Like the German Paul Gerhardt (and King David in the Psalms), Třanovský can communicate the anguish of human suffering as only those who have descended into their depths can do. In this, he put into words the feelings of most men and women of his time. But he also lifted them up to grasp the reality that lays behind this suffering and to clutch with confidence the reality of Christ’s redemption and the assurance of God’s love.
Many populations, in the history of the church, have identified a particular man as their “Luther,” someone who brought the gospel of grace alone through faith alone to their country. The Polish pastor and hymn-writer Jiří Třanovský has been called “the Luther of the Slavs.” While he was not the first one to bring the gospel to his region, he produced an accurate translation of the Augsburg Confession and a collection of hymns that has formed the basis of Czech and Slovak hymnody until the present and has helped to sustain the church by pointing her to the Scriptures and to Christ.
Třanovský was born on April 9, 1592, in Těšín (now Cieszyn, Poland), a town in the region that was then known as Silesia. Wanting to give him a good education, his parents sent him first to Guben, about 280 miles northwest of Těšín, then to Kolberg, on the Baltic sea, where we learned the Latin language and literature. In 1607, he was admitted to the University of Wittenberg, where he stayed until 1612.
After graduation, he probably traveled briefly through Silesia and Bohemia. He later worked as a teacher, first at Prague’s St. Nicholas Gymnasium, then in Holešov, Moravia, and finally in Valašské Meziříčí, a town in what is now Czech Republic.
In Meziříčí, he became a member of a singing society. The primary function of these societies was to provide men who could lead the singing during church services and special occasions and could make sure that the hymns that were sung were in every way Scriptural. The members of these societies were also required to live a pious life and give assistance to the poor.
It was in Meziříčí that he married Anna Polany, a native of Silesia, niece of the esteemed Reformed theologian Amandus Polanus (1561-1610). Anna and Třanovský had their first child, Mary, in 1617.
In 1616, after a sudden removal of the local pastor, Třanovský was elected in his stead. Conscious of the importance of creeds and confessions as means to clarify issues and strengthen convictions, in 1620 Třanovský produced a new and improved Czech translation of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.
What Times Are These?
The same year, after the disastrous battle of White Mountain, the Roman Catholic House of Augsburg took over Bohemia, and any protest was crushed by the imperial army. Sometimes, local populations were implicated without a valid reason.
That’s what happened in the cold February of 1621, when, after an insurrection, the people of Meziříčí had to flee the town. Some moved to the neighboring mountains and some traveled as far as Silesia. Třanovský followed them, settling back in his native Těšín. There, Anna gave birth to their second child, Constantine.
When, months later, the population returned to Meziříčí, Třanovský had to face a tough work of reconstruction, comforting families who had lost most of their goods and some of their loved ones.
It was then that he wrote his hymn, Ach, Boze, k jakemu veku (Ah, God, for what age”), taken from the famous words of the Turkish martyr Polycarp: Deus, ad quae nos tempora reservasti? (“Lord, what times are these?”). The hymn was a reminder of why the world hates the church, ending with a prayer that echoes David’s supplication: “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (1 Chron. 21:13).