The story behind “Now Thank We All Our God”

From the vault, one of my favorites:

I suspect most Catholics don’t know the name Martin Rinkart. But this Lutheran deacon and composer left us a beautiful testament to faith and thanksgiving: he composed the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Some details about his life and times shed new light on this familiar hymn:

German pastor Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two.

As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day–some 4,480 in all. In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.

In the midst of that horror, Rinkart wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” for his children to say together at night.  Now set to music, it remains an enduring testament of gratitude and hope.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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11 responses to “The story behind “Now Thank We All Our God””

  1. Frederick the Great’s army spontaneously took up that number after defeating the Austrians at the battle of Leuthen in 1757. Old Fritz was never big on religion, but he was so grateful for the victory that he let them get on with it.

  2. If I remember correctly, a blogger recently noted that the Prussians sang it about 120 years later when they defeated the French.

  3. In other words, like A Mighty Fortress, it’s a Lutheran hymn — and, therefore, by definition, anti-Catholic, particularly given the circumstances of its origin and its other associations — that really has no place in a Catholic Church.

  4. Our hymnal slightly updates the words (we are not “perplexed”), but this is one of my favorite hymns, and it blends in well even with the gospel music that is the usual liturgical fare at our parish. Thanks to you, Deacon Greg, and have a blessed Thanksgiving.

  5. Oh yes naturgesetz – I agree- if we start to share music and – sacra blue! – pray with those ‘anti- Catholic heathens’ ( i.e. brothers and sites in Christ) well – that would be the ruin of the Holy Catholic Church indeed. The answer is simple, once they finally convert, we can condescend to sing and pray with them.

    People need to follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 so we would not have to deal with these wishy-washy liberals- you know where he says ” where two or three, {who in are full communion with the one Holy Catholic Church and don’t disagree on any matter with the Pope, any prior Pope, their local ordinary or most especially the self anointed on line defenders of the faith}, are gathered in my name I am in their midst”

    What’s so hard to understand?

    Happy thanksgiving to all ! Joe

  6. A beautiful hymn, “Nunn Danket Alle Gott”. The version usually sung in church is Mendelssohn’s adaptation of the tune by Johann Cruger. Bach, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, and a bunch of others, composed versions of it. My favorite is the wonderfully baroque Pachelbel riff that we did for a high school Christmas concert many years ago.
    Another thing to be thankful for, all the beautiful music composed over the centuries. Thanks for giving the background of this hymn.

  7. i remember singing this at my First Holy Communion on May 14, 1966. For some reason the memory of more than 100 second graders singing this song as we processed out of the Church has stayed with me. Thanks Deacon for sharing its history.

  8. If one says a Lutheran compositie does not belong in the Catholic Church, Please do remember that we can learn something from our Lutheran brothers and sisters. Gaining knowledge of scripture. I find the Hymn “Now thank we all our God” a wonderful hymn. And forget about whom it has composed. This is really expressing our thanks to God for all the Goods we have received in our lives, and our workd. John

  9. It was 254 years ago, and it was the Austrian army they’d defeated right before they started singing. But they had beaten the French only a couple of weeks before, at Rossbach. Frederick had marched his troops from one major engagement to another, halfway across the country, in the dead of winter. Any Kerl who survived that had every reason to feel thankful.

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