Where We Got Our Hymns—Chapter 2

by J. Irving Erickson

There was an increase in hymn productivity after the Reformation and in the 17th century in Scandinavia. More German chorale type psalms were translated, and clergy and laity alike expressed their praise in original hymnody. Among the German writers whose works were translated into Swedish was Johann Franck (1618-1677). He is represented in our hymnal by “Praise the Lord Each Tribe and Nation” (56). It was rendered in Swedish by Bishop Jesper Swedberg (“Hela världen fröjdes Herran”), and in English by Ernst Olson. We shall have more to say about both of these persons later. Franck is also the author of “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” (410) and “Deck Thyself My Soul...” (508), but these did not come to us through Sweden. Franck, a lawyer and civil servant, wrote more than one hundred hymns and is-ranked next to Paul Gerhardt as a hymnwriter. He began the so-called “Jesus Hymns” that became popular during the Pietistic period. In these hymns we note a personal and subjective tone.

Johann Friederich Herzog (1647-1699), also a German lawyer, is known for but one text—“Again a Day Has from Us Gone” (40). Our song is a translation by the late Gerhard W. Palmgren (1880-1959) of a Swedish version, “Så går en dag ånfrån vår tid.” Palmgren served several churches in the East Coast Conference of the Covenant. He is also the translator of “Heavenly Spirit, Gentle Spirit” (269) and “Praise the Lord, All Praise and Blessing.” (81). The greatest German hymnist of the period was Paul Gerhardt, but none of his texts came to us through the Psalmbok.

One of the Swedish hymnists of this period was Laurentius Laurentii Laurinus (1573-1655). He served two Church of Sweden parishes for 46 years and published Musica rudimenta, the first Swedish textbook on singing. His most popular hymn was “I himmelen, i himmelen.” The English version, “In Heav’n Above” (604), was the work of William Maccall, a Scottish Unitarian minister who published Hymns of Sweden Rendered into English. The text is set to a Norwegian folk melody.

Jakob Arrhenius (1642-1725) was a professor of history at the University of Uppsala who is remembered especially for his contribution to the hymnody of the Swedish Church. Several of his lyrics were included in Swedberg’s edition of the 1694 Psalmbok. Some were translations and psalm paraphrases, but there were original texts as well His songs, especially the so-called “Jesus Hymns,” show his friendship with pietism. In fact, he sounded a new note in Swedish hymnody. He is represented in our hymnal by “Jesus, Lord, and Precious Savior” (433). The translator was Augustus Nelson (1863-1949), a pastor in the Augustana Lutheran Church.

Mention has been made of Jesper Swedberg’s Psalmbok of 1694. There had been several previous editions, the most important of which was the Uppsala Psalmboken published in 1645. By the last decade of the century many new hymns had appeared, and a new edition was fell necessary. The king appointed Bishop Swedberg (1653-1735) to serve as chairman of the revision committee. Although he was critical of many practices of the Pietists, he was with them m their efforts to renew the church. While he was a professor and then Rector Magnificus at Uppsala, he did much to develop discipline and improve moral conditions among teachers and students. He felt that personal faith and piety were more important than the mere possession of knowledge. He wrote: “There are many who possess only a faith of the head and not of the heart. . . .”

The new book was published in 1694 and sanctioned by the king. It came to be known as “Gamla (old) Psalmboken” and contained 413 psalms of which Swedberg was said to have composed sixteen and ‘translated twenty. It met with violent attack because it was alleged to contain heresies of a theological, Christological, soteriological, and eschatological nature. It is always difficult to accept the new, but the opposition was so strong that the king appointed a new commission to revise. In spite of this, the revised edition had been so influenced by Swedberg that it came to be known by his name. He was vindicated by later generations as well. Emil Liedgren (1879-1963), one of Sweden’s greatest hymnologists, wrote: “The treatment given Swedberg’s songbook is probably the greatest literary scandal in the history of our country.” Swedberg is represented in our hymnal by” O Lord, Give Heed unto Our Plea” (68). The translator was Ernst Olson.

[Note: numbers in parentheses are from The Covenant Hymnal, 1973.)