Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Why do we have a hymn of heretic Martin Luther (“A Mighty Fortress”) in our Catholic hymnal?

From defender of Rome, Mark Shea's blog:

...."We have the hymn presumably because the people who compiled the hymnal think it’s a good hymn–which it is. The Church has always had the habit of taking the best of whatever we humans come up with and pressing it into the worship of God. It has never been afraid to borrow from Protestants..."


And tho this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thru 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.


I find the irony here being that Luther spent the majority of his life arguing Satan controlled the papacy.

From a commenter on Mark Shea's blog:

"Speaking of theologically dubious things, when one looks at A Mighty Fortress as it is written by Luther, you see a hymn about how Christ is our defense (fortress) against the powers of sin, death, and the devil. Yet the version of A Mighty Fortress in my Catholic hymnal has thoroughly cleansed this underlining thematic material. No mention of sin or the diabolical. That is, the hymn is much more properly Catholic in its original Lutheran version, and dubiously so in the watered down ‘Catholic’ version that made the hymnal in my parish. Weird, no?"

No, that makes sense to me.



Addendum
This is an interesting link: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God": Hymns As Poetry

23 comments:

EA said...

A neutered version of this hymn may be in the hymnal, but in over three decades of mass attendance I never heard it sung.

James Swan said...

I didn't search out the Romanized version, if anyone has it, I'd be interested in a quick look.

I actually do have a general question maybe someone following this knows the answer to:

This hymn is written in a different language- how is it that the English version has rhyming verses?

Andrew said...

I have mentioned here before that I went on a brief foray into the RCC. They did use some non-RC songs; but they were lame CCM songs. That always puzzled me.

"This hymn is written in a different language- how is it that the English version has rhyming verses?"

That may be a question for Brigette. I sort of wonder that myself.

James Swan said...

That may be a question for Brigette. I sort of wonder that myself.

Yes, the question is for someone who can read the lyrics in German, note the rhyming scheme, and then compare it to the translation English translation.

EA said...

The original translation from German into English appears to be the work of Frederic Henry Hedge.

Interesting side-note to this story for me is that my daily walk to and from a former place of employment in Providence, RI took me by a church that Hedge led.

James Swan said...

I think to be on the safe side, the hymn should be only be sung in German. I'm sure that will go over well in my church (:

Brigitte said...

What's the question? Why does the English rhyme? Simply because some poet translated it and put it back into a rhyme.

Why do Catholic sing "Lutheran" songs? Simply because Catholics have some good sense, the hymns are great and we can all see that Luther never was a heretic, in fact.

My newest hymn book from the Bavarian ev. luth. state church has many hymns marked with an "oe", which I think denotes ecumenism and that this is a hymn sung in both the Cath. and Luth. church, or are contained in some other common hymnal. I went to school in Bavaria attending a Catholic convent school. In music class we memorized many songs including famous hymns, the Lutheran ones included. Well, the famous German hymns tend to be Lutheran.

As far as Luther's life's work: it was not to "demonize" the Catholic church, it was to bring the Gospel to light. Where the Catholic church rejected the Gospel he certainly did not hesitate to call it Satan's work, but he used even stronger terms for "enthusiasts", "sacramentarians" and "anabaptists". We have to all find our center in Christ's work on behalf of every sinner and we will all be able to sing off the same song sheet praising our God. That would be so nice.

James Swan said...

What's the question? Why does the English rhyme? Simply because some poet translated it and put it back into a rhyme.

The question is, how faithful is the English to the German?

James Swan said...

I spent about 20 minutes this morning looking for the Roman Catholic version of the hymn. If anyone can find it, please post the link.

Thanks.

Brigitte said...

I only know the English versions in my hymnbook, and I've never had any complaints about them.

Christine said...

Here's the hymn found in one current Catholic hymnal (there are several different hymnals in use)

A mighty fortress is our God

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious,
Who breaks the cruel oppressor's rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe
Has sworn to work us wor!
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight.
On earth he has no equal.


2 No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,
Whom God alone elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord,
God's only Son, adored.
He holds the field victorious.


3 Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threatn'ing to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
They cannot overpow'r us.
Let this world's tyrant rage;
In battle we'll engage
His might is doomed to fail;
God's judgement must prevail!
One little word subdues him.


4 God's Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God, our Lord, fights by our side
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom's ours forever!

Christine said...

My own Catholic parish has a more standard version I think, with "a bulwark never failing", etc., and we do sing it.

We also sing "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee", "Love Divine, All Love's Excelling", "Crown Him with Many Crowns", "The Church's One Foundation", etc. With all these hymns, the lyrics are the same as my evangelical hymnal.

James Swan said...

I only know the English versions in my hymnbook, and I've never had any complaints about them.

Well that takes me full circle. I guess the Mr. Hedge was a gifted translator who was able to take German lyrics and make them rhyme in English. Frankly, I find that amazing.It certainly can't be easy.

James Swan said...

Christine,

Thank you so much for taking the time to post the lyrics.

By any chance, does your hymnbook say who rewrote the lyrics?

Brigitte said...

We have in the new LSB a version that's slightly different and the translator is not mentioned, either.

For example the last verse is now:

The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone,
Our victory has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.


But Christine's version is what we always used to sing.

None of it is poorly translated, I'd say.

James Swan said...

But Christine's version is what we always used to sing.

I'm thoroughly confused. Is the version Christine posted simply a different English translation of the current popular one?

I'm curious, because what I've read more than a few times now, is that some Roman Catholic Churches use this hymn but have changed the words.

Christine said...

The version I posted just says this:

Text Information
First Line: A mighty fortress is our God
Title: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
German Title: Ein' feste Burg ins unser Gott
Author: Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Publication Date: 1994
Meter: 8 7 8 7 66 66 7
Scripture: Psalm 46
Language: English
Copyright: © 1982 Hope Publishing Co.

That is from the online site I'd found of a commonly used Catholic hymnal, but I will later look both in my home parish hymnal and my old one from the Covenant church.

James Swan said...

By the way, nothing surprises me at this point. I visited a church a few years back and the words to Amazing Grace had been altered, and more verses added, as if that song needed help, which is doesn't.

Brigitte said...

Christine's version is what we still had in the last hymnal, Lutheran Worship, #297, 1982.

Brigitte said...

I'm thoroughly confused. Is the version Christine posted simply a different English translation of the current popular one?

I'm confused. Which is the "current popular one"?

Christine said...

I was wrong earlier when I thought that our parish used what I consider to be the traditional version. In fact, it is the same as what I posted from another Catholic hymnal. And it is attributed as from the Lutheran Book of Worship.

The version I sang as a child in the Covenant and Evangelical Free Church is:

A mighty fortress is our God
A bulwark never failing
Our help is 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 threated 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

And that is from memory, couldn't find my old hymnal to check the translation or attribution. My guess is that the Lutherans revised the words and the Catholics are using that version today.

James Swan said...

Thanks Christine.

Until I see it, I'm going to suspend judgment that certain Roman Catholic hymnals have rewritten this hymn.

James Swan said...

By the way, many years back I wrote an article published in a Reformed periodical (the name escapes me at the moment)in which I documented some of what was going on in Luther's life the year he wrote this hymn: 1527: The Ten Year Anniversary of the Reformation