If you were asked to name a former Roman Catholic clergyman in Germany, who both became a Lutheran pastor and Reformer and also authored many beautiful hymns along the way – you would likely think first of Martin Luther. This description, however, is fitting for another blessed saint, Paul Speratus.
Speratus was a Catholic Priest who served in Augsburg, Germany and as dean of Wurtzburg during the time of Luther. At first, he was a supporter of Luther’s most famous opponent, Johann Eck. Speratus, though, was a deep thinker, renown for his wisdom and intellect. He read and prayerfully contemplated Luther’s works and was quickly won over by him. He agreed with Luther’s teachings, and desired to see reforms made in the Roman Catholic Church. Fully convinced by Luther that it was lawful for priests to marry, Speratus even took a wife, several years before Martin Luther married Katherine von Bora.
Soon after marrying, a new archbishop was placed over his district. When the new archbishop learned that he had broken his vow of celibacy, Speratus was deposed from his office as dean. After a brief stay in Salzburg, Speratus found himself travelling through Vienna, Austria, where he continued to teach Reformation theology. There he was accused of heresy, excommunicated from the church, and received death threats. Concerned for his safety, he fled secretly to Moravia, where he found that the people were very favorable to Reformation theology. They named him their pastor and the townspeople loved him! The king of Moravia, however, did not. The king had him thrown into prison in which he faced the possibility of being burned at the stake. After a brief imprisonment, the emperor ordered that he be released from prison with the order not to return to Moravia.
From Moravia, Speratus traveled to Wittenberg, where he became a dear friend of Martin Luther. He helped Luther in his task of equipping the German people with hymns in their native tongue. Luther’s first hymnal, the Achtliederbuch, consisted of 8 hymns. Luther had composed four of them. One of them was composed by an unknown author. The other three were written by Speratus. Speratus had a long life, serving as a palace chaplain and a protestant bishop.
In The Lutheran Service Book, we have one of Paul Speratus’ most famous hymns; “Salvation unto Us Has Come.” This hymn teaches the beautiful doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. One of the most touching verses is stanza 6; "Since Christ has full atonement made, and brought to us salvation, each Christian therefore may be glad and build on this foundation. Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead, Your death is now my life indeed, for You have paid my ransom."