A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Infobox Hymn
Name = A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
MusicBy = Martin Luther
WordsBy = Martin Luther
Published = 1531 (or 1529)
OrigLanguage = German
TranslatedBy = Myles Coverdale
Frederick H. Hedge
Catherine Winkworth
TranslatedPub =
Meter = 87 87 66 66 7
TradMelodyName = Ein Feste Burg (Martin Luther)
Misc =

begins "A safe stronghold our God is still."


"A Mighty Fortress" is one of the best loved hymns of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. It has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" for the effect it had in increasing the support for the Reformers' cause. John Julian records four theories of its origin:

* Heinrich Heine: it was sung by Luther and his companions as they entered Worms on April 16, 1521 for the Diet;
* K.F.T. Schneider: it was a tribute to Luther's friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed as a Protestant martyr on August 16, 1527;
* Jean-Henri Merle d'Aubigné: it was sung by the German Lutheran princes as they entered Augsburg for the Diet in 1530 at which the Augsburg Confession was presented; and
* the view that it was composed in connection with the Diet of Speyer (1529) at which the German Lutheran princes lodged their "protest" to Emperor Charles V, who wanted to enforce his Edict of Worms (1521).

The earliest extant hymnal in which it appears is that of Andrew Rauscher (1531), but it is supposed to have been in Joseph Klug's Wittenberg hymnal of 1529, of which no copy exists. Its title was "Der xxxxvi. Psalm. Deus noster refugium et virtus". Before that it is supposed to have appeared in the Hans Weiss Wittenberg hymnal of 1528, also lost. [Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut Lehmann, eds., "Luther's Works", 55 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1957-1986), 53:283.] This evidence would support its being written in 1527-1529, since Luther's hymns were printed shortly after they were written.

Tradition states that King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had it played as his forces went to battle in the Thirty Years' War. The psalm had been translated into Swedish already in 1536, presumably by Olaus Petri. ["Psalmer och sånger" (Örebro: Libris; Stockholm: Verbum, 1987), Item 237, which uses Johan Olof Wallin's 1816 revision of the translation attributed to Petri. The first line is "Vår Gud är oss en väldig borg."] In the late 1800s the song also became an anthem of the early Swedish socialist movement.

It was first translated into English by Myles Coverdale in 1539 with the title, "Oure God is a defence and towre". The first English translation in "common usage" was "God is our Refuge in Distress, Our strong Defence" in J.C. Jacobi's Psal. Ger., 1722, p. 83.

Perhaps ironically, given its Reformation pedigree, it is now a suggested hymn for Catholic masses [http://www.canticanova.com/planning/year-c/pln4c_m.htm] , appearing in the second edition of the "Catholic Book of Worship", published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.


The first line in German is "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott". Luther composed the melody for the hymn, which is called "Ein' Feste Burg" and is in hymn meter, denoted rhythmic tune as distinguished from the later isometric tune setting of the hymn, meter. The isometric meter that is employed in the above media selection is more widely known and used in Christendom. [Cf. The Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, "Lutheran Worship", (St. Louis: CPH, 1982), 992, 997.] In 1906 Edouard Rœhrich wrote, "The authentic form of this melody differs very much from that which one sings in most Protestant churches and figures in (Giacomo Meyerbeer's) "The Huguenots". ... The original melody is "extremely rhythmic", by the way it bends to all the nuances of the text ..." [E. Rœhrich, "Les Origines du Choral Luthérien". (Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1906), 23 (italics original): "La forme authentique de cette mélodie diffère beaucoup de celle qu'on chante dans la plupart des Églises protestantes et qui figure dans les "Huguenots". ... La mélodie originelle est "puissamment rythmée", de manière à se plier à toutes les nuances du texte ..."]

While 19th-century musicologists disputed Luther's authorship of the music to the hymn, that opinion has been modified by more recent research; it is now the consensus view of musical scholars that Luther did indeed compose the famous tune to go with the words.


The tune has been used by numerous composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, as the source material for his Cantata BWV 80. It was given two settings in Bach's "Choralgesänge" ("Choral Hymns"). Felix Mendelssohn used it as the theme for the fourth and final movement of his Symphony No. 5 (1830), which he named "Reformation" in honor of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther, Giacomo Meyerbeer used it in his five-act grand opera "Les Huguenots" (1836), and Richard Wagner used it as a "motive" in his "Kaisermarsch" ("Emperor's March"), which was composed to commemorate the return of Kaiser Wilhelm I from the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. More recently it has been used by band composers to great effect in pieces such as "Psalm 46" by John Zdechlik. In 2007, Bradley Joseph arranged an instrumental version on his album, "Hymns and Spiritual Songs".


Original German


Below is a translation in fairly contemporary language, made by the contributor. This is a largely literal rather than a poetic version. The rhyme scheme has not been reproduced, but the prosody of the original has been essentially retained. The nine-line verse divisions are also retained; this is true for the original punctuation as well, with the exception of a few commas added for clarity.

A mighty fortress is our God, A strong defense and weapon; He helps us out of all distress, That has us now afflicted. The old evil foe, With power now attacks, Great strength and much guile, His dreadful weapons are, On Earth he has no equal.

With our powers we will fail, We would be soon defeated; But for us fights the chosen man, Whom God Himself elected. You ask, who that is? He’s called Jesus Christ, The armies’ leading Lord, There is no other God, He holds the field forever.

And if the world should fill with woe,And would us all devour,We would not shake in mortal fear,Our hopes they can prevail.The prince of the world,As grim as he may be,Still does us no ill,He comes, he is judged,One word and he’ll collapse.

The Word it shall forever stand,And no thanks need be said;He stands by us for all our livesWith his great loving gifts.Let them take your body,Goods, honor, child, wife:Send all to the wind,They have no worth in this world,The Kingdom is ours forever.

Musical setting

* "Ein' feste Burg", Luther, 1529
*This tune was used by A.W.R. Crawley for the School Song ('Per Angusta ad Augusta') of Auckland Grammar School in New Zealand.

In popular culture

*The hymn was sung at the National Cathedral during the funeral service for United States President Dwight David Eisenhower. [ http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/i/mightyfo.htm Cyber hymnal: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"]
* A version of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" was used as the theme for the children's television series "Davey and Goliath", which was produced for the Lutheran Church in America.
* Part of it can also be heard in the made-for-TV movie, "A Separate Peace".
* "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" is the first song that the main character of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" encounters, chronologically within his own life.
* A Caribbean-style instrumental version is included in the Van Dyke Parks album "Clang of the Yankee Reaper" (1976), erroneously given as Johann Pachelbel's "Canon".
* Mystery Science Theater 3000 used the song as a running gag during the film "The Rebel Set", in which the mastermind of a bank heist disguised himself as a Lutheran minister. The series was produced in the state of Minnesota, which has a large Lutheran population.
* "A Mighty Fortress" was the name of a supplement for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game; this supplement depicted the Renaissance and wars of religion as a campaign setting for this roleplaying game.
*In the animated TV series "The Simpsons" the doorbell chimes of Ned Flanders, the cheerfully devout next door neighbor, sometimes ring "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
*The WB series "The Gilmore Girls" features this hymn in an episode of the series' third season, when Zach, Brian and Dave are practicing for a gig at Mrs. Kim's house. The band re-writes the hymn after Zach protests the lyrics.
* The prison warden ironically whistles this tune in Tim Robbins's movie "Shawshank Redemption".
*The instrumental is played in the background during a collage of scenes in the movie "American Gangster".
*In , the building description for a fortress begins with the words "A might fortress is our God... but strong walls and towers help". However, a different description is seen when the player does not choose a Catholic Faction.
*Is sung during Brom's funeral in the HBO series "Deadwood".

See also

RAF Laarbruch



* Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Lutheran Worship. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1982. ISBN
* Julian, John, ed. A Dictionary of Hymnology: Setting forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of all Ages and Nations. Second revised edition. 2 vols. n.p., 1907. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957.
* Pelikan, Jaroslav and Lehmann, Helmut, eds. Luther's Works. Vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns. St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1965. ISBN 0-8006-0353-2.
* Polack, W.G. The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1942.
* Rœhrich, E. Les Origines du Choral Luthérien. Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1906.
* Stulken, Marilyn Kay. Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.

External links

* [http://www.cyberhymnal.org/non/de/festburg.htm Lyrics, Music, and MIDI file at CyberHymnal]
* [http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/a/safestrh.htm Version by Thomas Carlyle]
* [http://www.christnotes.org/bible.php?q=psalm+46&ver=kjv Psalm 46 in the King James version]
* [http://www.cofe.anglican.org/worship/liturgy/commonworship/texts/psalter/psalms46to50.html Psalms 46-50 in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer translation (Coverdale)]

Other Versions

* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/winkworth/chorales.h124.html Catherine Winkworth]
* [http://www.ctsfw.edu/etext/luther/hymns/homl/tower.homl Hymns of Martin Luther]

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