Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paul Gerhardt

Lutheran pastor and hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt was born today in 1607 near Wittenburg in Germany. He enrolled in the university there in 1628, where one of his most influential instructors, Paul Röber, often used hymns as sermon texts and encouraged their instructional use.

At this time, the destructive Thirty Years War was raging in Germany (it's estimated that the population of Germany declined by thirty percent during those years) and due to its disruption Gerhardt was not ordained and assigned to a parish until 1651, when he settled in Mittenwalde, southeast of Berlin.

Gerhardt could not avoid the religious conflict between the Lutherans and the Reformed Church, which eventually led to his losing his position since the secular authorities supported the other side. Ironically, by that time his hymns were already sung and loved by both the Lutheran and the Reformed sides.

After his death, his hymns were published in a collected edition edited by his son, and a collection translated into English by John Kelly, Spiritual Songs of Paul Gerhardt, appeared in 1867, though many of his texts had previously been translated by various poets.

This text, O du allersüsste Freude, comes to us through a translation by John Christian Jacobi which was then adapted by Samuel Longfellow in the Unitarian Book of Hymns (1848).

Holy Spirit, source of gladness,
Come in all your radiance bright;
O’er our weariness and sadness
Breathe your life and shed your light!

Send us your illumination,
Banish all our fears at length;
Rest upon this congregation,
Spirit of unfailing strength.

Let that love which knows no measure,
Now in quickening showers descend,
Bringing us the richest treasures
We can wish or God can send.

Hear our earnest supplication,
Every struggling heart release;
Rest upon this congregation,
Spirit of untroubled peace!

Paul Gerhardt, 1648;
tr. John C. Jacobi, c.1725;
adapt. Samuel Longfellow, 1848; alt.
Traditional English melody,
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

The chaotic times that Gerhardt lived through, as well as the disruption of his professional life and the deaths of his wife and four of five children, led him to be described as a "theologian sifted in Satan's sieve," an inscription written on a full-length portrait painted after his death in the church at Lübben.

Three Years Ago: Gregory the Great

Two Years Ago: Paul Gerhardt

One Year Ago: Robert Lowry

No comments: