From Heaven Above to Earth I Come

Representative Text

1 From heav'n above to earth I come,
to bear good news to every home;
glad tidings of great joy I bring,
whereof I now will say and sing:

2 To you, this night, is born a Child
of Mary, chosen mother mild;
this tender Child of lowly birth,
shall be the joy of all the earth.

3 'Tis Christ our God, who far on high
had heard your sad and bitter cry;
Himself will your Salvation be,
Himself from sin will make you free.

4 Now let us all, with gladsome cheer,
follow the shepherds, and draw near
to see this wondrous Gift of God,
who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

5 Glory to God in highest heav'n,
who unto man His Son hath giv'n,
while angels sing, with pious mirth,
a glad New Year to all the earth.

Source: Psalms and Hymns to the Living God #245

Translator: Catherine Winkworth

Catherine Winkworth (b. Holborn, London, England, 1827; d. Monnetier, Savoy, France, 1878) is well known for her English translations of German hymns; her translations were polished and yet remained close to the original. Educated initially by her mother, she lived with relatives in Dresden, Germany, in 1845, where she acquired her knowledge of German and interest in German hymnody. After residing near Manchester until 1862, she moved to Clifton, near Bristol. A pioneer in promoting women's rights, Winkworth put much of her energy into the encouragement of higher education for women. She translated a large number of German hymn texts from hymnals owned by a friend, Baron Bunsen. Though often altered, these translations continue to be used i… Go to person page >

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: From Heaven above to earth I come To bear good news to every home
Title: From Heaven Above to Earth I Come
German Title: Von Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her
Author: Martin Luther (1535)
Translator: Catherine Winkworth
Language: English
Copyright: Public Domain


Scripture References:
all st. = Luke 2:10-14

Written by Martin Luther (PHH 336) for his family's Christmas Eve devotions, this text (originally "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her") was first published in Joseph Klug's (PHH 126) Geistliche Lieder (1535) in fifteen stanzas. Luther intended that stanzas 1-7 be sung by a man dressed as an angel and stanzas 8-15 by children.

As the basis for his first stanza, Luther revised the old folk song "Aus Fremden Landenkomm ich hier." Also called a "garland" song, "Aus Fremden" was used traditionally as a chorus in a game of riddles that involved the taking of garlands if a riddle was not solved.

The English translation is primarily the work of Catherine Winkworth (PHH 194), from her Lyra Germanica (1855). However, numerous hymnal editors have revised her translation. From the original fifteen stanzas the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee chose to include five-the familiar narrative stanzas based on Luke 2:10-14.

Stanzas 1-4 contain the angels' words to the shepherds. Stanza 5 is the angel chorus (Luke 2:14), which we all sing as we share in the shepherds' and angels' joy. (For a similar narrative Christmas hymn on the same biblical text, see 215.)

Liturgical Use:
Christmas Day worship service; Christmas festival of lessons and carols, especially with the dramatic performance style Luther intended (suggested above); church school programs.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook



Initially Luther used the folk melody associated with his first stanza as the tune for this hymn. Later he composed this new tune for his text. VOM HIMMEL HOCH was first published in Valentin Schumann's Geistliche Lieder in 1539. Johann S. Bach (PHH 7) used Luther's melody in three places in his wel…

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