Gerhardt Politely Tells German Ruler Where to Get Off
Non-Lutherans, and liberal Lutherans, have for years been picturing Paul Gerhardt as a free spirit held captive to stodgy old Lutheran orthodoxy. They have attempted to suggest Gerhardt was merely “playing along” with traditional orthodox Lutheranism, while meanwhile Gerhardt the “inner pietist” was more concerned about poetry than doctrine. The Calvinist types who like some of his hymns, have tried to play down his staunch Lutheranism. Well, the real Paul Gerhardt was a rock-solid orthodox Lutheran. My colleague at CPH, Rev. Benjamin Mayes, kindly translated a letter from Gerhardt to his prince in which he, in the most painfully polite tones possible, tells the Elector what he can do with the job that he had been re-offered after being fired the first time for refusing to promise to drop the Formula of Concord, which is of course always the litmus test for genuine Lutheranism vis a vi Calvinism. Here is Gerhardt’s letter, which I think you will enjoy and be impressed with.
Letter of Paul Gerhardt to Elector Friedrich Wilhelm (1667)
Most majestic elector, most gracious lord!
In most obedient subjection I wish for your electoral majesty that the grace, kindness, and mercy of God may be upon your electoral, majestic, high person, your beloved spouse, all the most noble electoral princes and upon the entire electoral and royal house of the Margraves of Brandenburg, for good, constant health, successful governance, and all self-wished well-being of body and soul.
Most gracious lord! Just as I must recognize, with the most humble and obedient thanks, that your electoral majesty on the past 9th of January reinstalled me in my office, and also omitted having me subscribe the declaration which until now has been usual in the Spiritual Consistory, so I most plaintively cannot hold back from your electoral majesty the fact that I have fallen into great affliction and grief of soul due to the fact that your electoral majesty at the same time, with such high electoral grace, wants to be prepared for me to show myself in all ways to be in accordance with your electoral edicts and especially that I should apply myself to the moderation and discretion which was made sufficiently known in the previous religious negotiations.
Yet precisely for this reason, most gracious elector and lord, I have had to prevent myself up till now from subscribing the aforementioned declaration, because I—(who have no other joy in the world than to subject myself to your electoral majesty, my divinely instituted high overlord and highest benefactor next to God, and to carry out that which you order and command)—because I, I say, cannot satisfy your electoral edicts without injury to my poor conscience. I have also protested this more than once to the electoral counselors whenever I was required before the law, and I thereby emphasized how by this kind of obedience I would have to depart from and lay aside my Lutheran confession, the Formula of Concord. And since I could not be heard thereby, I finally took upon myself even the remotionem ab officio [removal from office] most obediently and bore this, through the power of God, for almost a whole year in all possible quietness and patience. Now if I were to allow myself to do once again that which I previously in extreme danger avoided, I would become most dangerous to myself and would, so to speak, use my own hands to strike my soul with the very wound which I previously sought to turn away from myself with great anguish of heart.
But since I know well, most gracious elector and lord, that your electoral majesty does not at all intend to cause the conscience of any man, even of the lowest, to be grieved and troubled, therefore I ask all the more heartily and constantly in the very most humble obedience, that your electoral majesty would not think ill of me for revealing to your electoral grace the fearful concern and disturbance of my mind: I fear God, in whose sight I walk here on earth and before whose judgment I must one day appear, and cannot judge otherwise than how my conscience has stood from my youth and still stands, so that I, if I were to enter my office in the aforementioned way and manner, will burden myself with its wrath and hard punishment. To avoid such great, unspeakable disaster, may your electoral [majesty] most graciously allow me to abstain from the service of the church once again established, and to be set with full appointment to take a pause from the preaching office, until I, according to God’s will and with your electoral majesty’s most gracious permission, am able to take up this high, holy, and divine office—for which we poor people one day must give such a hard accounting—with a better conscience than can happen now.
Meanwhile, may your electoral grace’s throne be always in the blessing of the Almighty, and may your entire electoral house stand steadfast in the protection and shielding of the Most High, which I will not cease to wish and to pray as long as I live, as your electoral majesty’s most subject, most obedient servant and God’s most faithful, indebted suppliant Paulus Gerhardt
[Translated by the Rev. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, 4/20/2007 A+D]