07 January 2008

Warning: Long Post - Old Lutheran CHAPTERS of the Day

My friend, Jimbo, bishop of greater Evansville, has requested that I put the Nicolai stuff in a main post. This is just the beginning of *Mirror of Joy* from Nicolai, who was the author of the text and composer of the tunes for the King and Queen of the Chorales - they were appended to the back of this work. What is impressive is that these meditations came from him at a time when intense suffering was hitting his parish - the plague was carrying off people right and left. Yet in the midst of the stench of death, he is filled with this overflowing joy. It not only shows up in his hymns, but in the *Mirror* itself.

The post below is a bit more than I gave in the comment under the hymn. I have not had the occasion to finish this translation that I began some years ago. I did read the book through before translating it (his German is very simple while his thoughts are profound). My favorite section, which I did not get to yet, speaks of Adam and Eve having been clothed in light, like our Lord at the transfiguration, and that they knew they were naked when their bodies no longer shone in glory: "All have fallen short of the glory of God."

Anyway, it's a rather rough translation - first draft - but for the enjoyment of whoever wants to plough through it, here you go:

A Mirror of Joy of the Life Eternal

By Philipp Nicholai


As often as I call to mind the surpassing comfort of the promise of eternal life and of our heavenly home, my heart bursts out with joy and my soul rejoices in God my Savior. Think of it! There we believing Christians will behold with joyful eyes the Almighty King of glory, our only Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ, who for us trampled down the ancient serpent! There we will gather with the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. There we will see again with overflowing joy those we’ve loved on earth – our father, mother, brothers and sisters, husband and wife, children, and all our acquaintances who have blessedly fallen asleep in the Lord and have gone before us in true faith. There God will wipe all tears from our eyes and transform our mourning into dancing. He will clothe us with joy, so that our heart rejoices for all eternity and this awesome joy no one can ever take from us.

There we will enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We will be brought into the company of many thousands of angels and to the assembly of the firstborn, who are written in heaven. And in that place joy will simply overwhelm us as we contemplate the awesome gifts God has bestowed on us. To think that heaven should be ours! That everything which Christ has, is now our imperishable heavenly treasure! God himself will be our very great Reward, our Temple, our Light and our all in all. Who would trade all the world’s perishable splendor, honor, joy, and glory for what God has in store for us? Our future is that we will see and laugh together with the holy angels. Indeed, the entire heavenly host will call us blessed because we have believed in Jesus Christ and trusted His unfailing Word to the death. (17)

Whenever I think of these things, my heart and mind grow quiet, peaceful and still. I do not fret, then, even though in this world we miserable earthworms and sheep of Christ’s pasture are surrounded by temporal death in this life so that our faith and hope have to run the fiery gauntlet of the devil and his cursed followers. The children of God do not need to despair, because we wait in hope for the life that never ends. That is our future even as we pass through this valley of tears, burdened with afflictions, poverty, scorn, mockery, and privation. Yes, the life that never ends gives us hope even though we live in exile, or find ourselves widows or orphans, despised preachers, miserable creatures, poor, sick, imprisoned or scorned, treated as wretched slaves who can be abused and who suffer reverses of judgment, cry over misfortunes and receive no apparent help. Our future hope is secure although here we must be fools for Christ’s sake, an off-scouring of the people, a spectacle for men and angels.

The Lord will soon come. In His grace, He has heard already the sighs and cries of his elect, who cry out to Him day and night. He will save us in a little while and bring joy to His church after these troubles. What we now suffer for a little time in this world is just not worth the unspeakably great glory that will finally be revealed in us. You see, these troubles, which are temporary and light, are working for us an eternal, immeasurable, incomprehensible glory, the like of which no eye has seen and no ear heard and has not entered into the heart of anyone.

Oh, the inexpressible glory and unutterable joy of the eternal blessings and glory, which we will there experience! Oh, the light that shines everywhere in heaven’s joyful halls bringing blessed comfort and delight to all the children of light, who have overcome the devil, the world, and all trials through the blood of Jesus Christ! Oh, the noble and astounding Paradise, the glorious City of God and heavenly Land of Canaan, where stands God’s mountain of joy and comfort, which from flow the milk of comfort and the honey of joy, and where God is all in all! (p. 18 bottom) Oh, how wonderful a world it must be, how desirable a place, how lovely a dwelling, how precious the garden of bliss is this kingdom! It is a kingdom overflowing with every comfort, abounding in all grace, and chocked full of inexpressible joy!

There God the Father reveals His beloved and joyful countenance openly and wondrously to his elect children: angels and men. There Jesus Christ permits them to behold His glory, glory He had with the Father before the world’s foundations were laid. There in a precious and wondrous way God the Holy Spirit Himself will be seen in the Father and in the Son!

Oh, that beautiful, noble life where the holy angels praise God with joy, where the dear Patriarch, Prophets and Apostles dwell, where all pious Christians will be gathered to their people out of this false and vile world! Oh that life where our pious parents, father, mother, husband, wife, children, brothers, sisters and all our other friends who shared our faith and trust in Christ’s blood have gone before us and await our arrival with great joy and longing!

O blessed life, says Augustine, which God has prepared for those who love Him! You are indeed the true and actual life. You are a blessed life. You are a steady, sure life. You are a quiet and restful life. You are a pure and chaste life. You are a holy life. You are an eternal life rich in joy, where no one hears of death, sorrow or tribulation. You are a life without fault, without anxiety or perplexity, without decay and change, without fear, terror or crying. You are a life, where all is quiet, beautiful, delicate and desirable. You are a life where no adversary is, no one to oppose us. Where no temptation to sin is, but instead an overflowing love, a union of heart, attitude and mind and a sturdy unity, where an eternally bright light of day shines, where God will be seen face to face, and where man will taste a bread of life that banishes hunger forevermore.

O you eternal, blessed life! Thinking about entering you is my heart’s desire and joy. Your splendid bounties I desire from the heart (p. 19) and for them I ache and long. And the more I think of you and take to heart your loveliness and sweetness, the more the love, the longing and the desire for you grows in me and increases. Indeed, as often as I think of you, my heart in my body laughs for joy. And so this is my desire, that my heart, will and mind turn to you, journey to you, consider and think on your loveliness.

It is my desire, to speak about you, hear about you, write about you, talk about you and read about your eternal blessedness and heavenly glory each and every day. Further, what I have read, I want to enfold in my heart’s shrine and meditate on it, so that I dispense with and toss off the bothersome worry, danger, and tiresome toil and labor of this life – a life that is dying and fading away - and refresh myself, like a pilgrim and wanderer, with the sweet, cool desire for your life-giving blessings, so that when I go to sleep, I may rest my head upon you and in you find my peace, O everlasting life!

And so I turn with hunger to the luscious, beautiful pasture of the Sacred Scripture and diligently harvest and gather together like the green herb many verses rich in comfort. These verses I collect and read as if I ate and tasted the little herb, ruminating and thinking hard on them. When I have well considered and collected them, then I swallow them down and enclose them in my heart, so that through such tasting of their sweetness I feel that much less the bitterness of this life of exile.

O all-blessed life, you are in truth a salutary Kingdom and you know no death and have no end! In you is eternity and no change of time. There there is a day where no night comes, but endures and remains endlessly. A Christian soldier, who has overcome the world, the devil, death and all misfortune, is there a companion, brother, and comrade of the angelic Thrones and Dominions, which always praise God with joyful voice, and he sings without interruption (20) to our dear God the joyful songs of the glorious Zion and wears the crown of eternal life on his head.

O that it were possible for a man on earth, to preach and write of that which is so lovely, so glorious, so comforting, and so graceful, that the troubled and tested children of God would be aroused to blessed joy and take rich comfort! Yet how does it happen, O dear God, that we are so slow to believe your Holy Word? It witnesses to the eternal life announced to us in the prophetic and apostolic writings. O that Your Word may through the power and working of Your Holy Spirit, burn as a light in our hearts and fall like a fruitful rain, which lights upon the grass, like a dew that moistens the herb. O that like a spear or nail Your Word may pierce our heart and bring forth rich comfort and living joy to soothe and put an end to the great sadness, burdens and anxieties Your Christians suffer in this valley of tears, where they are unceasingly afflicted with sickness, sorrow, and trials of all sorts.

True it is, dear Lord God, and we must also confess: This noble sweet mystery is too deep for our reason to grasp, the joy is too great, and the glory too immense. And on the other hand, our heart is too small, our eyes too sleepy, and our understanding much too weak and too awkward, to grasp and comprehend this noble mystery, this high and great joy, and this immense glory. And although Your enlightened children in this world rightly hear and somewhat understand what they speak of, sing, and write about, yet all their knowledge and wisdom is only piece-meal, a mere bungling and childish beginning. Therefore I am in myself confounded and think: How can I speak and write of the overflowing joy of eternal life, when I cannot fully understand it, nor my thoughts reach so high? And how should what comes to me in my heart, reach my tongue and flow out from my pen?

It is indeed true that even if the likes of Pericles, Demosthenes, Cicero, Socrates or any other famous (p. 21) speaker, rightly understood this article, even with all their erudition and rhetoric they would be far to weak and to inadequate, to express it correctly and sufficiently describe it.

And yet you wish, O God, and indeed command in Your word, that we make a beginning in this world, even though piece-meal, and speak, preach, sing, and announce as much as Holy Scripture reveals about eternal life. O how blessed the people, says David, who can rejoice. Lord, they will walk in the light of Your face. They will daily be joyful in Your name and glory in Your righteousness. They will drink from the rich goods of Your house, and You quench their thirst as with a mighty river. Because with You is the fountain of life, and in Your light we see light. In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Therefore, O God, this is my earnest plan. I will sing and write. Up, psaltery and harp, I will awake early. Let the heaven rejoice and let the earth be glad, let the sea roar and all that is therein. Let the earth rejoice and all that is in it; let the trees of the forest shout for joy.

Yes, dear God, let us also rejoice, that we may heed the exhortation of Your prophet Dvid and daily rejoice in Your name and glory in Your righteousness. Yes, let us still sing of Your heavenly grace, as much as it has been revealed to us, and make known Your truth with our mouths everywhere. Yes, let us enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise, lauding and magnifying Your name. Bring us to Your holy mountain and to Your dwelling, Lord, our Joy and our Home, that we may see and experience that great goodness, which You have promised to those who fear You and have prepared for all who know You. (22)

Division of the Mirror of Joy in Two Sections

It is with heartfelt joy that I seek help to make a beginning and show with zeal and love from the Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments: first, what a noble and life of overflowing joy that eternal life is which the chosen children of God enjoy there in Paradise. Then secondly, from whom this salutary Good comes, and how the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, out of unspeakably sweet love and gentleness prepares this eternal life for us poor children of Adam and permits us to enter therein.

But I pray you, O great King of glory and Ruler of eternal life, my beloved Savior and Benefactor, my Lord Jesus Christ, by Your precious, rose-red blood that merited eternal life for us poor sinners by Your great, heart-felt love for men, and revealed such heavenly wisdom to those that fear you and bring them to know your covenant. O You who ordained Your praise also from the mouths of babes and infants, that Your wonders and Your goodness be widely lauded, announced, and spread abroad: Let me also be one of those infants and open my lips so that through the Holy Spirit’s power and work the precious article of eternal life that I may proclaim it to the glory of Your great majesty and to the blessed comfort of all burdened, sad hearts, who here on earth cry and weep, over whom the world rejoices, and who must for the sake of Your name suffer all kinds of threats, trouble, scorn, and danger. Grant to them, O God of all comfort, that this article may be their chalice of comfort, from which they imbibe the true water of life and may it be to them a salutary, refreshing and comforting drink to rejoice and to enliven their thirsting souls.

The First Part of the Mirror of Joy

Living Comfort, steadfast Joy, and heart-felt Rapture, create and work in us that we may diligently view this high article of our Christian faith regarding eternal life. Rejoice and be glad, all you Christians who, from the heart, seek eternal life. Let us sing, dance, celebrate and be joyful in the Lord, our God and Savior! Just consider the blessed benefaction of the heavenly glory, joy, and splendor, which out of unspeakable sweet love, our God has prepared from the beginning of the world for us his faithful children. This benefaction He will gloriously reveal, that we may behold its presence with our very eyes, when the time of our struggle and knighthood of faith on earth is ended, when by the Holy Spirit’s power we are taken through the last struggle of death to our heavenly fatherland and finally delivered from this sorrowful valley of tears.

Whether indeed there is an Eternal Life?

Proof from the Witness of Our Lord Christ that there Certainly Is an Eternal Life.

The promise of eternal life is my heart’s highest comfort, my joy and rapture and a lovely delight in all kinds of crosses and opposition. Here say to your soul: Why so downcast, O my soul, and why so disquieted within me? You will not abide eternally in this troublesome vale of tears. There is prepared for you an eternal life after this time of exile. And why should I doubt it? Let not your hearts be troubled, says the Son of God. You all believe in God, so believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwellings. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will indeed come again and take you to (p. 24) myself that where I am, you may be also. I give my sheep eternal life. Whoever believes in me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Because where I am, there my servant will be also. And whoever serves me, my Father will honor. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, that they may see the glory which you have given to me. But what is this glory? Truly, truly, he spoke to the dying thief on the cross, today you will be with me in paradise.

Here we do not hear a mere man speaking, but God’s Word, God’s promise, and God’s testimony about eternal life. Who would not trust this divine witness? The heathen, especially their poets, write well about the “campis elysiis,” that is, of a new world and beautiful and desirable place, where the souls of fair and virtuous men depart after they die in this world. But who will trust their fables? They are merely human dreams and fantasies, which no one can rely on. But to us the great and true God, Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, preaches and proclaims this noble high mystery, and there is no falsehood found in His mouth! The Lord has decided it, says the Scripture, and who will change it? The Lord’s Word is truth and what He tells us is most certain. And you know that God Himself has said that no prophecy will lie. Because I am the Lord, what I speak will come to pass.

Yes, what are all the deeds of the great love and tenderness of God for if not to preach to us of eternal life? What were we made for? For what purpose has Christ conquered death, the devil, and hell? For what end were we born again by the Holy Spirit through the Word and holy Sacraments? In truth the all-holy Trinity does not primarily do this nor has done any of it for the short time of our present life in this world. In the same way, not for this (p. 25) present life were we baptized and we don’t come to the Church for the Lord’s Supper, nor attend to God’s Word to this end, that we might learn how a man should farm, sow, build, plant, hunt, sell and so use this world. Such things also the nonChristians, Jews, and Turks can well do, and for them one needs neither Baptism, nor Eucharist, nor Gospel, nor Absolution. But all of these the Lord God has given to secure our heavenly blessedness and eternal life. For eternal life we were created. For eternal life we have been redeemed. For eternal life we have been born again. For eternal life we have been baptized. For eternal life we have been called through the Gospel. What else is the goal of our faith and our blessed hope, other than eternal life? And what does it mean to die as a Christian in the Lord, than that he rests and travels from this world to the life everlasting?

Indeed, my soul, what makes you so distress yourself so, weighed down with anxious and burdensome thoughts? It is true, isn’t it, that all the foremost works of God, such as creation, redemption, and sanctification, after that also God’s Word, Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper, after that our faith and hope and the Christian’s final journey from this valley of tears, each give strong witness to the article on eternal life? In fact everything tends toward and is directed to eternal life, so why should we not rejoice and be glad from the heart? Why should we Christians pull out our hair in our sadness because of anxiety and impatience, and be fretful and anxious and depressed over death just like the heathen who have no hope?

And what are we to make of that precious names that Sacred Scripture repeatedly gives to eternal life? Why is it called a Paradise? Why does our Lord Christ name it a marriage feast? For what cause does it receive so many beautiful names, that it is called God’s kingdom, the house of the eternal Father, the eternal habitations, the holy mountain of the Lord, a river of delights, the life-giving spring, the holy temple, the fullness of joy, an eternal conjugal union with God, a joy of the Lord, an incorruptible, spotless, and unchanging inheritance, an inheritance with the saints in light, (p. 26) a great glory passing all expectation, a lovely existence, the heavenly fatherland, the land of the living, the holy city of the living God, the new Jerusalem!

What purpose do these words serve us, and why does the Holy Spirit give eternal life so many comforting names if not to admonish and urge us in our faith and hope to greater joy and happiness? For what is more desirable than a beautiful paradise and garden of pleasure? What do young people love more than married joy, married love and conjugal union? What more splendid than when great lords meet together and their majestic glory, joy and rapture? What makes children more rich than a great inheritance and many goods? What more desirable than a mighty, beautiful city? What in the whole world is more famous than Jerusalem? What is statelier than a great kingdom? What is loved more than a fatherland? What does not love to look at May-huts and beautiful, fruitful mountains? What is lovelier than pleasure? What revives and restores thirsty souls on earth better than a sweet, dear drink? What appears more glorious than a high, well-built temple? And what more welcome than heart-felt joy, important glory, and a lovely existence?

I see a great vanity under the sun, how the world struggles and strives after corruptible goods, splendor, honor, glory, and pleasure. Kings, princes, and great lords build stately palaces, want great gardens and plant all kinds of fruit trees in them. Young people and virgins fall in love and set their hearts on marriage. Others want the world to see what they know from their far-flung travels to foreign kingdoms in India, America, among the Tartars, China, from Priest John’s land and so on by their writings and speeches. I see where a great inheritance and kingdom can bring former friends to blows and hatred. I see how earthly kings and princes and great lord, cities, provinces, lands and people (p. 27)


Jimbo said...

now if only I could get other people to act so quickly according to my will!

Rev. Benjamin Mayes said...

I hope you'll continue your translation. This is a text that ought to be enjoyed also by English-speaking Christians.

Brian P Westgate said...

I agree with Rev. Mayes. Perhaps a completed translation could be published by CPH, or Emmanuel Press, or Represtination Press, or Lutheran Liturgical Renewal (hey, I had to get in a plug there somewhere; it could be just the boost we need!)

William Weedon said...

Send me an associate or assistant pastor and I'll think about it! Right now the government has absconded with mine.

Jimbo said...

I think more likely my title should be, "Bishop of greater Evansville-the-lesser" since even people in Illinois think of that large-ish city in southern Indiana. huge difference though - our town has ZERO traffic lights.