Today is the birthday of Martin Luther, German theologian and reformer who rebelled against the abuses of the medieval Catholic Church and (the legend goes) began the Protestant Reformation by nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to a church door in Wittenburg.
You can read many more learned articles on Luther and his historic and theological importance than I could provide, so I'll confine myself to his hymns.
Luther had some musical training in his youth and played both the lute and the flute. He composed many of the tunes sung with his hymn texts, which numbered about three dozen and were published intermittently during his lifetime. Since each of his hymns have been translated into other languages numerous times, it sometimes seems that there are many more.
This is undoubtedly his most famous hymn (taken partially from Psalm 46) sung across nearly all Christian denominations -- even Catholic hymnals include it now -- and 1t also has its own separate Wikipedia entry.
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper 'mid the raging flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
With craft and power great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not an equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right one on our side,
The One of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, verily;
Anointed One by name,
From age to age the same,
And Christ shall win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
The truth to triumph through us:
The powers of evil grim,
We tremble not for them;
Their rage we can endure,
For lo, their doom is sure,
One little word shall fell them.
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through God who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
This truth shall last forever.
Martin Luther, 1529; tr. Frederick F. Hedge, 1853; alt.
Tune: EIN FESTE BURG (184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.7.)
Martin Luther, 1529
This is the version most familiar to American singers. There are reportedly more than seventy different translations from Luther's German text into English, though most of them are not regularly sung. A popular translation used in the UK is by Thomas Carlyle:
A safe stronghold our God is still
Industrious translator Catherine Winkworth contributed
A sure stronghold our God is he
Henry J. Buckoll took a crack at it:
A tower of strength our God doth stand
and Richard Robinson Whittingham gave us
A mountain fastness is our God
Elizabeth Wordsworth (daughter of hymnwriter Christopher Wordsworth) translated it as
God is a stronghold and a tower
and Godfrey Thring, writer of many hymn texts, came up with
A fortress sure is God our King
These seven were all nineteenth century translations, developed to meet a growing demand for hymns -- editors probably wanted unique translations for their new hymnals before the Hedge and Carlyle versions became the standards. Supposedly there are ten times as many more out there! And that's not counting the many translations into other languages (click on the flags).