Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ah, Holy Jesus

Here is another hymn during the wonderful time after Easter! He is Risen!

Title: Ah, Holy Jesus

Tune: Herzliebster Jesu


Composer: Johann Cruger (1598-1662)

 Johann Heermann (1585-1657), Trans. Robert Bridges (1844-1930)

Based off the text from Isaiah 53, this hymn sets the tone for the Christian doctrine of Christ's atonement: Christ died for the sin of the world in a substitutionary death on the cross ( par. 1). By using text such as "It was for my sin that Christ died!" this text becomes extremely personal, and turns a plain and simple doctrine into a deep and personal meditation on the effects that Christ has had on our lives. Stemming from the seventh meditation in the Latin Liber Meditationum, which is most often credited to Augustine (354-430), and sometimes ascribed to Jean de Fecamp (d. 1078), this hymn was written in fifteen stanzas in sapphic prose meter ( by Johann Heermann. Written in German, the text was first published in Heermann's collection, Devoti Musica Cordis, Haus und Hertz-musica, published in 1630. Eventually, the text was translated from German into English by Robert Bridges (1844-1930), as a five stanza paraphrase of the text, keeping the meter the same. Attributing the original Latin text to Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109), the English translation was published in Bridges' Yattendon Hymnal (1899).
Evangelical Lutheran Worship follows the same text published in Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), using Bridges' five stanzas and keeping the old Elizabethan English (Westermeyer, 2010, p 151). By making slight modifications to both of the texts, the hymn we sing today is a combination of Bridges' meter, and Heermann’s rhymes scheme. Bridges' text follows the same rules for Sapphic meter, keeping the same syllable count 5+6, where 5 is a dactyl and trochee (metric feet, dactyl being a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed, and a trochee being a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable), and the 6 is all trochees. Heermann's rhyming scheme follows the AABB rhyming form, and stresses the rhyme on the Penultimate syllable, for example: of-fen-ded, and pre-tend-ded; Pay thee and pray thee; un-swer-ving and de-serv-ing (Westermeyer, p. 151). A few points made by Mary Louise Bringle (Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy and Religion Chair, Humanities Division, Brevard College, Brecard North Carolina), show Bridges' effortless quality in the feminine rhymes which are difficult to construct in English, the emphasis on the beginning dactyl, almost turning it into a spondee (a metric foot that uses two stressed syllables in a row), and finally the repetition of words in the beginning of successive phrases. Anaphora is the triple use of "I" in the second stanza, and the quadruple use of "Thy" in the fourth (Westermeyer, p. 151-52).
Life for Johann Heermann was anything but easy. Coming from the same time as the well-known poet, Paul Gerhardt (see "Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded"), Heermann also suffered through the tragedies of the Thirty Year's War. Born the son of a poor furrier in the small Polish town, Raudten (near Wolau in Lower Silesia), Heermann was the only one of five children to survive. Because of early childhood illnesses, Heermann's mother vowed that if he would survive, she would educate him in the ministry, even though she had to beg for the money to do so. As it happens, Heermann did survive his childhood ailments, and began studying in Fraustadt, Breslau Brieg, and at the University of Straussberg. After only a year of studies at Straussberg, Heermann suffered an affection of the eye, forcing him to retire from his studies and return to Raudten in 1610. Shortly after his return, at the recommendation of Baron Wenzel, Heermann was appointed Diaconus of Koben, a small town nearby to Raudten and to Fraustadt. On Ascension Day in 1611, Heermann began his duties at the church, and later, on St. Martin's Day, Heermann was appointed Pastorate of the church (, Johann Heermann, par. 1). From here on out, things started going down a slippery slope for Heermann. In 1613, the town of Fraustadt was struck by the plague, and three years later a fire struck Koben and nearly destroyed the town. With things already looking difficult, more strife struck Heermann. In 1617, Heermann’s wife died; 1618 the Thirty Year’s War began; in 1623, throat troubles began affecting Heermann and his ability to preach; and finally between 1629 and 1634, Koben was raided four times. Though Heermann lost almost everything he owned, and was almost killed several times, it was during these difficult times that this hymns (Ah, Holy Jesus), and 48 others, were published in Heermann’s collection Devoti Musica Cordis (Westermeyer, p. 152).
                Devoti Musica Cordis was, as the title indicates, intended for “house and heart,” and not for public use. Finally, in 1631, the plague struck Koben, and in 1634, Heermann’s throat troubles caused him so much pain that he could no longer preach, causing him to retire in 1638. Though he was no longer preaching, Heerman continued to produce hymns, publishing another collection in 1636 containing hymns on the gospel readings for Sundays and Festivals. Among his hymns, Heermann also had many poems which he had written in Latin starting in 1605. It wasn’t, however, until 1608 that he became a Poet at Brieg. Finally, skipping ahead half a century, in 1656, nine years after Heermann’s death, his poetical works were published. Considered one of the greatest German Hymn writers, Heermann is often times cited as being second only to the great Paul Gerhardt (, Johann Heermann, par. 2).
                Robert Bridges (the translator), was born in England, and studied at Corpus Christi College, in Cambridge, as well as at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. Planning on having an early retirement, Bridges became a doctor in London, hoping to be able to retire by the age of 40, and spending the rest of his life writing poetry. In 1881, Bridges was forced to retire due to lung disease, which was only three years earlier than he had originally intended. Eventually, Bridges was married to Mary Monica Waterhouse and upon marriage, they moved to Yattendon, England. During his time Yattendon, with his wife and his friend Harry Ellis Woodridge (1845-1917), who was professor of fine arts at Oxford and had revised William Chappell’s 1893 collection Popular Music of the Olden Time, Bridges edited the Yattendon Hymnal. Finally, in 1913, Bridges earned the prestigious title of Poet Laureate.
                The tune “Herzliebster Jesu” first appeared in Johann Cruger’s predecessor volume to Praxis Pietatis Melica, which was his collection Newes Vollkomliches Gesangbuch Augsburgischer Confession (Berlin, 1640). In this case, the influences for this hymn are numerous and can be traced back to a melody from the Genevan Psalter for Psalm 23, as well as another melody written by Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), who was one of the cantors in Leipzig at the St. Thomas Church before J.S. Bach (Westermeyer, p. 153). The tune is fitting for this text, outlining the last few phrases such as: “I crucified thee,” “God interceded,” and “for my salvation.” Smoothing out what would have been a traditional 16th century, rugged choral, this tune is a typical 17th century piece of music. The music, written in a minor key, seems to parallel the introspective texts of authors such as Heermann and Gerhardt (Westermeyer, p. 153). Stimulating many different composers, this tune, as well as the text, has made appearances in many famous works, such as J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and Bach’s St. John Passion.
                Johann Cruger was born in 1598 at Grosse-Breese, near Guben, Brandenburg. As a child, Cruger studied at the schools in Gubem, Sorau and Breslau, the Jesuit College at Olmutz, as well as at the poet’s school in Regensburg, and in 1615, finally settled in Berlin after a short time in Austria. For a short while, after a stint at the University of Wittenburg, Cruger worked as a private tutor from 1620 until 1622. It was in 1622 that Cruger was appointed Cantor of St. Nicholas’s Church in Berlin Germany, as well as one of the Masters of the Greyfriars Gymnasium. Cruger would hold these positions until his death in 1662, where he passed away in Berlin. Though Cruger never wrote any hymns, his name does appear as “Johann Kruger, 1610” as the original author of Charles Wesley’s “Hearts of Stone, Relent, Relent.” Cruger is known for writing many different hymn tunes, only twenty of which are still in common use today.

The Text:

1.       Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
          that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
          By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
          O most afflicted!

2.       Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
          Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
          'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
          I crucified thee.

3.       Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
          the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
          For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
          God interceded.

4.       For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
          thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
          thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
          for my salvation.

5.       Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
          I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
          think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
          not my deserving.

My Take on the Hymn:
                This hymn is very reflective, forcing us to take a look at what the real reason Christ was crucified truly is. It was because of our sins that Christ was put up on the cross, but this hymn asks Christ to forgive us for the pain that we have caused him. Without Christ dying on the cross, and without Him rising from the dead, there would be no Christian faith. It is this very reason that we are saved today, and that we as Christians can say that we no longer fear death, for it has no hold over us! This hymn does, however, seem to take an incident that was brought on by thousands of people, and turns it back onto ourselves. Though we were not around back when Christ was crucified, it was each one of our sins that hammered the nails farther into the cross. Even though we did this, it is because Christ died that we can take heed an know that Christ is there to forgive us our sins, no matter how far we have turned away from him. As is said in Psalm 139, no matter how far we run from Christ, we can’t hide from Him!
The Hymn:

If you cannot read music, just start the Youtube video and follow along!

Julian, John. "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended." Calvin Institute of        Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Westermeyer, Paul. "Holy Week/Three Days." Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran          Worship. Vol. 1. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010. 151-54. Print.

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