In case you didn’t catch it, I’m taking to abbreviating my series, “Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth” as HoMY… mainly so I can get the hymn name into the post title, which will make this easier to manage in the long run. This also means that I think the series is going to stick around for a while.
Martin Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress is Our God sometime between in the early 1500s, and it was apparently sung by Luther and friends as they entered Worms for the Diet of Worms (note date discrepancies in the Wikipedia article). The words are based on Psalm 46, and the melody is reported to be lifted from a common drinking song in the pubs at the time. I don’t know if it’s accurate or not, but Luther is reported to have begun the tradition of holding church serivces on Sundays at 11:00 because that was a convenient time for him after spending Saturday evening in the pub. Either way, I remember we were still singing this hymn Sunday at 11:00 some 450 years later, long after it was decided somewhere that Christians wouldn’t be found in a pub, let alone drink beer. Thankfully I’m past that now. ;^) Different translations exist, but the one I recall went along these lines:
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
I don’t know how many years I sang this before eventually realizing that the first verse ends with a superlative about the devil. I remember liking this one as a kid, oddly enough. It’s basically an evangelical version of a Gregorian chant, but still… there was something about it that appealed. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the use of it at the time as the theme song to the kids’ TV series, Davey and Goliath (If anybody has an MP3 of Goliath saying “I dunnooo, Daaavey”, let me know and I’ll post it.)… which by anyone’s measure is an odd choice of song for a kids’ TV show. Well, unless you’re Lutheran, I guess.
Anyway, words and lyics: dated, to be sure. I recall a rock-anthem version of it from some early 80′s Christian Rock band, but even that held the basic tune intact. The hymn tells a story though though, and casts it in an enduring fashion that gives one that ancient-futre grounded-but-hopeful abiding hope. This one, against all odds: thumbs up.