Martin Luther: A Mighty Fortress

I have been thinking about good hymns lately, and how it is sad that people don't know them better. So, I thought I would post the lyrics of such a hymn from time to time.

While I'm convinced that there are as many bad hymns as there are bad worship songs, if not more, there are a number of excellent hymns that stand heads and tails above even the best worship songs. Their superior musicality, emotive power, and doctrinal heft convince me of this. Indeed, there are hymns that contain doctrinal insight to rival that of the best theology ever produced. The fact that they are falling out of the church's collective memory is something to be deeply regretted as it is one more facet of what at times seems to be a concerted effort to fail catechetically.

Here is the first one: Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.


Unknown said…
Luther on the immaculate conception:
Lance said…
I always wonder if people know what they're singing about in this one. E.g., the "prince of darkness grim," or, even more, the "Spirit and the gifts."

I about got in a fight with a pastor in Oklahoma because he wanted to cut out the third verse. I was refusing because then the last verse doesn't make any sense, but he didn't care that it didn't make sense. Another example of no one paying any attention to what they're singing, which is such a shame in a fine hymn like this one.
The last line of the third verse and the first line of the fourth go together so integrally that it would, indeed, be a travesty to break them apart. Precisely there is concentrated the incredible theological heft of this hymn - in that simple turn of a phrase!

I'm very serious about what seems to be a "concerted effort to fail catechetically" on the part of our churches.
Anonymous said…

Yeah, I can definitely relate to the "concerted effort to fail catechetically." I taught 6th grade catechesis at a mainline church a year ago. The students truly had no idea who Jesus was and what he did for us. They had no conception of sin, guilt, atonement, and so forth -- not even the basic idea of John 3:16 (a verse drilled into my head as a kid). If I went back home to the Baptist church in North Carolina that I grew-up in and asked the 6th graders who Jesus is and what did he do for us, everyone would say that Jesus is the Son of God sent by the Father to save us from our sins. They may not know the intricacies of the Incarnation, but they at least knew that they had to trust in Jesus because they were sinners. I actually ended-up using hymns (and some CCM) to help teach the students the basics of the faith. That teaching experience made me more grateful for my Baptist up-bringing than anything else I've encountered. Sorry to go off on this issue, but it really irks me to see church leaders and parents utterly fail their children.
Hi Kevin - glad to have you here!

I grew up baptist, too, so we come from the same milieu - Scripture memorization and the hymns. Catechesis seems to me to be the decisive question standing before the church - the whole church but especially the mainline - in our day. If people don't know what it means to be a Christian, how can they be expected to think and act like one? And if they can't be expected to think and act like Christians, then we can only expect more division.
Anonymous said…
I appreciate these comments, but I'm curious--given that we have a sense for what "catechetical failure" looks like, what would define catechetical "success"?

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