By Heather Judd
Lutherans sing hymns to the devil.
At the baptism of a child, you might hear Lutherans singing:
Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me!
(LSB 594:3 – Erdmann Neumeister)
…Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come! He, the mighty Redeemer!
(LSB 533:3 – Johann Ludwig Conrad Allendorf)
Or if you are very lucky, you could experience the thrill of hearing them belt the strong battle-cry against the devil:
Satan, I defy thee;
Death, I now decry thee;
Fear, I bid thee cease. …
(LSB 743:3 – Johann Franck)
In fact, I believe that the Lutheran church is unique in its frank singing in direct address to Satan. You might find an evangelical praise chorus or two that talk about stomping on the devil or some other such cocky address of personal triumph over the evil one. Perhaps there are hymns from other mainline Christian traditions that match these stark, steadfast Lutheran declarations against the ancient foe, but I am hard pressed to think of any.
Lutheran hymnody is distinct in tone because it is distinct in purpose. Whereas much music used in Christian worship is aimed at working upon the worshiper’s emotions to create feelings of gratitude or empowerment or simply to catalogue God’s great works, Lutheran hymns are simultaneously doctrinal and practical. They declare the truths of God’s person and works, and they apply these doctrines to the Christian’s life. Rather than fortifying the soul primarily through emotion (pathos), they fortify it primarily through words of truth (logos) about Christ (the Logos). Check all the “devilish” hymns in your Lutheran Service Book; every single one of them also sings specifically about Christ Jesus, Who has defeated the devil through His death and resurrection.
The best Lutheran hymns are simultaneously steadfast and urgent in their declarations, often because they were penned in the context of a dire historical period. Hymnodists such as Johann Franck, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt lived through the wracking devastation of the Thirty Years’ War. Seeing lands, homes, and families ravaged for half their lifetimes, they could be content with no theology of glory, but rather burst forth with a fierce and certain hope that flowed from the cross. They saw Satan’s work firsthand as they lost their earthly possessions and even their loved ones, but they also knew Christ’s sustaining mercy in His Word and Sacraments that would support them unto death and into eternity.
Thus, Lutherans sing to the devil because they believe he is no benign grinning figure with a pitchfork but a real threat to their faith. We sing of his works because they are real and dreadful:
…And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife…
(LSB 656:4 – Martin Luther)
We sing to one another the need to be prepared for the satanic pitfalls that would rob us not just of our earthly possessions, but of our very faith:
I walk in danger all the way.
The thought shall never leave me
That Satan, who has marked his prey,
Is plotting to deceive me.
The foe with hidden snares
May seize me unawares
If I should fail to watch and pray.
I walk in danger all the way.
(LSB 716:1 – Hans Adolf Brorson)
Watch against the devil’s snares
Lest asleep he find you
For indeed no pains he spares
To deceive and blind you.
Oft are they
Who secure are sleeping
And no watch are keeping.
(LSB 663:2 – Johann Burkhard Freystein)
But we do not sing in cowering fear of the devil, but rather with a “battle plan” in hand:
…Or should Satan press me hard,
Let me then be on my guard,
Saying, “Christ for me was wounded,”
That the tempter flee confounded.
(LSB 421:2 – Johann Heermann)
And always, always we sing in triumph—not our own triumph, but Christ’s:
Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken
By the devil’s seething rage,
Thwarts the plan of Satan’s minions;
Wins the strife from age to age;
Conquers sin and death forever;
Slams them in their steely cage.
(LSB 521:1 – Peter M. Prange)
And since this victory is won, the whole Church in chorus defies and renounces Satan, his works, and his ways, knowing that they cannot touch us, even if they rob us of all we have and put us to death.
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
(LSB 656:3 – Martin Luther)
This article is part of a series on Lutheran hymns that address the “unholy trinity” of sin, death, and the devil. Although it seems counter-intuitive, hymnody that addresses these evils actually makes a stronger confession of Christian faith than songs that merely focus on praising God. By singing about the unholy three, Lutherans deny the theology of glory and find comfort in the theology of the cross, proclaiming that even while we are beset by these enemies, Christ has conquered them and our holiness, life, and salvation are secure in Him.
Heather Judd is currently a sister, daughter, and teacher in a classical, Lutheran school in Wyoming. The last of these vocations demonstrates the divine sense of irony since she (a) was homeschooled for her entire K-12 education, (b) only became a classical education enthusiast after earning her B.A. in education, (c) attended just about every denomination except Lutheran growing up, and (d) had never been to Wyoming before moving there for the teaching call. When she is not spending time in the eccentric world of middle school students, she enjoys reading, writing, acting, baking, playing organ, and pondering the mysteries of theology, physics, and literature.