Martin Rinckart (1586-1649 A.D.) was born in Eilenburg, Germany — a small city near Leipzig, which in the 20th century ended up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany for several decades.
Rinckart studied for the Lutheran ministry, and was called to serve as pastor of the church at Eilenburg, his home town. He arrived there just before the beginning of the Thirty Years War, a war that devastated Germany in general and Eilenburg in particular. Being a walled city, Eilenburg became a place of refuge and soon became badly overcrowded, rendering it susceptible to disease. The plague of 1637 decimated the town, killing 8,000 people, including Rinckart’s wife. Rinckart often conducted forty or fifty funerals a day for plague victims.
It seems incongruous that a hymn like “Now Thank We All Our God” should come out of such circumstances. However, Rinckart wrote the first two stanzas, not as a hymn for public worship, but as a table grace for his family. At the end of the war, his hymn was sung to celebrate the signing of the Peace of Westphalia — the treaty that ended the war.
But we would know nothing of this hymn except for the good work of Catherine Winkworth, an English woman who translated many German hymns into English — this hymn and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” being the best known.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan