Peter Leithart once said in an issue of Credenda/ Agenda: “We are devotees of the Word, people of the book. Yet we can’t write stories or poetry. This is a scandal.” It is a scandal! And, while stories get some attention, poetry rarely does. So I’d like to take this opportunity to call to mind theological poets ranging through history up to the times of the mid-20th century. Let’s read them, learn from them, and develop our own!
Caveat: The list will be pretty heavy on English-speakers since poetry rarely translates. I’ll mark otherwise where I am able.
Theological Poets through the Mid-20th Century
- William Langland (14th-century Englishman!)
- Dante Alighieri (Italian)
- John Donne
- George Herbert
- Henry Vaughan (Welsh)
- John Milton
- Thomas Traherne
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Francis Thompson
- Jacobus Revius (Dutch)
- TS Eliot
- Anne Bradstreet
- Christina Rossetti
- GK Chesterton
- RS Thomas
(I haven’t been able to read yet. Often apparently in Latin.)
- Johann Heinrich Ernesti (Latin? German?)
- Johann Heermann (I believe he wrote in Latin & German.)
- Johann Walter (Latin? German?)
Lutheran Liturgical Hymn-Writers
(This list has its origins here. I don’t know much about that site.)
- Hermanus Bonnus (1504-48): From the 1540s, revised the sequences and hymns for saints’ days to reflect Evangelical theology;
- Philip Melanchthon, from 1544 onward, composed a few “replacement” hymns for saints’ days. Given his prominence as a theologian, Moss notes that “Latin hymn-writing could hardly have had a more spectacular seal of approval;”
- Johannes Spangenberg (1484-1550): Edited a large 1545 collection of Latin and German hymns for church use, apparently at the urging of Luther himself;
- Reinhardus Lorichius translated into Latin twenty of Spangenberg’s own German hymns (1555), with theological commentaries. (Discussing Spangenberg and Lorichius, Moss speaks of “Lutheranism’s bilingual culture”);
- Mattheus Collinus: A Czech poet whose hymns (1545 et. seq.) are “engagingly confidential … [and take] a rumbustious approach to feast-days, with an emphasis on the feasting;”
- Georgius Fabricius (1516-71): “the most accomplished of Lutheran Latin hymn-writers [and] a humanist of the first rank;” his hymns range over “Christ’s Passion, the canonical hours, the whole of the Church’s calendar, and various occasions in the religious life;”
- Matthias Flacius Illyricus, the most despicable of all major Lutheran theologians prior to the 1930s, also assembled a collection of Latin hymns, although one gathers that, rather than recommending them for worship, his intent was to hold them up as bad examples of the unregenerate past.
Perhaps the most interesting book described by Moss is the 1561 second edition of Lucas Lossius’ Psalmodia hoc est Cantica sacra Veteris Ecclsiae selecta
Modern Poetry Collections to Consider
- A Sacrifice of Praise: An Anthology of Christian Poetry in English from Caedmon to the Mid-Twentieth Century
- The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poetry
Martin Luther’s Poetry
Lutheran Poetry Books or Related Topics*
- Journey to Heaven: Poems for All Occasions by Esther A. Schumann, published by the South Wisconsin District Office of the LCMS, 1977.
- Poetry and Parental Bereavement in Early Modern Lutheran Germany by Anna Linton
- Living Wellsprings: The Hymns, Songs, and Poems of N.F.S. Grundtvig. I think he got a bit more orthodox later in life?
- Simil: Lutheran Voices in Poetry, ed. by Mark Patrick Odland
- To Dance in the Spirit by Dorothy Hamann — may be Lutheran
- To Write a Verse or Two: An Analysis of Lutheran Doctrine in the Poetry of George Herbert by Adriane Dorr Heins.
- Who Am I? Bonhoeffer’s Theology Through His Poetry, ed. by Bernd Wannenwetsch
- The Words by Margo T. Rose.
* By all means, check the authors listed above for published books of poetry. Otherwise, some of these Lutheran poetic finds are pretty pricey. You might want to Interlibrary loan!
Living Lutheran Theological Poets