A Lutheran Hymn for the Catholic Church at this time

Here is a hymn written by one of my favourite Lutherans – Pastor Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872) – a contemporary and fellow-countryman of Danish Lutheran philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855). I think it is a perfect hymn for Catholics at this time. Although we may balk at the opening line of verse two (given that we believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist reserved in our “temples made with hands”), yet I think Grundtvig turns this statement around in the following verses to help us understand that through Word and Sacrament, he indeed “draws near” to us in our “earthly temples”. Click here to hear the tune (Kirk­en Den Er Et), which I think strikes the perfect note of confidence in crisis.

Built on the Rock the church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling;
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.

Surely in temples made with hands,
God, the Most High, is not dwelling;
High above earth His temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling;
Yet He whom heavens cannot contain
Chose to abide on earth with men,
Built in our bodies His temple.

We are God’s house of living stones,
Builded for His habitation;
He through baptismal grace us owns,
Heirs of His wondrous salvation;
Were we but two His Name to tell,
Yet He would deign with us to dwell,
With all His grace and His favor.

Now we may gather with our King;
Even in the lowliest dwelling:
Praises to Him we there may bring,
His wondrous mercy foretelling;
Jesus His grace to us accords,
Spirit and life are all His words,
His truth doth hallow the temple.

Still we our earthly temples rear,
That we may herald His praises;
They are the homes where He draws near
And little children embraces,
Beautiful things in them are said,
God there with us His covenant made,
Making us heirs of His Kingdom.

Here stands the font before our eyes
Telling how God did receive us;
The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice
And what His table doth give us;
Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.

Grant then, O God, wherever men roam,
That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
“I know Mine own, Mine own know Me;
Ye, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you.”

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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4 Responses to A Lutheran Hymn for the Catholic Church at this time

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I saw it, and I included it in my most recent EIC newsletter from the office. However, it really didn’t say much about Ratzinger apropos Lutheranism, as much as Ratzinger as a “Mere Christianity” theologian. Which sounds, on the face of it, as a put down, but it really isn’t – it means he was able to communicate Christianity in a way that got to the heart of the matter. His last “tweet” was “May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”

  1. “…we may balk at the opening line of verse two (given that we believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist reserved in our “temples made with hands””
    You do realise Grundtvig is quoting scripture, David?
    The martyr Stephen, to be exact, who in turn was surely hearking back to our Lord’s words re the destruction of the Temple. Are you saying Catholic theology balks at the Bible’s teaching?
    The dwelling place of God in the new covenant is with his people, the church (2 Cor 6:16). In Biblical theology, this is an essential difference between the Old and New covenants (or New Testament, as I prefer). Grundtvig mentions this truth in st. 3. This truth is not on contradiction to the Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union in the Lord’s Supper ( as G.’s vv. 5 & 6 indicate) – although it indeed speaks against the Catholic practice of reservation and devotion to the sacramental element of bread.

    • Schütz says:

      I thought it sounded familiar! Pardon me, however, if I do not agree with you that St Stephen’s words – or NFSG’s for that matter – mitigate against the practice of reservation. The presence of Christ is not, after all, connected to the “temple made with hands” but to the sacrament itself – a mode of presence to which NFSG himself alludes. In fact one reading of the hymn would be a subversion of St Stephens polemic: god does not dwell in temples made with hands, nevertheless it is in these temples that his people gather in the presence of God to meet him on the Word and Sacrament.

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