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Now Thank We All Our God

Music Notes

“Now Thank We All Our God”  This is one of the classic hymns of the Lutheran Church, and is known as the national “Te Deum” of Germany.  (The Te Deum is a “hymn of praise.”)  This hymn has been used for many national festivals both in Germany and abroad, including at the dedication of Cologne Cathedral in 1880, and at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebration in 1897 (FYI:  Queen Victoria was born in Germany to an old aristocratic family and spoke with a German accent throughout her life.)  This great text of Thanksgiving was written by Martin Rinckart (1586-1649).

            Rinckart was born in Saxony, in northern Germany, and was a student at St Thomas Church and School in Leipzig (Luther had lectured in this church, and the great musician Johann Sebastian Bach would later serve the church as its music director).  He eventually studied theology, and served numerous parishes throughout northern Germany.  In 1617, he fatefully accepted a position at Eilenberg, where he was to remain the rest of his life.  In 1618, the Thirty Years War broke out, and was to ravage Germany;  refugees from throughout the land flocked to this town, for it was walled and offered protection.  The overcrowded conditions soon led to the spread of famine and the plague, from which Rinckart’s wife was soon to die.  The two other pastors in the town also died, leaving Rinckart to minister to the entire city.  (He sometimes preached 30-40 funerals a day.)

            Twice, the Swedish army beseiged the city and demanded excessive tribute (money) in order to leave the city in peace.  This hymn of thanks was written when the Swedish army finally left the city in 1647—due to the diplomacy of Rinckart himself--and its inhabitants could once again return to their own town or to their previous way of life.  Although he had saved the city from destruction, the civic leaders were hardly thankful to him and many sources say he was “harrassed” by them, until he died discouraged and unappreciated in 1649. 

            His efforts were not in vain, for countless millions of Christians in the centuries since have sung this meaningful hymn with fervor and excitement, a tradition which we continue this evening.

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with