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Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist

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"Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist"
Hymn by Martin Luther
Portrait of the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, dressed in black, with green background
Lucas Cranach: Luther in 1525
EnglishWe now implore the Holy Ghost
CatalogueZahn 2029a
Textby Martin Luther
Based onChant
Published1524 (1524)

"Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist" (We now implore the Holy Ghost)[1] is a German Christian hymn. The first stanza is a leise from the 13th century which alludes to the Latin sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit) for Pentecost. It was widely known, and aside from its Pentecostal origin was also used as a procession song and in sacred plays.

The most prominent form of today's hymn contains three further stanzas written by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. He recommended the leise in his 1523 liturgy to be used regularly in church services. The request to the Holy Spirit for the right faith most of all ("um den rechten Glauben allermeist") suited Luther's theology well. In 1524, possibly for Pentecost, he wrote the additional stanzas. This version was first published in Wittenberg the same year as part of Johann Walter's First Wittenberg Hymnal. The song's themes of faith, love and hope render it appropriate not only for Pentecost but also for general occasions and funerals.

Luther's chorale is part of many hymnals, sung in several Christian denominations and in translations. It inspired vocal and organ music from the Renaissance to contemporary by composers such as Michael Praetorius, Dieterich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Alternate versions of the hymn, employing the same medieval first stanza, have appeared in Catholic hymnals, first in 1537 by Michael Vehe, a Dominican friar and theologian. His hymn was revised by Maria Luise Thurmair and published in 1972, and is still part of the 2013 Catholic hymnal Gotteslob.

History and text[edit]

Medieval leise[edit]

The medieval leise (a genre of vernacular medieval church song), which later became the first stanza, is documented in the 13th century, attributed to the Franciscan Berthold von Regensburg (died 1272), who quoted it in a sermon:[2][3][4]

Berthold von Regensburg (Vienna manuscript, 1447)

Nû biten wir den heiligen geist
umbe den rechten glouben allermeist,
daz er uns behüete an unsrem ende,
sô wir heim suln varn ûz disem ellende.

The stanza forms a prayer in German to the Holy Spirit, reminiscent of the Latin sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus.[2][5] The concern is "most of all" (allermeist) the "right faith" (rechten glouben), considering to return "home" (heim) after the "exile" (ellende) of life. In the old German, "ellende" meant exile and was stressed on the second syllable, rhyming with "ende", whereas the modern "Elend" is stressed on the first syllable and translates to "misery".[6] As in the conclusion of Veni Sancte Spiritus ("da salutis exitum"), the focus is the assistance of the Holy Spirit at the time of death.[2]

The leise was widely known.[2] A tune derived from the chant of the sequence first appeared in Jistebnitz around 1420.[7] Aside from its Pentecostal origin, it was also used as a procession song and in sacred plays.[8]

Luther's Protestant continuation[edit]

The Protestant reformer Martin Luther issued a liturgy for services in 1523, Formula missae et communionis. One aspect was the inclusion of hymns in German. He recommended, for lack of alternatives, three medieval songs to be sung regularly: "Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet", "Ein Kindelein so lobelich" and, probably as the gradual, "Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist".[2][5] The leise had a long tradition. Its topics of the right faith (rechter Glaube, veram fide) and the thought of the time of death must have appealed to Luther. He had mentioned veram fide in an early sermon about the leise (1509 or 1510), and promoted salvation by faith alone (sola fide). Anxiety in the hour of death was something that Luther dealt with all of his life, and he was not the only one.[8]

In 1524, possibly for Pentecost,[8] Luther expanded "Nun bitten wir" by three stanzas, addressing the Holy Spirit three more times, as "Du wertes Licht" (You esteemed light), "Du süße Lieb" (You sweet love) and "Du höchster Tröster" (You highest comforter).[7][9] In the tradition of songs about the Holy Spirit, which mention its manifold gifts, three aspects are mentioned: light, love and comforter.[8]

The three later stanzas can be seen as related to Paul's concept of "Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung" (faith, love, hope), which he expressed in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:13.[10] Luther ended each stanza with "Kyrieleis", as in the medieval leise,[11] and followed its irregular metre.[12]

Luther's text[edit]

Luther's text in modernised German reads as follows:

four stanzas in a 16th-century print
The hymn in the Wittenberg hymnal of 1524

Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist
um den rechten Glauben allermeist,
daß er uns behüte an unserm Ende,
wenn wir heimfahrn aus diesem Elende.

Du wertes Licht, gib uns deinen Schein
Lehr uns Jesum Christ kennen allein
Daß wir an ihm bleiben, dem treuen Heiland
Der uns bracht hat zum rechten Vaterland

Du süße Lieb, schenk uns deine Gunst
Laß uns empfinden der Liebe Brunst
Daß wir uns von Herzen einander lieben
Und im Friede auf einem Sinn blieben.

Du höchster Tröster in aller Not
Hilf, daß wir nicht fürchten Schand noch Tod
Daß in uns die Sinnen nicht verzagen
Wenn der Feind wird das Leben verklagen


Luther's text, set to music by Johann Walter (Zahn No. 2029a), appeared in 1524 in Wittenberg as part of Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, sometimes called the First Wittenberg Hymnal.[7][13][14] In Walter's hymnal, the text was placed in a section for general use.[8] Luther prescribed the song for regular use between epistle reading and gospel reading in his Deutsche Messe, a 1526 liturgy for services in German, and included it among his funeral songs ("Begräbnisgesänge") in 1542.[8]

Johann Crüger included the song, as many by Luther, in his hymnal Praxis pietatis melica, which was first published in 1647. The hymn has often been associated with Pentecost. It is part of many hymnals, in several Christian denominations and in translations.


The oldest translation of Luther's hymn, into Danish, appeared in 1528.[3] Translations into English include "We now implore God the Holy Ghost" in The Lutheran Hymnal, St. Louis, 1941.[15] Arthur Tozer Russell wrote a translation, rendered in the 1884 book Martin Luther, The Hymns of Martin Luther.[16] It was also translated as "To God the Holy Spirit let us pray".[17]

Catholic continuations[edit]

In 1537, Michael Vehe, a Dominican friar and theologian, used the medieval stanza as a starting point for a further three stanzas that are independent of Luther's.

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f4 g4 g4 f4 d4 c4 d4 f4 f4 \bar "'"  
a4 c4 d4 c4 a4 f4 d4 f4 f4 \bar "'"  a4 a4 
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f4 d4 f4 f4 g4( f4) d4 c4 \bar "" d4 e4 f4 f4 \bar "||" } 
\addlyrics { \tiny Nun bit -- ten wir den Hei -- li -- gen Geist um den rech -- ten Glau -- ben al -- ler -- meist, dass er uns be -- hü -- te an un -- serm En -- de, wann wir heim -- fahrn aus die -- sem E -- len -- de. Ky -- ri -- e -- leis! }

Vehe's three stanzas read as follows:

Erleuchte uns, o ewiges Licht;
hilf, daß alles, was durch uns geschieht,
Gott sei wohlgefällig durch Jesum Christum,
der uns macht heilig durch sein Priestertum.

O höchster Tröster und wahrer Gott,
steh uns treulich bei in aller Not;
mach rein unser Leben, schein uns dein Gnade,
laß uns nicht weichem von dem rechten Pfade.

Dein heilge Lieb und Allgütigkeit
mache gnädig unser Herz bereit,
daß wir unsern Nächsten recht christlich lieben,
und stets bleiben in deinem heilgen Frieden.

Like Luther, Vehe addresses the Holy Spirit three times, as eternal light, comforter and finally love and goodness. The prayer is firstly for actions pleasing God, secondly for a pure life, not deviating from the right path, and finally to love one's neighbour and remain in peace.

Vehe's version appeared with the chant melody in the first common German Catholic hymnal Gotteslob in 1975, as GL 870, for the Diocese of Limburg.

In the main section of the same hymnal, the hymn appeared as GL 248, again in a different version, with stanzas two to four written in 1972 by Maria Luise Thurmair, who closed with a fifth stanza modeled after Vehe's second. In the three inner stanzas, the Spirit is addressed, now as "Du heller Schein" (You radiant light), "Du stille Macht" (You silent power), and "Du mächtger Hauch" (You mighty breath). The melody of her song was a transcription of the chant in fixed rhythm.[10][18] Thurmair's version was retained in the second edition of the Gotteslob in 2013, now as GL 348.

Melodies and musical settings[edit]

The hymn with tune and figured bass in the 1653 edition of Johann Crüger's Praxis pietatis melica

Johann Walter, who collaborated with Luther on the music, modified the medieval chant tune slightly and set it for four parts for his Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.[9] He set it for five parts, SATBB, for the 1537 edition of the hymnal.[19] He also wrote a six-part version, SSAATB.[20]

Michael Praetorius composed seven a cappella settings for two to six voices.[21] Dieterich Buxtehude composed two chorale preludes, BuxWV 208 and BuxWV 209.[22] Johann Crüger set the hymn (transcribed below) as one of 161 hymns in his 1649 collection Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien (Sacred church melodies).[23]

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  d4. d8 e2 f\breve \bar"|." } \\
  { c2. d4 es2 es d a bes c bes1 a
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\new Lyrics \lyricmode {
Nun1 bit2 -- ten wir1 den2 hei -- li -- gen Geist1
um2 den rech -- ten Glau -- ben al -- ler -- meist,1
daß2 er uns be -- hü1 -- te2 an un -- serm En1 -- de,
wenn2 wir heim1 -- fahrn aus die -- sem2 E -- len1 -- de.
Ky4. -- ri8 -- e2 -- leis!1
\new Staff { \clef bass \key f \major \set Staff.midiInstrument = "church organ"
  \relative c'
  << { a1 c2 c a f1 f2 f g c,1
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  c'2 c c c c1 bes2 f4.( a8) g2 c c1 bes 
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  { f1 c2 c d1 bes2 a bes g f1
  f'2 f bes, f' f, a bes c f,1 
  f'2 f f c f1 bes,2 a b c f,1 bes
  g2 c f,1 bes bes g a4. bes8 c2 g1 c
  bes4. bes8 c2 f,\breve } >>
>> >>
\layout { indent = #0 }
\midi { \tempo 2 = 80 }

Johann Sebastian Bach used the third stanza to conclude his cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169.[24][25] It was composed in Leipzig for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, dealing with the topic of the Great Commandment and first performed on 20 October 1726.[26] Bach also set the same stanza for a wedding cantata in the 1730s, Gott ist unsre Zuversicht, BWV 197, where it concluded Part I, the fifth of ten movements.[27][28] His third setting is an untexted four-part version, BWV 385.[29]

Organ preludes were composed by Georg Böhm, Helmut Eder, Paul Hamburger, Arnold Mendelssohn, Ernst Pepping, Heinrich Scheidemann, Johann Gottfried Vierling, Helmut Walcha and Johann Gottfried Walther, among others.[30]

In 1936, Johann Nepomuk David wrote a Choralmotette (chorale motet) for four-part choir a cappella, Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist.[31] Hugo Distler composed a setting for three high voices (SSA) with instrumental interludes for a trio of flute, oboe and violin, or two violins and viola.[32] The song is the first movement of Pepping's Deutsche Choralmesse (Chorale Mass in German) for six voices a cappella (SSATBB),[33] in the position of the Kyrie call of the Latin mass.

In 1984, Herbert Blendinger wrote a composition for cello and organ titled Meditation über den Choral "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist", Op. 36.[34] Jacques Wildberger composed Pentecostal music for viola solo in 1986, Diaphanie: Fantasia super "Veni creator spiritus" et Canones diversi super "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist", combining the hymn with another Latin sequence, Veni creator spiritus. It was published in Zürich in 1989.[35]


  1. ^ Carus 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hahn 2000, p. 70.
  3. ^ a b c BLC 2011.
  4. ^ Predigten 1862.
  5. ^ a b Haubold 2012.
  6. ^ Kluge 1975.
  7. ^ a b c Gesellschaft 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Hahn 2000, p. 71.
  9. ^ a b Browne 2015.
  10. ^ a b Liederlexikon 2007.
  11. ^ Braatz & Oron 2011.
  12. ^ Hymnary tune 2019.
  13. ^ Korth 2004.
  14. ^ Zahn 1889.
  15. ^ Hymnary 2011.
  16. ^ Bacon 1884.
  17. ^ Hymnary 2019.
  18. ^ Liederlexikon Thurmair 2007.
  19. ^ Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist: Free scores at the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
  20. ^ Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist: Free scores at the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
  21. ^ Buelow 2004.
  22. ^ Randel 1996, p. 123.
  23. ^ Rosenberger, Burkard, ed. (2014). "77. Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist". Johann Crügers Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien (1649) : Textkritische Edition. WWU Münster. pp. 171–173. ISBN 978-3-8405-0111-1.
  24. ^ Dellal 2014.
  25. ^ Luke Dahn: BWV 169.7]
  26. ^ Bach digital 2017.
  27. ^ Oron 2018.
  28. ^ Luke Dahn: BWV 197.5]
  29. ^ Luke Dahn: BWV 385]
  30. ^ Organ 2011.
  31. ^ David 2011.
  32. ^ Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist: Free scores at the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
  33. ^ Schott 2011.
  34. ^ Blendinger 2011.
  35. ^ Wildberger 2011.

Cited sources[edit]


Online sources

External links[edit]