Johann Jakob Schütz (1640-1690) was eight years old at the conclusion of the Thirty-Years’ War, during which Germany was the battleground on which Europeans fought for political power with religious zeal. This war and several smaller conflicts during the 16th and 17th centuries are often lumped together under the rubric of “Wars of Religion.” But as David Bentley Hart points out, while religious tensions were high, political ideologies propelled the swords.

    “The most protracted and devastating of these conflicts was the Thirty Years’ War, which began in 1618 when King Ferdinand of Bohemia (1578-1637) — later Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II — provoked a Protestant uprising in Bohemia by attempting to enforce religious uniformity in his dominions. But Ferdinand certainly had no objection to the aid provided by the Protestant Elector of Saxony in quelling the rebellion. And though, during the first half of the wars that ensued in the German states, foreign Protestant powers entered the fray on the side of the seditious princes, this was hardly a result of religious principle. Nor could religious motives plausibly account for the way in which these wars were absorbed into the struggle between the Catholic Habsburgs and the Catholic Bourbons during the last dozen years of the war (by far the bloodiest phase of the fighting), or for the subventions supplied in 1630 by Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) to the Lutheran king of Sweden Gustavus II Adolph (1594-1632) with the blessing of the pope — so that the latter could send troops into Germany, or for France’s direct entry into the war in 1635 on the side of the Protestant powers.

    This is not to deny that Catholics and Protestants often hated one another quite sincerely in the early modern period, but that hatred was impotent to move armies. Simply stated, the European wars of the early modern period were not in any meaningful sense ‘wars of religion.’”

Thirty Years War 2

One of the results of these confusing and bloody episodes is that the German population dropped from sixteen million to six million. Another is that the Lutheran Church seemed to have become cold, rote, and mechanical. From within that shell of a church arose a movement of men and women who wanted to inject the body of Christ with a combination of biblical doctrine and personal holiness, or piety. In An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe, Douglas Schantz describes the effect that a new movement of Lutheran and Reformed believers had on the heart of the Church:

    “The Pietism movement introduced a new paradigm to traditional German Protestantism, one that encouraged personal renewal and new birth, conventicle gatherings for Bible study and mutual encouragement, social activism and postmillennialism, and ecumenical cooperation — in contrast to the polemical Protestantism that gave rise to the Thirty Years War. Pietism included an eclectic mix of esoteric spirituality, radical Reformation traditions, and biblical devotion, with no clear line separating church Pietists, such as Spener, from the Radicals. The cultural legacy of Pietism includes reforms in caring for the poor and the orphan, new Bible translations, new social networks, experiential literature such as the autobiography and memoir, and worldwide mission.”

Philip Jacob Spener

The Spener that Schantz mentions above is Philip Spener, generally considered the father of German Pietism, and that brings us back to the composer of our hymn, Johann Jakob Schütz. Schütz was a lawyer in Frankfort, Germany when he met Spener. The two of them, as well as many others, began small groups called collegia pietatis through which they encouraged and discipled one another. The pietists also produced some of the greatest hymns in the protestant tradition, most of which had to wait until the 19th century to be translated into English. Though Schütz wrote several hymns, this one is the only one still in use. It also happens to have been the inspiration for J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 117.

And since we’re talking about Bach in the context of glorifying God, it is well worth noting that Bach famously signed all of his church compositions (and some of his “secular” works) with the initials SDG, or the full words Soli Deo Gloria. His contemporary George F. Handel often did the same.

Bach SDG
Bach’s valediction on the reverse side of the last fugue of The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I

(For more on the German Pietists, see here and here, and here. For more on J.S. Bach and his theology, see here.)

    Here is the text of Schütz’s hymn:

All praise to God, Who Reigns Above

All praise to God, who reigns above,
the God of all creation,
the God of wonders, pow’r, and love,
the God of our salvation!
With healing balm my soul he fills,
the God who every sorrow stills.
To God all praise and glory!

What God’s almighty pow’r hath made
his gracious mercy keepeth;
by morning dawn or evening shade
his watchful eye ne’er sleepeth;
within the kingdom of his might,
lo, all is just and all is right.
To God all praise and glory!

I cried to him in time of need:
Lord God, O hear my calling!
For death he gave me life indeed
and kept my feet from falling.
For this my thanks shall endless be;
O thank him, thank our God, with me.
To God all praise and glory!

The Lord forsaketh not his flock,
his chosen generation;
he is their refuge and their rock,
their peace and their salvation.
As with a mother’s tender hand
he leads his own, his chosen band.
To God all praise and glory!

Ye who confess Christ’s holy name,
to God give praise and glory!
Ye who the Father’s pow’r proclaim,
to God give praise and glory!
All idols underfoot be trod,
the Lord is God! The Lord is God!
To God all praise and glory!

Then come before his presence now
and banish fear and sadness;
to your Redeemer pay your vow
and sing with joy and gladness:
Though great distress my soul befell,
the Lord, my God, did all things well,
To God all praise and glory!

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