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Converting Hymns to Mary Into Christian Hymns

October 12th, 2010
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It is interesting to me to notice how Lutherans used traditional hymns and prayers to Mary and converted them (yes, pun intended) into faithfully Christian hymns. Here is a great example, courtesy of Mr. Carver, as posted on his blog site.

Here is my translation of “O Jesu zart göttlicher Art” (H. Sachs, 1523), “the hymn ‘Maria zart von edler Art’ altered and Christologically corrected,” as Sachs puts it in the Nürnberg Enchiridion of 1527. It was part of a collection of spiritual songs “founded in Scripture…for the Laity to sing.” The melody is the original tune from “Maria zart…” The same original hymn was similarly amended in a 5-stanza form beginning “O Jesu zart in neuer Art,” appearing in the Bohemian Brethren Kirchengeseng (1533).


O JESUS mine, Thou love divine,
Sweet rose of thorn divested:
Thou hast with might restored to sight
What long ago was wrested
By Adam’s fall; Thou didst for all
Appoint Thyself our Savior
To win us back God’s favor
And clear our name of sin and shame;
Where Thou art not, no hope is got
To win God’s gracious pleasure,
Who lacks Thy grace must ever face
Hell’s torment without measure.

2. O Christ so mild, Thou hast fulfilled
The patriarchs’ deep yearning,
Who for relief with patient grief
In darkness long lay mourning,
And cried in need, “O God, give heed
And rend the heaven’s portals!
The Savior send to mortals,
Thy Christ, that He may set us free
From groaning pain.” This cure we gain
In Thine own blood availing.
Wherefore let all the world down fall,
And Christ as Lord be hailing.

3. O Jesus pure, the sinner’s cure,
Our hope and brightest garnet:
Thou didst fulfill th’ eternal will,
Becoming Man incarnate,
Thine heirs to save from death and grave,
And Thou shalt judge all people,
Both wicked men and faithful.
O Fruit most dear, my Refuge here
Amid the strife: eternal life
Thou hast procured and bought me;
I hope in Thee unswervingly,
Thou dost Thy grace allot me.

4. O Christ, sweet Rose, Thy hands disclose
All grace and goodness ever,
How graciously Thou winnest me
By opening Thy favor
Which in Thy Word Thou makest heard;
Once, with false prophets straying,
My soul did suffer slaying,
By many a sly hypocrisy.
In works I hoped, and often groped
To win Thy grace by doing.
Relent, O Lord; Thy grace afford.
Judge not my senseless ruin.

5. O Jesus fine, Thy Word doth shine
Bright as a gem unclouded,
It helps the sore oppressed and poor
Who lie in darkness shrouded;
Who have no peace and find no ease
In doctrines of man’s making:
Let them Thy Word be taking,
Show them ere late Thy pathway straight,
Thine aid allot! For hast Thou not
Redeemed all nations wholly,
That they as one not vainly run
But hope in Thee, Lord, solely?

6. O Christ so dear, if Thy Word e’er
Should be forgot, and leave me,
Then hasten to my aid anew
Lest doctrine false deceive me,
Which worded smooth, may seem to sooth—
Who may discern its cunning,
That such fair dress is donning?
Yet in the strife it lacketh life!
Thy Word alone my moveless stone
Shall prove, and life availing!
Feed this to me, nor let it be
In time eternal failing!

7. O Jesus Christ, once sacrificed,
True God, the Lamb unspotted:
The pow’r to tell Thy glory well
To no man is allotted;
Thy praises whelm th’ eternal realm;
To Thee all rule whatever
Thy Father did deliver,
And all is Thine. O King divine,
Then when my breath must cease in death,
And body low be wending,
Then help me by Thy Word to die,
My soul to Thee commending.

Translation © Matthew Carver, 2010.

GERMAN
1. O Jesu zart göttlicher Art,
ein Ros’ ohn alle Doren,
du hast aus Macht herwieder bracht,
das vor lang war verloren.
Durch Adams Fall, dir war(d) die Wahl
von Gott Vater versprochen;
auf daß nicht würd gerochen
mein Sünd und Schuld, erwarbst du Huld;
[d]wenn kein Trost ist, wo du nicht bist,
Barmherzigkeit zu-erwerben;
Wer dich nicht hat und deine Gnad, [dein Genad]
der muß ewiglich sterben.

2. O Christe mild, du hast gestillt
der Altväter Verlangen,
die Jahr und Tag in Weh und Klag
die Vorhell hat umfangen,
sehnlicher Not rüften: O Gott,
zerreiß des Himmels Pforten
und send uns des wir warten,
den Messiam, der uns abnahm
die sehnlich Pein, das ist durch dein
vielfältig Blut verrören
ganz abgestellt, darum dich zält
all Welt Christum den Herren.

3. O Jesu rein, du bist allein
der Sünder Trost auf Erden,
darum dich hat der ewig Rat
erwählet Mensch zu werden
uns all zu Heil, darum Urteil
am jüngsten Tag wirst richten
die dir glauben mit nichten. [die wir…??]
O werthe Frucht, all mein Zuflucht
han ich zu dir, ich glaub, ha[b]st mir
erworben ewig[s] Leben;
in dich hoff ich ganz festiglich,
weil du mir Gnat tust geben.

4. O Christe groß, du edle Ros,
gütig an allen enden,
wie gar gütlich, Herr, hast du mich
wider zu dir lan wenden
mit deinem Wort; mein Seel leidt Mord
bei den falschen Propheten,
die mich verführet hetten
auf mancherlei ihr Gleißnerei,
auf Werk ich hofft und meinet oft
Genad mir zu erwerben, [dein Gnad mir…]
verliesse dich: O Herr, nicht rich[t]
mein unwissend Verderben.

5. O Jesu fein, dein Wort gibt schein,
liecht klar als der Karfunkel,
Es hilft aus Pein den Armen dein,
die sitzen in der Dunkel; […in dem Tunkel]
Kein Ruh noch Rast haben sie fast
wohl in der Menschen Lehre:
reich ihn dein Wort mit [B]gehre,
hilf ihn da[r]von auf rechte Bahn
und sie selb tröst, seit du erlöst [und sei selb Trost…]
hast alle Welt gemeine,
daß sie in dich hoffen einig,
nicht in ihr Werk unreine.

6. O Christe werth, so dein Wort kehrt
von mir und sich der Scheite, […das Scheide]
so komm zu mir, beschütz mich schier,
auf daß mich nicht verleite
die Menschen Lehr, die gleisset sehr,
wer kann ihr List erkennen?
Sie tut sich heilig nennen, […sich selig nennen]
Ist doch entwicht und lebet nicht!
Allein dein Wort, das ist der Hort,
darinn das Leben iste.
Da speis mich mit, entzeuch mirs nit
zu ewiglicher Friste!

7. O Jesu Christ, wahr Gott du bist,
in dir ist kein Gebrechen;
es ist kein Mann, der mag und kann
dein Glorie groß aussprechen.
Dein hohes Lob schwebt ewig ob,
dir ist alls übergeben,
was je gewann das Leben,
all Kreatur: O König pur,
wenns darzu kommt, das mein Mund stummt, [schlummt]
leiblich den Tod muß leiden,
dann hilf du mir, daß ich mit Gier
in deim Wort mög abscheiden.

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Categories: Lutheran Hymns
  1. Bill Cork
    October 12th, 2010 at 07:16 | #1

    So, why didn’t the editors of THE LUTHERAN SERVICE BOOK do that with hymn 670, “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones”? The second stanza is a Marian invocation (going back to an Orthodox hymn):

    O higher than the cherubim,
    More glorious than the seraphim,
    Lead their praises: “Alleluia!”
    Thou bearer of the eternal Word,
    Most gracious, magnify the Lord:
    “Alleluia, …”

  2. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    October 12th, 2010 at 09:49 | #2

    It is one thing to accept the liturgy as it has come to be in the church, even though there is no specific command for a liturgy to come to be in the church, pruning it of what contradicts the Gospel and otherwise leaving it intact, “the ceremonies previously in use”.

    It is quite another to rewrite things, giving a Lutheran content and message to something meant to convey a non-Lutheran content and message. I see no difference between trying to Lutheranise Marian hymns and trying to Lutheranise CCM and praise services.

  3. EGK
    October 12th, 2010 at 10:28 | #3

    Bill, the hymn actually is Christ-centered. Though it calls upon angel hosts (first stanza), Mary (2nd stanza) and the saints in heaven (third stanza), it does so, not to ask them to intercede for us, but to praise Christ. These statements are not really invocations, but a poetic way of encouraging all of God’s creatures created to praise God to do what they have been created to do. The issue with the second stanza, I suppose, is the opening statement, calling her “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim.” Interesting that the editors of The Lutheran Hymnal thought the stanza referred to Christ, since they capitalized “Bearer,” and Lutheran Worship omitted the stanza in its entirety!

  4. Michael Mohr
    October 12th, 2010 at 13:19 | #4

    It amazes me how some get apoplectic about stanza 2 of Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones because it mentions Mary, but do not realize that stanza 3 is the exact same type of stanza with regard to the apostles and martyrs, etc.

    One of the things I think is brilliant about YWAYHO is how the first three stanzas preserve the Order of Creation, even in the Kingdom of Glory: angels, women (typified by Mary), and men (apostles and martyrs).

    Recapturing some of the hymns of faith that might put an incorrect focus on Mary’s faith rather than the object of her faith can also help us refocus on the object of our faith, the Christ who has come and borne the sins of the world.

  5. Pr. Kurt
    October 12th, 2010 at 20:40 | #5

    If I’m reading that second verse correctly, it looks like it’s teaching that the patriarchs waited for Christ in the limbo of the fathers — an idea never taught in Scripture.

    But otherwise a very fine hymn.

  6. Jim
    October 13th, 2010 at 08:37 | #6

    I absolutely love the connection LCMS pastors maintain with the German language. There is no better way to truly understand the intent of the Lutheran founders than to study the original text in German.

    Beautiful! And as a followup, I would love to see an article titled: “Converting Contemporary, Vaguely Christian Music Into Lutheran Hymns.”

  7. Mark
    October 13th, 2010 at 11:00 | #7

    Hymns extolling our Lord’s mother go way, way, way back in Church history. Are you implying that the folks who still sing these hymns and pray these prayers – which would be the vast majority of the world’s Christians – are not Christian?

    • October 13th, 2010 at 15:33 | #8

      Why, yes, Mark, that’s exactly what I’m saying. [BIG EYE ROLL GOES HERE].

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