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HYMN 19 Now Pilate had Examined All

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

Icelandic: Pilatus hafði prófað nú

Luke 23:4-7

Text: Halgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674) Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

1. Now Pilate had examined all

The charges against Jesus.

Hallgrímur Pétursson

A trifling matter Pilate thought

That Christ was truth, who was he?

For worldly truth he feigned

Respect, God’s truth disdained—

The truth we’re called to love

That word that comes from God

Above all loves exceeding.

2. And then he went a second time

Where all his foes awaited.

"I cannot charge him with a crime,

There are no grounds,” he stated.

They harshly charged him still

Our Lord for good or ill.

With pride and threats they slammed

God’s innocent pure lamb,

Our Savior stood in silence.

3. “He has stirred up our countrymen,

Each place he goes and preaches,

In Galilee it all began

At last he now has reached us!”

To Pilate it occurred

He could avoid this curse.

Ask Herod for his help

He was the one himself

Who ruled where Christ was teaching.

4. For me, dear Jesus, you endured

This torment and deep suffering.

So I am glad that now I hear

Christ’s innocence is offered.

My sin has pressed me down,

In him no fault was found

Therefore your innocence

Is truly mine to sense.

For all my sins you suffered.

5. When God’s law comes to threaten me

And I await his justice,

My Jesus blessed comes to see

There is no charge against him.

You gave your innocence

Exchanged for my offense.

No accusation works

Made by these pious curs,

Against my patient servants.

6. The idle words that I have said

Should bring about my stumbling.

Except that Jesus, silent, blest,

Has my own faults now humbled.

My duty now is this,

To imitate your ways

And humbly hold my peace

When sufferings increase,

Let me observe this fully!

7. So Pilate thought this clever ruse—

Could not be but successful.

And filled with guile, he wished to use

King Herod, make him trouble.

This is a ploy of men

Adept at causing pain.

Be watchful, pray God bless!

The world loves craftiness

This falseness hurts the heedless.

8. The cross, O Jesus, was your goal.

You walked there so my spirit

Might rest again, oh, my dear soul,

In your eternal merit.

My priestly labors take

The time that I should make

To write. I gladly bear

All you want me to share.

To you be praise, thanksgiving! Amen.

Tr. Gracia Grindal 2019


This hymn comes from an Icelandic treasury that is little known among English

speakers, but should be. The Hymns of the Passion (Passíussálmer) by Hallgrímur

Pétursson (1614-1674), fifty hymns for Lent, dominate Icelandic poetry and church

life. A great poet, theologian and literary scholar, Hallgr.mur served as a pastor for

much of his life. His story is well worth telling.

Born in Hólar, Iceland, Hallgrímur was marked as a gifted boy, with something of an

unruly spirit. The school he attended taught the classical languages, the languages of

Europe, along with modern science, and the classics of theology and literature. It

was a great education for the young boy, but he got into trouble, we think, with

some of the ladies of the bishop’s see and fled to Europe. He ended up in Denmark

where he found work in a smithy. One day an Icelander, Brynjólfur Sveinsson, one of

Iceland’s most accomplished scholars, passed by the shop and heard some Icelandic

cursing. He investigated and met the young man. Immediately recognizing his

brilliance, he got him enrolled in the Cathedral school in Copenhagen.

In 1636, some Icelanders who had been captured in 1627 by Barberry pirates and

taken as slaves to Algiers, appeared in Copenhagen, after being ransomed by the

Danish king. Since the last ships for Iceland had sailed that year, the authorities

decided the freed slaves needed a kind of reeducation school in Lutheran doctrine.

Hallgrímur, almost finished with this theological studies, was asked to teach them.

As the class went on, he fell in love with one of the students, Guðríður

SÍmonardóttir. In a brief time, it became apparent that she was carrying his child.

Sixteen years older, she had been married in Iceland before she was kidnapped.

Adultery, at the time, was punishable by death. He was expelled from university and

they soon left for Iceland. Guðríður’s husband, they discovered, had died before they

met, making their affair less actionable.

Hvalsnes near Keflavik airport where Hallgrímur first served

For some time, they lived a hard scrabble life. By this time Brynólfur had become

Bishop of Skálholt, and remembered Hallgrímur. At the bishop’s recommendation,

Hallgr.mur was called to one of the poorest congregations in Iceland, Hvalsnes (very

near Keflavik airport). While there, to their great grief, they lost their little daughter,

Steinunn. He wrote a moving hymn on that loss.

After seven years there, he received a call to Saurbær congregation, a much richer

parish. While there he wrote these hymns, finishing them in 1659. They were

published in 1666. The end of his days were marked by pain and sorrow. The

Saubær church burned down and he had to give up his pastorate because of his poor

health, suffering from leprosy, fairly common in Iceland at the time, until his death.

Almost from the beginning these hymns have been cherished by Icelanders. The

church dominating the skyline of Reykjavik is named for him; during Lent, his

hymns are read on Icelandic radio; Icelandic composers set his hymns to choral

anthems, and they make up a large part of the Icelandic hymnal. This Holy Thursday

and Good Friday, Icelanders will be reading them in their churches and homes.

What is most edifying is the way Hallgrímur always draws the lessons from Jesus’

passion into his own life. What Jesus did is not something “back when.” Like the

previous two hymns, this one shows how Christ’s innocence became our own

through Christ’s sacrifice. Bringing Christ into the present is the job of the preacher.

I had an uncle who said that the hardest thing about preaching was getting Jesus

from Palestine to Fargo. Hallgrímur’s hymn brought the story of Christ’s passion

into every home in Iceland by teaching his readers how everything that happened to

Jesus during his passion affected their own lives.

Hallgrímur's church in Reykjavik


I am including this hymn, Number 20 in the collection, because stanza 4 and stanza

8 have been beautifully set by one of Iceland’s most accomplished composers,

Sigurður Sævarsson, a friend of mine. He has written an entire oratorio using

many texts from the passion. He asked me to help him with a better English version

of the hymns than were available at the time.

As I began the project, I realized that now, in my retirement, I had time to do the

entire collection. With the help of the retired Bishop of Iceland, Karl Sigurbjörnsson,

I did so. The entire collection is now available in a beautiful book sold at the

Hallgrímur church and on line. You can sing the hymn, if you like, to the traditional

tune for the hymn in the Icelandic hymnal "Ein feste Burg"—A Mighty Fortress.


Selections from the Passíusálmer by Sævarsson

Sigurður’s setting of stanzas 4 and 8 from Hymn 20

link to my translation of the Passion Hymns

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