Above: Paul Gerhardt
Image in the Public Domain
PAUL GERHARDT (MARCH 12, 1607-MAY 27, 1676)
German Lutheran Minister and Hymn Writer
Paul Gerhardt was a giant among German Lutheran hymn writers. The author of the article about our saint in the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1968 described him as the greatest German hymn writer. Armin Haeussler, author of The Story of Our Hymns: The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (1952), had a different opinion. He wrote that Martin Luther was the greatest hymn writer and that Gerhardt was the second best person in the category of German hymn writers. Haeussler, in so many words, agreed with the evaluation from the Encyclopedia Britannica (1968):
His hymns have deservedly held their place in Protestant worship.
–Volume 10, Page 235
Gerhardt was a native of Grefenhainichen, Saxony, a village between Halle and Wittenberg and near to the latter. Our saint, born on March 13, 1607, was a son of Christian Gerhardt, mayor of the village. Christian died while our saint was a minor. Gerhardt, who studied at Grimma (1622-1627), continued his studies at the University of Wittenberg (1628-1642), where he specialized in theology. During this time our saint had to contend with negative consequences of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1642). In April 1642 Gerhardt became tutor to the family of Andreas Berthold, an attorney in Berlin, Prussia. While in Berlin our saint published his first 18 hymns in the Praxis Pietatis Melica (1648) of Johann Cruger (1582-1662).
In 1651, at the age of 44, Gerhardt became a Lutheran clergyman. The first congregation he served was at Mittenwald. Our saint married Anna Maria Berthold, daughter of Andreas Berthold, in 1655. The couple had 13 children, only one of which (Paul Frederick Gerhardt) survived both parents. Our saint’s wife died in March 1668.
In 1557 Gerhardt became an assistant minister of St. Nicholas Church, Berlin. Relations between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Prussia were tense and replete with invective. Frederick William (in office 1640-1688), the “Great Elector,” issued an edict meant to create religious peace in his realm. He forbade ministers from attacking each other’s doctrines. The Elector of Prussia, himself of the Reformed camp, required ministers to sign the edict. Gerhardt, whom certain prominent Reformed Prussians respected, refused to sign, citing freedom of speech. Thus, early in 1666, Frederick William deposed our saint, who was ill, whose wife was in poor health also, and most of whose remaining children were approaching death’s door. Petitions prompted the Elector to reinstate Gerhardt in 1667. He did so, however, on the condition that our saint act as if he had signed the edict. Gerhardt refused the offer on principle. Kindly parishioners supported the Gerhardts financially until, in late 1668, our saint was able to return to his post and collect back wages.
Gerhardt became the archdeacon of Lubben in May 1669. He remained in that post until May 27, 1676, when he died. Some older sources mistakenly listed his date of death as June 7. Some online sources, citing and even duplicating them, have repeated that error.
Gerhardt wrote 132 hymns, most of which exist in English-language translations. (I have added some of them to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.) His hymns, most of which he based on Biblical texts, marked the transition from objective to subjective language. Gerhardt wrote hymns for all the major Lutheran feasts, and justification by faith was among his favorite themes. Among our saint’s most famous hymns was “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded,” for Good Friday. He translated it from a Latin text.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
FEBRUARY 7, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR C
THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES, APOSTLE TO THE SARACENS
THE FEAST OF SAINT BLAISE OF SEBASTE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
Paul Gerhardt and others, who have composed and translated hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH