German: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
Danish: Vor Gud han er så fast en borg
Norwegian: Vår Gud han er så fast en borg
Swedish: Vår Gud är oss en väldig borg
Text: Martin Luther (1483-1546) Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)
1 A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe
Has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight,
On earth he has no equal!
2. No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,
Whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord.
God’s only Son, adored.
He holds the field victorious.
3. Tho’ hordes of devils fill the land
All threatening to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand,
They cannot overpow’r us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage;
In battle we’ll engage!
His might is doomed to fail;
God’s judgment will prevail!
One little word subdues him.
4. God’s Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever!
Tr. Catherine Winkworth, alt.
There are not many hymns about Christ’s battle with the demons. We seem to shun that topic in our hymns. Herman Stuempfle, one time president of Gettysburg Seminary, wrote one, "Away from us, the demon cried," but it has not been widely published. There is one, however, that is among the most popular hymns in the world. Martin Luther wrote of the demons in his great battle hymn of the Reformation. “Though all the world with devils filled.”
One cannot miss in the Gospel accounts, especially in Mark, is that the demons know Jesus. Normal people around Jesus do not. The demons recognize who he is because they feel his power and know it. They cry out against him, but in doing so they meet their end. On hearing their speech, Jesus casts them out of the man who is possessed. And they are gone.
They are terrifying presences. And they are not just back there in those days. Evil seems to be present in our lives today in ways we have not seen before. This cannot be ignored; Christians must stand against evil. They must pray to discern the power of Satan and then both speak of it, and speak to it.
Luther’s great hymn teaches us that we have a great weapon against the demons: the word of God. “One little word.” This word, our Lord Jesus Christ, is ours to use against the evil powers that threaten to devour us. He can destroy Satan’s power, no matter what happens to us. I am always stunned when I sing the last thrilling stanza: “Were they to take our house, /Goods, honor, child or spouse, /Though life be wrenched away, /They cannot win the day. /The Kingdom’s ours forever!” it is a wonderful promise, but it is from another realm. Everything in life can be taken from us, and yet the Kingdom will endure.
Luther battled daily with Satan and took delight in the power of Christ to vanquish Satan. The story goes, maybe apocryphal, that one day he threw a bottle of ink at him. It was a daily battle for him as it is for us. It may seem that death and Satan win here on earth. But as Christians know, death is not the last word. Christ is our life, wherever he is there is no death. The kingdom’s ours forever!
This is on the list of the top ten hymns around the world. Luther wrote this hymn, tune and text, sometime before 1529. We can find no trace of when or where except that it was done by 1529. Some think he wrote it after great despair over the loss of his little daughter. Some think that experience plunged him into such despair that he was only lifted out of it by writing this hymn. It has been called the Battle hymn of the Reformation. There are many times in history when it was sung as a way to protest.
One important time was in February 1942 when the Quislings wanted Bishop Arne Fjellbu (1890-1962) to lead the service of celebration of the new Quisling government in Nidaros Cathedral. The Quisling pastor Blessing-Dahle did celebrate it in the morning. Bishop Fjellbu held an alternative service in the afternoon. People began to gather around the building. As they gathered, someone began singing "A Mighty Fortress" and soon the entire crowd was singing it. It was a peaceful moment of resistance in the face of brutal oppression. Fjellbu was born in Decorah, Iowa, and with his family moved back to Norway in 1900 where he attended school and became a Norwegian pastor. He was very devoted to the Oxford Group led by Frank Buchman and would later say that the Oxford Group with its stress on Christian renewal gave the people courage to stand up to the Nazis.
NB: One thing that Americans do not have is an agreement on a common standard translation. This makes it impossible for Lutherans from different traditions to sing together from memory.
Oslo Domkirke Kor
National Lutheran Choir
John Gardiner/Bach Cantata--the cantata is stirring
Mogens Dahl Kammerkor
NB: This is an announcement of my latest book of poetry. Those who would like to buy a copy can read how to do it in the text next to the image. It would help me a lot if I could have over fifty sold by March 15. Thanks so much!