Paul Gerhardt was a great 17th century German hymn writer, although I must confess that this is the only one of his hymns that I recognized among the several that I found in American hymnals. Gerhardt translated the words of this hymn into German from a Latin text that he thought to have been written by Bernard of Clairvaux.
The original words were in seven stanzas honoring Jesus’ feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and head. A British poet, Robert Bridges, and an American clergyman, James Alexander, translated the words from German into English.
The words have been modified considerably over the years, and vary from one hymnal to another. However, all include the first verse, which begins, “O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down.” The hymn honors Christ for his suffering on the cross, and asks how we can love and thank him enough.
The answer, of course, is that we can never love or thank him enough—but the Good News is that we are required to bring only our faith and devotion to Christ—not our perfection. It is his work, not ours, that saves us.
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan