From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Medieval Battle Hymn

Christian and Lutheran Life... And What I Think About It...



This morning at church we sang the great old hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God". Martin Luther wrote this hymn sometime in the early 1500's. I think it was easy for the churchfolk of that day to imagine a mighty fortress, a sword and shield of victory, a Champion sent out to fight, an attack of enemy hordes, a mighty battle, and finally God himself fighting at their side with the supernatural weapons of the Spirit.

Virtually every medieval village was built around a castle or strong house of some sort. When enemies attacked, the villagers retreated to the best fortress they had and helped in the battle. If the Christians of Luther's day had not personally experienced the seige of a fortress, certainly such battles were remembered in their oral traditions and recorded in their written history. Particularly in eastern Germany, they had been attacked by the Magyars and the Mongols, as well as enduring the ongoing skirmishes between local powers and rivals.

Here is the song text as it was translated from German for the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), and the melody as it appears on John Kohji Suguiyama's Home Page of Christian Midi & Computers. If you open the melody in a different tab or window, you can listen as you read. This is a victory song of the epic battle between God and Satan, waged on the Christian's behalf!

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


No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,
Whom God himself 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.


Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat-'ning 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 judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him.


God's Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God himself 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!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.