A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Tune: Ein feste Burg

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Psalm 46: Deus noster refugium et virtus.

  1. A mighty Fortress is our God,
    A trusty Shield and Weapon;
    He helps us free from ev’ry need
    That hath us now o’ertaken.
    The old evil Foe
    Now means deadly woe;
    Deep guile and great might
    Are his dread arms in fight;
    On earth is not his equal.

  2. With might of ours can naught be done,
    Soon were our loss effected;
    But for us fights the Valiant One,
    Whom God Himself elected.
    Ask ye, Who is this?
    Jesus Christ it is,
    Of Sabaoth Lord,
    And there’s none other God;
    He holds the field forever.

  3. Though devils all the world should fill,
    All eager to devour us,
    We tremble not, we fear no ill,
    They shall not overpow’r us.
    This world’s prince may still
    Scowl fierce as he will,
    He can harm us none,
    He’s judged; the deed is done;
    One little word can fell him.

  4. 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,
    Let these all be gone,
    They yet have nothing won;
    The Kingdom ours remaineth.

Ein feste Burg is unser Gott
Martin Luther, 1527
Tr. composite
Source: The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, No. 262


German Text

Tune: Ein feste Burg

Psalm 46: Deus noster refugium et virtus.

  1. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,
    Ein gute Wehr und Waffen;
    Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
    Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
    Der alt böse Feind,
    Mit Ernst ers jetzt meint,
    Groß Macht und viel List
    Sein grausam Rüstung ist,
    Auf Erd ist nicht seins gleichen.

  2. Mit unser Macht ist nichts getan,
    Wir sind gar bald verloren:
    Es streit’t für uns der rechte Mann,
    Den Gott hat selbst erkoren.
    Fragst du, wer der ist?
    Er heißt Jesus Christ,
    Der Herr Zebaoth,
    Und ist kein ander Gott,
    Das Feld muß er behalten.

  3. Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär
    Und wollt uns gar verschlingen,
    So fürchten wir uns nicht so sehr,
    Es soll uns doch gelingen.
    Der Fürst dieser Welt,
    Wie saur er sich stellt,
    Tut er uns doch nicht,
    Das Macht, er ist gericht’t,
    Ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen.

  4. Das Wort sie sollen lassen stan,
    Und kein Dank dazu haben,
    Er ist bei uns wohl auf dem Plan
    Mit seinem Geist und Gaben.
    Nehmen sie den Leib,
    Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib,
    Laß fahren dahin,
    Sie habens kein gewinn,
    Das Reich muß uns doch bleiben.

  5. Martin Luther, 1529
    Source: C.F.W. Walther’s Kirchen-Gesangbuch, 1898 printing, No. 158


 

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Martin Luther

Martin Luther, 1483–1546, portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1533


Author: Martin Luther

Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (“Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”) as a metrical setting of Psalm 46, though it may more accurately be said to have been loosely inspired by the Psalm. The first known appearance in print of both text and tune was in Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert, Wittenberg, 1529, now lost, but reprinted in the still-extant 1531 Erfurt edition of Andreas Rauscher.

"Ein feste Burg" as it appears in Joseph Klug, "Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert," Wittenberg, 1533.

“Ein feste Burg” as it appears in Joseph Klug, “Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert,” Wittenberg, 1533.

Luther’s text applies the spirit of Psalm 46 to the circumstances surrounding the Reformation. In the midst of the tumults of those times, as the forces of Antichrist threatened the Evangelical Church with utter ruin, the hymn bespeaks a calm reliance upon God in Christ, who is indeed His Church’s Refuge and Strength. Integral to the hymn’s vitality is the brilliant, heavily syncopated tune, whose martial quality, combined with the defiant tone of the text, has led to the hymn’s common identification as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” Indeed, the hymn was reportedly sung by the armies of Gustavus Adolphus, accompanied by fifes and kettledrums, as the Lion of the North led his soldiers in battle against the forces of the Roman Catholic Church. For Luther himself, however, the hymn was more a song of comfort (Trostlied) than a song of defiance (Trutzlied). He sang it regularly while detained at the fortress of Coburg during the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, when the cause of the Reformation hung in the balance, and when he found his colleagues discouraged, he would urge them to sing “The 46th Psalm,” placing their cause confidently into the hands of God, for “with might of ours can naught be done … But for us fights the Valiant One.”

The translation, taken from The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, No. 262, was first produced for the 1868 Pennsylvania Lutheran Church Book, combining the translations of Thomas Carlyle and W. M. Reynolds with the first line of Frederick H. Hedge’s famous 1852 translation. The result is a text that is nearly word for word reflective of Luther’s German, while still retaining the original meter and rhyme scheme. The music is largely adapted from the 1597 five-voice setting of Johannes Eccard. The melody is in the form originally composed by Luther, with the exception of the first note of the eighth line, which has been shortened from a half to a quarter note, in keeping with the tradition inherited by the Missouri Synod. Both text and music may be freely reproduced for any purpose whatever and are offered with the prayer that they may serve for the edification of Christian people everywhere.