HYMN 205 Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower
Danish: Deg vil jeg elske, du min styrke
German: Ich will dich lieben, Meine Stärke
Text: Johannes Scheffler aka Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) Johann Balthazaar König (1692-1758)
1. Thee will I love, my strength, my tower; Thee will I love, my hope, my joy. Thee will I love with all my power, With ardor time shall ne'er destroy. Thee will I love, O Light Divine, So long as life is mine.
2. Thee will I love, my life, my Savior, Who art my best and truest friend. Thee will I love and praise forever, For never shall Thy kindness end. Thee will I love with all my heart-- Thou my Redeemer art!
3. I thank Thee, Jesus, Sun from heaven, Whose radiance hath brought light to me; I thank Thee, who hast richly given All that could make me glad and free; I thank Thee that my soul is healed By what Thy lips revealed.
4. O keep me watchful, then, and humble; Permit me nevermore to stray. Uphold me when my feet would stumble, And keep me on the narrow way. Fill all my nature with Thy light, O Radiance strong and bright!
5. Thee will I love, my crown of gladness; Thee will I love, my God and Lord, Amid the darkest depths of sadness, And not for hope of high reward, For Thine own sake, O Light divine, So long as life is mine. Tr. Catherine Winkworth
This hymn breathes of thanksgiving, wonder and awe at the goodness of Jesus in his capacity to command our love and fealty. Scheffler, or later Johan Angelus Silesius, born in Breslau, to a minor Polish noble who was a Lutheran, lived through the years of the Thirty Years War, which was about theology—and power—into the time when Pietism had just begun. Silesius studied in Leiden and discovered the works of Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) the Lutheran mystic there. Silesius' mystical side was repelled by the violence and the insistence on right belief. He continued his education in Strassburg and then went to Padua, Italy to study medicine. In 1647 he received his doctorate in Philosophy and Medicine there. When he returned to Germany, the authorities noted his mysticism and questioned him. In 1654 he was appointed Court Physician to Ferdinand III in Vienna, but he never arrived there. His life was troubled by his growing antipathy to the Lutherans—and theirs to him.
This caused him to convert to Catholicism. He took holy orders with the Franciscans and became a priest in 1661. He retired with the Jesuits in Breslau where he lived for some years before he died. A brilliant and learned man he did not fit the times. He took the name of Angelus, meaning heavenly messenger, and Silesius to indicate his place of origin.
He wrote many hymns, some like this one just before his conversion, and many afterwards. He hoped to convert his Lutheran contemporaries back into the Catholic faith. He wrote over fifty tracts of a fierce polemical sort to bring them back. He even wrote two volumes on Ecclesiology--a mystic even! His hymns, however, were valued by both Protestants and Catholics, even in those bitter times.
Looking back at these violent wars between theologies, we may feel dumbfounded that people could be so vicious in the face of theological disagreements. That could never happen now, we say. Except it is, but now the disagreements are political with the fervor of faith. We don't seem to want to hear from the other side and shut down opposing voices. These actions resemble the Lutheran Duke Silvius I Nimrod of Württemberg-Oels refusing to let Scheffler publish his works or remain in his church. Actions like these, which the American Founders knew well, are one reason for our First Amendment freedoms.
Looking at the coming election people on both sides are frightened at what could happen. It is good to have words like those of Silesius just now. They point us to the truth, Jesus our strength, our tower. We pray that Christ will fill us with his light. It is the only light and life we have amid the darkest depths of sadness. Have a blessed Sunday!
HYMN INFO This hymn was written before Silesius officially became a Catholic, but the Lutheran duke of Württemberg-Oels on the advice of his chaplain, would not allow its publication. It was published in Silesius' collection, Hirten Lieder (Shepherd songs) in 1657. It appeared in Protestant hymnals, before Catholics would use it. Then it was attributed to "anonymous." Silesius was a favorite of Hugo Distler who based his Totentanz "Dance of Death" on Scheffler's texts. Jorge Luis Borges used Silesius‘ poetry in his works, especially the line "Die Rose is ohne warum, sie blühet Weil sie blühet./The flower has no wherefore, it blooms where it blooms." This line was also in Martin Scorsese' film Max Cady.
Johannes Balthazaar König served in Frankfurt as the cantor at St. Katharine's church where he was a student and became a good friend of Georg Phillip Telemann. König wrote a tune for Scheffler's text and published it in Harmonische Liederschatz, his collection of over 1900 tunes that had appeared in all the hymnals in German that he could find at the time..His tune has been the preferred tune among Protestants ever since.
LINKS Concordia Publishing House https://youtu.be/bRWTlczYgb8
Notre Dame Folk Choir/new tune https://youtu.be/jj2H4M51Ig8
Credo Unplugged/another tune https://youtu.be/DnYGz1ZCSss
German congregation https://youtu.be/wtp2tNX9-Vc
Guitar and voice https://youtu.be/bS7F5DH3Z8Q
Contemporary tune old text https://youtu.be/5pArEIfIlos