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Hymnists of the Thirty Years' War

The hymns from this time to the close of the Thirty Years' War are of a more subjective2828Cf. p. 14. experimental type of sacred poetry, that is, writers made their songs more and more expressive of personal feelings. In point of refinement and grace of style the hymn writers of the period of the Thirty Years' War, whose taste was chiefly formed by the influence of Martin Opitz2929For his influence on Gerhardt cf. pp. 2, 14, 18. the founder of the First Silesian School of German poetry, excelled their predecessors. His finest hymn, "O Licht, geboren aus dem Lichte" is a special favorite in Silesia where he was born, and has passed into English in several translations, notably that of Miss Winkworth, "O Light, who out of Light wast born."3030Cf. Christian Singers of Germany, p. 173.

Near the close of the war, when the hope of peace had begun to dawn, Martin Rinckart (1586-1649) composed that noble expression of trust and praise, "Nun danket alle Gott." It has been translated many times and is included in nearly all American and English hymnals. The hymn of trust in Providence by Neumarck (1621-1681), "Wer nur den lieben Gott läszt walten," is hardly inferior to that of Gerhardt on the same theme.3131"Befiehl du deine Wege," cf. p. 114 ff.

The two most famous and most copious hymn writers of this time were however Rist and Heermann; the former wrote between 600 and 700 hymns, such as were intended to supply every possible requirement of public worship or private experience. In so great a mass of writings it is inevitable that there should be much that is poor, but over 200 may be said to be in 12 common use in Germany and at least fifteen have appeared in the hymn books of English-speaking countries. Not so prolific as Heermann and Rist but superior to them in poetical genius was Simon Dach (1605-1659), who was Professor of Poetry at Königsberg and the most important poet of the Königsberg School.3232Of the 165 hymns that he wrote, five have found places in modern English hymnals. One of the best known popular songs is his love-song written in East Prussian dialect "Anke von Tharaw." This is made familiar to English readers through Longfellow's translation, "Annie of Tharaw."

While the Lutheran churches were superior to the Reformed churches of Germany and Switzerland in original hymnody, they were inferior to them in the matter of psalmody. Zwingli and Calvin held firmly to the principle that in public worship the word God should have supreme dominion, a principle which raised the Psalter to new dignity and power. Versified versions of the Psalms became the first hymn books of the Reformed Churches.3434For their effect on English hymnody cf. p. 28 ff. The first German Reformed hymn book appeared at Zürich, 1540. It contained not only versified psalms but also hymns, with a preface in defense of congregational singing. The most popular collection however was the versified Psalter of Lobwasser of Königsberg. While its poetry is but a poor translation of the French Psalter of Marot and Beza,3535Cf. p. 29. its pious contents made it a rich source of devotion for a hundred years. It is a parallel to the Scottish Psalter of 1641 by Francis Rous.3636Cf. Julian: Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 1023.

Simon Dach was the last poet of any note to write in the Reformation period of German hymnody. After him a new era of poetry, the Confessional (1648-1680), opens and it is at this time that Paul Gerhardt appears. He, however, although living in the midst of this churchly atmosphere, profound in Lutheran orthodoxy, feels the tendencies of a still later period, that of the Devotional era. Like many other great men he saw beyond his time. He combined in his poems all the strong qualities of the century in which he lived, and of the later epoch, the period of the Pietists.

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