Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Annual Convention of The College Theology Society

Publication Date



Religion and Philosophy


Protestants and Catholics now sing each other’s hymns and think nothing of it. This was not always the case. Christian hymnody was once drawn along sharp sectarian lines. When, how, and why did this change? This presentation hopes to offer a tentative answer by analyzing a particular hymn, a medieval Latin Catholic poem, a 17th-century German Lutheran translation, and a number of English translations of that translation, including the dominant one by a 19th-century American Presbyterian. The phenomenon of that hymn’s translation reveals an ecumenical impulse in the form of borrowing song texts across confessional lines. The differences between the different versions of the hymn demonstrate what is distinctive about each recontextualization of the text, notably an increased amount of theological abstraction and a decreased amount of blood between the original and Gerhardt, and between Gerhardt and his English-language translators. The consistent themes between all the versions of the hymn shows what seems to be its inalienable essence.

~Presentation excerpt~