Why Fearest Thou, Foe Herod, So

Tune: Christum wir sollen loben schon

Alternate Tune: Syllabic Version
  1. Why fearest thou, foe Herod, so,
    That Christ comes born to us below?
    He seeks no mortal kingly realm
    Who brings to us His heav’nly realm.*

  2. The wise men saw the star ahead,
    The light that to the true Light led;
    They showed by bearing gifts of three:
    This Child God, Man, and King must be.

  3. The baptism on the Jordan’s bank
    The heav’nly Lamb of God did take,
    And thus the One who knew no sin
    Us sinners washed, and made us clean.

  4. A wondrous work was newly done,
    On what had been six jars of stone
    With water filled, which disappeared,
    Turned into red wine through His Word.

  5. Praise, glory, thanks to Thee be paid,
    O Christ, born of the virgin maid,
    With Father and with Spirit three,
    From now unto eternity!

Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr
Martin Luther, 1541
Tr. Christopher J. Neuendorf, 2014

*Note that in my translation lines three and four of the first stanza really end with the same word. This reflects Luther’s “rhyming” of “Königreich” and “Himmelreich.”

German Text

Tune: Christum wir sollen loben schon

Alternate Tune: Syllabic Version
  1. Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr,
    Daß uns geborn kommt Christ, der Herr?
    Er sucht kein sterblich Königreich,
    Der zu uns bringt sein Himmelreich.

  2. Dem Stern die Weisen folgen nach,
    Solch Licht zum rechten Licht sie bracht;
    Sie zeigen mit den Gaben drei,
    Dies Kind Gott, Mensch und König sei.

  3. Die Tauf im Jordan an sich nahm
    Das himmelische Gotteslamm,
    Dadurch, der nie kein Sünde tat,
    Von Sünden uns gewaschen hat.

  4. Ein Wunderwerk da neu geschah,
    Sechs steinern Krüge man da sah
    Voll Wassers, das verlor sein Art,
    Roter Wein durch sein Wort draus ward.

  5. Lob, Ehr und Dank sei dir gelobt,
    Christ, geborn von der reinen Magd,
    Mit Vater und dem Heilgen Geist,
    Von nun an bis in Ewigkeit!

Martin Luther, 1541
Source: C.F.W. Walther’s Kirchen-Gesangbuch, 1898 printing


Martin Luther

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

Author: Martin Luther

Luther translated this hymn in 1541 from Coelius Sedulius’s Epiphany hymn, “Herod, Thou Foe Most Impious” (“Hostis Herodes impie“). In fact, Sedulius’s hymn was made up of stanzas 8, 9, 11, and 13 of his longer “A solis ortus cardine,” the first few stanzas of which yielded the Latin hymn from which Luther’s “Christ Are We Bound Indeed to Praise” (“Christum wir sollen loben schon“) was translated. “Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr” has come down through all the English hymnals of the Missouri Synod as “The Star Proclaims the King Is Here” (TLH No. 131, LSB No. 399), translated by John Mason Neale and fortunately in the public domain in both text and musical setting. I offer my own translation here, based on Luther’s German rather than on Sedulius’s Latin.

Later printings of C.F.W. Walther’s hymnal suggest “Wo Gott zum Haus” as the tune, a suggestion followed by the English hymnals. Another option given is “Herr Jesu Christ, mein’s Lebens Licht.” Earlier printings, on the other hand, direct that “Was fürchtst du Feind Herodes sehr” be sung to its own proper tune. This may be the melody given in the Mehrstimmiges Choralbuch, which stems from a source that is unknown to me. Most hymnals, including those in which Luther’s hymn first appeared, have it set to the melody for “Christum wir sollen loben schon,” which makes sense given the common source of the two hymns. A few early hymnals give the chant proper to “Hostis Herodes impie,” which appears in a simplified syllabic form in the third edition of Layriz’s Kern des deutschen Kirchengesangs. I intend to provide booklets using both tunes.