Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wir glauben all an einen Gott

Luther's creedal hymn, We All Believe in One True God (Wittenburg, 1524) is in part a reworking of an older Latin creedal hymn which exists in variant forms in three manuscripts (Breslau, 1417; Leipzig, end 14th cent-beg. 15th cent.; Zwickau, c. 1500).  It's also a brand new recasting of the thoughts of that Latin hymn into separate stanzas for each of the three persons of the Trinity.

Latin Credo (Breslau manuscript, 1417):

Credo in deum patrem omnipotentem.
Credo et in filium
sanctum dominum
patri natura uniformen.
Credo et in spiritum
peccatorumque paraclitum
utrique consubstancialem,
trinitatem individuam
ab utroque fluentem
et in essentia unum.

English translation of Latin Credo:

I believe in God, Father Almighty.
I believe also in the Son
the holy Lord
of the same nature as the Father.
I believe also in the Spirit
the Comforter of sinners
the same substance of both,
undivided Trinity
proceeding from both
and in essence one.

German text under the Latin Credo of the Breslau manuscript:

Wir gelauben all an einen Gott,
Schöpfer Himmels und der Erden,
uns zu Trost gegeben,
alle Ding stehn seim Gebot.
Von der Keusch[en] war geboren,
Maria der Zarten auserkoren
uns zum Trost und aller Christenheit
vor uns er wolle leiden
das wir möchten vermeiden
schwere Pein des Tods der Ewigkeit.

English translation of German text from Breslau manuscript:

We all believe in one God,
Creator of heaven and earth,
who has given us consolation;
all things stand by his command.
Of a virgin he was born,
Mary the tender was chosen,
to comfort us and all Christendom
he willed to suffer for us
that he should escape
oppressive pain of eternal death.
Why am I writing about this? Because I am preparing the Traveling Choir to sing Richard Hillert's setting of We All Believe in One True God (CPH 97-5500) for the 2009-2010 WLA Sundays. As I was doing my score study, I wanted to check that the words in the choral score matched Christian Worship 271.  Well, most of the text was the same.  Most, but not all.  Every time I have my choirs sing a hymn in concert or in worship, I want them to learn the lyrics that they will continue to sing all of their lives, namely, the text that is in the hymnal. And the WELS hymnal is Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (NPH, 1993).

Well, I decided not to pencil in the text changes, but to retype the score in my notation program, Sibelius, so there would be no doubt.  As I was typing stanza two, I was struck by two phrases:

"Made true man, our elder brother" and "Was crucified by sinful men."

The reason the first phrase struck me was that the CPH version had "our human brother." It made me wonder what TLH had, and, lo and behold, it also had "elder".  Now I was confused.  Where did CPH get "human" from?  It made me think of the CW translation of the Nicene Creed which included the phrase "and became fully human." Did the CPH text want to emphasize the humanity of Jesus to weigh in on the argument of "true God and true man"? What does it mean that Jesus is our "elder" brother – that he is the brother of all, the first and the last?

I decided to check out the original German.  Luther's original text.  I was looking for those two phrases.  Here is stanza two in German with those two phrases highlighted:
2. Wir glauben auch an Jesum Christ,
Seinen Sohn und unsern Herren,
Der ewig bei dem Vater ist,
Gleicher Gott von Macht und Ehren;
Von Maria, der Jungfrauen,
Ist ein wahrer Mensch geboren
Durch den Heil'gen Geist im Glauben,
Fuer uns, die wir war'n verloren,
Am Kreuz gestorben und vom Tod
Wieder auferstanden durch Gott.
"Ist ein wahrer Mensch geboren" means "is born a true man."  Nowhere in the entire stanza is there even a reference to "our elder brother" or "our human brother."  Hmm... where did that phrase come from?  Maybe a literal translation of stanza two would help (thanks to Google Translate):
We also believe in Jesus Christ,
His Son and our Lord,
That is eternal with the Father;
The same God of power and honor;
By Mary the virgin,
Is born a true man
Through the Holy Ghost in the faith,
For those of us who were lost,
Died on the cross and death
Resurrected by God.
And what about "by sinful men" or "for sinful men"?  Neither one exists in the original German.  Frankly, it seems much more Lutheran to say that Jesus was crucified "for" sinful men (meaning for all people of all times and ages) than "by" sinful men (would anyone not doubt that the Roman soldier were sinning by killing Jesus?).  So if I had to lobby for one translation over the other, I'd go for "for".  BUT IT'S NOT EVEN IN THE ORIGINAL GERMAN!

So what's a choir director to do?  Make my choir sing the CW 271 "translation"? Default back to the CPH version?  Make my own translation?  My gut says to go with the CW translation but to substitute "human" and "for" clarity (because how much is it going to screw up my choir student's brains to change two words in a hymn which doesn't get much play time anyway?).  Actually, if I had my druthers, I'd retranslate the entire hymn to let Luther speak.


  1. The LCMS was leaning towards the ICET translation of the Nicene Creed prior to its revision of LBW. Depending on when the Hillert piece was published, CPH may have been trying to align the hymn with "and became fully human".

    Lutheran Service Book retains "elder brother," but more closely reflects the original in the latter instance with "was crucified for all our sin".

    The LSB text is in public domain, so it may be a good reference point.

  2. Good to hear from you again, Iggy! The Hillert setting is from CPH 97-5500 "The Hymns of Martin Luther, Vol. 5: Teaching the Word" © 1980. That would put it in between LBW (1978) and LW (1982). Thanks for the info!