1585 - 1647 Author of "Ah, Holy Jesus" in The New Century Hymnal Johann Heermann's (b. Raudten, Silesia, Austria, 1585; d. Lissa, Posen [now Poland], 1647) own suffering and family tragedy led him to meditate on Christ's undeserved suffering. The only surviving child of a poor furrier and his wife, Heermann fulfilled his mother's vow at his birth that, if he lived, he would become a pastor. Initially a teacher, Heermann became a minister in the Lutheran Church in Koben in 1611 but had to stop preaching in 1634 due to a severe throat infection. He retired in 1638. Much of his ministry took place during the Thirty Years' War. At times he had to flee for his life and on several occasions lost all his possessions. Although Heermann wrote many of his hymns and poems during these devastating times, his personal faith and trust in God continued to be reflected in his lyrics. He is judged to be the finest hymn writer in the era between Martin Luther and Paul Gerhardt, one whose work marks a transition from the objective hymns of the Reformation to the more subjective hymns of the seventeenth century. His hymn texts were published in collections such as Devoti Musica Cordis, Hauss- und Hertz-Musica (1630, expanded in 1636, 1644), and Sontags- und Fest-evangelia (1636).
Heermann, Johann, son of Johannes Heermann, furrier at Baudten, near Wohlau, Silesia, was born at Baudten, Oct. 11, 1585. He was the fifth but only surviving child of his parents, and during a severe illness in his childhood his mother vowed that if he recovered she would educate him for the ministry, even though she had to beg the necessary money. He passed through the schools at Wohlau; at Fraustadt (where he lived in the house of Valerius Herberger, q. v., who took a great interest in him); the St. Elizabeth gymnasium at Breslau; and the gymnasium at Brieg. At Easter, 1609, he accompanied two young noblemen (sons of Baron Wenzel von Rothkirch), to whom he had been tutor at Brieg, to the University of Strassburg; but an affection of the eyes caused him to return to Baudten in 1610. At the recommendation of Baron Wenzel he was appointed diaconus of Koben, a small town on the Oder, not far from Baudten, and entered on his duties on Ascension Day, 1611, and on St. Martin's Day, 1611, was promoted to the pastorate there. After 1623 he suffered much from an affection of the throat, which compelled him to cease preaching in 1634, his place being supplied by assistants. In October, 1638, he retired to Lissa in Posen, and died there on Septuagesima Sunday (Feb. 17), 1647. (Koch, iii. 16-36; Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, xi. 247-249, &c.)
Much of Heermann's manhood was spent amid the distressing scenes of the Thirty Years' War; and by his own ill health and his domestic trials he was trained to write his beautiful hymns of “Cross and Consolation." Between 1629 and 1634, Koben was plundered four times by the Lichtenstein dragoons and the rough hordes under Wallenstein sent into Silesia by the King of Austria in order to bring about the Counter-Reformation and restore the Roman Catholic faith and practice; while in 1616 the town was devastated by fire, and in 1631 by pestilence. In these troublous years Heermann several times lost all his moveables; once he had to keep away from Koben for seventeen weeks; twice he was nearly sabred; and once, while crossing the Oder in a frail boat loaded almost to sinking, he heard the bullets of the pursuing soldiers whistle just over his head. He bore all with courage and patience, and he and his were wonderfully preserved from death and dishonour. He was thus well grounded in the school of affliction, and in his House and Heart Music some of his finest hymns are in the section entitled "Songs of Tears. In the time of the persecution and distress of pious Christians."
As a hymnwriter Heermann ranks with the beat of his century, some indeed regarding him as second only to Gerhardt. He had begun writing Latin poems about 1605, and was crowned as a poet at Brieg on Oct. 8, 1608. He marks the transition from the objective standpoint of the hymnwriters of the Reformation period to the more subjective and experimental school that followed him. His hymns are distinguished by depth and tenderness of feeling; by firm faith and confidence in face of trial; by deep love to Christ, and humble submission to the will of God. Many of them became at once popular, passed into the hymnbooks, and still hold their place among the classics of German hymnody. They appeared principally in—
(1) Devoti Musica Cordis. Hauss-und Hertz-Musica &c. Leipzig and Breslau, 1630, with 49 hymns (2nd edition 1636, with 64; 3rd edition 1644, with 69). The first section is entitled "Hymns of Penitence and Consolation from the words of the Ancient Fathers of the Church." Seven of these, however, have no mention in their individual titles of the sources from which they are derived; and the remainder are mostly based not on Latin hymns, but on the prose meditations in Martin Moller's Meditationes sanctorum patrum, or on the mediaeval compilations known as the Meditationes and the Manuale of St. Augustine. (2) Sontags-und Fest-Evangelia. Leipzig and Breslau, 1636, being hymns on the Gospels for Sundays and festivals. (3) Poetische Erquickstunden, Nürnberg, 1656; and its Fernere Fortsetzung, also Nürnberg, 1656 [both in Wernigerode], are poems rather than hymns. The hymns of the Hauss-und Hertz-Musica, with a representative selection from Heermann's other poetical works, were edited by C. E. P. Wackernagel, prefaced by a long biographical and critical introduction, and published at Stuttgart, 1855.
Six of the most important of Heermann's hymns are annotated under their respective first lines. The other hymns by Heermann which have passed into English are :—
I. Hymns in English common use:--
i. 0 Jesu, du mein Bräutigam. Holy Communion. In his Devoti Musica Cordis, Breslau, 1630, p. 78, in 12 stanzas of 4 lines. Thence in Mützell, 1858, No. 34, in Wackernagel's ed. of his Geistliche Lieder, No. 22, and the Unverfälschter Liedersegen, 1851, No. 283. Seems to be founded on Meditation xi. in the mediaeval compilation known as St. Augustine's Manuale. Translated as:—
0 Jesu, Lord, who once for me, a good translation of stanzas i., ii., iv., v., viii., by A. T. Russell, as No. 158 in his Psalms & Hymns, 1851.
Other translations are: (l) 0 Jesu! Bridegroom of my Soul," by J. C. Jacobi, 1722, p. 44 (1732, p. 73). (2) "Dear Saviour, who for me hast borne," by Miss Dunn, 1857.
ii. Rett, 0 Herr Jesu, rett dein Ehr. In Time of Trouble. A prayer for deliverance and peace for the Church. In his Devoti Musica Cordis, 1630, p. 119, in 5 stanzas of 4 lines, among the "Songs of Tears." Thence in Mützell, 1858, No. 48, in Wackernagel’s ed., No. 36, and the Unverfälschter Liedersegen, 1851, No. 245. Translated as:—
Thine honour rescue, righteous Lord, in full, by Dr. M. Loy, in the Ohio Lutheran Hymnal, 1880.
iii. Treuer Wächter Israel. In Time of War. 1630, p. 115, in 13 stanzas of 7 lines, among the "Songs of Tears." In Mützell, 1858, No. 47; in Wackernagel's edition, No. 35, and the Unverfälschter Liedersegen, 1851, No. 594. Lauxmann, in Koch, viii. 549, says of it:—
"It is a powerful hymn filled with that prevailing prayer that takes heaven by force," and relates of st. vii.,11. v-7, "Eine Mauer um uns bau," that on Jan. 6, 1814, the Allied Forces were about to enter Schleswig. A poor widow with her daughter and grandson lived in a little house near the entrance of the town. The grandson was reading in his hymnbook those in time of war, and when he came to this said, “It would be a good thing, grandmother, if our Lord God would build a wall around us." Next day all through the town cries of distress were heard, but all was still before their door. On the following morning they had courage to open the door, and lo a snowdrift concealed them from the view of the enemy. On this incident Clemens Brentano composed a beautiful poem "Draus vor Schleswig."
It is translated as:—
Jesu! as a Saviour, aid. A good tr. of st; vii., viii., xiii., by A. T. Russell, as No. 138 in his Psalms & Hymns, 1851.
iv. Zionklagt mit Angst und Schmerzen. Church of Christ. First published in his Devoti Musica Cordis, 2nd ed., 1636 (1644, p. 196), in 6 stanzas of 8 lines, entitled, "From the beautiful golden saying of Isaiah, Chapter xlix." In Mützell, 1858, No. 101, in Wackernagel’s ed., No. 53, and the Unverfälschter Liedersegen, 1851, No. 256. Translated as:—
Sion bow'd with anguish weepeth A good translation of stanzas i., iii., v., by A. T. Russell, as No. 141 in his Psalms & Hymns, 1851.
Another translation is: "Zion mourns in fear and anguish," by Miss Winkworth, 1869, p. 198.
II. Hymns not in English common use:--
v. Ach Jesu! dessen Treu. Love to Christ. 1630, p. 144, in 33 stanzas. One of his finest hymns, full of deep love to Christ, but from its great length very little used in Germany. Translated as, "Ah! Jesus! Lord! whose faithfulness," by Miss Burlingham, in the British Herald, May, 1867, p. 72.
vi. Der Tod klopft bei mir an. For the Dying. 1656, p. 22, in 121. Translated as, "That Death is at my door," by Miss Winkworth, 1869, p. 201.
vii. Du weinest für Jerusalem. Christ weeping over Jerusalem. 1630, p. 81, in 6 stanzas, entitled, "On the Tears of Christ." Founded on St. Luke xix. 41-44, part of the Gospel for the 10 Sundays after Trinity. The translations are: (1) "With tears o'er lost Jerusalem," by Miss Cox, 1841, p. 159. (2) "Our Lord wept o'er Jerusalem," by Dr. H. Mills, 1845 (1856, p. 295). (3) "Thou weepest o'er Jerusalem," by Miss Winkworth, 1855,p. 70.
viii. Herr Jesu Christe mein getreuer Hirte. Holy Communion. 1630, p. 74, in 9 stanzas, founded on M. Moller's Meditationes sanctorum patrum, pt. i. c. 11, and pt. v. c. 2. The translations are: (1) "Dear Saviour, Thou my faithful Shepherd, come” by Miss Dunn, 1857, p. 111. (2) "Lord Jesus Christ, my faithful Shepherd, hear," by Miss Winkworth, 1858, p. 93, repeated in Lyra Eucharistica, 1863-64.
ix. Herr unser Gott, lass nicht zu Schanden werden. Christ's Church. 1630, p. 114, as one of the "Songs of Tears," in 5 stanzas. Translated as, "Ah! Lord our God, let them not be confounded," by Miss Winkworth, 1869, p. 197.
x. Hilf mir, mein Oott, hilf dass nach dir. Christian Conduct. 1630, p. 32, in 7 stanzas, entitled, "For a better life. From the words of Augustine." Founded on No. i. of the Meditationes current under the name of St. Augustine. This meditation is apparently by St. Anselm of Canterbury. Translated as, "Lord, raise in me a constant Flame," by J. C. Jacobi, 1725, p. 27 (1732, p. 105).
xi. Jesu, der du tausend Schmerzen. In Sickness. 1656, in the Fernere Fortsetzung, p. 79, in 12 lines, entitled, "In great bodily pain." Translated as, “Jesu, who didst stoop to prove," by Miss Winkworth, 1869, p. 200.
xii. Jesu Tilger meiner Sünden. Lent. 1656, in the Fernere Fortsetzung, p. 1, in 10 lines, entitled, "For Victory in Temptation." Translated as, "Jesu, Victor over sin," by Miss Winkworth, 1869, p. 201.
xiii. 0 Jesu, Jesu, Gottes Sohn. Love to Christ, 1630, p. 83, in 7 stanzas, entitled, “Of the Love, which a Christian heart bears to Christ, and will still bear." A beautiful expansion of his motto "Mihi omnia Jesus." The translations are: (1) "What causes me to mourn is this," a translation of stanza ii. by P. H. Molther, as No. 371, in the Moravian Hymn Book, 1789 (1886, No. 461). (2) "O Jesus, Jesus, Son of God," by Miss Burlingham, in the British Herald, Oct. 1865, p. 153, and in Reid's Praise Book, 1872.
xiv. Treuer Gott ich muss dir klagen. In Trouble. 1630, p. 103, in 12 stanzas, entitled, "Hymn of a sorrowful heart for increase of faith." Translated as, "Faithful God! I lay before Thee," by J. C. Jacobi, 1720, p. 9(1722, p. 70; 1732, p. 117), and as No. 538 in pt. i. of the Moravian Hymn Book, 1754.
xv. Wollt ihr euch nicht, o ihr frommen Christen. Second Advent. 1636, p. 210, in 9 stanzas, entitled, "On the day of the Holy Bishop Nicolaus. Gospel of Luke, 12 Chapter." Translated as: (l) "0 dear Christians, as 'tis needful, wou'd ye," as No. 153 in pt. i. of the Moravian Hymn Book, 1754. (2) “Help us, 0 Christ, to watch and pray," a tr. of st. ix. as st. iii. of No. 868 in the Moravian Hymn Book, 1789 (1849, No. 1221).
xvi. Wo soll ich fliehen hin. Lent. 1630, p. 20, in 11 stanzas, entitled, "A hymn of consolation in which a troubled heart lays all its sins in true faith upon Christ. From Tauler." Based on M. Moller's Meditationes, vol. i. pt. i., No. 10. Translated as, "0 whither shall I fly," as No. 447 in pt. i. of the Moravian Hymn Book, 1754. In 1886, No. 279, it begins with "0 Jesus, source of Grace" (stanza ii.). [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)