Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Now thank we all our God, story of a favorite hymn

I confess. I had zero European history classes in college. So I'll take a non-recommended stop at Wikipedia for the 30 Years War, 1618-48. There are better, more complete sources--but it was 30 years, so I won't look for them.

"The Thirty Years' War was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history, lasting from 1618 to 1648. Fought primarily in Central Europe, an estimated 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of battle, famine, and disease, while some areas of what is now modern Germany experienced population declines of over 50%. Related conflicts include the Eighty Years' War, the War of the Mantuan Succession, the Franco-Spanish War, and the Portuguese Restoration War."

I did learn in high school (1950s) that it was a religious war, but more recent scholarship has called it political. But Protestant and Catholic monarchs were certainly fighting each other. Based on the size of populations at that time, I'd guess not until the Communists killed 100 million in the 20th century was there a war that took such a large percent of the population. Famine and disease also contributed to the death toll in the 17th c.

I mention this because the beautiful hymn we usually sing on Thanksgiving Day, "Now thank we all our God," by Martin Rinkart (a Lutheran pastor) was written during this terrible war. At the height of the plague of 1637 he was the only minister left in his city to care for the sick and dying. If he could thank God at that terrible time in history, so can we.

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

English translation Catherine Winkworth

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