Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14th, 2012

Elisabeth von Cruciger: Reformation Hymn-Writer and Proud German Woman

The 16th century was, in many ways, a man’s world. That is not to say that women in Christian households were never valued, but that, when it came to matters of faith, it was believe that they should “take the back seat.” Some women refused to do that. Some were so moved by the newness and excitement of Protestant thought, by the freedom to worship as they chose, that they bubbled over and simply refused to be silenced. One such woman was Elisabeth Cruciger, also spelled Creutziger.

A German woman born sometime around 1500, Elisabeth had a firsthand look at the new “model Protestant family” embodied by theologian Martin Luther, his wife “Katie,” a former nun, and their children. She considered Katharina von Bora Luther a close friend and had the privilege (or the detriment, considering whatever might have been the subject matter!) of being a frequent onlooker at Luther’s famous “Table Talks.” Like Katie, she had been sent to a nunnery as a child, and no doubt they often shared and compared experiences.

These things in and of themselves made Elisabeth an intriguing woman and a new brand of Christian. Yet her interest in songwriting put her in a different league than most women of her day. Many women enjoyed singing but few dared to write hymns . . . this was, after all, a man’s world. Elisabeth laughed and ignored tradition. Was that not what the Protestant Reformation was doing . . . ignoring traditions long set in stone, blazing a new path, setting out to do what no one had dared to do before? So she wrote. Her hymn, Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (Lord Christ, the Only Son of God), was published in 1524 and was one of the oldest Protestant songs of worship ever penned. The year 1524 was a significant one for Elisabeth as it was also the year she married Caspar Cruciger the Elder, who had studied under Luther.

So why is Elisabeth Cruciger’s name so little-known? Women songwriters were often discredited or downright ignored. After friends and family were no longer alive to tell the truth, female authors’ rights were often superseded by others. Old stereotypes persisted from the Middle Ages, when women were to be seen and not heard. They had only a small place in church activities, and medieval Catholic hierarchy had little place for even the most devout believers. In early Protestantism, however, characterized by the “priesthood of believers,” women began to come forth and truly feel for this breakthrough faith of freedom and courageous new thought. They toiled alongside their husbands, wrote hymns, “held down the fort,” taught, preached, and witnessed. They were martyred, and showed just as much courage as their male counterparts.

So how did the first Reformation hymn written by a woman sound? What words did that Protestant wife and disciple pen?

The only Son from heaven,
Foretold by ancient seers,
By God the Father given,
In human form appears.
No sphere His light confining,
No star so brightly shining
As He, our Morning Star.

O time of God appointed,
O bright and holy morn!
He comes, the King anointed,
The Christ, the virgin-born,
Grim death to vanquish for us,
To open heav’n before us
And bring us life again.

O Lord, our hearts awaken
To know and love You more,
In faith to stand unshaken,
In Spirit to adore,
That we, through this world moving,
Each glimpse of heaven proving,
May reap its fullness there.

O Father, here before You
With God the Holy Ghost
And Jesus, we adore You,
O pride of angel host:
Before You mortals lowly
Cry, “Holy, holy, holy,
O blessed Trinity!”

The Protestant Reformation was truly blessed by women like Elisabeth Cruciger!

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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