16 November 2015

Catherine Winkworth's Translation of ,,Ein feste Burg”


I was surprised to find Catherine Winkworth's translation of Luther's hymn so very different from the translation I knew in childhood.  Luther was said to have written this hymn on the road to Worms in 1530.  

His text was from the traditional Epistle for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity: "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

The following comes from Catherine Winkworth's laudable collection of translations entitled  Lyra Germanica:

A SURE stronghold our God is He,
A trusty shield and weapon ;
Our help He'll be and set us free
From every ill can happen.
That old malicious foe
Intends us deadly woe ;
Arm'd with the strength of hell
And deepest craft as well,
On earth is not his fellow.

Through our own force we nothing can,
Straight were we lost for ever :
But for us fights the proper Man,
By God sent to deliver.
Ask ye who this may be ?
Christ Jesus named is He,
Of Sabaoth the Lord ;
Sole God to be adored ;
'Tis He must win the battle.

And were the world with devils fill'd,
All eager to devour us,
Our souls to fear should little yield,
They cannot overpower us.
Their dreaded Prince no more
Can harm us as of yore ;
Look grim as e'er he may,
Doom'd is his ancient sway ;
A word can overthrow him.

Still shall they leave that Word His might,
And yet no thanks shall merit ;
Still is He with us in the fight,
By His good gifts and Spirit.
E'en should they take our life,
Goods, honour, children wife—
Though all of these be gone,
Yet nothing have they won,
God's kingdom ours abideth !