Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Martin Luther

German reformer Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 - February 18, 1546) was born in the town of Eisleben. In college, at the University of Erfurt, he studied many subjects, even law briefly, but eventually entered the Augustinian friary in Erfurt and became a monk.

His conflicts with the Catholic Church are better documented elsewhere, but it's useful to remember that theological disputes in his time were not polite exchanges across dueling dissertations or magazine articles. When he refused to recant his Ninety-Five Theses, which had been declared heretical by church authorities in Germany and in Rome, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presided at a trial in 1521 (the
Diet of Wurms) which pronounced him an outlaw, subject to arrest. Luther's writings were banned and it was now a crime for anyone to give him food or shelter. Fortunately he still had influential friends; Frederick III of Saxony had him taken to Wartburg Castle, where he remained in protective custody for a year. It was during this time that he translated the New Testament from Latin to German. He remained committed to bringing religious practice into the language of his people, both through his translation of Scripture (eventually completed after his Wartburg stay and updated frequently until his death) and his hymns in German, meant to be sung by the congregation.

This hymn of Luther's may not be particularly well known, even to Lutherans, but it caught my eye because I had been looking at All Saints' Day hymns last week. In 1523, two Augustinian monks, were arrested and tried for heresy in Brussels and were burned at the stake. Luther was incensed by the actions of the Inquisition and inspired by the martyrdom of the monks. He must have thought that the same fate could have come upon him.

Flung to the heedless winds,
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.

And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed,
Of witnesses for God.

Their loving God received,
Their latest living breath,
And vain is any boast
Of victory in their death.

Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim,
To many a wakening land,
The one availing Name.

Martin Luther, 1523
tr, John A, Messenger, 1843: alt.
Geistliche Kirchengesäng, 1623

One Year Ago: Martin Luther


AuntE said...

Thanks for this, CWS. It's good to be introduced to another Luther hymn.

It is easy to forget how dangerous it was to disagree in Luther's day, so thanks for that reminder too!

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I like the hymn, which I had never heard of before. This has been a fruitful All Saints' harvest!