ILLA Blogs

Commentary and reviews by classical Lutheran education commentators.
These are posts containing brief quotes or extended quotations for consideration and comment.

Longfellow and Luther's "A Mighty Fortress"

Years ago, in a school attic, I came across the Concordia Edition of the Bobbs Merrill Eighth Reader originally published in 1923. Clara B. Baker (Professor, Curriculum and Method, National Elementary College, Chicago), and Edna D. Baker (President, National Elementary College, Chicago) compiled these readings – and A.C. Stellhorn (Executive Secretary, General School Board, Evangelical Lutheran Missouri Synod) revised and adapted the text for use in Lutheran schools.

In his poetic work Christus: A Mystery – Part II. The Golden Legend – Second Interlude (, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow thinks of Dr. Martin Luther as being at the Castle of Wartburg in 1521 during his temporary “imprisonment,” meditating over the contents of his battle hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; or, possibly, in the act of composing it. This may be historically correct, though the hymn was not published until 1527.

Note that each stanza of the hymn in Longfellow’s adaptation is followed by a meditation of Luther on what he has written, and how this leads him over to the next stanza. (Pages 18-24 in the Bobbs-Merrill reader) Included at the end are the Study Notes as they are found in the textbook.

A Chamber in the Wartburg. Morning. Martin Luther Writing

Our God, a Tower of Strength is He,
A goodly wall and weapon;
From all our need He helps us free,
That now to us doth happen.
The old evil foe
Doth in earnest grow,
In grim armor dight,
Much guile and great might;
On earth there is none like him.

OH yes; a tower of strength indeed,
A present help in all our need,
A sword and buckler is our God.
Innocent men have walked unshod
O’er burning ploughshares, and have trod
Unharmed on serpents in their path,
And laughed to scorn the Devil’s wrath!

Safe in this Wartburg tower I stand
Where God hath led me by the hand,
And look down, with a heart at ease,
Over the pleasant neighborhoods,
Over the vast Thuringian Woods,
With flash of river, and gloom of trees,
With castles crowning the dizzy heights,
And farms and pastoral delights,
And the morning pouring everywhere
Its golden glory on the air.
Safe, yes, safe am I here at last,
Safe from the overwhelming blast
Of the mouths of Hell, that followed me fast,
And the howling demons of despair
That hunted me like a beast to his lair.

Of our own might we nothing can;
We soon are unprotected;
There fighteth for us the right Man,
Whom God himself elected.
Who is He; ye exclaim?
Christus is his name,
Lord of Sabaoth,
Very God in troth;
The field He holds forever.

Nothing can vex the Devil more
Than the name of Him whom we adore.
Therefore doth it delight me best
To stand in the choir among the rest,
With the great organ trumpeting
Through its metallic tubes, and sing:
Et verbum caro factum est!
These words the Devil cannot endure,
For he knoweth their meaning well!
Him they trouble and repel,
Us they comfort and allure,
And happy it were, if our delight
Were as great as his affright!

Yea, music is the Prophets’ art;
Among the gifts that God hath sent,
One of the most magnificent!
It calms the agitated heart;
Temptations, evil thoughts, and all
The passions that disturb the soul,
Are quelled by its divine control,
As the Evil Spirit fled from Saul,
And his distemper was allayed,
When David took his harp and played.

This world may full of Devils be,
All ready to devour us;
Yet not so sore afraid are we,
They shall not overpower us.
This World’s Prince, howe’er
Fierce he may appear,
He can harm us not,
He is doomed, God wot!
One little word can slay him!

Incredible it seems to some
And to myself a mystery,
That such weak flesh and blood as we,
Armed with no other shield or sword,
Or other weapon than the Word,
Should combat and should overcome
A spirit powerful as he!
He summons forth the Pope of Rome
With all his diabolic crew,
His shorn and shaven retinue
Of priests and children of the dark;
Kill! kill! they cry, the Heresiarch,
Who rouseth up all Christendom
Against us; and at one fell blow
Seeks the whole Church to overthrow!
Not yet; my hour is not yet come.

Yesterday in an idle mood,
Hunting with others in the wood,
I did not pass the hours in vain,
For in the very heart of all
The joyous tumult raised around,
Shouting of men, and baying of hound,
And the bugle’s blithe and cheery call,
And echoes answering back again,
From crags of the distant mountain chain,—
In the very heart of this, I found
A mystery of grief and pain.
It was an image of the power
Of Satan, hunting the world about,
With his nets and traps and well-trained dogs,
His bishops and priests and theologues,
And all the rest of the rabble rout,
Seeking whom he may devour!
Enough I have had of hunting hares,
Enough of these hours of idle mirth,
Enough of nets and traps and gins!
The only hunting of any worth
Is where I can pierce with javelins
The cunning foxes and wolves and bears,
The whole iniquitous troop of beasts,
The Roman Pope and the Roman priests
That sorely infest and afflict the earth!

Ye nuns, ye singing birds of the air!
The fowler hath caught you in his snare,
And keeps you safe in his gilded cage,
Singing the song that never tires,
To lure down others from their nests;
How ye flutter and beat your breasts,
Warm and soft with young desires
Against the cruel, pitiless wires,
Reclaiming your lost heritage!
Behold! a hand unbars the door,
Ye shall be captives held no more.

The Word they shall perforce let stand,
And little thanks they merit!
For He is with us in the land,
With gifts of his own Spirit!
Though they take our life,
Goods, honors, child and wife,
Let these pass away,
Little gain have they;
The Kingdom still remaineth!

Yea, it remaineth forevermore,
However Satan may rage and roar,
Though often he whispers in my ears:
What if thy doctrines false should be?
And wrings from me a bitter sweat.
Then I put him to flight with jeers,
Saying: Saint Satan! pray for me;
If thou thinkest I am not saved yet!

And my mortal foes that lie in wait
In every avenue and gate!
As to that odious monk John Tetzel,
Hawking about his hollow wares
Like a huckster at village fairs,
And those mischievous fellows, Wetzel,
Campanus, Carlstadt, Martin Cellarius,
And all the busy, multifarious
Heretics, and disciples of Arius,
Half-learned, dunce-bold, dry and hard,
They are not worthy of my regard,
Poor and humble as I am.

But ah! Erasmus of Rotterdam,
He is the vilest miscreant
That ever walked this world below!
A Momus, making his mock and mow,
At Papist and at Protestant,
Sneering at St. John and St. Paul,
At God and Man, at one and all;
And yet as hollow and false and drear,
As a cracked pitcher to the ear,
And ever growing worse and worse!
Whenever I pray, I pray for a curse
On Erasmus, the Insincere!

Philip Melancthon! thou alone
Faithful among the faithless known,
Thee I hail, and only thee!
Behold the record of us three!
Res et verba Philippus,
Res sine verbis Lutherus;
Erasmus verba sine re!

My Philip, prayest thou for me?
Lifted above all earthly care,
From these high regions of the air,
Among the birds that day and night
Upon the branches of tall trees
Sing their lauds and litanies,
Praising God with all their might,
My Philip, unto thee I write.

My Philip! thou who knowest best
All that is passing in this breast;
The spiritual agonies,
The inward deaths, the inward hell,
And the divine new births as well,
That surely follow after these,
As after winter follows spring;
My Philip, in the night-time sing
This song of the Lord I send to thee;
And I will sing it for thy sake,
Until our answering voices make
A glorious antiphony,
And choral chant of victory!



Luther’s hymn. Find out just when A Mighty Fortress was written. The New International Encyclopedea gives the date as 1521. When was the hymn first published? How do you like Longfellow’s translation of it? Compare it with the version in your Hymnal and, if you know German, with the original. Longfellow knew the German language, and translated a number of German literary classics.

A Mighty Fortress has become world-renowned. Try to find instances where it was given prominence by Lutherans, or non-Lutherans. Who wrote the melody for this hymn? Do you know that the musical world includes Luther among the prominent musicians of Germany? You may find some evidences of this.

The poem. In what situation is Luther here presented? Was this before or after his heroic stand at the Diet of Worms? By whom and why was Luther held at the Wartburg? Observe how the great dangers which beset Luther at the time, are reflected in the hymn. Does one find any trace of fear in the hymn? Does Longfellow say at any place that Luther feared his enemies? Why was Luther so confident?   Who is the speaker in the remarks which Longfellow added to each stanza? Did Luther actually say what the poet places on his lips? If not, whose thoughts and words are they? Was Longfellow a Lutheran? Observe carefully whether he has given the true spirit and faith of Luther. Where did Longfellow get these thoughts? Do you suppose it was necessary for him to have an intimate knowledge of the history of the Reformation? 

Things to do. List words and expressions unfamiliar to you, and by the aid of the dictionary find their exact meaning in the poem. List the names of people mentioned in the poem, and tell who they were, or what they had to do with Luther.

Continue reading

Marshall McLuhan and The Classical Trivium

McLuhanMany people quickly associate the name "Marshall McLuhan" with his quip "The medium is the message."

Not as many are aware, however, that McLuhan held a doctorate from Cambridge University or that his dissertation, The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time.

McLuhan mapped out the Trivium from its earliest days and through Augustine, Abelard, and Erasmus through to Thomas Nashe, following a structure of Grammar, Dialectics, and Rhetoric for each stage.

This work is not for the timid initiate, but it is replete with thought-provoking perspectives, references, and citations which ought not be overlooked. A sample:

"One can see here a typical instance of the problems which unavoidably arise when a Christian thinks that the disciplines which he has learned are fundamentally sound, but have to be transformed by grace. Thus St. Augustine felt that all of Cicero's doctrines had to be overhauled. He was in a position to do it; for with the great Christian orators of the four centuries before him, Roman eloquence was coming back to life in the purity of the Ciceronian ideal; not merely the written eloquence of Quintilian. The difference was that instead of addressing men to guide them toward the common good of the city as Brutus, Crassus, Cicero, and others had done, St. Augustine and the Christian orators resorted to eloquence to  guide Christians to God and the common good of the City of God."

Continue reading

C.S. Lewis - Our English Syllabus

The title of this lecture might lead readers to think that Clive Staples intended to comment on grammar and literature, but what we find in these opening paragraphs is a distinction between education and vocational training. The full text of the essay may be found here.


Schoolmasters in our time are fighting hard in defence of education against vocational training; universities, on the other hand, are fighting against education on behalf of learning.
Let me explain.

The purpose of education has been described by Milton as that of fitting a man ‘to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.’ Provided we do not overstress ‘skilfully,’ Aristotle would substantially agree with this, but would add the conception that it should also be a preparation for leisure, which according to him is the end of all human activity. ‘We wage war in order to have peace; we work in order to have leisure.’ Neither of them would dispute that the purpose of education is to produce the good man and the good citizen, though it must be remembered that we are not here using the word ‘good’ in any narrowly ethical sense.

The ‘good man’ here means the man of good taste and good feeling, the interesting and interested man, and almost the happy man. With such an end in view, education in most civilized communities has taken much the same path; it has taught civil behaviour by direct and indirect discipline, has awakened the logical faculty by mathematics or dialectic, and has endeavoured to produce right sentiments -- which are to the passions what right habits are to the body -- by steeping the pupil in the literature both sacred and profane on which the culture of the community is based.

Vocational training, on the other hand, hand,prepares the pupil not for leisure, but for work; it aims at making not a  good man, but a good banker, a good electrician, a good scavenger, or a good surgeon. You see at once that  education is essentially for free men and vocational training for slaves. That is  how they were distributed in the old unequal societies; the poor man’s son was apprenticed to  a trade, the rich man’s son went to Eton and Oxford and then made the grand tour.

When societies became, in effort if not in achievement, egalitarian, we are presented with a  difficulty. To give everyone education and to give no one vocational training is impossible, for electricians and surgeons we must have and they must be trained. Our ideal must be to find time for both education and training: our danger is that equality may mean training for all and education for none – that everyone will learn commercial French instead of Latin, book-keeping instead of geometry, and knowledge of the world we live in instead of great literature. It  is  against this danger that schoolmasters have to fight, for if education is beaten by training, civilization dies. That is a thing very likely to happen.

One of the most dangerous errors instilled into us by nineteenth-century progressive optimism is the idea that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism, just as the normal surface of our planet is saltwater. Land looms large in our imagination of the planet and civilization in our history books, only because sea and savagery are, to us, less interesting. And if you press to know what I mean by civilization, I reply ‘Humanity’, by which I do not mean kindness so much as the realization of the human idea. Human life means to me the life of beings for whom the leisured activities of thought, art, literature, conversation are the end,’ and the preservation and propagation of life merely the means. That is why education seems to me so important: it actualizes that potentiality for leisure, if you like, for amateurishness, which is  man’s prerogative.

You have noticed, I  hope, that man is the only amateur animal; all the others are professionals. They have no leisure and do not desire it. When the cow has finished eating she chews the cud; when she has finished chewing,  she sleeps; when she has finished sleeping, she eats again. She is a machine for turning grass into calves and milk – in other words, for producing more cows. The lion cannot stop hunting, nor the beaver building dams, nor the bee making honey. When God made the beasts dumb He saved the world from infinite boredom, for if  they could speak they would all of them, all day, talk nothing but shop. That is my idea of education.

Continue reading

Lo, Judah's Lion Wins the Strife

church window slide show 7Our hymn of the week each year for Quasimodogeniti is John Bajus' translation of Lo, Judah's Lion Wins the Strife.

Besides having a wonderful melody, it relates Biblical stories which children have learned to the work of Christ with stanzas like "'Tis He whom David did portray when he did strong Goliath slay . . . " and "Like Samson, Christ great strength employed and conquered h ell, its gates destroyed." (TLH 211) The hymn is not found in LSB.

Continue reading

Orwell or Huxley?

Postman AmusingHave you ever had the sensation of reading something profound? Have you ever been impressed that san author could write something so timely -- but had written it decades ago?

One might not be surprised to have that experience while reading or listening to the Holy Scriptures regarding faith, hope, and love in Christ -- but there are other spheres in which something similar may happen. That was my reaction when I read this Foreward to Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death (pp. vii-viii):


 We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another-slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Continue reading

So Little for the Mind

NeatbyIn 1953, a Canadian educator by the name of Hilda Neatby, hit a nerve with her book, So Little for the Mind. She drew the title from a Cardinal Newman quote, "Any self-education in any shape, in the most restricted sense, is preferable to a system of teaching which, professing so much, really does so little for the mind."

Neatby caused a stir because of her disrespectful use of the expression "expert in education," considering it to be an insult to a noble calling. "It degrades the most difficult art of nourishing and disciplining and inspiring the mind to the level of a special technique. It de-humanizes education. I could pay no higher compliment to an educational leader than to say that, although he may have expert knowledge in certain fields, that is the leat of his qualifications for the extremely important work that is given him to do."

Even though some of the details of her work address issues in the Canadian system of education, she has much that is worthwhile for the consideration of education as a whole. I include this extended excerpt from her Introduction, in which it is declared that Progressive education is anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and amoral (p. 15 f):

"Democratic equalitarianism encouraged the idea of a uniform low standard easily obtainable by almost all. Special attention was given to all physical, emotional, and mental abnormalities, but the old-fashioned things called the mind, the imagination, and the conscience of the average and of the better-than-average child, not not exactly forgotten, slipped into the background. As a result, the much-maligned tranditionalist is now retorting with some pretty rigorous criticisms of progressive education as he sees it.

"It is frankly anti-intellectual. There is no attempt to exercise, train, and discipline th mind. This is old-fashioned language, now forbidden by the experts, but its meaning is still clear to the literate person. The traditionalist firmly and even brutally conveyed a body of facts which must be learned precisely, and which provided, as it were, the material of thought. Or he might demonstrate the process of thought through the admittedly painful process of causing the pupil to memorize a mathematical proposition and its proof. True, the matter often began and ended with memorizing, and never reached the stage of thinking. The progressivist noted this, but instead of taking over and doing the thing properly, he threw up the sponge. Because, he argued, inteelectual training is difficult and painful and many fall by the wayside, throw it out alltogether. Failures spoil the record. The denial by the schools of the duty of intellectual training is neatly reflected by the current fashion of lightly dismissing in argument an unanswerable fashion of lightly dismmissing in argument an unanswerable proposition as "a question of semantics."

"Progressivism is anti-cultural. This is quite in keeping with the revolutionary, pseudo-scientific materialist fashions of the day. In this scientific age, we find that everything, not just educational methods, but everything, is better than it used to be. It is the pride of the machine age that we can now understand, manipulate, and control men as we do machines. Why should we look at the evidence of human joys, sorrows, failures, and achievenments of the past? It would almost be an admission of defeat. We manage everything better now. . . .

"Progressive education is, or has been, amoral. There is something of a reaction today, but for a generation it has been unfashionable, to say the least, to speak openly of right and wrong actions. Teachers take cover instead under "desireable" and "undesirable" "attitudes" or "responses." But these are not enough. The pupil soon learns that in a democratice society he has as much right as anyone else. Even the elementary discipline of establishing rules which the child was required to keep was questioned. True, rules certainly existed in practice; but pragmatic theory frowned on all external control and therefore rules were enforced uneasily and with a bad conscience. The general tendency of the progressive approach has been to weaken respect for law and authority as such, and to dull discrimination between right and wrong, by the teaching, implied if not expressed, that "desireable" actions on the part of the child (actions pelasing to others) will bring "desireable" responses (actions pleasing to him)."

Continue reading

VeggieTales: Morality, not Christianity?

This excerpt comes from “It’s Not About the Dream,” WORLD magazine, Sep 24, 2011, 57-58.

veggietalesVeggieTales was a rags-to-riches entrepreneurial success story. Vischer and his counterpart, Mike Nawrocki, left college to pursue their dream of making wildly creative children’s videos. At the height of their success in the late 1990s, VeggieTales videos sold 7 million copies in a single year and generated $40 million in revenue. Though primarily aimed at a Christian market, VeggieTales had a broader cultural influence, pushing forward the boundaries of computer animation and children’s programming.

But success brought failure. Though Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are still around, they aren’t the same. Big Idea Productions went bankrupt in 2003 and Vischer lost ownership and creative control of the whole enterprise. VeggieTales is no longer VeggieTales. The characters still exist – and in some cases are even voiced by Nawrocki and Vischer as hired talent – but the decisions are now made by studio execs who don’t share the vision or worldview of the original founders.

In a recent issue of WORLD magazine, Vischer acknowledged to interviewer Megan Basham that the bankruptcy and subsequent trials have given him perspective. His words reveal a man who’s beginning to see the difference between moralism and the gospel. And a man humble enough to acknowledge his role in confusing the two:

“I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. American Christian[s]… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous."

Continue reading

Huck Finn vs. Aunt Sally

Aunt SallyAlthough the United States was born in the Enlightenment, it was bred in Romanticism. The conflict in American culture between the two traditions is wonderfully memorialized in Huckleberry Finn in the standoff between Aunt Sally, who belongs to the school of Plato and St. Augustine, and Huck Finn, who is a Wordsworthian:

. . . if I'd'a' knowed what a trouble it was to make a book, I wouldn't'a' tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.

   Huck is confident that he will maintain his happiness and virtue better out in the Territoy, close to nature,than he will in town, near civilization and Aunt Sally. But there is little in human history to justify this Romantic faith.

    The conflict between our Enlightenment and our Romantic views of human nature continues unabated in American culture today. Lately, there has perhaps occurred a tempering of our optimism about the beneficence of things natural and the innate goodness of human nature -- the tragedy of the Vietnam War, the halt in continually rising prosperity, the omnipresent television scenes of genocidal conflict throughout the world, the violence among children in our schools -- this drumbeat of tragic experience has tended to qualify our anti-tragic Romantic faith in the inherent goodness and dependability of the human child when allowed to follow its own development. Increasingly, there has been a questioning of the belief that all will be well if the child is encouraged to grow naturally like a tree, and there has been a renewed interest in the idea of moral education -- a kind of symbolic reinstatement of Aunt Sally.

-- From The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch, pp. 77-78.

Continue reading

Teaching Music Without Compromise

"How would I teach music if I didn't have to compromise?"  This question is pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking for some people, but it's not an unimportant question.

David Vandewalker, assistant band director at Georgia State University, as part of a presentation to the Smith Walbridge Directors Clinics, lamented that when he started teaching music, he didn't know the definition of a "music educator:" a "Special events administrative manager for a community-oriented small business with a serious music problem."  This is a hard pill to swallow for students in music education preparatory programs who think they are going to spend more of their professional lives "doing music."  I would estimate that in most cases, only 10-30% of the "job" involves music.

Does it have to be this way?  How would you teach music classically if you did not have to compromise?  Please comment below.

Continue reading

Amusing Children?

In her 1953 survey and critique of Canadian progressive education entitled So Little for the Mind, Hilda Neatby wrote (in a style that might seem tongue-in-cheek):

"The crowning virtue of the modern school, the secret of all its success is that the children do what they want to do, or they want to do what they are doing. 'They have such a good time.' In music, they learn no theory: it is such hard work. They play on a tonette by numbers.

"In art, the object of the programme from Grade I to VIII is 'to give the child confidence in his own ability and to instill a sense of achievement and satisfaction in what he is doing,' an art supervisor is reported as saying.And, in answer to the natural inquiry about the child with little or no ability, 'I have never seen a child's picture yet that hasn't something good in it.' As the child alone knows what he means, 'he is right in the way he draws it' and he gets a sense of continued achievement, a feeling of 'I am really good.'

"But should it be a 'major aim' of the school either to amuse the children or to make them feel that they are 'really good'? Would it not be better to avoid complacency as well as frustration by providiing healthy and vigorous occupations for the mind?" (pp 203-204).

Continue reading

EasyBlog - Posts List

Go to top