Above: Logo of the Moravian Church
Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor
MICHAEL WEISSE (CIRCA 1480-MARCH 19, 1534)
German Moravian Minister and Hymn Writer
JAN ROH (1485/1490-FEBRUARY 11, 1547)
Also known as John Horn, Johann Horn, and Johann Cornu
Bohemian Moravian Bishop and Hymn Writer
The names of Michael Weisse and Jan Roh came to my attention because of my interest in the history of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum). As I took notes on Roh’s life the name of Weisse kept recurring. The best way to tell their stories, I concluded, was together.
Michael Weisse was a native of Neisse, Silesia (now Nysa, Poland). He, born circa 1480, grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. Weisse probably matriculated at the University of Krakow in 1504. After he completed his studies our saint entered the Franciscan monastery at Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) and became a priest. In 1518, howevr, Weisse left monastic life and Roman Catholicism behind and entered the Unitas Fratrum, the Bohemian Brethren.
Jan Roh, Weisse’s contemporary, was of Bohemian origin. Roh, a.k.a. Johann Horn, John Horn, and Johann Cornu, was a native of Domascbitz near Leitmeritz, Bohemia. The saint, born in 1485/1490, became a presbyter in the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) in 1518 at Jungbunzlau, Bohemia. He became one of the three Seniors of the Unity. Three years later, he joined the ranks of bishop.
Sometime after 1518 the lives of Roh and Weisse began to overlap. Roh, Weisse, and John Augusta (1500-1572) represented the Bohemian Brethren in theological discussions with Martin Luther. In 1531, the year in which Weisse became a presbyter, he edited the Unity’s first German-language hymnal. The volume reflected Weisse’s Zwinglian theology of the Holy Communion. Roh, who edited the Unity’s Czech hymnal of 1541, revised Weisse’s German-language hymnal in 1544, correcting the Eucharistic theology to conform to the Brethren’s position–the real presence. In 1532 and 1535 Roh and Augusta prepared the Unity’s confession of faith in Czech and Latin. Weisse translated the 1532 statement into German, incorporating his theological tendencies in the process.
Weisse, who joined the Unity’s Inner Council in 1532, died of food poisoning in 1534. He had founded German-language congregations in Bohemia and Moravia. Weisse had also, since 1531, been overseer of the German-language congregations at Lanskroun and Fulnek, Moravia (now the Czech Republic). The saint’s original legacy in hymnody consists of hymn tunes, hymn texts, and translations of hymn texts. I have added some of his hymn translations and original texts to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog. The Moravian Book of Worship (1995) contains six hymn tunes Weisse composed and one he adapted.
Among Weisse’s original hymns from the hymnal of 1531 was the following, as Donald M. McCorkle (1929-1978) translated it in 1963:
To us a Child is born this night.
Behold His glorious light;
To us a Son is given,
Who Himself is our true God,
Our Life here and in heaven.
Now wide is opening heaven’s door,
And out the light doth pour;
A gleam of majesty,
Christ the Son of Righteousness,
Who makes all people free.
The light is Christ, our gracious Lord,
The true Immanuel,
To Christians now revealed;
And with wondrous grace and truth
Shows them what was concealed.
—Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (1969)
Roh, who composed and adapted hymn tunes, wrote hymns, a few of which exist in English translations. I have added the Catherine Winkworth translation, “Once He Came in Blessing” (1858), to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog. I have also found “Praise God! Praise God with Singing” (translated by John Daniel Libbey, 1871, altered). Roh’s original text dated to 1544.
Praise God! Praise God with singing!
Rejoice, thou Christian flock!
Fear not though foes are bringing
Their hosts against thy rock;
For though they here assail thee
And seek thy very life,
Let not thy courage fail thee;
Thy God shall turn the strife.
O be not thou dismayed,
Believing little band.
God, in His might arrayed,
To help thee is at hand.
Upon His palm engraven
Thy name ever found.
He knows, Who dwells in heaven,
The ills that thee surround.
His purpose stands unshaken–
What He hath said he’ll do;
And, when by all forsaken,
His Church He will renew.
With pity He beholds her
E’en in her time of woe,
Still by His Word upholds her
And makes her thrive and know.
To Him belong our praises,
Who still abides our Lord,
Bestowing gifts and graces
According to His Word.
Nor will He e’er forsake us,
But will our Guardian be
And ever stable make us
In love and unity.
—Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (1969)
Roh died at Jungbunzlau, Bohemia, on February 11, 1547.
NOVEMBER 1, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS
Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,
thank you for those (especially Michael Weisse and Jan Roh)
who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.
May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Chronicles 25:1-8
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR
THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN