“One Little Word Can Fell Him”

amightyfortress‎”One little word can fell him.” What’s that word?

Today, as many Lutheran congregations celebrated the Reformation, they sang Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which famously declares that “one little word” can bring down the devil. What is that word? In at least one of his writings, Martin Luther refers to his own hymn and reveals that the word he had in mind was “liar.”

Speaking of one of the books his opponent had written against him, Luther says, “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour…, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him.'”
Against Hanswurst (AE 41:185-186).

For Jesus, the Truth, the Word made Flesh, is always victorious over the spirit who is the Lie.

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5 thoughts on ““One Little Word Can Fell Him”

  1. Chad,
    How can the “one little word” be “liar” when v4 says: “That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth”? That explanation still doesn’t make sense to me.
    Tom

    • ‘Word’ is about as ambiguous a vocable as there can be, capable of many different meanings within a single context. I figure that, if we go with Luther’s own explanation of what the referent of ‘one little word’ is, we can’t go wrong since he was the author.

  2. Jon Vieker on said:

    Smoking gun evidence from Luther himself is always helpful. The problem is that he said two different things–once earlier on (around the time he wrote the hymn), and another at the end of his life.

    The earliest evidence from Luther’s writings suggests that he did intend a connection between the “little word” of stanza 3 and “The Word” of stanza 4. In a sermon from 1528/29, Luther noted: “So it is meant to happen: all ruthlessness is meant to fall upon Christ and His Gospel, so that the devil pours out all his wickedness and all his power upon Christ and in Him becomes powerless, for the salvation and comfort of us who believe in Christ. Thus they may drive back the devil with a single word and cast him down. To the godless and unbelieving, the devil is a prince, indeed, a god of this world. But to believers he is powerless. When he hears a Christian speaking the one word ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ with true faith, he falls down as if struck by a thunderclap.” Martin Luther, “The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Chapters of St. John and a Portion of the Twentieth, on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1528–29/1557),” in Luther’s Works: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, ed. Christopher Boyd Brown, American Edition (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 265. Cf. WA 28:404–06.

    On the other hand, Luther wrote toward the end of his life: “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour as von Wolfenbüttel has vices and lies, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him.’” Martin Luther, “Against Hanswurst,” in Luther’s Works, Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, American Edition (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 185–86.

    I am inclined toward Luther’s earlier remarks since they are closer to the time when he wrote the hymn, and they also run best with the internal argument that the “little word” (Wörtlein) at the end of stanza 3 finds its closest referent to “The Word . . .” in the first line of stanza 4.

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  4. Pingback: What Is One Little Word – epicask.top

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