A Mighty Fortress

Representative Text

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

2 Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God's own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.

3 And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

4 That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!

Psalter Hymnal, (Gray), 1987

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 >

Translator: Frederic Henry Hedge

Hedge, Frederick Henry, D.D., son of Professor Hedge of Harvard College, was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1805, and educated in Germany and at Harvard. In 1829 he became pastor of the Unitarian Church, West Cambridge. In 1835 he removed to Bangor, Maine; in 1850 to Providence, and in 1856 to Brookline, Mass. He was appointed in 1857, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge (U.S.), and in 1872, Professor of German Literature at Harvard. Dr. Hedge is one of the editors of the Christian Examiner, and the author of The Prose Writers of Germany, and other works. In 1853 he edited, with Dr. F. D. Huntington, the Unitarian Hymns for the Church of Christ, Boston Crosby, Nichols & Co. To that collection and the supplement (1853) he con… Go to person page >

Text Information

First Line: A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing
Title: A Mighty Fortress
German Title: Ein' Feste Burg
Author: Martin Luther (1529)
Translator: Frederic Henry Hedge (1852)
Place of Origin: Germany
Language: English
Notes: Spanish translation: See by Juan Bautista Cabrera Ivars
Copyright: Public Domain
Liturgical Uses: Closing Songs, Songs of Response
Article: The Earliest Lutheran Hymn Tradition as Illustrated by Two Classic Sixteenth-Century German Chorales by Vincent A. Lenti (from "The Hymn")


Scripture References:
all st. = Ps.46
st. 3 = 1 Pet. 5:8

See PHH 468 for a brief history of the original text and tune. This English translation of Luther's German text is by Frederick H. Hedge (b. Cambridge, MA, 1805; d. Cambridge, 1890); it was published in Furness's Gems of German Verse (1852) and in Hymns for the Church of Christ (1853), a hymnal edited by Hedge and Frederick Huntington. Hedge's translation, which closely follows Luther's words, is the one usually found in North American hymnals.

Hedge was a precocious child who read Latin and Greek classics at an early age. Between the ages of twelve and sixteen he was in Germany, where he studied German literature. Educated at Harvard University and Divinity School, he became a Unitarian minister in 1829. Hedge served congregations in Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, and taught church history at Harvard Divinity School (1857-1876) and German literature at Harvard University (1872-1884). A respected transcendentalist and a famous German scholar, he published the monumental Prose Writers of Germany 0848). His original hymns and translations were published in Hymns for the Church of Christ (1853), which he compiled with F. Dan Huntington. He is remembered primarily for his translation of Luther's famous hymn.

Stanzas 1-3 of the original text were inspired by Psalm 46; stanza 4 arose directly from Luther's persecution experience. The text expresses trust in God's protection amidst the battle that Christians wage against the devil. "Earthly powers" in stanza four undoubtedly referred to the Roman Catholic authorities of Luther's day, but modern Christians may identity other "powers" that oppose the rule of Christ. The closing line of the text provides much comfort: "God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever!"

Liturgical Use:
See PHH 468.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook



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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