Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended (1630)
by Johann Heermann 1585-1647 tr. Robert Bridges 1844-1930
Traditional tune: Herziebster Jesu (1640)
YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/RkI838hBO9M
1. Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
2. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
3. Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
4. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
5. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.
Isaiah 53 3-7
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
(A number of Lutheran hymnals use a translation written in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth which begins “O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken?”[)
Johann Heerman was born in Raudten (modern day Rudna) in Silesia which is wedged between modern Poland and the Czech Republic. He was the fourth son of a middle-class Protestant family; none of his elder siblings survived beyond their childhood. As a thirteen year old child he was sent to a nearby town to further his education. His health proved too fragile and he had to frequently interrupt his learning to return home to recover.
During his early 20’s his patron (for whom he was tutoring his children) took him on a tour of Europe and Heerman was able to spend time studying in many capitals of Europe. He eventually settled in Chobienia, Poland and began work at the Lutheran congregation in a role we would call the assistant pastor today. The senior pastor was in poor health and died days after he began his duties. That Fall in 1611 he married Dorothea Feige, the daughter of the mayor of Raudten.
However, life in the 1600’s was generally short and brutish. By 1613 the Plague was ravaging the area, in 1616 a fire nearly destroyed the entire town and Johan’s wife died childless in 1617. He remarried the next year and eventually he had four children we know of. A few years later Johan once again fell ill and never recovered his health, though he lived another 25 years. By the 1630’s his community fell victim to the 30 Year War and was plundered by Catholic armies repeated over the next decade. Survival was tenuous at best, by the 1630’s his health was so poor he was unable to work.
Despite all of the hardship Johan Heermann endured throughout his life this poem shows he still understood his dependence upon God for salvation and his gratitude for the underserved mercies of his salvation.
The first two stanzas ask a questions which are answered in their final verse. Jesus, what did you do to deserve this? Who brought this upon you? The answer is: O most afflicted, I crucified thee. But God interceded for my salvation, which I did not deserve.