“O, May the Church Ever Stand”: Melanchthon Prays in Poetry

For today’s installment of “Melanchthon Mondays” has us moving from secular back to sacred matters.

The following poem is one of several prayers in verse found among Melanchthon’s poetry. The poem consists of only four lines of elegiac couplets, in which Christ is beseeched to guard and protect the church of the New Testament. 

Here is the poem in Latin:

Te maneat semper servante Ecclesia Christe,

#########Insertosque ipsi nos tua dextra tegat,

Tres velut in flamma testes Babylonide servas,

#########Rex ubi praesentem te videt esse Deum.

And here is my metrical English translation:

O, may the church ever stand, Lord Christ, while you keep and preserve it,

     And may your strong right hand cover us, hiding in it:

As you preserve those three bearing witness in Babylon’s furnace

     While royal eyes, in alarm, see you, our God, to be there.

Melanchthon includes himself and his readers in the request, asking that they might be covered by Christ’s right hand. The second couplet offers a simile drawn from the Old Testament to buttress his request, that of the three young men in the Babylonain furnace.

We might remark on several implications of this choice. First, it forms an implicit argument about the unity of the two Testaments and of the people of God in those two Testaments. The three young men represented the church and were under God’s keeping. We might summarize this first poetic point as covenantal continuity.

Second, Melanchthon reinforces this essential unity of the Old and the New through a subtle shift of language: in line 1, Christ (Christe) is the addressee; line 4, about the furnace, claims that the Babylonian king saw “you, our God, to be there” (praesentem te videt esse Deum). This substitution equates Christ and God, asserting Christ’s divinity, yes; and it also means, at the same time, that the fourth figure seen to be walking in the furnace was an Old Testament Christophany. We might summarize this second poetic point as conciliar Christology.

Finally, third, it is a reminder of the situation of the church militant, ensconced as she is in the crucible of fiery trials, the Babylon of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We might summarize this third poetic point as spiritual allegoresis.

But–and here we come to the chief point, the petitionary point–the church is not alone: the same Christ who saved the young men in Babylon is invoked to save the church now. And he will surely do so.


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