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Paul Speratus (Hymn-Writer)

Born: December 13, 1489, - Rötlen, Württemberg, Germany
Died: 1551 - Marienwerder, Pomerania

Paul Speratus’ preliminary studies were carried on at a German university. But his great desire for knowledge drew him on to Paris and Italy, where he studied philosophy and law. He received his doctor’s degree in both these branches of learning. Later he went to Vienna, where he gained the doctor’s degree in theology.

About the year 1506 he began his activity as a pastor in the bishopric of Augsburg. He remained a Catholic priest for over ten years. In 1517 he even wrote a poem in honor of Martin Luther’s famous opponent, Johann Eck. But very soon Martin Luther’s writings and the reform movement in Wittenberg began to bear influence upon him. At first, however, he hoped, like Martin Luther, that a reform could be carried through within the Church, so that celibacy and monastic vows among the clergy might be abolished. With courage and hope he took up the reform measures, when he became dean of Würtzburg, where both the bishop and several other leading men agreed with him. Speratus even went so far as to marry. This was several years previous to Martin Luther’s marriage. But the district was placed under a new archbishop, who was a very strict Catholic. When he learned that Speratus had broken the law of celibacy, he deposed him from office in 1520. Speratus and his wife then left for Salzburg, where the archbishop was friendly to the Reformers. He was again given the office of dean and at once resumed his efforts at reform work. But Speratus was undaunted and outspoken, and when he reprimanded his bishop for penuriousness he had to give up his position. On the way to a new field of labor in Hungary he appeared in Vienna and agitated against monastic vows and celibacy. He gained many followers. But he was excommunicated and accused of heresy. His life was now in danger, hence he left Vienna secretly and set out for Wittenberg. He journeyed through the town of Iglau in Moravia, and there he found both the officials and the people very favorable towards the reform movement. He was elected their pastor and preached with great fervor concerning the grace of God in Christ. He gained an extensive following. But a complaint had been sent to the king, and Speratus was soon cast into prison. For the second time he was face to face with death. But these trials only had a ripening influence upon him. Until this time he had been undaunted and daring; from now on a quiet resignation settled upon his mind and actions. From his prison chamber he sent many fervent letters to his dear congregation in Iglau Here he also wrote his famous hymn “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her” using a chorale melody from the 15th century. His imprisonment did not last so very long, however. The young emperor took another view of the matter and ordered the bishop to release him on condition that he should leave Moravia. Then he went at once to Wittenberg, 1523. Speratus was heartily received by Martin Luther and his friends. It was just at the time when Martin Luther was laboring to furnish the people with hymns in their mother tongue. In one of the very first hymn collections, the so-called Achtliederbuch, three of the hymns of Speratus were included, together with four by Martin Luther and one hymn by an unknown writer. Speratus assisted Martin Luther in many ways. Martin Luther held him in high esteem because of his piety and great learning. When Duke Albrecht of Brandenburg sought Luther’s advice concerning the introduction of the Reformation in his state, Martin Luther recommended Speratus for this work. The duke acted accordingly. Speratus became the first palace chaplain of Königsberg, 1524, and from 1530 bishop of Marienwerder, Pomerania.

Source: ELHHB Website [Dahle, Library of Christian Hymns; Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal]
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2003)

Texts of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

BWV 9, BWV 86, BWV 155, BWV 186

Chorale Texts used in Bach’s Vocal Works





Es ist das Heil uns kommen her

Links to other Sites

Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary Handbook - Biographies and Sources (ELHHB)
Paul Speratus (Wikipedia) [German]
Paul Speratus (Heiligenlexikon) [German]
SPERATUS, Paul (BBKL) [German]

Appendix B: Early German Lutheran and Reformation Hymnals (Hymns & Carols of Christmas)
Lexikon Paul Speratus (Freenet) [German]
Paul Speratus (Glaubenszeugen) [German]



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