Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott

Full Text

1. Ein' feste burg ist unser Gott,
Ein' gute whr' und waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller noth,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt' böse feind,
Mit ernst er's jetzt meint,
Groß' macht und viel list
Sein' grausam' rüstung ist,
Auf erd' ist nicht sein's gleichen.

2. Mit unser macht ist nichts gethan,
Wir sind gar bald verloren:
Es streit't für uns der rechte mann,
Den Gott hat selbst erkoren.
Fragst du, wer der ist?
Er heißt Jesus Christ,
Der Herr Zebaoth,
Und ist kein ander Gott,
Das feld muß er behalten.

3. Und wenn die welt voll teufel wär'
Und wollt' uns gar verschlingen,
So fürchten wir uns nicht so sehr,
Es soll uns doch gelingen.
Der fürst dieser welt,
Wie sau'r er sich stellt,
Thut er uns doch nicht,
Das macht, er ist gericht't,
Ein wörtlein kann ihn fällen.

4. Das wort sie sollen lassen stan,
Und kein dank dazu haben,
Er ist bei uns wohl auf dem plan
Mit seinem geist und gaben.
Nehmen sie den leib,
Gut, ehr', kind und weib,
Laß fahren dahin,
Sie haben's kein gewinn,
Das reich muß uns doch bleiben.

Source: Kirchen-Gesangbuch: für Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden #158

Author: Martin Luther

Luther, Martin, born at Eisleben, Nov. 10, 1483; entered the University of Erfurt, 1501 (B.A. 1502, M.A.. 1503); became an Augustinian monk, 1505; ordained priest, 1507; appointed Professor at the University of Wittenberg, 1508, and in 1512 D.D.; published his 95 Theses, 1517; and burnt the Papal Bull which had condemned them, 1520; attended the Diet of Worms, 1521; translated the Bible into German, 1521-34; and died at Eisleben, Feb. 18, 1546. The details of his life and of his work as a reformer are accessible to English readers in a great variety of forms. Luther had a huge influence on German hymnody. i. Hymn Books. 1. Ellich cristlich lider Lobgesang un Psalm. Wittenberg, 1524. [Hamburg Library.] This contains 8 German h… Go to person page >

Text Information

First Line: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
Author: Martin Luther
Language: German


Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott. Martin Luther. [Psalm xlvi.] The common account of the origin of this, the most famous hymn of Luther, is thus forcibly expressed by Heinrich Heine:—

"A battle hymn was this defiant song, with which he and his comrades entered Worms [April 16, 1521]. The old cathedral trembled at these new notes, and the ravens were startled in their hidden nests in the towers. This hymn, the Marseillaise Hymn of the Reformation, has preserved its potent spell even to our days, and we may yet soon use again in similar conflicts the old mailed words." (Werke, edition 1876, v. iii. p. 36.)

It is, however, in the last degree unlikely that if the hymn had been composed in 1521, it should not have been published in 1524, along with Luther's earlier hymns. A second theory advanced by Dr. K. F. T. Schneider in 1856, that it was written Nov. 1, 1527, and partly suggested by the death of his friend Leonhard Kaiser (burnt at the stake, Aug. 16,1527, at the instigation of the Bishop of Ulm), rests on hypotheses too elaborate to be examined here, but is not sustained by any foundation of fact (see Blätter für Hymnologie, 1883, pp. 75-79; 103-105, &c). A third theory is that it was composed at the time of the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Thus D'Aubigne says:—

"Luther, full of faith, revived the courage of his friends, by composing and singing with his fine voice that beautiful hymn, since become so famous, Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott. Never did soul that knew its own weakness, but which, looking to God, despised every fear, find such noble accents. This hymn was sung during the Diet, not only at Augsburg, but in all the churches of Saxony, and its energetic strains often revived and inspirited the most dejected hearts." (History of Reformation, edition 1847, p. 543).

The hymn, however, belongs to the previous year, 1529, and was probably written for the Diet of Speyer (Spires), when on April 20, 1529, the German Princes made their formal Protest against the revocation of their liberties and thus gained the name of Protestants. Then, says Lauxmann, in Koch, viii. 120, “Luther with this hymn entered a protest before all the German people against endeavouring to obstruct the Gospel." It was first published in Klug's Gesang-Buch, Wittenberg, 1529, entitled "Der xxxxvi. Psalm. Deus noster refugium et virtus." The Psalm is used only as a motto, the imagery throughout being entirely original. We may, however, compare some of the phrases of his prose version, 1524:-

"Eine Hülfe in den grossen Nothen, die uns troffen haben" (i.). "Darum fürchten wir uns nicht" (ii.). "Gott ist bei ihr darinnen, darum wird sie wohl bieiben; Gott hilft mir [1545 ihr] früh" (v.). "Der Herr Zebaoth ist mit uns, der Gott Jacob ist unser Schutz(vii.).
Wackernagel, iii. pp. 19-21, gives four forms, No. 32, from the Form und Ordnung Gaystlicher Gesang und Psalmen, Augsburg, 1529; No. 33, from the Geistliche Lieder, Wittenberg, 1531-; No. 34, a double form from the Riga Kirchenordnung, 1530, and the Rostock Gesang-Buch,1531: Nos. 32 and 34 (both) being in Low German, No. 33 in High German. The earliest High German text now accessible, that of 1531, is as follows:—

Ein feste burg ist unser Gott,
ein gute wehr und waffen.
Er hilfft unns frey aus aller not
die uns ytzt hat betroffen.
Der alt böse feind mit ernst ers ytzt meint,
gros macht und viel list
sein grausam rüstung ist
auf erd ist nicht seine glelchen.

Mit unser macht ist nichts gethan,
wir sind gar bald verloren:
Es streit fur uns der rechte man,
den Gott hat selbs erkoren.
Fragstu, wer der ist? er heist Jhesu Christ,
der Herr Zebaoth,
und ist kein ander Gott,
das felt mus er behalten.

Und wenn die welt vol Teuffell wehr
unnd woltuns gar vorschlingen,
So fürchten wir unns nicht zu sehr,
es sol uns doch gelingen.
Der Fárst dieser welt,
wie sawr er sich stellt.
thut er unns doch nicht,
das macht, er ist gericht,
ein wortlin kan yhn fellen.

Das wort sie sollen lassen stahn
und kein danck dazu haben,
Er ist bey unns wol auff dem plan
mit scinem geist und gaben.
Nemen sie den leib,
gut, eher, kindt unnd weib
las faren dahin, sie habens kein gewin,
das reich mus uns doch bieiben.

The same text, modernised in orthography, is given in Schircks's edition of Luther's Geistliche Lieder, 1854, p. 35, and as No. 218 in the Unverfälscher Leidersegen, 1851. In stanza i. we see our stronghold and its besiegers; in stanza ii. our weakness, our Saviour's power and might; in stanza iii. the vanity of the Prince of this World; in stanza iv. whatever earthly goods we lose we have our true treasure in heaven.

The hymn speedily spread over all Germany, and Lauxmann, in Koch, viii. 123-131, relates many incidents regarding hymn and chorale—-the true National Hymn of Germany. Luther, in 1530, sang it daily at Coburg. Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, in their banishment from Wittenberg in 1547, were greatly comforted by hearing it sung by a little maiden on their entrance into Weimar. Gustavus Adolphus caused it to be sung by his whole army before the battle of Leipzig, Sept. 17, 1631, and it was on Sept. 15, 1882, sung "as by one man" by the assembled thousands on the field of Lützen, at the service held in commemoration of the Jubilee of the Gustavus Adolphus Society, which seeks to aid Protestant Churches in Roman Catholic countries. It was adopted by the Salzburg Emigrants of 1732, as their travelling hymn. Sung at Hermannsburg at the farewell service when Ludwig Harms was sending forth his first band of missionaries. During the Luther Celebrations, Sept. 12-14, and Nov. 10-12, 1883, it was sung in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Sept. 12; at Eisleben at the unveiling of the Luther memorial in the Market Place, Nov. 10; and at countless celebrations in Germany, Great Britain, and America, in the original, or in various English versions.
Since the above remarks were put in type an elaborate monograph by Dr. J. Linke, of Altenburg, has appeared under the title Wann wurde das Lutherlied Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott verfasst? Leipzig, 1886. Dr. Linke discusses with abundant research and polemic the various theories already noted, and the more recent combinations and hypotheses. His opinion is that the hymn was written on or about Oct. 31, 1525; and he quotes many interesting parallels from Luther's contemporaneous writings, and especially from his lectures on Zechariah, written about the end of October, 1525. But that such a hymn could remain in manuscript from that date till the publication of Klug Gesang-Buch, in 1529, seems very improbable; and no trustworthy evidence is forthcoming that it appeared in print before 1529.

In Klug's Gesang-Buch,1529, likewise appeared the magnificent chorale by Luther, evidently the product of the same mind and of the same inspiration. It has been strikingly, if somewhat inappropriately, used by Meyerbeer in The Huguenot; more recently by Mendelssohn in the fifth movement of his Reformation Symphony, 1830; and by Wagner as a motive in his Kaisersmarsch, written to commemorate the return of the Emperor William in 1871, after the Franco-German war. It has now become well-known in England, and in its proper form is included in the Chorale Book for England, 1863 (see below).

An attempt has recently been made to show that this is a patchwork of snatches from various portions of the Roman Gradual, which Luther, while a monk, must often have sung. But even if this were clearly shown, to Luther would still be due the honour of smelting these scattered fragments and producing from them a glorious melody, now all of one piece. (See the Blätter für Hymnologie, 1884, pp. 82, 101, &c.)

Translations in common use:--
1. God is our Refuge in Distress, Our strong Defence. A full but free version in J. G. Jacobi's Psalter Germanica, 1722, p. 83 (1732, p. 138 altered), and repeated, greatly altered (by F. Okeley?), as No. 319 in pt. i. of the Moravian Hymn Book, 1754. Stanzas i.-iii., greatly altered, from the 1754, were included as No. 595 in the Moravian Hymn Book, 1886; and much the same text in J. A. Latrobe's Collection, 1852, No. 256, with Carlyle's translation of stanza i. lines 5-8, ii. 11. 5-8, substituted.
2. A safe stronghold our God is still. By T. Carlyle, in a characteristic essay on "Luther's Psalm," in Fraser's Magazine for 1831, reprinted in his Miscellaneous Essays (edition 1872, vol. iii. p. 61). This is the most faithful (stanza iv. excepted) and forcible of all the English versions. Included in full and unaltered in the Wesleyan Hymn Book, 1875; the Scottish Presbyterian Hymnal, 1876; Church Praise, 1883, &c. In some collections, as the Hymns & Songs of Praise, N. Y., 1874, it is slightly altered. A form greatly altered by W. M. Reynolds appeared as No. 964 in the American Lutheran General Synod's Collection, 1850. The version in the Canadian Presbyterian Hymn Book, 1880, No. 227, is altered mainly from Gaskell, Massie, and Hedge (see below).
3. God is the city of our strength, in Miss Fry's Hymns of the Reformation, 1845, p. 61, in full, with the doxology translated by Mr. Thring, 1882 (see below). Her translations of stanzas i.-iv., rewritten to 5 stanzas of 6 lines, were included as No. 51 in J. Whittemore's Supplement to All Hymn Books, 1860, and repeated as No. 498 in Maurice's Choral Hymn Book, 1861.
4. A tower of strength is our God's name, omitting stanza iv., by A. T. Russell, as No. 98 in the Dalston Hospital Hymn Book, 1848. Thence, altered, as No. 136 in his own Psalm & Hymns, 1851, beginning, "A strong tower is our God's great name," and further altered as No. 501 in Maurice's Choral Hymn Book, 1861, beginning, "A tower of strength is God's great name."
5. A tower of strength our God doth stand, in full, by H. J. Buckoll, as No. 45 in the Rugby School H. Book, 1850 (edition 1876, No. 285). Repeated, more or less altered and abridged, in the Rugby Church Hymn Book, 1863; Kennedy, 1863, No. 25 (altered mainly from Carlyle); Wellington College Hymn Book, 1864, and Marlborough College Hymn Book, 1869.
6. A strong tower is the Lord our God,To shelter. In full, as No. 334, in W. Hunter's Select Melodies, 1852, marked as by W. M. Bunting. Repeated in Cantate Domino, Boston, U. S., 1859, No. 307.
7. A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark. A full and good translation by Dr. F. H. Hedge, contributed to Dr. W. H. Furness's Gems of German Verse, 1852, and then as No. 852 to his own Hymns for the Church of Christ, Boston, U.S., 1853. Reprinted in full and unaltered in Putnam's Singers and Songs of the Liberal Faith, Boston, U.S., 1875, p. 214, with the note that ”It has been sung on many occasions, as at the recent laying of the commemoration stone of Memorial Hall, at Cambridge [U.S.]." Included in full in the Schaff-Gilman Library of Religious Poetry, edition 1883, p. 384, and as No. 1343 in the edition 1872 of Robinson's Songs for the Sanctuary. In full or abridged it appears in many American hymnals, as Hymns of the Spirit, 1864, Unitarian Hymn Book, 1869, Dutch Reformed Hymns of the Church, 1869, and others; and in England in Dr. Martineau's Collection, 1873.
8. A sure stronghold our God is He. Full and good, by W. Gaskell, contributed in 1855 to the 2nd edition of the 1st Ser. of Miss Winkworth's Lyra Germanica, p. 175, her translation in the 1st edition (see below) not being considered satisfactory. Slightly altered in metre as No. 124 in the Chorale Book for England, 1863, but restored as in the Lyra Germanica in the Christian Singers of Germany, 1869, p. 110. In full as No. 213 in Dr. Pagenstecher's Collection, 1864, and as No. 284 in the Supplement of 1884 to the Scottish Hymnal. Stanzas i., ii., were included, slightly altered, as No. 161 in the Irish Church Hymnal, 1869 (edition 1873, No. 441).
9. A fortress firm is God our Lord. In full, by Dr. W. L. Alexander, in the Scottish Congregational Magazine, Jan. 1859. Repeated, reduced to 5 stanza of 4 1., in W. Elliott's Evangelical Hymns, Plymouth, 1864.
10. A mountain fastness is our God. In full, by Bp. W. R. Whittingham, as No. 248 in the American Episcopal Hymns for Church & Home, 1860; and thence, with an added doxology not from the German, as No. 397 in the American Episcopal Hymnal, 1871.
11. A tower of strength is God our Lord. A translation of stanzas i., ii., by Dean Alford, as No. 228 in his Year of Praise, 1867, and thence in Flett's Collection, Paisley, 1871, and Dr. Dale's English Hymn Book, 1879.
12. Our God stands firm, a rook and tow'r. By R. C. Singleton, a translation of stanzas i., ii., with an original stanza as iii., as No. 267 in his Anglican Hymn Book, 1868 (edition 1871, No. 310). Repeated in the Hymnary, 1871, and J. L. Porter's Collection, 1876; and in America in the Presbyterian Hymnal, 1874; Evangelical Hymnal, N. Y., 1880; and Church Praise Book, 1882.
13. A mighty fortress is our God, A trusty. A full and good translation as No. 274 in the Pennsylvania LutheranChurch Book, 1868; compiled by the committee of publication principally from the Carlyle, 1831, and Reynolds (1863 see below) texts.
14. A fortress strong is God our God. A good and full translation by E. Thring, as No. 253, in the Uppingham and Sherborne School Hymn Book, 1874.
15. A tower of strength our God is still, A mighty, &c. In full, as No. 144, in the Ohio Lutheran Hymnal, 1880, and marked as a compilation.
16. A Fortress sure is God our King. By Godfrey Thring, as No. 245 in his Church of England Hymn Book, 1882, repeated in Horder's Congregational Hymnal, 1884, and Allon's Congregational Psalmist Hymnal, 1886. This is decidedly the best version for popular use, as Carlyle's is the most faithful and forcible. Mr. Thring omits stanza iii., and gives a doxology added about 1546 in Etliche Lieder, Nürnberg, as altered in the appendix to Lobwasser's Psalmen des Königlichen Propheten Davids, 1574. The text

Lob, Ehr und Preis dem hochsten Gott
Dem Vater aller Gnaden,
Der uns aus Lieb geschenket hat
Sein Sohn fllr unsern Schaden;
Sammt dem heilgen Geist,
Von Sünden er reisst
Zum Reiche uns heisst
Den Weg zum Leben weist,
Der helf uns frohlich! Amen,

from an edition of Lobwasser published at St. Gall in 1761.
17. A stronghold sure our God remains. In full, by Dr. J. Troutbeck, as No. 49 in the Westminster Abbey Hymn Book, 1883.
18. A Tower of safety is our God. A goodly, &c. A translation in full by M. W. Stryker in his Hymns & Verses,1883, p.72; repeated in his Christian Chorals, 1885, No. 45.
Translations not in common use:—
(1) "Oure God is a defence and towre," by Bp. Coverdale, 1539 (Remains, 1846, p. 569), lines 1-4 being literally from Luther and the rest a version of Psalm xlvi. (2) "God is our refuge and strong fence," in Lyra Davidica, 1708, p. 75. 3) "By our own strength there's nothing done," a translation of stanza ii., as No. 14 in the Moravian Hymn Book, 1742, adopted as stanza ii. of No. 319, in 1754. (4) "A tow'r of safety is our God, His sword," by Dr. H. Mills, 1845 (1856, p. 169). (5) "God to us a tower will be,” by J. Anderson, 1846, p. 37(1847, p. 55). (6) ”Our God’s a mighty panoply,” in C. T. Brooks’s Schiller’s Homage of the Arts, &c., Boston, U.S. 1847, p. 114. (7) "A mighty castle is our God," by Dr. J. Hunt, 1853, p. 65. (8) "Our God's a tower and shield," a 2nd version by Dr. Hunt, p. 66. (9) "A castle is our God, a tower," by R. Massie, 1854, p. 38, repeated as No. 755 in Reid's Praise Book, 1872. (10) "God is our stronghold, firm and sure," by Miss Winkworth, 1855, p. 173. (11) "Our God, a tower of strength is He, A good defence," in Dr. H. W. Dulcken's Book of German Songs, 1856, p. 260. (12) "God is our Rock and Tower of strength," by Miss Dunn, 1857, p. 69. (13) "A sure stronghold our God is still," based on Carlyle, by J. S. Stallybrass, in the Tonic Solfa Reporter July, 1857. (14) " The Lord, our God is a strong tower," by W. Jugden, in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, 1858, p. 79. (15) "A stronghold firm, a trusty shield When raging," by Dr. R. P. Dunn, in Sacred Lyrics from the German, Phil., U.S., 1859, p. 127. (16) "A sure defence, a fort, a tow'r," by Dr. G. Walker, 1860, p. 40. (17) "God, our own God, is a strong tower," in the British Messenger, August, I860. (18) "A safe stronghold our God is still, A sure defence," a double version in slightly varied metre by W. M. Reynolds, in the Evangelical Review, Gettysburg, July, 1863. (19) "A Fortress firm and steadfast Rock," by Miss Cox, 1864, p. 227. (20) "Our God He is a castle strong," by Dr. G. Macdonald, in the Sunday Magazine, 1867, p. 450, and altered in his Exotics, 1876, p. 66. (21) " Our God, He is a fortress tower," by N. L. Frothingham, in the Monthly Religious Magazine, Boston, U.S., vol. 37, 1867, repeated altered in his vol. of 1870, p. 269. (22) "God is our Refuge and our Rock," by Dr. J. Ker, in a programme for a Psalmody meeting at Edinburgh, 1868. (23) " A mighty fortress is our God, A panoply," in Dr. J. Guthrie's Hymns & Sacred Lyrics, 1869, p. 71. (24) "Our God a tower of Strength is He, A goodly wall," by H. W. Longfellow, in the Second Interlude, added in 1872, to his Golden Legend 1851 (Poetical Works, Routledge, 1879, pp. 479-481). (25) "A tower of strength our God is still," in the Church of England Magazine, 1872, p. 182. (26) "God is our fortress firm and sure," as No. 687 in Reid's Praise Book, 1872. (27) "High Tower and Stronghold is our God," based on Bp. Whittingham, 1860, in J. H. Hopkins's Carols, Hymns & Songs 1882, p. 152, dated 1862. (28) "God is our Refuge—city strong," a 2nd translation by M. W. Stryker, in his Hymns & Verses, 1883, p. 74. (29) "Strong tower and refuge is our God, Right goodly," by Dr. L. W. Bacon, 1884, p. 53, based on the Lutheran Church Book, 1868 (see under No. xiii.). (30) "Our God's a fastness sure indeed, A trusty," by R. McLintock in the Academy, July 26, 1884. (31) "So strong a fortress is our God," by E, Walter in his Martin Luther, 1884, p. 22. It may be also noted that the hymns, "God is our Refuge in distress, Our Shield," No. 66 in the New Congregational Hymn Book, 1859; and "God is our refuge and defence, our Shield," No. 104 in J. Whittemore's Supplement to All Hymn Books, 1860, are versions of Psalm xlvi., but are not taken from Luther.
The following list of additional American translations has been kindly furnished by the Rev. B. M. Schmucker, D.D., Pottstown, Pennsylvania:—
(32) "A Rock and Refuge is our God," by Dr. J. A. (Seiss, in The Lutheran, July 6,1860. (33) "Amighty Fortress is our God, A shield," by Dr. J. A. Seiss in his Ecclesia Lutherana, 1860, p. 87. (34) "A Tower and Stronghold is our God," by W. H. Walter in his Chorals and Hymns, 1862, p. 12. (35) "God is our tower of strength and grace," by Dr. H. Harbaugh in the Guardian (American Reformed), May, 1863, p. 138. (36) "A fastset Bulwark is our God," by Dr. C. P. Krauth in his Jubilee Service, 1867, p. 22. (37) “A mighty stronghold is our God," by Dr. J. Schwartz, 1879, in a printed programme for Union of Lutheran Synods. Revised in Lutheran Book of Worship, 1880, and in Augsburg Songs, 1885, No. 203. (38) "Our God is a stronghold, indeed," by Dr. S. R. Fisher in the (German Reformed) Messenger, Sept. 15, 1880. (39) "A mighty fortress is our God, To shelter," by J. H. Kurzenknabe in Peerless Praise. Hymns and Music for the Sunday School, 1882, p. 58. (40) "A moveless Fastness is our God," by Dr. M. Sheeleigh in his Luther. A Song Tribute, 1883, p. 102. (41) "A firm defence our God is still," by Dr. S. W. Duffield in his English Hymns and their Authors, New York, 1886, p. 2, marked as translated in 1873.
Dr. B. Peck gives in his Dr. Martin Luther's Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott, in 21 Sprachen, Chicago, 1883, 28 English versions in full. Of these 11 are among those noted in common use, viz., Nos. 1 and 2 (1831 and 1850), 4 (1851), 5-10, 13. Of those not in common use he has Nos. 4, 9, 10, 11, 15, 18, 19, 21, 24, 35-38. Besides these, he gives:—
(42) "A fast, firm fortress is our God," marked as Anon., 1857. (43) "Our God's a fortress all secure, marked as Anon., 1879. (44) "Tower of defence is our God," marked as by J. W. Bright. (45) "A mighty bulwark is our God," no marking. [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)


Ein feste Burg, p. 325, i. M. W. Stryker's translation begins in his Church Song, 1889, "A Tower of refuge is our God." Another translation is by E. V. Kenealy, in his Poems & Translations, 1864, p. 439. We find that No. 7 on p. 324.. i., did not appear in W. H. Furness's Gems of German Verse, 1852, and that the date of Sugden's translation on p. 325, i. 14, is 1869, not 1858.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907)



The original rhythms of EIN FESTE BURG (see 469) had already reached their familiar isorhythmic (all equal rhythms) shape by the time of Johann S. Bach (PHH 7) in the eighteenth century. The harmonization is taken from his Cantata 80. Many organ and choral works are based on this chorale, including…

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