Paul Gerhardt (c. 1606 - June 7, 1676), German hymn writer, was born of a good middle-class family at Grafenbainichen, a small town between Halle and Wittenberg, in 1606 or 1607--some authorities, indeed, give the date March 12, 1607, but neither the year nor the day is accurately known.
His education appears to have been retarded by the troubles of the period, the Thirty Years' War having begun about the time he reached his twelfth year. After completing his studies in Berlin as tutor in the family of an advocate named Berthold, whose daughter he subsequently married, on receiving his first ecclesiastical appointment at Mittelwald (a small town in the neighbourhood of Berlin) in 1651. In 1657 he accepted an invitation as "diaconus" to the Nicolaikirche of Berlin; but, in consequence of his uncompromising Lutheranism in refusing to accept the elector Frederick William's "syncretistic" edict of 1664, he was deprived in 1666.
Though absolved from submission and restored to office early in the following year, on the petition of the citizens, his conscience did not allow him to retain a post which, as it appeared to him, could only be held on condition of at least a tacit repudiation of the Formula Concordiae, and for upwards of a year he lived in Berlin without fixed employment. In 1668 he was appointed archdeacon of Lübben in the duchy of Saxe-Merseburg, where, after a somewhat sombre ministry of eight years, he died on the 7th of June 1676.
Gerhardt is the greatest hymn-writer of Germany, if not indeed of Europe. Many of his best-known hymns were originally published in various church hymn-books, as for example in that for Brandenburg, which appeared in 1658; others first saw the light in Johann Cruger's Geistliche Kirchenmelodien (1649) and Praxis pietatis melica (1656). The first complete set of them is the Geistliche Andachten, published in 1666-1667 by Ebeling, music director in Berlin. No hymn by Gerhardt of a later date than 1667 is known to exist.
The life of Gerhardt has been written by Roth (1829), by Langbecker (1841), by Schultz (1842), by Wildenhahn (1845) and b Bachmann (1863); also by Kraft in Ersch und Gruber's Allg. Encyc (1855). The best modern edition of the hymns, published by Wackernagel in 1843, has often been reprinted. There is an English translation by Kelly (Paul Gerhardt's Spiritual Songs, 1867).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.