LSB 505: Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay

We have selected LSB 505 as the AD 2021 seasonal hymn for Trinitytide, the first part of the long Trinity season. The Trinity season is known as the, “Time of the Church,” with the overriding theme of the Father’s love. The Trinitytide theme is the Marks of the Church (the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ1).

Contents

Hymn author
Hymn translator
Hymn history
Hymn text
End notes
Appendix

Hymn author:

Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) – see the author/composer notes for LSB 655 at https://catalinalutheran.org/blog/2020/05/25/lsb-655-lord-keep-us-steadfast-in-your-word/ (accessed 12 April, AD 2021)

Hymn translator:

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Richard Massie (1800-1887)2 – was born in Chester, Cheshire England, to an Anglican priest and his wife, and was the fourth of 22 children.  The family had considerable, “old money.” Richard himself inherited two estates. He was known as an eccentric man of wealth and leisure.  He married but his wife died seven years after the wedding; he did not remarry and had no children.  Massie’s chief interest was in literature and he is best known for his translations of Dr. Luther’s hymns.  His primary aim was to accurately translate the original text, to not risk doctrinal change in his translation.  As a result, many of his translations lacked poetic beauty in the English, and very few actually appear in hymnals today.  In addition to his translations of Dr. Luther’s hymns, Massie translated hymns by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) and others.  In addition to LSB 505, our hymnal includes his work at least in part on LSB 421, 458, 556, 724, 726, 766, 823-24, 872 and 977. Massie died in 1887.

Hymn history:3

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Dr. Luther adapted Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay from a popular mediaeval hymn which was sung on pilgrimages and processions, having likely first encountered it in the Latin schools in Mansfeld and Magdeburg4. The hymn was initially addressed to St. Mary, St. Peter, St. Nicholas, St. Christopher, the archangel Michael, or any of a number of other saints, prophets and angels, petitioning them for their aid (for an example of the pre-Reformation hymn addressed to Mary, see the appendix).  Often in one procession, the hymn was repeated, addressing different saints in the subsequent stanzas. Some versions were used as a litany for All Saints Day and some were sung in Rogation Day processions.5

Dr. Luther developed this mediaeval hymn into a thrice-repeating stanza.  In it, he substituted the names of the three Persons of the Trinity in the opening line for the names of the various saints. He largely retained lines 1-5, wrote new text for lines 6-12, along with the Amen and praise in lines 13 and 14.6 The hymn was first published in Johann Walter’s (1496-1570) 1524 Wittenberg hymnal Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn (Booklet of Spiritual Songs). Beginning with the 1529/1533 hymnal Geistliche Lieder auffs new gebessert zu Wittemberg D. Mart. Luther (Spiritual Songs, Newly Revised at Wittenberg, Dr. Martin Luther), the hymn was designated for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and immediately preceded the Catechism hymns.7

The German hymn was included in the CFW Walther (1811-1887) Hymnal (WH 145). The Massie translation was included in the 1918 Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book (ELHB 271) and in altered form in the 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH 247). The single stanza option, “Triune God, Oh, Be Our Stay,” first appeared in the 1982 Lutheran Worship (LW 170). The alternate Lenten ending was first added in LW, “So sing we all, “Hosanna!” and altered in LSB to read, “O Lord, have mercy on us.”

The alterations in LSB of the original Massie translation (which are largely brought over from TLH and LW) are as follows:

When Hell’s dread powers assail us ➔ O let us perish never
Nor in our last hour fail us ➔ And grant us life forever
Firm in the faith abiding ➔ Uphold our faith most holy
In Christ our Saviour hiding ➔ And let us trust Thee solely
And heartily confiding ➔ With humble hearts and lowly
Amen, Amen, so be done ➔ Amen, Amen! This be done
So sing we Hallelujah ➔ So sing we, “Alleluia!”
(3rd stanza) Holy Ghost, be Thou our stay ➔ Holy spirit, be our stay

The hymn tune dates back at least to a choir book published in 1500 in Halberstadt, Germany. The tune accompanied the original mediaeval hymn addressed to the Virgin Mary. The composer is unknown.  The tune was well known to Luther and Walter and was brought forth to the 1524 hymnal with few alterations. It is written in the AAB, or repeated Stollen (stanzas) followed by an Abgesang (aftersong), barform pattern of the mediaeval secular court song. The barform was incorporated into many of the hymns of the Reformation and the years following.8 Interestingly, the pattern of the rhyme in Luther’s German, the Massie English and the LSB alterations, parallels the barform structure of the music:

Measures 1-4 (Stollen): a b a b
Measures 5-14 (Abgesang): c d d d; c e e e; c f (note the c rhyme integrating this section)
The overall rhythm of the tune mimics the marching of feet in procession.

Hymn text:

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Vocabulary: Triune (three in one); Stay (multiple definitions – dwelling fits best; also suspension of judicial proceedings, check or restraint); Perish (suffer death, complete ruin and destruction); Uphold (confirm/support); Shun (avoid, ignore, reject); Wiles and cunning (manipulating or persuading someone to do what one wants); Amen (truly); Alleluia (all you praise the Lord)

Read John 3:5-8, 13; and Romans 11:36. How do these verses testify to our Trinitarian God?  Read Psalm 31:1-3; and Psalm 46:1, 7(11). Who is our stay?  Read the following: A. Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-6; Ephesians 5:25-26; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:20-21; B. Matthew 26:26-28; C. Matthew 16:19, 18:18; John 20:22-23.  Through what means does God cleanse us from our sins? Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-22, 51-53. What has God promised? What historical event underlies our certainty in His promise?  Read Matthew 4:1-11, 6:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3. Who guards us from the evil one?  Read Exodus 20:3 (Deuteronomy 5:7); John 6:60-65; 1 Corinthians 2:14, 12:3; Ephesians2:8-9; Galatians 5:17 (among many others). Who upholds our faith and lets us trust wholly in God? Read 2 Chronicles 7:14; Philippians 2:8. What is meant by, “humble hearts and lowly”? Who was perfectly so?  Read Ephesians 6:10-17, noting that the imperatives are all plural. Why are we to put on the whole armor of God? (Read Hebrews 10:24-25. How do we put on God’s armor?). Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1-2. How do these passages describe the Christian life?  Read Psalm 55:22; Isaiah 46:4. On what basis can we proclaim Amen, Amen, or Truly, Truly?  Why is it meet and right at all times and in all places for us to thank and praise God?

End notes:

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  1. Ap VII/VIII 5
  2. Information is from Jon D. Vieker, “Massie, Richard,” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns, Volume 2 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019) pp. 512-513.
  3. Except where noted, information is from Victor E. Gebauer, “Triune God, be Thou our Stay,” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019) pp. 441-444; also, AE 53:268-270.
  4. Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music, Principles and Implications (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) p. 25.
  5. The Rogation Days begin with Rogate (“Pray ye”) Sunday (Easter 6), and continue until the Feast of the Ascension, as a prolonged vigil of the Feast.  This occurs typically when the planted seeds are beginning to sprout, and faithful Christians would process around the countryside praying God’s blessings for a good growing season and bountiful harvest.  See Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1947) p. 513.
  6. The German text of the hymn may be found at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale317-Eng.htm (accessed 12 April, AD 2021).
  7. Luther’s Liturgical Music, pp. 110-111.  Leaver points out that the hymn was followed by Dr. Luther’s translation of the Latin Collect for the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) chorale on the first stanza of the hymn may be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?=BILt4fhOTJ0 (accessed 13 April AD 2021).
  8. For more on barform, see Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music, pp. 13-15.

Appendix: example of the pre-Reformation hymn

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Holy Mary, stay with us,
and do not let us perish.
Free us from all sins.
And if we should die,
defend us from the devil;
help us, chaste Virgin Mary
to join the lovely angel host.
So we will sing alleluia,
alleluia we shall sing
in praise of the Almighty God.
Grant to us, Lord, as our reward
the heavenly crown.
Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!
All praise to you, Mary!

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