By Taylor Brantley
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is a cornerstone of modern Christian hymnody. Its origins are every bit as grand as its legacy, being written by one of the most famous and beloved Christians in history, and being used as a battle cry during times of persecution.
Martin Luther hardly needs introducing, but if you have not heard his name, he is the Great Reformer: the man who began the Protestant Reformation.
It began on October 31, 1517, when Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the Cathedral of Wittenburg, Germany. The 95 Thesis was a document of 95 controversial ideas about Christianity that Luther was inviting debate over. These ideas were derived from scripture, and were in direct violation of the teachings of the Catholic Church, an immense powerhouse of Europe. In essence, Luther’s notion was that believers should not be reliant on popes and priests for their salvation. Instead, their reliance should wholly be on God through a personal relationship with Him; faith in God over works of man. Such ideas took power away from the Catholic Church and gave it to the common man. Thus began a decades long struggle known as the Protestant Reformation.
Luther is well known for beginning the Protestant Reformation, but is less known for his ongoing fight during it. His passion for each believer to experience a personal relationship with God never budged, and one of his key proposals for such a relationship involved the grand purpose of music. On music, Luther proclaimed, “If any man despises music, as all fanatics do, for him I have no liking; for music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men. Thus it drives out the devil and makes people cheerful,” and, “The Devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”
So important did Luther deem music, he even stated he “… would allow no man to preach or teach God’s people without a proper knowledge of the use and power of sacred song.” Many of history’s greatest hymns come from reverends soon after Luther’s time, showing the impact Luther had on congregational worship.
Luther understood that actions speak louder than words. It is how he began the Reformation, and it is how he emphasized the importance of music. Luther took to writing his own hymns; hymns that congregations took joy in singing; hymns that broke the concept of needing a middle man to commune with God. Greatest of Luther’s hymns was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. He wrote it during the darkest time of the Reformation, a time of widespread persecution from the Catholic Church. For the persecuted, no greater words were there to sing than,
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
So powerful was the hymn’s impact during those days that it was dubbed The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.
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