Joachim Neander (1650?-1680), the German writer of a number of hymns still in use today lived and worked in a place and time which can be very instructive to us many centuries later. He was born in Bremen, which is today the capital of the German state with the same name. His father was a Latin teacher. But the story actually begins with his grandfather. Originally the paternal family name was Neumann, which means “new man.” The popular custom at the time was to change your name to something which reflected a Greco-Roman origination. Grandpa chose Neader. This vanity by this obscure and poor musician is one which is remembered everyday in certain archaeological circles. More about this later.

Joachim was an unimpressive student attending a marginal university. He preferred hunting and carousing to studying. And even as a theological student, he preferred cracking jokes with his friends during church services to attending to what was said. Until one fateful day.

Near the end of his studies, he heard a sermon by Theodor Undereyk (1635-1683) which turned this young man’s heart finally and fully to God. Now Theodor Undereyk was not just any old itinerate preacher passing through town. He was an important leader in the rapidly growing Pietist movement. This was largely a Lutheran movement, but it drew adherents from the greater Reformed traditions of northern and eastern Europe.

Just to be clear, the Pietist movement (with a capital “P”) does not mean the same as piety (small “p”). While there is overlap in meanings, they are separate ideas.

The Pietist movement is the ground from which modern Evangelicalism sprang. (Though the latest iterations of this movement share only a little with Pietists.) The movement had many forms but can be characterized by a strong emphasis on personal knowledge of Scriptures and living a Godly life. There were many elements of this movement which made it a threat to those in power, both Ecclesiastical power and political power. Meeting in small groups to study scriptures and to mutually encourage one and another was a hallmark of the movement. These meetings were held without Ministerial oversight so were often seen as a subversive activity by both the ministerial and magisterial authorities.

In Philip Spener’s Pia desideria he lists six characteristics of Pietism.

  1. The careful study of the Bible in private meetings which he called ecclesiolae in ecclesia,“little churches within the church.”
  2. A universal priesthood. The lay share a full measure of responsibility for spiritual leadership of the church.
  3. Your knowledge of Christianity should be demonstrated by your life. Your actions should reflect your faith.
  4. (And a lesson long lost but desperately needed today) A gently and sympathetic treatment of those whose beliefs may not be the same as your own. This would include the heterodox and well as the unbeliever.
  5. A change in the emphasis at the university. A devotional life should have greater import.
  6. (Another sadly forgotten point) Preaching should not be full of flowery, and in modern parlance, feel-good-isms. Instead, preaching should teach and instill the faith deep into the soul bringing forth mature fruits of the spirit.

One can see how the well-entrenched Ecclesiastical and political authorities would find many of these points threatening and offensive. Some things still haven’t changed in nearly 400 years.

Pietism, with its weaker connection to confessionalism, actually led to or made easier the reuniting of some the early Lutheran fractions, particularly in Prussia.

This movement wound its way through much of the Protestant church in Europe. It found sympathies with the Wesleys in the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. As I mentioned earlier, it was the ground from which the modern Evangelical movement in the US sprang from. Historically, the closer a person associated with the principles of Pietism the more likely they were to vote first for the Whigs and later the Republicans, starting with Abraham Lincoln.

So that sets the background for the hero of our story, the young Joachim Neander. He came into contact with this movement, including Spener himself, and it had an immediate and profound impact upon him.

In his mid-twenties, he was appointed rector of the Latin school in Dusseldorf. He was extremely successful. However, in his zeal for Pietism, he went too far and drew the ire of his employer, the church. He was dismissed from the school and forbidden to even preach until he repented of his crime. He spent that summer living alone in the wilderness in a small valley. He continued to teach and write while there. He lived primarily in a small cave which is still known as “Neander’s Cave.” It is in an area renamed by the locals as Neanderthal, or Neander’s Valley. It was in a cave near Neander’s Cave, the first Neanderthal, the late hominid, was discovered. (Ok, not the first found, but the first identified as a hominid. Neander’s Neanderthal was actually the second found in history, but the first identified. The first found and second identified occurred because of this discovery.)

It was during this time of retreat and humiliation that Neander wrote most of his 71 hymns. This includes those still in use such as: Praise to the Lord the Almighty, Praise Thou The Lord, The Omnipotent, and All my Hope on God is Founded.

After this summer in the wilderness, Joachim wrote his letter of repentance and returned to his former position. He died about a year later from tuberculosis.

Title Tune YouTube Composer
All my Hope on God is Founded Michael Herbert Howells
Heaven and Earth, and Sea and Air Gott sie dank durch alle welt Freylinhausen’s Gesangbuch
Praise Thou The Lord, The Omnipotent Lobe Den Herren Joachim Neander
Praise to the Lord, The Almighty Hast du denn Liebster Praxis Pietatis Melica
Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty Lobe Den Herren Stralsund Gesangbuch
Wondrous King, All Glorious Arnsberg Joachim Neander

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Here are some of my favorite Hymnals:

Presbyterian 1955 Hymnbook:

Episcopal 1940 Hymnal: 

Broadman 1940 Hymnal:

Methodist 1939 Hymnal:

Pilgrim 1935 Hymnal:

Now Sings My Soul, New Songs for the Lord by: Linda Bonney Olin:

Choice Hymns of the Faith 1945

Book of Psalms for Singing    (1912 Psalter is unavailable)

Here are my new projects:

Hymns Ancient and Modern

J S Bach Riemenschneider 371 Harmonized Chorales


Dictionary of Hymnology:

American Hymns Old and New