STLT#200, A Mighty Fortress

Happy Two Hundredth Hymn-by-Hymn Post Day!

Only 290 more to go. Gulp.

That seems daunting, but then, holy cow, how are we 200 in already? Time does fly, friends, even through hard, dark days. Thanks to my regular, rather frequent, and occasional readers. And if you’re just discovering this today, welcome to my daily spiritual practice, which might become something more if the stars align properly.

And while I am still talking about things that aren’t actually today’s hymn, I am conjuring up an idea for a Hymn by Hymn event at General Assembly…stay tuned.

Now, on to the hymn – and it’s a doozy!

I can’t say I wasn’t a little excited about today’s hymn. While there are things about Martin Luther’s theology and personal beliefs I’m not keen on (that anti-Semitic thing was just awful, y’all), I do have a bit of affection for the guy. I mean, here’s someone who stood up and said to his superiors “Eine Minute, bitte…. there’s something wrong with how we’re doing things.” Which made the establishment mad. Which made Luther say “well, I’m so right I’m gonna do my own thing,” which, by the way, includes translating the Bible into his mother tongue and essentially creating Modern German, along with putting the scriptures in the hand of every day people.

And yeah, sure, some of them did strange things with it when they got their hands on it, and because of this, our guy Michael Servetus butts heads with John Calvin, who winds up burning Servetus at the stake (and yeah, Servetus was warned not to come back at Calvin, but ….Calvin did dare him, so…). And yes, the Bible in the hands of everyday people meant that some radicals who wanted a stricter interpretation than the newly formed Church of England would allow decided they couldn’t live there, so they left from Plymouth, and landed in…Plymouth, and yeah, they thought they’d discovered a new world and in their arrogance took over inhabited lands because, I don’t know, by then western Europeans were already chock full of white privilege and what else would they do. And yes, our guys – two separate groups of guys – got their hands on the Bible too and said “yeah, not so much with this three-god thing” and ‘really, a loving God would punish you? Not buying it” and the Unitarians and Universalists were born, and now five hundred years after our buddy Martin decided to air his grievances (the first Festivus?), we have modern Unitarian Universalism.


So all that by way of saying, I’m kinda hip to Luther. If not for him, who knows what we’d be or where we’d be.

And this, likely his most famous hymn (because he wrote hymns along with massive volumes of books and that Bible translation), appears in our hymnal. For me, it’s a connection to our UU pre-history.

And it’s a pretty cool tune – an old drinking song that can swing, or be as stalwart as the lyrics. (Which aren’t half bad for those times you need a good muscular, strong divinity.)

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
our helper sure amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
with craft and power great; and, armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not an equal.

God’s word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
the spirit and the gifts are ours, through God who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still;
whose kingdom is forever.

So happy 200th post and happy Reformation.

  1. I was raised Lutheran so this hymn always has a special place in my heart. Like you, I applaud Luther’s place in our UU history.

  2. I really enjoyed your post today. On the occasion of your 200th, let me say how appreciative I am that you are sharing this daily practice with the rest of us. 🙂

  3. […] God upon high that we find now and then in our hymnal. This is the God Luther sings to in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and whom we see in Immortal Invisible and Immortal Love. A loving, strong, god-outside-of-us. A […]

  4. […] is not the first drinking song to appear in our hymnal. And I’ll wager it won’t be the last. But it may be the most familiar, even if the […]

  5. […] without diluting the strong and powerful theologies from our sources? Will we keep singing A Mighty Fortress and this hymn as evidence of the history of our living tradition? So many questions that a new […]

  6. ICYDNK, the translation in SLT, and most hymnboks, was done by Frederick Henry Hedge, professor of German at Harvard and a Unitarian clergyperson. So the connection is even deeper than you may have realized.

  7. […] time I start singing this, even with lyrics in front of me, I start singing the English lyrics of A Mighty Fortress Is our God. And then getting mad when ‘in us its rivers flowing’ doesn’t rhyme with […]

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