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Pieces of Our Past

June 8, 2012

Artifact: Kirchen-Gesang-Buch für Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden ungeänderter Augburgischer Confession (Church Hymnbook for the Evangelical Lutheran congregations of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession)

Size: 5 x 7.25 x 1.5 inches (closed)

Date: 1847

Significance: While the groundwork for this hymnal predates the founding of the Missouri Synod, it served for nearly 100 years as the Synod’s first and only German hymnal.

Development of the Hymnal:  The hymnal project began in November 1845 when Trinity Lutheran Church, Saint Louis (where C. F. W. Walther was pastor), resolved to produce its own hymnal. It was decided that the hymnal would contain 500 pages and cost 75 cents for a bound copy, 50 cents if unbound.  The hymnals the early Saxon immigrants were using at this time were unsound both theologically and musically, the liturgies, hymn texts and melodies having been affected by two theological principles rampant in nineteenth-century Germany—rationalism and pietism.


C. F. W. Walther served as the main editor of the hymnal, assisted by other Lutheran pastors in the area. Six laymen also served on the hymnal committee, overseeing the financial aspects of the project. Walther was compensated for his work on the project with “five cords of winter wood together with a week’s salary.”  Walther noted in Der Lutheraner on June 15, 1847, that there were a number of considerations when selecting hymns for the hymnal, chief of which was that they be “pure in doctrine.”


The hymnal contained 437 hymns, a selection of prayers, antiphons, the Preface, Luther’s Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. Walther and the other pastors restored the church year as the organizing principal of the hymnal and attempted to recover original forms of hymn texts and melodies (though only texts were included in the hymnal itself). Trinity officially handed over the hymnal to the Missouri Synod in 1862, but it continued to be printed—virtually unchanged—in various editions into the twentieth century.


For an account of the development of this hymnal and the principles followed by Walther in editing it, see Jon D. Vieker, “C. F. W. Walther: Editor of Missouriʼs First and Only German Hymnal,ˮ Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly 65 (Summer 1992): 53–69.


A list of the hymns included in the 1847 hymnal, in English, is available at http://matthaeusglyptes.blogspot.com/2010/09/walthers-index-english.html, and a project is under way to translate the hymnal (or most of it) into English. To follow its progress, go to http://matthaeusglyptes.blogspot.com/ .

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Last updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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