Saturday, 1 September 2007

Baptismal version of Liebster Jesu (Dearest Jesus)

Catholics are generally familiar with the German hymn "Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word". It is a hymn for the beginning of worship (an "Entrance Hymn" -- or, as some would call it today "a Gathering Song" -- uuh) by Tobias Clausnitzer (d. 1684), and translated by the great Catherine Winkworth.

Not so well known to Catholics, but well known to Lutherans (because of the general custom to have baptisms during the Divine Service) is the longer, baptismal version of the same hymn, also written by Clausnitzer, and also translated by Catherine Winkworth.

Interestingly, in the German, both hymns begin the same way: "Liebster Jesu, wir sind heir", so I don't know why Catherine decided to translate them differently. Perhaps she didn't. Maybe it was hymnal editors that made "Dearest" (which is the best translatin of Liebster) into "Blessed).

I give the version of this baptismal hymn that is in the Australian Lutheran Hymnal here, because it includes a verse (verse 4) that clearly teaches baptismal regeneration in infants. Another version (see here) appears to be more common in America and was included in the Lutheran Book of Worship (187) and in Together in Song (480).

Interestingly I came across this eucharistic version of the hymn, attributed to Clausnitzer, but said to be "adapt­ed by George R. Wood­ward. George obviously did a fair bit of "adapting", because I can find no German original in my old hymnbooks to match it. Quite nice though.

Any way, here is the Australian Lutheran version of Clausnitzer's baptismal hymn:

1. Dearest Jesus, we are here,
Gladly Thy command obeying;
With this child we now draw near
In accord with Thine own saying
That to Thee it shall be given
As a child and heir of heaven.

2. Yea, Thy word is clear and plain,
And we would obey it duly:
"He who is not born again,
Heart and life renewing truly,
Born of water and the Spirit,
Can My kingdom not inherit."

3. Therefore hasten we to Thee,
In our arms this infant bearing;
Let us here Thy glory see
Let this child, Thy mercy sharing,
In Thine arms be shielded ever,
Thine on earth and Thine forever.

4. Wash it, Jesus, in Thy blood
from the sin-stain of its nature;
Let it rise from out this flood
clothed in Thee a new-born creature;
may it, washed as Thou has bidden,
in Thine innocence be hidden.

5. Now unto Thy throne we send
prayers that from our heart proceeded.
Let them unto heaven ascend,
let our warm desires be heeded!
Write the name we now have given,
Write it in the book of heaven.

Interestingly, while the Entrance Hymn version is three verses (plus doxology) in both the original and the English, the original baptismal version has (in good German Lutheran style) SEVEN verses -- in which verse 4 given above is an accurate translation of the original verse 4, and verse 5 is actually verse 7. Here are the other verses and my rough translations. Metrical versions might follow:

5. Mache Licht aus finsterniß
setz es aus dem Zorn zur Gnade,
Heil den tiefen Schlangenbiß
durch die Kraft im Wunder-Bade,
laß hier einen Jordan rinnen,
so vergeht der Aussatz drinnen.

Make light shine in darkness,
set it out of (your) wrath into your grace,
heal the deep serpent-bite,
through the might of the wonder-bath,
let here a Jordan flow,
thus the [Aussatz (Leper?!)] passes inside.

6. Hirte, nimm dein Schäflein an,
Haupt, mach es zu deinem Gliede,
Himmels-Weg, zeig ihm die Bahn,
Friede-Fürst, schenk ihm den Friede,
Weinstock, hilf, daß diese Rebe
auch im Glauben dich umgebe.

Shepherd, take your little lamb,
Head, make it to your member,
Heaven's Way, show it the road,
Prince of Peace, give it peace,
Vine-Stock, help, that this vine
also in faith to embrace you.

This is the one often appearing as Verse 4 in American versions of the hymn. That verse is there given as:
Gracious Head, Thy member own;
Shepherd, take Thy lamb and feed it;
Prince of Peace, make here Thy throne;
Way of Life, to heaven lead it;
Precious Vine, let nothing sever
From Thy side this branch forever.


Christine said...

Oh goodness, how I loved "Dearest Jesus We Are Here" from the LBW.

We used it regularly in my ELCA congregation.

Nina Varese said...


We are planning on using your hymn text to Thaxted for our wedding (and have noted your terms of use). I personally would love to use Liebster Jesu and I'm wondering if you know of any wedding relevant verses for it.


Schütz said...

Dear Nina,

Please go ahead and use my Thaxted hymn. Regarding Liebster Iesu, no, I don't know of any wedding text set to that--but it would be a good tune to use. Some variant on the baptismal version, which begins "Dearest jesus, we are here..." etc. would fit right in with the old "Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together to join this man and the woman in holy matrimony".

When's your wedding? i might give it some thought.

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

Fr. Schütz. Great name btw, and great blog. Winkworth did a full version of this hymn, incl. the snakebite stanza. It's at ccel: