The doctrine of the Trinity in the hymns of Martin Luther

Paul John Grime, Marquette University


While the doctrine of the Trinity was central to Luther's whole theological system, little attention has been paid to it. Most significantly, much of the research on Luther's theology has failed to note that Luther's well-known teaching on justification by faith was firmly grounded in his trinitarian thought. In order to investigate this matter, I chose to examine Luther's Trinity doctrine as it is presented in his hymns. Because the theological content of the hymns has received little scholarly attention, the hymns offered a unique opportunity for investigation. Using Luther's model of dividing his explanation of the Apostles' Creed into three parts, I structured my examination of the hymns under the headings of the three persons of the Trinity. Prior to examining the hymns, however, I surveyed his writings, culling from them some of his more significant statements regarding the Trinity. Following my investigation of the hymns, I surveyed Luther's thoughts on hymnody in order to discover his attitude toward hymnody in general. My examination of Luther's Trinity doctrine revealed a teaching that had much in common with the early church's dogma, especially its strong soteriological slant. Luther had a strong desire, however, to present the reformation teachings in a simplified form that could be grasped by the common person. This was clearly evident in his hymns, where Luther used simple language to convey a rich and vibrant teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity. In my examination of Luther's attitude toward hymnody, I found that Luther attached great importance to the proclamatory nature of the hymns. I examined the various functions that the hymns served and provided further examples that showed how the hymns serve as proclamation of the gospel. My conclusion affirmed my thesis, namely, that Luther's hymns do contain a doctrine of the Trinity that faithfully reflects that doctrine as presented in his other writings. Furthermore, I concluded that the hymns served well as a vehicle for proclaiming the reformation teachings, including the doctrine of the Trinity.

This paper has been withdrawn.