01 May 2010

The "Klette" Hymns and the "Klette" quote

"Ich will an meinem Herrn Christus kleben[d] bleiben wie die Klette am Kleide."
"I want to cling to my Lord Christ like a burr to a cloth."

There are two well known hymns in Lutheran hymnody whose words have been inspired by the infamous "Klette" quote, or "Burr" quote. Mor Meurer, in the biography, Katharina Luther geborne von Bora…, notes (pp. 117f.),
This childlike expression of faith seems to have been the inspiration for Christian Keimann, rector of the gymnasium of Zittau, in his hymn "Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht, weil er sich für mich gegeben, so erfordert meine Pflicht klettenweis an ihm zu kleben." But the expression is found even more literally in the famous burial hymn of Simon Graf, pastor of Schandau (d. 1659), in the hymn "Christus der ist mein Leben," of which the seventh stanza says, "Und laß mich an dir kleben, wie eine Klett am Kleid."
The quote has been popularly ascribed to Katharina Luther, née von Bora, as her deathbed expression of faith [Glaubenswort]. However, in older sources, we find a competitor. Sometimes it is Katharina Luther, sometimes, however, it is instead ascribed to Duchess Katharina of Saxony (and mother of Elector August of Saxony), as her deathbed confession.

Now, the meaning of and the faith exemplified by the quote itself are not in the least diminished by its uncertain origin; and indeed, it is in any case a Katharina to whom we must ascribe it. Nor can we hesitate to affirm that the faith possessed by both Katharinas was as humble and certain as is sensed by these words. The question is perplexing, however.

There are varied opinions in the 19th century. Albrecht Thoma, author of Katharina von Bora: geschichtliches Lebensbild, comes down on the side of Katharina von Bora, but notes (p. 311f.) that the hymn "Christus der ist mein Leben" may have been written by a certain Anna von Stolberg (1600), and was certainly not written by Simon Graf as Meurer believed. E.E. Koch, in his Geschichte der Kirchenlieder, IV, 667, claims that it was Katharina of Saxony (d. 1561) who said it. Konrad Reicherd (1828) ascribes it to the Elector-Mother Katharina. The paper Neue Mittheilungen aus dem Gebiete historisch antiquarischer Forschungen (1850), vol. 8, p. 78 seems to connect it to Georg Major's description of Mrs. Luther's death, but when inspected closely, inserts the ascription, without evidence, immediately following the quotation of Major. Zimmermann and Zimmermann, in Allgemeine Kirchenzeitung, vol. 14, come down on the side of the Duchess: "Katharina, the widowed duchess of Saxony and mother of Elector August...died in Torgau, saying this expression of faith on her deathbed…[which] afterwards became well-known in court and country."

In a rare modern example of support for the Duchess, The Archive for Reformation History (2005) says that Siegfried Bräuer's Beitrag was dedicated to the Duchess Katharina of Saxony, wife of Henry the Good, mother of dukes Maurice and August, and referred to by contemporaries as "Devils-head" and "Burr-on-Christ" [Teufelsköpfin und Klette an Christus].

An older example of an ascription is found in Menandri Allerbewährteste Mittel wider die Einbildung eines schnellen und unverhofften Todtes, 1724 (pp. 240f): "Regarding August, elector of Saxony, Selnecker reports that in the year 1561, when his Lady Mother died in Torgau, she spoke these words before her death: 'I want to remain clinging to my Lord Christ like a burr to a frock." Accordingly, when these ardent words had been reported to the Elector, he told the good, old Dr. John Neeven and myself who was with him at the time (wrote the blessed Dr. Weller): "May God so help me at my final end. I too, by His grace, will remain clinging to Him, and confess my Lord Christ; if He would only let me be a blister on His foot in eternal life, then I am content." But the oldest example that I have myself is from Herberger's Magnalia Dei (1600–1610) where he gives this ascription in at least three different places to the Duchess Katharina of Saxony, and knows of no quotes by Katharina Luther to speak of. He furthermore includes the quote by the Elector August, the relation of which to the quote in question would seem to put the nail in the coffin of a Katharina Luther ascription, unless we can find an earlier evidence that disproves or invalidates Selneccer's report.

Finally, for enjoyment, here are the hymns that relate to our quote. It is, I suppose, supremely ironic (or unfortunate) that we both references to the Klette-quote in English Lutheranism have been rather obscured:

This hymn (see TLH#365) was written by the rector Keimann (or Keymann) as said above and included in Walther's hymnal as hymn #255. Over the years, the relationship to the original Klette-quote was forgotten, and the "burr" was thrown out apparently to changing modern sensibilities. I restore it here in my composite translation. Also note the restored acronym clearly referring to the Duchess' son August in the last stanza:

1. JESUS I will never leave,
Who for me Himself hath given;
Like a burr to Him I’ll cleave
Nor from Him be ever driven.
Life from Him doth light receive,
Jesus I will never leave.

2. Jesus I will never leave
While on earth I am abiding;
That I have to Him I give,
All my cares in Him confiding.
Naught shall me of Him bereave,
Jesus I will never leave.

3. Though my sight shall pass away,
Hearing, taste, and feeling fail me;
Though my life’s last light of day
Shall o’ertake and sore assail me;
When His summons I receive,
Jesus I will never leave.

4. Nor will I my Jesus leave
When at last I shall come thither
Where His saints He will receive,
Where in bliss they live together.
Endless joy to me He’ll give,
Jesus I will never leave.

5. Not for earth’s vain joys I crave
Nor, without him, heaven’s pleasure;
Jesus, who my soul did save,
Evermore shall be my Treasure.
He redemption did achieve,
Jesus I will never leave.

6. Jesus I will not let go,
ladly by His side I’m going:
Ever Christ will lead me so
e’r His streams, true life bestowing.
So with me is blest who says:
“I’ll not leave Him all my days.”*

*J.G.E.O.S.: i.e. “Johann Georg, Elector of Saxony” says: “Jesus I will never leave.”


1. Meinen Jesum lass' ich nicht!
Weil er sich
für mich gegeben,
So erfordert meine Pflicht,
Klettenweis an ihm zu kleben, [neu: In ihm und für ihn zu leben]
Er ist meines Lebens Licht,
Meinen Jesum lass' ich nicht!

2. Jesum lass' ich ewig nicht,
Weil ich soll auf Erden leben;
Ihm Hab ich voll Zuversicht,
Was ich bin und Hab, ergeben.
Herz und Mund mit Freuden spricht:
Meinen Jesum lass'ich nicht!

3. Laß vergehen das Gesicht,
Hören, Fühlen mir entweichen,
Laß das letzte Tageslicht
Mich auf dieser Welt erreichen,
Wann der Lebensfaden bricht, —
Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht!

4. Ich werd ihn auch lassen nicht,
Wann ich nun dahin gelanget,
Wo vor seinem Angesicht
Frommer Christen Glaube pranget.
Ewig glänzt mir dort sein Licht;
Meinen Jesum lass' ich nicht!

5. Nicht nach Welt, nach Himmel nicht
Meine Seel in mir sich sehnet;
Jesum wünscht sie und sein Licht,
Der mich hat mit Gott versöhnet,
Der mich frei macht vom Gericht;
Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht!

6. Jesum lass' ich nicht von mir,
Geh ihm ewig an der Seiten;
Christus wird mich für und für
Zu dem Lebensbrunnen leiten.
Selig, wer mit mir so spricht:
Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht!

This hymn (by Anon., 1608), has been ascribed to Simon Graf and to Anna von Stolberg, as said above. Winkworth's first line ("My life is hid in Jesus") obscures the biblical reference (it is the German version of Phil. 1:21, "Christ is my life, death is my gain"), but the version otherwise is generally not bad; again, excepting the exclusion of the "burr" reference. We have it in a slightly altered form in TLH #597. I have altered it further, changing Winkworth's word "merits" in stanza 3 to "five wounds," and the first two lines of stanza 7 in accordance with the original.

1. For me to live is Jesus.
To die is gain for me;
Then, whensoe'er He pleases,
I meet death willingly.

2. For Christ, my Lord and Brother,
I leave this world so dim
And gladly seek that other,
Where I shall be with Him.

3. My woes are nearly over,
Though long and dark the road;
My sin His five wounds cover,
And I have peace with God.

4. Lord, when my powers are failing,
My breath comes heavily,
And words are unavailing.
Oh, hear my sighs to Thee!

5. When mind and thought, 0 Savior,
Are flickering like a light
That to and fro doth waver
Ere 'tis extinguished quite,

6. In that last hour, oh, grant me
To slumber soft and still,
No doubts to vex or haunt me,
Safe anchored on Thy will;

7. And, like a burr still cleaving
To Thee through agony,
To fall asleep believing
And wake in heaven with Thee.

8. Amen! Thou, Christ, my Savior.
Wilt grant this unto me.
Thy Spirit lead me ever
That I fare happily.

1. Christus, der ist mein Leben, 

Sterben ist mein Gewinn; 

Dem thu ich mich ergeben,

Mit Fried fahr ich dahin.

2. Mit Freud fahr ich von bannen 

Zu Christ, dem Bruder mein,
Auf daß ich zu ihm komme

Und ewig bei ihm sei.

3. Ich hab nun überwunden 

Kreuz, Leiden, Angst und Noth;

Durch sein' heilig' fünf Wunden 

Bin ich versöhnt mit Gott.

4. Wenn meine Kräfte brechen, 

Mein Adem geht schwer aus.
Und kann kein Wort mehr sprechen, 

Herr, nimm mein Seufzen auf.

5. Wenn mein Herz und Gedanken 

Zergehn als wie ein Licht,
Das hin und her thut wanken, 

Wenn ihm die Flamm gebricht,

6. Alsdann fein, sanft und stille

Herr, laß mich schlafen ein.
Nach deinem Ruth und Willen, 

Wenn kömmt mein Stündelein;

7. Und laß mich an dir kleben, 

Wie ein' Klette am Kleid
Und ewig bei dir leben
In himmlischer Wonn und Freud.

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