:29)
and Isaiah (53:4-7), who themselves in faith had beheld and proclaimed the
Lamb of God, who bears the sin of the world.41
Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld
Der Welt und ihrer Kinder;
Es geht und träget in Geduld
Die Sünden aller Sünder;
Es geht dahin, wird matt und krank,
Ergibt sich auf die Würgebank,
Verzeiht sich aller Freuden;
Es nimmet an Schmach, Hohn und Spott,
Angst, Wunden, Striemen, Kreunz
A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grow weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and stripes, and wounds
and death,
LOUISE GNÄDIGER, “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld. Eine Interpretation”,
Musik und Gottesdienst 30 (1976): 93.
Cf. LUTHER, WA 46:68325-31; AE 22:169. “Und spricht Gott: ich weis, das dir deine sünde
gar zu schweer sind zutragen, derhalben sihe, ich wil sie auff mein lemlin legen von euch
wegnemen. Dasselbige glaube du, denn so du es thust, so bist du frey von sünden. Es hat
sonst die sünde nur zween örte, da sie ist, entweder sie ist bey dir das sie dir auff dem
halse ligt, oder ligt auf Christo, dem lamb Gottes. so sie nu dir auff dem rücken ligt, so bist
du verlorn, so sie aber auff Christo ruget, so bist du ledig und wirst selig ….”
Lutheran Theological Review 20
und Tod
Und spricht: Ich will’s gern leiden.
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
“Willing all this I suffer.
At the same time Gerhardt does not speak only of mankind’s guilt or the
forgiveness of the world’s sins alone. Clearly the crucified Saviour does
proclaim His death as for us to a sinful world. But Gerhardt stands among
the multitude who hears the for us of Christ in terms of a clear for me.
However, it is a for me which remains inaudible until the question of who is
ultimately responsible for the passion and death of Christ has been
Wer hat dich so geschlagen,
Mein Heil, und dich mit Plagen
So übel zugericht’t? (13.3)
3. Who is it that hath bruised Thee?
Who hath so sore abused Thee
And caused Thee all Thy woe?
The answer is unequivocal: it is the individual with his own guilt who
inflicts pain upon the Lamb of God. And not just any individual.
Ich, ich und meine Sünden,
Die sich wie Körnlein finden,
Des Sandes an dem Meer,
Die haben dir erreget
Das Elend, das dich schläget (13.4)
4. I caused Thy grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which Thy soul is cumbered,
Thy sorrows raised by wicked hands
Nun, was du, Herr, erduldet,
Ist alles meine Last,
Ich habe es selbst verschuldet,
Was du getragen hast! (24.4)43
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
but Thine the deadly pain.
Gerhardt draws the entire community of believers, whether they sing these
words or merely listen to this proclamation into the company of those who
called for Christ to be nailed to the cross. Yet the realization that my sin did
not only contribute to but actually caused Christ’s suffering and death is
coupled with horror of the total damning judgement of the Law which in the
cross lays bare Hell itself. Confession and admission of guilt flow forth from
Cf. LUTHER, WA 31I:38115-22: “Verbum enim Dei est in duplici usu. Primo in manifesta
apparentia, sic omnes impii habent verbum Dei: sed sunt tantum die schalen, den kern
haben sie nicht, hoc est, locum gratiae, fructum passionis Christi u. Wie wol sie historiam
an alle wende gmalet haben, fructum tamen passionis nemo novit, es bleibt immer
mysterium. Ratio est, quod nolunt esse peccatores, Christus autem pro peccateribus esse
passus. Hinc fit, quod multa de passione Christi dicant et non intelligunt. Cum dicimus:
Christus pro te est passus, ergo tu es peccator, da wollen sie nicht hinan.”
Cf. Ap II:50, German text, BELK 15727-32; TAPPERT, 106.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
the lips of him who suddenly comprehends: If not for him, I would be there.
It is I!
Ich bins, ich sollte büßen,
an Händen und an Füßen
Gebunden, in der Höll;
die Geißeln und die Banden
und was du ausgestanden,
das hat verdienet meine Seel. (13.5)
5. ’Tis I who should be smitten
My doom should here be written:
Bound hand and foot in hell.
The fetters and the scourging,
The floods around Thee surging,
’Tis I who have deserved them well.
In His suffering and death Christ has taken my place, He suffers and dies in
my stead, forgives me all my sins and is Himself the redemption from the
consequences of my sins. This redemption was accomplished by the
shedding of His blood in death, atoning for man’s sins and by suffering the
full wrath and punishment of God.44 The Christology of Gerhardt’s passion
hymns is therefore at its core an exposition of the article of redemption. In
his Passion hymnody Gerhardt reiterates, confesses and proclaims:
that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also
true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost
and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins,
from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with
His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order
that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and
serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as
He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most
certainly true.45
These few observations from the great range of Gerhardt’s passion hymnody
clearly indicate the confessional character of a man rooted in the Lutheran
confessions, yet for whom the contemplation of the Christ who gives
Himself into death for me is the prominent element of his Passion
hymnody.46 Nor is this contemplation a foreign element within Gerhardt’s
Cf. the hymns “Schwing dich auf zu deinem Gott”, 81.4:
Hab ich was nicht recht getan,
Ist mirs leid von Herzen;
Dahingegen nehm ich an
Christi Blut und Schmerzen.
Denn das ist die Ranzion
Meiner Missetaten.
Bring ich dies vor Gottes Thron,
Ist mir wohl geraten.”
SC 3:2, BELK, 51123-33. TAPPERT, 345:4.
The contemplation of Christ was a recurrent subject within Luther’s passion sermons as
well. This contemplation revealed both, the extent of man’s sin and the magnitude of
God’s wrath above the sinner. Cf. LUTHER, WA 29:2293-4: “quando vides in cuce pendere
Lutheran Theological Review 20
confessional Lutheran position. It is intrinsically connected to the Lutheran
doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s
Supper.48 A real continuity exists between the blood shed upon the cross
and the blood given in the Lord’s Supper, for the body and blood which is
distributed here is the same body and blood which was given and shed upon
the cross.49 The confession of this continuity is a subject to which we need
now turn.
Christum et habere vulnera, ut cogites: haec mea peccata sunt ….” See also WA 46: 286911
: “Ideo quando vides curcifixi figuram, et quod fudit sanguinam, inspice ut imaginem,
das dich billich erschrecke, ut dicat cor: Awe, ist meine sunde et dei zorn so gros uber
mich, ut terrearis a peccatis tun, quae eum trucken und würgen.” Cf. F. BENTE, Historical
Introductions to the Symbolical Books of the Evanglical Lutheran Church, Concordia Triglotta (St.
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), 166, (190).
Röbbelen contends that the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the
Lord’s Supper “einer mystischen Interpretation wenig in den Weg zu legen hatte” (262).
Cf. BERGER, 139-43, who in these pages traces the mystic understanding of the holy
blood. The question to be raised is whether Gerhardt, too, conforms to this mystic
tradition, which Berger defines in sacramental terminology:
Die Seele versenkt sich mit ,Geist und Sinnen‘ in das Mysterium der Passion, sie
nimmt das Furchtbare in seiner ganzen Furchtbarkeit in sich auf, und es verwandelt
sich ihr zur Quelle des Heils und der Seligkeit, wie sich im Abendmahl Brot und Wein
dem Gläubigen verwandeln, nicht anders. (139-40)
A dubious parallel is established if this is indeed the right understanding of mystic
contemplation of the Passion and specifically Christ’s blood. Clearly this immersion in the
“Mysterium” is an anthropocentric act where an in nobis source of salvation is created with
such devotion. Can this actually be compared to the extra nos gift of the body and blood of
Christ in the Lord’s Supper, or even provide an explanation of the manner in which Christ
is present? Berger’s definition would reduce the Lord’s Supper to an act of rememberance
which makes devotion, and not the verba Christi the basis of the presence of Christ’s body
and blood. Consequently Berger’s explanation leads to an anthropocentric definition not
only of the Lord’s Supper, but also precludes his understanding Gerhardt’s use of the term
blood in his Salve hymns. “Niemals ist das Erleben des Mysteriums der Erlösung so
sinnbildlich und so einfältig wahr ausgesprochen worden wie in den Passionslieder des
Johann Olearius und Paul Gerhardt …. Wir werden dabei immer wieder auf die nicht
ernst genug zu nehmende Symbolik des heiligen Blutes hingewiese: ein religiöses Symbol
aber ist keine dichterische Allegorie. Es kommt auf das im Grunde unsagbare Erlebnis an,
das auch in den Abendmahlslieder der Zeit--sie gehören aufs engste mit den Passionslieder
zusammen als reine religiöse Erlebnislyrik--widerklingt. Die mystische Vereinigung mit
der Gottheit bis zur sinnlichen Empfindung, wo wäre sie diesem Zeitalter fühlbarer als im
Nacherleben der Passion Christi?” (140, 142). Cf. RÖBBELEN, 262-64.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar50
The one hymn for which we can find a definitive historical circumstance is
his Communion hymn. The circumstances of its writing are to be found in
Paul Gerhardt’s brief, but tumultuous pastorate in Berlin.
The death of his brother-in-law, the Archdeacon Joachim Fromm at St
Nikolai in Berlin on 28 April 1657 created a vacancy which Gerhardt was
called to fill. In July of the same year he was installed as third Deacon at St
Nikolai, the same congregation in which he had been ordained upon
acceptance of the call to Mittenwalde six years before.
The “great elector” Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg had followed his
father Georg Wilhelm and grandfather Johann Sigismund in adhering to the
Reformed confessional position. He also sought to follow the precedent of
his grandfather, Johann Sigismund, who had actively pursued a union by
way of a colloquy that he had called in October of 1614. At that time,
Johann Sigismund’s chancellor, Dr Prückmann, had opened the colloquy by
emphasizing that the elector wanted convincing proof from the Lutherans
that Reformed doctrine was indeed against God and His Word, in which
case he would immediately abandon his Reformed faith.51 Johann
Sigismund remained unconvinced, and a union remained unrealized. But
new hope had dawned for Friedrich Wilhelm. The Thirty Years’ War had
ended, and he sought to capitalize upon the Peace of Westphalia.
Furthermore, the favourable example of tolerance between Lutherans and
Reformed which he had encountered in the Netherlands provided him with
a model which he sought to implement in his electoral territory.
Yet Brandenburg, with its two and one-half million Lutherans and only
fifteen-thousand Reformed was not so readily predisposed to a union. Its
geographical proximity to the heartland of the Reformation and the stiff
resistance mounted by Wittenberg and its alumni was continually to close
the door on any thought on what the Lutherans saw to be a “syncretistic
peace”. Friedrich Wilhelm remained undeterred. Barring actual peace, the
elector sought tolerance. But such accommodation, even to a tolerance that
would legitimize the Reformed, was impossible for Paul Gerhardt and the
Lutheran ministerium of Berlin. They understood the Reformed not merely
as another denomination, but a different religion altogether. Their secretary,
Paul Gerhardt wrote the following words to establish their position: “that
The material that follows is a slightly revised and emendated version of an article that has
already been published as “Paul Gerhardt: Confessional Subscription and the Lord’s
Supper”, Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology 4.3 (July 1995): 25-38.
CARL BECKER, Paul Gerhardt: Der treue Kämpfer und Dulder für die lutherische Kirche
(Scheidemühl: Julius Eichstädt, 1852), 20. Cf. Lehre und Wehre, 50-51.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
the Reformed as such should be considered fellow Christians, my fellow
brothers, my fellow congregation members, this I indeed deny.”52 It was, in
fact, the Berlin ministerium, with Gerhardt as its secretary, that mounted the
most persistent and consistent resistance to the Reformed advances of the
elector in Brandenburg.53 At the heart of the Reformed expansion was the
desire of the elector for the Lutherans and Reformed to be blended into one
denomination.54 To this end he had already in 1660 ordered the consistory
in Berlin to receive the Reformed as members of Lutheran parishes.55
Friedrich Wilhelm further pursued the tolerant recognition of Reformed
theology by the Berlin ministerium, and indeed all Lutherans in electoral
Brandenburg by means of a colloquy which he ordered convened 21 August
1662. This call for an “amicable colloquium” was preceded by a not so
amicable edict of June 2 of the same year, wherein the elector had
determined to press all candidates for the ministry in his land to the point
that they desist from all mutual condemnation, so that
the unchristian depiction [of the Reformed] as heretics, the persistent slander
and condemnation, as well as the false hair-splitting and aggressive
accusations that our doctrines are blasphemous cease.56
The Formula of Concord was seen to be the brackish source of these
unpalatable invectives. Especially offensive was the fact that it was the
Formula that gave the Lutherans the licence to utter the phrase “we
condemn” repeatedly against Reformed doctrine, including that of the
elector. Paul Gerhardt sought to have these condemnations understood in
their proper context, underscoring that such condemnation is never meant
to be personal. “Inasmuch as the little word “damnatus” appears to spring
up in these present deliberations, [one should know that] in the Formula of
Concord it never is applied to the persons, teachers or churches, but always
upon the errors and false teachings [themselves] ….”57 The irritation of the
elector and his representatives was not assuaged. Only a complete
moratorium on any vilification was acceptable. Failing such compliance,
these ministers could seek an office elsewhere. Consequently the Berlin
E. C. G. LANGBECKER, Leben und Lieder von Paulus Gerhardt
Sander’schen Buchhandlung, 1841), 88.
Neve describes the spread of this particular brand of Calvinism to be motivated “… by the
lust of aggrandizement on the part of ambitious rulers.” J. L. NEVE, “Paul Gerhardt in the
Church Troubles of His Time”, Theological Quarterly 27 (1907): 495.
(Berlin: Verlag der
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
ministerium was in no doubt as to the real tenor and purpose of the
“friendly colloquy”. Acquiescence was to follow reticence.
The ministerium therefore went on the offensive. Supported by Calov
and the Wittenberg faculty, the Berlin ministerium had Gerhardt set out
their position even before the outset of the colloquy. They suspected that the
success of the Reformed at Marburg with the help of Lutherans of the town
of Rintlingen gave the Reformed of Berlin reason to expect the hand of
fellowship, or at the very least a peace accord between the confessions.
Gerhardt quickly negated these expectations:
4) If one desires through this colloquy to bring us to such a peace as the
Rintlingers accomplished with those of Marburg, whereby the Reformed
remained with their previous points of teaching and the Lutherans
nevertheless were to recognize and accept them as brothers:
5) [Then] with the help of God none of the Lutheran preachers in the Berlin
Ministerium will enter into such a peace.58
Gerhardt and the ministerium therefore drew up their battle-lines behind the
Formula of Concord, much to the chagrin of the elector and his
representatives. This, despite the fact that the Lutherans knew that such a
position was “odious” to the elector. However, they knew themselves
conscience-bound to stand faithful to the confessional subscription each one
of them had made at their ordination. When the colloquy finally convened
on 8 September 1662, Gerhardt took the floor and proceeded to stake out
the confessional ground of the Lutherans:
Because we have heard how one is grievously dissatisfied with the Formula
of Concord, and how odiously we are promoted as having subscribed to it,
[we thought it well] to make a renewed public confession prior to the
colloquy, that we are not ashamed of the Formula of Concord, that we had
indeed subscribed to it, and that we again confessed ourselves to it with heart
and mouth, and thereby sought to persevere in it with the help of God until
our end.59
From this vantage-point Gerhardt unrelentingly voiced his concern that
the endeavours of the Reformed were nothing other than an attempt to arrive
at a “peaceful syncretism” or at the very least “mutual toleration” at the cost
of confessional apostasy. Peace and tolerance at such a cost were out of the
question for the Berlin ministerium. The profound doctrinal differences
between the Reformed and the Lutherans, specifically in the matter of the
Lord’s Supper, could not be resolved so easily. Just how far they would
have to come to have a meeting of minds was expressed in Gerhardt’s
Lutheran Theological Review 20
Votum during the early stages of the colloquy in 1663. The upshot of his
preliminary statement was that the Lutherans would fight any attempt at a
peace and fellowship based on confessional unfaithfulness tooth and nail:
we always and everywhere denied such peace and brotherhood, even now
resist it and will with the help of God never give into it.60
At the heart of the resistance to the sought peace and brotherhood by the
Reformed was the firm conviction of Gerhardt that Baptism in the name of
Jesus and confession of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah and Saviour does not
make a Christian, for otherwise “not only Calvinists, but also Papists could
be called Christians ….”61 Ultimately it was Gerhardt’s conviction that
without right faith there cannot be the right God.62 Consequently only he is
a Christian, “who holds to saving faith purely and unadulterated, revealing
its fruits in one’s life and walk.”63 The question of what is the true and
saving faith, pure and unadulterated, had been settled by the Book of
Concord. Consequently the Reformed rejection of the faith which is
confessed in the Book of Concord led Gerhardt to only one conclusion: “I
therefore cannot consider the Calvinists as such to be Christians.”64 For the
Lutherans the issue was a matter of true faith, which was inconceivable
apart from the confession of the articles under discussion. The ministerium
understood all too well that the Reformed desired acceptance into
fellowship regardless of what is “true faith”; the ministerium's ultimate fear
was “that we would have to accept them [the Reformed] immediately as
fellow brothers in Christ, and as members of our Christian church. For
whoever is once accepted as a Christian is necessarily my compatriot in
Christendom and also my fellow Christian.”65
Seventeen fruitless encounters at the colloquy failed to convince the
Lutherans that the confessional differences between the Lutherans and
Reformed were a matter of indifference. Nor were they enthralled with the
proposition that a real agreement on the truth of doctrines was not a
necessity for union or at least tolerance as long as Christ was confessed.66
Cf. The First Commandment in Luther’s Large Catechism, in BELK 56015-25.
Ibid. Gerhardt is perhaps echoing the opening words of the Athanasian Creed: “Whoever
will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone
keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally.”
Neve makes the surprising statement that the Lutherans made a grave theological error in
their discussions when “[t]hey overlooked the fact that it is not the adoption of single and
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Gerhardt refuted this approach as untenable. This was especially the case in
the matter of the “oral eating” (manductio oralis) of the body and blood of
Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The Reformed had purposely posed the
question not in terms of the truth of this article,67 but in relation to the
importance of this doctrine, that is, whether it actually is necessary for
salvation.68 Two theses were therefore put on the table by the Reformed at
the behest of the Senior President, Freiherr von Schwerin:
1) The teaching concerning the oral eating of the supernatural and
imperceptible body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, which is unified
in the three confessions, is not of such importance, that God would not save
a Reformed Christian without such knowledge and recognition.
2) The teaching concerning the oral eating of the supernatural and
imperceptible body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, which is unified
in the three confessions, is not of such importance, that God would not save
a Reformed Preacher without such knowledge and recognition.69
The Lutherans answered that the oral eating could not be quantified in
relation to importance but has to be dealt with as a fundamental truth which
has a clear bearing on salvation.70 Nor is it a question of the importance
which they as ministers of the word attach to the doctrine:
I know well that this sentence: “the oral eating is not of such importance”, is
not absolute but only to be seen in comparative terms. Nevertheless, it is not
separate articles that saves us, but true faith in Christ as the Saviour from sin and guilt.”
NEVE, 363. Gerhardt did not overlook this point, as outlined above..
“It is the intent of the Reformed to pose the questions which have been commended
before us not according to their truth, but to consider them as articles of controversy …”
[“Ist die Meinung der Reformirten diese daß in den vorgelegten fragen uns befohlen sey,
nicht de veritate, sondern de pondere articulorum controversorum zu handeln ….”]
Cf. LANGBECKER, p75 (3), 76-7 (3), 80 (7).
“1) Die Lehre von dem mündlichen, jedoch übernatürlichen und unempfindlichen Essen
und Trinken des Leibes und Blutes Christi im Abendmahl, welche in den drei
confessionen verneinet wird, ist nicht von solcher Wichtigkeit, daß ohne deren
Wissenschaft und Erkenntniß Gott keinen reformirten Christen wolle selig machen.
“2) Die Lehre von dem mündlichen, jedoch übernatürlichen und unempfindlichen Essen
und Trinken des Leibes und Blutes Christi im Abenmahl, welche in den drei Confessionen
verneint wird, ist nicht von solcher Wichtigkeit, daß ohne deren Erkenntnis und
Bekenntnis Gott keinen reformirten Prediger wolle selig machen.” LANGBECKER, 58. The
three confessions in question were those of the Reformed which the Berlin ministerium
had challenged: The Confessio Sigismundi; the Colloquium Lipsiacum; and the Declaratio
Thoruniensis. Cf. BECKER, 26.
LANGBECKER, 74. The right confession of the coena Domini and the persona Christi is the
canon of the documents presented by Langbecker. Cf. pp. 58-62, 73-74, 79-80.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
possible for my soul to hear it without pain. It is easy for the Reformed to
speak and to think in this manner, since they deny this and refute the oral
eating as a figment, indeed as madness. We, however, know this eating to be
ordained by our most glorious Saviour and established upon His most clear
and certain word, and directed for the salvation of our souls, whereby its
weight and importance are weightier than heaven and earth. But that some,
who are ignorant of this article are not damned is not, I believe, brought
about by defective understanding, but out of the immense mercy of God,
who overlooks this weakness in men. The emphasis and the whole weight of
the oral eating stems partly from its author and founder, who is the
God/man Jesus Christ, partly from the object, which is not a common food,
but the body of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Himself; partly out of its end,
which is the salvation and blessedness of our souls.71
The query of the Reformed should therefore ultimately be addressed to the
Lord who instituted the bodily eating of his body and blood. Their dubious
attempt to relegate this doctrine to something inconsequential is furthermore
not an assault on Lutheran theology or theologians, but on the Lord
Himself, whose words they refuse to believe.
That the importance of the oral eating is being disputed by the Reformed
deeply grieves us, but not for our sake, but for the sake of our dear Saviour,
whose bequest and institution the oral eating is ….72
Gerhardt therefore makes it clear that they are dealing with the Lord’s
Supper, not the Lutheran or the Reformed supper. And the Lord’s Supper is
nothing other than the deliverance of the body and blood of Christ to be
eaten and drunk for the forgiveness of sins. They are therefore pained that
such a gift should be so despised and rejected by reasoned and wilful
unbelief. Furthermore, what the Lord has instituted indubitably has bearing
“Phrasin istiam: die mündliche Nießung ist von solcher Wichtigkeit nicht, etsi probe
videam hic non absolute sed comparate positam esse, tamen absque dolore animi audire
eam non possum. Reformatis facile est ita loqui et sentire, ut qui negent et pro figmento,
imo pro insania reputent oralem manducationem. Nos autem scimus hanc
manducationem esse ordinationem gloriosissimi nostri salvatoris clarissimo et certissimo
ejus verbo fundatam et ad animarum nostrarum salutem directam; adeoque pondus ejus
ac momentum gravius esse coelo ac terra; quod autem quidam articulum hunc ignorantes
non damnentur, non puto fieri ex defectu ponderis, sed ex multitudine miserationum Dei
istam imbecialliatem hominibus condonantis. Pondus sane sibi contrahit oralis
manducatio, partim, ex autore et fundatore, qui est Jesus Christus, theanthropos [Greek in
text], partim ex objecto, quod non est vulgaris cibus, sed ipsum corpus filii Dei Jesu
Christi: partim ex fine, qui est salus et beatitudo animarum nostrarum.” LANGBECKER,
“Daß uns die Wichtigkeit der oralis manducationis von den Reformirten streitig gemacht
wird, thut uns von Herzen wehe nicht eben um unsertwillen, sondern um unseres lieben
Heilandes willen, dessen Stiftung und Einsetzung solche oralis manducatio ist ….”
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
upon salvation. The onus therefore is not upon the Lutherans to prove the
importance of this article, but upon the Reformed to establish that it does
not belong to the “teachings which are necessary” and “circumstantial to
faith or to theological knowledge”, and finally that it has no basis in the
Word of God.73 Gerhardt pointed out that such arguments to the contrary
have been long in coming during the colloquy. Consequently the Lutherans
are constrained to remain with the clear words “this is” [My body], which
the Reformed have conveniently sought to circumvent.74 In fact, their
refusal to submit their reason to faith cannot be construed as being anything
else but a wilful rejection of God’s will and words.75 No further answer need
be given.76
The caution which Gerhardt exercised in his response to the Reformed
was later revealed to be well founded. With their theses the Reformed were
trying to do nothing other than to press the Lutherans toward the spurious
“2. Indeed, since our opinion concering the consequences of this dear controversy, that is,
the “this is” tou/to, evsti is confessed first, and since we place the bodily eating afterward,
[these words] are silently passed over as if they are not even writte there.” [“2. Ja, da wir
unsere Meinung de consequentia controversia carente, item, das tou/to, evsti confessionis
erst, hernach de orali manducatione setzen, wird auch das nicht einmal berühret, sondern
mit Stillschweigen übergangen, als ob es nicht einmal da stünde u.” LANGBECKER, 76. “8.
Again we come to play the same old tune, that we are to prove our “this is” (tou/to, evsti),
which is clearly attested in the Scripture litera A, even though the letter is plain and clear as
day. All that is lacking is that they take it from us and topple it by contrary proof, which,
however, has been forbidden them no matter how clever and impertinent they would be,
for which we praise and thank God.” [“8. Endlich kommts doch wieder auf die alte Leier,
daß wir unser tou/to, evsti welches wir in der Schrift litera A vorgeben, beweisen sollen, da
doch der Buchstabe hell und klar am Tage liegt, und nur daran fehlet, daß Gegentheil uns
demselben nehme, und umstoße, das ist ihnen aber, und wenn sie noch so klug und
naseweis wären, wohl veboten, davor wir Gott loben und dankbar sein.” LANGBECKER,
“That the Reformed certainly could know the bodily eating of the body of Christ, which is
done by the mouth, but do not want to know it, is certainly and most truly true ….” [“Daß
die Reformirten wohl wissen könnten manducationem corporis Christi, quae ore fit, aber
nicht wissen wollen, ist gewiß und wahrhaftig wahr… .”] LANGBECKER, 73.
“3. We have plainly enough established the ‘this is’ (tou/to, evsti) but no one has wanted to
look or pay attention, proven the contrary nor honoured us with the least response. And
because we have the ‘this is’ (tou/to, evsti), we can draw no conclusions nor substantial
interpretation which departs from the ‘this is’ (tou/to, evsti) which is confirmed by the
consensus of the ancient writers.” [“3. Haben wir das tou/to, evsti … deutlich genug
dargewiesen, aber es hat das niemand sehen und merken wollen, unser Gegentheil hat uns
nicht eines Buchstabens Antwort daraus gewürdiget, und weil wir uns das touto esti
[Greek in text] haben, so dürfen wir keine consequens auch keiner Sachen interpretation
die (von dem tou/to, evsti abschritte et) notario antiquitatis consensu bestätiget werde.”
Lutheran Theological Review 20
alternatives of either making salvation contingent upon the oral eating or
admitting that men can be saved even without the oral eating. For the
Lutherans to affirm either proposition would have pleased the Reformed. In
the first instance the Reformed would have wanted to show the Lutherans
as being decidedly unevangelical. In the latter case the Lutherans would be
found to be in agreement with the Reformed concerning the lack of
importance of the oral eating. The response of Gerhardt steers between this
Scylla and Charybdis:
If we contend that the article concerning the oral eating is a fundamental
article of faith, though not a decisive one, yet one which saves, we would
nevertheless not be allowed to establish that no one could come to faith, love,
and hope, thus to eternal salvation without this teaching.77
In other words, it is not the prerogative of the Lutherans to prove that God
will save people without external means such as the oral eating of the body
and blood of Christ, when He has so clearly located the Gospel in such
means. When, on the other hand, the Lutherans concede that people will be
saved who did not know of or believe in the oral eating78 it does not follow
that “the teaching concerning the bodily eating is not a fundamental article
of faith.”79 As far as Gerhardt was concerned, the detractors of the Lutheran
faith who had again and again accused the Lutherans of “malice and
hostility for virulently denying and opposing the union” remained
These responses of the Berlin ministerium as penned by Gerhardt were
less than well received. Particular objection was taken to the renewed
damnentur which was now uttered in the context of what had been billed as a
“Geben wir den articulum de orali manducatione zwar vor einen articulum fidei
fundamentalem aus, aber nicht vor einem constituentem, sed conservantem und also
dürfen wir auch nicht erweisen, daß ohne dieser Lehre Niemand den Glauben, Liebe und
Hoffnung, und also die ewige Seligkeit erlangen könne.” LANGBECKER, 79-80.
See note 76 above.
LANGBECKER, 80. Cf., BELK, 799:VI-VII; 801-3:V-XVI; XXI; 1012-5:II-XII; HUTTER,
104-44. Gerhardt is also quite unequivocal about the consequences of deliberate
(mutwilligen) unbelief with respect to the doctrine of the manducatio oralis: “ whoever is in
this way ignorant of the oral eating, and therefore to be sure denies and stubbornly,
wickedly, with virulent hostility and blasphemy contradicts us, we are unable to judge him
to be free from damnation.” [qui enim oralem manducationem ita ignorat, ut simul eam
neget et pertinaciter, malitiose, hostiliter virulenter et blaspheme contradicat illum sane
nos a damnationis reatu liberare non possumus.”] LANGBECKER, 60.
“malitiosa, hostili et virulenta negatione et contradictione conjunctam, non doctores
modo sed auditores etiam Reformati, damnentur.” LANGBECKER, 62. Cf., BELK, 993:61.
“manducatio in coena non modo accipientibus non salutaris, sed noxia etiam et
damnationis causa esse sollet.”
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
“friendly colloquy”. Yet the Lutherans were convinced of their conclusion
that the Reformed were teaching another Gospel. And to those who teach
another Gospel the words of Paul in Galatians are applied, namely that they
indeed are “damned”.81 The potential collapse of the colloquy seemed
imminent when on 4 April 1663 the Senior President called Lorenz and
Helwig of the ministerium to account for not following the mode of
procedure established by the elector. Yet what was to be a reproof and
reprimand also furnished an opportunity to clarify certain formulations in
the submissions of the ministerium.
Surprisingly the Reformed returned to the table on 6 April with a
document that rejoiced in the fact that there was agreement in most articles,
and only minor differences in three remaining points. They therefore urged
that further discussion also include a new article: concerning the person of
Christ. Gerhardt and the ministerium were much less jubilant. They
regarded this advance as nothing other than an attempt to over-burden the
agenda, permitting only a superficial treatment of the “article concerning the
supper and specifically the oral eating” in order to press onward “with full
force towards syncretism.”82 Instead the Lutherans suggested leaving all
other articles aside in order to devote remaining time for the article
concerning the supper of the Lord and to give even greater consideration to
the oral eating. Gerhardt was convinced that much still needed to be said
before this article could be left behind.
for before we can emerge from the article concerning the supper of the Lord
and the specific point of the oral eating, we are going to continue to
remonstrate that we do not accept them as brothers nor compatriots in the
faith, nor that they can hope for our fellowship.83
LANGBECKER, 71. Paul Wernle, in a not unpartisan spirit, makes the comment that it is
“the purest heritic-hating spirit of Luther and those of Wittenberg which one can perceive
here.” [“der echteste ketzerhassende Geist Luthers und der Wittenberger, den wir hier
vernehmen.”] PAUL WERNLE, Paulus Gerhardt (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]
1907), 14. Sasse, though not himself not impartial, doubtless has however grasped the true
spirit in which Gerhardt and the Lutherans could utter the “damnamus” when he writes:
“The ‘damnamus’ is not a loveless judgment against other Christians but the rejection of
false doctrine that is commanded in the New Testament, a duty of pastoral care for those
who are straying no less than for those who are endangered by error.” HERMANN SASSE,
We Confess the Sacraments, trans. Norman Nagel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House,
1985), 110. Cf. the detailed apology of Gerhardt’s position in an unsigned article of the
Theological Quarterly: “In Behalf of Paul Gerhardt and the Elenchus”, Theological
Quarterly 11 (1907): 107-27.
“denn ehe wir aus dem articul de coena domini et puncto oralis manducationis
herauskommen, werden wir ihnen so viel remonstriren, daß weder wir sie für Brüder und
Glaubensgenossen annehmen, noch sie unsere Brüderschaft begehren können.”
Lutheran Theological Review 20
The ministerium was taking most seriously that the Reformed refusal to
confess the oral eating left their understanding of the Lord’s Supper
dangerously deficient. And in light of their confessional subscription and its
implications for the Last Judgement, the Lutherans saw themselves as
compelled to exclude the Reformed from their fellowship. To move on to a
discussion concerning the person of Christ was therefore all but impossible,
since the Reformed had simply refused to see the strength of argument for
the oral eating and continued to reject this Lutheran doctrine.84 For these
Lutherans no fellowship was possible apart from Christ.85 And no
LANGBECKER, 82-3. That the colloquy never did move beyond this point is indicated by
the objections to the edict of the elector which followed the colloquy in 1664. The elector
had pointed out that the sacraments are not mere signs. The ministerium therefore queried
if the Reformed are prepared to confess the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the
bread and the wine: “If the holy sacraments are not only to be mere signs, types, and
representations, that is, if they then are able to propose and interpret this particular chiefarticle or chief-opinion, namely that they [the bread and body/wine and blood] are unified
and joined for present use, according to its substance, in other words, as an example that
the body and blood of Christ are not so far separated and distinct as are heaven and
earth.” [“Wenn die heil. Sacramenta nicht sollen nur bloße Zeichen, Fürbilder und
Bedeütungen seyn, ob sie dann mit demjenigen Hauptstück oder Haupt gut welches sie
fürbilden und bedeüten können, und Zwar mit dessen substantz Zu gegenwärtiger
Genießung vereiniget und verbunden seyn, also zum exempel, daß der Leib und das Blut
Christi nicht so weit als Himmel und Erde von Brod und Wein geschieden und
abgesondert seyen.”] LANGBECKER, 118.
“If the Reformed stray away from the oral eating impulsively and outside of a Word of
God evoke a better conscience, in which conscience the Papists, Photinians, Turks, and
Jews also persist, yet reject our Lutheran [conscience], then, however, they, in the same
manner, reject the truth and love lies, contrary to a conscience which has been so often
better taught from the Word of God. They have certainly seen what foundation and
arguments the Lutherans have for the oral eating, but they repress themselves and hide
and do not want to see. [“Wenn die Reformirten oralem manducationem nach dem Trieb
erronea et ex verbo Dei meliora edocenda conscientia, qua conscientia, auch die Papisten,
Photinianer, Türken, Juden bei ihrer Religion verharren, und unser Lutherische
verwerfen, aber so ipso verwerfen sie die Wahrheit und lieben die Lügen, contra
conscientiam toties ex verbo Dei meliora edoctam, sie haben wohl gesehen, was
fundamenta et argumenta die Lutheraner pro orali manducatione haben, aber sie
verhalten und verstecken sich selbst und wollens nicht sehen.”] LANGBECKER, 89.
It might be noted at this juncture that there were other Lutherans who were much more
compliant than Gerhardt and the Berlin ministerium, namely those who had met at Kassel
in 1661. This meeting between the Reformed of Marburg and Lutheran theologians had
produced an agreement whereby “no part was to condemn the other or call them heretics
because of the outstanding differences of opinion [!!]” [“kein Teil den andern wegen der
noch zurückgebliebenn Vershiedenheit der Meinungen [!!] verdammen oder verketzern
sollte.”] Lehre und Wehre, 55, note 8. What had these theologians had relegated as
indifferent?: “Whether or not the body and blood of Christ is received by believers and
unbelievers according to His nature? Whether or not God is willing and prepared to offer
and give His grace to human beings through the ordinary means? Whether or not Christ
died for all people, no less for the reprobate than for the elect? Whether or not certain
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
confession of Christ was conceivable apart from the Christ who gives His
body and blood to be eaten and drunk bodily for the forgiveness of sins. The
confession of the oral eating therefore precluded a discussion of Christ apart
from the oral eating which was for Gerhardt the sine qua non not only of the
Lord’s Supper, but also of his Christology. Ultimately the doctrine of the
oral eating effectively served to stalemate the colloquy.
The expected consequence of the colloquy had therefore been realized on
29 May 1663 with the seventeenth and final meeting.86 Neither side had
budged. The Lutherans had adhered uncompromisingly to the doctrines of
the Formula of Concord which had given Gerhardt and the Lutherans he
represented clearly developed theses to articulate and present at these
meetings.87 Further recourse had been available by consultation with
Wittenberg.88 Ultimately, however, the ministerium did nothing other than
to confess steadfastly the faith to which each of its members had subscribed
in the Book of Concord.89 Neither the tenor nor indeed the substance of the
colloquy proved to be any different than previous colloquies concerning the
Lord’s Supper and Christology which had separated the Lutherans from the
Reformed since the time of the Marburg Colloquy in 1527. In fact, these
documents fail to reveal any new arguments on either side that had not been
divine attributes can also be predicated from the human nature of the Son of God?” [“Ob
Christi Leib und But im Abendmahl dem Wesen nach von Gläubigen und Ungläubigen
empfangen werde? Ob Gott willens und bereit sei, allen und jeden Menschen seine Gnade
durch die ordentlichen Mittel anzubieten und zu geben? Ob Christus für alle Menschen,
für die Verworfenen nicht minder als für die Auserwählten, gestorben sei? Ob gewisse
göttliche Eigenschaften auch von der menschlichen Natur des Sohnes Gottes prädiciert
werden können?”] Lehre und Wehre, 55-56, note 8. The judgement of Wittenberg was
unequivocal. The Epicrisis which they had reached along with Jena and Leipzig targeted
these “Pseudolutherans” as deniers of the faith and as having succumbed to a most
ungodly peace. The Reformed, on the other hand, saw here the potential for success
elsewhere as well.
Gerhardt had counseled to reject attending the colloquy, fearing that no matter what the
Lutherans did, refuse the colloquy or attend, they would be characterized as being
“disobedient, obstinate, peace-hating [people].” [“ungehorsame, widerspenstige,
friedhäßige (Leute).”] LANGBECKER, 26.
“The clergy of Berlin refused to budge one inch from the Formula of Concord as its
confessional weapon, the Reformed, on the other hand, refused to let it count.” [“Die
Berlinische Geistlichkeit wich keinen Schritt von der Concordienformel, als ihre
symbolische Waffe, die Reformierten dagegen ließen dieselbe nicht gelten.”] BECKER, 30.
“He [Gerhardt] was convinced that the true direction of conscience was only to be found
in Wittenberg, the source of all Lutheran orthodoxy.” [“Er (Gerhardt) war überzeugt, die
Rechte Gewissensleitung nur in Wittenberg, an der Quelle der lutherischen
Rechtgläubigkeit, zu finden.”] PETRICH, 134.
The many documents of the colloquy are reproduced by LANGBECKER, 29-150.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
extensively dealt with at previous colloquies.90 Nevertheless, they do reveal
Paul Gerhardt as being a faithful transmitter and confessor of the Lutheran
For their unrelenting confession, the Lutherans, including Gerhardt, had
to bear the odium of being regarded as intractable, obstinate, intolerant,
contentious and polemical people.91 Decisive action by the elector followed
this thwarting of a negotiated settlement. An edict was published on 16
September 1664, which in sum obligated the disputing parties to cease their
polemics and to refrain from drawing conclusions from the disputed
doctrinal positions.92 In fact, the edict essentially disputes the conclusions
drawn within the Formula of Concord concerning Reformed doctrine. The
Lutherans therefore regarded it as a call for secession from the Formula. As
a matter of practice, for example, it called for the exorcism prior to Baptism
Lehre und Wehre, 57-8.
This judgement prevailed and prevails to the present. Fr. W. Krummacher, during the
latter part of the 19th century put the matter in the following light: “But the wellintentioned endeavours [of the elector Friedrich Wilhelm] were frustrated by the
recalcitrance of the Lutheran theologians.” [“Aber seine (des Kurfürsten Friedrich
Wilhelm) treugemeinten Bemühungen waren namentlich an der Ungefügigkeit der
lutherischen Theologen gescheitert.”] FR. W. KRUMMACHER, “Paul Gerhardt,” Die
Zeugen der Wahrheit, ed. Ferdinand Piper, 4 vols (Leipzig: Verlag von Bernhardt
Tauchnitz, 1875), 4:446. More recently: “Among those who were not able to obey the
commandment of Christian love for their enemies was our Gerhardt… .” [“Unter denen,
die sich diesem Gebot christlicher Feindesliebe nicht zu fügen vermochten, war auch
unser Gerhardt … .”] WALTER FREI, “Gedanken zum 300. Todestag von Paul Gerhardt”,
Reformatio 25 (1976):335. [Emphasis added].
In his edict, the elector commands the termination of the drawing of conclusions from the
respective teachings, as well as the attendant condemnations. Such would lead to “a good
beginning to an evangelical church peace and Christian tolerance in this our lands of
electoral Brandenburg ….” [“einen guten Anfang zum Evangelischen Kirchenfriede, und
christlicher Verträglichkeit in diesen Unseren Landen der Chur- und Mark
Brandenburg….”] Among the matters to be muzzled were the accusations that the
Reformed teach: “That there is no true communication of the two natures and their
attributes in Christ, or that only a man died for us, or that Christ is locked up in heaven as
in a prison, or that not the whole Christ is with us; … That the holy Sacraments are mere
symbols, examples, and references, … That the words of Christ: ‘This is My body, etc. are
not held to be true, and that in the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are mere empty
husks without the grain….” [“Daß keine wirkliche Gemeinschafft der beyden Naturen
und Eigenschaft in Christo sey, oder daß nur ein blosser Mensch für uns gestorben, oder
daß Christus im Himmel, als in einem Gefängnis, eingeschlossen, oder, daß nicht der
gantze Christus bey uns sey; … Daß die heiligen Sacramenta nur blosse Zeichen,
Fürbilder und Bedeutungen, … Daß die Worte Christi: Daß ist mein Leib u., nicht für
wahrhafftig zu halten, und daß im heiligen Abendmahl schlecht Brodt und Wein, und also
leere Hülsen ohne Kern seyn ….”] LANGBECKER, 93. Cf. 95.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
to be made a matter of choice, not doctrine.93 In the final analysis the edict
sought to legislate the desired “Christian ecclesiastical peace” that the
colloquy was unable to achieve, and in effect declared the disputed
theological articles as non-essential for salvation.94 In so doing, Friedrich
Wilhelm appealed to precedent:
And since the Lord God has, as in the Reformed church, awakened learned
men also among Lutheran theologians, which have written tractates of peace,
and proven that evangelical dissent is in itself not a matter of fundamentals,
and that a tolerant church can indeed be established: we therefore will not in
any way give others, who do not possess such knowledge or peaceful
disposition, … [the right] to chide publicly or damn other peaceful councils.95
To ensure compliance with this edict, as well as those which had preceded it
in 1614 and 1662, the signing of a declaration was required of the
ministerium and indeed all Lutheran ministers throughout Brandenburg.96
Cf. WALTHER KILLY, “Paul Gerhardt. Glaube, Schwermut, Dichtung”, Musik und
Gottesdienst 30 (1976): 84, who here cites the exorcism formula during Baptism as the
prime cause of Gerhardt’s refusal to sign the declaration. Clearly Gerhardt’s firm stand
against the ordered subscription was not merely the result of the excision of the exorcism
formula, but the underlying cause of which its rejection was symptomatic: The Reformed
demand for the rejection of the Formula of Concord.
The result of this colloquy mirrored the one called by Friedrich Wilhelm’s grandfather in
1614. As Langbecker relates, the chancellor, Dr Prückmann, established the basic tenets of
the colloquy in the presence of the elector by declaring: “Since the source of all discord
concerned only the oral eating of the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, he exhorted
them toward tolerance and brotherly love, and added, that the chief matter is, after all, the
spiritual eating, without which there would be no salvation. Beyond this they were also in
agreement about the foundation, namely that Jesus Christ is the sole cornerstone and
mediator, etc.” [“Da der Grund aller Zwistigkeiten nur die mündliche Genießung des
Leibes Christi im heiligen Abendmahle beträfe, so ermahnte er sie zur Duldsamkeit und
brüderlichen Liebe, und setzte hinzu, daß die Hauptsache ja das geistige Genießen sei,
ohne welches es doch keine Seligkeit gäbe. Ueberdie wären sie ja auch in dem Fundament
einig, nämlich: daß Jesus Christus der alleinige rechte Eckstein und Mittler sei u.”]
LANGBECKER, 17. The Lutheran clergy at that time implored the elector to abandon the
thought of a colloquy with such presuppositions. Their wish was granted upon the
promise to abide by the mandate issued by the elector.
“Und weil auch Gott der Herr, gleich wie in der Reformirten Kirche, also auch unter den
Lutherischen Theologen, dann und wann gelahrte Männer erwecket hat, welche FriedensSchrifften geschrieben, und erwiesen, daß der Evangelischen dissensus an sich selbst nicht
fundamentalis sey, und eine tolerantia Ecclesiastica gar wohl gestifftet werden könne: So
wollen wir keinesweges gestatten, daß andere, so solches Erkenntniß und friedliches
Gemüthe noch nicht haben, … andere friedliche Consilia öffentlich tadeln oder
verdammen sollen.” LANGBECKER, 95.
LANGBECKER, 114-20. The declaration which was to be signed was not in one form.
Langbecker produces two examples (101-2), as well as one accepted by the Elecotr written
by Lilje himself (153-54). The content of the declarations, which were all similar in
Lutheran Theological Review 20
The substance of this declaration called for submission to the mentioned
edicts while permitting faithful adherence to the Augsburg Confession and
its Apology. Notably all other confessional writings, including the Formula
of Concord, are not mentioned within the declaration. Conscience-bound to
their oaths to all the confessions of the Lutheran church, the Berlin
ministerium asked for permission not to sign the declaration, citing among
their objections specifically the unresolved matter of the oral eating and the
ensuing Christological questions. These conspicuous doctrinal differences
could not possibly be brushed aside as being insignificant and irrelevant by
the ministerium. Conscience-bound, the whole Berlin ministerium made it
clear to the elector that they could not and would not desist from warning
their congregations that the Reformed were in fact rejecting the Lutheran
doctrine of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper
when they teach:
The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. It is not possible for one single
body to be [anywhere] at the same time and always except in one place. A
permeating body is abhorrent to nature. Whatsoever is digested in the
stomach is thrown out …. 97
At the heart of these Christological questions remained the doctrine of the
oral eating. The ministerium had made it clear that the oral eating rests
upon the clear words of Scripture, and as such it provides the foundation
upon which the whole understanding of not only the Lord’s Supper but
substance, is exemplified in one of the declaration cited by Langbecker: “That the herebelow named preachers of the Lutheran churches in Berlin continue in our teaching office
according to the faith and life teachings, and namely that we retain Dr Luther’s opinion
and explanation in the remaining disputed points between us and the Reformed, as the
same are contained in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. Accordingly we also
intend to remain steadfast in the fellowship of the general Lutheran church, yet to keep
ourselves inviolable in all negotiations of the considered controversies, as has been
commended to us by the edict of the Electors of Brandenburg in the years 1614, 1662,
1664. We promise, document and confess to do such with our own signiture to this edict.”
[“Daß Wir Endes Bennante Prediger Bey den Lutherischen Kirchen Zu Berlin in Unserm
Lehr Ambte Bey den glaubens- und Lebens Lehren, Undt Nahmentlich auch in denen
Zwischen Uns und den Reformirten schwebenden streittigen puncten Bey Dr. Lutheri
Meinung und erklährung, wie selbige in Augustana Confessione und deren Apologia
enthalten, Undt demnach auch in Gemeinschafft der Allgemeinen Lutherischen Kirchen
beständig Zubleiben gemeinet sein, Jedoch aber Bey tractirung der gedachten
Controversien uns Zugleich Unverbruchlich halten wollen, wie in den Churfl. Brandenb.
Edictis de Anno 1614, 1662, 1664 uns anbefohlen ist, Solches Thun wir mit diesem
eignhändig unterschriebenen Declaration angeloben, Uhrkunden und bekennen.”] Idem.
[Finitum non est capax infiniti, Unum numero corpus non potest esse simul et semel nisi
in uno loco. A penetratione Corporum abhorret natura, Qvidqvid manducatur in ventrem,
dejicitur concoqvitur.] LANGBECKER, 115. Cf. 84.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
Christ Himself depends. To confess the bodily eating and drinking of the
body and blood of Christ is then to confess the communication of
properties, especially the majestic genus. The ministerium therefore asked
these Reformed representatives if, in light of the edict’s assertion that the
doctrinal points in question were not of consequence, they do indeed
confess a true communication of natures in Christ, and so:
if they want to have it understood that the true union of the two natures to be
such a union, that one nature also communicates with the other.98
This question needed to be asked in light of the conclusions of the Marburg
Reformed theologians which stood behind the edict. These had limited the
divine power that was communicated to the human nature of Christ. In
essence they had taught that
the bestowed omnipotence or the participation in such an attribute of divine
nature is not proper to the human nature of Christ. This is nothing else than a
desire to posit a limitation of power.99
The ministerium suggested that the Reformed refusal to accept the oral
eating indicates a glaring inconsistency in their whole Christology. On the
one hand they do not want to deny that Christ is not wholly present. On the
other hand they do not want to go as far as to admit the real presence of
Christ’s human nature. Certainly they cannot have it both ways, even
though they deny saying that they do not acknowledge the presence of the
whole Christ. The Lutherans therefore sought clarity about who, and what
was present with Christ,
that not the whole Christ is with us, if it is to be understood that not only he
who is God and Man, but also that which is God and man is in Christ and
also that the whole Christ, the whole person with both its unified natures, the
divine and the human, is with us. For were there to be only one nature of the
Lord Christ and not the other, then, according to our doctrine, the whole
Christ would not be there.100
“ob sie die wirkl. Gemeinschafft der beyden naturen und Eigenschaften in Christo wollen
verstanden haben, von solcher Gemeinschafft, welche auch eine natur an der andern
habe.” LANGBECKER, 116.
“der Menschlichen natur Christi nicht die mitgetheilte Almacht oder die Gemeinschaft an
solcher Eigenschafft Göttlichen natur eigenthümblich Zu stehet, sondern mehr nicht, als
eine potentiam finitam zu legen wollen.” LANGBECKER, 116-17.
“daß nicht der gantze Christus bey uns sey, ob es also solle aufgenommen werden, daß
nicht nur der, der Gott und Mensch ist, sondern auch das was Gott und Mensch ist in
Christo und also das totum Christi die gantze Person mit Ihrer beiden vereinigten naturen,
der Göttlichen und Menschlichen bey uns sey. Dann wo eine natur nur des Herrn Christi
Lutheran Theological Review 20
The consequence of denying the oral eating had effectively led the
Reformed to confess a piece-meal Lord’s Supper and therefore a piece-meal
Christ. The consistent Reformed position could not be construed as being
anything but a denial of a real communication of natures and especially the
majestic genus.
Despite these weighty unresolved doctrinal differences, the ministerium
assured the elector with its continued compliance in the matter of
accusations of heresy, its willingness to redress the tone with which they
would address their opponents, and to set the utterance of the
condemnations in their proper light.101 But since they were also consciencebound to their confessions, they sought to secure the freedom to expose
doctrinal error wherever it was found, not for the sake of an alleged desire
for strife, honour, and hatred of peace,102 but because of their office as
“servants of the Word of God, who are obligated to give serious account for
the souls of the parishioner entrusted to them.”103 The conscience of these
men was unequivocally bound to their ordination subscription affixed to the
whole of the Book of Concord. To sign the elector’s declaration was
therefore tantamount to apostasy from the confessions, especially since the
edict contained quite a number of points which were insurmountable and
would have demanded the compromising of their Lutheran faith. Their
appeal to the elector therefore had begun by pointing out that his edict
contains a great number of very significant and important points, which we
find to be full of dangerous difficulties for our souls, and, if we should
comply with them, would also serve to divorce and separate us from the
entire Lutheran church (to which, however, along with all its symbolic books
seyn solte, und die andere nicht, da wäre nach unserer Lehre nicht der gantze Christus”.
LANGBECKER, 117. Cf. 46, 82, 116.
“That we also will further, in agreement with our teaching, and in all due refutation use all
Christian discretion, and continue to provide obedience to the published edicts of your
Illustrious Electoral Highness as concerns the excessive and unchristian condemnation,
slander, reviling and mutually placed insults.” [“Daß wir auch ferner in fürtrag unßrer
Lehre undt gebührende widerlegung unß aller Christlichen Bescheidenheit gebrauchen,
Undt denen von Ew. Churfl. Durchl. ergangenen Edicten, waß daß ungebührliche undt
Unchristliche verdammen, lästern, schmähen und eineiges vorsetzliche Beschimpffen
anlangt, noch ferner gehorsamliche folge leisten.”] LANGBECKER, 111. The ministerium
had earlier explained that the damnatus was never uttered ad persona but at erroneous
This was the opinion of the elector in his declaration of 4 May 1665. LANGBECKER, 126.
[“Diener am worte Gottes, die wir vor unsern anvertrauten Pfarr-Kinder Seelen, schwehre
rechenschaft Zu geben schuldig seyn.”] LANGBECKER, 97.
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
of faith we intend to hold firmly to the end of our lives through the grace of
Still, some two-hundred Lutheran ministers in Brandenburg did comply
with the declaration in order to remain in their parishes. Among them was
one of the ministerium, Provost Lilius, who had composed his own
declaration which was found acceptable by the elector. On 6 February 1666
Paul Gerhardt was himself confronted with the option of signing the
declaration or being removed from office.
Gerhardt’s not unexpected refusal to sign was followed by an immediate
call for dismissal from his office as Deacon at St Nikolai. This unhappy state
of affairs brought the ministerium, as well as the town council, to the aid of
Gerhardt. Their witness confirms in Gerhardt a man bound by conscience,
who in no way had ever maligned the Reformed and had done nothing
other than stand upon the confessions to which he had subscribed.105 Yet the
elector was not impressed by these attempts at retaining a man who refused
the hand of brotherhood to the Reformed, counselled his colleagues to
refuse signing the declaration, and by all reports was the most obdurate of
the Berlin ministerium.106 Gerhardt was summarily removed from his office.
More lobbying, however, did bring forth a compromise.107 Gerhardt
would not have to sign for a time since he allegedly did not fully understand
“eine Ziemliche anzahl sehr hoher undt wichtiger puncta in sich begriffet, die wir voller
gegährlichen undt uns an die Seele gehenden difficultäten finden, undt durch welche wir
auch, wo wir denselben beyfallen sollen, uns von der gesamten Lutherischen Kirchen (an
der wir dennoch undt allen Dero Symbolischen glaubens Büchern durch die Gnade Gottes
bisher hangen undt bis an das Ende Unseres Lebens Zu verbleiben gedencken) trennen
undt absondern müsten.” LANGBECKER, 97-98.
Langbecker provides all the documents attendant to Gerhardt’s struggle (155-204). The
numerous accounts of these events make their detailed restatement unnecessary in this
context. See for example PETRICH, 162-89; ZELLER, 122-24; NELLE, “Paul Gerhardt”,
Lehre und Wehre, 63.
The appeals that were launched by the civic as well as the consistorial authories testified to
Gerhardt’s placid character: “For it is certainly been shown that the much talked-about Mr
Gerhardt has never in his sermons reviled or scolded with even one word the religion of
your most Illustrious Electoral Highness, … to the extent that your most Illustrious
Electoral Highness had no misgivings to include within your Brandenburg Hymnal which
was issued in your high name in the year 1558, his spiritual hymns or songs, putting a
considerable number of them into print and publishing them. [“Dann freilich ists an dem,
daß Vielbesagter Herr Gerhard Sich allemahl in seinen Predigen also erwiesen, daß er Ew.
Churfürstl. Durchl. Religion niemalß mit einem Worte Gedacht, Zu geschweigen, daß Er
auff dieselbe Geschmähet oder Gescholten haben solte, … so gar, daß auch Ew. Churfl.
Durchl. Kein Bedencken tragen laßen in Dero Märckisches Gesangbuch, so unter dero
Hohen Nahmen Ao. 1558 alhier außgegangen, seine Geistlichen Gesänge oder Lieder,
deren eine zimblich Anzahl im Druck Zu Geben, und Publiciren zu laßen.”]
Lutheran Theological Review 20
the nature of the declaration and would therefore be reinstated. Yet the
messenger who brought Gerhardt this piece of news also related to him that
the elector is willing to reinstate him in his office since he is satisfied with
Gerhardt’s moral, albeit unwritten agreement with the spirit of the
Such an implication was unbearable to Gerhardt’s
conscience.109 Only under one condition could he resume his office: the
complete remission of his obligation to the edicts. He would therefore
permit himself to be reinstated if he is permitted to remain faithful to the
Formula of Concord and unmuzzled in his teaching.110 Thus the impasse
LANGBECKER, 160-161. They also saw fit to warn of the dire consequences of being
responsible for the extradition of such a man: “how much more unbearable will it be for us
when we not only fail to keep such pious and blessed men, but want to cast them away
from us. [“wie Viele unerträglicher wird es Unß dann ergehen, wann wir auch dieselben
nicht behalten, sondern fromme undt Gottseelige Männer von Uns stoßen wollen.”]
Writing to the Magistriat on 26 January 1667, Gerhardt regrets that the terms of the
restitution to office have only aggravated his situation, “inasmuch as it has become known
that I had withheld signing the edicts or declaration because I had failed to comprehend
the edicts or their intent … so the situation remains the same one way or the other, that
despite not having been exempted from signing the edict, I nevertheless have to live
according to them, and show myself as having to be bound in accordance to them.”
[“indem es ja klar daselbst verlautet, ich hätte darum den Churfl. Edicten oder Declaration
n zu unterschreiben mich entzogen, weil ich die Edicten oder derer Meinung nicht
begriffen hätte, … so bleibt es auch noch einen Weg wie den andern dabei, daß ob mir
gleich die Unterschrift erlassen würde, ich dennoch den Edicten nachzuleben, und
denselben mich gemäß bezeigen verbunden sein sollte.”] CRANACH-SICHART, 479.
“for my conscience is filled with restlessness and fear because of this; yet what takes place
with a bad conscience is an abomination before God and draws not a blessing but a curse
after itself, whereby neither my congregation nor I would prosper.” [“denn mein Gewissen
will mir darüber voller Unruhe und Schrecken werden, was aber mit bösem Gewissen
geschiehet, das ist für Gott ein Greuel und zieht nicht den Segen sondern den Fluch nach
sich, womit aber weder meiner Gemeine noch mir würde geraten sein.”] CRANACHSICHART, 479.
“I pray that before the gracious electoral concession comes into effect, that I might, by the
gracious release from obedience to the edict, … remain unmoved with with my Lutheran
confessions, specifically the Formula of Concord, that I may also instruct my congregation
and listeners accordingly and not have to promise to adhere to any moderation or
modesty which does not have a basis in my presently considered faith of the Lutheran
confessions.” [Ich erbitte das vorher die Churfl. gnädigste Verüngstigung geschehe, daß
ich nächst gnädigster Erlassung des Gehorsams der Edicta … bei allen meinen
lutherischen Bekenntnissen, namentlich der Formul Concordiae unverrückt verbleiben
möge, also daß ich auch nach derselben meine Gemeine und Zuhörer unterweisen und zu
keiner andern moderation oder Bescheidenheit mich anheischig machen dürfte, als welche
in jetztgedachten meinen lutherischen Glaubens bekenntnissen Grund habe.] CRANACHSICHART, 479. In his letter to the elector Gerhardt expressed his distress in greater detail.
Due to the great sorrow and anguish in his soul he cannot accept the elector’s restitution
to office under the given terms, “since with such obedience I would have to abandon and
put away from me the Formula of Concord from the confessions of my Lutheran faith … I
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
remained. Conscience bound, Gerhardt was compelled to reject his
reinstitution,111 whereupon his position was declared vacant.112
The requirement to leave his parish in the care of those who had
succumbed to the pressures of the elector led Gerhardt to put into the hands
of his parishioners a means by which they could continue the faith into
which they had been baptized with the publication of his sole communion
hymn “Herr Jesu, meine Liebe.” It appeared first within Johann Georg
Ebeling’s Pauli Gerhardti Geistreiche Andachten in 1667. As all of Gerhardt’s
am afraid for myself before God, before whose face I walk here upon earth, and before
whose judgement-seat I must one day appear, and cannot but feel that I would heap upon
myself his wrath and severe punishment if I should again accept my office in the
previously mentioned manner.”
[… wie ich bey solchem Gehorsam mein Lutherisches Glaubens Bekentnuß Formulam
Concordiae verlassen unnd von mier legen müste… . Ich fürchte mich für Gott, in dessen
Anschauen ich hier auf Erden wandele, unnd für welches gerichte ich auch dermaleinst
erscheinen muß und kan nach dem, wie mein Gewissen von judgend auff gestunden unnd
noch itzo stehet, nicht anders befinden alls das ich, auff die vorher berührte art unnd weise
wieder in mein Ampt tretten sollte, seinen Zorn und schwehre Straffe auf mich laden
werde.] CRANACH-SICHART, 469.
“but Gerhardt’s faithful disposition, the inner connection of his heart with his Lord, had
given his conscience such tenderness, that he willingly, to the great pain of his
congregation and all citizens, relinquished his office.” [“aber Gerhardts gläubiges
Gemüth, die innige Verbindung seines Herzens mit dem Herrn, hatte seinem Gewissen
eine solche Zartheit gegeben, daß er freiwillig, zum großen Schmerz seiner Gemeinde und
der ganzen Bürgerschaft seinem Amt entsagte.” LANGBECKER, 199-200. Langbecker’s
observation is somewhat dubious in that Gerhardt certainly had not voluntarily left office
but was rather prevented from reassuming it because of the compromising edicts which
were still in force. Krummacher, however, follows Langbecker in this evaluation, but adds
that the true cause was an erring conscience informed by the Formula of Concord: “He
[Gerhardt] followed the voice of his conscience. If it was an erring conscience, it was so
only insofar as the Formula of Concord to which he was bound erred in its anathemas of
the confession of the Reformed.” [“Er (Gerhardt) folgte der Stimme seines Gewissens.
War dieses ein irrendes, so war es dies doch nur insoweit, als etwa die Concordienformel,
in der er gebunden war, in ihren Bannsprüchen wider die Confession der Reformirten
irrte.”] KRUMMACHER, 448.
“If the preacher Paul Gerhardt does not want to assume again the office graciously
granted him by his Illustrius Electoral Highness, for which he will have to give account
before God, then the magisteriat will speedily invite severral other peace-loving, adept
people to provide a sample sermon. These are not to be called, however, before his
Illustrious Electoral Highness has been provided with a report concerning their qualities.
Cologne, the 4th of February, 1667.” [“Wenn der Prediger Paulus Gerhard das Ihm von
Sr. C. D. gnedigst wieder erlaubte Amptt nicht wieder betreten wil, welches Er den vor
dem högsten Gott Zu Verandttwortten haben wirdt, So wirdt der Magisterat ehestens
eineige andere friedtliebende geschickte leüte Zu ablegung der probepredigkt einladen,
dieselbe aber nicht ehr vociren bis Sie Zuförderst Sr. Churfl. Durchl. von Dero qualiteten
Untgst. bericht abgestattet haben. Cölln, den 4. Febr. 1667.”] LANGBECKER, 199. It might
be noted that in less than 10 years time, Philip Jakob Spener was to be one of Paul
Gerhardt’s successors at St Nikolai in Berlin.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
hymnody, not the Divine Service of the congregation in public worship, but
the quiet of personal devotion was its Sitz im Leben. But even in the quiet of
their own homes, these parishioners were to be reminded concerning that
which is placed into their mouths when they come to the altar during the
Divine Service, emphasizing specifically the oral eating. The hymn which
emerges has what is at times something of a strained dogmatic rhyme, yet
one which nevertheless reflects the Seelsorge of Paul Gerhardt, which is its
primary concern.
In light of the persuasive and reasoned arguments which had confronted
the ministerium during the colloquy, Gerhardt knew that his parishioners
were going to be severely tempted by Reformed doctrine to abandon the
firm institution of Christ in favour of an unfaithful interpretation. He
therefore reminds them who it is that tempts and seeks to lead away from
the firm institution of Christ. For Gerhardt it is precisely Christ on the altar
who delivers from all uncertainty and doubt as to whether Christ in the
manger and on the cross is indeed given for me.
1. HErr Jesu, meine Liebe,
Ich hätte nimmer Ruh und Rast,
Wo nicht fest in mir bleibe
Was du für mich geleistet hast;
Es müßt in meinen Sünden,
Die sich sehr hoch erhöhn,
All meine Kraft verschwinden
Und wie ein Rauch vergehn,
Wenn sich mein Herz nicht hielte
Zu dir und deinem Tod,
Und ich nicht stets mich kühlte
An deines Leidens Not. (34.1)
1. O Lord, my Love, I have no rest
Outside Your gift with which I’m blest.
My ever-multiplying sins
Dispel my strength as passing winds;
Like smoke it simply wafts away.
If from Your death my heart should stray,
When thoughts of Your great passion cease
My soul’s in torment without peace.
Nun weißt du meine Plagen
Und Satans, meines Feindes, List.
Wenn meinen Geist zu nagen,
Er emsig und bemühet ist,
Da hat er tausend Künste,
Von dir mich abzuziehn:
Bald treibt er mir die Dünste
Des Zweifels in den Sinn,
Bald nimmt er mir dein Meinen
Und Wollen aus der Acht
Und lehrt mich ganz verneinen,
Was du doch fest gemacht. (34.2)
2. You know my foe, You know my plight:
A thousand arts he’ll use to fight.
Sly Satan gnaws upon my soul;
To strip You from me is his goal.
Doubt’s haze he drives upon my mind,
He clouds Your will to make me blind,
He teaches me to call a lie
What You have firmly set on high.
Herr, Jesu meine Liebe
O Lord, My Love, I Have No Rest
Paul Gerhardt AD 1667
Translated by Rev. Kurt E. Reinhardt Pentecost AD 2001
Krispin: Paul Gerhardt’s Confession of Christ in Song
To avert all doubt and uncertainty Christ has instituted His table, where
along with the words of forgiveness He gives His body and blood to be eaten
and drunk, distributing for me for the forgiveness of sins.
Solch Unheil abzuweisen,
Hast du, Herr, deinen Tisch gesetzt,
Da lässest du mich speisen,
So daß sich Mark und Bein ergötzt.
Du reichts mir zu genießen
Dein teures Fleisch und Blut
Und lässest Worte fließen,
Da all mein Herz auf ruht.
Komm, sprichst du, komm und nahe
Dich ungescheut zu mir,
Was ich dir geb, empfahe
Und nimms getrost zu dir. (34.3)113
3. Such devastation to evade
O Lord Your table You have laid.
You bid me dine for my delight
To thrill my bones with ev’ry bite;
Your Flesh and Blood You give to eat
And spill out words my heart finds
“Come,” You invite me, “come draw
Take what I give you without fear.”
Gerhardt’s source of comfort and certainty is the oral eating of the body and
blood of Christ of which his words speak. And as though to preclude any
misunderstanding as to what he means, Gerhardt reiterates this same
thought all the more carefully on the basis of the Words of Institution:114
Hier ist beim Brot vorhanden
Mein Leib, der dargeben wird
Zum Tod--und Kreuzesbanden
Für dich, dir sich von mir verirrt.
Beim Wein ist, was geflossen
Zu Tilgung deiner Schuld,
Mein Blut, das ich vergossen
In Sanftmut und Geduld.
Nimms beides mit dem Munde
Und denk auch mit darbei
Wie fromm im Herzensgrunde
Ich, dein Erlöser, sei. 34.4115
4. “Here is My Body with this bread;
It was condemned to join the dead
And bore the shackles of the tree
For you who always stray from Me;
What flowed to cleanse your guilt is here,
With wine you’ll find My Blood so dear,
Into your mouth now both receive
And by them to My meekness cleave.”
The hymn might indeed be construed as anti-Calvinist polemics when
Gerhardt affirms Christ’s death and atonement for the whole world as being
given so mediately. But Gerhardt’s burden is Seelsorge not polemics. The
Lord’s Supper is given for the strengthening of faith, and gives the certainty
Luther, too, is able to speak of the Words of Institution and the body and blood given in
the Lord’s Supper interchangeably. See LC 5:21-22, BELK, 71138-7125. It is most dubious
and indeed not possible to play one off against the other.
Cf. Luther’s struggle with Karlstadt for the location of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and the
location of its distribution: WA 18:20327-2049; AE 40:213-14.
Cf. LC 5:28-29, 42; BELK 71311-24; 716:16-20.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
that Christ has done the lot. This is not to say, however, that Gerhardt
withdraws from exposing error and false teaching, especially when it should
arise in one’s mind (the implicit origin of such thoughts remains unnamed).
Falsehood and error is met fully by the Saviour himself, this time located
specifically in the use of the Lord’s Supper, where Gerhardt confesses that it
is not the priest or the pastor who places the body and blood into my mouth
but rather Christ Himself. He, who sits at the right hand of the Father
Almighty as true God and true man stretches out His right hand to give
Himself for my consolation to eat and to drink:
Und daß ja mein Gedanke,
Der voller Falschheit und Betrug,
Nicht im Geringsten wanke,
Als wär es dir nicht Ernst genug:
So neigst du dein Gemüte
Zusamt der rechten Hand
Und gibst mir große Güte
Mir das hochwerte Pfand
Zu essen und zu trinken.
Ist das nicht Trost und Licht
Dem, der sich läßt bedünken,
Du wollest seiner nicht? (34.7)
7. Lest my deceit-plagued mind should sway
And doubt the truth of what You say,
Your heart inclines with Your right hand
And give this pledge on which to stand:
To eat and drink of Your great might?
Is this not comfort and true light
For those who foolishly believe
That such as they you’ll not receive?
What is implicit in all of Gerhardt’s hymnody comes to full and explicit
expression here, to the point of seeing in this hymn rhymed dogma. The
historical circumstances seem to have tempered Gerhardt in such a way that
a communion hymn, which clearly belongs to the realm of the Divine
Service, should be necessary for the devotion of the home. From the first
verse to the last it is proclamation of Christ’s work of salvation for us in the
way of Christ located in tangible means of grace. In fact, Gerhardt confesses
clearly that the very reality of the incarnation would be destroyed by even
the most subtle spiritualization of the Lord’s Supper which he found
explicitly in the doctrine of the Reformed.
The matter of the bodily eating and drinking of the Lord’s body and
blood therefore was not simply a matter of dogmatic obstinacy. It was the
very core of Gerhardt’s faith and piety, which in turn was at the very heart
of all of his hymns. Neither in his polemics, nor in his hymns could it be a
secondary article. For it was the body and blood of Christ which was given
for him that alone gave him certainty of salvation [Heilsgewißheit], since he
knew that here for him is Christ Himself who alone gives him nothing less
than the righteousness which lets him stand before God at the last day; and
it was this, in the final analysis, that made Gerhardt a faithful confessor of
Christ in song and sacrament.
Rev. Gerald Krispin, Th.D., is President of Concordia University College of
Alberta, Edmonton.
LTR 20 (Academic Year 2007-08): 113-16
Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow
Kurt A. Lantz
Maybe you should be. All the classic ghost stories
begin with the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night…” Death indeed
comes in the night. Acts of violence are committed under the cover of night.
I sat at my grandfather’s bedside when death came upon him in the night.
An act of violence as his lungs filled with fluid and squeezed the life out of
The great Lutheran pastor and hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt also knew
about acts of violence in the night. Theodore Brown Hewitt reports that
Gerhardt had himself suffered individual loss.
The Swedes in 1637 determined to punish Johann Georg, the Elector of
Saxony, because he, in spite of a signed contract with them, had deserted the
Protestant cause, and in their ravages they appeared before Gräfenhainichen
and demanded a war tax of 3000 Gulden. It was paid, but notwithstanding
the payment the Swedish soldiers set fire to the town. The Gerhardt house
and the church with its many records were among the four hundred buildings
The community of Mittenwalde had suffered severely in 1637 as had
Gräfenhainichen from the Swedish marauders and attacks of pestilence, and
Paul Gerhardt undertook his duties here with full understanding of this
universal suffering, and fulfilled them with all his strength.1
Marauders and pestilence, the Thirty Years War and the plague provided
ample opportunity for the people of Gerhardt’s parish to develop a sense of
fear of the dark. For under the cover of darkness, death comes with
violence. And with pastoral and personal understanding, Gerhardt wrote the
beloved evening hymn, “Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow.”
Is it childish to be afraid of the dark? Some of my children do not like
going upstairs at night without a light on. We have a faulty switch at the
foot of the stairs that causes them much trepidation. A young lady in my
parish was plagued by visits from the dark people at night when she was a
“Paul Gerhardt as a Hymn Writer and His Influence on English Hymnody,” Yale
University Press, 1918. Hypertext version of this book is available from the Christian
Classic Ethereal Library at <>.
Lutheran Theological Review 20
little girl. And in the year just past I was told by a four-year-old girl in the
congregation about her dreams of the goat-man covered in red with cobwebs
over his mouth. Is it childish to be afraid of the dark or do the young have a
greater grasp on the reality of darkness and its prince?
The best that adults seem able to do in terms of seriously pondering the
darkness of night is a little personal reflection at the end of the day. As the
beams of the sun set behind the horizon, we are reminded that our praise on
earth will cease in death. The end of our day’s work comes upon us and we
realize that the end of all toil will arrive for us when we will be laid to rest in
the grave. So we undress for bed with the solemn knowledge that we will be
undressed of our bodily life in death.
But the night does not have to be darkness as the psalmist David reminds
us, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me
dwell in safety.”2 There can be peace in the night hours, but not in the power
of man. Peace comes only from the LORD who can give safety. He can
protect from both the marauders and the plague, from dark visions and our
own mortality.
Again it is David who writes the word about the Word, “Even the night
shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But
the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to
You.”3 The LORD was before there was light. When darkness was over the
face of the deep it was the LORD who said, “Let there be light.”4 He
Himself is “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the
The LORD, the creator of light, comes as the Light to lighten our
darkness. The darkness of night is lightened by the Gospel, which is our
Lord Jesus Christ. The setting light of the sun reveals to us the Light of the
world who is the Son of God. The going down of the sun proclaims the Son
of God’s descent into the grave at His Passion, death and burial. And the
dawning of the new day proclaims His resurrection, which beams down
God’s mercy and grace to us.
With this knowledge—not of the daily movement of the sun but of the
movement of the Son of God down to earth and into the grave in our place
and His rising again to give us new life—we can lie down and sleep in peace
because the Son does not only have the power to protect us from acts of
violence in the night, but also from our own sins done in the dark.
Psalm 4:8
Psalm 139:11b-12
Genesis 1:2-3
John 1:9
Lantz: Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow
Christ laid down His life in peace, willingly suffering at the violent hands
of men, because He wanted to create peace with us. He wanted us to be at
peace with the heavenly Father, and the way to do that was to let the sun set
on His earthly life as He gave Himself into death for our sins. In peace He
went to the cross and the grave so that in peace we can go to our beds, even
our deathbeds.
In death our praise stops on earth like the setting beams of the sun, but
rises to the heavenly places, like the stars. As we undress for bed to put on
clean clothes when we arise, so we shall put off mortality and be clothed
with immortality. “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal
must put on immortality.”6 For as we go to bed to prepare for the next day’s
activity, so when we sleep in death we do so only in anticipation of the
resurrection to eternal life.
Work comes to an end with the close of the day and God sends relief
from Adam’s curse of toil.7 Not just rest to toil again, but the peace of sins
forgiven to live anew. In the words of the Catechism’s Evening Prayer we
commend ourselves “body and soul and all things” into the hands of our
gracious God, knowing that should this be our last sunset, we are following
our Lord Jesus Christ who commended His Spirit into the hands of the
heavenly Father.8
With the final victory over the darkness of sin and death assured, we can
trust that our Lord will also rescue us from every evil of body and soul so
that the evil foe will have no power over us or our loved ones. Hewitt
A troop of French soldiers entered Lisberg, a small town of Hesse, on the
14th of September, 1796, plundered and killed the inhabitants, and burned
the whole town. A little way distant, at the foot of a mountain, was a small
cottage in which a mother sat by the bedside of her sick child. Hearing the
noise in the town and seeing the burning houses she locked the door and
knelt by the bedside and prayed. As the door burst open and a furious soldier
rushed in, she spread her hands over the child and cried:
Lord Jesus, who dost love me,
O spread Thy wings above me, … (stanza VIII),
1 Corinthians 15:53
Genesis 3:17-19
Luke 23:46
Lutheran Theological Review 20
and lo! the wild soldier suddenly dropped his arm, stepped to the bed, and
laid his rough hand gently on the child’s head. Then going outside he stood
guard that none of his troop might harm the cottage.9
The Light of Christ lightens the darkness of this world of sin, violence and
death. Our LORD laid down in death to give us peace. And now we can
rest beneath night’s shadow.
Rev. Kurt Lantz is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Kincardine, and
Southampton Lutheran Church, Southampton, Ontario.
“Paul Gerhardt as a Hymn Writer and His Influence on English Hymnody,” Yale University
Press, 1918. Hypertext version of this book is available from the Christian Classic
Ethereal Library at

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