Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paul Gerhardt

Paul Gerhardt (March 12, 1607 - June 7, 1676) was the first significant Lutheran hymnwriter after Martin Luther. Born in Germany near Wittenburg, he studied theology at the university there for several years during the Thirty Years War.

He began writing verse a few years after leaving his studies. His first eight hymns were published by Johann Cruger in his hymnal Praxis Pietatis Melica (1647). In 1651 Gerhardt was ordained in the Lutheran church and served several congregations. In Berlin, religious tensions were so high that pastors were forbidden by law to refer to doctrinal differences in their sermons. Gerhardt refused to comply and was dismissed from his job there.

In succeeding editions of Cruger's hymnal, more and more of Gerhardt's hymns were published. His hymns were known for their personal testimony and connection to Lutheran theology, as opposed to Luther's more doctrinal texts. Eventually he wrote more than 130 and many of them are still known today (not only in Lutheran churches). He also translated Latin hymns into German, the most well known being O sacred head, sore wounded.

Give to the winds your fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears your sighs and counts your tears,
God shall lift up your head.
Through waves and clouds and storms,
God gently clears the way;
Wait for God's time; at last shall come
The perfect, promised day.

Still heavy is your heart?
Still sinks your spirit down?
Cast off the weight, let fear depart
And every care begone.
God everywhere has sway
And all things serve the right;
God's every act pure blessing is,
God's path life-giving light.

Far, far above all thought,
God's counsel shall appear,
When fully God the work has wrought,
That caused your needless fear.
Leave to God's sovereign will
To choose and to command;
With wonder filled, you then shall own
How wise, how strong God's hand.

Paul Gerhardt, 1656;
tr. John Wesley, 1737; alt.
George J. Elvey, 1868

P.S. For more on John Wesley (and his brother Charles), go back to March 3 for a "new" entry that I started on that day but didn't finish due to illness. Spent a few days in bed last week with bronchitis but I did want to get back to the Wesleys again at some point. (and there's a very important hymn!)

One Year Ago: Gregory the Great

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