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0. SCHUT, S.T.D., 

Censor Deputatus. 



Vic. Gen. 
Westmonasterii, die 10 Julii y 1913. 













"His most elaborate and systematic biography ... is not 
merely a book to be reckoned with ; it is one with which we cannot 
dispense, if only for its minute examination of Luther s theological 
writings." The Athenceum. 

"There is no room for any sort of question as to the welcome 
ready among English-speaking Roman Catholics for this admirably 
made translation of the first volume of the German monograph 
by Professor Grisar on the protagonist of the Reformation in 
Europe. . . . The book is so studiously scientific, so careful to 
base its teaching upon documents, and so determined to eschew 
controversies that are only theological, that it cannot but deeply 
interest Protestant readers." The Scotsman. 

"Father Grisar has gained a high reputation in this country 
through the translation of his monumental work on the History of 
Rome and the Popes in the Middle Ages, and this first instalment 
of his life of Luther bears fresh witness to his unwearied industry, 
wide learning, and scrupulous anxiety to be impartial in his judg 
ments as well as absolutely accurate in matters of fact." Glasgow 

" It is impossible to understand the Reformation without under 
standing the life and character of the great German. The man 
and the work are so indissolubly united that we cannot have right 
judgments about either without considering the other. It is one 
of Father Grisar s many merits that he does not forget for a single 
moment the fundamental importance of this connection. The man 
and his work come before us in these illuminating pages, not as 
more or less harmonious elements, but as a unity, and we cannot 
analyse either without constant reference to the other." Irish 

" Professor Grisar is hard on Luther. Perhaps no Roman 
Catholic can help it. But it is significant that he is hard on the 
anti-Lutherans also. ... He shows us, indeed, though not de 
liberately, that some reformation of religion was both imperative 
and inevitable. . . . But he is far from being overwhelmed with 
prejudice. He really investigates, uses good authorities, and 
gives reasons for his judgments." The Expositor// Times. 

" This Life of Luther is bound to become standard ... a model 
of every literary, critical, and scholarly virtue." The Month. 

"The most important book on Luther that has appeared since 
Denifle s epoch-making Luther und Luthertum. ... It is an 
ordered biography, . . . and is therefore very probably destined 
to a wider general usefulness as a Catholic authority." The Irish 



APOSTASY pages 3-44 



Friends among the Humanists : Crotus Rubeanus, 
Eobanus Hessus, etc. The nobility and the revolutionary 
knights. Piety of Hutten s language when addressing 
Luther. Franz von Sickingen. Offer made by Silvester von 
Schauenberg. Report that Hutten had trapped the Papal 
Legates ; Capito counsels greater moderation. Luther s 
reason for only meeting the knights half-way. Luther s 
work, " Von dem Bapstum tzu Rome," 1520 ; its violence 
contrasted with Luther s earlier demands of the " man of 
good will." The manifesto against Alveld. Prierias the 
Dominican attacks Luther s Indulgence-theses ; the latter s 
intense annoyance ; summary of his second reply. Treat 
ment of Hoogstraaten the Inquisitor. Luther s description 
of himself as a " man of contentions." Scolded by Emser 
for his lack of self-control. ..... pages 315 


By holding out hopes of reconciliation, Luther delays 
the final decision. His missive to Bishop Scultetus, in 
whose diocese lay Wittenberg. Three letters to Pope 
Leo X ; why the last was antedated ; its purport. Letter to 
the Emperor Charles V ; reason and setting of the letter ; 
its contents. Luther s later description of his " inaction " 
during this period. His correspondence with Spalatin ; the 
real aim of many of the letters : to promote his cause at 
Court ; his offer to resign his professorship. The diplo 
matist coupled with the enthusiast . . pages 15-26 



" To the Christian Nobility " ; " On the Babylonish 
Captivity " ; " On the Freedom of a Christian Man " ; 
specimens from the last of Luther s taking way of addressing 
the people ; his rejection of external authority and asser 
tion of the right of private judgment against the " tyranny " 
of Popes and Bishops. His new conception of faith. The 
pietist and religious revolutionary . . . pages 26-37 



The deep-set discontent of the Germans leads even the 
best-disposed to welcome Luther s strictures. Two famous 
Nurembergers : Willibald Pirkheimer s intervention on 
Luther s behalf ; his subsequent deception ; withdraws 
from the cause. Albert Diirer s prepossession in Luther s 
favour ; his art in Luther s service ; did he afterwards 
alter his ideas ? ...... pages 38-44 




The proceedings in Rome postponed and then resumed. 
The 41 propositions. The Bull " Exsurge Domine " menaces 
all Lutherans with excommunication in the event of their 
refusing to submit ; some excerpts from the Bull. Luther s 
writings against the Bull ; futility of his appeal to a General 
Council ; the burning of the Bull. " Compos mei non sum " ; 
his feverish activity ; " Fluctibus his rapior et volvor " ; his 
hints at armed opposition ; on " washing hands in blood " ; 
moderates his language when addressing the Saxon Court. 
Conviction that the Pope is Antichrist strengthened by the 
birth of the Freiberg Calf. His " Instruction to penitents 
concerning forbidden books" (February, 1521) composed 
in view of the Easter confession .... pages 45-G1 


The Diet assembled. Luther s journey to Worms. Hap 
penings at Erfurt. Arrival at Worms ; his interrogation ; 
unofficial attempts to reach a settlement ; his final refusal 
to recant. Sympathisers among the members of the Diet ; 
pressure brought to bear by the Knights ; the Elector of 
Saxony. Luther s departure ; preaches sermons in spite of 
the condition laid down in his safe-conduct ; carried off to 
the Wartburg ; formally declared an outlaw ; a letter to 

. pages 61-69 


The story of the Emperor s breach of the safe-conduct 
Luther s asseveration that his opponents refused to argue 
because they knew him to be in the right. What Luther 
stood for at Worms was no " freedom of conscience " in the 
modern sense. The legendary utterance " Here I stand I 
cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen." Various tales 
unfavourable to Luther: His supposed drunkenness and 
excesses at Worms ; despatches of Contarini the Venetian 
minister and Aleander the papal nuncio. . pages 69-79 



Luther s disposition and occupation in his lonely retreat. 
Rising scruples crushed ; gloomy thoughts ; bodily assaults 
of the evil one ; temptations. His cogitations on the 
question of celibacy ; discovers the best argument to use 
against vows and priestly obligations, viz. " evangelical 
freedom " ; result committed to print in his work " On 
Monastic Vows " ; his own intention to remain unmarried. 
His self-accusations of gluttony and laziness not to be taken 
literally. His translation, of the New Testament. His work 
" On the Abuse of the Mass " ; its frightful caricature of the 
Pope of Rome. His spiritual Baptism ; his conviction of 
the reality of his Divine mission .... pages 79-94 


Luther s own language responsible for certain unfounded 
charges against him. Meaning of the " tilillationes " and 
" molestice " of which he complains. The haunted castle ; 
incident of the visit of " Hans von Berlips s wife " ; the 
ubiquitous ink-smudge ..... pages 94-96 


CHURCHES . pages 97-172 


Luther quits the Wartburg and returns to Wittenberg. 
Progress of the movement at Wittenberg during his absence. 
Carlstadt a cause of misgivings. The Zwickau Prophets 
appeal to Holy Writ and their Divine mission ; Luther 
preaches against their ways ; haste to be deprecated ; he 
bases his superior claim on the priority of his revelation ; he 
is backed by the Court. He invites people to smash the 
Bishoprics and drive away the " wolves " (1522). As 
organiser of a new Church he is faced by practical difficulties 
owing to his having no clear notion of what the Church should 
be. Apocalyptic dreams. A dilemma : Is the new church- 
system to be introduced by the secular authorities or to 
spring up spontaneously within the congregations ? The free 
brotherhood without law or coercion. The new " Chris 
tians"; use of title "Evangelicals." Two points to be 
settled first, viz. the celebration of the Supper and the 
appointment of pastors. Luther s then leanings to the 
democratic congregational ideal. " De instituendis ministris 
ecclesice " and his writing to the Church of Leisnig (1523) a 
programme of Congregationalism. High hopes and excessive 
claims ; his mysticism gives him the assurance that unity 
will be achieved ...... pages 97-115 



Advantages and disadvantages of Luther s warfare 
on the state of religious celibacy. His work " On Monastic 



Vows." His exhortations to a religious to " pocket his 
scruples and be a man." On man s need to marry. Signifi 
cant admissions. His teaching in the Postils and Larger 
Catechism ; advice to the Prince-abbots and Knights of 
the Teutonic Order ; sarcastic remarks concerning the 
olden Fathers, particularly Jerome, and their " petty 
temptations " ; connection of Luther s attack on vows and 
his early dislike of " works." The character of the new 
pastors and preachers ; Luther suggests the erection of a 
jail for their especial benefit ; Eberlin, Hessus, and Cordus, 
Erasmus and Ickelsamer on the reformed pastors failings. 
Eberlin s testimony in favour of the Franciscans . pages 115-129 

LIFE (1522-1525). 

The " scandal " of his life as it appeared to the Fanatics ; 
displeasure of a Catholic contemporary ; reports carried to 
the Court of King Ferdinand ; moral circumspection im 
posed on Luther by his situation : "we are a spectacle unto 
the whole world." Flight of Catherine von Bora and the 
Nimbschen nuns ; the "delivery" of other convent-inmates 
elsewhere ; Luther s intercourse at Wittenberg with the 
escaped nuns ; his allusions to them. His joke about his 
" three wives " ; urges the Archbishop of Mayence to wed, 
the lattor s retort and Luther s offer " to prance along in 
front " as an example to His Grace. Some characteristic 
extracts from his letters to intimates. Melanchthon shocked 
at Luther s behaviour and jests. Dungersheim on Luther s 
doings in the " herd of runaway nuns." Eck on Luther s 
character and conduct. Luther s sermons on self-control 
devil s chastity, etc. " On Conjugal life." Luther s dis 
regard for decency unmatched by any writer of his age. His 
description of King Henry VIII. Rebuked by contemporaries 
for his incessant recourse to invective . . . pages 129-157 


General descriptions of Luther s personal appearance 
His reputed portraits not good likenesses. Effect of anxiety 
and overwork on his nervous system. Discussion of the 
question whether Luther suffered from the venereal disease 
so common in his time ; the newly discovered letter of the 
physician Rychardus in 1523 regarding Luther s indis 
position Luther s fits of depression; he relieves his 
ieclmgs by greater violence in his attacks on the Church of 
Home, religious vows, the Popish Mass, and the foe within the 
camp ; Satan raging everywhere ; the end of all not far off 
He invites Amsdorf to come and comfort him, beino- " verv 
sad and tempted " ; falls into a fainting-fit when alone at 
home; recovers his composure under the cheering influ 
ence of music ; requests Senfl of Munich to set to music a 
favourite anthem . . ^157-172 



DIET OF AUGSBURG (1525-1530) . . . 173-399 


Luther s unexpected wedding with Catherine von Bora ; 
his justification of it ; Melanchthon s mixed feelings shown 
in his confidential letter to Camerarius ; his surprise that 
Luther should have chosen this " unhappy time " (the 
period of the Peasant-War) for his marriage. Luther s 
excitement during the War and his presentiment of approach 
ing death ; his determination to spite the devil and himself ; 
his marriage a " work of God." The death of Frederick the 
Wise removes an obstacle to Luther s matrimony. Luther s 
jesting references to the step. His friends misgivings. 
Erasmus sadly disappointed in his hope that marriage would 
tame Luther. Dungersheim s lament. Marriage -legends : 
The statement that the marriage was consummated before 
being solemnised, due to a mere misunderstanding ; report 
of Bora s early confinement based on a statement of Erasmus 
which he afterwards withdrew. Statements of Heyden and 
Lemnius regarding Luther s misconduct with Bora, too 
general to be of historical value . . . pages 173-189 


Connection of the Peasant-rising with the new preaching. 
The " Twelve Articles " of the Swabians ; " Evangelical " 
demands of the Peasants ; the Peasants incited by fanatical 
preachers ; efforts made by the better pastors to quiet the 
populace. Luther drawn into the movement ; his " Ex 
hortation to peace " ; its description of the lords calculated 
to fan the flame ; his broadside " Against the murderous 
Peasants " and its drift : " Hew them down, slaughter, and 
stab them like mad dogs." The pamphlet alienates the lower 
classes. Luther s writing on the defeat of Miinzer. His 
" Circular letter on the severe booklet against the Peasants." 
Contemporary opinions regarding Luther s action ; Zasius, 
CochlEeus, Erasmus. Luther s later references to his inter 
vention in the revolt ; he ceases to be any longer the idol of 
the people. The Catholic Princes take steps to maintain 
their authority against the encroachments of the innovators. 
The Dessau League and the Assembly of Mayence. Luther s 
suppressed tract " Against the Mayence proposal," 1526. 
The Lutherans enter into an alliance at Torgau ; Luther on 
the aversion of both lords and peasants for himself. His 
abiding distrust of the peasants. The " awful ingratitude " 
of the people. His excitement and his polemics only deepen 
his conviction of his Divine mission. Emser s indignation 
with Luther expressed in verse. The multiplicity of the 
matters of business referred to Luther . . pages 189-223 



The earlier Church on freedom of the will. Growth of 
Luther s denial of freedom from the time of the Com- 


mentary on Romans; his attack on free-will in the "Resolu 
tions " after the Leipzig Disputation and in the "Assertio " 
against the Bull of Excommunication (1521) : " Omnia de 
necessitate absoluta eveniunt," anything else mere Pelagianism ; 
St. Augustine ; the " religion of the Cross " ; Scripture the 
sole rule of faith ; Luther s deviations from his stern 
doctrine in his practical works ; objections within his own 
fold. Erasmus invited to take the field on behalf of freedom ; 
previous attitude of the leader of the Humanists : partly for, 
partly against Luther ; his eyes opened in 1520 ; his regret 
in 1521 for having fanned the flames by his writings ; the 
saying : " Erasmus laid the egg which Luther hatched " ; 
various opinions regarding Erasmus. Luther seeks in vain 
to dissuade Erasmus from writing against him ; publication 
of the " De libero arbitrio diatribe," 1524 ; Luther s reply : 
" De servo arbitrio " ; contents and character of the work ; 
religious determinism ; God the only real agent ; peace 
to be secured only at the price of surrendering free-will ; 
unfreedom and predestination to hell ; God s Secret Will 
versus His Revealed Will ; existence of commandments 
and penalties ; how explained ? Man s will a saddle-horse 
mounted alternately by God and the devil. Luther s 
psychology as portrayed in his work on the enslaved will. 
Laurentius Valla. Luther s later dicta on the enslaved will 
and predestination ; his own opinion unaltered to the end ; 
he commends, however, the second edition of the " Loci 
Theologici " in which Melanchthon sacrifices determinism. 
Letter to Count A. von Mansfeld on the scandal of the weak ; 
consolation for the damned. Recent views on Luther s atti- 
tude . pages 223-294 


Luther s own estimation of the value of las teaching on 
the subject. How his views were reached. His book " Von 
welltlicher ^ Uberkeytt," 1523 ; his depreciation of the 
Princes : " A good Prince a rare bird from the beginning." 
Antagonism to the fanatics and revolted peasants and his 
desire to serve the cause of the Evangel lead him to exag 
gerate the secular authority at the expense of the spiritual ; 
Luther s self-contradictory utterances on the subject of the 
use of earthly weapons in the service of the Evangel pages 294-3 1 2 


Dollinger on the preparation of the ground for the Re 
formation. The proceedings at Altenburg, Lichtenberg, 
Schwarzburg, and Eilenburg typical of the action of the 
town councils. Partial retention of olden ceremonial for the 
sake of avoiding scandal. An instance of misplaced en 
thusiasm : Hartmuth von Cronberg. Proceedings at 
Wittenberg, in the Saxon Electorate and in the free Imperial 
city of Nuremberg. Lutheranism introduced at the Uni 
versity town of Erfurt ; Luther s own part in this ; the 
Catholic opposition headed by Usingen ; anti-clerical 
rising in the town ; invasion of the peasants and overthrow 


of the magistracy ; awkward position of Luther on being 
appealed to by the committees set up by the revolutionaries ; 
negotiations with the Saxon Elector and the Archbishop of 
Mayence ; partial success of the Archbishop s threats pages 312-362 


Advantages accruing to Luther from his warfare with the 
Anabaptists. Thomas Munzer s opinions and doings. 
Luther s Circular on. the spirit of revolt and Munzer s 
" Schutzrede " ; with \vhom is the decision as to the 
quality of the spirit to rest ? Munzer s capture and execu 
tion ; Luther exults. Luther s tracts against Carlstadt ; 
all his gainsayers possessed by the devil ; Munzer s de 
scription of Luther as the Pope of Wittenberg. Ickelsamer s 
objection that Luther goes only half-way with his principle 
of private judgment. Luther s view that every man sent 
by God must be " tried by the devil." Luther shocks his 
wife ... . pages 363-379 


AUGSBURG (1530). 

Previous Diets ; the Diet of Spires in 1526 ; the Protest 
at the Diet of Spires in 1529 ; that of Augsburg in 1530 ; 
Melanchthon s diplomacy approved by Luther; "insidice" 
pitted against " insidice " ; the Gospel-proviso ; Luther s 
admission to Philip of Hesse ; failure of the Augsburg 
Diet ; the tale of the spectre-monks of Spires ; Luther s 
obsessions in the fortress of Coburg ; vehemence of his tract 
against the " pretended Imperial edict " ; his reply to 
Duke George the " Dresden assassin." Luther s fidelity to 
certain central truths of Christianity, particularly to the 
doctrine of the Trinity pages 380-399 


II. B 




1. Allies among the Humanists and the Nobility till the 
middle of 1520 

As his work progressed the instigator of the innovations 
received offers of support from various quarters where aims 
similar to his were cherished. 

In the first place there were many among the Humanists 
who greeted him with joy because they trusted that their 
ideals, as expressed in the " Epistolce obscurorum virorum" 
would really be furthered by means of Luther s boldness 
and energy. They took his side because they looked upon 
him as a champion of intellectual liberty and thus as a 
promoter of noble, humane culture against the prevalent 

Erasmus, Mutian, Crotus Rubeanus, Eobanus Hcssus and 
others were numbered amongst his patrons, though, as in the 
case of the first three, some of them forsook him at a later 
date. Most of the Humanists who sought, in verse and 
prose, to arouse enthusiasm for Luther in Germany were 
as yet unaware that the spirit of the man whom they were 
thus extolling differed considerably from their own, and 
that Luther would later become one of the sternest oppo 
nents of their views concerning the rights of reason and 
" humanity " as against faith. Meanwhile, however, Luther 
not only did not scorn the proffered alliance, but, as his 
letters to Erasmus show, condescended to crave favour in 
language so humble and flattering that it goes far beyond 
the customary protestations usual among the Humanists. 
He also drew some very promising Humanists into close 


relation with himself, for instance. Philip Melanchthon and 
Justus Jonas, whom he won over to his cause at an early 
date. Crotus Rubeanus, the principal author of the 
" Epistolce obscurorum virorum" sought to renew his old 
acquaintance with his friend by letter in October, 1519. 
To him Luther appeared as the man of whose courage in 
opposing tyrants all the world was talking, and who was 
filled with the Spirit of the Lord. Crotus, at the instiga 
tion of Hutten, was anxious to bring about an under 
standing between Luther and the Knight Franz von 
Sickingen. 1 

The nobility was another important factor on whose 
support Luther was later to rely. 

Ulrich von Hutten, the Franconian Knight and Humanist, 
a typical representative of the revolutionary knights of the 
day, speaks to the Monk of Wittenberg in the same devout 
terms as Crotus. The language, well padded with quotations 
from the Gospel, which he adopts to please Luther and the 
Reformers, makes a very strange impression coming from 
him, the libertine and cynic. His first dealings with Luther 
were in January, 1520, when, through the agency of Melanch 
thon, he promised him armed protection should he stand in 
need of such. The message was to the effect, that Franz 
von Sickingen, the knight, would, in any emergency, 2 offer 
him a secure refuge in his castle of Ebernburg. As a matter 
of fact Sickingen, in 1520, made over this castle called the 
" Hostel of Justice " to Hutten, Bucer and (Ecolampadius 
as a place of safety. Representatives of the nobility who 
had fallen foul of the Empire there made common cause 
with the theologians of the new teaching. 

As yet, however, Luther felt himself sufficiently secure 
under his own sovereign at Wittenberg. He maintained an 
attitude of reserve towards a party which might have 
compromised him, and delayed giving his answer. The 
revolutionary spirit which inspired the nobility throughout 
the Empire, so far as we can judge from the sources at our 
disposal, was not approved of by Luther save in so far as the 
efforts of these unscrupulous men of the sword were directed 
against the power of Rome in Germany, and against the 
payments to the Holy See. His own appeals to the national 

1 " Hutteni opp.," ed. Booking (Lipsise, 1859, seq.), 1, p. 433. 

2 Ibid., 1, p. 320 seq. 


feeling of the Germans against the " Italian Oppression," 
as he styled it, were in striking agreement with the warlike 
proclamations of the Knights against the enslaving and 
exploitation of Germany. 

Thus sympathy, as well as a certain community of 
interests, made the Knights heralds of the new Evangel. 

In February, 1520, Hutten, through the intermediary of 
Melanchthon, again called the attention of Luther, " God s 
Champion," to the refuge offered him by Sickingcn. 1 Luther 
did not reply until May, nor has the letter been preserved ; 
neither do w r c possess the three following letters which he 
wrote to Hutten. Cochlacus, his opponent, says, he had seen 
" truly bloody letters " written by Luther to Hutten. 2 He 
does not, however, give any further particulars of their 
contents ; how the words " bloody letters " probably an 
unduly strong expression arc to be understood may be 
gathered from some statements of Luther s regarding 
another offer made him about the same time. 

The Knight Silvester von Schauenberg, a determined 
warrior, at that time High Bailiff of Miinnerstadt, declared 
he was ready to furnish one hundred nobles who would pro 
tect him by force of arms until the termination of his 
"affair." 3 Luther made Schauenberg s letter known 
amongst his friends and adherents. He informs Spalatin, 
that " Schauenberg and Franz von Sickingen have insured 
me against the fear of men. The wrath of the demons is 
now about to come ; this will happen when I become a 
burden to myself." 4 "A hundred nobles," he repeats in 
another letter, " have been promised me by Schauenberg 
in the event of my fleeing to them from the menaces of the 
Romans. Franz Sickingen has made the same offer." 5 

He had already, several months before this, spoken 
openly in his sermon " On Good Works " (March, 1520) of 
the intervention of the worldly powers w r hich he would Jike 

1 "Hutteni opp.," cd. Booking (Lipsiae, 1859, seq.), 1, p. 320 seq. 

2 " Vidimus certe cruentas eius litteras ad Huttenum." C. Otto, " Joh. 
Cochlaus," 1874, p. 121, note. Janssen-Pastor, "Gesch. des deutschen 
Volkes," 2 18 , p. 116. 

3 Schauenberg s letter of June 11, 1520, in Luther s " Briefwechsel," 
ed. Enders 2, p. 415. 

4 On June 17, 1520, " Brief weehsel," 2, p. 443. 

5 To Wenceslaus Link, July 20, 1520, Letters, ed. de Wette, 1, 
p. 470 (" Briefwechsel," 2, p. 444). 


to see, because the spiritual powers do nothing but lead 
everything to ruin. 1 

Hutten, who was more favourably disposed to\vards an 
alliance than Luther, continued to make protestations of 
agreement with Luther s views and to hold out invitations 
to him. On June 4 he wrote to him among other things : 
" I have always agreed with you [in your writings] so far 
as I have understood them. You can reckon on me in any 
case." " Therefore, in future, you may venture to confide 
all your plans to me." 2 In another letter Hutten gave him 
to understand that, on account of the action of the Papal 
party, he would now attack the tyrant of Rome by force of 
arms, 3 at the same time informing also the Archbishop of 
Mayencc, and Capito, of his resolution. 4 Luther was so 
carried away by this prospect that he wrote to Spalatin 
that if the Archbishop of Mayencc were to proceed against 
him (Luther) in the same way as he had done against 
Hutten, viz. by prohibiting his writings, then he would 
" unite his spirit [meaning his pen] with Hutten s," and 
the Archbishop would have little cause to rejoice ; the 
latter, however, " by his behaviour would probably put a 
speedy end to his tyranny." 5 

In the autumn of 1520 it was said that, near Mayencc, 
Hutten had fallen upon the Papal Nuncios Marinus Carac- 
cioli and Hieronymus Aleander, who were on their way to 
the Diet at AVorms ; Luther believed the report, which was 
as a matter of fact incorrect, that Hutten had attacked the 
Nuncios and that it was only by chance that the plot mis 
carried. " I am glad," he wrote at that time, " that Hutten 

! " Werke," Erl. ed., 20, p. 207 ; Weim. ed., 0, p. 258. The " in 
signia turbula," which Luther announces in a letter to Spalatin of 
February, 1520 (" Brief wechsel," 2, p. 344), is not the "revolution 
of the nobility which Hutten planned," but the ecclesiastical and 
political storm to be roused by Luther s own action. 

2 Text in Luther s " Briefwechsel," 2, p. 409 (better than in Beck 
ing, 1, p. 355). At the head of the letter are the words, " Vive libertas." 
The phrase, " lubet ad se venire N. te, si tutus istic satis non sis," must 
refer to Sickingen. Before this, Hutten says : "Si vi ingruent, vires 
erunt adversum, non tan turn pares, sed, ut spero, superiores etiam." 

" Se iam et litteris et armis in tyrannidem sacerdotalem mere." 
Luther writes thus to Spalatin on September 11, 1520, " Briefwechsel," 
2, p. 478. Cp. ibid., p. 488 : " Armis et ingenio rem tentans." 

Cp. Enders, 2, p. 480, note 5. 

" lungam Hutteno ct spiritum meum," etc. Letter of Septem 
ber 11, 1520, quoted above. 


has led the way. Would that he had caught Marinus and 
Meander! " x 

Luther s threats to use brute force soon became a cause 
of annoyance, even to certain of his admirers. We see this 
from a friendly warning which Wolfgang Capito addressed 
to him in the same year, namely, 1520. After recommend 
ing a peaceable course of action he says to him : " You 
affright your devoted followers by hinting at mercenaries 
and arms. I think I understand the reason of your plan, 
but I myself look upon it in a different light." Capito 
advises Luther to proceed in a conciliatory manner and with 
deliberation. " Do not preach the Word of Christ in con 
tention, but in charity." 2 

He had thus been forewarned when he received from 
Hutten, that turbulent combatant, a confidential account 
of his work and a request to use his influence with the 
Elector in order that the latter might be induced to lend 
his assistance to him and his party ; the Prince was " either 
to give help to those who had already taken up arms or at 
least, in the interests of the good cause, to shut his eyes to 
what was going on, and allow them to take refuge in his 
domains should the condition of things call for it." 3 Hutten, 
with his proposed alliance, became more and more im 
portunate. To such lengths Luther was, however, not 
inclined to go ; he prized too highly the favour in which he 
stood with his sovereign to be willing to admit that he was 
in favour of civil war or a supporter of questionable elements. 
In his reply he thought it necessary to declare himself 
averse to the use of arms, notwithstanding the fact that he 
hailed with joy Hutten s literary attacks which, according 
to his own expression, " would help to overthrow the Papacy 

1 To Spalatin, November 13, 1520, " Briefwechsel," 2, p. 523. ^The 
" attack " was supposed to have taken place in the beginning of 
November. But Aleander, in the letters he sent to Rome in the 
middle of December, does not speak of an actual attack, but merely 
of threats addressed by Hutten to the Archbishop of Treves, and 
reported by the latter to Aleander. Cp. A. Wrede, "Deutsche 
Reichstagsakten unter Karl V," Bd. 2, Gotha, 1896, p. 460 f., and 
P. Kalkoff, " Die Depeschen des Nuntius Aleander vom Wormser 
Reichstag," 2 Halle, 1897, pp. 32, 46. 

2 Letter of December 4, 1520, in " Briefwechsel Luthers, 3, p. o f. 
The able politician Capito served Luther well also at a later date. It 
was chiefly owing to him that the carrying out of the Worms pro 
scription was prevented. 

3 Letter of December 9, 1520, Booking, 1, p. 435 if. 


more speedily than could have been anticipated." 1 We 
learn from his own lips that he wrote to Hutten, saying, 
" he did not wish to carry on the struggle for the Gospel by 
means of violence and murder." Writing of this to his 
friend Spalatin, at Worms, he adds a reflection, intended for 
the benefit of the court : " The world has been conquered, 
and the Church preserved by the Word, and through the 
Word it will be renewed. Antichrist who rose to power 
without human assistance will also be destroyed without 
human means, namely, by the Word." 8 

On the other hand, in a letter to Staupitz, who was already 
at that time staying at Salzburg, he again makes much of the 
importance of Ilutten s and his friends literary work for 
the advance of the new teaching. " Hutten and many 
others are writing bravely for me. . . . Our Prince," he 
adds, "is acting wisely, faithfully and steadfastly," and as 
a proof of the favour of the Kuler of the land he mentions 
that he is bringing out a certain publication in Latin and 
German at his request. 3 

"The Prince is acting faithfully and steadfastly," such 
was probably the principal reason why Luther refrained 
from joining the forward movement as~ advocated by the 
Knights of the Empire. The clever Elector was opposed to 
any violent method of procedure and was unwilling to have 
his fidelity to the Empire unnecessarily called in question. 
1 o Luther, moreover, his favour was indispensable, as it was 
the utmost importance to him, in the interests of his 
inns, to be able to continue his professional work at Witten 
berg and to spread abroad his publications unhindered from 
so favourable a spot. He was also not of such an adventur 
ous disposition as to anticipate great things from the 
chimerical enterprise proposed by Ilutten s Knights. He 
was however, aware that the religious revolution he was 
rthcrmg lent the strongest moral assistance to the liberal 
tendencies of the Knights, and he on his part was very well 

on the "Assertii," " Opp Lat v ? !> e .tl>, engaged 
>., 7, p. 91 ft Cp. " W^ Er .Id., 24= P p 55 " "** 


satisfied with the moral help afforded by their party. His 
coquetting with this party was, nevertheless, a dangerous 
game for Germany. As is well known, Sickingen appealed 
in exoneration of his deeds of violence, and Hutten in 
defence of his vituperation, to the new gospel which had 
recently sprung up in the German land. 

Efforts have frequently been made to represent Luther as 
treating the efforts of the party opposed to the Empire with 
sublime contempt. But it is certain " he was as little 
indifferent to the enthusiastic applause of the Franconian 
Knight [Hutten] as to the offers of protection and defence 
made him by Franz von Sickingen and Silvester von 
Schauenberg, the favourable criticism of Erasmus and 
other Humanists, the encouraging letters of the Bohemian 
Utraquists, the growing sympathy of German clerics and 
monks, the commotion among the young students, and the 
news of the growing excitement amongst the masses. He 
recognised more and more clearly from all these signs that 
he was not standing alone." 1 

His language becomes, in consequence, stronger, his 
action bolder and more impetuous. He casts aside all 
scruples of ecclesiastical reverence for the primacy of Peter 
which still clung to him from Catholic times and he seeks to 
arrogate to himself the role of spokesman of the German 
nation, more particularly of the universal discontent with 
the exactions of Rome. Both are vividly expressed in his 
book "Von dcm Bapstum tzu Rome" which he wrote in 
May, 1520, and which left the press already in June. 

Ho addressed his book "Von dem Bapstum tzu Rome " to a 
very large circle, viz. to all who hitherto had found peace of 
conscience and a joyous assurance of salvation in fidelity to the 
Church and the Papacy. He sought to prove to them that they 
had been mistaken, that the Church is merely a purely spiritual 
kingdom ; that the riches of this kingdom are to be obtained 
simply by faith without the intervention of priestly authority 
or the hierarchy ; that God s Kingdom is not bound up with 
communion with Rome ; that it exists wherever faith exercises 
its sway ; that such a spiritual commonwealth could have no 
man as its head, but only Christ. Ecclesiastical authority is to 
him no longer what he had at first represented it, an authority 
to rule entrusted to the clerical state, but a gracious promise of 
Divine forgiveness and mercy to consciences seeking salvation. 

1 Bohmer, " Luther im Lichte der neueren Forschung," 2 p. 64. 


His new dogmatic or psychological standpoint, with its tendency 
to tranquillise the soul, is noticeable throughout. 

In the same work he deals angrily with the prevailing financial 
complaints of the Germans against Rome. He tells the people, 
in the inflammatory language of Hutten and Sickingen, that in 
Rome the Germans are looked upon as beasts, that the object 
there is to cheat the " drunken Germans " of their money by 
every possible thievish trick from motives of avarice. " Unless 
the German princes and nobles see to it presently, Germany will 
end in becoming a desert, or be forced to devour itself." 1 A 
prediction which was sadly verified in a different sense, indeed, 
from that which Luther meant, though largely owing to his 
action. The German princes and nobles did indeed do their 
share in reducing Germany to a state of desolation, and the 
misery of the Thirty Years War stamped its bloody seal on 
Luther s involuntary prophecy. 

In the same year, 1520, Luther hurled his so-called 
"great reforming writings," "An den Adel " and " De 
captivitate bdbylonica" into the thiek of the controversy. 
They mark the crisis in the struggle before the publica 
tion of the Bull of Excommunication. 

Before treating of them, however, we must linger a little 
on what has already been considered ; in accordance with 
the special psychological task of this work, it is our duty to 
describe more fully one characteristic of Luther s action up 
to this time, viz. the stormy, violent, impetuous tendency 
of his mind. This, as every unprejudiced person will agree, 
is in striking contrast to the spiritual character of any 
undertaking which is to bring forth lasting ethical results 
and true blessing, namely, to that self-control and circum 
spection with which all those men commissioned by God 
for the salvation of mankind and of souls have ever been 
endowed, notwithstanding their strenuous energy. 

The necessity of these latter qualities, in the case of one who is 
to achieve any permanent good, has never been better set forth 
than by Luther himself : " It is not possible," he says in his 
exposition of the Lord s Prayer, " that any man of good will, if 
really good, can become angry or quarrelsome when he meets 
with opposition. Mark it well, it is assuredly a sign of an evil 
will if he cannot endure contradiction." 2 "But deep-seated 
pride cannot bear to be thought in the wrong, or foolish, and 
therefore looks upon all others as fools and wicked." 3 He 
declares that these passionate and self-seeking men are the 

" Werke," Weim. cd., 6, p. 277 ff. ; Erl. ed., 27, p 85 tf. 
" Wcrke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 103 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 191. 
3 Ibid., pp. 91 and 173. 


" worst and most shameful in the whole of Christendom," for 
getting that he himself was classed by his contemporaries and 
pupils among these very men. 1 If he really was desirous of 
hearing the voice of Christ speaking within him, as he actually 
believed he did hear it, then he ought not to have allowed that 
voice to be drowned by his passionate excitement. Men chosen 
by God had always been careful to await the Divine inspirations 
with the greatest composure of mind, because they knew well how 
easy it is for a troubled mind to be deaf to them, or to mistake 
for them the deceptive voice of its own perverse will. 

The writing already mentioned, " Von dem Bapstum tzu 
Rome," contains the saddest examples of Luther s unbridled 
excitement, and of the irritation which burst into a flame at the 
least opposition to his opinions. 

It is directed against the worthy theologian of Leipzig, Augus 
tine Alveld, a Franciscan, who had ventured to take the part of 
the Apostolic See, and to gauge Luther s unfair attacks at their 
true value. Luther falls upon this learned friar with absolutely 
ungovernable fury, calls his book the " work of an ape, intended 
to poison the minds of the poor laymen," and him himself " an 
uncouth miller s beast who has not yet learnt to bray." " He 
ought to have too much respect for the fine, famous town of Leipzig 
[whence Alvelcl wrote] to defile it with his drivel and spittle." 2 

Alveld, however, may have consoled himself with the fact, 
that Rome and the Papacy were the object of Luther s wildest 
rage : " The Roman scoundrels come along and set the Pope 
above Christ." But he is " Antichrist of whom the whole of 
Scripture speaks . . . and I should be glad if the King, the 
Princes and all the Nobles gave short shrift to the Roman buffoons, 
even if we had to do without episcopal pallia. How has Roman 
avarice proceeded so far as to seize on the foundations made by 
our fathers, on our bishoprics and livings ? Who ever heard or 
read of such robbery ? Have we not people who stand in need of 
such that we should enrich the muleteers, stable-boys, yea, even 
the prostitutes and knaves of Rome out of our poverty, people 
who look upon us as the merest fools, and who mock at us in the 
most shameful fashion." 3 

Such unrestrained violence, which tells of a bad cause, is not 
merely the result of Luther s embittered state of feeling arising 
from the struggle with his opponents ; we notice it in him almost 
from the outset of his public career, and it is evident both in his 
utterances and in his writings. 

The ninety-five Theses, of which the wording was surely 
strong enough, were followed by his first popular writing, the 
" Sermon on Indulgences and Grace," which ends with a furious 
outburst against his adversaries ; whatever they might advance 
was nothing but " idle tattle " ; he will not " pay much heed 
to it " ; " they are merely dullards who have never so much as 

1 See, for instance, Oldecop s statements, vol. 1, pp. 24, 280. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 323 ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 138. 

3 Ibid., pp. 322, 136. 


sniffed the Bible," but are infatuated with their " threadbare 
opinions." 1 The exclamation of Duke George of Saxony at the 
Disputation at Leipzig : " Das wallt die Sucht," might be taken 
as the watchword for the whole of the disputatious and passionate 
course Luther pursued, from the nailing up of the Theses to the 
advent of the Bull of Excommunication. It is not deliberate 
and calm logic which leads him on from step to step, rather he 
advances by leaps and bounds, and allows himself to be carried 
away in his excitement against his opponents to still stronger 
outbursts against the Church, sometimes, it is true, merely for 
the pleasure of trouncing his enemies and winning the applause 
of readers as quarrelsome as himself. Only a few months after 
the publication of the Theses, he wrote in this sense to a friend : 
" The greater the opposition, the further I advance ; the former 
propositions I leave to be barked over, and set up others in order 
that they may fall upon them also." 2 

At the same time, however, he declares that his only crime is 
that, " he teaches men to place their hopes in Christ alone, not 
in prayers, merits and works." 3 

The Dominican, Silvester Prierias, in his Dialogue directed 
against Luther, had touched upon the Indulgence Theses, though 
only cursorily ; Luther was, however, intensely annoyed by the 
circumstance of his having replied from Rome, and in his character 
of Master of the Sacred Palace, for that Luther s true character 
should be unmasked at Rome could prove extremely dangerous 
to him ; he was also vexed because Prierias upheld the authority 
of the Pope, both as regards indulgences and Church matters in 
general. Luther says, it is true, that as regards his own person 
he is ready to suffer anything, but that he will not allow any man 
to lay hands on his theological standpoint, his exposition of Scrip 
ture and (as he insists later) on his preaching of the Word and 
Gospel ; "in this matter let no man expect from me indulgence 
or patience." 4 

He certainly proved the truth of the latter promise by his 
hrst coarse writing against Prierias, who thereupon entered the 
lists with a rejoinder certainly not characterised by gentleness 
i his answer to this, Luther s anger knew no bounds. It would 
t ^ S " lstructlve and interesting to compare the two replies 
the Wittenberg professor in respect of the advance in his 
controversial theological position exhibited in the second reply 
when placed side by side with the first. We must, however, 
the sake of brevity, content ourselves with selecting some 
aractenstic passages from Luther s second reply, which ap- 


" Werke," Wcim. ed., 1, p 246 

Preache r at Zwick > March 24, 1518, 

Staupitz, March 31, 1518, ibid., p 176 
^ 11 " ^ R mG " " Werke >" Erl. ed., 27, p. 138 ; 
" Werke, Weim. ed. 6, p. 328 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 2, 80. 


" This wretched man wants to avenge himself on me as though 
I had replied to his feeble jests in a ridiculous manner ; he puts 
forth a writing filled from top to bottom with horrible blasphemies, 
so that I can only think this work has been forged by the devil 
himself in the depths of hell. If this is believed and taught 
openly in Rome with the knowledge of the Pope and the Car 
dinals, which I hope is not the case, then I say and declare 
publicly that the real Antichrist is seated in the Temple of God 
and reigns at Rome, the true Babylon clothed in purple (Apoc. 
xvii. 4), and that the Roman Court is the Synagogue of Satan 
(Ibid., ii. 9)." He unjustly imputes to Prierias the belief that 
the Bible only receives its inward value from a mortal man (the 
Pope). " Oh, Satan," he cries, " Oh, Satan, how long do you 
abuse the great patience of your creator ? ... If this [what is 
contained in Prierias s book] is the faith of the Roman Church, 
then happy Greece, happy Bohemia [which are separated from 
Rome], happy all those who have torn themselves away from 
her, and have gone forth from this Babylon ; cursed all those 
who are in communion with her ! " 

He goes so far as to utter those burning words : " Go, then, 
thou unhappy, damnable and blasphemous Rome, God s wrath 
has at last come upon thee ... let her be that she may become 
a dwelling-place of dragons, an habitation of every impure spirit 
(Isaias xxxiv. 13), filled to the brim with miserly idols, perjurers, 
apostates, sodomites, priapists, murderers, simoniacs and other 
countless monsters, a new house of impiety like to the heathen 
Pantheon of olden days." He inveighs against the teaching of 
Rome with regard to the primacy ; "if thieves are punished by 
the rope, murderers by the sword, and heretics by fire, why not 
proceed against these noxious teachers of destruction with 
every kind of weapon ? Happy the Christians everywhere save 
those under the rule of such a Roman Antichrist." 1 Prierias 
himself is described by Luther as a " shameless mouthpiece of 
Satan," and as " a scribe held captive in Thomistic darkness, and 
lying Papal Decretals." 

In a similar fashion Luther, in his controversial writings, 
heaps opprobrious epithets upon his other opponents, Tetzel, 
Eck and Emser. 

It is true that in their censures on Luther his opponents 
were not backward in the use of strong language, thus following 
the custom of the day, but for fierceness the Wittenberg pro 
fessor was not to be surpassed. 

Luther was not appealing to the nobler impulses of the multi 
tude who favoured him when, in 1518, he sought to incite his 
readers against another of his literary opponents, the Dominican 

1 Ibid., p. 347 ^p. 107. We shall come back later to the harsh 
exclamation which occurs in the course of this outburst : " Cur non 
magis hos magistros perditionis . . . omnibus armis impetimus ct manus 
nofttras in sanguine istorum lavamus ? " and to the mitigating addi 
tions introduced into the Jena edition of Luther s works, see below, 
p. 55, n. 1. 


Inquisitor, Jakob van Hoogstraaten, and his fellow-monks, with 
the violent assertion that Hoogstraaten was nothing but a " mad, 
bloodthirsty murderer, who was never sated with the blood of 
the Christian Brethren " ; "he ought to be set to hunt for dung- 
beetles on a manure heap, rather than to pursue pious Christians, 
until ho had learned what sin, error and heresy was, and all else 
that pertained to the office of an Inquisitor. For I have never 
seen a bigger ass than you . . . you blind blockhead, you blood 
hound, you bitter, furious, raving enemy of truth, than whom no 
more pestilential heretic has arisen for the last four hundred 
years." 1 Is it correct to characterise such outbursts in the way 
Protestants have done when they mildly remark, that Luther 
fought with " boldness and without any fear of men," and that, 
though his onslaught was " fierce and violent," yet he was ever 
fearful " lest he should do anything contrary to the Will of God "? 2 
Luther, on the other hand, as early as 1518, made the ad 
mission : "I am altogether a man of strife, I am, according to 
the words of the Prophet Jeremias, A man of contentions. " 3 

Hieronymus Emser, who had met Luther at the Leipzig 
Disputation and before, might well reproach him with his 
passionate behaviour, so utterly lacking in calmness and 
self-control, and liken him to " the troubled sea which is 
never at rest day or night nor allows others to be at peace ; 
yet the Spirit of the Lord only abides in those who are 
humble, in the peaceable and composed." 4 In another 
work he laments in a similar way that, " in the schools and 
likewise in his writings and in the pulpit Luther neither 
displays devotion nor behaves like a clergyman, but is all 
defiance and boastfulness." 5 

It was in vain that anxious friends, troubled about the 
progress of their common enterprise, besought him to 
moderate his language. It is true he had admitted to his 
fellow-monks, even as early as the time of the nailing up of 
his theses, his own " frivolous precipitancy and rashness " 
(" levitas et pr (Keeps temeritas "). 6 He did not even find it 
too hard a task to confess to the courtier Spalatin, that he 
had been " unnecessarily violent " in his writings. 7 But 
these were mere passing admissions, and, after the last 
passage, he goes on to explain that his opponents knew him, 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 384 ff. " Opp. Lat. var.," 2, p. 294 seq. 

Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 196. 

To Wenceslaus Link, July 10, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 211. 

^ An den Stier von Wittenberg," Bl. A. 

" Auff des Stieres tzu Wiettenberg wiettende Replica," Bl. n. 3. 

io Johann Lang, November 11, 1517, " Briefwechsel," 1, p 124 

in 1520, soon after February 18, ibid., 2, p. 329. 


and should know better than to rouse the hound " ; . . . 
" he was by nature hot-blooded and his pen was easily 
irritated " ; even if his own hot blood and customary 
manner of writing had not of themselves excited him, the 
thought of his opponents and their " horrible crimes " 
against himself and the Word of God would have been 
sufficient to do so. 

Such was his self-confidence that it was not merely easy 
to him, but a veritable pleasure, to attack all theologians 
of every school ; they were barely able to spell out the 
Bible. "Doctors, Universities, Masters, are mere empty 
titles of which one must not stand in awe." 1 

2. The Veiling of the Great Apostasy 

Besides his stormy violence another psychological trait 
noticeable in Luther is the astuteness with which he conceals 
the real nature of his views and aims from his superiors 
both clerical and lay, and his efforts at least to strengthen 
the doubts favourable to him regarding his attitude to the 
hierarchy and the Church as it then was. Particularly in 
important passages of his correspondence we find, side by 
side with his call to arms, conciliatory, friendly and even 
submissive assurances. 

The asseverations of this sort which he made to his 
Bishop, to the Pope, to the Emperor and to the Elector are 
really quite surprising, considering the behaviour of the 
Wittenberg Professor. In such cases Luther is deliberately 
striving to represent the quarrel otherwise than it really 

If the cause he advocated had in very truth been a great 
and honourable one, then it imperatively called for frank 
and honest action on his part. 

The consequence of his peaceable assurances was to 
postpone the decision on a matter of far-reaching import 
ance to religion and the Christian conscience. Many who 
did not look below the surface were unaware how they stood, 
and an inevitable result of such statements of Luther s was, 
that, in the eyes of many even among the nobles and the 
learned, the great question whether he was right or wrong 
remained too long undecided. He thus gained numerous 
1 To Sylvius Egranus, March 24, 1518, ibid., 1, p. 174. 


followers from the ranks of the otherwise well-disposed, and, 
of these, many, after the true aims of the movement had 
become apparent, failed to retrace their steps. 

In fairness, however, all the means by which the delay of 
the negotiations was brought about must not be laid to 
Luther s charge, and to his intentional misrepresentations. 
It is more probable that he frequently assumed an attitude 
of indecision because, to his excited mind, the stress of 
unforeseen events, which affected him personally, seemed 
to justify his use of so strange an expedient. Be this as it 
may, we must make a distinction between his actions at the 
various periods of his agitated life ; the further his tragic 
history approaches the complete and open breach which 
was the result of his excommunication, the less claim to 
belief have his assurances of peace, whereas his earlier 
protestations may at least sometimes be accorded the 
benefit of a doubt. 

To the assurances dating from the earlier stage belong 
in the first place those made to his Ordinary, Hicronymus 
Scultetus, Bishop of Brandenburg. To him on May 22, 1518, 
he forwarded, together with a flattering letter, a copy of his 
" Resolutions," in order that they might be examined. 1 

" Now dogmas," he states, have just recently been preached 
regarding indulgences ; urged by some who had been annoyed 
by them to give a strong denial of such doctrines, but being at 
the same time desirous of sparing the good reputation of the 
preachers for upon it their work depended he had decided to 
deal with the matter in a purely disputatory form, the more so 
as it was a difficult one, however untenable the position of his 
opponents might be ; scholastics and canonists could be trusted 
only when they quoted arguments in defence of their teaching, 
more particularly from Holy Scripture. No one had, however, 
answered his challenge or ventured to meet him at a disputation. 
The Theses, on the other hand, had been bruited abroad beyond 
his expectations, and were also being regarded as actual truths 
which he had advocated. " Contrary to his hopes and wishes," 
he had therefore been obliged, "as a child and ignoramus in 
theology," to explain himself further (in the Resolutions). Ho 
did not, however, wish obstinately to insist upon anything con 
tained in the latter, much being problematic, yea, even false. 
He laid everything he had said at the feet of Holy Church and 
his Bishop ; he might strike out what he pleased, or consign the 
entire scribble to the flames. " I know well that Christ has no 

1 " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 148. On the date see Kalkoff, " Z. fur KG.," 
31, 1910, p. 411. 


need of me ; He proclaims salvation to the Church without me, 
and least of all does He stand in need of great sinners. . . . My 
timidity would have kept me for ever in my quiet corner had not 
the presumption and unwisdom of those who invent new gospels 
been carried so far." 

When Bishop Scultctus thereupon declared himself 
against the publication of the Resolutions, Luther promised 
to obey ; he even made this known to those about the 
Elector, through Spalatin the Court-preacher. On August 
21, 1518, the work nevertheless appeared. Had Luther 
really been " released " from his promise, as has been 
assumed by one writer in default of any better explanation ? l 

Let us consider more closely Luther s letter to Pope 
Leo X, which has already been referred to cursorily (vol. i., 
p. 335). As is well known, it accompanied the copy of the 
Resolutions which, with singular daring, and regardless of 
the challenge involved in their errors, he had dedicated to the 
Supreme Teacher of Christendom. 2 Luther had lavished 
flattery on his Bishop, but here he surpasses himself in 
expressions of cringing humility. 

He prostrates himself at the feet of the Pope with all that, he 
has and is ; it is for His Holiness to make him alive, or kill him, 
to summon or dismiss, approve or reprove, according to his good 
pleasure ; his voice he will acknowledge as the voice of Christ, 
and willingly die should he be deserving of death. He is " un 
learned, stupid and ignorant in this our enlightened age," nothing 
but dire necessity compels him, so he says, " to cackle like a 
goose among the swans." " The most impious and heretical 
doctrines " of the indulgence preachers have called him forth as 
the defender of truth, indeed of the Papal dignity which is being 
undermined by avaricious money-makers ; by means of the 
Disputation he had merely sought to learn from his brothers, 
and was never more surprised than at the way in which the 
Theses had become known, whereas this had not been the case 
with his other Disputations. Retract he cannot ; he has, how 
ever, written the Resolutions in his justification, from which all 
may learn how honestly and openly he is devoted to the Power 
of the Keys. The publication of the Resolutions " under the 
shield of the Papal name and the shadow of the Pope s protection 
[Luther is here alluding to the dedication] renders his safety 

As a matter of fact, the principal result of the dedication 
to the Pope was a wider dissemination of the work among 

1 Knaake, in " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 522. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 
pp. 170, 177. 

2 On May 30, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 200. 


the learned, Luther s Bishop, the weak and uninformed 
Scultetus of Brandenburg, being likewise hindered from 
taking any action against his unruly subject. The move, 
if it really was intentional, had been well thought out. 

After a lengthy delay Luther, in accordance with his 
promise to Miltitz, drafted a second letter to Pope Leo X, 
on January 5 or G, 1519. l 

He, " the off-scouring of humanity, and a mere speck of dust," 
here, declares, as he had done shortly before at Augsburg, that he 
cannot retract ; since his writings are already so widely known 
and have met with so much support, a retractation would, he 
says, be useless, and indeed rather injure the reputation of Rome 
among the learned in Germany. He would never have believed, 
so he says, that his efforts for the honour of the Apostolic See 
could have led to his incurring the suspicion of the Pope ; he 
will, nevertheless, be silent in future on the question of indulgences, 
if silence is also imposed upon his opponents ; indeed, he will 
publish " a work which shall make all see that they must hold 
the Roman Church in honour, and not lay the foolishness of his 
opponents to her charge, nor imitate his own slashing language 
against the Church of Rome," for he is " absolutely convinced that 
her power is above everything, and that nothing in Heaven or on 
earth is to be pref erred to her, excepting only our Lord Jesus 
Christ." This letter was not sent off, probably because it occa 
sioned Miltitz some scruples. 2 In any case, it is a document of 
considerable interest. 

Luther assumes an entirely different tone in the historic 
third and last letter to Leo X, with which, in 1520, he 
prefaced his work " Von der Freyheyt eynes Christen 
Mcnschen " ; this letter was really written after October 13 
of that same year. 3 

The very date of the letter has a history. It was published by 
Luther in Latin and German, with the fictitious date of Septem 
ber 6. The questionable expedient of ante-dating this letter had 
been adopted by Luther to satisfy the diplomatist Miltitz, and 
was due to the necessity of taking into account the Papal Bull 
condemning Luther, which had already been published on Septem 
ber 21, 1520 ; thereby it was hoped to avoid all appearance of 
this letter having been wrung from Luther by the publication of 
the Bull. This was what Miltitz 4 wrote at a time when he still 

1 " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 442. 

2 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, pp. 224, 355. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 3ff., 39 ff., Erl. ed., 53, p. 41, after the 
German original ; " Opp. Lat. var.," p. 210, in Latin (" Brief wechsel," 
2, p. 496). 

4 P. Kalkoff, " Die Miltitziade, eine kritische Nachlese zur Gesch. 
des Ablassstreites," 1911. Miltitz a man whose ability was by no 
means equal to his vanity, and who owed whatever influence he pos- 


entertained sanguine hopes of what the letter might achieve in 
the interests of the Pope and peace. l Luther, for his part, looked 
on the ante-dated letter as a manifesto which might considerably 
weaken, and to his advantage, the effect of the Bull on public 
opinion. The vehement blame therein contained regarding the 
corruption of the Roman Church ought surely to lessen the 
authority of the excommunication, while the loud appreciation 
of the person and good qualities of Leo would naturally cause the 
author of the excommunication (supposing it to have been pub 
lished subsequently to the letter) to appear either ungrateful, or 
misled by others. 

The Roman Church, in the words of this letter, has become the 
" most horrible Sodom and Babylon," a " den of murderers 
worse than any other, a haunt of iniquity surpassing all others, 
the head and empire of sin, of death and of damnation, so that 
it would be impossible to imagine any increase in her wickedness 
even were Antichrist to come in person. Yet you, Holy Father 
Leo, are seated like a sheep among the wolves, like a Daniel 
amidst the lions " ; Pope Leo, the author goes on to assert with 
unblushing effrontery, is much to be pitied, for it is the hardest 
lot of all that a man of his disposition should have to live in the 
midst of such things ; Leo would do well to abdicate. He himself 
(Luther) had never undertaken any evil against his person; 
indeed, he only wished him well, and, so far as lay in him, had 
attempted to assist him and the Roman Church with all his 
might by diligent, heartfelt prayer. But " with the Roman See 
all is over ; God s endless wrath has come upon it ; this See is 
opposed to General Councils, and will not permit itself to be 
reformed ; let this Babylon then rush headlong to its own 
destruction ! " 

After this follow renewed protestations of his peaceableness 
throughout the whole struggle from the very beginning, attempts 
to justify the strong language he had later on used against thick 
headed and irreligious adversaries, for which he deserved the 
41 favour and thanks " of the Pope, and descriptions of the wiles 
of Eck who, at the Leipzig disputation, had picked up some 
" insignificant chance expression concerning the Papacy " so as 
to ruin him at Rome. This, of course, was all intended to weaken 
the impression of the excommunication on the public. Another 

sessed to his noble Saxon descent was chosen to bring the Golden 
Rose to the Elector of Saxony. His instructions were to induce 
Frederick to abandon Luther s cause and to hand him over to the 
ecclesiastical judges. Though Miltitz was a mere " nuntius et com- 
missarius " with very restricted powers, he assumed great airs. The 
Elector, who knew his man, soon found means to use him for his own 
political aims. In September, 1519, when the Golden Rose had duly 
been handed over, Miltitz s mission was at an end, and he was thereupon 
engaged for three years by Frederick himself (Kalkoff, p. 33). His 
further doings revealed more and more both his untrustworthiness 
and his light-hearted optimism. 

1 To the Elector of Saxony. October 14, 1520, in extract, " Brief- 
wechsel," 2, p. 495, n. 3. 


bold assertion of his, of which the object was the same, ran : 
" That I should retract what I have taught is out of the ques 
tion ... I will not suffer any check or bridle to be placed on 
the Word of God which teaches entire freedom, and neither can 
nor may be bound." " I am ready to yield to every man in all 
things, but the Word of God I cannot and will not forsake or 

Luther also approached the Emperor Charles V in a letter 
addressed to him at the time when Rome was about to take 
action. He begged the Emperor to protect him, entirely 
innocent as he was, against the machinations of his enemies, 
especially as he had been dragged into the struggle against 
his will. The letter was written August 30, 1520, l and 
safely reached the Emperor, possibly through the good 
offices of Sickingen ; when it was again submitted at the 
Diet of Worms such was Charles s indignation that he tore 
the missive to pieces. 

In order rightly to appreciate its contents we must keep 
in mind that Luther had it printed and published in a Latin 
version in 1520, together with an " Oblation or Protestation " 
to readers of every tongue, wherein he offers them on the 
title-page his " unworthy prayers," and assures them of his 
humble submission to the Holy Catholic Church, as whose 
devoted son he was determined to live and die. 2 Nevertheless, 
at the end of August 3 part of his work " On the Baby 
lonian Captivity of the Church " already stood in print, in 
which, at the very commencement, the Papacy is declared 
to be the Kingdom of Babylon and the empire of Nimrod, 
the mighty hunter, and in which, as a matter of fact, an end 
is made of the whole hierarchy and Church visible. 

Luther s Prince, the Elector Frederick, had grave mis 
givings concerning the hot-headed agitator who had fixed 
his residence at the University of Wittenberg, though, 
hitherto, thanks to the influence of Spalatin, his Court 
Chaplain, he had extended to Luther his protection and 
clemency. Both the Emperor, who was altogether Catholic 
in his views, and the laws of the Empire, called for the 
greatest caution on his part ; were the Church s rights 
enforced as the imperial law allowed, then Luther was 

1 " Briefwechsel," 2, p. 468. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., G, p. 474 ff., " Opp. La*, var.," p. 5. 
3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 338. 


doomed. It was by the express advice of the Elector that 
Luther drew up the above-mentioned letter to Charles V 
and the pious " Protestation." It was to these documents 
that the astute Elector appealed when, towards the end of 
August, he warned his agent at Rome, Teutleben, of the 
ostensibly dangerous disturbances which might result in 
Germany from any violent action against Luther unless he 
had been previously confuted by " strong and veracious 
proofs and statements clearly set forth in writing." 1 This 
letter too had Luther himself for its author, Spalatin having, 
as usual, acted as intermediary. Spalatin in fact received 
both documents from him beforehand for revision. 2 

After these few words regarding the object and origin of the 
celebrated letter to the Emperor, we may go on to quote some 
of the statements it contains. Luther, at the commencement, 
protests that he presents himself before Charles " like a flea 
before the King of kings, who reigns over all." "It was against 
my will that I came before the public, I wrote only because 
others traitorously forced me to it by violence and cunning ; 
never did I desire anything but to remain in the retirement of my 
cell. My conscience and the best men bear me witness that I 
have merely endeavoured to defend the truth of the Gospel 
against the opinions introduced by superstitious traditions. 
For three years I have, in consequence, been exposed to every 
kind of insult and danger. In vain did I beg for pardon, offer 
to be silent, propose conditions of peace, and request enlighten 
ment. I am, nevertheless, persecuted, the sole object being to 
stamp out the Gospel along with me." 

Things being thus, "prostrate before him," he begs the Em 
peror to protect, not indeed one who lies " poor and helpless in 
the dust," but, at least, the treasure of truth, since he, the 
greatest secular sovereign, has been entrusted with the temporal 
sword for the maintenance of truth and the restraint of wicked 
ness ; as for himself, he only desired to be called to account in a 
fair manner, and to see his teaching either properly refuted, or 
duly accepted by all. He was ready to betake himself to any 
public disputation, so he declares in the " Protestation," and 
would submit to the decision of any unprejudiced University ; 
he would present himself before any judges, saintly or otherwise, 
clerical or lay, provided only they were just, and that he was 
given state protection and a safe conduct. If they were able to 
convince him by proofs from Holy Scripture, he would become 
a humble pupil, and obediently relinquish an enterprise under 
taken this, at least, he would assert without undue self-exalta 
tion only for the honour of God, the salvation of souls and the 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 339. 

2 To Spalatin, August 23 and 31, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, pp. 464, 


good of Christianity, simply because he was a doctor, and with 
out any hope of praise or profit. 

This manifesto was sufficient to satisfy the Elector 
Frederick. The growing esteem in which Luther was held 
and the delay in the settlement of his case served admirably 
Frederick s purpose of making himself less dependent on the 
Emperor and Empire. Calculation and politics thus played 
their part in an affair which to some extent they shaped. 

At a later date, it is true, Luther asserted in the preface 
to his Latin works, that his success had been the result only 
of Heaven s visible protection ; that he had quietly 
" awaited the decision of the Church and the Holy Ghost " ; 
only one thing, namely, the Catechism, he had been unable to 
sec condemned by the interference of Rome ; to deny Christ 
he could never consent. He was willing to confess his 
former weaknesses " in order that to speak like Paul- 
men may not esteem me for something more than I am, but 
as a simple man." 1 

From the pulpit, too. where honest truth usually finds 
expression, he declared that it was not violence or human 
effort or wisdom that had crowned his cause with the laurels 
of victory, but God alone : "I studied God s Word and 
preached and wrote on it ; beyond this I did nothing. The 
Word of God did much while I slept, or drank Wittenberg 
beer with my Philip [Melanchthon] and Amsdorf, so that 
Popery has been weakened and suffered more than from the 
attacks of any Prince or Emperor. I did nothing ; every 
thing was achieved and carried out by the Word." 2 His 
object here is to oppose the violence and fanaticism of the 
Anabaptists, and, if he points out to them that he has 
achieved his mighty work without force of arms, and that 
the great success of his movement was out of all proportion 
to the means he could employ as professor and preacher 
the truth being that his success was chiefly due to the 
circumstances of the time there is much in his contention. 

In the circle of his friends, at a later date, he thus ex 
pressed his conviction: "I did not begin the difficult 
business of my own initiative . . . rather it was God who 
led me in a wonderful manner. . . . All happened in 

1 " Opp. Lat. var.," 4, p. 329 seq. 

2 Sermon of 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 28, p. 260 (2nd impression) ; 
cp. ibid., p. 220 (1st impression), " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 18. 


accordance with God s will." 1 "I thought I was doing 
the Pope a service [by throwing light upon the question of 
Indulgences] ; but I was forced to defend myself." " Had 
I foreseen that things would turn out as, thank God, they 
have, I would have held my tongue ; but had I kept silence 
it would have fared much worse with the Papacy ; the 
Princes and the Powers, enraged at its usurpations, would 
finally have made an end of it." " I acted with moderation 
and yet I have brought the Papacy to an evil day." 2 

.The genius of history could well hide its face were such 
statements accepted as reliable testimonies. 

Certain extracts from Luther s correspondence with 
Spalatin deserve special consideration. 

The worldly-wise Chaplain of Frederick, the Saxon 
Elector, frequently gave Luther a hint as to how to proceed, 
and, in return, his Wittenberg friend was wont to speak to 
him more openly than to others. It is, however, necessary, 
in order to arrive at a right appreciation of this correspond 
ence, to distinguish between the letters written by Luther to 
Spalatin as a personal friend and those he sent him with the 
intention that they should reach the ruling Prince. It would 
betray a great lack of critical discrimination were the whole 
correspondence with Spalatin taken as the expression of 
Luther s innermost thought. The fact that Spalatin s 
letters to Luther arc no longer extant makes it even more 
difficult to understand Luther s replies. Nevertheless, it is 
easy to trace a persistent effort throughout the correspond 
ence, to secure in the Saxon Electorate toleration both for 
the new teaching and its originator without arousing the 
misgivings of a prudent sovereign. The Court had to be 
won over gradually and gently. 

Acting on Spalatin s advice, Luther made the following declara 
tion for the benefit of the Elector, on March 5, 1519 : " The 
Roman Decrees must allow me full liberty with regard to the 
true Gospel ; of whatever else they may rob me, I don t care 
What more can I do, or can I be bound to anything further ? " 3 

" If they do not confute us on reasonable grounds and by 
written proofs," he says, on July 10, 1520, in another letter 

1 Colloquia, ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 178 seq. 

2 Ibid., p. 170. 

3 To Spalatin, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 446 : " Bis monuisti,mi Spala- 
tine, ut de fide et operibus turn de obedientia ecclesice Romance in apologia 
mea vernacula mentionem facerem." 


addressed to Spalatin, but really intended for the Elector, " but 
proceed against us by force and censures, then things will become 
twice as bad in Germany as in Bohemia " [an allusion to the 
Husite apostasy]. 1 " Where then can I turn for better instruc 
tion ? " 2 . . . "Let His Highness the Prince," he here writes, 
coming to the question of the University professorship which pro 
vided him with his means of livelihood, " put me out into the 
street so that I may either be better instructed or confuted." 
He, for his part, is ready to resign his public appointment, retire 
into private life, allow others to take his place, and let all his 
belongings be burned. But he also thinks it just that the Elector, 
being personally unable to instruct him, should also refuse to 
act either as judge or as executioner until a (true ecclesiastical) 
sentence be pronounced. The principal thing is, so he says, that 
" the question under discussion has not been solved, and my 
enemies have not touched it with so much as a single word. The 
Prince, under these circumstances, may well refuse to punish 
anyone, even though he be a Turk or a Jew, for he is in ignorance 
whether he be guilty or not ; his conscience bids him pause, and 
how then can the Romanists demand that he should step in and 
obey men rather than God ? " 

Thereupon Frederick, the Elector, actually wrote to Rome 
that Luther was ready to be better instructed from Holy Scripture 
by learned judges ; no one could reproach him, the Prince ; he 
was far from " extending protection to the writings and sermons 
of Dr. Martin Luther," or " from tolerating any errors against 
the Holy Catholic faith." 3 

At the very last moment before the promulgation of the Bull 
of Excommunication, Luther made offers of " peace " to the 
Roman Court through Cardinal Carvajal, professing to bo ready 
to accept any conditions, provided he was left free to teach the 
Word, and was not ordered to retract. This step was taken to 
safeguard his public position and his future ; Spalatin, and 
through him the Elector, received due notification of the fact on 
August 23, 1520. 4 

Yet only a few weeks before, on July 10, he had already ex 
pressly assured the same friend privately : " The die is cast ; 
I despise alike the favour and the fury of the Romans ; I refuse 
to be reconciled with them, or to have anything whatever to do 
with them ... I will openly attack and destroy the whole 
Papal system, that pestilential quagmire of heresies ; then there 
will be an end to the humility and consideration of which I have 
made a show, but which has only served to puff up the foes of 
the Gospel." 5 

1 " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 433, where he begins, on an enclosed slip ; 
" Quod si Princeps etiam hoc adiiciat, esse Lutheranam doctrinam," etc. 
(a hint for the Elector s reply to Cardinal Petrucci). Cp. " Brief wech 
sel," 2, p. 430, n. 1. 2 jbid., p. 429. 

3 July 10, 1520, " Opp. Lat. var.," 2, p. 351. 

* " Briefwechsel," 2, p. 464. 

5 Ibid., p. 432 : " A me quidem iacta est alea, contemptus est Romanus 
furor et favor, nolo eis reconciliari nee communicare in perpetuum," etc. 


He had also not omitted, at the same time, to bring to the 
knowledge of the Elector, through his same friend at Court, the 
promise of a guard of one hundred noblemen, recently made by 
Silvester von Schauenberg ; he likewise begged that an intima 
tion of the fact might be conveyed to Rome, that they might 
see that his safety was assured, and might then cease from 
threatening him with excommunication and its consequences. 
" Were they to drive me from Wittenberg," he adds, " nothing 
would be gained, and the case would only be made worse ; for 
my men-at-arms are stationed not only in Bohemia, but in the 
very centre of Germany, and will protect me should I be driven 
away, for they are determined to defy any assault." " If I have 
these at my back then it is to be feared that I shall attack the 
Romanists much more fiercely from my place of safety than if I 
were allowed to remain in my professorship and in the service 
of the Prince fat Wittenberg], which is what will certainly happen 
unless God wills otherwise. Hitherto I have been unwilling to 
place the Prince in any difficulty ; once expelled, all such scruples 
will vanish." 1 

In conclusion, he extols his great consideration for the Prince. 
"It is only the respect I owe my sovereign, and my regard for 
the interests of the University [of Wittenberg] that the Romanists 
have to thank for the fact that worse things have not been done 
by me ; that they escaped so lightly they owe neither to my 
modesty, nor to their action and tyranny." 

All the diplomacy which he cultivated with so much 
calculation did not, however, hinder his giving free course 
to the higher inspiration with which he believed himself to 
be endowed ; the result was a series of works which may be 
numbered among the most effective of his controversial 
writings. He there fights, to employ his own language, 
" for Christ s sake new battles against Satan," as Deborah, 
the prophetess, fought " new wars " for Israel (Judges 
v. 8). 2 

In Luther we find a singular combination of the glowing 
enthusiast and cool diplomatist. Just as it would be wrong 
to see in him nothing but hypocrisy and deception without 
a spark of earnestness and self-sacrifice, so too, at the other 
extreme, we should not be justified in speaking of his success 
as simply the result of enthusiasm and entire surrender of 
earthly considerations. History discerns in him a com 
batant full of passion indeed, yet one who was cool-headed 
enough to choose the best means to his end. 

1 " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 432. 

2 To Conrad Saum, one of his followers, October 1, 1520, ibid., 
p. 484. 


3. Luther s Great Eeformation- Works Radicalism and 

It was at the time when the Bull of Excommunication was 
about to be promulgated by the Head of Christendom that 
Luther composed the Preface to the work entitled : "An 
den christlichen Adel dcutscher Nation von des christlichen 
Standes Besscrung." 1 The booklet appeared in the middle 
of August, and by the 18th four thousand copies were already 
in circulation, eagerly devoured by a multitude of readers 
hungry for books of all kinds. Staupitz s warning not to 
publish it had come too late. " Luther s friends, the 
Knights, were urging him on, and something had to be done 
at once." 2 

This inflammatory pamphlet, so patronised by the 
rebellious Knights, was, with its complaints against Home, 
in part based on the writings of the German Nco-IIumanists. 

Full of fury at the offences committed by the Papacy against 
the German nation and -Church, Luther here points out to the 
Lmperor, the Princes and the whole German nobility, the manner 
in which Germany may break away from Rome, and undertake 
its own reformation, for the bettering of Christianity. His 
primary object is to show that the difference between the clerical 
and lay state is a mere hypocritical invention. All men are 
priests ; under certain circumstances the hierarchy must be set 
aside, and the secular powers have authority to do so. " Most 
of the Popes," so Luther writes with incredible exaggeration 

have been without faith." " Ought not Christians, who are all 
priests, also to have the right [like them, i.e. the bishops and 
priests] to judge and decide what is true and what false in 
matters of faith ? " 

The work was, as Luther s comrade Johann Lang wrote to the 
author, a bugle-call which sounded throughout all Germany 
laither had to vindicate himself (even to his friends) against the 
charge of blowing a blast of revolt." 3 It is not enough to 
acquit him to point out in his defence that he had merely as 
signed to the Rulers the right of employing force, and that his 
intention was to " make the Word triumphant." 

One of the most powerful arguments in Luther s work con 
sisted in the full and detailed description of the Roman money 
nrP^tV SfT^ 5 ! a u nd . other Countries being exploited on the 
of thP Ph V n r ^ 10 u nS ,T re necessar y f r the administration 
Church. Luther had drawn his information on this subject 

274 / rinted ^ " Werke " Weim " ed " 6 > P- 381 f. ; Erl. ed., 21, p . 
2 Kolde, "Luther," 1, p. 256. 3 Ibid ^ p 267> 


from the writings of the German Nee-Humanists, and from a 
certain " Roman courtier " (Dr. Viccius) resident in Witten 

It was, however, the promise he received of material help 
which spurred Luther on to give a social aspect to his 
theological movement and thus to ensure the support of the 
disaffected Knights and Humanists. Concerning Silvester 
von Schauenbcrg, he wrote to a confidant, YVcnccslaus Link : 
" This noble man from Franccnia has sent me a letter . . . 
with the promise of one hundred Franconian Knights for my 
protection, should I need them . . . Home has written to 
the Prince against me, and the same has been done by an 
important German Court. Our German book addressed to 
the whole Nobility of Germany on the amelioration of the 
Church is now to appear ; that will be a powerful challenge 
to Rome, for her godless arts and usurpations are therein 
unmasked. Farewell and pray for me." 1 

By the end of August another new book by Luther, which, 
like the former, is accounted by Luther s Protestant biogra 
phers as one of the " great Reformation-works," was in the 
press ; such was the precipitancy with which his turbulent 
spirit drove him to deal with the vital questions of the day. 
The title of the new Latin publication which was at oi.ce 
translated into German was " Prelude to the Babylonish 
Captivity of the Church." 2 

He there attacks the Seven Sacraments of the Church, of 
which he retains only three, namely, Baptism, Penance, and the 
Supper, and declares that even these must first be set free from 
the bondage in which they are held in the Papacy, namely, from 
the general state of servitude in the Church ; this condition had, 
so he opined, produced in the Church many other perverse 
doctrines and practices which ought to bo set aside, among these 
being the whole matrimonial law as observed in the Papacy, and, 
likewise, the celibacy of the clergy. 

The termination of this work shows that it was intended to 
incite the minds of its readers against Rome, in order to forestall 
the impending Ban. 

This end was yet better served by the third " reforming " 
work " On the Freedom of a Christian Man," a popular tract 

1 Letter of July 20, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 444. 

2 Printed in " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 484 ff. ; Erl. ed., " Opp. 
Lat. var.," 5, p. 13 seq. 


in Latin and German with its dangerously seductive explana 
tion of his teaching on faith, justification and works. 1 

In this work, as a matter of fact, Luther expresses with the 
utmost emphasis his theological standpoint which hitherto he 
had kept in the background, but which was really the source of 
all his errors. As before this in the pulpit, so here also he derives 
from faith only the whole work of justification and virtue 
which, according to him, God alone produces in us ; this he 
describes in language forcible, insinuating and of a character to 
appeal to the people ; it was only necessary to have inwardly 
experienced the power of faith in tribulations, temptations, 
anxieties and struggles to understand that in it lay the true 
freedom of a Christian man. 

This booklet has in recent times been described by a Protestant 
as " perhaps the most beautiful work Luther ever wrote, and an 
outcome of religious contemplation rather than of theological 
study." 2 It does, as a matter of fact, present its wrong ideas in 
many instances under a mystical garb, which appeals strongly 
to the heart, and which Luther had made his own by the study 
of older German models. 

The new theory which, he alleged, was to free man from the 
burden of the Catholic doctrine of good works, he summed up in 
words, the effect of which upon the masses may readily be con 
ceived : " By this faith all your sins are forgiven you, all the 
corruption within you is overcome, and you yourself are made 
righteous, true, devout and at peace ; all the commandments are 
fulfilled, and you are set free from all things." 3 " This is Christian 
liberty . . . that we stand in need of no works for the attain 
ment of piety and salvation." 4 " The Christian becomes by 
faith so exalted above all things that he is made spiritual lord of 
all ; for there is nothing that can hinder his being saved." 6 By 
faith in Christ, man, according to Luther, has become sure of 
salvation ; he is " assured of life for evermore, may snap his 
fingers at the devil, and need no longer tremble before the wrath 
of God." 

It was inevitable that the author should attempt to vindicate 
himself from the charge of encouraging a false freedom. " Here 
we reply to all those," he says in the same booklet, 6 " who are 
offended at the above language, and who say : Well, if faith is 
everything and suffices to make us pious, why, then, are good 
works commanded ? Let us be of good cheer and do nothing. " 
What is Luther s answer ? " No, my friend, not so. It might 
indeed be thus if you were altogether an interior man, and had 
become entirely spiritual and soulful, but this will not happen 
until the Day of Judgment." 

1 Printed in Latin, " Opp. Lat. var.," 4, p. 206 seq. ; " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 7, p. 39 ff. In German, " Werke," Wcim. ed., 7, p. 12 ff. 
Erl. ed., 27, p. 173 ff. 

2 Kolde, "Luther," 1, p. 274. 3 "Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 23. 

* Ibid., p. 25. s Ibid ^ p 27. Ibid., p. 29 f. 


But in so far as man is of the world and a servant of sin, he 
continues, he must rule over his body, and consort with other 
men ; " here works make their appearance ; idleness is bad ; 
the body must be disciplined in moderation and exercised by 
fasting, watching and labour, that it may be obedient and 
conformable to faith and inwardness, and may not hinder and 
resist as its nature is when it is not controlled." " But," he 
immediately adds this limitation to his allusion to works, " such 
works must not be done in the belief that thereby a man becomes 
pious in God s sight " ; for piety before God consists in faith 
alone, and it is only " because the soul is made pure by faith and 
loves God, that it desires all things to be pure, first of all its own 
body, and wishes every man likewise to love and praise God." 

In spite of all reservations it is very doubtful whether the 
work " On the Freedom of a Christian Man " was capable 
of improving the many who joined Luther s standard in 
order to avail themselves of the new freedom in its secular 
sense. " By faith " man became, so Luther had told them, 
pure and free and " lord of all." They might reply, and as 
a matter of fact later on they did : Why then impose the 
duty of works, especially if the interior man has, according 
to his own judgment, become strong and sufficiently 
independent ? Such was actually the argument of the 
fanatics. They added, " to become altogether spiritual and 
interior," is in any case impossible, moreover, as, according 
to the new teaching, works spring spontaneously from the 
state of one who is justified, why then speak of a duty of 
performing good works, or why impose an obligation to do 
this or that particular good work here and now ? It is 
better and easier for us to stimulate the spirit and the 
interior life of faith in the soul merely in a general way and 
in accordance with the new ideal. 

As a matter of fact, experience soon showed that where 
the traditional Christian motives for good works (reparation 
for sin, the acquiring of merit with the assistance of God s 
grace, etc.) were given up, the practice of good works 

There is, however, no doubt that there were some on 
whom the booklet, with its heartfelt and moving exhortation 
to communion with Christ, did not fail to make a deep 
impression, more particularly in view of the formalism which 
then prevailed. 

" Where the heart thus hears the voice of Christ," says Luther 
with a simple, popular eloquence which recalls that of the best 


old German authors, " it must needs become glad, receive the 
deepest comfort and be filled with sweetness towards Christ, 
loving Him and ever after troubling nothing about laws and 
works. For who can harm such a heart, or cause it alarm ? 
Should sin or death befall, it merely recollects that Christ s 
righteousness is its own, and then, as we have said, sin dis 
appears before faith in the Righteousness of Christ ; with the 
Apostle it learns to defy death and sin, and to say : O death, 
where is thy victory ? O death, where is thy sting ? The sting 
of death is sin, but thanks be to God Who has given us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, so that death is swallowed up in 
victory" (1 Cor. xv. 54 ff.). 1 

Pious phrases, such as these, which are of frequent occurrence, 
demanded a stable theological foundation in order to produce 
any lasting effects. In Luther s case there was, however, no 
such foundation, and hence they are merely deceptive. The 
words quoted, as a matter of fact, detract somewhat from the 
grand thought of St. Paul, since the victory over sin and death 
of which he speaks refers, not to the present life of the Faithful, 
but to the glorious resurrection. The Apostle does, however, 
refer to our present life in the earnest exhortation with which he 
concludes (1 Cor. xv. 58) : " Therefore, my beloved brethren, be 
ye steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of 
the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." 

Protestants frequently consider it very much to Luther s 
credit that he insisted with so much force and feeling in his work 
" On the Freedom of a Christian Man " upon the dignity which 
faith and a state of grace impart to every calling, even to the 
most commonplace ; his words, so they say, demonstrate that 
life in the world, and even the humblest vocation, when illumined 
by religion, has in it something of the infinite. This, however, 
had already been impressed upon the people, and far more 
correctly, in numerous instructions and sermons dating from 
mediaeval times, though, agreeably with the teaching of the 
Gospel, the path of the Evangelical Counsels, and still more the 
Apostolic and priestly vocation, was accounted higher than the 
ordinary secular calling. A high Protestant authority, of many 
of whose utterances we can scarcely approve, remarks : " It is 
usual to consider this work of Luther s as the Magna Charta of 
Protestant liberty, and of the Protestant ideal of a worldly 
calling in contradistinction to Catholic asceticism and renuncia 
tion of the world. My opinion is that this view is a misapprehen 
sion of Luther s work." 2 

It was this booklet, " On the Freedom of a Christian Man," 
that the author had the temerity to send to Pope Leo X, with an 
accompanying letter (see above, p. 18), in which he professed to 
lay the whole matter in the hands of the Sovereign Pontiff, 
though in the work itself he denied all the Papal prerogatives. 
In the latter denial Luther was only logical, for if the foundation 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed. 7, p. 29. 

2 Kohler, " Luther und die Kirchengesch," 1, p. 42. 


of the whole of the hierarchy be upset, what then remains of the 
position of the Pope ? 

To appreciate the effects of the three works just mentioned 
it may be worth our while to examine more closely two 
characteristics which there appear in singular juxtaposition. 
One is the deeply religious tone which, as we said, is so note 
worthy in Luther s book " On the Freedom of a Christian 
Man." The other is an unmistakable tendency to dissolve 
all religion based on authority. 

Luther, as we said before, positively refused to have any 
thing to do with a religion of merely human character ; yet, 
if we only draw the necessary conclusions from certain 
propositions which he sets up, we find that he is not very 
far removed from such a religion ; he is, all unawares, on the 
high road to the destruction of all authority in matters of 
faith. This fact makes the depth of religious feeling evinced 
by the author appear all the more strange to the experi 
enced reader. 1 

Some examples will make our meaning clearer. 

In the work addressed to the Christian nobility, Luther con 
fers on every one of the Faithful the fullest right of private 
judgment as regards both doctrines and doctors, and limits it by 
no authority save the Word of God as explained by the Christian 

"If w r e all are priests" a fact already proved, so he says 
" how then shall \ve not have the right to discriminate and judge 
what is right or wrong in faith ? What otherwise becomes of the 
saying of Paul in 1 Corinthians ii. [15], The spiritual man 
judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man, and 
again, Having all the same spirit of faith, 2 Corinthians iv. 
[13] ? How then should we not perceive, just as well as an un 
believing Pope, what is in agreement with faith and what not ? 
These and many other passages are intended to give us courage 
and make us free, so that wo may not be frightened away from 
the spirit of liberty, as Paul calls it (2 Cor. iii. [17]), by the 
fictions of the Popes, but rather judge freely, according to our 
understanding of the Scriptures, of all things that they do or 
leave undone, and force them to follow what is better and not 
their own reason." 2 

1 The true character of such utterances of Luther can be best 
judged from the results they produced. " The effect not merely of 
the radical tendencies, but of Luther s sermons, was chiefly to make 
the people believe that the freedom of a Christian was to be found in 
the utmost contempt for all law, whether human or Divine," G. 
Kriiger, "Phil. Melanchthon, eine Charakterskizze," 1900, p. 14. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 412 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 288. 


" A little man," he had said already, " may have a right 
comprehension ; why then should we not follow him ? " and, 
with an unmistakable allusion to himself, he adds : surely more 
trust is to be placed in one " who has Scripture on his 
side." 1 

Such assertions, as a matter of fact, destroy all the claims 
made by the visible Church to submission to her teaching. 
Further, they proclaim the principle of the fullest independence 
of the Christian in matters of faith ; nothing but private judg 
ment and personal inspiration can decide. Luther failed to see 
that, logically, every barrier must give way before this principle 
of liberty, and that Holy Scripture itself loses its power of 
resistance, subjectivism first invading its interpretation and 
then, in the hands of the extremer sort of critics, questioning its 
value and divine origin. The inner consequences of Luther s 
doctrine on freedom and autonomy have been clearly pointed 
out even by some of the more advanced Protestant theologians. 
Adolf Harnack, for instance, recently expressed the truth neatly 
when he said that " Kant and Fichte were both of them hidden 
behind Luther." 2 

The second work " On the Babylonish Captivity," with its 
sceptical tendency, of which, however, Luther was in great part 
unconscious, also vindicates this opinion. 

The very arbitrariness with which the author questions facts 
of faith or usages dating from the earliest ages of the Church, 
must naturally have awakened in such of his readers as were 
already predisposed a spirit of criticism which bore a startling 
resemblance to the spirit of revolt. Here again, in one passage, 
Luther comes to the question of the right of placing private 
judgment in matters of religion above all authority. He hero 
teaches that there exists in the assembly of the Faithful, and 
through the illumination of the Divine Spirit, a certain " interior 
sense for judging concerning doctrine, a sense, which, though it 
cannot be demonstrated, is nevertheless absolutely certain." Ho 
describes faith, as it comes into being in every individual Christian 
soul, " as the result of a certitude directly inspired of God, a 
certitude of which he himself is conscious." 3 

What this private judgment of each individual would lead to 
in Holy Scripture, Luther shows by his own example in this very 
work ; he already makes a distinction based on the " interior 
sense " between the various books of the Bible, i.e. those stamped 
with the true Apostolic Spirit, and, for instance, the less trust 
worthy Epistle of St. James, of which the teaching contradicts 
his own. Kostlin, with a certain amount of reserve, admits : 
" This he gives us to understand, agreeably with his principles 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., p. 411 (287). 

"Preussische Jahrbiicher," 1909, Hft. 1, p. 35. In his review of 
Denifle-Weiss, vol. ii., P. Albert Weiss, in many passages, describes the 
consequences alluded to above. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 0, p. 561. " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 102. 
The summary is from Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 349. 


and experience ; it is not our affair to prove that it is tenable or 
to vindicate it." 1 

Luther says at the end of the passage in question : "Of this 
question more elsewhere." As a matter of fact, however, he 
never did treat of it fully and in detail, although it concerned the 
fundamentals of religion ; for this omission he certainly had 
reasons of his own. 

A certain radicalism is perceptible in the work " On the 
Babylonish Captivity," even with regard to social matters. 
Luther lays it down : "I say that no Pope or Bishop or any other 
man has a right to impose even one syllable upon a Christian 
man, except with his consent ; any other course is pure tyranny." 2 
It is true that ostensibly he is only assailing the tyranny of 
ecclesiastical laws, yet, even so, he exceeds all reasonable limits. 
With regard to marriage, the foundation of society, so un 
guarded is he, that, besides destroying its sacramental character, 
lie brushes aside the ecclesiastical impediments of marriage as 
mere man-made inventions, and, speaking of divorce based on 
these laws, he declares that to him bigamy is preferable. 3 When 
a marriage is dissolved on account of adultery, he thinks re 
marriage allowable to the innocent party. He also expresses the 
fervent wish that the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians vii. 15, 
according to which the Christian man or woman deserted by an 
infidel spouse is thereby set free from the marriage tie, should 
also apply to the marriages of Christians where the one party has 
maliciously deserted the other ; in such a case, the offending 
party is no better than an infidel. Regarding the impediment of 
impotence on the man s part, he conceives the idea 4 that the 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 350. " With the nature and extent of 
the Christian liberty which he [here] claimed he might have shocked 
even libertines. Nor did he shrink from advocating it elsewhere in the 
same work." Ibid., p. 345. 

" Dico itaque : Neque papa neque episcopus neque ullus hominum 
habet ins unius syllabce const ituendce super christianumhominem, nisi id fiat 
eiusdem consensu ; quidquid aliter fit, tyrannico spiritu fit " (p. 536 [68]). 
Cp. p. 554 [93], concerning the superfluousness of laws : " Hoc scio, 
nullam rempublicam legibus feliciter administrari. . . . Quod si adsit 
eruditio divina cum prudentia naturali, plane superfluum et noxium 
est scriptas leges habere ; super omnia autem caritas nullis prorsus 
legibus indiget " (p. 555 [94]). " Christianis per Christum libertas 
donata est super omnes leges hominum. " On p. 558 [98], with regard 
to the alleged corruption of the marriage law : " Ut nutta remedii spes 
sit, nisi, revocato libertatis evangelio, secundum ipsum, exstinctis semel 
omnibus omnium hominum legibus, omnia iudicemus et regamus. Amen." 
This latter declaration of war, and other things too, are not found in 
the Jena and Wittenberg editions. In all these utterances we see 
the excessive zeal of a theorist devoid of experience whose eyes are 
blind to the consequences. Many, indeed, are those who in the course 
of history have been equally precipitate in pronouncing on questions 
of moment, regardless of the number of their readers. 

3 p. 555 [100] : " Digamiam malim quam divortium, sed an liceat, 
ipse non audeo definire." 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 348. 


wife might, without any decision of the court, " live secretly 
with her husband s brother, or with some other man." 1 In the 
later editions of Luther s works this statement, as well as that 
concerning bigamy, has been suppressed. 

Luther, so he says, is loath to decide anything. But neither 
are popes or bishops to give decisions ! " If, however," says 
Luther, " two well-instructed and worthy men were to agree in 
Christ s name, and speak according to the spirit of Christ, then I 
would prefer their judgment before all the Councils, which are 
now only looked up to on account of the number and outward 
reputation of the people there assembled, no regard being paid to 
their learning and holiness." 2 Apart from other objections, the 
stipulation concerning the " Spirit of Christ," here made by the 
mystic, renders his plan illusory, for who is to determine that the 
" Spirit of Christ " is present in the judgment of the two "well- 
instructed men " ? Luther seems to assume that this determina 
tion is an easy matter. First and foremost, who is to decide 
whether these men are really well-instructed ? There were many 
whose opinion differed from Luther s, and who thought that 
this and such-like demands, made in his tract " On the Babylonish 
Captivity," opened the door to a real confusion of Babel. 

Neither can the work " On the Freedom of a Christian Man " 
be absolved from a certain dangerous radicalism. A false spirit 
of liberty in the domain of faith breathes through it. The faith 
which is here extolled is not faith in the olden and true meaning 
of the word, namely the submission of reason to what God has 
revealed and proposes for belief through the authority He Him 
self instituted, but faith in the Lutheran sense, i.e. personal trust 
in Christ and in the salvation He offers. Faith in the whole 
supernatural body of Christian truth comes here so little into 
account that it is reduced to the mere assurance of salvation. 
All that we are told is that the Christian is " free and has power 
over all " by a simple appropriation of the merits of Christ ; he 
is purified by the mere acceptance of the merciful love revealed 
in Christ ; " this faith suffices him," and through it he enjoys 
all the riches of God. And this so-called faith is mainly a matter 
of feeling ; a man must learn to " taste the true spirit of interior 
trials," just as the author himself, so he says, " in his great 
temptations had been permitted to taste a few drops of faith." 3 

1 p. 558 [99] : " Consulam, ut cum consensu viri cum iam non sit 
maritus, sed simplex et solutus cohabitator misceatur alteri vel fratri 
mariti, occulto tamen matrimonio, et proles imputetur putativo, ut dicunt, 
patri." Cp. his disgusting language regarding the ecclesiastical impedi 
ments of marriage, p. 554, [93] : " Quid vendunt [Romanenses] ? 
Vulvas et veretra. Merx scilicet dignissima mercatoribus istis, proa 
avaritia et impietate plus quam sordidissimis et obscoenissimis . . . ut 
in ecclesia Dei loco sancto [sit] abominatio ista, quce venderet hominibus 
publice utriusque sexus pudibunda, seu, ut scriptura vocat, ignominias 
et turpitudines, quas tamen antea per vim legum suarum rapuissent." 

2 p. 560 [101]. 

3 Cp. the Latin edition, " Opp. Lat. var.," 4, p. 206 seq. The 
summary is from Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 358 ff. 


Faith is thus not only robbed of its true meaning and made into 
a mere personal assurance, but the assurance appears as some 
thing really not so easy of attainment, since it is only to be 
arrived at by treading the difficult path of spiritual suffering. 

Luther thereby strikes a blow at one of the most vital points 
of positive religion, viz. the idea of faith. 

The author, in this same work, 1 again reminds us that by faith 
all are priests, and therefore have the right " to instruct Chris 
tians concerning the faith and the freedom of believers " ; for 
the preservation of order, however, all cannot teach, and there 
fore some are chosen from amongst the rest for this purpose. It 
is plain how, by this means, a door was opened to the introduction 
of diversity of doctrine and the ruin of the treasure of revelation. 

The religious tone which Luther assumed in the work 
" On the Freedom of a Christian Man," and his earnestness 
and feeling, made his readers more ready to overlook the 
perils for real religion which it involved. This considera 
tion brings us to the other characteristic, viz. the pietism 
which, as stated above, is so strangely combined in the three 
works with intense radicalism. 

The religious feeling which pervades every page of the 
" Freedom of a Christian Man " is, if anything, overdone. 
In w r hat Luther there says we see the outpourings of one 
whose religious views are quite peculiar, and who is bent on 
bringing the Christian people to see things in the same light 
as he does ; deeply imbued as he is with his idea of salvation 
by faith alone, and full of bitterness against the alleged 
disfiguring of the Church s life by meritorious works, he 
depicts his own conception of religion in vivid and attractive 
colours, and in the finest language of the mystics. It is easy 
to understand how so many Protestant writers have been 
fascinated by these pages, indeed, the best ascetic writers 
might well envy him certain of the passages in which he 
speaks of the person of Christ and of communion with Him. 
Nevertheless, a fault which runs through the whole work is, 
as already explained, his tendency to narrow the horizon of 
religious thought and feeling by making the end of every 
thing to consist in the mere awakening of trust in Christ as 
our Saviour. Ultimately, religion to him means no more 
than this confidence ; he is even anxious to exclude so well- 
founded and fruitful a spiritual exercise as compassion with 
the sufferings of our crucified Redeemer, actually calling it 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 58. " Opp. Lat. var.," 4, 233. 


"childish and effeminate stupidity." 1 How much more 
profound and fruitful was the religious sentiment of the 
genuine mystics of the Church, whom the contemplation of 
the sufferings of Christ furnished with the most beautiful 
and touching subject of meditation, and who knew how to 
find a source of edification in all the truths of faith, and not 
only in that of the forgiveness of sins. Writers such as they, 
described to their pious readers in far greater detail the 
person of Christ, the honour given by Him to God and the 
virtues He had inculcated. 

The booklet " To the Nobility," likewise, particularly in 
the Preface, throws a strange sidelight on the pietism of 
the so-called great Reformation works. 

Here, in his exordium to the three tracts, the author seeks to 
win over the minds of the piously disposed. The most earnest 
reformer of the Church could not set himself to the task with 
greater fear, greater diffidence and humility than he. Luther, 
as he assures his readers, is obliged " to cry and call aloud like a 
poor man that God may inspire someone to stretch out a helping 
hand to the unfortunate nation." He declares that such a task 
" must not be undertaken by one who trusts in his power and 
wisdom, for God will not allow a good work to be commenced in 
trust in our own might and ability." " The work must be under 
taken in humble confidence in God, His help being sought in 
earnest prayer, and with nothing else in view but the misery 
and misfortune of unhappy Christendom, even though the people 
have brought it on themselves. . . . Therefore let us act wisely 
and in the fear of God. The greater the strength employed, the 
greater the misfortune, unless all is done in the fear of God and in 
humility." 2 

Further on, even in his most violent attacks, the author is 
ever insisting that it is only a question of the honour of Christ : 
"it is the power of the devil and of End-Christ [Antichrist] that 
hinders what would be for the reform of Christendom ; therefore 
let us beware, and resist it even at the cost of our life and all we 
have. . . . Let us hold fast to this : Christian strength can do 
nothing against Christ, as St Paul says (2 Cor. xiii. 8). We can 
do nothing against Christ, but only for Him." 3 

In his concluding words, convinced of his higher mission, he 

1 "Opp. Lat. var," 4, 233. Some preach, " Ut affectus humanos 
moveant ad condolendum Christo ad indignandum ludceis et id 
genus alia pu erilia et muliebria delir amenta." One must preach, " eo 
fine, quo fides in cum promoveatur " ; this preaching is in agreement 
with the teaching according to which in Christ, "omnium domini 
sumus, et quidquid egerimus, coram Deo placitum et acceptum esse 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 405 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 278 f 

3 Ibid., p. 414 [291]. 


declares that he was " compelled " to come forward. "God has 
forced me by them [my adversaries] to open my mouth still 
further, and, because they are cowards, to preach at them, bark 
at them, roar at them and write against them. . . . Though I 
know that my cause is good, yet it must needs be condemned on 
earth and be justified only by Christ in heaven." 1 When a 
mission is Divine, then the world must oppose it. One wonders 
whether everything that meets with disapproval must therefore 
be accounted Divine. 

It is the persuasion of his higher mission that explains the 
religious touch so noticeable in these three writings. The power 
of faith there expressed refers, however, principally to his own 
doctrine and his own struggles. If we take the actual facts into 
account, it is impossible to look on these manifestations of 
religion as mere hypocrisy. The pietism we find in the tract 
" To the German Nobility " is indeed overdone, and of a very 
peculiar character, yet the writer meant it as seriously as he did 
the blame he metes out to the abuses of his age. 

We still have to consider the religious side of the work " On 
the Babylonish Captivity." Originally written in Latin, and 
intended not so much for the people as for the learned, this tract, 
even in the later German version, is not clad in the same popular 
religious dress as the other two. Like the others, nevertheless, 
it was designed as a w r eapon to serve in the struggle for a religious 
renewal, especially in the matter of the Sacraments. Among 
other of its statements, which are characteristic of the direction 
of Luther s mind, is the odd-sounding request at the very com 
mencement : "If my adversaries are worthy of being led back 
by Christ to a more reasonable conception of things, then I beg 
that in His Mercy He may do so. Are they not worthy, then I 
pray that they may not cease to write their books against me, 
and that the enemies of truth may deserve to read no others." 2 
His conclusion is : He commits his book with joy to the hands 
of all the pious, i.e. of those who wish to understand aright the 
sense of Holy Scripture and the true use of the Sacraments. 3 
He further declares in an obstinate and mocking manner his 
intention of ever holding fast to his own opinion. His more 
enlightened contemporaries saw with anxiety how every page of 
his work teemed with signs of self-deception and blind prejudice, 
and of a violent determination to overthrow religious views which 
had held the field for ages. To those who cared to reflect, Luther s 
religiousness appeared in the light of a religious downfall, and as 
the chaotic manifestation of a desire to demolish all those vener 
able traditions which encumbered the way of the spirit of 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 468 f. [360 f.]. 

2 Ibid., 500 f. " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 20. 

3 Ibid., p. 173 f. [ = 118]. 


4. Luther s Followers. Two Types of His Cultured Partisans : 
Willibald Pirkheimer and Albert Diirer 

Owing to the huge and rapid circulation of the three 
" Reformation works," the number of Luther s followers 
among all classes increased with prodigious speed. 

The spirit of the nation was roused by his bold words, 
the like of which had never before been heard. 

Too many of those whose Catholicism was largely a 
matter of form were seduced by the new spirit that was 
abroad, and by the " liberty of the Gospel," before they 
rightly saw their danger. The fascination of the promised 
freedom was even increased by Luther s earnest exhorta 
tions to commence a general reformation, to cultivate the 
inner man, and to assert the independence of the German 
against immoral Italians, the extortioners of the Curia and 
the spiritual tyranny of the Pope. Even better minds, men 
who despised the masses and their vulgar agitation, were 
powerfully attracted. At no other time, save possibly at 
the French Revolution, was mankind more profoundly 
stirred by the force of untried ideas, which with suggestive 
power suddenly invaded every rank of society. Scholars, 
writers, artists, countless men who had heard nothing of 
Luther that was not to his advantage, and who, from lack 
of theological knowledge, were unable fully to appreciate 
the spirit of his writings, were carried away by the man who 
so courageously attacked the crying abuses which they 
themselves had long bewailed. 

In explaining this universal commotion we cannot lay too 
great stress upon a factor which also played a part in it, viz. 
the comparative ignorance of most people regarding Luther, 
his antecedents and his aims. Eminent men, and his own 
contemporaries, Avho allowed themselves to be borne away 
by the current, were incredibly ignorant of Luther as he is 
now known to history. They knew practically nothing of 
the whole arsenal of letters, tracts and reports which to-day 
lie open before us and are being read, compared and anno 
tated by industrious scholars. It is difficult for us at the 
present day to imagine the condition of ignorance in which 
even cultured men were, in the sixteenth century, regarding 
the Lutheran movement, especially at its inception. 

To show the seduction and fascination exercised by 


Luther s writings even on eminent men, we may take two 
famous Nurembcrgers, Willibald Pirkheimcr and Albert 

Willibald Pirkheimer, a .Senator of Nuremberg and 
Imperial Councillor, was one of the most respected and 
cultured Humanists of his day. He edited or translated 
many patristic works. After taking a too active part in the 
Reuchlin controversy against the theologians of Cologne, 
owing to his zeal for a reformed method of studies, he put 
himself on Luther s side, again out of enthusiasm for reform, 
and under the impression that he had found in his doctrine 
a more profound conception of religion. He received Luther 
as his guest when he passed through Nuremberg on his 
return journey from Augsburg, after his appearance before 
Cardinal Cajetan. In a letter to Emscr he declared that the 
learned men of Wittenberg had earned undying fame by 
having been, after so many centuries, the first to open their 
eyes, and to distinguish between the true and the false, and 
to banish from Christian theology a bad philosophy. 1 Eck 
even inserted his name in the Bull of Excommunication 
which he published, though Pirkheimer was absolved on 
appealing to Pope Leo X. He wrote, in Luther s favour, a 
letter to Hadrian VI which, however, was perhaps never 
despatched, in which he calls him " a good and learned 
man." The entire blame for the quarrel w r as thrust by this 
disputatious and peculiar man on Eck and the Dominicans. 

In later years, however, he withdrew more and more from 
the Lutheran standpoint, chiefly, as it would appear, be 
cause he perceived the unbridled nature of the Reformers 
views and the bad moral and social effects of the innovations. 
He died in 1530 at peace with the Catholic Church. 

" I had hoped at the commencement," he wrote already in 
1527 to Zasius in Freiburg, " that we might have obtained a 
certain degree of liberty, but of a purely spiritual character. 
Now, however, as we see with our own eyes, everything is per 
verted to the lust of the flesh, so that the last state is far worse 
than the first." 2 He admitted his definite turning away from 
Lutheranism in a letter to Kilian Leib, Prior of the Rebdorf 
Monastery (1520), in which he at the same time relates the 
reason of his previous enthusiasm : "I hoped that [by Luther s 
enterprise] the countless abuses would be remedied, but I found 

1 See Dollinger, " Die Reformation," 1, p. 162. 

2 Ibid., p. 165. 


myself greatly deceived ; for, before the former errors had been 
expelled, others, much more intolerable, and compared to 
which the earlier were mere child s play, forced themselves in. 
I therefore began to withdraw myself gradually, and the more 
attentively I considered everything the more clearly I recognised 
the cunning of the old serpent." 1 

His letter to his friend Tschertte in Vienna (1530) also contains 
a " loud lamentation and outburst of anger against Luther s 
work." We can see that he has entirely broken with it. 2 In this 
letter he says : "I admit that at first I too was a good Lutheran, 
like our departed Albert [Diirer]. We hoped thereby to better 
the Roman knavery and the roguery of the monks and parsons." 
But the contrary was the result ; those of the new faith were 
even worse than those whom they were to reform. Members of 
the Council had also hoped for a general improvement of morals, 
but had found themselves shamefully deceived. He knows for 
certain -a valuable admission in view of the unhistorical idea of 
some Catholics that Luther s partisans were all frivolous men 
that " many pious and honourable men " lent a willing ear to 
his teaching ; " hearing beautiful things said of faith and the 
holy Gospel, they fancy all is real gold that glitters, whereas it is 
hardly brass." 3 

Another statement against Luther, made by this same scholar 
in 1528, is still stronger : " Formerly almost all men applauded 
at the sound of Luther s name, but now nearly all are seized with 
disgust on hearing it ... and not without cause, for apart 
from his audacity, impudence, arrogance and slanderous tongue 
he is also guilty of lying to such an extent that he cannot refrain 
from any untruth ; what he asserts to-day he does not scruple 
to deny to-morrow ; he is instability itself." 4 

1 See Dollinger, "Die Reformation," I 2 , p. 586 f. Cp. 169 ff., 
1, p. xv. Also J. Schlecht, " K. Leib s Briefwechsel und Diarien," 
Minister, 1909, p. 12. 

2 Friedr. Roth, " Wilh. Pirkheimer," Halle, 1887 (Schriften des 
Verems fur Reformationsgesch., v. 4). The author says, Pirkheimer s 
final opinion on Lutheranism is summed up in the words : " God keep 
all pious men, countries and peoples from such teaching, for where 
it is there is no peace, quiet or unity." Though Pirkheimer confessed 

with energy that he was once more a member of the olden Catholic 
Church, he nevertheless remained as much a Humanist as a Catholic 
as he had been as a Protestant. Yet that he still saw some good in 
Luther s cause is clear from what Melanchthon writes of him as late as 
April, 1530. " Fuimus apud Pirchamerum hodie, ego et lonas qui de 
te et causa honorifice sentit." To Luther, April 28, 1530, "Briefwechsel 
Luthers, 7, p. 310. P. Drews, " Pirkheimers Stellung zur Reforma 
tion, Leipzig, 1887, is more sceptical regarding his return to Catho 
licism, though he brings forward no definite proofs to the contrary. 
He himself mentions how Cochlseus, in a letter of March 10, 1529, 
invited Pirkheimer (" Pirkheimer Opp.," ed. Goldast, p. 396) to write 
a satire m verse on Luther after the model of his own " Luther us 


3 Dollinger, ibid., p. 168. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 26, p. 514. 


We sec also from the example of Albert Diircr of Nurem 
berg, who is rightly accounted one of the greatest masters 
of Art, how overwhelming an influence the stormy energy, 
the calls for reform and the religious tone of Luther s 
writings could exert on the susceptible minds of the day. 
Of a lively temper, 1 full of imagination and religious idealism, 
as his sixteen wonderful illustrations to the Apocalypse 
proved in 1498, he, like his Nuremberg friend Willibald 
Pirkhcimer, gave himself up from the very first to the 
influence of the Lutheran writings, with which to a certain 
extent he was in sympathy. In his enthusiasm for freedom 
he considered that Christianity was too much fettered by 
oppressive rules of human invention, and was profoundly 
troubled by the desecration of holy things introduced in 
many regions by the greed and avarice of a worldly-minded 

In 1520 he wrote to Spalatin : " God grant that I may meet 
with Dr. Martinus Luther, for then I will make a careful sketch 
of him and engrave it in copper, so that the memory of the 
Christian man may long be preserved, for he has helped me out 
of much anxiety." He believed that light had been brought to 
him by means of Luther s spiritual teaching, and a little further 
on he calls him " a man enlightened by the Holy Ghost and one 
who has the Spirit of God " ; these words, which came from the 
depths of his soul, are an echo of Luther s writings. Altogether 
prepossessed in Luther s favour, though he never formally 
abandoned the Church, he wrote in his Diary, on May 17, 1521 ; 
" The Papacy resists the liberty of Christ by its great burden of 
human commandments, and in shameful fashion sucks our 
blood and robs us of our sweat for the benefit of idle and im 
moral folk, while those who are sick are parched with thirst and 
left to die of hunger." 

Being at that time somewhat anxious with regard to his 
material position, he had gone to Holland, and had heard of 
Luther s supposed capture and disappearance after the Diet of 
Worms. In the same Memorandum, therefore, he summons 
Erasmus to undertake a reform of the Church : " O Erasmus 
Roderdamus, why hangest thou back ? Listen, O Christian knight, 
ride forth by the side of the Lord Christ and defend the cause of 
truth. . . . Then the gates of Hell, the Roman See, shall, as 
Christ says, not prevail against thee . . . for God is on the side 
of the holy Christian Churches." And he adds in Apocalyptic 
tone : " Await the completing of the number of those who have 
been slain innocently, and then I will judge." 2 Yet even on this 

1 His father Albert came from Eptas in Hungary ; he was a goldsmith. 

2 A. Diirer s " Schriftlicher Nachlass," ed. Lange and Fuchse, 
1893, p. 161 ff. 


journey through the Netherlands, Diirer showed interest in the 
manifestations of Catholic life, attended the Catholic services, 
and, with his wife, duly made his Easter Confession. 

Two thoughts, the oppression of the Faithful by man-made 
commandments and the unjust extortion of their money, held 
him under the spell of Luther s writings with their promise of 

" O God, if Luther is dead who will in future expound the 
Holy Gospel to us so clearly ? What would he not have written 
for us in ten or twenty years ! " " Never," he says, " has anyone 
written more clearly during the last 140 years [i.e. since the 
death of Wiclif in 1381], never has God given to anyone so 
evangelical a spirit." So transparent is his teaching, that 
" everyone who reads Dr. Martin Luther s books sees that it is 
the Gospel which he upholds. Hence they must be held sacred 
and not be burnt." 1 

The man who wrote this was clearly better able to wield 
the pencil or brush than to pass theological judgment on the 
questions under discussion. Diirer was already among the 
most famous men of the day. Led astray by the praise of 
the Humanists, he, and other similarly privileged minds, 
easily exceeded the limits of their calling, abetted as they 
were by the evil tendency to individualism and personal 
independence prevalent among the best men of the day. 

On his return to Nuremberg in the autumn of 1521 he 
lived entirely for his art and remote from all else, clinging to 
the opinions he had already embraced, or at least suspend 
ing his judgment. How greatly the real or imaginary 
abuses in Catholic practice were capable of exciting him, 
especially where avarice appeared to play a part, is proved 
by his indignant inscription in 1523 to an Ostendorfer 
woodcut, representing the veneration of a picture of our 
Lady at Ratisbon : " This spectre has risen up against 
Holy Scripture at Regenspurg . . . out of greed of gain"; 
his w r ish is that Mary should be rightly venerated " in 
Christ." In 1526 he presented his picture of the four 
Apostles, now the ornament of the Munich Pinacothek, to 
the Nuremberg bench of magistrates who had just estab 
lished Protestantism in the city, exhorting them " to accept 
no human inventions in place of the Word of God, for God 
will not allow His Word to be either added to or detracted 
from." The " warnings," in the form of texts, afterwards 

1 A Durer s " Schriftlicher Nachlass," ed. Lange and Fuchse, 
1893, p. 161 ff. 


removed, which he placed in the mouths of Peter, John, 
Paul and Mark in his celebrated picture, also refer to religious 
seducers and false prophets, more particularly those who 
seize on the possessions of the poor through avarice and 
greed. We can hardly do otherwise than apply these texts 
to the abuses which met with his disapproval, and alleged 
false teaching of the Catholic Church. It is plain that the 
Elector Maximilian I of Bavaria understood them in this 
sense when he ordered their removal. This view is also 
supported by Diirer s letter in 1524 to Nicholas Kratzer, in 
which he says : " We arc derided as heretics," but this must 
be endured. At a later date Pirkhcimer seems to have re 
garded him as merely " on the way to becoming a Lutheran " 
(p. 40). It cannot be affirmed with certainty that, when he 
died suddenly at Nuremberg, on April 6, 1528, he was either 
entirely convinced of the justice of Luther s cause or had 
reverted to Catholicism. 1 At any rate, his art grew up on 
the soil of the Church. 

Luther himself spoke of him after his death, on the strength 
of the reports received, and, perhaps, also from a desire to 
reckon him amongst his followers, in a letter to the Nuremberg 
Humanist Eobanus Hessus, as " the best of men," and one to 
be congratulated " for that Christ allowed him to die so happily 
after such preparation " (" tarn instructum et beato fine "X sparing 
him the sight of the evil days to come. " Therefore may he rest 
in peace with his fathers, Amen." 2 Melanchthon says a few 
words of regret on the death of the great artist, but from them 
nothing definite can be gathered. Venatorius, the Lutheran 
preacher at Nuremberg, preached his panegyric. 3 In his letter 
to Tschertte, in 1530, on the other hand, Pirkheimer counts him, 
like himself, among those who were at first good Lutherans, but 
were afterwards disappointed in their hopes. " The close friend 
ship which united Diirer to this passionate and conceited scholar, 
xvho could not brook the slightest contradiction, is, in fact, a 
proof which we must not undervalue, of a certain affinity in their 

1 On his adhesion to Protestantism, see M. Zucker, ^ " Albrecht 
Diirer," 1900, chap, xvi., and Lange in the " Grenzbote," vol. Iv. 1, 
with reasons which are, however, open to criticism. E. Heidrich 
("Diirer und die Reformation," 1909) makes Diirer die a Lutheran. 
For his final profession of Catholicism see more particularly Ant. 
Weber, "Albrecht Diirer," 3rd ed., 1903. Cp. "Hochland," 3, 2, 1906, 
p. 206 ff. W. Kohler remarks in the " Theol. Jahresbericht," 1908, 
vol. xxviii., p. 244 : " Diirer was more a follower of Erasmus than a 
Lutheran." See also G. Stuhlfauth in the " Deutsch-evangel. Blatter, 
1907, p. 835 ff., and " Histor. Jahrb.," 1910, p. 456 ff. 

2 April or May, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 255. 

3 Enders, ibid., p. 257, n. 3. 


views with regard to the cardinal question of faith and religious 
belief." 1 It is not impossible that Diirer, like Pirkheimer, began 
to have doubts, and withdrew at last the open support he had 
previously given the Reformers. 

The spiritual experiences of Pirkheimer and Durcr help 
to bring before our eyes typical instances of the false paths 
followed by many of their contemporaries and the struggles 
through which they went. 

1 Hagelstange, in " Hochland," 1906, p. 314. 



1. The Trial. The Excommunication (1520) and its 

ON June 15, 1520, Leo X promulgated the Bull condemning 
forty-one Propositions of Luther s teaching, and threatening 
the person of their author with excommunication. 1 

The Bull was the result of a formal suit instituted at 
Rome on the details of which light has been thrown in 
recent times by Karl Miiller, Aloys Schulte and Paul 
Kalkoff. 2 

The trial had taken a long time, much too long consider 
ing the state of things in Germany ; this delay was in reality 
due to political causes, to the Pope s regard for the Elector 
of Saxony, the approaching Imperial Election and to the 
procrastination of the German Prince-Bishops. Even 
before Dr. Johann Eck proceeded to Rome to promote the 
case the negotiations had been resumed in the Papal Con 
sistories at the instance of the Italian party. The first 
Consistory was held on January 9, 1520. 

After this, from February to the middle of March, the 
matter was in the hands of a commission of theologians who 

1 " Bulla contra errores M. Lutheri," Romae, 1520. Printed also 
in " Bullar. Rom.," ed. Taurin., 5, p. 748 seq., and in Raynaldus, 
" Annales," a. 1520, n. 51 ; and with a bitter commentary by Luther, 
in " Opp. Lat. var.," 4, p. 264 seq. 

2 K. Miiller, in " Zeitschr. fur Kirchengesch.," 24, 1903, p. 46 ff. 
A. Schulte, in " Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven 
und Bibliotheken," 6, 1903, p. 32 ff., 174 ff. P. Kalkoff, "Zu Luthers 
romischem Prozess," in " Zeitschr. fur Kirchengesch.," 31, 1910, p. 
372 ff ; 32, 1911, p. 1 ff. ; p. 199 ff., 408 ft, 572 ff. ; 33, 1912, p. 1 ff. 
He deals fully with the part taken by the Dominicans in the Indul 
gence controversy. Kalkoff s researches have since been published 
apart (" Zu Luthers romischem Prozess," Gotha, 1912). A good 

funeral view of the question in Pastor, " Hist, of the Popes," Engl. 
rans., 7, p. 361 ff. 



were to prepare the decision. A still more select commission, 
presided over by the Pope in person, then undertook the 
drafting of the Bull with the forty-one Propositions of Luther 
which were to be condemned. Upon the termination of their 
work, in the end of April, it was submitted to the Cardinals 
for their decision ; four more Consistories, held in May and 
June, were, however, necessary before the matter was 
finally settled. Certain differences of opinion arose as to 
the question whether the forty-one Propositions were, as. 
Cardinal Cajetan proposed, to be separately stigmatised as 
heretical, false, scandalous, etc., or whether, as had been 
done in the case of the Propositions of Wiclif and Hus at 
Constance, they should be rejected in the lump without 
any more definite characterisation. The latter opinion 
prevailed. In the last Consistory of June 1 the Pope 
decided on the publication of the Bull in this shape, and by 
June 15 it was complete. 

Two Cardinals, Pietro Accolti (Anconitanus) and Thomas 
de Vio (Cajetanus), had all along been busy with the case. 
The moving spirit was, however, Cardinal Giulio de Medici. 1 
Everything points to " the matter having been treated as 
a very grave one." 2 

Legally the case was based on the notoriety of Luther s 
doctrines, he having proposed and defended them at the 
Disputation of Leipzig, according to the sworn evidence of 
the notaries-public. The Louvain theologians and Eck had 
their share in selecting and denouncing the Theses. It would 
seem that during the trial Eck submitted the official printed 
minutes of the Leipzig Disputation in order to prove that 
the errors were really expressed in Luther s own words. 

This utilisation of the Leipzig Disputation was justified, 
as it rendered nugatory Luther s appeal to a General 
Council. At the Disputation in question he had denied the 
authority even of (Ecumenical Assemblies. 

Eck s efforts were of assistance in elucidating and pressing 
on the matter. But we may gather how incorrectly the ques 
tion was regarded in Rome by many, who, it is true, had little 

1 P. Kalkoff, " Forschungen," etc., p. 133. 

2 Schulte, " Quellen uiid Forschungen," see above p. 45, n. 2, 
p. 35. The statement of K. Miiller that from the very outset there had 
been a difficulty in proving Luther s writing, rests, as Schulte shows 
(p. 43), merely on a misapprehended passage in one of the letters of 
the Venetian Orator at Rome. 


to do with it, from the fact that, even on May 21, persons were 
to be found holding the opinion that the publication of a 
solemn Bull would tend to injure the cause of the Church 
rather than to advance it, and that the scandal in Germany 
would only become greater if it were apparent that so much 
importance w r as attached to Luther s errors. 1 

In the final sentence pronounced by the Pope, i.e. in the 
Bull commencing with the words : Exsurge Domine, the 
forty-one Propositions are condemned in globo as " heretical 
or false, scandalous, offensive to pious ears, insulting, 
ensnaring and contrary to Catholic truth." 2 A series of 
Luther s principal doctrines on human inability for good, 
on Faith, Justification and Grace, on the Sacraments, the 
Hierarchy and Purgatory were there condemned. 

The Papal sentence did not proceed against Luther s 
person with the severity which, in accordance with Canon 
Law, his fiercest adversaries perhaps anticipated. Even the 
errors mentioned as occurring in his writings are desig 
nated only in the body of the Bull, and with much circum 
locution. The only penalty directly imposed on him in the 
meantime was the prohibition to preach. The Bull declares 
that legally, as his case then stood, he might have been 
excommunicated without further question, particularly on 
account of his appeal to a General Council, to which the 
Constitutions of Pius II and Julius II had attached the 
penalties of heresy. Instead of this he is, for the present, 
merely threatened with excommunication, and is placed 
under the obligation, within sixty days (i.e. after a triple 
summons repeated at intervals of twenty days) from the 
date of the promulgation of the Bull, of making his sub 
mission in writing before ecclesiastical witnesses, or of 
coming to Rome under the safe conduct guaranteed by the 
Bull ; he was also to commit his books to the flames ; in 
default of this, by virtue of the Papal declaration, he would, 
ipso facto, incur the penalties of open heresy as a notorious 
heretic (i.e. be cut off from the Communion of the Faithful 
by excommunication) ; every secular authority, including 
the Emperor, was bound, in accordance with the law, to 

1 Schulte, " Quellen und Forschungen," p. 45. 

2 In Schulte (ibid., p. 49) this circumstance, on which theology 
must necessarily lay great stress, is passed over. Not all Luther s 
propositions were branded as " heretical." 


enforce these penalties. A similar sentence was pronounced 
against all Luther s followers, aiders or abettors. 

With respect to the terms in which the Papal Edict is 
couched, the severe criticism of certain Protestant writers 
might perhaps have been somewhat less scathing had they 
taken into account the traditional usages of the Roman 
Chancery, instead of judging them by the standard of the 
legal language of to-day. Such are the harsh passages 
quoted from Holy Scripture, which may appear to us 
unduly irritating and violent. When all is said, moreover, 
is it to be wondered at, that, after the unspeakably bitter 
and insulting attacks on the Papacy and the destruction of 
a portion of the German Church, strong feelings should have 
found utterance in the Bull ? 

The document begins with the words of the Bible : " Arise, 
O God, judge thine own cause : remember thy reproaches with 
which the foolish man hath reproached thee all the day" (Ps. 
Ixxiii. 22). " Shew me thy face ; catch us the little foxes that 
destroy the vines " (Cant. ii. 15). . . . " The boar out of the wood 
hath laid it waste : and a singular wild beast hath devoured it " 
(Ps. Ixxix. 14). " Lying teachers have arisen who set up schools 
of perdition and bring upon themselves speedy destruction ; 
their tongue is a fire full of the poison of death," etc. " They 
spit out the poison of serpents, and when they see themselves 
vanquished they raise calumnies." " We are determined to 
resist this pestilence and this eating canker, the noxious adder 
must no longer be permitted to harm the vineyard of the Lord," 
These, the strongest expressions, are taken almost word for 
word from the Bible ; they might, moreover, be matched by 
much stronger passages in Luther s own writings against the 
authorities of the Church. 

Further on the Pope addresses, in a mild, fatherly and con 
ciliatory fashion, the instigator of the dreadful schism within a 
Christendom hitherto united. " Mindful of the compassion of 
God Who desireth not the death of a sinner, but that he be con 
verted and live, we are ready to forget the injury done to us and 
to the Holy See. We have decided to exercise the greatest 
possible indulgence and, so far as in our power lies, to seek to 
induce the sinner to enter into himself and to renounce the 
errors we have enumerated, so that we may see him return to 
the bosom of the Church and receive him with kindness, like the 
prodigal son in the Gospel. We therefore exhort him and his 
followers through the love and mercy of our God and the precious 
blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the human race was 
redeemed and the Church founded, and adjure them that they 
cease from troubling with their deadly errors the peace, unity 
and truth of the Church for which the Saviour prayed so fer- 


vently to His Father. They will then, if they prove obedient, 
find us full of fatherly love and be received with open arms." 

Luther was aware that, after the promulgation of the 
Bull, he could place no further hope in the Emperor Charles 
V, whose devotion to the Church was well known, but he 
was sure of the protection of his Elector. 1 It was clear to 
Luther that, without the support of the Elector, the execu 
tion of the Bull by the secular power after the excommuni 
cation had come into force would mean his death. 

Before publicly burning his boats he launched among the 
people his booklet "Von den ncwen Eckischenn Bullen und 
Liigen," 2 pretending that the Bull (which he knew to be 
genuine) was merely a fabrication of Dr. Eck s. Here, with 
a bold front, he repeated that his doctrine had not yet been 
condemned, nor the controversy decided, and that all the 
hubbub was merely the result of Eck s personal hatred. 

This was shortly after followed by the pamphlet " Against 
the Bull of End-Christ, " 3 issued by his indefatigable 
press. The Latin version of the little work, brimming over 
with hatred, was ready by the end of October, 1520. 

Although, in order to keep up the pretence of doubting the 
authenticity of the Bull, he here deals with it hypothetically, 
he nevertheless implores the Pope and his Cardinals, should they 
really have issued it, to reflect, otherwise he would be forced 
to curse their abode as the dwelling-place of Antichrist. In 
the same strain he proceeds : " Where art thou, good Emperor, 
and you, Christian Kings and Princes ? You took an oath of 
allegiance to Christ in baptism and yet you endure these hellish 
voices of Antichrist." 4 

In the German version, from motives of policy, the tone is 
rather milder. Luther shrank from instigating the German 
princes too openly to violent measures. The appeal to them 
and to the Emperor is there omitted. The call to the people, 
however, rings loud and enthusiastic : " Would it be a wonder 
if the Princes, the Nobility and the laity were to knock the 
Pope, the Bishops, parsons and monks on the head and drive 
them out of the land ? " For the action of Rome is heretical, 
the Pope, the Bishops, the parsons and the monks were bringing 
the laity about their ears by this " blasphemous, insulting Bull." 
Then he suddenly pulls himself up, but to very little purpose, 
and adds : "not that I wish to incite the laity against the clergy, 

1 Kalkoff, " Forschungen," p. 543 ff. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 576 ff ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 17 ff. 

3 Ibid., p. 595 ff. [38 f.]. " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 132 seq. 

4 Ibid., p. 603 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 5. p. 142. 

II. E 


but rather that we should pray to God that He may turn aside 
His wrath from them, and set them free from the evil spirit that 
has possessed them." 1 

In the German version, however, he refers more distinctly 
to the existence of " the Bulls against Dr. Luther which are said 
to have recently come from Rome." 2 He here declares, as to 
the theological question involved, that "as a matter of fact the 
whole Christian Church cannot err," viz. " all Christians through 
out the whole world," but that the Pope is guilty of the most 
devilish presumption in setting up his own opinion, as though it 
were as good as that of the whole Church. The work is thus 
levelled at the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which had always been 
accepted in the Church in cases where the Pope decides on matters 
of doctrine as supreme judge ; this doctrine had ever been taken 
for granted, and stood in the forefront in all the measures pre 
viously taken by the Church against the attacks of heretics. 
Even in those days the Church had always based her action 
against separatists on her infallibility as a teacher. 

In view of the existing political conditions there was but 
little hope that it would be possible for the General Council, 
to which Luther had appealed, to meet at an early date. 
At the time of Luther s uprising, moreover, the state of 
feeling, both in ecclesiastical circles and among the laity, 
gave little promise of good results even in the event of the 
calling together of a great Council. The stormy so-called 
Reforming Councils of the fifteenth century had shown the 
dangers of the prevailing spirit of independence, and the 
feeling among the ecclesiastical authorities was, from 
motives of caution, averse to the holding of Councils. 
Luther, on his part, was well aware how futile was his appeal 
to a General Council. 

That his request was useless and only intended to gain 
time was apparent to all who had any discernment, when, 
on November 17, 1520, he again appealed to a " free Chris 
tian Council." Luther s appeal was published at the same 
time as his Latin work " Against the Bull of End-Christ." 
Its character is plain from its invitation to the people " to 
oppose the mad action of the Pope." It was a method of 
agitation calculated to call forth the applause of those who 
had become accustomed to the ecclesiastical radicalism of 
the so-called reforming Councils. 

Luther gave practical effect to his view regarding the 
1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 46. 2 Ibid., p. 41. 


value to be set on solemn Papal decrees on faith by his 
famous act before the Elster Gate of Wittenberg. 

On December 10 he there proceeded to burn the Bull of 
Excommunication amid the acclamations of his followers 
amongst the students, whom he had invited to the spectacle 
by a public notice exhibited at the University. Not the Bull 
only was committed to the flames, but, according to the 
programme, also " books of the Papal Constitutions and of 
scholastic theology." Besides the Bull the following were 
cast into the great fire : the Dccretum of Gratian, the 
Decretals with the " Liber Sextus," the Clementines 
and the Extravagants, also the Summa Angelica of Angelus 
de Clavasio, the work then most in use on the Sacrament 
of Penance, books by Eck, particularly that entitled 
" Chrysopassus," some by Emser, and others, too, offered by 
the zeal of private individuals. The recently discovered 
account by Johann Agricola says, that the works of Thomas 
and Scotus would also have been consigned to the flames 
but that no one was willing to deprive himself of them for 
this purpose. According to this writer, whose information 
is fuller than that of the authority generally quoted, Luther, 
while in the act of burning the Bull, pronounced the words : 
" Because thou hast destroyed the truth of the Lord, the 
Lord consume thce in this fire " (cp. Josue vii. 25). * 

A few weeks later Luther related, not without pride, how 
the students " in the Carnival days made the Pope figure in 
the show [the students being dressed up to play the part], 
seated on a car with great pomp ; it was really too droll. At 
the stream in the market-place they allowed him to escape 
with his Cardinals, bishops and attendants ; he was then 

^ For the accounts of the burning, see M. Perlbach and J. Luther, 
" Em neuer Bericht iiber Luthers Verbrennung der Bannbulle " (" SB. 
der preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaft.," and also apart), Berlin, 1907, and 
Kawerau, in " Theol. Studien," 1908, p. 587. Luther s words, quoted 
in the new account, run as follows : " Quia tu conturbasti ve.rita.tem Dei, 
conturbat et te hodie in ignem istum (instead of igni isto ). Amen " ; 
whereupon all those present answered, " Amen" The form given 
before this ran : " Quia tu conturbasti sanctum Dei, ideoque te conturbet 
ignis ceternus." Were this correct, " sanctum Dei " would refer to 
Christ as the " Holy One of God," according to the biblical expres 
sion, but we should scarcely be justified in taking it to mean Luther 
himself, as some Catholics have done, as though he had arrogated to 
himself this title. With regard to the books burnt, see also Luther s 
letter to Spalatin, on December 10, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 18. 
On Thomas and Scotus see the source quoted above. 


chased through various parts of the city : everything was 
well and grandly planned ; for the enemy of Christ is 
deserving of such mockery, since he himself mocks at the 
greatest Princes and even Christ Himself. The verses which 
describe the whole scene are now being printed." This was 
how Luther wrote to Spalatin, who was then with the 
Elector at the Diet of Worms. l 

Evil things were in store for Luther at Worms. It seemed 
that his summons thither was unavoidable, since Pope 
Leo X, in the new Bull, " Decet Romamim Pontificem," of 
January 3, 1521, had declared that Luther, owing to his 
persistent contumacy, had, ipso facto, incurred excom 
munication and become liable to the penalties already 
decreed by law against heretics. 

Certain historians have extolled the great calmness 
which Luther preserved even during the stormy days when 
the excommunication arrived ; they will have it that his 
composure of mind never deserted him. He himself, how 
ever, speaks otherwise. 

According to his own statements contained in the letters 
which give so speaking a testimony to the state of his mind, 
he frequently did not know what he was doing, and blindly 
obeyed the impulse which drove him onward. Luther s be 
haviour at that time was the very reverse of the clear-sighted, 
enlightened and self-controlled conduct of holy and virtuous 
Churchmen when in the midst of storm and stress. He himself 
confessed with regard to his polemics : " Yes, indeed, I feel that 
I am not master of myself (compos mei non sum). I am carried 
away and know not by what spirit. I wish evil to none, but I 
am not on my guard against Satan, and it is to this that the fury 
of my enemies is due." 2 

To explain this inward turmoil we must take into account, 
not only the excommunication, but also the unexampled over- 
exertion which at that time taxed his mental and physical powers. 
He was necessarily in a state of the utmost nervous tension. 
" Works of the most varied kind," he says, in the letter quoted, 
" carry my thoughts in all directions. I have to speak publicly 
no less than twice daily. The revision of the Commentary on 
the Psalms engages my attention. At the same time I am pre 
paring sermons for the press, I am also writing against my 
enemies, opposing the Bull in Latin and in German and working 

1 On February 17, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 87. For the printed 
verses, Enders, like Kostlin, refers to Selneccer, " Vita Lutheri," 
Witteb., 1687, p. 133. 

2 To Conrad Pellican, at the end of February, 1521, " Brief wech- 
ael," 3, p. 93. 


at my defence. Besides this I write letters to my friends. I am 
also obliged to entertain my ordinary visitors at home." At this 
time Luther not unfrequently kept three printing-presses at 
work at once. 

Never before had Gutenberg s art been of such service to 
any public cause ; all Germany was flooded with Luther s 
writings with bewildering rapidity. 

He commenced printing the booklet " To the Christian 
Nobility " before it was fully written, and its plan he 
settled whilst a second pamphlet of his against Prierias was 
passing through the press. This, in turn, was accompanied 
by a booklet against the Franciscan Alveld. Between the 
publication of the three so-called great " Reformation 
works," which, with the new editions immediately called for, 
followed each other in rapid succession, came the printing 
of a sermon on the New Testament and the tracts already 
mentioned : " Von den newen Eckischenn Bullen," and 
" Against the Bull of Antichrist " (in Latin) ; then followed 
the publication of his "Warumb des Bapsts und seyner 
Jungern Biichcr vorbrant seyn," then the "Defence of all 
the Propositions " condemned in the Bull (in Latin), then 
the controversial pamphlets : " An den Bock zu Leyptzck " 
(Hieronymus Emser), and " Auff des Bocks zu Leypczick 
Antwort " At the same time, however, he published some 
religious works of a practical nature, namely the " Tessara- 
dekas," a book of consolation for suffering and perturbed 
Christians, and the commencement of his exposition of the 
Magnificat. The latter he dedicated to Johann Friedrich, 
the Elector s nephew ; it is not only improving in tone, but 
was also of practical use in increasing the esteem in which 
he was held at Court. 

Such incredible overtaxing of his strength naturally 
resulted in a condition of serious mental strain, at the very 
time, too, when Luther had to weigh in his mind profound 
and momentous questions, vital problems, the treatment of 
which called for the most utmost recollection and com 

" While I am preaching to others, I myself am a castaway," 
so he once writes in biblical terms in a letter to Staupitz, 1 "so 
much does intercourse with men carry me away." Pope Leo X, 

On February 9, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 83. 


whose personal qualities he had shortly before been praising, 
becomes in this letter a wolf, who in his Bull has condemned all 
that Staupitz had taught regarding God s mercy. Christ Him 
self is condemned by the Pope, damned and blasphemed. Staupitz 
might well exhort him to humility, for, alas, he knew he was 
proud, but Staupitz, on his part, was too humble, otherwise he 
would not retreat before the Pope. " Men may accuse me of 
every vice, of pride, adultery, murder and even of Anti-popery, 
but may I never be guilty of a godless silence in the presence of 
those who are crucifying our Lord afresh. . . . Therefore at 
least suffer me to go on and be carried away even though you 
may not yourself agree to follow (sine me ire et rapi)." It is 
here that he appeals to the assistance of Hutten and his party, 
and to the intervention of the Elector Frederick in the words 
already quoted. 1 

And yet he confesses to a certain nervousness : "At first I 
trembled and I prayed while burning the Papal books and the 
Bull. But now I am more rejoiced at this than at any previous 
act of my life ; they [the Romanists] are a worse pestilence than 
I had thought." This he writes to his same fatherly friend, 
Staupitz. 2 

His perturbation, which had become to him almost a life- 
element, served to dispel his fears and his doubts : " I am 
battling with the floods and am carried away by them 
(" fluctibus his raptor et volror"). "The noise [of strife] 
rages mightily. Both sides are putting their heart into it." 3 
Catholics discern with grief in this uncanny joy a sad 
attempt on his part to find encouragement in the pre 
posterous notion he fostered of the " devilishness " of the 
Papacy. They will also perceive in his outbursts of rage, and 
in the challenges to violence in which he indulges in un 
guarded moments, the effect of the excommunication 
working on a mind already stirred to its innermost depths. 
When we hear him declare in a popular pamphlet, after the 
arrival of the Papal Bull, that it would not be surprising 
were the Princes, the nobility and laity to hit the Pope, the 
bishops, priests and monks over the head and drive them 
out of the land, 4 we find that such language agrees only too 
well with his furious words in his tract written in 1520 

1 He praises the Prince, saying that he walks " prudenter, fideliter," 
and " constanter." Cp. above p. 8. 

2 January 14, 1521, " Brief weehsel," 3, p. 70 

3 Both sentences, ibid. 

4 Above, p. 49. Epitome of Prierias with Preface and Postscript 
(Latin). " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 347. The commencement of the 
passage is quoted above, p. 13. 


against Prierias, where he compares the Pope and his 
followers to a band of cut-throats. 

If murderers are punished with the sword, why then should we 
not proceed with still greater severity against those " teachers 
of perdition " who are determined not to repent ? " Why do we 
not attack them with every weapon that comes to hand and wash 
our hands in their blood, if we thereby save ourselves and ours 
from the most dangerous of flames ? How happy are those 
Christians who are not obliged like us, the most miserable of 
men, to live under such an Antichrist." Recognising the ominous 
character of the passage " Cur non . . . manus nostras in 
sanguine istonmi lavamus," etc., later Lutherans added certain 
words which appear first in the Jena edition (German translation) 
in 1555 : " But God Who says (Deut. xxxii. 35, Rom. xii. 19) 
Vengeance is mine will find out these His enemies in good 
time, who are not worthy of temporal punishment, but whose 
punishment must be eternal in the abyss of hell." These words, 
which are not found in the original edition of 1520, are given in 
Walch s edition of Luther, vol. xviii., p. 245. The argument 
in exoneration of Luther, based upon them by a recent Lutheran, 
thus falls to the ground. The addition will be sought for in vain 
in the Weimar edition (6, p. 347 f.), and in that of Erlangen 
(" Opp. Lat. var." 2, p. 107). Paulus has proved that the falsifica 
tion of the text was the work of Nicholas Amsdorf, who was 
responsible for the Jena edition, though in the Preface he protests 
that his edition of Luther s works is free from all correction or 
addition. 1 

In view of the inflammatory language which he hurled among 
the crowd, assurances of an entirely different character, which, 
when it suited his purpose, he occasionally made for the benefit 
of the Court, really deserve less consideration. In these he is 
desirous of disclaiming beforehand the responsibility for any 
precipitate and dangerous measures taken by men like Hutten, 
and such as Spalatin in his anxiety fancied he foresaw. What 
Luther wrote on January 16, 1521, was addressed to him and 
intended for the Elector ; 2 hero he says that the war for the 
Gospel ought not to be waged by violence and manslaughter, 
because Antichrist is to be destroyed by " the Word " alone. 
On this occasion he expresses the wish that God would restrain 
the fury of those men who threatened to injure His good cause 
and who might bring about a general rising against the clergy 
such as had taken place in Bohemia (i.e. the Husite insurrection). 3 

1 On the falsification of Luther s works in the early editions, see 
G. Arnold, " Unpartheyische Kirchen- und Ketzerhistorie," 2, 1727, 

?. 419 ff. ; Paulus, " Protestantismus und Toleranz im 16. Jahrh.," 
911, p. 17. 

2 To Spalatin at Worms, January 16, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 73. 

3 In the same month he wrote to Hutten to the same effect : " Nol- 
lem vi et ccede pro evangelio certari." The letter, however, did not 
reach its destination. Enders, 3, p. 74, n. 8. 


He foresees, however, that the Romanists will bring this mis 
fortune upon themselves through their obstinate resistance to 
" the Word." As yet they were holding back (so he wrote when 
the meeting at Worms had commenced) ; but, should their fury 
burst forth, then, it was generally apprehended that it would 
lead to a regular Bohemian revolt in^Germany, in which the 
clergy would suffer ; he himself, however, was certainly not to 
blame, as he had advised the nobility to proceed against the 
Romanists with " edicts " and not with the sword. 1 

The menacing attitude of the Knights seemed to Luther 
sufficiently favourable to his cause without their actually 
declaring war. We shall return later to Luther s ideas 
regarding the use of force in support of the Evangel (vol. iii. 
xv. 3). 

As for the above-mentioned references to Antichrist, we 
can only assume that he had gradually persuaded himself 
that the Pope really was the Antichrist of the Bible. Accord 
ing to his opinion the Antichrist of prophecy was not so 
much a definite person as the Papacy as a whole, at least in 
its then degenerate form. So thoroughly did he imbue his 
mind with those biblical images which appealed to him, and 
so vivid were the pictures conjured up by his imagination 
of the wickedness of his foes, that we cannot be surprised if 
the idea he had already given expression to, viz. that the 
Pope was Antichrist, 2 took more and more possession of him. 
Owing to the pseudo-mysticism, under the banner of which 
he carried on his war against the Church of Rome, he was 
the more prone to indulge in such a view. His lamentations 
over Babylon and Antichrist, and his intimate persuasion 
that he had unmasked Antichrist and that therefore the 
second coming of Christ was imminent (see below), un 
doubtedly rested on a morbid, pseudo-mystic foundation. 

At about that time he set forth his ideas regarding Anti 
christ in learned theological form, for the benefit of readers 

1 Letter to Spalatin in Worms, February 27, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 
3, p. 90 : The wrath of the Papists was being stayed by a Divine 

2 See volume i., p. 359. H. Preuss, "Die Vorstellungen vom Anti 
christ im Mittelalter," 1909, gives instances of writers who anticipated 
Luther in seeing Antichrist in the Pope. He looks upon Luther s 
controversial writings on the subject of Antichrist as justified. " All 
Lutheran Christendom at the Reformation period," according to him, 
shared " its master s " views and expectation of the approaching end 
of the world (p. 196) ; he thinks it quite in order that the article re 
garding Antichrist " should have been incorporated in the Lutheran 
Confession of Faith " (p. 181). 


of every nation, in a Latin exposition of the prophecies of 
Daniel, in which, according to him, the Papacy is predicted 
as Antichrist and described in minutest detail. This strange 
commentary is found in his reply to the Italian theologian 
Ambrose Catharinus: " Ad librum Catharini respomio." 1 
Cultured foreign readers can scarcely have gained from 
these pages a very favourable impression of the imaginative 
German monk s method of biblical exposition. This 
curious tract followed too quickly upon that to which it was 
a reply. Luther received a copy of the book against him by 
Catharinus on March 6 or 7, yet, in order to forestall the 
effect of the work on the Diet of Worms, in the course of the 
same month he composed the lengthy reply which is all 
steeped in mystical fanaticism. From that time forward the 
crazy fiction that the Pope was Antichrist gained more and 
more hold of him, so that even towards the end of his life, 
as we shall see, he again set about decking it out with new 
and more forceful proofs from Holy Scripture. 

Luther s frame of mind again found expression in a tract 
which he launched among the people not long after, viz. 
the " Deuttung des Munchkalbes." 2 Here he actually 
seeks to show in all seriousness that the horrors of the 
Papacy, and particularly of the religious state, had been 
pointed out by heaven through the birth of a misshapen 
calf, an occurrence which at that time was attracting notice. 
Passages from the Bible, and likewise Apocalyptic dreams, 
were pressed in to serve the author of this lamentable 
literary production. 

Yet, in spite of all these repulsive exaggerations with 
which his writings were crammed, nay, on account of these 
images of a heated imagination, the attack upon the old 
Church called forth by Luther served its purpose with all 
too many. Borne on the wings of a hatred inspired by a 
long-repressed grudge, his pamphlets were disseminated 
with lightning speed by discontented Catholics. Language 
of appalling coarseness, borrowed from the lips of the 
lowest of the populace, seemed to carry everything before it, 
and the greater the angry passion it displayed the greater 
was its success. What one man s words can achieve under 
favourable circumstances was never, anywhere in the history 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 698 ff. 

2 Ibid., 11, p. 357-373 ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 1-16. 


of the world, so clearly exemplified as in Germany in those 
momentous days. Luther s enthusiastic supporters read 
his writings aloud and explained them to the people in the 
squares and market-places, and the stream of eloquence 
falling on ready ears proved far more effective than the 
warnings of the clergy, who in many places were regarded 
w r ith suspicion or animosity. 

Spalatin, in the meantime, was engaged in trying to 
prevent Luther from incurring the only too well-founded 
reproach of openly inciting people to revolt against the 
authority of the Empire ; with such a charge against him 
it would have been difficult for the Elector of Saxony to 
protect him. 

As, during Spalatin s stay at Worms, the burning of 
Luther s books had already begun in various places, owing 
to the putting in force of the Bull " Exsurge Domine" the 
courtier was at pains to advise his impetuous friend as to 
what he should do respecting such measures. He counselled 
Luther to compose a pamphlet addressed to penitents, 
dealing with the forbidden books, the matter being a 
practical one owing to the likelihood of people confessing 
in the tribunal of penance that they possessed works of 
Luther. It was no easy task to deal with this question of 
the duty of confession. Luther, however, felt himself 
supported by the attitude assumed by the Elector, at whose 
command, so he says, he had first published his new booklet 
against the Bull, " Grund und Ursach aller Artickel " 
(Ground and Reason of all the [condemned] Articles), 
in German and Latin. 1 

He therefore determined to carry his war into the 
confessional and, by means of a printed work, to decide, in 
his own favour, the pressing, practical question regarding 
his books. The flames were blazing in the bishoprics of 
Merseburg and Meissen, and to them were consigned such 
of Luther s writings as had been given up by Catholics or 
halting disciples. Easter, too, was drawing near with the 
yearly confession. Many a conscience might be stirred up 
by the exhortations of pious confessors and be aroused to 
renewed loyalty to the Church. Luther s pamphlet, entitled 

1 To Staupitz in Salzburg, February 9, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, 
p. 85 : " Princcps noster, cuius iussu assertiones istas utraque lingua 


" Unterricht dcr Beychtkindcr ubir die vorpottcn 
Biichcr " (An Instruction for Penitents concerning the 
prohibited books), which appeared in the earlier part of 
February, 1521, affords us an insight into the strategies 
adopted by Luthcranism at its inception. 

The language of this tract is, for a writer like Luther, ex 
tremely moderate and circumspect, for its object was to enlist 
in his cause the most secret and intimate of all acts, that of the 
penitent in confession ; its apparent reticence made it all the 
more seductive. In his new guise of an instructor of consciences, 
Luther here seems fully to recognise the Sacrament of Confession. 
He has no wish, so he protests, to introduce " strife, disputation 
and dissension into the holy Sacrament of Confession." 1 

The penitent, who is in the habit of reading his works, he tells 
to beg his confessor in " humble words," should he question him, 
not to trouble him concerning Luther s books. He is to say to 
his confessor : " Give me the Absolution to which I have a right, 
and, after that, wrangle about Luther, the Pope and whomsoever 
else you please." He encourages his readers to make such a 
request by explaining that these books, and likewise Luther s 
guilt, have not yet been duly examined, that many were in doubt 
about the Bull, that Popes had often changed their minds upon 
similar matters and contradicted themselves, and that a con 
fessor would therefore be acting tyrannically were he to demand 
that the books should be given up ; this was, however, the un 
fair treatment to which he had ever been subjected. There was 
only one thing wanting, namely, that Luther should have repeated 
what he had shortly before declared, that, for the sake of peace, 
he would " be quite happy to see his books destroyed," if only 
people were permitted to keep and read the Bible. 2 

He continues : Since it might happen that some would be 
conscientiously unable to part with his writings, owing to know 
ledge or suspicion of the truth, such people should quietly waive 
their claim to Absolution should it be withheld. They were 
nevertheless to " rejoice and feel assured that they had really 
been absolved in the sight of Cod and approach the Sacrament 
without any shrinking." Those who were more courageous, 
however, and had a " strong conscience " were to say plainly to 
the " taskmaster " (the confessor) : " You have no right to 
force me against my conscience, as you yourself know, or 
ought to know, Romans xiv." " Confessors are not to meddle 
with the judgment of God, to whom alone are reserved the secrets 
of the heart." If, however, communion be refused, then all were 
first to " ask for it humbly," " and if that was of no avail, then 
they were to let Sacrament, altar, parson and Church go " ; for 

1 Reprinted " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 284 ff. ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , 
p. 206 ff. 

2 " Widder die Bullen des Endchrists," "Werke," Weim. ed., (3, 
p. 616 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 40. 


" contrary to God s Word and your conscience no commandment 
can be made, or hold good if made, as they themselves all teach." 

Such a view of the functions of a confessor and of his duty as 
a judge appointed by authority had certainly never been taught 
in the Church, but was entirely novel and unheard of, however 
much it might flatter the ears of the timid, and of those who 
wavered or were actually estranged from the Church. Most of 
his readers were unaware how shamelessly their adviser was 
contradicting himself, and how this apparently well-meaning 
instructor of consciences in the confessional was the very man 
who in previous polemical tracts had denied that there was any 
difference between priests and laymen. 1 Towards the close of 
this Instruction, however, the author reappears in his true 
colours, and whereas, at the commencement when introducing 
himself, he had spoken of confession as a holy Sacrament, at the 
end he describes it as an unjust invention of the priesthood, and, 
indeed, in his eyes, it was really a mere " human institution." 
Towards the conclusion, where he relapses into his wonted 
threatening and abusive language, he " begs all prelates and 
confessors " not to torture consciences in the confessional lest 
the people should begin to question " whence their authority and 
the practice of private confession came " ; as if his very words 
did not convey to the reader an invitation to do so. " The 
result," he prudently reminds them, " might be a revolt in which 
they [the prelates] might be worsted. For though confession is a 
most wholesome thing, everyone knows how apt some are to 
take offence." He points out how in his case the authorities had 
driven him further and further, well-intentioned though he was : 
" How many things would never have happened had the Pope 
and his myrmidons not treated me with violence and deceit." 2 

The Easter confession that year might prove decisive to thou 
sands. The little earnestness shown by too many in the practice 
of their religion, the laxity of the German clergy, even the ap 
parent insignificance of the question of retaining or perusing 
certain books, all this was in his favour. In the above tract he 
set before the devout souls who were " tyrannised " by their 
confessors the example of Christ and His Saints, who all had 
suffered persecution ; " we must ask God to make us worthy of 
suffering for the sake of His Word." The more imaginative, he 
likewise warned of the approaching end of the world. " Re 
member that it was foretold that in the days of End-Christ no 
one will be allowed to preach, and that all will be looked upon as 
outcasts who speak or listen to the Word of God." Those who 
hesitated and were scrupulous about keeping Luther s writings, 
seeing they had been prohibited by law and episcopal decrees as 
" blasphemous," he sought to reassure by declaring that his 
books were nothing of the kind, for in them he had attacked the 
person neither of the Pope nor of any prelate, but had merely 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 395, where this contradiction is pointed 

8 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 297 f. ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 212. 


blamed vices, and that if they were to be described as blasphemous, 
then the same " must be said of the Gospel and the whole of 
Holy Scripture." 1 

Thus, in this ingenious work, each one found something 
suited to his disposition and his scruples and calculated to 
lead him astray. The culmination is, however, in the words 
already adduced : Nothing against conscience, nothing 
against the Word of God ! The " enslaved conscience " and 
the " commanding Word of God," these are the catchwords 
of which Luther henceforth makes use so frequently and to 
such purpose. He employs these terms as a cloak to conceal 
the complete emancipation of the mind from every duty 
towards a rule of faith and ecclesiastical authority which he 
really advocates. The " commanding Word of God," on 
his lips, means the right of independent, private interpreta 
tion of the sacred Books, though he reserves to himself the 
first place in determining their sense. 

Conscience and the Word of God, words with which 
Luther had familiarised the masses from the commencement 
of his apostasy, w r ere also to be his cry at the Diet of Worms 
in 1521, when he stood before the supreme spiritual and 
temporal authorities there assembled around the Emperor. 
Uttered there before Church and Empire, this cry was to 
re-echo mightily and to bring multitudes to his standard. 

2. The Diet of Worms, 1521 ; Luther s Attitude 
The Diet had been assembled at Worms around the 
Emperor since January 27, 1521. 

Charles V showed himself in religious questions a staunch 
supporter of the Catholic Church, to which indeed he was 
most devotedly attached. He was not, however, always well- 
advised, and the multitudinous cares of his empire fre 
quently blinded him to the real needs of the Church, or else 
made it impossible for him to act as he w r ould have wished. 
On February 13, 1521, in the presence of the Princes and 
the States-General of the Empire, Hieronymus Aleander, 
the Papal Legate accredited to the Diet, delivered the speech, 
which has since become historic, on the duty of the Empire 
to take action against Luther as a notorious, obstinate 
heretic, definitively condemned by the supreme Papal Court. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 297 ; Erl. ed., 24, p. 212. 


He did not fail to point out, that " it was a fact of common 
knowledge that Luther was inciting the people to rebellion 
and that, like the heretics of Bohemia, he was destroying all 
law and order in the name and semblance of the Gospel." 1 

On March 6 Luther was summoned to appear before the 
Diet at Worms, the Emperor furnishing him with an escort 
and guaranteeing his safe return. Encouraged by the latter 
promise, secure in the favour of his own sovereign, and 
assured of the support of the Knights, he decided to comply 
with the summons. 

The thought of bearing testimony to his newly discovered 
Evangel before the whole country and enjoying the oppor 
tunity, by his appearance in so public a place, of rousing 
others to enthusiasm for the work he had undertaken urged 
him on. Severe bodily ailments from which he was suffering 
at that time did not deter him. His illness, he declared, was 
merely a trick of " the devil to hinder him " ; on his part he 
would do all he could to " affright and defy him." " Christ 
lives, and we shall enter Worms in spite of all the gates of 
hell and the powers of the air." 2 To Spalatin we owe an 
echo from one of Luther s letters at that time : " He was 
determined to go to Worms though there should be as many 
devils there as there were tiles on the roofs." 3 

The journey to Worms resembled a sort of triumphal 
progress, owing to the festive reception everywhere pre 
pared for him by his friends, and in particular by the 

His arrival at Erfurt was celebrated beforehand by 
Eobanus Hessus in a flattering poem. On April 6 the 
Rector of the University, Crotus Rubcanus, with forty 
professors and a great crowd of people, went out to meet him 
when he was still three leagues from the city. The address 
delivered by Rubcanus at the meeting expressed gratitude 
for the " Divine apparition " which was vouchsafed to them 
in the coming of the " hero of the Evangel." 4 

1 Janssen -Pastor, " Gesch. des deutschen Volkes," 2 18 , p. 165. 
" Hist, of the German People," Engl. Trans., 3, p. 178. 

2 Letter to Spalatin, April 14, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 121. 
" Tischreden," " Werke," Erl. ed., 62, p. 75. 

3 Spalatin s " Annals," ed. Cyprian, 1718, p. 38. Cp. Enders, 
" Briefwechsel," 3, p. 122, n. 5 ; " Tischreden," " Werke," Erl. ed., 
62, p. 75. 

4 Janssen-Pastor, 2 18 , p. 174, Engl. Trans., 3, 189. 


On the following day Luther preached in the Church of the 
Augustinians. He spoke of good works : " One erects 
churches, another makes a pilgrimage to St. James of 
Compostella or to St. Peter s, a third fasts and prays, w r ears 
a cowl or goes barefoot . . . such works are of no avail and 
must be done aw r ay with. Mark these words : All our works 
are worthless. I am your justification, says Christ our Lord, 
I have destroyed the sins with which you are loaded ; there 
fore believe only that it is I alone who have done this and 
you will be justified." Luther fired invectives against the 
intolerable yoke of the Papacy and against the clergy who 
" slaughtered the sheep instead of leading them to pasture." 
Himself he represents as persecuted by the would-be 
righteous, the Pope and his Bull, on account of his teaching 
which was directed against the false self-righteousness 
arising from works. 1 

On the occasion of this sermon Luther, as his followers 
asserted, performed his first miracle, quelling a disturbance 
excited by the devil during the sermon in the overcrowded 
church ; the interruption ceased when Luther had exorcised 
the fiend. 2 

At Erfurt the enthusiasm for his cause became so great 
that on the day after his departure riots broke out, the so- 
called " Pfaffensturm " or priest-riot, which will be con 
sidered below (xiv. 5), together with other circumstances 
attending the introduction of the new Evangel at Erfurt. 
Luther was at the time silent concerning the occurrence. 3 
Not long after his arrival at the Wartburg, referring to 
similar scenes of violence, he says, in a letter to Melanchthon : 
" The priests and monks raged against me like madmen 
when I was free ; but now that I am a captive they are 
afraid and have restrained their insane action. They cannot 
endure the common people who now have them under their 
heel. Behold the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, Who is 
working for us while we are silent, suffer and pray." 4 Never 
theless, when all was over, he protested against the acts of 
violence committed at Erfurt in a letter to Spalatin, which 
was found in that courtier s library. 5 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 249 ff. 

Janssen-Pastor, 2 18 , p. 175, Engl. Trans., 3, 190. 

Ibid., Enders, p. 156, n. 4. 

Previous to May 12, 1521, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 147. 

About the middle of May, 1521, ibid., p. 158. 


On the journey through Thuringia he met the Prior of the 
Rheinhardsbrunn monastery, whom he exhorted as follows : 
" Say an Our Father for our Lord Christ that His Father 
may be gracious to Him. If He upholds His cause, then 
mine also is assured." 1 Such was the strange manner in 
which he expressed his real inward feelings. Those who 
expected him to recant at Worms did not know their 

Reaching Worms on April 16 he was, on the following day, 
submitted to the first interrogation. To the question 
whether he was the author of the books mentioned, he 
replied in the affirmative, and when exhorted to retract his 
errors he begged for " a respite and time for consideration " 
that, as he says in his own notes at the time, " as I have to 
give a verbal answer I may not through want of caution 
say too much, or too little, to repent of it later," especially 
as it was a matter concerning " the highest good in heaven 
or on earth, the Holy Word of God and the faith." The 
respite granted was only for one day. On April IS he 
declared boldly, at his second interrogation, that any 
retractation of the books he had written against the Pope 
was impossible for him, since he would thereby be strength 
ening his tyranny and unchristian spirit ; the consciences of 
Christians were held captive in the most deplorable fashion 
by the Papal laws and the doctrines of men ; even the 
property of the German nation was swallowed up by the 
rapacity of the Romans. He would repeat what Christ had 
said before the High Priest and his servants : " If I have 
spoken evil, give testimony of the evil " ; if the Lord was 
willing to listen to the testimony of a servant, " how much 
more must I, the lowest erring creature, wait and see whether 
any man brings forward testimony adverse to my teaching." 
He asks, therefore, to be convinced of error and confuted by 
the Bible. " I shall be most ready if I am shown to be wrong 
to retract every error." He owed it to Germany, his native 
land, to warn those in high station to beware of condemning 
the truth. After recommending himself to the protection of 
the Emperor against his enemies, he concluded with the 
words : " I have spoken." 

On returning after this to the inn through the staring 
crowds, no sooner had he reached the threshold than " he 
1 " Ratzebergers Geschichte," ed. Neudecker, p. 30. 


stretched out his arms and cried with a cheerful counte 
nance : I have got through, I have got through. J>1 

The Emperor bade him begone from that very hour, but 
the Estates, who were divided in their views as to the 
measures to be taken, feared a " revolt in the Holy Empire," 
owing to the strength of the feeling in his favour and the 
threats uttered by his armed friends, should " steps be 
taken against him so hurriedly and without due trial." 
Accordingly an effort was made to persuade Luther by 
friendly means, through the intermediary of a commission 
consisting of certain clerical and lay members of the Diet 
under the Archbishop of Treves, Richard of Greiffenklau. 
Their pains were, however, in vain. 2 

Even some of his friends besought him to commit his 
cause to the Emperor and the Estates of the Empire, but 
likewise to no purpose. He also refused the proposal that 
lie should submit to the joint decision of the Emperor and 
certain German prelates to be nominated by the Pope. All 
he would promise was to hearken to a General Council, but 
even this promise he qualified with a proviso which rendered 
his assent illusory : " So long as no judgment contrary or 
detrimental to the truth is pronounced." Who but Luther 
himself was to decide what was the truth ? Cochlseus made 
an offer, which under the circumstances was foredoomed to 
refusal, that a public disputation should be held with the 
Wittenberg monk ; to this Luther would not listen. Neither 
would he give an undertaking to refrain from preaching and 

His final declaration at the Diet was as follows : Seeing 
that a simple and straightforward answer was demanded 
of him. he would give it : " If I am not convinced by 
proofs from Scripture or clear theological reasons ( ratione 
evidente ), then I remain convinced by the passages which I 
have quoted from Scripture, and my conscience is held 
captive by the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract, 

1 Janssen-Pastor, 2, p. 177, n. 3. According to the evidence of an 
eye-witness, Sixtus CElhafen. 

2 The report of the whole proceedings at Worms relating to Luther 
has been collected in volume ii. of the German " Reichstagsakten," 
new series, 1896, ed. A. Wrede ; see particularly Sections VII. (Negotia 
tions with Luther, etc.) and XI. (Correspondence, with Aleander s re 
ports). Cp. H. v. Schubert, " Quellen und Forschungen iiber Luther 
auf dem Reichstage zu Worms," 1899. 


for to go against one s conscience is neither prudent nor 
ritrht." He concluded this asseveration, after a protest had 
been raised and caused a tumult amongst the audience, 
with the words which passed almost unheard : " God help 
me, Amen ! " The tragic and solemn setting which was very 
soon given to these not at all unusual concluding words, was 
an uncalled-for embellishment not in agreement with the 
oldest sources. 1 

After this, on April 2G, in accordance with the command of 
the Emperor, he was obliged to quit Worms. An extension 
of the safe conduct for twenty-one days was expressly 
granted him, coupled, however, with the injunction not to 
preach or publish anything on the way. Two days later, 
while on his journey, Luther forwarded a missive to the 
Emperor and another to the Estates in his own defence, 
the latter being immediately printed by his friends as a 
broadsheet. The print depicted Luther with a halo, and 
the dove or symbol of the Holy Ghost hovering over him. 

The fact that at the time the Diet was sitting a committee 
of the Estates brought forward, under a new form, the so- 
called " Gravamina of the German Nation " against the 
Roman See, was greatly to the advantage of Luther s cause. 
They consisted largely of legitimate suggestions for the 
amelioration of ecclesiastical conditions and the removal 
of the oppression exercised by the Curia. These were made 
the subject of debate, and were exploited in Luther s interests 
by those desirous of innovations. Those among the Human 
ists who sided with him, and likewise the Knights of the 
Empire, had taken various steps during his stay at Worms 
to strengthen his position and to frighten the Estates by 
hinting at violent action to be undertaken on his behalf. 

Ulrich von Hutten wrote to him from the Ebernburg on 
April 17 : " Keep a good heart ... I will stand by you to the 
last breath if you remain true to yourself." He knows how those 
assembled at the Diet gnash their teeth at him ; his fancy indeed 
paints things black, but his hope in God sustains him. 2 In a 
second letter of April 20, Hutten speaks to him of trusting not 
only in God and His Christ, but also in earthly weapons : "I 

1 See below, p. 75 f. 

2 In Luther s " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 124. The translation of " Equi- 
clem atrocissima omnia concipio," by " I will dare even the worst," is 
wrong, and the above, " My fancy paints things black," i.e. Luther s 
treatment at the Diet, is better. Cp. S. Merkle, " Reformations- 
geschichtl. Streitfragen," 1904, p. 56 ff. 


see that sword and bow, arrows and bolts are necessary in order 
to withstand the mad rage of the devil . . . the wisdom of my 
friends hinders me from a venture, because they fear lest I go too 
far, otherwise I should already have prepared some kind of 
surprise for these gentlemen under the walls [of Worms]. In a 
short time, however, my hand will be free, and then you shall 
see that I will not be wanting in the spirit which God has roused 
up in me." 1 In the same way as in his rhetorical language he 
ascribes his own mood to the illumination of the Spirit of God, so 
Hutten also sought to unearth a Divine inspiration in his friend 
Franz von Sickingen ; all this was the outcome of Luther s 
pseudo-mysticism, to which his friends were indebted for such 
figures of speech. Regarding Sickingen, Hutten wrote to Willibald 
Pirkheimer : "He has, so to speak, drunk in Luther completely ; 
he has his little books read aloud at table, and I have heard him 
swear that he will never forsake the cause of truth in spite of 
every danger." " You may well regard these words as a Divine 
Voice, so great is his constancy." 2 

Numerous threats of violence reached the ears of the timorous 
Estates assembled at Worms. A notice was affixed to the 
Rathaus in which 400 (?) sworn noblemen with 8000 (?) men 
challenged the " Princes and Messrs, the Romanists." It con 
cluded with the watchword of the insurgents : " Bundschuh, 
Bundschuh, Bundschuh." Towards the close of the Diet several 
hundred knights assembled around Worms. 3 

At the Diet the Elector of Saxony made no secret of his 
patronage of Luther. 

He it was who, on the evening before Luther s departure, 
informed him in the presence of Spalatin and others, that 
he would be seized on the homeward journey and con 
ducted to a place of safety which would not be told him 
beforehand. 4 

1 " Luthers Brief wechsel," 3, p. 126. 

2 On May 1, 1521, Janssen- Pastor, p. 184, from Booking s edition 
of Hutten s works, 2, p. 59 ff. 

3 Janssen-Pastor, pp. 178, 184 f. The placard was known before, 
but a new rendering is found in the Mayence " Katholik," 1902, 
vol. Ixxxii., p. 96, from a letter-Codex of the sixteenth century belong 
ing to the Hamburg city library, No. 469. We give J. Beyl s transla 
tion : " This protest against Luther s condemnation is nailed to the 
Mint [at Worms]. Whereas we, to the number of IIC simple-minded 
sworn noblemen have agreed and pledged ourselves not to forsake that 
just man Luther, we hereby advise the Princes, gentlemen, Romanists, 
and, above all, the Bishop of Mayence, of our inveterate enmity, because 
honour and righteous justice have been oppressed by them ; we do not 
mention other names [of those threatened] or describe the deeds of 
violence against the parsons and their supporters. Bundschuh." The 
numbers given vary, and IIC is perhaps a mistake of the copyist of the 
illegible placard. See " Freie Bayer. Schulzeitung," 1911, No. 6 ; but 
cp. also, Kalkoff, " Reformationsgesch.," 1911, p. 361 ff. 

* Spalatin s "Annales," p. 50. 


After having received this assurance Luther left Worms. 

On the journey such was his boldness that he disregarded 
the Imperial prohibition to preach, though he feared that 
this violation of the conditions laid down would be taken 
advantage of by his opponents, and cause him to forfeit his 
safe-conduct. He himself says of the sermons which he 
delivered at Hersfeld and Eisenach, on May 1 and 2, that 
they would be regarded as a breach of the obligations he had 
undertaken when availing himself of the safe conduct ; but 
that he had been unable to consent that the Word of God 
should be bound in chains. He is here playing on the words 
of the Bible : " Verbum Dei non est alligatum" " This 
condition, even had I undertaken it, would not have been 
binding, as it would have been against God." 1 

After the journey had been resumed the well-known 
surprise took place, and Luther was carried off to the 
Wartburg on May 4. 

In his lonely abode, known to only a few of his friends, 
he awaited with concern the sentence of outlawry which 
was to be passed upon him by the Emperor and the Estates. 
The edict, in its final form of May 8, was not published 
until after the safe-conduct had expired. " To-morrow the 
Imperial safe conduct terminates," Luther wrote on May 11 
from the Wartburg to Spalatin ; "... It grieves me that 
those deluded men should call down such a misfortune upon 
their own heads. How great a hatred will this inconsiderate 
act of violence arouse. But only wait, the time of their 
visitation is at hand." 2 The proclamation of outlawry was 
couched in very stern language and enacted measures of the 
utmost severity, following in this the traditions of the Middle 
Ages ; Luther s writings were to be burnt, and he himself 
was adjudged worthy of death. Of Luther the document 
says, that, " like the enemy of souls disguised in a monk s 
garb," he had gathered together " heresies old and new." 
The impression made by Luther on the Emperor and on 
other eminent members of the Diet, was that of one pos 
sessed. 3 

There was, from the first, no prospect of the sentence 

1 To Spalatin, May 14, 1521, from the Wartburg, " Brief wechsel," 
3, p. 154. 2 Ibid., p. 153. 

3 Thus Aleander, in the passage quoted below. Janssen-Pastor, 
p. 184. 


being carried into effect. The hesitation of the German 
Princes of the Church to publish even the Bull of Excom 
munication had shown that they were not to be trusted to 
put the new measures into execution. 

The thoughts of retaliation which were aflame in Luther, 
i.e. his expectation of a " Divine judgment " on his adver 
saries, he committed to writing in a letter which he for 
warded to Franz von Sickingen on June 1, 1521, together 
with a little w r ork dedicated to him, " Concerning Confession, 
whether the Pope has the power to decree it." 1 In it he 
reminds Sickingen that God had slain thirty-one Kings in 
the land of Chanaan together with the inhabitants of their 
cities. " It w T as ordained by God that they should light 
against Israel bravely and defiantly, that they should be 
destroyed and no mercy shown them. This story looks to 
me like a warning to our Popes, bishops, men of learning 
and other spiritual tyrants." He feared that it was God s 
work that they should feel themselves secure in their pride, 
" so that, in the end, they would needs perish without 
mercy." Unless they altered their ways one would be 
found who " would teach them, not like Luther by word and 
letter, but by deeds." We cannot here go into the question 
of why the revolutionary party in the Empire did not at 
that time proceed to " deeds." 

3. Legends 

The beginning of the legends concerning the Diet of Worms 
can be traced back to Luther himself. He declared, only a 
year after the event, shortly after his departure from the 
Wartburg, in a letter of July 15, 1522, intended for a few 
friends and not for German readers : "I repaired to Worms 
although I had already been apprised of the violation of 
the safe-conduct by the Emperor Charles." 

He there says of himself, that, in spite of his timidity, ho 
nevertheless ventured " within reach of the jaws of Behemoth 
[the monster mentioned in Job xl.]. And what did these terrible 
giants [my adversaries] do ? During the last three years not one 
has been found brave enough to come forward against me here at 
Wittenberg, though assured of a safe-conduct and protection " ; 
" rude and timorous at one and the same time " they would not 
venture " to confront him, though single-handed," or to dispute 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 75 (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 168). 


with him. What would have happened had these weaklings been 
forced to face the Emperor and all-powerful foes as he had done 
at Worms ? This ho says to the Bohemian, Sebastian Schlick, 
Count of Passun, in the letter in which he dedicates to him his 
Latin work "Against Henry VIII of England." 1 It is worth 
noting that Luther did not insert this dedication in the German 
edition, but only in the Latin one intended for Bohemia and 
foreign countries where the circumstances were not so well 

Luther always adhered obstinately to the idea, which 
ultimately passed into a standing tradition with many of 
his followers, that no one had been willing to dispute with 
him at Worms or elsewhere during the period of his out 
lawry ; that he had, in fact, been condemned unheard ; 
that his opponents had sought to vanquish him by force, 
not by confronting him with proofs, and had obstinately 
shut their ears to his arguments from Holy Scripture. He 
finally came to persuade himself, that they were in their 
hearts convinced that he was right, but out of consideration 
for their temporal interests had not been willing or able to 
give in. 

He expressly mentions Duke George of Saxony, as an opponent 
who had taken up the latter position, also the influential Arch 
bishop Albrecht of Mayence, and, above all, Johann Eck. " Is 
it not obdurate wickedness," he exclaims in one of his outbursts, 
" to be the enemy of, and withstand, what is known and recog 
nised as true ? It is a sin against the first Commandment and 
greater than any other. But because it is not their invention 
they look on it as nought ! Yet their own conscience accuses 
them." 2 In another passage, in 1528, he complains of the perse 
cutors in Church and State who appealed to the edict of Worms ; 
" they sought for an excuse to deceive the simple people, though 
they really knew better " ; if they act .thus, it must be right, 
" were wo to do the same, it would be wrong." 3 

Yet, even from the vainglorious so-called "Minutes of the Worms 
Negotiations " (" Akten der Wormser Verhandlungen "), pub 
lished immediately after at Wittenberg with Luther s assistance, 4 
it is clear that the case was fully argued in his presence at Worms, 
and that he had every opportunity of defending himself, though, 
from a legal point of view, the Bull of Excommunication having 
already been promulgated, the question was no longer open to 
theological discussion. In these " Minutes " the speeches he 
made in his defence at Worms are quoted. Catholic contem- 

1 "Werke," Weim. cd., 10, 2, p. 17511; " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, 
p. 385 (" Brief vvochsel," 3, p. 433). 

2 Ibid., Erl. od., 58, p. 412 f. ("Table-Talk"). 

3 Ibid., G3, p. 270. 4 Ibid., Weim. ed., 7, p. 825 ff. 


poraries even reproached him with having allowed himself to be 
styled therein " Luther, the man of Cod " ; his orations are 
introduced with such phrases as : " Martin replied to the rude 
and indiscreet questions with his usual incredible kindness and 
friendliness in the following benevolent words," etc. 1 

In order still further to magnify the bravery he displayed at 
Worms, Luther stated later on that the Pope had written to 
Worms, " that no account was to be made of the safe-conduct." 2 
As a matter of fact, however, the Papal Nuncios at Worms had 
received instructions to use every effort to prevent Luther being 
tried in public, because according to Canon Law the case was 
already settled ; if he refused to retract, and came provided 
with a safe-conduct, nothing remained but to send him home, 
and then proceed against him with the utmost severity. 3 It was 
for this reason, according to his despatches, that Aleander took 
no part in the public sessions at which Luther was present. Only 
after Luther, on the return journey, had sent back the herald 
who accompanied him, and had openly infringed the conditions 
of the Imperial safe-conduct, did Aleander propose " that the 
Emperor should have Luther seized." 1 

Luther, from the very commencement, stigmatised the Diet 
of Worms as the " Sin of Wormbs, which rejected God s truth 
so childishly and openly, wilfully and knowingly condemned it 
unheard " ; 5 to him the members of the Diet were culpably 
hardened and obdurate " Pharaohs," who thought Christ could 
not see them, who, out of " utterly sinful wilfulness," were 
determined " to hate and blaspheme Christ at Wormbs," and to 
" kill the prophets, till God forsook them " ; ho even says : " In 
me they condemned innocent blood at Wormbs ; . . . O thou 
unhappy nation, who beyond all others has become the lictor 
and executioner of End-Christ against God s saints and prophets." 6 
An esteemed Protestant biographer of Luther is, however, at 
pains to point out, quite rightly, that the Diet could " not do 
otherwise than condemn Luther." " By rejecting the sentence 
of the highest court he placed himself outside the pale of the 
law of the land. Even his very friends were unable to take 
exception to this." It is, ho says, " incorrect to make out, as so 
many do, that Luther s opponents were merely impious men 
who obstinately withstood the revealed truth." This author 
confines himself to remarking that, in his own view, it was a 
mistake to have " pronounced a formal sentence " upon such 
questions. 7 

1 Cp. Thomas Morus, " Ecsponsio ad convitia Lutheri" (" Opp." 
Lovanii, 1566), p. 60. 2 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 474 f. 

3 " Reichstagsakten," 2, p. 825, n. 1. Balan, " Monurnenta reform. 
Luth." (1883 scq.), p. 85. J. Paquier, "Jerome Al^andre," Paris, 1900, 
p. 243. * Paquier, p. 242. 

5 Letter to Hartmuth von Cronberg, a friend of Sickingen (middle 
of March, 1522). " Werke," Erl. cd., 53, p. 125. (" Bricfwecbsel," 3, 
p. 308). Ibid., p. 120 f. 

7 Kolde, " Luther," 1, p. 349. 


That Luther, at the Diet of Worms, bore away the palm 
as the heroic defender of entire freedom of research and of 
conscience, and as the champion of the modern spirit, is 
a view not in accordance with a fair historical consideration 
of the facts. 

He himself was then, and all through life, far removed 
from the idea of any freedom of conscience in the modern 
sense, and would have deemed all who dared to use it 
against Divine Revelation, as later opponents of religion 
did, as deserving of the worst penalties of the mediaeval 
code. " It is an altogether one-sided view, one, indeed, 
which wilfully disregards the facts, to hail in Luther the man 
of the new age, the hero of enlightenment and the creator of 
the modern spirit." Such is the opinion of Adolf Ilarnack. 1 

At Worms, Luther spoke of himself as being bound by the 
Word of God. It is true he claimed the freedom of inter 
preting Holy Scripture according to his own mind, or, as he 
said, according to the understanding bestowed on him by 
God, and of amending all such dogmas as displeased him. 

But he would on no account cease to acknowledge that a 
revealed Word of God exists and claims submission from the 
human mind, whereas, from the standpoint of the modern 
freethinker, there is no such thing as revelation. The 
liberty of interpreting revelation, which Luther proclaimed 
at Worms, or, to be more exact, calmly assumed, marked, 
it is true, a great stride forward in the road to the destruction 
of the Church. 

Luther failed to point out at Worms how such liberty, or 
rather licence, agreed with the institutions established by 
Christ for the preservation and perpetual preaching of His 
doctrine of salvation. He was confronted by a Church, still 
recognised throughout the whole public life of the nations, 
which claimed as her ow r n a Divine authority and com 
mission to interpret the written Word of God. She was to the 
Faithful the lighthouse by which souls struggling in the 
waves of conflicting opinions might safely steer their course. 
In submitting his own personal opinion to the solemn 
judgment of an institution w^hich had stood the test of time 
since the days of Christ and the Apostles, the Wittenberg 
Professor had no reason to fear any affront to his dignity. 
Whoever submitted to the Church accepted her authority as 
1 " Lehrbuch der Dogmengesch," 3 4 , 1910, p. 810 f. 


supreme, but he did not thereby forfeit either his freedom 
or his dignity ; he obeyed in order not to expose himself to 
doubt or error ; he pledged himself to a higher, and better, 
wisdom than he was able to reach by his own strength, by 
the way of experience, error and uncertainty. The Church 
plainly intimated to the heresiarch the error of his way, 
pointing out that the freedom of interpretation which he 
arrogated to himself was the destruction of all sure doctrine, 
the death-blow to the truth handed down, the tearing 
asunder of religious union, and the harbinger of endless 
dissensions. We here see where Luther s path diverged 
from that followed by Catholics. He set up subjectivity as 
a principle, and preached, together with the freedom of 
interpreting Scripture, the most unfettered revolt against 
all ecclesiastical authority, which alone can guarantee the 
truth. The chasm which he cleft still yawns ; hence the 
difference of opinion concerning the sentence pronounced 
at Worms. We are not at liberty to conceal this fact from 
ourselves, nor can we wonder at the conflicting judgments 
passed on the position then assumed by Luther. 

We may perhaps be permitted to quote a Protestant opinion 
which throws some light on Luther s " championship of entire 
freedom of conscience." It is that of an experienced observer of 
the struggles of those days, Friedrich Paulsen : " The principle 
of 1521, viz. to allow no authority on earth to dictate the terms 
of faith, is anarchical ; with it no Church can exist. . . . The 
starting-point and the justification of the whole Reformation 
consisted in the complete rejection of all human authority in 
matters of faith. ... If, however, a Church is to exist, then 
the individual must subordinate himself and his belief to the 
body as a whole. To do this is his duty, for religion can only 
exist in a body, i.e. in a Church." 1 . . . "Revolution is the 
term by which the Reformation should be described . . . Luther s 
work was no Reformation, no re-forming of the existing 
Church by means of her own institutions, but the destruction of 
the old shape, in fact, the fundamental negation of any Church 
at all. He refused to admit any earthly authority in matters 
of faith, and regarding morals his position was practically the 
same ; he left the matter entirely to the individual conscience. 
. . . Never has the possibility of the existence of any ecclesiastical 
authority whatsoever been more rudely denied." 2 

"It is true that this is not the whole Luther," he continues. 
" The same Luther who here advocates ecclesiastical anarchy 

1 " Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts vom Ausgang des MA. bis zur 
Gegenwart," I 2 , 1890, p. 213 f. 2 Ibid., p. 173. 


at a later date was to oppose those whose conscience placed 
another interpretation on God s Word than that discovered in it 
by the inhabitants of Wittenberg." Paulsen quotes certain 
sentences in which Luther, shortly afterwards, denounced all 
deviations from his teaching : "My cause is God s cause," and 
" my judgment is God s judgment," and proceeds : " Nothing 
was left for the Reformers, if there was to be a Church at all, but 
to set up their own authority in place of the authority of the 
Popes and the Councils. Only on one tiresome point are they 
at a disadvantage, anyone being free to appeal from the later 
Luther to the Luther of Worms." " Just as people are inclined 
to reject external authority, so they are ready to set up their 
own. This- is one of the roots from which spring the desire for 
freedom and the thirst for power. It was not at all Luther s way 
to consider the convictions of others as of equal importance with 
his own." This he clearly demonstrated in the autocratic position 
which he claimed for the Wittenberg theology as soon as the 
" revolutionary era of the Reformation had passed." 

" The argument which Luther had employed in 1521 against 
the Papists, i.e. that it was impossible to confute him from 
Scripture, he found used against himself in his struggle with the 
fanatics who also urged that no one could prove them wrong 
by Scripture. . . . For the confuting of heretics a Rule of faith 
is necessary, a living one which can decide questions as they 
arise. . . . One who pins his faith to what Luther did in 1521 
might well say : If heretics cannot be confuted from Scripture, 
this would seem to prove that God does not attach much import 
ance to the confutation of heretics ; otherwise He would have 
given us His Revelation in catechisms and duly balanced proposi 
tions instead of in Gospels and Epistles, in Prophets and Psalms. 
. . . On the one hand there can be no authority on earth in 
matters of faith, and on the other there must be such an authority, 
such is the antinomy which lies at the foundation of the Protestant 
Church. ... A contradiction exists in the very essence of 
Protestantism. On the one hand the very idea of a Church 
postulates oneness of faith manifested by submission ; on the 
other the conviction that if faith in the Protestant sense is to 
exist at all, then each person must answer for himself ; ... it 
is my faith alone which helps me, and if my faith does not agree 
with the faith and doctrine of others, I cannot for that reason 
abandon it. . . . The fact is, there has never been a revolution 
conducted on entirely logical lines." 1 

That " authority in matters of faith " which Luther began to 
claim for himself, did not prevent him in the ensuing years 
from insisting on the right of private judgment, though all the 
while he was interpreting biblical Revelation in accordance 
with his own views. As time went on he became, however, much 
more severe towards the heretics who diverged from his own 
standpoint. But this was only when the " revolutionary era of 

1 " Gesch. des gelehrtcn Uiiterrichts vom Ausgang des MA. bis zur 
Gegemvart," I 2 , 1896, p. 212 f. 


the Reformation," as Paulson calls it, was over and gone. So 
long as it lasted he would not and could not openly refuse to 
others what he claimed for himself. Even in 1525 we find him 
declaring that " the authorities must not interfere with what 
each one wishes to teach and to believe, whether it be the Gospel 
or a lie." He is here speaking of the authorities, but his own 
conduct in the matter of tolerating heretics was even then highly 
inconsistent, to say nothing of toleration of Catholics. 

From the above it is easy to see that the freedom which 
Luther advocated at Worms cannot serve as the type of our 
modern freedom of thought, research and conscience. 

To return to the historical consideration of the event at 
Worms, the words already mentioned, " God help me, 
Amen ! " call for remark. 

The celebrated exclamation put into Luther s mouth : 
" Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, 
Amen ! " usually quoted as the briefest and most character 
istic expression of his " exalted, knightly act " at Worms, 
is a legend which has not even the credit of being incor 
porated in Luther s Latin account of his speech. 

He himself gives the conclusion as simply : " God help me, 
Amen," a formula which has nothing emphatic about it, was 
customary at the end of a discourse and is to be found elsewhere 
in Luther s own writings. Its embellishment by the historic 
addition was produced at Wittenberg, where it was found desirable 
to render " the words rather more forcible and high-sounding." 
" There is not the faintest proof that the amplification came 
from anyone who actually heard the words." 1 The most that 
can be said is that it may have grown up elsewhere. 2 The en 
larged form is first found in the two editions of the discourse 
printed by Griineberg at Wittenberg in 1521, one in Latin and 
the other in German, which are based as to the remaining portion 
on notes on the subject emanating from Luther. Karl Miiller, 
the last thoroughly to examine the question, opines that Luther s 
concluding phrase may very easily have been amplified without 
the co-operation of Luther or of any actual witness. The pro 
posal made in 1897 in Volume vii. of the Weimar edition of 
Luther s works to accept as reliable Griineberg s edition which 
contains the altered form of the phrase, must, according to Karl 
Miiller, be regarded as "a total failure," nor does he think much 

1 Thus A. Wrede, who, in his edition of the " Deutsche Reich- 
stagsakten unter Karl V," 2, p. 555, has dealt anew with the question. 
Cp. N. Paulus, "Kolnische Volksztg.," 1903, No. 320. 

2 Thus Karl Miiller, who treats the subject exhaustively in " Luthers 
Schlussworte in Worms, 1521," in " Philotcsia," dedicated to P. 
Kleinert, Berlin, 1907, pp. 269, 289. Cp. the review by N. Paulus, 
" Kolnische Volksztg.," 1908, No. 1000. 


better of the Weimar edition in its account of the Worms Acts 

How little the exclamation can pretend to any special import 
ance is clear from a note of Conrad Peutinger s, who was present 
during the address and committed his impression to writing the 
following day. When Luther had finished his explanation, so it 
runs, the " official " again exhorted him to retract, seeing he had 
already been condemned by higher councils. Thereupon Luther 
retorted that the Councils " had also erred and over and over 
again contradicted themselves and come into opposition with 
the Divine Law. This the official denied. Luther insisted that 
it was so and offered to prove it. This brought the discussion 
suddenly to an end, and there was a great outcry as Luther left 
the place. In the midst of it he recommended himself submissively 
to His Imperial Mt. [Majesty]. Before concluding he uttered 
the words : May God come to my help." According to this 
account the words were interjected as Luther was about to leave 
the assembly, in the midst of the tumult and " great outcry " 
which followed his recommending himself to the Imperial pro 

In view of the circumstances just described, P. Kalkoff, years 
ago, admitted that Luther s words as quoted above had " no 
claim to credibility," 1 while, quite recently, H. Bohmer declared 
that " it would be well not to quote any more these most cele 
brated of Luther s words as though they were his. Many will 
be sorry, yet the absence of these words need not affect our 
opinion of Luther s behaviour at Worms." 2 W. Friedensburg is 
also of opinion that " we must, at any rate, give up the emphatic 
conclusion of the speech Hero I stand, etc. as unhistorical ; 
the searching examinations made in connection with the Reich- 
stagsakten have rendered it certain that Luther s conclusion 
was simply : God help me, Amen. " Of this Karl Miiller 
adduced conclusive proofs. 3 

The immense success of the legend of the manly, decisive, 
closing words so solemnly uttered in the assembly is quite ex 
plicable when we come to consider the circumstances. The Diet, 
an event which stands out in such strong relief in Luther s 
history, where his friends seemed to see his star rising on the 
horizon only to set again suddenly behind the mountain fortress, 
was itself of a nature to invite them to embellish it with fiction. - 

Apart from the legends in circulation among Luther s 
friends, there were others which went the rounds among his 
opponents and later polemics. Such is the statement to the 
effect that Luther played the coward at Worms, and that his 
assumed boldness and audacity was merely due to the 

1 "Die Depeschen des Nuntius Aleander vom Wormser Reich 
stag/ 1897, p. 174, n. 2. 

" ( Luther im Lichte der neueren Forschung 2 ," p. 25. 

" Schriften des Vereins fur Reformationsgesch.," No. 100, p. 26. 


promises of material assistance, or, as Thomas Miinzer 
asserts, to actual coercion on the part of his own followers. 

According to all we have seen, Luther s chief motive-force was 
his passionate prepossession in favour of his own ideas. It is 
true that, especially previous to the Diet, this was alloyed with 
a certain amount of quite reasonable fear. He himself admits, 
that when summoned to Worms, he " fell into a tremble " till 
he determined to bid defiance to the devils there. 1 On his first 
appearance before the Diet on April 17, he spoke, according to 
those who heard him, " in an almost inaudible voice," and gave 
the impression of being a timid man. 2 Later his enthusiasm and 
his boldness increased with the lively sense of the justice of his 
cause aided by the applause of sympathisers. There can be no 
doubt that he was stimulated to confidence not merely by the 
thought of the thousands who were giving him their moral 
support, but by the offers of material help he had received, and 
by his knowledge that the atmosphere of the Diet was charged 
with electricity. " Counts and Nobles," he himself says later, 
" looked hard at me ; as a result of my sermon, as people in the 
know think, they lodged in court a charge of 400 Articles [the 
Gravamina ] against the clergy. They [the members of the 
Diet] had more cause to fear me than I to fear them, for they 
apprehended a tumult." 3 It was his fiery conviction that he 
had rediscovered the Gospel and torn away the mask of Anti 
christ, combined with his assurance of outward support, that 
inspired him with that " mad courage " of which he was wont 
to talk even to the end of his life : "I was undismayed and 
feared nothing ; God alone is able to make a man mad after this 
fashion; I hardly know whether I should be so cheery now." 4 

The unfavourable accounts, circulated from early days 
among Luther s opponents concerning his mode of life at 
Worms, must not be allowed to pass unchallenged. 

Luther was said to have " distinguished himself by drunken 
ness," and to have indulged in moral " excesses." Incontro 
vertible proof would be necessary to allow of our accepting such 
statements of a time when he was actually under the very eyes 
of the highest authorities, clerical and lay, and a cynosure of 
thousands. We should have to ask ourselves how he came to 
prejudice his judges still further by intemperance and a vicious 
life. The accounts appealed to do not suffice to establish the 
charge, consisting as they do of general statements founded 
partly on the impression made by Luther s appearance, partly 
on reports circulated by his enemies. That the friends of the 

1 Cp. above, p. 02, n. 2, the quotation from the " Table-Talk." 

2 The Frankfort delegate, in Janssen-Pastor, " Hist, of the German 
People," Engl. Trans., 3, p. 191 

3 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 474. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, pp. 409, 771. 


Church were all too ready to believe everything, even the worst, 
of the morals of so defiant and dangerous a heretic, was only to 
be expected. The reports were not treated with sufficient dis 
cernment even in the official papers, but accepted at their face- 
value when they suited the purposes of his foes. Luther seemed 
deficient in the recollection looked for in a religious, though he 
wore the Augustinian habit ; the self-confidence, which he never 
lost an occasion of displaying, had the appearance of presumption 
and excessive self-sufficiency ; it may also be that the manners 
which he had inherited from his low-born Saxon parents excited 
hostile comment among the cultured members of the Diet ; if 
he indulged a little in the good Malvasian wine in which his 
friends pledged him, this would be regarded by strangers as 
betraying his German love of the bottle ; at the same time it is 
true that, when starting for Worms, and likewise during the 
journey, it is reported how, with somewhat unseemly mirth, he 
had not scrupled to indulge in the juice of the grape, perhaps to 
dispel sad thoughts. 

Caspar Contarini, the Venetian ambassador, who was present 
at Worms, wrote to Venice : " Martin has scarcely fulfilled the 
expectations cherished of him here by all. He displays neither a 
blameless life nor any sort of cleverness. He is quite unversed 
in learning and has nothing to distinguish him but his impudence." 1 
Perhaps the remark concerning Luther s want of culture and 
wit, on which alone the Venetian here lays stress, was an out 
come of Luther s behaviour at his first interrogation ; we have 
already seen how another witness alludes to the nervousness 
then manifested by him, but over which he ultimately triumphed. 2 

The second authority appealed to, viz. the Nuncio, Hieronymus 
Aleander, writes more strongly against Luther than does Con 
tarini. It is not however certain that he was an " eye-witness," 
as he has been termed, at least it is doubtful whether he ever 
saw Luther while he was in the town, though he describes his 
appearance, his demeanour and look, as though from personal 
observation. 3 Aleander speaks much from hearsay, collects 
impressions and tittle-tattle at haphazard, and enters into no 
detail, save that he sets on record the " many bowls of Malvasian " 
which Luther, " being very fond of that wine," drank before his 
departure from Worms. It is he who wrote to Rome that the 
Emperor, so soon as he had seen Luther, exclaimed : " This man 
will never make a heretic of me." Aleander merely adds, that 

1 In the Diary of Marino Sanuto, " R. deputaz. Veneta di Storia 
Patria," t. 30, Venezia, 1891, 212. At the end of the passage Denifle 
(in "Luther," I 2 , p. 589, n. 1) proposed that " impudentiam " should 
be read in place of " imprudentiam " (i.e. " impudenza " in place of 
" imprudenza "), as the want of " prudence " had already been blamed. 
When Contarini speaks of Luther as " assai incontinente," the " in 
continence " is that of temper. 

2 Janssen-Pastor, " Hist, of the German People," Engl. Trans., 

3 Cp. Kalkoff, " Depeschen," 2 p. 169, n. 1 ; p. 172, n. 1. 


almost everybody looked on Luther as a stupid, possessed fool ; 
and that it was unnecessary to speak of " the drunkenness to which 
he was so much addicted, and the many other instances of coarse 
ness in his looks, words, acts, demeanour and gait." By his 
behaviour he had forfeited all the respect the world had had for 
him. He describes him as dissolute and a demoniac (" dissolute, 
demoniaco "). 1 Yet Count Hoyer of Mansfeld, who will be 
referred to more particularly below, and who blames Luther s 
moral conduct after his stay at the Wartburg, alleging it as his 
reason for forsaking his cause, admits that, while at Worms, he, 
the Count, had been quite Lutheran ; hence nothing to the 
prejudice of Luther s morals can have reached his ears there. 
In the absence of any further information we may safely assume 
that it was merely Luther s general behaviour which was rather 
severely criticised at the great assembly of notables. 

A capital opportunity for a closer study of Luther s mind 
is afforded by his life and doings in the Wartburg. 

4. Luther s sojourn at the Wartburg 

The solitude of the Wartburg afforded Luther a refuge 
for almost ten months, to him a lengthy period. 

Whereas but a little while before he had been inspirited 
by the loud applause of his followers and roused by the 
opposition of those in high places to a struggle which made 
him utterly oblivious of self, here, in the quiet of the 
mountain stronghold, the thoughts born of his solitude 
assailed him in every conceivable form. He was altogether 
thrown upon himself and his studies. The croaking of the 
ravens and magpies about the towers in front of his windows 
sounded like the voices which spoke in the depths of his 

Looking back upon his conduct at Worms, he now began 
to doubt ; how, indeed, could an outlaw do otherwise, even 
had he not undertaken so subversive a venture as Luther ? 
To this was added, in his case, the responsibility for the storm 
he had let loose on his beloved native land. His own con 
fession runs : " How often did my heart faint for fear, and 
reproach me thus : You wanted to be wise beyond all 
others. Are then all others in their countless multitude 
mistaken ? Have so many centuries all been in the wrong ? 
Supposing you were mistaken, and, owing to your mistake, 

1 Passages in Brieger, " Aleander und Luther," 1884, p. 170. Cp. 
Kalkoff, " Depeschen," p. 170. Balan, " Monumenta reform. Luther- 
anse," pp. 109, 05. 


were to drag down with you to eternal damnation so many 
human creatures I" 1 

He must often have asked himself such questions, 
especially at the beginning of the " hermit life," as he calls 
it, which he led within those walls. But to these question 
ings he of set purpose refused to give the right answer ; he 
had set out on the downward path and could not go back ; 
of this he came to convince himself as the result of a lengthy 

This is the point which it is incumbent on the psychologist 
to study beyond all else. Luther s everyday life and his 
studies at Worms have been discussed often enough already. 

It is unheard of, so he says in the accounts he gives of his 
interior struggles in those days, " to run counter to the custom 
of so many centuries and to oppose the convictions of innumer 
able men and such great authorities. How can anyone turn a 
deaf ear to these reproaches, insults and condemnations ? " 
" How hard is it," he exclaims from his own experience, " to 
come to terms with one s own conscience when it has long been 
accustomed to a certain usage [like that of the Papists], which is 
nevertheless wrong and godless. Even with the plainest words 
from Holy Scripture I was scarcely able so to fortify my con 
science as to venture to challenge the Pope, and to look on him 
as Antichrist, on the bishops as the Apostles of Antichrist and 
the Universities as his dens of iniquity ! " He summoned all his 
spirit of defiance to his aid and came off victorious. " Christ at 
length strengthened me by His words, which are steadfast and 
true. No longer does my heart tremble and waver, but mocks 
at the Popish objections ; I am in a haven of safety and laugh 
at the storms which rage without." 2 

From the Catholic point of view, what he had done was violently 
to suppress the higher voice which had spoken to him in his 
solitude. Yet this voice was again to make itself heard, and 
with greater force than ever. 

Luther had then succeeded so well in silencing it that he was 
able to write to his friends, as it seems, without the slightest 
scruple, that, as to Worms, he was only ashamed of not having 
spoken more bravely and emphatically before the whole Empire ; 
were he compelled to appear there again, they would hear a very 
different tale of him. " I desire nothing more ardently than to 
bare my breast to the attacks of my adversaries." He spent his 
whole time in picturing to himself " the empire of Antichrist," 
a frightful vision of the wrath of God. 3 With such pictures he 

1 Preface to the tract, " On the abuse of the Mass," indited as a 
letter to the Wittenberg Augustinians, Latin Works, Weim. ed., 8, 
p. 411 seq. " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 116. Cp. " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 243. 

2 In the Latin text, ibid., p. 412 = 116. 

3 To Melanchthon, May 12, 1521, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 148. 


spurs himself on, and encourages Melanchthon, with whose 
assistance he was unable to dispense, to overcome his timidity 
and vacillation. In many of his letters from the Wartburg he 
exhorts his friends to courage and confidence, being anxious to 
counteract by every possible effort the ill-effects of his absence. 
In these letters his language is, as a rule, permeated by a fanatical 
and, at times, mystical tone, even more so than any of his previous 
utterances. He exhibits even less restraint than formerly in 
his polemics. " Unless a man scolds, bites and taunts, he 
achieves nothing. If we admonish the Popes respectfully, they 
take it for flattery and fancy they have a right to remain un- 
reformed. But Jeremias exhorts me, and says to me : Cursed 
be he who does the work of the Lord deceitfully (xlviii. 10), and 
calls for the use of the sword against the enemies of God." 1 

Two phenomena which accompanied this frenzy render it 
still graver in the eyes of an onlooker. These were, on the 
one hand, certain occurrences which bordered on hallucina 
tion, and, on the other, frightful assaults of the tempter. 

Concerning both, his letters of that time, and likewise his 
own accounts at a later date, supply us with definite informa 
tion. It is, indeed, a dark page on which they direct our 
attention. All the circumstances must carefully be borne in 
mind. First, much must be attributed to the influence of 
his new and unaccustomed place of abode and the strange 
nature of his surroundings. His gloomy meditations and 
enforced leisure ; a more generous diet, which, in comparison 
with his former circumstances, meant to the Monk, now 
metamorphosed into " Squire George," an almost luxurious 
mode of living ; finally, bodily discomfort, for instance, the 
constipation to which he frequently refers as troubling him, 2 
all this tended to develop an abnormal condition of soul to 
which his former psychological states of terror may also have 
contributed. He fancied, and all his life maintained, that in 
the Wartburg he had suffered bodily assaults of the devil. 

Luther believed that he had not only heard the devil 
tormenting him by day, and more particularly by night, 
with divers dreadful noises, but that he had seen him in his 
room under the form of a huge black dog, and had chased 
him away by prayer. His statements, to which we shall 
return in detail in another connection (vol. vi., xxxvi. 3 ; 
cp. vol. v., xxxi. 4), arc such as presuppose, at the very 

1 To Spalatin, September 9, 1521, ibid., p. 229. 

2 Cp. letter to Melanchthon of May 12, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3 
p. 149. 

H. G 


least, the strangest illusions. Some have even opined that 
he suffered from real hallucinations of hearing and sight, 
though they have adduced no definite proof of such. The 
disputes with the devil, of which he speaks, are certainly 
nothing more than a rhetorical version of his own sclf- 

If Luther brought with him to the Wartburg a large stock of 
popular superstition, he increased it yet more within those dreary 
walls, thanks to the sensitiveness of his lively imagination, until 
he himself became the plaything of his fancy. " Because he was 
so lonely," writes his friend the physician Ratzeberger, on the 
strength of Luther s personal communication, " he was beset 
with ghosts and noisy spirits which gave him much concern." 
And after quoting the tale of the dog he goes on : " Such- like 
and many other ghosts came to him at that time, all of which he 
drove away by prayer, and which he would not talk about, for 
he said he would never tell anyone by how many different kinds 
of ghosts he had been molested." 1 

The temptations of the flesh which he then experienced 
Luther also attributed, in the main, to the devil. They fell 
upon him with greater force than ever before. Their 
strength displeased him, according to his letters, and he 
sought to resist them, though it is plain from his words that 
he realised the utter futility of his desire to rid himself of 
them. In this state of darkness he directed his thoughts 
more vigorously than heretofore to the question of monastic 
vows and their binding power. He seems to be clanking the 
chains by which he had by his own vow freely pledged 
himself to the Almighty. 

In July, 1521, in a letter from the Wartburg to his friend 
Melanchthon, while repudiating, in the somewhat bombastic 
fashion of the Humanists, Melanchthon s praise, he makes the 
following confession: "Your good opinion of me shames and 
tortures me. For I sit here [instead of working for God s cause 
as you fondly imagine] hardened in immobility, praying, un 
happily, too little instead of sighing over the Church of God ; nay, 
I burn with the flames of my untamed flesh ; in short, I ought to 
be glowing in the spirit, and instead I glow in the flesh, in lust, 
laziness, idleness and drowsiness, and know not whether God 
has not turned away His face from me because you have ceased to 
pray for me. You, who are more rich in the gifts of God than I, 
are now holding my place. For a whole week I have neither 
written, prayed nor studied, plagued partly by temptations of 
the flesh, partly by the other trouble/ The other trouble was 

1 Ratzeberger, " Gesch.," ed. Neudecker, p. 54. 


the painful bodily ailment mentioned above, to which he returns 
here in greater detail. " Pray for me," he concludes this letter 
in which he seeks to confirm his friends in the course upon which 
they had set out, " pray, for in this solitude I am sinking into 
sin." 1 And in another letter, in December, we again have an 
allusion to his besetting temptations : "I am healthy in body 
and am well cared for, but I am also severely tried by sin and 
temptations. Pray for me, and fare you well." 2 He here speaks 
of sins and temptations, but it may well be that under " sins " 
he here, as elsewhere, comprehends concupiscence, which he, in 
accordance with his teaching, looked upon as sin. 

" Believe me," he says in a letter of that time to Nicholas 
Gerbel of Strasburg, " in the quiet of my hermitage I am exposed 
to the attacks of a thousand devils. It is far easier to fight 
against men, who are devils incarnate, than against the spirits 
of wickedness dwelling in high places (Eph. vi. 12). I fall fre 
quently, but the right hand of the Lord again raises me up." 3 

The distaste which was growing up within him for the vow of 
chastity which he had once esteemed so highly, did not appear 
to him to come from the devil, for he congratulates the same 
friend that he has forsaken the " unclean and in its nature 
damnable state of celibacy," in order to enter the " married 
state ordained by God." " I consider the married state a true 
Paradise, even though the married couple should live in the 
greatest indigence." At the same time he privately informs 
Gerbel, that, with the co-operation of Melanchthon, he has 
already started " a powerful conspiracy with the object of 
setting aside the vows of the clergy and religious." He is here 
alluding to the tract he was then writing " On Monastic Vows." 
" The womb is fruitful, and is soon due to bring forth ; if Christ 
wills it will give birth to a child [the tract in question], which 
shall break in pieces with a rod of iron (Apoc. xii. 5) the Papists, 
sophists, religiosists [defenders of religious Orders] and Herodians." 
" O how criminal is Antichrist, seeing that Satan by his means 
has laid waste all the mysteries of Christian piety. ... I daily 
see so much that is dreadful in the wretched celibacy of young 
men and women that nothing sounds more evil in my ears than 
the words nun, monk and priest." 4 

Hence, at the beginning of November, 1521, when he was 
engaged on the momentous work " On Monastic Vows," he 
believed he had found decisive biblical arguments against 
the state of chastity and continence, recommended though 
it had been by Christ and His Apostles. 

Previously the case had been different, when Carlstadt 

1 On July 13, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 189. 

2 To his intimate friend Johann Lang, December 18, 1521, ibid., p. 
256. 3 On November 1, 1521, ibid., p. 240. 

* Ibid., p. 241. 


and others first began to boggle at vows ; Luther was then 
still undecided, seeking for ostensibly theological arguments 
with which to demolish the difficulty. At that time he had 
been troubled by such plain biblical words as those of the 
Psalmist, " Vow yc and pray to the Lord your God " 
(Ps. Ixxv. 12). Even in August, 1521, he had confided his 
scruples to Spalatin from the Wartburg : " What can be 
more perilous than to invite so large a number of unmarried 
persons to enter into matrimony on the strength of a few 
passages of doubtful meaning ? The consequence will only 
be that consciences will be still more troubled than they are 
at present. I, too, would fain see celibacy made optional, 
as the Gospel wills, but I do not yet see my way to proving 
this." 1 We likewise find him criticising rather un 
kindly Melanchthon s reasons, because they took a wrong 
way to a goal after which he was himself ardently striving, 
viz. the setting aside of the vow of celibacy. He was 
suffering, he admits, " grievous pain through being unable 
to find the right answer to the question." 2 

Such efforts were naturally crowned with success in 
the end. 

Five weeks later he was able to inform Melanchthon : 
" It seems to me that now I can say with confidence how 
our task is to be accomplished. The argument is briefly 
this : Whoever has taken a vow in a spirit opposed to 
evangelical freedom must be set free and his vow be 
anathema. Such, however, are all those who have taken 
the vow in the search for salvation, or justification. Since 
the greater number of those taking vows make them for 
this reason, it is clear that their vow is godless, sacrilegious, 
contrary to the Gospel and hence to be dissolved and laid 
under a curse." 3 

Thus it was the indefinite and elastic idea of " evangelical 
freedom " which was finally to settle the question. Concern 
ing his own frame of mind while working out this idea in his 
tract, he says to Spalatin, on November 11, in a letter of 
complaint about other matters : " I am going to make war 

1 On August 15, 1521, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 218. 

2 On August 3, 1521, ibid., p. 213. The above is the real transla 
tion of the words made use of, " quantis urgear cestibus," according 
to the context. 

3 On September 9, 1521, ibid., 3, p. 224. 


against religious vows. ... I am suffering from tempta 
tions, and out of temper, so don t be offended. There is 
more than one Satan contending with me ; I am alone, 
and yet at times not alone." 1 

The book was finished in November and sent out under 
the title, " On Monastic Vows." 2 The same strange argu 
ment, based on evangelical freedom, recurs therein again and 
again under all sorts of rhetorical forms ; the tract is also 
noteworthy for its distortion of the Church s teaching, 3 
though we cannot here enter in detail into its theology and 
misstatements. The very origin of the book does not 
inspire confidence. Many great and monumental historical 
works and events have originated in conditions far from 
blameless, but few of Luther s writings have sprung from 
so base a source as this one ; yet its results were far-reach 
ing, and it was a means of seducing countless wavering and 
careless religious, depicting the monasteries and furthering 
immensely the new evangelical teaching. While writing the 
book Luther had naturally in his mind the multitude he 
was so desirous of setting free, and chose his language 

1 " Brief wechael," 3, p. 247. 

2 The Latin work will be found in Weim. ed., 8, p. 564 ff. ; in 
Erl. ed., " Opp. Lat. var.," G, p. 234 scq. The MS. was sent to Spalatin 
on November 22, and was published at the end of February, 1522. 
Denifle has carefully analysed the contents and pointed out the fal 
lacies contained in the book and certain other things not at all to 
Luther s credit. See " Luther und Luthertum," I 2 , pp. 29, 348. Cp. N. 
Paulus, " Zu Luthors Scrift uber die Monchsgcliibde " ("Hist. Jahrb.," 
27, 1906, pp. 487, 517), an article rich in matter, called forth by O. 
Scheel s attack on Denifle. Paulus therein shows once more that 
Luther was wrong in ascribing to the Church the teaching that per 
fection- is to be attained only in the religious state, and by the observ 
ance of vows (cp. present work, vol. iv., xxiv. 4), or in claiming that 
the Church has a " twofold ideal of life," and conception of religion, 
a lower one for the laity and a higher one for religious (p. 496 ff.). He 
proves, at length, the falsehood of the view cherished among Protes 
tants, in spite of Denifle s refutation, that all, or nearly all, entered 
the religious life in order to obtain justification (p. 506 ff), arid fully 
explains the late mediaeval expression which compares religious pro 
fession to Baptism (p. 510 ff.). 

3 Caspar Schatzgeyer, in a polemic against Luther wrote : " One 
is almost tempted to think that this book, so brimful of ire, was written 
by a drunken man, or by the infernal spirit himself" ("Replica" 
[sine loc. et an.], Augsburg, 1522, fol. El). The opinion of the Paris 
theologian, Jodocus Clichtoveus (" Antilutherus," Parisiis, 1524, fol. 
124 ), was very similar. As for Johann Dietcnberger, he declared that 
the book bristled with lies, calumnies, and insults (" De votis monas- 
ticis," lib. secundus, Colon., 1524, fol. T5 ). 


But what were his thoughts concerning himself at that 
period, when the idea of matrimony had not yet dawned 
upon him ? 

In the letter to Melanchthon just referred to, he says of him 
self : " If I had had the above argument [concerning evangelical 
freedom] before my eyes when I made my vow, I should never 
have taken it. I too am, therefore, uncertain as to the frame of 
mind in which I did take it ; I was rather carried away than 
drawn, such was God s will ; I fear that I too made a godless and 
sacrilegious vow. . . . Later, when the vows were made, my 
earthly father, who was angry about it all, said to me when he 
had calmed down : If only it was not a snare of Satan ! His 
words made such an impression on me that I remember them 
better than anything else he ever said, and I believe that through 
his mouth God spoke to me, at a late hour indeed, and as from 
afar, to rebuke and warn me." 1 

Very closely connected with his own development is the fact 
that at that time, on several occasions, he described most glaringly 
and untruthfully the moral corruption in which the Papists were 
sunk, owing to the vow of chastity and the state of celibacy. It 
seems to have been his way of quieting his conscience. So 
greatly does he generalise concerning the evil which he attributes 
with much exaggeration to his fellows in the religious state, 
representing it as an inevitable result of monastic life, that, 
strange to say, he forgets to except himself. Only at a much 
later date did he casually inform his hearers that, through God s 
dispensation, he had preserved his chastity. 2 

As to whether he himself had any intention then of dissolving 
his vow by marriage, we may put on record what he had said at 
an earlier date in a written sermon intended for the general 
public : "I hope I have got so far that, with God s grace, I may 
remain as I am," but he adds : " though I am not yet out of the 
wood and dare not compare myself to the chaste hearts, still I 
should be sorry and pray God graciously to preserve me from 
it." 3 The " chaste hearts " are the " false saints " whom he is 
assailing in that particular section of his sermon. To the " false 
saints " he opposes the true ones, much as in his earliest sermons 
at Wittenberg he had attacked the stricter monks and their 
observance, describing them opprobriously as little saints and 
proud self-righteous by works. The connecting link between the 
two, i.e. his erroneous opposition to all good works and re 
nunciation of sensuality, here, and again and again elsewhere, is 
clearly Luther s starting-point. 

He fancies he hears those who were desirous of faithfully 
keeping the vow they had made to God reproaching him with 

1 " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 225. 

2 Sermon of 1537, " Werke," Erl. ed., 44, p. 148 : " I have myself 
had it [the gift of chastity], although with many evil thoughts and 

8 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 708; Erl. 10 2 , p. 464. 


his sensuality, " how they open their jaws," and say, " alas, 
poor monk, how he must feel the weight of his cowl, how pleased 
he would be to have a wife ! But let them blaspheme," such is 
his answer, one typical of his language on the subject, " let them 
blaspheme, these chaste hearts and great saints, let them be of 
iron and stone as they feign to be ; but as for you, beware of 
forgetting that you are a man of flesh and blood ; leave it to 
God to judge between the angelical and mighty heroes and the 
despised and feeble sinners. If you only knew who they are who 
make a show of such great chastity and discipline, and what that 
is of which St. Paul speaks, Ephesians v. 12 : For of the things 
that are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak, 
you would not esteem their boasted chastity fit even for a prosti 
tute to wipe her boots on. Here we have the perversion that the 
chaste are the unchaste and deceive all that come in contact 
with them." 1 

Yet the pious religious who were true to their vows would certainly 
have been the last to deny that they were mere flesh and blood ; 
they did not pretend to be made of " iron," nor did they vaunt 
their " boasted chastity," but prayed to God, did humble penance, 
and so acquired the grace necessary for keeping what they had 
cheerfully vowed in the fear of the Lord and in the consoling 
hope of an eternal reward. On the other hand, we hear but little 
of Luther s praying in the Wartburg, and still less of his having 
performed penance. And yet those walls were full of the memory 
of that great Saint, Elizabeth of Hungary, whose life was a 
touching example of zealous prayer and penance. 

Luther, during his stay in the Castle, accused himself in very 

bolical language on May 14, 1521, in a letter to Spalatin, 2 soon 
after his arrival at the Wartburg. Already before this, at Witten 
berg, in a letter to Staupitz, he had reproached himself with 
drunkenness. 3 

If, however, the " luxury " with which he reproached himself 
was no graver than his " idleness," then Luther is not really 
in such a bad case, for his " idleness " was so little meant to be 
taken literally, that, in the same letter, he immediately goes on to 
speak of his literary projects : "I am about to write a German 
sermon on the freedom of auricular confession [this duly ap 
peared and was dedicated to Sickingen] ; I also intend to continue 
the Commentary on the Psalms [a plan never realised] ; also 
my postils as soon as I have received what I require from Witten 
berg [the German postil alone was published] ; I am also await 
ing the unfinished MS. of the Magnificat [this also was published 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 708 ; Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 464. 

2 " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 154 : " Oliosus et crapulosus." 

3 On February 20, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 431 : "Homo ex- 
positus crapulce." 


It was not in his nature to be really idle. 
His chief German work, which was to render him so 
popular, viz. his translation of the Bible, was commenced 
in the Wartburg, where he started with the translation of 
the New Testament from the Greek. We shall speak else 
where of the merits and defects of this translation. The 
general excellence of its style and language cannot hide the 
theological bias which frequently guides the writer s pen, 
nor can its value as a popular work allow us to overlook the 
fact that he was often carried away by the precipitation 
incidental to his temperament. 1 

Another work which he finished within those quiet walls 
treated of the Sacrifice of the Mass. His thoughts early 
turned with aversion from this centre of Catholic worship ; 
indeed, he seemed bent on robbing the Church of the very 
pearl of her worship. He appears to have said Mass for the 
last time on his way to Augsburg to meet Cardinal Cajetan. 
In the Wartburg he refused to have anything to do with 
the " Mass priest " living there. On August 1, 1521, he 
wrote to Melanchthon, that the renewal of Christ s institu 
tion of the celebration of the Supper, proposed by his 
friends at Wittenberg, agreed entirely with the plans he had 
in view when he should return, and that from that time 
forward he would never again say a private Mass. 2 

The work just mentioned, which appeared in 1522, is 
entitled, " On the Abuse of the Mass." He dedicated it in 
the Preface " to the Augustinians of Wittenberg," his dear 
brethren, because he had heard in his solitude, so he says, 
" that they had been the first to commence setting aside 
the abuse of Masses in their assembly [congregation]." 3 
He is desirous of fortifying their " consciences " against 
the Mass, because he is anxious lest " all should not have 
the same constancy, and good conscience, in the under 
taking of so great and notable a work." In the same way 
as he in his struggle had attained to assurance of conscience, 
so they, too, must act " with a like conscience, faith and 

1 Cp. Paul de Lagarde, ." Mitteilungen," 3, Gottingen, 1889, p. 336. 
" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 208. Cp. K. Muller, " Luther und Karl- 
stadt," 1907, p. 5 ff. 

3 Dedication of the German edition, 1522. " Werke," Weim. ed. 
8, p. 482 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 93. The work in Latin in " Werke," Weim 
ed., 8, p. 398 ff. German, ibid., p. 477 ff, and in Erl. ed., 28, p. 28. 
The German dedication agrees with the Latin. See above, p. 80, n. 1. 


trust, and look on the opinion of the whole world as nothing 
but chaff and straw, knowing that we are sent to a death- 
struggle against the devil and all his might, yea, against 
the judgment of God, and, like Jacob (Gen. xxxii. 28), can 
only overcome by our strength of faith." 

To despise the protests of the world was not so difficult, 
but to pay " no heed to the devil and the solemn judgment 
of God " was a harder task. 

It would seem that some of the Augustinians were not 
capable of this, and had become uneasy concerning the 
innovations. He is thereupon at pains to assure them that 
he is an expert in the matter ; he declares that he has 
learnt from experience how " our conscience makes us out 
to be sinners in God s sight and deserving of eternal repro 
bation, unless it is w r ell preserved and protected at every 
point by the holy, strong and veracious Word of God." 1 
This " stronghold " he would fain open to them by 
demonstrating from the Word of God the horrors of the 
Sacrifice of the Mass. 

Hence he begins by overthrowing, with incredible determina 
tion, everything that might be advanced against him and in 
favour of the Mass in general by the " doctrine and discipline of 
the Church, the teaching of the Fathers, immemorial custom and 
usage," commandments of men and theological faculties, Saints, 
Fathers, or, in fine, the " Pope and his Gomorrhas." The utter 
unrestraint of his language here and there is only matched by 
the extravagance of his ideas and interpretation of the Bible. 

All men are priests, he declares ; as to Mass priests there should 
be none. " I defy the idols and pomps of this world, the Pope 
and his parsons. You fine priestlings, can you point out to us in 
all the gospels and epistles a single bit of proof that you are 
or were intended to act as priests for other Christians? " Who 
ever dares to adduce the well-known passages in the Bible to the 
contrary he looks on as a " rude, unlettered donkey." Why ? 
Because he would not otherwise defend the " smeared and shorn 
priesthood." " O worthy patron of the shaven, oily little gods," 
he says to him with mocking commiseration. 3 We are the 
persecuted party, we, who, whilst acknowledging Christ s presence 
in the Sacrament, will have nothing to do with the sacrificial 
character of the Supper. For whoever holds fast simply to 
Christ s institution is scolded as a heretic by the Pope. " There 
they sit, the unlettered, godless hippopotami, on costly, royal 
thrones, Pope, Cardinal, bishop, monk and parson with their 
schools of Paris and Louvain, and their dear sisters Sodom and 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., p. 483 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 30. 

2 Ibid., p. 488 = 36. 3 Ibid., p. 488f. = 37f. 


Gomorrha." As soon as they see the poor, small, despised crew 
[the opponents of the Mass] they wax wroth, " frown, turn up 
their noses, hold up their hands in horror, and cry : The heretics 
do not observe the usage and form of the Roman Church " ; 
but they themselves are "unlearned dunces and donkeys." 1 

The author, whose very pen seems steeped in ire, goes off at a 
tangent to speak of the Pope and of celibacy. 

He is never tired of explaining " that the abominable and 
horrid priesthood of the Papists came into the world from the 
devil " ; " the Pope is a true apostle of his master the hellish 
fiend, according to whose will he lives and reigns " ; he has 
dropped into the holy kingdom of the priesthood common to all 
like the " devil s hog he is, and with his snout " has befouled, 
yea, destroyed it ; with his celibacy he has raised up a priest 
hood which is " a brew of all abominations." 2 The devil himself 
does not suffice to make Luther s language strong enough for his 
liking, and he is driven to his imagination for other ugly pictures. 

" I believe, that, even had the Pope made fornication obligatory, 
he would not have given rise to and furthered such great un- 
chastity [as by celibacy]." " Who can sufficiently deplore the 
fury of the devil with his godless, cursed law ? " The " Roman 
knave " wishes to rule everywhere, and the " universities, those 
shameless brothels, sit still and say nothing. . . . They, like 
obedient children of the Church, carry out the commands of the 
whoremaster. Every Christian ought to resist him at the risk of 
his life, even though he had a thousand heads, because we see 
how the poor, simple, common folk who stand in terror of his 
childish, shameful Bulls, do, and submit to, whatever the damned 
Roman rogue invents with the help of the devil." 3 

Many of his contemporaries may well be excused for having 
felt that such language was the result of the Pope s Bull ; the 
curse of the Church had overtaken Luther, in the solitude of the 
Wartburg it had done its work, and now the spirit of evil and 
darkness had gained complete mastery. 4 

" So great," he cries, " is God s anger over this vale of Tafet 
and Hinnan that those who are most learned, and live most 
chastely, do more harm than those who learn nothing and live 
in fornication." " O unhappy wretches that we are, who live in 
these latter days among so many Baalites, Bethelites and Molo- 
chites, who all appear so spiritual and Christian, and yet have 
swallowed up the whole world and themselves desire to be the 
only Church ; they live and laugh in their security and freedom, 
instead of weeping tears of blood over the cruel murder of the 
children of our people." 5 

In conclusion, he gives his open approval to the Wittenbergers, 
that " Mass is no longer said, that there is no more organ-playing," 
and that " bleating and bellowing " has ceased in the Church, 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., p. 510 = 68. 

2 Ibid., p. 538, 539, 540 = 106, 107, 109. 

3 Ibid., p. 549 = 121. * Cp. volume iv., xxvii. 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, pp. .559, 560 ; Erl. ed., 28, pp. 135, 137. 


so that the Papists say : " They are all heretics and have gone 
crazy." 1 It seems to him that Saxony is the happiest of lands, 
" because there the living truth of the Gospel has arisen " ; 
surely the Elector Frederick must be the Prince, foretold by 
prophecy, who was to deliver the Holy Sepulchre ; himself he 
compares to the " Angel at the Sepulchre," or to Magdalene who 
announced the Resurrection. 2 

His self-confidence and arrogance had not been shaken 
by the many weary hours of lonely introspection in the 
Wartburg, but, on the contrary, had been nourished and 
inflamed. That was the period of his " spiritual baptism " ; 
he felt volcanic forces surging up within him. He believed 
that a power from above had commanded him to teach as 
he was doing. Hence he called the Wartburg his Patmos ; 
as the Apostle John had received his revelation on Patmos, 
so, as he thought, he also had been favoured in his seclusion 
with mysterious communications from above. 

The idea of a divine commission now began to penetrate 
all his being with overwhelming force. 

When the ecclesiastical troubles at Wittenberg neces 
sitated his permanent return thither, he declared to the 
Elector, who had hitherto never heard such language from 
his lips, " Your Electoral Grace is already aware, or, if 
unaware, is hereby apprised of the fact, that I have not 
received the Gospel from man, but from heaven only, 
through Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that I might already 
have accounted myself and signed myself a servant and 
evangelist, and for the future shall do so." 3 We must also 
refer to the days of his Saxon Patmos which exercised so 
deep an influence on his interior life the remarkable 
mystical utterance to which his pupils afterwards declared 
he had given vent at a later date, viz. that he had been 
" commanded," nay, " enjoined under pain of eternal 
reprobation ( interminaretur ) not to doubt in any way of 
these things [of the doctrines he was to teach]." 4 

Every road that led back to his duty to the Church and 
his Order was barred by the gloomy enthusiasm Luther 
kindled within himself, subsequently to his spiritual 
baptism in the Wartburg. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 561 = 138. 2 Ibid., p. 562 = 139 f. 
3 On March 5, 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 106 (" Brief wechsel," 
3, p. 296). 

* In Lauterbach s " Tagebuch," p. 62, n. (from Khummer s Notes). 


The time spent in the Wartburg brought him his final 
conviction in his calling as a prophet and his divine com 
mission, but if we arc to understand Luther aright we must 
not forget that this conviction was a matter of gradual 
growth (cp. vol. iii., xvi. 1). 

We cannot doubt that even in the first years of his public 
career, certainly in 1519 and 1520, the belief in his own 
divine mission had begun to take firm root in his mind. 

In order to explain the rise of this idea we must turn first 
of all to his confidential letters dating from this period ; 
his public writings in this respect are of less importance. 
With their help it is possible to recognise to some extent 
the course of this remarkable psychological development. 
So soon as he had perceived that his discovery, of the worth- 
lessness of good works, and of justification by faith alone, 
was in permanent contradiction to the teaching of the 
Roman Church, the presentiment necessarily began to 
awaken within him, that the whole body of the faithful had 
been led by Rome into the greatest darkness. He fancied 
himself fortified in this idea by the sight of the real abuses 
w r hich had overspread the whole life of the Church in his 
time. He thought he descried a universal corruption which 
had penetrated down to the very root of ccclesiasticism, 
and he did not scruple to say so in his earliest sermons and 
lectures. He felt it his duty to bewail the falling away. 
In the hours in which he gave free play to his fancy, it 
even seemed to him that Christ and the Gospel had almost 

The applause which greeted the appearance of his first 
writings, and which he eagerly accepted, confirmed him 
in his belief that he had made a most far-reaching dis 
covery. He lacked the sense and discrimination which 
might have enabled him to see the too great importance 
he was ascribing to his invention. He says in May, 1518, to 
an elderly friend who opposed his views : My followers, 
prelates of the Church and scholarly men of the world, all 
rightly admit, that " formerly they had heard nothing of 
Christ and the Gospel." " To put it briefly, I am convinced 
that no reform of the Church is possible unless the ecclesi 
astical dogmas, the decisions of the Popes, the theology of 
the schools, philosophy and logic as they exist at present 
are completely altered. ... I fear no man s contradiction 


when defending such a thesis." J In the same year, in March, 
he wrote to a friendly ecclesiastic, that the theologians who 
had hitherto occupied the professorial chairs, Adz. the 
schoolmen, did not understand the Gospel and the Bible 
one bit. " To quibble about the meaning of words is not 
to interpret the Gospel. All the Professors, Universities and 
Doctors are nothing but shadows whom you have no cause 
to be afraid of." 2 

If he wished to proceed further and we know how he 
allowed himself to be carried away he could not do other 
wise than assume to himself the dignity of a divinely 
appointed teacher. No one save a prophet could dare 
condemn the whole of the past in the way he was doing. 

During the excitement incidental to periods of tran 
sition such as Luther s, belief in a supernatural calling was 
no rare thing. Those who felt within themselves unusual 
powers and wished to assume the command of the move 
ments of the day not unfrequently laid claim to a divine 
mission. Not only fanatics from the ranks of the Ana 
baptists, but worldly minded men, such as Hutten and 
Sickingen, dreamt, in Luther s day, of great enterprises for 
which they had been chosen. In short, there were only two 
courses open to Luther, either to draw back when it was 
seen that the Church remained resolutely opposed to him, 
or to vindicate his assaults by representing himself as a 
messenger sent by God. Luther was not slow r to adopt the 
latter course. The idea to him was no mere passing fancy, 
but took firm root in his mind. He assured his friends that 
he was daily receiving new light from God in this matter 
through the study of the Scripture. 

It was under the influence of this persuasion that, in 
January, 1518, he wrote the following remarkable words to 
Spalatin : "To those who are desirous of working for the 
glory of God, an insight into the written Word of God is 
given from above, in answer to their prayers ; this I have 
experienced " (" experto crede ista ") ; he says that the 
action of the Holy Ghost may be relied on, and urges others 

1 To Jodocus Trutfetter, Professor at Erfurt, May 9, 1518, " Brief - 
wechsel," 1, p. 188 : " Uno ore dicunt, sese prius non novisse nee audi- 
visse Christum et Evangelium," etc. 

2 To Sylvius Egranus, preacher at Zwickau, March 24, 1518, 
" Brief wechsel," 1, p. 173. 


to do as he has done. 1 It would also appear, that, believing 
firmly that he was under the " influence of the Holy Ghost," 
he, for a while, cherished the illusion that the Church would 
gradually come over to his teaching. When at length he 
was forced to recognise that the ecclesiastical authorities 
were, on the contrary, determined to check him, he decided 
to throAV overboard all the preceding ages and the whole 
authority of the Church. As a natural consequence he then 
proceeded to reform the old and true idea of the Church. 
The preserving and proclaiming of the faith is committed to 
no external teaching office instituted by Christ, such was 
his teaching, but simply to the illumination of the Spirit ; 
each one is led by this interior guide ; it is the Spirit who is 
directing me in the struggle just commenced and who, 
through me, will bring back to the world the Gospel which 
has so long lain hidden under rubbish. 

5. Wartburg Legends 

Luther s adversaries have frequently taken the statements 
contained in the letters of the lonely inmate of the castle 2 
concerning his carnal temptations, and his indulgence in 
eating and drinking (" crapula "), rather too unfavourably, 
as though he had been referring to real, wilful sin rather 
than to mere temptation, and as though Luther was not 
exaggerating in his usual vein when he speaks of his atten 
tion to the pleasures of the table. At least no proof is 
forthcoming in favour of this hostile interpretation. 

On the other hand, the attempts constantly made by 
Luther s supporters to explain away the sensual lusts from 
which he tells us he suffered there, and likewise the entice 
ments (" titillationes ") which he had admitted even previ 
ously to Staupitz his Superior, as nothing more than 
worldliness, inordinate love of what is transitory, and 
temptations to self-seeking, are certainly somewhat strange. 
Why, we may ask, make such futile efforts ? 3 Is it in order 

1 To Spalatin, January 18, 1518, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 142. 

2 See vol. i., p. 369, n. 1. 

" Carnis mece indomitce uror magnis ignibus," in the letter 
to Melanchthon, July 13, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 189, where 
he also employs the expression, " tentationes carnis." In a letter to 
Staupitz, February 20, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 431 : " Homo 
sum expositus et involutus societati, crapulce, titillationi, negligentice 
aliisque molestiis." " Titillatio " is generally used by Luther for 


to counteract the exaggerations of Luther s opponents, who, 
in popular works, have recently gone so far as, in all good 
faith, to declare the " trouble " (" molestice ") of which 
Luther complained in his correspondence at that time, was 
the result of disease arising from the sins of his youth, though, 
from the context, it is clear that the " trouble " in question 
was simply a prosaic attack of constipation. L 

Luther related later, according to the " Table-Talk," 2 how 
the wife of "Hans von Berlips [Bcrlepsch, the warden of the 
Wartburg] coming to Eisenach," and " scenting " that he 
(Luther) was in the Castle, would have liked to see him ; 
but as this was not permitted he had been taken to another 
room, while she was lodged in his. Luther mentions this 
when alluding to the annoyance from which he complains he 
suffered owing to the noisy ghosts of the Wartburg, whom 
he took for devils. Two pages, who brought him food and 
drink twice a day, were the only human beings allowed to 
visit him. He relates that during the night she spent in his 
room this woman was likewise disturbed by ghosts : " All 
that night there was such a to-do in the room that she 
thought a thousand devils were in it." The fact is that 
Berlepsch, the Warden of the Castle, was not then married, 
wedding Beata von Ebeleben only in 1523. 3 Hence we have 
here either an anachronism when the visitor to the Wart 
burg is spoken of as being already his wife, or a case of 
mistaken identity. Luther speaks of the visit quite simply. 
The woman s object in calling at the Castle may very well 
have been to gratify her feminine curiosity by a sight of 
Luther, and to pay a visit to the Warden. The supposition 
that the slightest misconduct took place between Luther 
and the visitor can only be classed in the category of the 

The mention of the diabolical spectres infesting the 

sensual temptation, e.g. in the Commentary on Romans (" Schol. 
Rom.," p. 133) : " Luxuriosus, dum titillatio venit," etc. ; also in the 
tract on the Ten Commandments, " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, pp. 485, 
491, 497. In the German version he translates the word by " Kitzel " ; 
see, for instance, " Werke," Erl. ed., 34, p. 139. 

1 See references below, xiii. 4. The " molestice " in the passage from 
the letter to Staupitz (see previous note) are probably of the same 

a " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 341. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 440, 773. 


Wartburg calls to mind the famous ink-stain on one of the 
walls of the Castle. 

The tradition is that it was caused by Luther hurling his 
inkpot at the devil, who was disputing with him. The 
tradition is, however, a legend which probably had its origin 
in a murky splash on the wall. In Kostlin and Kawerau s 
new biography of Luther this has already been pointed out, 
and the fact recalled that in 1712 Peter the Great \vas 
shown a similar stain in Luther s room at Wittenberg, not 
in the Wartburg, and that Johann Salomo Semler, a well- 
known Protestant writer, in his Autobiography published 
in 1781, mentions a like stain in the fortress of Coburg where 
Luther had tarried. l 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 440, 773 



1. Against the Fanatics. Congregational Churches? 

LUTHER quitted the Wartburg March 1, 1522, after having 
previously paid a secret visit to Wittenberg between 
December 3 and 11. He now made his appearance at the 
birthplace of the Evangel in order to recommence his 
vigorous and incisive sermons, which had become im 
peratively necessary for his cause. 

The action of Carlstadt, even more than that of the 
" Prophets of the Kingdom of God," who had come over 
from Zwickau, called for his presence in order that he might 
resist their attacks. In his absence the Mass had already 
been forcibly abolished, sermons had been preached against 
confession and infant baptism, and the destruction of the 
images had commenced. Like Luther himself, those who 
incited the people to these proceedings, appealed on the one 
hand to the plain testimony of Holy Scripture as the source 
of their inspiration, and on the other to direct illumination 
from above. 

Infant baptism, argued the Zwickauers, was not taught 
in Holy Scripture, but was opposed to the actual words of 
the Saviour : " He that believes and is baptised." The 
" prophets " met, however, with little encouragement. 
Carlstadt had not yet taken their side either in this matter 
or in their pseudo-mysticism. 

Against the Elector, Carlstadt, however, appealed ex 
pressly, as Luther had done, to his duty of proclaiming the 
understanding of the Bible which he had been granted. 

" Woe to me," he cried with the Apostle St. Paul, " if I 

do not preach " (1 Cor. ix. 16). He declared that the 

diversions arose merely from the fact that all did not follow 

Holy Scripture ; but he, at least, obeyed it and death itself 

n. H 97 


would not shift him from this firm foundation ; he would 
remain " firmly grounded on the Word of God." In demand 
ing the removal of the images he cried : " God s voice says 
briefly and clearly in Scripture : Thou shalt not adore 
them nor serve them ; and hence it is useless to argue : 
I do not worship the images, I do not honour them for 
their own sake, but on account of the Saints whom they 

Carlstadt, it is true, also suggested that it was for " the 
supreme secular power to decree and effect the removal of 
the abuse." 1 When occasion arose he also advised "pro 
ceeding without causing a tumult and without giving the 
foes cause for calumny." That was his advice, 2 but most of 
those who thought as he did were little disposed to wait until 
the authorities, or the " priests of Baal themselves, removed 
their vessels and idols." 

The first step towards liturgical change in Wittenberg 
was, however, taken by Melanchthon when, September 29, 
1521, he and his pupils received the Sacrament in the Parish 
Church, the words of institution being spoken aloud and the 
cup being passed to the laity, because Christ had so ordained 
it. A few days later the Augustinians, particularly Gabriel 
Zwilling, commenced active steps against the Mass as a 
sacrifice, ceasing to say it any longer. Melanchthon and 
the Augustinians knew that in this they had Luther s 
sympathy. As those who agreed with Luther followed 
Melanchthon s example concerning the Mass and the Supper, 
and ceased to take any part in the Catholic Mass, introducing 
preachers of their own instead, a new order of Divine worship 
was soon the result. " Alongside of the congregation with 
the old Popish rites rose the new evangelical community." 3 
But here Carlstadt stepped forward and gave a new turn to 
events ; he was determined not to see the followers of the 
Gospel left in a corner, and without delay he set about 
altering the principal service at Wittenberg, which was still 
celebrated in accordance with Catholic usage, so as to bring 
it into agreement with the " institution of Christ." This 

1 C. F. Jager, " Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt," 1856, p. 273 
Cp. H. Barge, " Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt," 1, 1905, p. 355 ff. 

2 Karl Miiller, " Gemeinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther " 1910 
p. 29. 

3 Idem, " Luther und Karlstadt," 1907, p. 15. 


new service was first celebrated at Christmas, 1521. Those 
portions which express the sacrificial character of the Mass 
were omitted, and a new Communion service introduced 
instead, the laity partaking of the chalice and the words of 
institution being spoken aloud. Confession was not required 
of the communicants. The novelty and the ease of receiving 
communion attracted crowds to the new ritual, which was 
first held in All Saints Church, then in the parish church, 
and was subsequently introduced by his followers, such as 
Zwilling, for instance, in the neighbouring parishes. 

Great disorders occurred at the very first service of 
this sort. 

Many communicated after eating and drinking freely. In 
January, 1522, a noisy rabble forced its way into the church 
at Wittenberg, destroyed all altars, and the statues of the 
saints, and cast them, together with the clergy, into the 

The Elector and his Councillors, for instance Hieronymus 
Schurf, were very angry with the business and with the 
" pseudo-prophets," i.e. Carlstadt and his followers ; the 
Zwickauers, who, as a matter of fact constituted an even 
greater source of danger, held back on this occasion. 

Melanchthon, then at Wittenberg, inclined to the belief 
that the Zwickauers were possessed by a higher spirit, but 
it was, he thought, for Luther to determine the nature of 
this spirit. The prophets, on the other hand, argued that 
Luther was certainly right in most he said and did, though 
not always, and that another, having a higher spirit, would 
take his place. 

The purer and more profound view of the Evangel upon 
which they secretly prided themselves was a consequence of 
their eminently reasonable opposition to Luther s altogether 
outward doctrine of justification and the state of grace. To 
them the idea of a purely mechanical covering over of our 
sinfulness by the imputation of Christ s merits, seemed 
totally inadequate. They wanted to be in a more living 
communion with Christ, and having once seceded from the 
Church, they arrived by the path of pseudo-mysticism at 
the delusion of a direct intercourse with the other world ; 
thereby, however, they brought a danger on the field, viz. 
religious radicalism and political revolution. " It seems to 
me a very suspicious circumstance," so Luther writes of the 


Zwickau prophets, " that they should boast of speaking face 
to face with the Divine Majesty." 1 

Luther, after his period of study at the Wartburg, had at 
once to define and prove his position, particularly as he 
disapproved of much of the doctrines of Carlstadt s party, 
as well as of his over-hasty action. Without delay, he 
mounted the pulpit at Wittenberg and staked all the 
powers of his personality and eloquence against the move 
ment ; he was unwilling that the whole work of the Evangel 
which had begun should end in chaos. In a course of eight 
sermons he traced back the disorders to " a misapprehension 
of Christian freedom." It grieved him deeply, he declared, 
that, without his order, so much was being altered instead 
of proceeding cautiously and allowing the faith to mature 
first. " Follow me," he cried, " I have never yet failed ; 
I was the first whom God set to work on this plan ; I cannot 
escape from God, but must remain so long as it pleases my 
Lord God ; I was also the first to whom God gave the 
revelation to preach and proclaim this His Word to you. 
I am also well assured that you have the pure Word of 
God." 2 

What he says is, however, rather spoilt by a dangerous 
admission. " Should there be anyone who has something 
better to offer and to whom more has been revealed than to 
me, I am ready to submit to him my sense and reason and 
not to force my opinion upon him, but to obey him." 3 He, 
of course, felt that he could convict the so-called " fanatics " 
of error, and was sure beforehand that his professed readi 
ness to submit to others would not endanger his position. 
His whole cause depended on the maintenance of outward 
order and his own authority at Wittenberg ; he knew, more 
over, that he was backed by the Elector. 

His success against his adversaries, who, to tell the truth, 
were no match for him, was complete. Wittenberg was 
saved from the danger of open adherence to " fanaticism," 
though the movement was still to give Luther much trouble 
secretly at Wittenberg and more openly elsewhere, par 
ticularly as Carlstadt, in his disappointment, came more 

1 On January 13, 1522, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 271 f. Cp. K. Miiller, 
" Luther und Karlstadt," p. 218. 

2 " Worke," Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 8 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 211 f. 

3 Ibid., p. 8-212. 


and more after 1522 to make common cause with the 
Zwickauers. 1 

The success of his efforts against the fanatics secured for 
Luther the favour of his Ruler and his protection against the 
consequences of his outlawry by the Empire. Luther was 
thus enabled to carry on his work as professor and preacher 
at Wittenberg in defiance of the Emperor and the Empire ; 
from thence, till the very end of his life, he was able, un 
molested, to spread abroad, with the help of the Press, his 
ideas of ecclesiastical revolution. 

In view of the movement just described, and of others of 
a like nature, he published tow r ards the close of his Patmos 
sojourn the Avork entitled " A True Admonition to all 
Spirits to Avoid Riot and Revolt." 2 This, however, did not 
prevent him shortly after from furthering the idea of the 
use of force with all his habitual incautious violence in the 
tract " Against the Falsely-called Spiritual Estate of the 
Pope and the Bishops" (1522), 3 in which, in language the 
effect of which upon the masses it was impossible to gauge, 
he incites the people to overthrow the existing Church 

" Better were it," he cries in the latter work, " that all bishops 
were put to death, and all foundations and convents rooted out, 
than that one soul should suffer. What then must we say when 
all souls are lost for the sake of vain mummery and idols ? Of 
what use are they but to live in pleasure on the sweat and toil of 
others and to hinder the Word of God ? " A revolt against such 
tyrants could not, he says, be wicked ; its cause would not be 
the Word of God, but their own obstinate disobedience and 
rebellion against God. " What better do they deserve than to be 
stamped out by a great revolt ? Such a thing, should it occur, 
would only give cause for laughter, as the Divine Wisdom says, 
Proverbs i. 25-26 : You have despised all my counsel and 
have neglected my reprehensions. I also will laugh in your 
destruction. "* 

Expressing similar sentiments, the so-called " Bull of Reforma 
tion," comprised in the last-mentioned tract, has it that " all 
who assist in any way, or venture life or limb, goods or honour 
in the enterprise of destroying bishoprics and exterminating 
episcopal rule, are dear children of God and true Christians. . . . 

1 Barge, " Karlstadt," 1, p. 405; cp. 402 f. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 670 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 43 ff. 

3 Ibid., 10, 2, p. 93 ff. = 28, p. 141 ff. 
* Ibid., p. 111 = 148 f. 


On the other hand all who hold with the rule of the bishops . . . 
are the devil s own servants." 1 Such is the teaching of " Eccle- 
siastes, by the Grace of God," as Luther calls himself here and 
frequently elsewhere. They must listen to him ; the bishops, 
for the sake of their idol the Pope, abused, condemned and 
consigned to the flames him and his noble cause, refusing either 
to listen to or to answer him, but now he will, so he says, " put on 
his horns and risk his head for his master," in defiance of the 
" idolatrous, licentious, shameless, accursed seducers and 

As a demolisher Luther proved himself great and strong. 
Was he an equally good builder ? 

The decisive question of how to proceed to the construction 
of a new ecclesiastical system seems to have been scarcely 
considered at all by Luther, cither at the Wartburg, or even 
for some time after his return. His mind was full of one idea, 
viz. how best to fight the Church of Antichrist. He had no 
real conception of the Church which might have assisted him 
in an attempt to plan out a new system ; his notion of the 
Church was altogether too dim and indefinite to serve as 
the basis of a new organisation. Even to-day Protestant 
theologians and historians are unable to tell us with any 
sort of unanimity how his ideas of the Church are to be 
understood ; this holds good of him throughout life, but most 
of all during the earliest days of Protestantism, when the 
first attempts were made to consolidate it. 

One of the most recent explorers in the field of the history of 
theology in those years, H. Hermelink, concludes a paper on the 
subject with the words : " Let us hope that we Protestant 
theologians may gradually reach some agreement concerning 
Luther s idea of the Church and concerning the Reformer s plans 
for the reorganisation of the Church." 2 

K. Rieker, K. Sohm, W. Kohler, Karl Miiller, P. Drews, Fr. 
Loofs and many others who have recently devoted themselves 
to these studies which have aroused so much interest in our day, 
all differ more or less from each other in their views on the 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 140 = 178. It has been asserted, 
strangely enough, that these words were spoken by Luther hypo- 
thetically, i.e. in the event of the Romanists refusing to be converted, 
and that the word he uses, and which we have rendered as " destroy 
ing," really means something slightly less drastic. 

2 H. Hermelink, " Zu Luthers Gedanken uber Idealgemeinden und 
von weltlicher Obrigkeit," in " Zeitschr. fur Kirchengesch.," 29, 
1908, p. 489; cp. p. 479 ff. 


The fact must not be forgotten that the Apocalyptic tendency 
of Luther s mind at that time prevented his dwelling on matters 
of practical organisation. The reign of Antichrist at Rome 
seemed to him to portend the end of the world. Apocalyptic 
influences oppressed him, particularly in the years 1522 and 1523, 
and we find their traces at intervals even afterwards, for instance, 
in the years following 1527 and just before his death j 1 in each 
case they were due to outward and interior " trials." In the first 
crisis, at the commencement of the third decade of the sixteenth 
century, his false eschatology, based on an erroneous under 
standing of the Bible, led him, for instance, to anticipate the 
coming of the Last Day in 1524, in consequence of a remarkable 
conjunction of the planets which was confidently expected to 
bring about a deluge. His sermon on the 2nd Sunday in Advent 
fixes the year 1524 as the latest on which this event could occur. 2 

In his work " To the Nobility on the Improving of the Christian 
State," Luther still took it for granted that the Emperor, Princes 
and influential laity would forcibly rescue Christendom from the 
state of corruption in which it was sunk, and that after Christen 
dom had accepted the evangel, the pre-existing order of things 
would continue very much as before under a reformed episcopate ; 
should the bishops refuse to come over to the Gospel, plenty 
" idle parsons " would be found to take their place. As a matter 
of fact, he had no clear idea in his mind regarding the future 
shaping of affairs. 

At the Diet of Worms it became evident that his fantastic 
dreams were not to be realised, for the Empire, instead of wel 
coming him, proclaimed him an outlaw. Luther, accordingly, 
trusting to his mystical ideas, now persuaded himself that his 
cause and the reorganisation of Christendom would be under 
taken by Christ alone. 

In the Wartburg Luther received the fullest and most 
definite assurance that the temporal powers who were 
opposed to him at Worms would submit themselves in these 
latter days to the Word which he preached, and that the 
weakening of the Church s authority which had been begun 
had not proceeded nearly far enough. It was revealed to 
him that his work was yet at its beginning and that there 
yet remained to be established new communities of Chris 
tians sharing his views. Hence we find him writing to 
Frederick, his Elector, on March 7, 1522 : " The spiritual 
tyranny has been weakened, to do which has been the sole 
aim of my writings ; now I perceive that God wills to carry 
it still further as He did with Jerusalem and its twofold 

1 H. Preuss, " Die Vorstellungen vom Antichrist," 1906, p. 146. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 69 : " Der jiingste Tag, welchen sie 
[die Constellation] gewisslich bedeutet." 


government. I have recently learnt that not only the 
spiritual but also the temporal power must give way to the 
Evangel, willingly or unwillingly ; this is plainly shown in 
all the Bible narratives." 1 With the Bible in his hand he 
seeks to prove, from the passages relating to the end of the 
world, and the reign of Antichrist, that, before the end of all, 
Christ will overthrow the anti-Christian powers by the 
" breath of His mouth." 

" It is the mouth of Christ which must do this." " Now 
may I and everyone who speaks the word of Christ freely 
boast that his mouth is the mouth of Christ." " Another 
man, one whom the Papists cannot see, is driving the wheel, 
and therefore they attribute it all to us, but they shall yet 
be convinced of it." 2 

Meanwhile some practical action was necessary, for, as 
yet, the Evangelicals formed only small groups and un 
organised congregations which might at any time drift apart, 
whilst elsewhere they were scattered among the masses, 
almost unnoticed and utterly powerless. The mere attacking 
of Popery was not sufficient to consolidate them. The 
" meetings " of those who had been touched by the " Word," 
Gospel-preaching and a new liturgy, did not suffice. The 
further growth and permanent organisation of the congrega 
tions Luther hoped to see effected by the help of the 
authorities, by the Town-councillors, who Avere to play so 
great a part later, and, better still, by the Princes whom he 
expected to win over to the new teaching as he had already 
done in the case of Frederick, the Elector of Saxony. It is true 
he would have preferred the setting up of churches to have 
been the work of the newly converted Faithful, i.e. to have 
taken place from below upwards. Those who had been 
converted by the Gospel, " the troubled consciences " as he 
calls them, who were united in faith and charity, were ever 
to form the nucleus around which he would fain have seen 
everywhere the congregations growing, without the inter 
vention of the worldly power. The force of circumstances, 
however, even from the commencement, compelled him to 
fall back on the authorities. 

In short, the ideas he advanced concerning organisation 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. Ill (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 298). 

2 "Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 683, in the "True Admonition," 
published early in December, 1521. 


were, not only various, but frequently contradictory. His 
favourite idea, to which we shall return later, of a com 
munity of perfect Christians was utterly incapable of 
realisation. " To maintain within the Congregation a more 
select company forming a corporation apart was hardly 
feasible in the long run." 1 At the back of his various plans 
was always the persuasion that the power of the Gospel 
would in the end do its own work and reveal the right way 
for the building up of a new organisation, just as of its own 
power it had shattered the edifice of Antichrist. Instead of 
searching for the link connecting his discordant utterances, 
as Protestant 2 theologians have been at pains to do, it will 
be more practical and more in accordance with history to 
present them here in disconnected groups. For any lack of 
clearness which may be the result Luther must be held 

In one and the same work, shortly after his visit 
to Wittenberg from the Wartburg, the destruction of 
the Papacy is depicted first as the result of the 
action of the governments (who accordingly are bound 
to provide a new, even if only temporary, organisa 
tion), then as taking place through no human agency 
and without a single blow being struck. 3 In writing 
thus, he was the plaything of those " states of excitement " 
which constitute a marked feature of his " religious 
psychology." 4 Luther was then aware of the threatening 
movement at Wittenberg and elsewhere, and attempted to 
stem it with the assurance that the kingdom of Antichrist 
was already crumbling to pieces ; he does not, however, omit 
to point to the governments as the real agents of which 
Christ was to make use to achieve the victory : " Hearken 
to the government ; so long as it does not interfere and 
give the command, keep your hands, your mouth and your 
heart quiet and say and do nothing. But if you are in a 
position to move the authorities to intervene and to give 
the order, you may do so." 5 

1 Karl Muller, " Kircho, Gemcinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther," 

2 Cp. K. Muller, ibid., and the authors quoted in the above-men 
tioned studies of P. Drews and H. Hermelink. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, pp. 083, 678. 

4 Hermelink (p. 297). He thinks the " states of excitement may be 
easily accounted for." 6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 680. 


It would seem from all this as though he expected the help 
necessary for the change of faith to come solely from those 
in authority, an opinion which he had expressed in his 
pamphlet to the nobility, the Princes and the gentry ; the 
secular power after making its " submission " to the Evangel 
was to do all that was required in the interests of the 
Evangel ; it was its duty to see that uniformity prevailed 
in the " true worship " throughout its dominions, to watch 
over the public services and exclude false worship. But 
whether the " Kingdom of God was to be introduced by 
the Princes, or to rise up spontaneously from the Christian 
Congregation, he docs not clearly state." 1 From 1522 to 
1525 he frequently speaks as though it were to proceed solely 
from the congregation, which by reason of the common 
priesthood of its members was possessed of the necessary 

In any case, we may gather the following regarding 
Church organisation : no outward government, no power or 
legislative authority exists in the Church itself ; on earth 
there is but one outward authority, viz. the secular ; the 
Church lives only by the Word of God and supports and 
governs itself by this alone. 

If legislation and external authority were called for in the 
Church, then this would have to be borrowed from the State, or, 
as Rudolf Sohm expresses it : "If legislation and judicial 
authority were needed in the Church of Christ, then, according 
to Luther s principles, the government of the Church would have 
to be set up by the ruler of the land." For, according to Luther, 
the authority of the Church is intended merely to foster piety, 2 
and a spiritual governing authority would result in compulsion 
and simply make people " impious." " The ecclesiastical 
authority to rule of the parson, i.e. his teaching office, is not a 
legal power." In his treatise on canon law, Sohm is one of the 
principal supporters of this principle. 3 To judge from the 
praise bestowed upon him by Hermelink, he had " penetrated 
deeply into Luther s thought," and " on the whole saw things in 
a right light," although he was possibly too fond of simplifying 
them in the interests of a system. 4 It is perfectly true that in 
Sohm and other Protestant Canonists, the contradictions in 
Luther s opinions are left in the background ; Luther s views of 
the formation of congregations having their own rights and 

1 Hermelink, p. 488 ; cp. p. 322. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 11, p. 251 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 68 : " The 
spiritual government which makes people Christians and holy," etc. 

3 " Kirchenrecht," 1892, pp. 528, 633 f. 

4 Hermelink, p. 322. 


their own authority, which appear side by side with his other 
schemes, receive, as a rule, little attention. 

In any case, Luther at that time made use of " every artifice 
to prove that it was the right of each individual Christian to 
judge of the preaching of the Gospel and of the avoiding of false 
prophets." 1 

In those early days Luther was so full of the ideal of the 
congregation that, in order to support it, he even appeals to the 
natural law. In order to save souls every congregation, govern 
ment or individual has by nature the right to make every effort 
to drive away the wolves, i.e. the clergy of Antichrist ; no apathy 
can be permitted where it is a question of eternal salvation ; the 
alleged rights and the handed-down possessions of the foes, or. 
which they base their corruptive influence, must not be spared : 
" We must not fall upon and seize the temporal possessions of 
others, above all not of our superiors except where it is a 
question of doctrine and the salvation of souls ; but if the Gospel 
is not preached, the spiritual authorities have no right to the 
revenues." 2 "According to Luther," says Hermelink, "the 
authorities of Altenburg had a perfect right to drive away the 
Provost and his people from Altenburg as ravening wolves " ; 
they were only to wait " a little " to see whether the monks 
would hold their tongues or perhaps even preach the pure Gospel. 
When thereupon Luther cries : " Their authority is at an end, 
abrogated by God Himself, if it be in conflict with the Gospel," 3 
Hermelink admits the presence of a certain " antagonism between 
the right of each individual Christian and the common law of 

Luther, however, generally prefers to give expression to 
other less violent thoughts ancnt the building up of the 
congregations to be formed from the Church of Antichrist. 

The holy Brotherhood of the Spirit, he says in his ideal 
istic way, was to arise, knowing no constraint but only 
charity, and having a ministry (" ministcrium "), but no 
" power." 4 " The freedom of the Spirit which must reign, 
makes things which are merely corporal and earthly, in 
different and not necessary." "All things arc indifferent 
and free ( omnia sunt indifferentia et libera )." "Paul 
demands the preservation of unity, but this is unity of the 
spirit, not of place, of persons, of things or of bodies." 6 We 
here again note the advent of that mysticism which had 

1 Cp. Luther s Memorandum for the Town Council of Altenburg 
(April 28, 1522), " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 347 ff. " For Scripture does 
not give to a council but to each individual Christian the authority 
to decide on doctrine and discern the wolves," etc. 

2 Hermelink, p. 309. 3 " Brief weehsel," 3, p. 349. 
* " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 721. 6 Ibid., p. 720. 


formerly dragged him down to the depths of a passive 
indifference. How these pseudo-mystical ideas were to 
further the building up of the new ecclesiastical system it 
is hard to understand. 

The Brotherhood, however, is not intended to introduce 
an altogether new ecclesiastical system. We are simply 
" Christians," the true Christians, members of the Churches 
which have always existed, but purified from a thousand 
years of deformation. " To create sects is stupid and 
useless"; 1 according to Luther, it is not even necessary 
for the task of uniting under the Christian name, before the 
end of the world, all the faithful and the pious consciences 
elected from the Kingdom of Antichrist. 

At that time he wished all his followers to be known 
simply as " Christians " ; and in the first days of the 
Protestant Churches he very frequently makes use of this 
term. 2 Even at a later date he was loath to hear them 
called after himself, in spite of his practical action to 
the contrary, because they " share with the rest the 
common teaching of Christ." 3 The term " Evangelicals " 
docs not appear to have been much in use in Luther s 
immediate surroundings. 4 As "Christians" and "Evan 
gelicals " they had not left the " Church," indeed, Luther 
always insists on the fact that it was they who really 
constituted and represented the " Church." According to 
the Augsburg Confession in 1530 they belonged to the 
Catholic Church ; they wished to define their position 
rather as that of a party within the Church, fighting for its 
existence, a party which accepted the Church s recognised 
articles of belief, sheltered itself under the testimony of 
recognised Catholic authorities, and \vhich had merely 
introduced certain innovations for the removal of the 
abuses which had crept in. 5 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, 10, 2, p. 33. 

2 Cp. the addresses, " To the Christians at Wittenberg," " To the 
Christians at Augsburg," and similar ones to those at Dorpat, in 
Flanders, in Holland, in Livonia, at Miltenberg, at Reval, at Riga, 
at Worms, at Antwerp, at Bremen, at Reutlingen, at Strasburg, etc. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 685. * Hermelink, p. 298. 

5 In this Confession we read that in their teaching there was nothing, 
" Quod discrepet a scripturis vel ab ecclesia catholica vel ab ecclesia 
romana, quatenus ex scriptoribus nota est" " Corp. Ref.," 26, p. 290. 
So runs the address presented to the Emperor, which Melanchthon 
afterwards toned down in the 2nd edition. Cp. Kolde, " Die Con- 


Although, according to Luther, the inward organisation 
of the Brotherhood referred to above was a matter of 
indifference, and the approaching end of the world admon 
ished him to suffer and wait to see what Christ willed to do 
with it, yet we read in other passages of his writings that it 
is necessary to work and to make great efforts to provide 
every city with a bishop or elder to preach the Gospel ; 
" every Christian " is bound to help towards this end, both 
by personal exertion and with his goods, and more particu 
larly the secular power, the authorities, whose duty it is to 
protect the pious. Those who are now already parsons may, 
indeed must, at once " withdraw from their obedience, 
seeing that they promised obedience to the devil and not 
to God." 1 

This is certainly " something more than passive suffering 
and waiting for the end." 2 

The apostasy of the clergy, which had begun, made the 
question of definite, external organisation a pressing one, 
for the new preachers and the clergy who were coming over 
had, after all, to be responsible to someone and had also to 
be maintained ; it was also necessary that they and their 
followers should receive external recognition for their 
Churches and extricate themselves from the numerous ties 
which united so closely the spiritual with the secular in 
Catholic life. The appointment of pastors and the repre 
sentation of the faithful by them was one of the factors 
which called for further organisation of the Churches : 
another factor, as we may notice in the case of Wittenberg, 
was the manner of celebrating the Supper. It was, as a 
matter of fact, the trouble at Wittenberg under Carlstadt 
which impelled Luther to take into serious consideration the 
establishment of an independent ecclesiastical organisation 
in that town, and which called for a definite system of 
appointing the Lutheran pastors even elsewhere, so as to 

fessio Augustana," p. 11. Kawerau (Holler s " Kirchengeschichte/ 
3, vol. iii., 1907, p. 108) also quotes the Protestant declaration of 154G 
(" Corp. Ref.," 6, p. 35) : " Nostri affirmant . . . confessionis Angus- 
tance doctrinam . . . esse consensum catholicce ecclesioe Dei," and the 
Wittenberg Ordination -papers that the person in question " tenet 
puram doctrinam evangelii quam catholica ecclesia Christi profttetur et 
nos in ecclesia nostra docemus" (" Luthers Brief wechsel," 11, 278; 
October 7, 1537). 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, pp. 140, 143, 144, 139, 110. 

* Hermelink, p. 302. 


prevent Carlstadt s followers from getting the upper hand 
throughout the country. 

After Luther had set aside Carlstadt s innovations at 
Wittenberg, with the approval of the Elector who had for 
bidden them, he appointed the celebration of the Supper for 
those of the new faith at Wittenberg on the lines previously 
followed by Melanchthon ; the communion became the 
principal part of the ceremony, the offertory was omitted 
and the words of consecration were spoken aloud either 
with or without certain of the prayers of the Mass. Thus 
the abuses introduced by Carlstadt were, in his opinion, 
removed, and the swarms of worldly minded and fanatical 
nominal Christians, " Christian in name but almost heathen 
at heart," were no longer brought in contact with the true 
Evangelicals ; the employment of force towards those weak 
in the faith, whose convictions Luther did not consider ripe 
for the purely congregational ritual of Carlstadt, was also 
put an end to. All the external forms which had been 
introduced, and to which, Luther feared, the people would 
have clung in an unevangelical fashion as had formerly been 
the case in Popery, were removed. 

In order more particularly to avoid any compromising 
abuse of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther sought to 
establish a Christian congregation in which confession should 
exist, though not as a compulsory practice, and in which a 
certain supervision was exercised. 

In order to proceed cautiously and in accordance with the 
Elector s ideas, he refrained from directing the bestowal of 
the chalice in the order of Divine Service drawn up for the 
use of his followers ; at any rate, this was the case at Easter, 
1522, though in the autumn of that same year the chalice 
was again in general use. 1 In spite of this, up to 1523, a 
special form of communion with the cup was in use for 
true Evangelical believers, who were subject to a special 
form of supervision. This arrangement agreed with Luther s 
idea of an " Assembly of true Christians," on which he was to 
enlarge in 1523 in his Maundy-Thursday sermon (see below). 
The special communion was, it is true, speedily abandoned, 
but the idea of the select Assembly ever remained dear to him . 2 

1 K. Miiller, " Kirche, Gemeinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther," 
p. 33, n. 3, where stress is rightly laid on the testimony of Sebastian 
Froschel. 2 Cp. Miiller, ibid., p. 34. 


The other factor which called even more urgently for 
internal organisation was the appointment of pastors. 

The induction of new pastors could not well take place 
independently of the authorities, indeed, it imperatively 
demanded their co-operation. At Wittenberg the later 
alteration in the liturgy and the final prohibition of the 
Mass, after it had been insisted on by Luther, was carried 
out by a threatening mob with the connivance of the 
Government. 1 Yet, in spite of the impossibility of dis 
pensing with the secular power, until 1525, Luther was for 
various reasons more inclined to the Congregational ideal, 
which was less subject to Government interference. 

This congregational ideal tended to promote his plan of 
an " Assembly of true Christians." 

In the newly erected congregations the " true believers," 
according to what Luther repeatedly says, formed the 
nucleus. It is to these that he appeals in his instructions 
in 1523 (" Us qui credunt, hcec scribimus ") ; " those whose 
hearts God has touched are to meet together," so he says, 
in order to choose a " bishop," i.e. " a minister or pastor." 
Even though the congregation numbers only half a dozen, 
yet they will draw after them others " who have not yet 
received the Word " ; the half a dozen, though but a 
handful and perhaps not distinguished by piety, so long as 
they do not live as obstinate and open sinners, are the real 
representatives of the true Church at their home. They 
must also rest assured, that if in their choice they have 
prayed to God for enlightenment, they " will be moved, and 
not act of themselves ( 4 vos agi in hoc causa, non agere )." 
" That Christ acts through them is quite certain ( plane 
certum )" z "Hence even a small minority of the truly 
pious among the congregation possess not only the right 
but also the duty to act ; for to stand by and let things 
take their course is contrary to the faith." 3 The election 

1 See below, xiv. 5, and vol. iv., xxviii. 6. 

2 " De instituendis ministris ecclesice, senatui populoque Pragensi," 
1523. " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 194 f. ; " Opp. Lat. var.," G, 
p. 530 seq. It follows from the context of the passage quoted above 
that Luther s assurance is intended to be their guarantee that they are 
acting in God s name, and are not themselves taking the initiative, 
but submitting to be led. Cp. letter to the Bohemian Estates (1522), 
Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 172 ff. ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 144 ff. 

3 Paul ^Drews (" Entsprach das Staatskirchentum dem Ideale 
Luthers ? " p. 36), in the examination of the instruction mentioned 
in the previous note. 


derives its " true validity solely from the half-dozen." 1 Of 
any election by the remaining members of the congregation 
or of any action of the magistracy Luther says nothing 
whatever ; he is speaking only to those within the body of 
the congregation whose hearts God has touched. 

The above thoughts find their first expression in the writing 
" De instituendis ministris ecclesice," which Luther sent to the 
Utraquists or Calixtines of Prague. 2 

The Utraquists of Bohemia acknowledged the Primacy of the 
Holy See and obeyed the Catholic Hierarchy, though certain 
Lutheran tendencies prevailed amongst them, which, however, 
had been grossly exaggerated by Cahera, who informed Luther of 
the fact ; Cahera even represented the greater part of the Council 
of Prague as predisposed in Luther s favour, which was certainly 
not true. In instructing the burghers, and more particularly 
the Council of Prague, how to proceed in founding congregations 
of their own by means of elections, Luther was also thinking of 
Germany, and above all of Saxony. This explains why, without 
delay, he had the Latin writing published also in German. 

To the people of Prague he wrote that those whose hearts 
God had touched were to assemble in the city for the election. 
They were first to remind themselves in prayer that the Lord had 
promised that where two or three were gathered together in His 
name, there He would be in the midst of them ; then they were 
to select capable persons for the clerical state and the ministry 
of the Word, who were then to officiate in the name of all ; these 
were then to lay their hands on the best amongst them (" potiores 
inter vo$ "), thus confirming them, after which they might be 
presented to " the people and the Church or congregation as 
bishops, servants or pastors, Amen." " It all depends on your 
making the venture in the Lord, then the Lord will be with you." 
In the congregations scattered throughout the land the faithful 
were to proceed in like manner, firing others by their example ; 
if they were few in number, there w r as all the more reason why 
they should make the venture. But as all was to be done spon 
taneously and under the influence of the Spirit of God, such 
Councils as were favourably disposed were not to exercise any 
constraint. He, too, for his own part, merely gave " advice and 

1 Thus Hermelink (p. 483), though he does not find the congrega 
tional principle so decidedly expressed in Luther s writings as Drews 
does. Luther s statements in the years 1522-1525 concerning the 
establishment of new congregations are certainly not at all clear, as 
Karl Miiller admits (" Luther und Karlstadt," " Luthers Gedanken 
iiber den Aufbau der neuen Gemeinden," p. 121). Cp. concerning the 
existence of Luther s congregational ideal, " Kirche, Gemeinde," usw., 
p. 40 ff. 

2 Above, p. Ill, n. 2. The writing is addressed to the Council and 
the inhabitants collectively (" senatus populusque "). Yet in certain 
passages the Council alone is addressed. 


exhortation." 1 Where a large number of congregations had 
appointed their " ministers " in this way, then these latter 
might, if they so desired, meet to elect Superintendents who 
would make the visitation of their Churches, " until Bohemia 
finally returns to the legitimate and evangelical Archiepiscopate," 

At about that same time, in a writing intended for the congre 
gation at Leisnig, Luther expressed his views on the congrega 
tional Churches to be established by the people. The confusion 
of his mind is no less apparent in this work ; under the influence 
of his idealism he fails to perceive the endless practical difficulties 
inherent in his scheme, and above all the impossibility of 
establishing any real congregation when every member had a 
right to criticise the preacher and to interpret Scripture accord 
ing to his own mind. 2 

He here assumes that the liberty to preach the Word, and 
likewise the right of judging doctrines, is part of the common 
priesthood of Christians. Whoever preaches publicly can only 
do this " as the deputy and minister of the others," i.e. of the 
whole body. 3 The congregation must see that no one seduces 
them with the doctrines of men, and therefore no one may be a 
preacher except by their choice. Where there is no bishop to 
provide for them, who holds Christian and evangelical views, 
they are themselves to give the call to the right preacher ; but 
if they catch him erring in his doctrine, then anyone may get up 
and correct him, so long as " all done is done decently and in 
order." 4 For St. Paul says concerning those who speak during 
Divine Worship [St. Paul is really alluding to the charismata of 
the early Christians], " If anything be revealed to another sitting, 
let the first hold his peace " (1 Cor. xiv. 30). " Indeed, a Christian 
has such authority that he might well rise up and teach uncalled 
even in the midst of the Christians. . . . For this reason, that 
necessity knows no law." Therefore to preserve the purity of 
the evangelical teaching, " every man may come forward, stand 
up and teach, to the best of his ability." 5 

The experience with the fanatics which speedily followed was 
calculated to dispel such platonic ideas. Luther does not appear 
to have asked himself on which side the " Christian congregation " 
and the Church was to be sought when dissensions, doctrinal or 
other, at that period inevitable, should have riven the fold in 
twain. The " Christian congregation " he teaches merely re 
stating the difficulty " is most surely to be recognised where 
the pure Gospel is preached. . . . From the Gospel we may tell 
where Christ stands with His army." 6 

1 In the Preface : " Nequaquam esse possum autor quidquam ten- 
tandi, nisi per consilium et exhortationem." 

2 The title of the work describes it well : " The Scriptural ground 
and reason why a Christian congregation or assembly has the right and 
power to pass judgment on all doctrines, to call, appoint, or remove 
pastors," 1523. " Werke," Weim. ed., 11, p. 401 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, 
p. 140 ff. 3 Ibid., p. 412-147. 4 Ibid. 

6 Ibid., pp. 412, 413, 414=147, 148, 149. 
6 Ibid., p. 408 = 141 
II. i 


How bold the edifice was which he had planned in the evan 
gelical Churches is plain from other statements contained in the 
writing addressed to the Leisnig Assembly. 

The president was indeed to preside, but all the members were 
to rule. " Whoever is chosen for the office of preacher is thereby 
raised to the most exalted office in Christendom ; he is then 
authorised to baptise, to say Mass and to hold the cure of souls." 1 
Yet he is subject both to the community and to every member 
of it. " In the world the masters command what they please 
and their servants obey. But amongst you, Christ says, it shall 
not be so ; amongst Christians each one is judge of the other, 
and in his turn subject to the rest." 2 

He might say what he pleased against the abuses of the 
old Church, such systematic disorder never prevailed within 
her as that each one should teach as he pleased and even 
correct the preacher publicly, or that the Demos should be 
acknowledged as supreme. It is in vain that, in the writing 
above referred to, he mocks at this city set on a hill, with 
her firmly established hierarchy, saying : " Bishops and 
Councils determine and settle what they please, but where 
we have God s Word on our side it is for us to decide what is 
right or wrong and not for them, and they shall yield to us 
and obey our word." 3 We may well explain the saying " to 
obey our word " by Luther s own eloquent paraphrase : 
" Pay no heed to the commandments of men, law, tradition, 
custom, usage and so forth, whether established by Pope or 
Emperor, Prince or Bishop, whether observed by half the 
world or by the whole, whether in force for one year or for a 
thousand ! " " Obey our word ! " For we declare that we 
have the " Word of God on our side." 4 

The new congregations will, in spite of their own and every 
member s freedom to teach, agree with Luther, so he assures 
them with the most astounding confidence, because " his 
mouth is the mouth of Christ," and because he knows that 
his word is not his, but Christ s. We must emphasise the 
fact, that here we have the key to many of the strange 
trains of thought already met with in Luther, and also a 
proof of the endurance of his unpractical ultra-spiritualism. 

Luther, in fact, declares that he had " not merely received 
his teaching from heaven, but on behalf of one who had 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 11, p. 415 f. = 151. 

2 Ibid., p. 410 = 145. 

3 Ibid., p. 409f. = 143f. * Ibid., p. 408f. = 142. 


more power in his little finger than a thousand popes, kings, 
princes and doctors." 1 Before receiving his enlightenment 
he had had to learn what was meant by being " born of 
God, dying often and surviving the pains of hell." 2 Who 
ever differed from him, as the fanatics did, had not been 
through such an experience. " Wouldst thou know where, 
when and how we arc vouchsafed the divine communica 
tions ? When that which is written takes place : As a 
lion, so hath He broken all my bones (Isa. xxxviii. 13). . . . 
God s Majesty cannot speak in confidence with the old man 
without previously slaying. . . . The dreams and visions 
of the saints are dreadful." 3 Such was the mysticism of the 

2. Against Celibacy. Doubtful Auxiliaries from the 
Clergy and the Convents 

In establishing his new ecclesiastical organisation Luther 
thought it his duty to wage war relentlessly on the celibacy 
of the clergy and on monastic vows in general. Was he more 
successful herein than in his project of reforming the articles 
of faith and the structure of the Church ? 

According to Catholic ideas his war against vows and 
sacerdotal celibacy constituted an unwarrantable and 
sacrilegious interference with the most sacred promises by 
which a man can bind himself to the Almighty, for it is in 
this light that a Catholic considers vows or the voluntary 
acceptance of celibacy upon receipt of the major orders. 
Luther was, moreover, tampering with institutions which 
are most closely bound up with the life of the Church and 
which alone render possible the observance of that high 
standard of life and that independence which should dis 
tinguish the clergy. Yet his mistaken principles served to 
attract to his camp all the frivolous elements among the 
clergy and religious, i.e. all those who were dissatisfied with 
their state and longed for a life of freedom. As a matter of 
fact, experience speedily showed that nothing was more 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 228 = 28, p. 346, in his reply to 
King Henry VIII " of Engelland " (1522). 

2 To Melanchthon, January 13, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 272 f. : 
" Veniam ad prophetas. . . . Explores ctiam, num experti sint spirit- 
uales Mas anyustias et nativitates divinas, mortes infernosque." 

3 Ibid., 3, p. 273. 


calculated to bring the Reformation into disrepute. 
Lutheranism threw open the doors of the convents, burst 
the bonds imposed by vows, and reduced hundreds of the 
clergy to a moral debasement against which their own 
conscience raised a protest. In outward appearance it was 
thereby the gainer, for by this means it secured new 
adherents in the shape of preachers to spread the cause, but 
in reality the positive gain was nil; in fact, the most vital 
interests of the new work were endangered owing to the low 
moral standard of so many of its advocates. Apart from 
the preachers, many followers of the new Evangelical teach 
ing, fugitive religious and more especially escaped nuns, 
played a very lamentable part. 

In various writings and letters Luther sought to familiar 
ise the clergy and monks with the seductive principles con 
tained in his books " On the Clerical State " and " On 
Monastic Vows." His assurances all went to prove that the 
observance of priestly celibacy and the monastic state was 
impossible. He forgot w r hat he had once learnt and cheer 
fully practised, viz. that the sexual renunciation demanded 
in both professions was not merely possible, but a sacrifice 
willingly offered to God by all who are diligent in prayer and 
make use of the means necessary for preserving their virtue, 
and the numerous spiritual helps afforded by their state. 

The powerful and seductive language he knows how to 
employ appears, for instance, in his letter to Wolfgang 
Reissenbusch, an Antonine monk, 1 who was already waver 
ing, and in whose case Luther s strenuous efforts were 
crowned with success. The letter, which is dated March 27, 
1525, was written shortly before Luther s union with 
Catharine von Bora. 

The writer in the very first lines takes pains to convince this 
religious, that " he had been created by God for the married 
state and was forced and impelled by Him thereto." The religious 
vow was worthless, because it required what was impossible, since 
" chastity is as little within our power as the working of miracles "; 
man was utterly unable to resist his natural attraction to woman ; 
" whoever wishes to remain single let him put away his human 
name and fashion himself into an angel or a spirit, for to a man 
God does not give this grace." 

1 To Wolfgang Reissenbusch, Preceptor at Lichtenberg, " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 18, p. 270-9 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 286 ff. (" Briefwechsel," 5, 
p. 145). 


Elsewhere Luther, nevertheless, admits that some few by the 
help of God were able to live unmarried and chaste. In view of 
the sublime figures to be found in the history of the Church, and 
which it was impossible to impeach, he declares that " it is rightly 
said of the holy virgins that they lived an angelical and not a 
human life, and that by the grace of the Almighty they lived 
indeed in the flesh yet not according to it." 

He proceeds to heap up imaginary objections against the vow 
of chastity, saying that whoever makes such a vow is building 
" upon works and not solely on the grace of God " ; trusting to 
" works and the law " and denying " Christ and the faith." 
In the case of Reissenbusch, the only obstacle lay in his " bash- 
fulness and diffidence." " Therefore there is all the more need 
to keep you up to it, to exhort, drive and urge you and so render 
you bold. Now, my dear Sir, I ask of you, why delay and think 
about it so long, etc. ? It is so, must be and ever shall be so ! 
Pocket your scruples and be a man cheerfully. Your body 
demands and needs it. God wills it and forces you to it. How 
are you to set that aside ? " He points out to the wavering 
monk the "noble and excellent example which he will give" ; 
he will become the " cloak of marriage " to many others. " Did not 
Christ become the covering of our shame ? . . . Among the raving 
madmen [the Papists], it is accounted a shameful thing, and 
though they do not make any difficulty about fornication they 
nevertheless scoff at the married state, the work and Word of God. 
If it is a shameful thing to take a wife, then why are we not 
ashamed to eat and drink, since both are equally necessary and 
God wills both ? " Thus he attributes to the Catholics, at least 
in his rhetorical outbursts, the view that it was a " shameful tiling 
to take a wife," and accuses them of scoffing at the " married 
state," and of " not objecting to fornication." He did not see 
that if anyone strives to observe chastity in accordance with the 
Counsel of Christ without breaking his word and perjuring 
himself, this constancy is far from being a disgrace, but that the 
disgrace falls rather on him who endeavours to entice the monk 
to forsake his vows. 

" The devil is the ruler of the world," Luther continues. " He 
it is who has caused the married state to be so shamefully calum 
niated and yet permits adulterers, feminine whores and mas 
culine scamps to be held in great honour ; verily it would be 
right to marry, were it only to bid defiance to the devil and his 

In the closing sentence he aims his last bolt at the monk s 
sense of honour : " It is merely a question of one little hour of 
shame to be succeeded by years of honour. May Christ, our Lord, 
impart His grace so that this letter . . . may bring forth fruit 
to the glory of His name and word, Amen." 

The letter was not intended merely for the unimportant 
person to whom it was addressed, and whose subsequent marriage 
with the daughter of a poor tailor s widow in Torgau did not 
render him any the more famous. Publicity was the object 


aimed at in this writing, which was at once printed in German 
and Latin and distributed that it might " bear fruit." The 
lengthier " Epistola cjratulatoria to one about to marry," im 
mediately reprinted in German, was despatched by Luther s 
Wittenberg friend Bugenhagen at the time of Reissenbusch s 
wedding. It had been agreed upon to utilise the action of Reis- 
senbusch for all it was worth in the propaganda in favour of 
the breaking of vows and priestly celibacy. 

Luther was then in the habit of employing the strongest 
and most extravagant language in order to show the need 
of marriage in opposition to the celibacy practised by the 
priests and monks. It is only with repulsion that one can 
follow him here. 

"It is quite true," he says, in 1522, to the German people, 
" that whoever does not marry must misconduct himself . . . 
for God created man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. 
But why is not fornication obviated by marriage ? For where 
no extraordinary grace is vouchsafed, nature must needs be 
fruitful and multiply, and if not in marriage, where will it find 
its satisfaction save in harlotry or even worse sins ? " Luther 
carefully refrained from mentioning the countless number who 
were able to control the impulses of nature without in any way 
touching the moral filth to which, in his cynicism, he is so fond of 
referring. What he said filled with indignation those who were 
zealous for the Church, and called forth angry rejoinders, especi 
ally in view of the countless numbers, particularly of women, 
to whom marriage was denied owing to social conditions. 

It is true that after such strong outbursts as the above, Luther 
would often moderate his language. Thus he says, shortly after 
the utterance just quoted : " I do not wish to disparage vir 
ginity nor to tempt people away from it to the conjugal state. 
Let each one do as he is able and as he feels God has ordained for 
him. . . . The state of chastity is probably better on earth as 
having less of trouble and care, and not for its own sake only, 
but in order to allow one to preach and wait upon the Word of 
God, as St Paul says 1 Corinthians vii. 34. " 2 

But then he continues, following up the idea which possesses 
him : " He who desires to live single undertakes an impossible 
struggle " ; such people become " full of harlotry and all impurity 
of the flesh, and at last drown themselves therein and fall into 
despair ; therefore such a vow is invalid, being contrary to the 
W T orcl arid work of God." 3 Most of the younger religious, he de 
clares elsewhere in a description which is as repulsive as it is 
untrue, were unable to control themselves, for it is not possible 
to take from fire its power of burning ; among them, and the 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 300 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 537 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 302 = 539. 

3 In the letter to Reissenbusch ; see above, p. 116, n. 1. 


clergy, there prevailed " either harlotry under the name of a 
spiritual and chaste life, or an impure, unwilling, wretched, forlorn 
chastity, so that the wretchedness is greater than anyone could 
believe or tell." 1 

What Luther says would leave us under the impression to put 
the most charitable interpretation upon his words that he had 
lived in sad surroundings ; yet what we know of the Augustinian 
monasteries at Erfurt and Wittenberg affords as little ground for 
such an assumption as the conditions prevailing in the other 
friaries, whether Franciscan or Dominican, with which he was 
acquainted. He speaks again and again as though he knew 
nothing of the satisfaction with their profession which filled 
whole multitudes who were faithful to their vows, and which 
was the result of serious discipline and a devout mind. He 
goes on : " They extol chastity loudly, but live in the midst of 
impurity. . . . These pious foundations and convents, where the 
faith [according to his teaching] is not practised stoutly and 
heartily," 2 must surely be gates of hell. Those who refrain from 
marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven are, he considers, 
" so rare, that among a thousand men there is scarcely to be 
found one, for they are a special miracle of God s own." 3 He 
who enters a monastery, he writes (not in the least afraid of 
speaking as though this had been his own experience), can, in 
reality, never avoid sinning against his vow. The Pope leaves 
such a one to be, as it were, burnt and roasted in the fire ; he 
accordingly might well be compared to the sacrifice which the 
children of Israel offered to Moloch the fiery idol. " What a 
Sodom and Gomorrha," he cries in another passage, " has the 
devil set up by such laws and vows, making of that rare gift 
chastity a thing of utter wretchedness. Neither public houses 
of ill fame, nor indeed any form of allurement to vice, is so perni 
cious as are these vows and commandments invented by Satan 
himself." 4 Such are his words in his " Postils," written for 
genera], practical use. 

His " larger Catechism " was also used as a means to render 
popular his most extravagant polemics on this subject. The 
sixth Commandment makes of chastity a duty, and Christ s 
counsel of voluntary continence was to serve for the preserving 
and honouring of this very command. Yet Luther says : "By 
this commandment all vows of unmarried chastity are condemned, 
and all poor, enslaved consciences which have been deceived by 
their monastic vows are thereby permitted, nay ordered, to pass 
from the unchaste to the conjugal state, seeing that even though 
the monastic life were in other particulars divine, it is not in their 
power to preserve their chastity intact." 5 Thus "the married 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 127 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 165. Against 
the clerical state falsely so called. 

2 Ibid., p. 130= 165 se?. 

3 Ibid., p. 279 = 16 2 , p. 514 f. " Sermon on the married life, 1522. 

4 Ibid., 10, 1, 1, pp. 693, 708 = 12, p. 451, 465, "Postils." 

5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 21, p. 71. 



state " is, at least, according to this passage, prescribed for all 
without exception in the Ten Commandments. 

Still further to strengthen his seductive appeals to the 
clergy and religious, Luther, as he himself informs us, 
advised those who were unable to marry openly " at least 
to wed their cook secretly." 1 

To the Prince-Abbots he gave the advice that on account 
of the laws of the Empire they should, for the time being, 
" take a wife in secret," " until God, the Lord, shall dispose 
matters otherwise." In 1523 he advised all the Knights of 
the Teutonic Order, who were vowed to chastity, " not to 
worry " about their " weakness and sin " even though they 
had contracted some " illicit connections " ; such connections 
contracted outside of matrimony were " less sinful " than to 
" take a lawful wife " with the consent of a Council, suppos 
ing such a permission were given. 2 This last letter, too, was 
at once printed by Luther for distribution. 3 

His spirit of defiance led him to clothe his demands in 
outrageous forms. On one occasion he declared in language 
resembling that which he made use of concerning the laws of 
fasting : " Even though a man has no mind to take a wife 
he ought, nevertheless, to do so in order to spite and vex the 
devil and his doctrine." 4 

The Fathers of the Church accordingly found little favour 
with him when they required of the clergy, monks and nuns, 
not merely the observance of celibacy, but also the use of 
the means enjoined by asceticism for the preservation of 
chastity ; or when they betrayed their preference for the 
vow of chastity, though without by any means disparaging 
marriage. They quoted what Our Lord had said of this 
doctrine : " He that can take it, let him take it " (Matt, 
xix. 12). The Fathers, in the spirit of St. Paul, who, as one 
"having obtained mercy of the Lord," joyfully acquiesced 
in His " Counsel " of chastity (1 Cor. vii. 25), frequently 
advocated the doctrine of holy continence. But Luther 
asks : Of what use were their penitential practices for the 
preservation of their chastity to the Fathers, even to 

1 Letter of April or June, 1540, to the Elector of Saxony, quoted by 
J. K. Seidemann in " Lauterbachs Tagebuch," 1872, p. 198. 

2 See below. 

3 Cp. Enders, " Briefwechsel Luthers," 4, p. 266 f. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 556. 


Augustine, Jerome, Benedict, Bernard, etc., since they 
themselves allow that they were constantly troubled by 
temptations of the flesh ? In his opinion, as we already 
know, the attacks of sensuality, the movements of the 
carnal man and the enduring sense of our own concupiscence 
are really sins. 

Jerome in particular, the zealous advocate of virginity, 
received at Luther s hands the roughest treatment. This 
saint is erroneously reckoned among the Fathers of the 
Church ; he is of no account at all except for the histories 
he compiled ; he was madly in love with the virgin Eusto- 
chium ; his writings give no proof of faith or true religion ; 
he had not the least idea of the difference between the law 
and the Gospel, and writes of it as a blind man might write 
of colour, etc. His invitations to the monastic life are 
described by Luther as impious, unbelieving and sacri 
legious. Scoffing at the Saint s humble admission of his 
temptations in his old age and the severe mortifications he 
practised to overcome them, Luther says : The virgin Eusto- 
chium would have been the proper remedy for him. " I am 
astounded that the holy Fathers tormented themselves so 
greatly about such childish temptations and never experi 
enced the exalted, spiritual trials [those regarding faith], 
seeing that they were rulers in the Church and filled high 
offices. This temptation of evil passions may easily be 
remedied if there are only virgins or women available," 1 

All these fell doctrines and allurements which without 
intermission were poured into the ears of clergy and religious 
alike, many of w T hom were uneducated, already tainted with 
worldlincss, or had entered upon their profession without 
due earnestness, were productive of the expected result in 
the case of the weak. The sudden force of Luther s powerful 
and well-calculated attack upon the clergy and upon 
monasticism has been aptly compared to the effect of 
dynamite. But whoever fell, did so of his own free will. 
Such language was nothing but the bewitching song of the 
Siren addressed to the basest though most powerful instincts 
of man. 

The historic importance of the attack upon ecclesiastical 
celibacy is by no means fully gauged if we merely regard it 

1 "Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 262 (" Tischreden "). Cp. " Colloq.," 
ed. Bindseil, 2, pp. 315, 364 ; 3, p. 149. 


as an effective method of securing preachers, allies and 
patrons for the new Evangel. It was, indeed, closely bound 
up with Luther s whole system, and his early theories on 
holiness by works and self-righteousness. His war on vows 
was too spontaneous, too closely connected with his own 
personal experience, to be accounted for merely by the 
desire of increasing the number of his followers. The 
aversion to the practice of good works Avhich marked the 
commencement of his growth, his loathing for the sacrifices 
entailed by self-denial, the very stress he lays on the desires 
of nature as opposed to the promptings of grace, the delusion 
of evangelical freedom and finally his hatred of those 
institutions of the old Church which inspired her adherents 
with such vigorous life wherever they were rightly under 
stood and practised all this served as an incentive in the 

A strange element which, according to his own statements, 
formed an undercurrent to all this and which indicates his 
peculiar state of mind, was that he looked upon the tempta 
tions of the flesh as something altogether insignificant in 
comparison with the exalted spiritual assaults of " blas 
phemy and despair " of which he had had personal experi 
ence. 1 In the passage already referred to, wiierc he chides 
the Fathers with their " childish temptations," he says : 
Why on earth did they make such efforts for the preserva 
tion of their beloved chastity, or exert themselves for 
something entirely, or almost entirely, impossible of 
attainment ? The temptations of the flesh are nothing at 
all, he proceeds, " compared with the Angel of Satan who 
buffets us ; then indeed we are nailed to the cross, then 
indeed childish things such as the temptations which 
worried Jerome and others become of small account." In 
Paul s case, according to him, the " angclus colaphizans " 
(the ,angel who buffeted him, 2 Cor. xii. 7) was not a sting 
of the flesh at all, but exalted pangs of the soul, such as 
those to which the Psalmist alluded when he said : " God, 
my God, why hast Thou forsaken me ? " where he really 
means : " God, Thou art become my enemy without a 
cause," or again, that a sword has pierced his bowels (pains 
of the soul). He himself, Luther, had endured such-like 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 262. 


things, but " Jerome and the other Fathers never experi 
enced anything of the sort." 1 

Luther complains as early as 1522, i.e. at the very outset 
of this "Evangelical" movement, of the character of the 
auxiliaries who had been attracted to him by his attack on 
priestly and monastic continence. 

In a letter sent to Erfurt he expresses his great dissatisfaction 
at the fact that, where apostate Augustinians had become 
pastors, their behaviour, like that of the other preachers drawn 
from the ranks of the priesthood, had " given occasion to their 
adversaries to blaspheme " against the evangel. He says he 
intends sending a circular letter to the " Church at Erfurt " 
on account of the bad example given.- The person to whom 
these bitter words were addressed, Luther s intimate friend, 
Johann Lang, the Erfurt Augustinian, had himself shortly before 
forsaken the monastery. The circumstances attending his leav 
ing were very distasteful to Luther. 

The evangelical life at Erfurt, where many of the priests \vere 
taking wives, must be improved, so he writeSj even though the 
" understanding of the Word " had increased greatly there. 
" The power of the Word is either still hidden " he says, of the 
new evangel, " or it is far too weak in us all ; for we are the same 
as before, hard, unfeeling, impatient, foolhardy, drunken, disso 
lute, quarrelsome ; in short, the mark of a Christian, viz. abun 
dant charity, is nowhere apparent ; on the contrary, the words of 
Paul are fulfilled, we possess the kingdom of God in speech, 
but not in power " (1 Cor. iv. 20). 3 In the same letter he com 
plains of the monks who had left their convents to reinforce the 
ranks of his party : " I see that many of our monks have left 
their priory for no other reason than that which brought them in : 
they follow their bellies and the freedom of the flesh. By them 
Satan will set up a great stench against the good odour of our 
work. But what can we do ? They are idle people who seek 
their own, so that it is better they should sin and go to destruc 
tion without the cowl than with it." 

Luther complained still more definitely of his " parsons and 
preachers " in the Preface to the " Larger Catechism " which he 
composed for them in 1529 : Many, he says, despise their office 
and good doctrine : some simply treated the matter as though 
they had become " parsons and preachers solely for their belly s 
sake" ; he would exhort such " lazy paunches or presumptuous 
saints " to diligence in their office. 4 What he had predicted in 
1522 became more and more plainly fulfilled : " It is true that 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 315. 

2 To Johann Lang at Erfurt, March 28, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, 
p. 323 seq. 

3 Ibid., p. 323. * " Werke," Erl. ed., 21, p. 26 ff. 


I fear some will take wives or run away, not from Christian con 
viction, but because they rejoice to find a cloak and reason for 
their wickedness in the freedom of the evangel." His consola 
tion, however, is, that it was just as bad and even worse in 
Popery, and if needs be " we still have the gallows, the wheel, 
sword and water to deal with such as will not do what is right." 1 

In later years, as his pupil Mathesius relates in the 
" Ilistorien " of his conversations with him, Luther was 
anxious to induce the Elector to erect a " Priests Tower " 
" in which such wild and untamed persons might be shut up 
as in a prison ; for many of them would not allow them 
selves to be controlled by the Evangel ; ... all who once 
had run to the monasteries for the sake of their belly and an 
easy life were now running out again for the sake of the 
freedom of the flesh." 2 According to Lauterbaeh s " Tagc- 
buch," however (15138), the Elector had before this decided 
to rebuild the University prison as a jail for such of the 
clergy of Luther s camp who misbehaved themselves, 3 and 
the Notes of Mathesius recently edited by Krokcr allow us 
to infer that the prison had already been built in 1540. 4 
Thus the account given by Mathesius in the " Ilistorien " 
and quoted by him in sermons at a later date must be 
amended and amplified accordingly. 

Even Luther s own followers looked askance at many of 
the recruits from the clergy and the monasteries, who came 
to swell the ranks of the preachers and adherents of the 
new Evangel. We are in possession of statements on this 
subject made by Eberlin, Ilessus and Cordus. 

" Scarcely has a monk or nun been three days out of the 
convent," writes Eberlin of (junzburg, " than they make haste 
to marry some woman or knave from the streets, without any 
godly counsel or prayer ; in the same way the parsons too take 
whom they please, arid then, after a short honeymoon, follows 
a long year of trouble." 6 

Eobanus Hessus, the Humanist, writes in 1523 from Erfurt to 
J. Draco that the runaway monks neglected education and 
learning and preached their own stupidities as wisdom ; the 

1 "Werko," Wcim. od., 10, 2, p. 35; Erl. ed., 28, p. 311, in the 
tract " Concerning the Sacrament under both kinds." 

2 Mathesius, " Historien," 15G6, 11. Sermon 136 . 

3 " Lauterbachs Tagobuch," p. 13. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Krokor, p. 72 f. 

6 Karnpschulte, " Universitat Erfurt," 2, p. 173, quoted from a 
publication which is not by the Erfurt preacher Mechler, as he thinks, 
but by Eberlin. Cp. N. Paulus in Janssen, 2 18 , p. 240, n. 3. 


number of such priests and nuns was increasing endlessly. " I 
cannot sufficiently execrate these fugitives. No Phyllis is more 
wanton than our nuns." 1 

A third witness, also from Erfurt, Euritius Cordus, complains 
in similar fashion in a letter written in 1522 to Draco : No one 
here has been improved one little bit by the evangel ; " on the 
contrary, avarice has increased and likewise the opportunities 
for the worst freedom of the flesh " ; priests and monks were 
everywhere set upon marrying, which in itself is not to be dis 
approved of, and the young students were more lawless than 
soldiers in camp. 2 

Protestant historians arc fond of limiting the moral evils 
to the period which followed the Peasant Wars of 1525 as 
though they had been caused by the disorders of the time. 
The above accounts, given by followers of the new move 
ment, extend, however, to earlier years, and to these many 
others previous to 1525 will be added in the course of our 

It has also frequently been said that the confusion which 
always accompanies popular movements which stir men s 
minds must be taken into account when considering the 
disastrous moral effects so evident in the camp of the 
Reformers. But this view of the matter, if not false, is at 
least open to doubt. The disorders just described were not 
at all creditable to a work undertaken in the name of 
religion. The results were also felt long after. If all revolu 
tions easily led to such consequences, in this instance the 
lamentable moral outcome was all the more inevitable, 
seeing that " freedom " was the watchword. 

The undeniable fact of the existence of such a state of 
things was all the more disagreeable to its authors, i.e. 
Luther and his friends, since they were well aware that the 
great ecclesiastical movements in former days, which had 
really been inspired by God, usually exhibited, more par 
ticularly in their beginnings, abundant moral benefits. 
"The first fruits of the Spirit," as they had been manifested 
in the Church, were very different from those attending the 
efforts of the Wittenberg Professor, who, nevertheless, had 

Helii Eobani Hessi et amicorum ipsius opistolarum familiarium 
libri 12," Marpurgi, 1543, p. 87. Phyllis, the beloved of Demophon, 
became the type of sensual passion. 

2 Ibid., p. 90. For date see Oergel, " Beitrage zur (Jesch. ties Er- 
furter Humanismus," in " Mitt, des Vereim fiirdie Gesch. von Erfurt," 
part 15, 1892, p. 107. 


himself designated this period as the " primitice spiritus." 1 
It was but poor comfort in their difficulty to strive to 
reassure themselves by considerations such as Cordus 
brings forward to meet the complaints we quoted above : 
" Maybe the Word of God has only now opened our eyes to 
see clearly, to recognise as sin, and abhor with fear, what 
formerly "we scarcely heeded." This strange fashion of 
soothing his conscience he had learnt from Luther. (See 
vol. iv., xxiv.) 

It is worth while to observe the impression which the 
facts just mentioned made on Luther s foes. 

Erasmus, who at the commencement was not unfavourably 
disposed towards the movement, turned away from it with 
disgust, influenced, in part at least, by the tales he heard con 
cerning the apostate priests and religious. " They seek two 
things," he wrote, " an income (censum) and a wife ; besides, the 
evangel affords them freedom to live as they please." 2 In a 
letter to the Strasburg preacher, Martin Bucer, he said : " Those 
who have given up the recital of the Canonical Hours do not now 
pray at all ; many who have laid aside the pharisaical dress are 
really worse than they were before." 3 And again : "The first 
thing that makes me draw back from this company is, that I see 
so many among this troop becoming altogether estranged from 
the purity of the Gospel. Some I knew as excellent men before 
they joined this sect ; what they are now, I know not, but I 
hear that many have become worse, and none better." The 
evangel now prospers, he says elsewhere, " because priests and 
monks take wives contrary to human laws, or at any rate con 
trary to their vow. Look around and see whether their marriages 
are more chaste than those of others upon whom they look as 
heathen." 4 

Valentine Ickelsamer, an Anabaptist opponent of Luther s, 
reminds him in his writing in defence of Carlstadt in 1525, 5 
that Holy Scripture says : "By their works you shall know 
them." Even while studying at Wittenberg [a few years before] 
he had been obliged to appeal to this " text of Matthew septimo," 
out of disgust at the riotous life people led there ; " they had, 
however, always found a convenient method of explaining it 

1 ; Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 263 (" Brief wechsel," 4, p. 372, July, 
1524) : " I know that we ... as St. Paul says, Romans viii. 23, have 
the first fruits of the Spirit, primitias spiritus, although we have not 
yet received the fulness of the Spirit." 

2 Letter to W. Pirkheimer, 1528, " Opp.," Lugduni Batavorum, 
1702 seq., t. 3, p. 1139. 

3 " Opp.," 3, p. 1030. Dollinger, " Die Reformation," 1, p. 12. 

4 Ibid., 10, p. 1578 seq. Dollinger, p. 15. 

5 " Clag etlicher Briider," etc., ed. Enders (" Neudrucke deutscher 
Literaturwerke," No. 118, 1893), p. 48. 


away, or got out of the difficulty by the help of some paltry 
gloss." " You also," he says to Luther, " loudly complained 
that we blamed only the faults on your side. No, we do not 
judge, or blame any sinner as you do ; but what we do say is 
that where Christian faith is not productive of Christian works, 
there the faith is neither rightly preached nor rightly accepted." 
It is true that this corrector of the public morals could only 
point to a pretence of works among his own party, and in weigh 
ing his evidence against Luther allowance must be made for 
his prejudice against him. Still, his words give some idea of the 
character of the protests made against the Wittenberg preachers 
in the prints of that time. He approves of the marriage of the 
clergy who had joined Luther s party, and refuses to open his 
eyes to what was taking place among the Anabaptists them 
selves : " They" [your preachers], he says, " threaten and force 
the poor people by fair, or rather foul and tyrannical, means, 
to feed their prostitutes, for these clerical fellows judge it better 
to keep a light woman than a wedded wife, because they are 
anxious about their external appearance. . . . Such declare 
that whoever accuses them of keeping prostitutes lies like a 
scoundrel. . . . But if such are not the worst fornicators and 
knaves, let the fiend fly away with me. I often wonder whether 
the devil is ever out of temper now, for lie has the whole of the 
preacher folk on his side ; on their part there has been nothing 
but deception." Were the people to seize the preachers " by 
the scruff of their neck " on account of their wickedness, then 
they would call themselves martyrs, and say that Christ had 
foretold their persecution ; true enough the other mad priests 
[the Catholics] were " clearly messengers and satellites of the 
devil " ; nevertheless he could not help being angered by Luther s 
" rich, uncouth, effeminate, whoremongering mob of preachers," 
who were so uncharitable in their ways and " who yet pretended 
to be Christians." 1 

It is obvious that Ickelsamcr and his party went too far 
when they asserted that not one man who led an honest life 
was to be found among the Lutheran preachers, for in reality 
there was no lack of well-meaning men who, like Willibald 
Pirkheimer and Albrecht Diirer, were bent on making use 
of their powers in the interests of what they took to be the 
pure Gospel. This, however, was less frequently the case 
with the apostate priests and monks. The thoughts of the 
impartial historian revert of their own accord to the moral 
disorders prevalent in the older Church. We are not at 
liberty to ignore the fact that it was impossible for the 
Catholics at that time to point to any shining examples on 
their side which might have shamed the Lutherans. They 
1 " Clag etlicher Brvider " (above, p. 126, n. 5), p. 47. 


were obliged to admit that the abuses rampant in clerical 
and monastic life had, as a matter of fact, prepared the way 
for and facilitated the apostasy of many of those who went 
over to Luther and became preachers of the new faith. The 
Church had to lament not only the fate of those who turned 
their back on her, but the earlier decay of many of her own 
institutions ; under the influence of the spirit of the age 
this decay was hourly growing worse. At the same time the 
secession of so many undesirable elements was itself a 
reason for not despairing of recovery. 

A great contrast to the lives of the apostate monks and 
clergy is nevertheless presented in an account which has 
been preserved by one of the adherents of the new faith of 
the conditions prevailing in certain monasteries where the 
friars, true to the Rule of their founder, kept their vows in 
the right spirit. The Franciscan Observants of the Province 
of Higher Germany were then governed by Caspar Schatz- 
geyeiCa capable Bavarian Friar Minor, and, notwithstanding 
many difficulties, numbered in 1523 no less than 28 friaries 
and 5GO members. In the course of the fifteenth century 
the Franciscan Observantincs had spread far and wide as 
a result of the reform inaugurated within the Order and 
approved of by Rome. The Franciscan foundations at 
Heidelberg, Basle, Tubingen, Nuremberg, Mayence, Ulm, 
Ingoldstadt, Munich and other cities had one after the 
other made common cause with the Observants and, unlike 
the Coventuals, observed the old Rule in all its primitive 

It was Johann Eberlin of Gunzburg, a Franciscan who had 
apostatised to Lutheranism, who, in 1523, in a tract " Against 
those spurious clergymen of the Christian flock known as bare 
footed friars or Franciscans," was compelled to bear witness to 
the pure and mortified life of these monks with whom he was so 
well acquainted, though he urges that the devil was artfully 
using for his own purposes their piety, which was altogether 
devoid of true faith, " in order to entangle the best and most 
zealous souls in the meshes of his diabolical net." " They lead a 
chaste life in words, works and behaviour," says Eberlin, speak 
ing of them generally ; "if amongst a hundred one should act 
otherwise, this is not to be wondered at. If he transgresses [in 
the matter of chastity], he is severely punished as a warning to 
others. Their rough grey frock and hempen girdle, the absence 
of boots, breeches, vest, woollen or linen shirt, their not being 
allowed to bathe, being obliged to sleep in their clothes and not on 


feather-beds but on straw, their fasts which last half the year, 
their lengthy services in choir, etc., all this shows everyone that 
they have little or no care for their own body. Their simplicity 
in dress and adornment, their great obedience, their not assuming 
any titles at the University however learned they may be, their 
seldom riding or driving luxuriously, shows that they are not 
desirous of pomp or honour. Their possessing nothing, whether 
in common or individually, their taking no money and refusing 
even to touch it, their not extorting offerings or dues from the 
people, but living only on alms with which the people supply 
them of their own accord ; this shows their contempt for the 
riches of the world. The world is astonished at these men who 
do not indulge in any of the pleasures of feminine company, or in 
eating and drinking for they fast much and never eat flesh 
meat or in soft clothing, or long sleep, etc. Hence the world 
believes them to be more than human ; it also sees how these 
virtuous men preach and hear confessions, scare others from sin, 
exhort them to virtue, move them to fear hell and God s judg 
ments, and to desire the Kingdom of Heaven ; ever with the 
Word of God and His judgments on their lips, so that they 
appear to be w T ell-versed in Scripture, and to be carrying out in 
their whole life and practice what they teach. . . . Countless 
godly men have entered this state ; from all ranks, places and 
countries, people have hastened to join this Order ; every corner 
of Christendom is full of Franciscan friaries." 1 

3. Reaction of the Apostasy on its Author. 

His Private Life (1522-1525) 

The moral results of Luther s undertaking and its effect 
upon himself have been very variously represented. The 
character of the originator of so gigantic a movement in 
the realm of ideas could not escape experiencing deeply the 
reaction of the events in progress ; yet the opinion even 
of his contemporaries concerning Luther s morals in the 
critical years immediately preceding his marriage differ 
widely, according to the view they take of his enterprise. 
While by his adherents he is hailed as a second Elias, 2 
some of his opponents do not hesitate to accuse him of the 
worst moral aberrations. Ickelsamcr, however, one of the 
spokesmen of the " fanatics," who did not scruple to raise 
an angry voice against Luther s preachers, and even against 
Luther himself, was unable to adduce against him any 

1 "Wider die falsch scheynende, usw." Noplace, 1524. A 3 b. A J ab. 
In N. Paulus, " Johann Wild " ("3. Vereinsschrift der Gorresgesell- 
schaft fur 1893 "), p. 3 f. 

2 See below, p. 134, n. 4, and p. 163. 

ir. K 


evidence of sexual misconduct during those years. It is 
also very remarkable that Ickelsamer s friend, Thomas 
Miinzer, in his violent and bitter controversial attack upon 
Luther dating from that time, was also unable to bring 
forward charges of immorality. Both would doubtless have 
gladly availed themselves of any offences against the moral 
code of which Luther might have been guilty between 
1522 and 1524, but in spite of their watchfulness they failed 
to detect any such. 

Nevertheless, accusations of Ickelsamer s, in which he 
speaks more in detail of Luther s " faulty life," are not 

He finds fault with his " defiant teaching and his wilful dis 
position," also with the frightful violence of the abuse with 
which in his writings he overwhelms his adversaries ; recklessly 
and defiantly he flung abroad books filled with blasphemies. He 
blames him for the proud and tyrannical manner in which he 
sets up a " Papal Chair " for himself so as to suppress without 
mercy the new teachers who differ from him. Concerning his 
administration, lie admits that Luther " exerted himself vigor 
ously to put down evil living, in which efforts it was easy to 
detect the working of the Christian faith," but he adds that the 
" public fornication " of certain masters and college fellows, 
as well as others who were in high favour, was winked at j 1 he, 
Ickelsamer, would say of the Wittenberg Professors what had 
long before been said of Rome : the nearer they live to Wittenberg 
the worse Christians are. He also reminds Luther of the " scandal 
and offence " the latter had given him by his excuses for the " mad 
and immoral goings on " at Wittenberg : " You said, We can t 
be angels. " Of his private life he merely remarks that it 
annoyed him that Luther, " neglectful of so many urgent matters," 
" could sit in the pleasant room overlooking the water," " drink 
ing cheerfully," " among the beer-swillers." Finally, with the 
usual hypocritical severity of the Anabaptists, he reproaches 
him concerning other matters, his extravagance in dress, and 
the pomp displayed at the promotion of Doctors. 2 

Thomas Miinzer in his violent " Schutzrede " 3 speaks at great 
length of Luther s pride, who, he says, wished to be a new Pope 
while making a show of humility ; he " excited and urged on the 
people like a hound of hell," though protesting that he did not 
wish to raise a revolt, " like a serpent that glides over the rocks." 
Luther, in the very title of his work, lie describes, as " that 
dull, effeminate lump of flesh at Wittenberg." In the course of 

1 Clag (above, p. 12G, n. 5), p. 48. 2 Ibid. 

3 " Hochverursachte Schutzrede und Antwort wider das geistlose 
sanftlebende Fleisch zu Wittenberg," ed. Enders (see above, p. 126, n. 5), 
p. 29 fi. 


the same work he speaks of him scornfully as " Martin, the virgin," 
and exclaims, " Ah, the chaste Babylonian virgin." He classes 
him, on account of his sermons on " freedom," with those teachers 
" who are pleasing to the world, which likes an easy life " ; he 
speaks of him sarcastically as a " new Christ " with a " fine 
subject for his preaching," viz. " that priests may take wives." 1 
He does not accuse him of any particular moral excess, but 
nevertheless remarks that " the disgraced monk " was not likely to 
suffer very severely under the persecution of which he boasted 
" when enjoying good Malvasian and feasting with light women." 2 
The latter allusion probably refers merely to Luther s love of a 
good dinner, and his merry ways at his meals, which, to a strict 
Anabaptist like Miinzer, seemed as deserving of execration as 
feasting with dissolute women. 

It has recently been asserted by an eminent Protestant 
controversialist that Luther s contemporaries never accused 
him of moral laxity or of offences against chastity, and that 
it was only after his death that people ventured to bring 
forward such charges ; so long as he lived " the Romans," 
so we read, " accused him of one only deed against the sixth 
commandment, viz. with his marriage " ; Pistorius, Ulen- 
berg and " Jesuits like Weislinger who copied them," were 
the first to enter the lists with such accusations. 

To start with, we may remark that Weislinger was not a 
Jesuit and that Ulenberg does not mention any moral 
offence committed by Luther apart from his matrimony. 
In fact the whole statement of the controversialist just 
quoted must be treated as a legend. As a matter of fact, 
serious charges regarding this matter were brought against 
Luther even in his lifetime and in the years previous to his 
union with Catherine von Bora. 

In 1867 a less timorous Protestant writer, who had 
studied Luther s history, brought forward the following 
passage from a manuscript letter written in 1522 by a 
Catholic, Count Hoyer von Mansfeld, to Count Ulrich von 
Helfenstein : " He had been a good Lutheran before that 
time and at Worms, but had come to see that Luther was a 
thorough scoundrel, who drank deeply, as was the custom 
at Mansfeld, liked the company of beautiful women, played 
the lute and led a frivolous life ; therefore he [the Count] 

1 " Hochverursachte Schutzrede und Antwort wider das geistlose 
sanftlebende Fleisch zu Wittenberg," ed. Enders, p. 3L 

2 Ibid., p. 30. 


had abandoned his cause." 1 From that time Hoyer von 
Mansfeld resolutely opposed Luther, caused a disputation 
to be held against him in 1526, and, to the end of his life 
(1540), kept a part of the Mansfeld estates loyal to the 
Catholic faith. Hoyer was an opponent of Luther when he 
wrote the above, but he must have received a very bad 
impression of Luther s private life during the period subse 
quent to the latter s stay at the Wartburg if this was the 
reason of his deserting Luther s cause. It is conceivable 
that at the time of the Diet of Worms, when Hoyer declares 
he was still a " good Lutheran," the contrast between 
Luther s behaviour and the monastic habits of his earlier 
life had not yet become so conspicuous. (See above, p. 79.) 
After his stay at the Wartburg and subsequent to his 
attacks both literary and practical on the vow of chastity 
and on celibacy, a change such as that which Hoyer so 
distinctly refers to may have taken place. Wittenberg, the 
rallying- point of so many questionable allies and escaped 
nuns in search of a refuge, was, in view of Luther s social, not 
to say jovial, disposition, scarcely a suitable place for him. 
His want of self-restraint and the levity of his bearing were 
censured at that time by others, and even by Melanchthon. 
(See below, p. 144.) 

The following year, 1523, after the arrival at Wittenberg 
of the nuns who had been " liberated " from their convents, 
there is no doubt that grave, though grossly exaggerated 
reports, unfavourable to Luther s life and behaviour, were 
circulated both in Catholic circles and at the Court of 
Ferdinand the German King. Luther s attacks upon the 
Church caused these reports to be readily accepted. An 
echo from the Court reached Luther s ears, and he gives 
some account of it in a letter of January 14, 1524. Accord 
ing to this, it had been said in the King s surroundings " that 
he frequented the company of light women, played dice and 
spent his time in the public-houses " ; also that he was fond 
of going about armed and accompanied by a stately retinue ; 
likewise, that he occupied a post of honour at the Court of 

1 In an anonymous review, important on account of its original 
matter, of Burkhardt s " Brief wechsel Luthers " (" Augsburger 
Allgemeine Zeitung," 1867, Beilage, No. 18). Unfortunately, the 
learned expert, who takes Luther s part, does not mention the source 
whence the above passage is taken. It appears to occur in some 
unprinted MS. 


his sovereign Prince. The tale regarding his bearing arms 
and occupying posts of honour Luther was able easily to 
repudiate by the testimony of his friends. He also con 
fidently declared the remaining statements to be merely 
lies. 1 

Proof is wanting to substantiate the charge of " fornica 
tion " contained in a letter written from Rome by Jacob 
Zicgler to Erasmus on February 16, 1522. Ziegler there 
relates that he had been invited by a bishop to dinner and that 
the conversation turned on Luther : " The opinion was 
expressed that he was given to fornication and tippling, vices 
to which the Germans were greatly addicted." 2 Abroad, and 
more particularly in the great Catholic centres, such reports 
met with a more favourable reception than elsewhere. The 
Germans were always held up as examples of drunkenness, 
and, regarding Luther, such accusations were at a later date 
certainly carried too far. (See vol. iii., xvii. 7, " The Good 

In order to judge objectively of Luther s behaviour, 
greater stress must be laid upon the circumstances which 
imposed caution and reticence upon him than has been 
done so far by his accusers. 

Luther, both at that time and later, frequently declared 
that he himself, as well as his followers, must carefully avoid 
every action which might give public scandal and so 
prejudice the new Evangel, seeing that his adversaries were 
kept well informed of everything that concerned him. He 
ever endeavoured to live up to this principle, for on this his 
whole undertaking to some extent depended. " The eyes 
of the whole world are on us," he cries in a sermon in 1524. 3 
" We are a spectacle to the whole world," he says ; " there 
fore how necessary it is that our word should be blameless, 
as St. Paul demands (Tit. ii. 8) ! " 4 " In order that worth 
less men may have no opportunity to blaspheme," he 

1 To Spalatin, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 278 : " Quod scorlis, aleis, 
tabernis vacarem. . . . Mendaciis satis sum assuetus" 

2 " Summa sententia erat, scortatorem eum esse et compotorem, quali- 
bus viciis fere laborarent Germani." " Archiv fur Reformationsgesch," 
3, 1905, p. 79. 

3 " Wcrke," Weirn. cd., 15, p. 774. 

4 To Spalatin, August 15, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 218 : " Orbis 
theatrum sumus," etc. Cp. 1 Corinthians iv. 9 : " Spectaculum facti 
sumus mundo et angelis et hominibus," 


refuses later, for instance, to accept anything at all as a 
present out of the Church property of the bishopric of 
Naumburg, 1 and he reprimands a drunken relative, sternly 
admonishing him : On your account I am evil spoken of ; 
my foes seek out everything that concerns me ; therefore 
it was his duty, Luther tells him, " to consider his family, 
the town he lived in, the Church and the Gospel of God." 2 
Mathesius also relates the following remark made by Luther 
when advanced in years : " Calumniators overlook the 
virtues of great men, but where they see a fault or stain in 
any, they busy themselves in raking it up and making it 
known." " The devil keeps a sharp eye on me in order to 
render my teaching of bad repute or to attach some shameful 
stain to it." 3 

In 1521 Luther thinks he is justified in giving himself this 
excellent testimonial : " During these three years so many 
lies have been invented about me, as you know, and yet 
they have all been disproved." " I think that people ought 
to believe my own Wittenbergers, who are in daily inter 
course with me and see my life, rather than the tales of 
liars who are not even on the spot." His life was a public 
one, he said, and he was at the service of all ; he worked so 
hard that " three of my years are really equal to six." 4 

His energy in work was not to be gainsaid, but it was just 
his numerous writings produced in the greatest haste and 
under the influence of passion which led his mind further 
and further from the care of his spiritual life, and thus 
paved the way for certain other moral imperfections ; here, 
also, we see one of the effects of the struggle on his character. 
At the same time he exposed himself to the danger of 
acquiring the customs and habits of thought of so many 
of his followers and companions, who had joined his party 
not from higher motives but for reasons of the basest 

1 To Amsdorf, February 12, 1542, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 434. 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 185. 

3 " Historien," 1566, p. 154. Cp. " Lauterbachs Tagebuch," p. 121, 
and " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 420. 

4 " Auff des Bocks zu Leypczick Antwort," " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, 
pp. 273, 275 ; Erl. ed., 27, pp. 208, 210, 211. For the manner in which 
his pupils at Wittenberg praised him, see below, p. 157 f. Erasmus s 
eulogy on his manner of life is also an echo from the circle of his en 
thusiastic friends ; see xiv. 3. 


In 1522 Johannes Fabri writes of the moral atmosphere sur 
rounding Luther and his methods of work : " I am well aware, 
my Luther, that your only object was to gain the favour of 
many by this concession [the marriage of priests], and as a 
matter of fact, you have succeeded in doing so." Why, he 
asks, did you not rather, " by your writings and exhorta 
tions, induce the priests who had fallen into sin to give up 
their concubines ? " " I see you make it your business to 
tell the people what will please them in order to increase 
the number of your supporters. . . . You lay pillows under 
the heads of those who, from the moral standpoint, are 
snoring in a deep sleep and you know how difficult, nay 
dangerous, it is for me and those who think as I do, to 
oppose the doctrine which you teach." 1 

That his work was leading him on the downward path 
and threatened to extinguish his interior religious life, 
Luther himself admitted at that time, though in some of his 
other statements he declares that his zeal in God s service 
had been promoted by the struggle. He confesses in 1523, 
for instance, to the Zwickau Pastor Nicholas Hausmann, 
whom he esteemed very highly, that his interior life was 
" drying up," and concludes : " Pray for me that I may 
not end in the flesh." He is here alluding to the passage in 
St. Paul s Epistle to the Galatians where he warns the 
latter, lest having begun in the spirit they should end in the 
flesh. 2 This Pastor was a spiritual friend to whom, owing 
to his esteem for him, he confided much, though his con 
fessions must not always be taken too literally. 

The well-known incident of the flight of the nuns from the 
convent at Nimbschen, and their settling in Wittenberg, 
was looked upon by Luther and his followers as a matter of 
the greatest importance. The apostasy of the twelve nuns, 
among whom was Catherine von Bora, opened the door of 
all the other convents, as Luther expressed it, and demon 
strated publicly what must be done " on behalf of the 
salvation of souls." 3 Some of these nuns, as was frequently 
the case, had entered the Cistercian convent near Grimma, 

1 " Opus adv. nova qusedam et a Christiana religione prorsus aliena 
dogmata M. Lutheri," Romae, Q 3a. R 2b. : " Ponis cervicalia sub 
capita eorum, qui stertunt," etc. 

2 Letter of May 24, 1523, " Briefwechsel," 4, p. 144 ; Gal. iii. 3. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 559. See the text in the work men 
tioned, p. 137, n. 1. 


without a vocation, or had gradually become disgusted with 
their state owing to long-continued tepidity and want of 
fidelity to their profession. They had contrived to place 
themselves in communication with Luther, who, as he admits 
later in a public writing, himself arranged for them to be 
carried away by force, seeing that their relatives would do 
nothing. The plan was put into effect by one of the 
town councillors of Torgau, Leonard Koppc, aided by two 
other citizens of that town. Koppc had shortly before dis 
played heroic energy and skill in an attack upon a poor 
convent ; with sixteen young comrades he had stormed 
the Franciscan friary at Torgau on the night of Ash Wednes 
day, 1523, thrown the monks who offered any resistance 
over the wall and smashed the windows, doors and 
furniture. 1 At the close of the Lenten season of the same 
year he signalised himself by this new exploit at Nimb- 

On the Saturday in Holy Week, 1523, agreeably with an 
arrangement made beforehand with the apostate nuns, he 
made his appearance in the courtyard of the convent with 
an innocent-looking covered van, in which the nuns 
quietly took their places. As the van often came to the 
convent with provisions, no one noticed their flight. So 
runs the most authentic of the various accounts, some of 
them of a romantic nature, viz. that related by a chronicler 
of Torgau who lived about the year 1600. 2 Koppe brought 
the fugitives straight to Wittenberg, where they were safe. 
After a while they were received into different families in 
the town, or were fetched away by their relatives. Thus set 
free from their " bonds " on that memorable day of the 
Church s year, they celebrated their so-called " resur 

Luther declared, in a circular letter concerning this 
occurrence, that as Christ, the risen One, had, like a trium 
phant robber, snatched his prey from the Prince of this 
world, so also Leonard Koppe might be termed " a blessed 
robber." All who were on God s side would praise the rape 
of the nuns as a " great act of piety, so that you may rest 

1 See proofs given in the " Katholik," 1892, 2, p. 421 f., in the 
article by P. A. Kirsch. 

2 Cp. E. Kroker, " Katharina v. Bora," Leipzig, 1906, p. 36 f., 
where the legends are ably criticised. 


assured that God has ordained it and that it is not your work 
or your conception." 1 

The twelve nuns were, as Amsdorf writes to Spalatin on 
April 4, " pretty, and all of noble birth, and among them 
I have not found one who is fifty years old. ... I am sorry 
for the girls ; they have neither shoes nor dresses." Amsdorf 
praises the patience and cheerfulness of the " honourable 
maidens," and recommends them through Spalatin to the 
charity of the Court. One, namely the sister of Staupitz, 
who was no longer so youthful, he at once offers in marriage 
to Spalatin, though he admits he has others who are prettier. 
" If you wish for a younger one, you shall have your choice 
of the prettiest." 2 

Soon after this three other nuns were carried off by their 
relatives from Nimbschen. Not long after, sixteen forsook 
the Mansfeld convent of Widerstett, five of whom were 
received by Count Albert of Mansfeld. Luther reported 
this latter event with great joy to the Court Chaplain, 
Spalatin, and at the same time informed him that the 
apostate Franciscan, Frangois Lambert of Avignon, had 
become engaged to a servant girl at Wittenberg. His 
intention, and Amsdorf s too, was to coax Spalatin into 
matrimony and the violation of his priestly obligation of 
celibacy. "It is a strange spectacle," he writes; "what 
more can befall to astonish us, unless you yourself at 
length follow our example, and to our surprise appear in 
the guise of a bridegroom ? God brings such wonders to 
pass, that I, who thought I knew something of His ways, 
must set to work again from the very beginning. But His 
Holy Will be done, Amen." 3 

Luther at that time was not in a happy frame of mind. 
He knew what was likely to be his experience with the 
escaped monks and nuns. The trouble and waste of time, 
as well as the serious interruption to his work, which, as he 
complains, was occasioned by the religious who had left their 

1 In the writing, " Ursach und Anttwortt das Jungkfrawen Kloster 
gottlich verlassen mugen," which Luther sent on April 10, 1523, 
in the form of a circular letter to Leonard Koppe. " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 11, p. 394 ft .; Erl. ed., 29, p. 33 (" Brief wechsel," 4, 
p. 132). 

2 Kolde, " Analecta Luth.," p. 443. 

3 On June 24, 1523, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 169. 


convents, appeared to him relatively insignificant. 1 The 
large sums of money which, as he remarks, he had to " throw 
away on runaway monks and nuns," he might also have 
overlooked, as he was not avaricious. 2 Yet the disorders 
introduced by the arrival of so many people bent on matri 
mony were distasteful to him. In a letter to Spalatin, July 
11, 1523, this complaint escapes him : " I am growing to 
hate the sight of these renegade monks who collect here in 
such numbers ; what annoys me most is that they wish to 
marry at once, though they arc of no use for anything. I 
am seeking a means to put an end to it." 3 The good name 
of his undertaking seemed to him to be at stake. On the 
occasion of the marriage of a Court preacher to a very old 
but wealthy woman, a match which was much talked about, 
he complains bitterly that the step was a disgrace to the 
Evangel ; the miserly bridegroom was " betraying himself 
and us." 4 

Above we have heard him speak of the monks who were 
desirous of marrying ; he was more indulgent to the nuns 
who had come to Wittenberg. According to Melanchthon s 
account he entered into too frequent and intimate relation 
ship with them. (See below.) 

Of the twelve who escaped from Nimbschcn, nine, who 
were without resources, found a refuge in various houses at 
Wittenberg, while only three went to their relatives 
in the Saxon Electorate. To begin with, from necessity 
and only for a short time, the nine found quarters 
in the Augustinian monastery which had remained in 
Luther s hands, in which he still dwelt and where there was 
plenty of room ; later they found lodgings in the town. 
Luther had to provide in part for their maintenance. 
Catherine von Bora was lodged by him in the house of the 
Town-clerk, Reichenbach. 

There was no longer any question of monastic seclusion 
for those quondam nuns, or for the others who had taken 
refuge at Wittenberg. Bora started a love affair in 1523 
with Hieronymus Baumgartner, a young Nuremberg 

1 To Johann CEcolampadius, June 20, 1523, ibid., p. 164 : " Moniales 
et monachi egressi tnihi multas horas furantur, ut omnium necessitati 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 560. 3 " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 177 f. 
4 To Spalatin, September 19, 1523, ibid., p. 233. 


patrician ; he, however, married another girl in the com 
mencement of 1525. * Christian, the exiled King of Denmark, 
made her acquaintance during his stay at Wittenberg in 
October, 1523 ; she showed, at a later date, a ring he had 
presented to her. In 1524 she was to have been married to 
Dr. Glatz, then Pastor of Orlamunde, in consequence of 
Luther s stern and repeated urging. She let it, however, be 
understood that she looked higher, refused Glatz s proposal, 
and announced quite frankly to Amsdorf that she would 
give her hand only to Luther himself, or to Amsdorf, his 
confidant. Amsdorf was not to be allured into matrimony, 
and remained single all his life. Luther, on the other hand, 
was also not then desirous of marrying and, besides, stood 
rather in awe of a certain haughtiness of bearing which was 
said to be noticeable in her, and which was attributed to her 
aristocratic descent. 

Had he wished to marry at that time Luther, as he 
declared later, \vould have preferred one of the other nuns, 
viz. Ave von Schonfeld, who, however, eventually married 
a young physician who was studying at Wittenberg. He 
also speaks on one occasion, at a later date, of a certain Ave 
Alemann, a member of a Magdeburg family, as his one-time 
" bride," but simply, as it seems, because Amsdorf had 
proposed her to him as a wife. Confirmed bachelor as he was, 
Amsdorf appears to have developed at that time a special 
aptitude for arranging matches. 

Luther s intercourse with his female guests at Witten 
berg naturally gave rise to all sorts of tales among his 
friends, the more so as he was very free and easy in the 
company of women, and imposed too little restraint upon 
his conduct. When it was said, even outside Wittenberg 
circles, that he would marry, he replied, on November 30, 
1524, that, according to his present ideas, this would not 
happen, " not as though I do not feel my flesh and my sex, 
for I am neither of wood nor of stone, but I have no inclina 
tion to matrimony." 2 

He was all the more zealous, however, in urging others, 
his friend Spalatin in particular, to this step. Spalatin once 
jokingly reproved him for this, saying he was surprised he 
did not set the example, being so anxious to induce others 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 728 ff. 

2 To Spalatin, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 77. 


to marry. To this friendly poke Luther replied with a 
strange admixture of jest and earnest. He wrote to him, on 
April 16, 1525, that, notwithstanding the fact that he him 
self was far removed from thoughts of marriage, yet, after 
all, as God was wont to bring the unexpected to pass, it might 
well be that of the tw r o he would be the first to wed. He 
also speaks of himself jestingly as a " famous lover." It 
was doubtless surprising, he says, that he, such a famous 
lover, had not married, though, as he wrote so frequently 
about marriage and had so much to do with women (misceor 
feminis), it w r as still more astonishing that he had not long 
ago become a woman. 1 The letter, which has been much 
discussed in recent times, is not to be taken seriously ; here 
it is that he speaks, with misplaced pleasantry, of the 
" three wives " whom he had already had on his arm. 

This letter calls, however, for some further observations. 

It is hard to believe that Luther, in an everyday letter to a 
friend, should have spoken in earnest of a previous connection of 
his with three women at once. Is it likely that he would accuse 
himself of such intercourse, and that in a letter to a man whose 
good opinion of himself and his work he was in every way careful 
to preserve ? 

We are not here concerned with the question whether such 
jests were suitable, coming from a reformer of faith and morals, 
yet they certainly do not, as has been thought, contain anything 
of a nature to compromise him in his relations with the escaped 

That Luther is jesting is plain from the conclusion : " Joking 
apart, I say all this in order to urge you on to what you are 
striving after [viz. marriage]. Farewell." Hence it is clear that 
what precedes was said as a joke. 

He chose to make the matter one of jest because he fancied 
that thus he could best answer Spalatin s objection against his 
former invitation to him to marry. The latter had retorted : 
" Why am I expected to start ? Set the example yourself by 
your own marriage ! " Luther thereupon replied in the follow 
ing terms : 

" As for your observations about my marriage, do not be 
surprised that I, who am such a famous lover (famosus amator), 
do not proceed to matrimony. It is still more remarkable that 
I, who write so frequently concerning marriage and have so 
much to do with women (sic misceor feminis), have not become a 
woman long since, not to mention the fact that I have not as yet 
even taken one to wife. Still, if you want my example, here you 
have a forcible one, for I have had three wives at one time (tres 
simul uxores habui) and loved them so desperately that I lost 
1 On April 16, 1525, ibid., p. 157. 


two who will get other bridegrooms ; as for the third I can 
hardly keep hold of her with my left arm ? and she too will perhaps 
soon be snatched away from me. But you, you slothful lover, 
you do not even venture to become the husband of one wife. 
Take care, however, lest I [though still in spirit disinclined to 
marriage] do not nevertheless outstrip you people who are all 
ready for the wedding, for God is wont to bring to pass what we 
least expect." Then follow the words already mentioned, 
introduced by the formula : " Joking apart." 

These rather unseasonable words were written in a merry 
mood on Easter Sunday, just as Luther was on the point of 
leaving Wittenberg for Eisleben. As Luther had not yet made 
up his mind whether to marry or not, he evaded Spalatin s 
invitation to do so immediately with the jest about being a 
" famous lover," words probably applied to him by Spalatin in 
the letter to which this is an answer. He means to say : As a 
famous lover I have already given you the encouraging example 
you desire, and the proof of this is to be found in the " three 
women I loved so deeply as to lose them." This refers doubtless 
to three aspirants to matrimony with whom Spalatin was ac 
quainted, and whom common report had designated as likely to 
wed Luther ; w T ho they actually were we do not know. Some 
Protestants have suggested Ave Alemann and Ave Schonfeld 
(see above p. 139). The first, a native of Magdeburg, had been 
presented to Luther during his stay in that town as a likely wife. 
He would have preferred the second. But of neither could he 
have said in his letter that they would shortly have other bride 
grooms, for Alemann had been married some time, and Schonfeld 
had to wait long for a spouse. Thus it is incorrect to class them 
amongst the "three wives," and these must be sought among 
others who had intercourse with Luther. The third, at any rate, 
seems to have been Catherine von Bora, who was stopping at 
that time in Wittenberg and actually was engaged on matrimonial 

In any case, the husband who loses three wives through his 
" too great love " is a joke on a par with the wonder expressed 
by Luther, that, after having written so much about marriage 
and had so much to do with women, he had not himself been 
turned into a woman. 

In his not very choice pleasantries when referring to the inter 
course with women which resulted from his writings, Luther 
makes use of a very equivocal expression, for " misceor feminis," 
taken literally in the context in which it stands, would imply 
sexual commerce with women, which is not at all what the 
writer intends to convey. It cannot be denied that the jest 
about the three women and the ambiguous word " misceor," 
are out of place and not in keeping with the gravity and moral 
dignity which we might expect from a man of Luther s position. 
Such jests betray a certain levity of character, nor can we see 
how certain Lutherans can describe the letter as " scrupulously 


It is nevertheless true, and more particularly of this letter, 
that the unrestrained humour which so often breaks out in 
Luther s writings must be taken into account in order to judge 
fairly of what he says ; it is only in this way that we are able to 
interpret him rightly. Owing to the fact that the jocose element 
which, in season and out of season, so frequently characterises 
Luther s manner of speaking is lost sight of, his real meaning is 
often misunderstood. 

Just as he had urged his friend Spalatin, so, though in 
more serious language, Luther exhorts the Elector Albert, 
Archbishop of Mayence, to matrimony. 

This alone should be a sufficient reason for him, he writes, 
namely, that he is a male ; " for it is God s work and will that a 
man should have a wife. . . . Where God does not work a miracle 
and make of a man an angel, I cannot see how he is to remain 
without a wife, and avoid God s anger and displeasure. And it is 
a terrible thing should he be found without a wife at the hour of 
death." He points out to him that the downfall of the whole 
clergy is merely a question of time, since priests are everywhere 
scoffed at ; " priests and monks are caricatured on every wall, 
on every bill, and even on the playing cards." The sanguinary 
peasant risings which were commencing are also made to serve 
his ends ; God is punishing His people in this way because " the 
bishops and princes will not make room for the evangel " ; the 
Archbishop ought therefore to follow the " fine example " given 
recently by the " Grand Master in Prussia," i.e. marry, and 
" turn the bishopric into a temporal principality." 1 

This letter was printed in 1526. Dr. Johann Riihel received 
instructions to sound the Archbishop as to his views and seek to 
influence him. It is a well-known fact that Albert was more a 
temporal potentate than an ecclesiastical dignitary, and that 
his reputation was by no means spotless. 

Archbishop Albert was said to have asked Dr. Riihel, or some 
other person, why Luther himself did not take a wife, seeing that 
he " was inciting everyone else to do so." Should he say this 
again, Luther writes to Riihel, " You are to reply that I have 
always feared I was not fit for it. But if my marriage would be a 
help to his Electoral Grace, I should very soon be ready to 
prance along in front of him as an example to his Electoral 
Grace ; before quitting this life I purpose in any case to enter 
into matrimony, which I regard as enjoined by God, even should 
it be nothing more than an espousal, or Joseph s marriage." 2 
In what way he feared " not to be fit " for marriage, or why he 
contemplated nothing more than a " Joseph s marriage," Luther 

1 June 2, 1525, " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 402 ff. ; Erl. ed., 53, 
p. 308 ff. (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 186). Albert made no reply. On 
June 2, the very same day, the peasants were victorious at Konigshofen. 

2 Letter of June 3, 1525, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 313 (" Brief- 
wechsel," 5, p. 189). 


does not say. A " Joseph s marriage " was certainly not calcu 
lated to satisfy the demands which he himself was accustomed 
to make, in the name of nature, concerning conjugal life. At any 
rate, his observation to Dr. Riihel is very remarkable, as being 
one of the first indications of his approaching marriage. 

At this critical period of his life the free and unrestrained 
tone which he had employed at an earlier date becomes 
unpleasantly conspicuous in his letters, writings and sermons. 
It is sufficient to read the passages in his justification of the 
nuns flight where he treats of his pet conviction, viz. the 
need of marrying, in words which, from very shame, are 
not usually repeated. " Scandal, or no scandal," he con 
cludes his dissertation on the nuns who had forsaken their 
vow of chastity, " necessity breaks even iron and gives no 
scandal ! "* He had already once before complained that 
our ears have become " much purer than the mouth of the 
Holy Ghost," referring to certain sexual matters spoken of 
very openly in the Old Testament. 2 He himself, however, 
paid little heed to such conventions, and, especially when 
jesting, delighted to set them at defiance. 

Many passages already quoted from his letters to friends 
prove this. The " misceor feminis " and the " three wives " 
on his hands were unbecoming jokes. Kawerau, the 
historian of Luther, admits the " cynicism of his language " 3 
and this unpleasing quality, which is more particularly 
noticeable when he becomes abusive, is also to be met with 
even elsewhere, especially in the years which we are now 

Luther, for instance, jocosely speaks of himself as a 
virgin, " virgo" and, in a letter to Spalatin where he refers 
playfully to his own merry and copious tippling at a christen 
ing at Schweinitz, he says : " These three virgins were 
present [Luther, Jonas and his wife], certainly Jonas [as a 
virgin], for as he has no child we call him the virgin." 4 
Jonas, one of the priests who married, had celebrated his 
nuptials February 22, 1522. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 11, p. 400 ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 41, in " Ursach 
und Anttwortt das Jungkfrawen Kloster gottlich verlassen mugen." 

2 Ibid., 10, 1, p. 692 ; Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 450, in the Tract against 
the state of chastity, embodied in the " Postils." 

3 " Luther und seine Gegner, Vortrag," 1903, p. 14. Here it is 
true the cynicism is regarded as an " expression of his moral annoy 
ance " with the supporters of celibacy, who themselves led immoral 
lives. * On March 8, 1523, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 96. 


On account of his habit of making fun Luther s friends 
called him a " merry boon companion." 

No one could, of course, blame his love of a joke, but his 
jokes were sometimes very coarse; for instance, that con 
cerning his friend Jonas in his letter of February 10, 1525, 
to Spalatin, of which the tone is indelicate, to say the least, 
even if we make all allowance for the age and for the 
customs in vogue among the Wittenberg professors. Jonas, 
he there says, was accustomed to write his letters on paper 
which had served the basest of services ; he (Luther) was, 
however, more considerate for his friends. " Farewell," he 
concludes, " and give my greetings to the fat husband 
Melchior [Meirisch, the stout Augustinian Prior of Dresden, 
who had married on February 6] ; my wishes for him are, 
that his wife may prove very obedient ; she really ought to 
drag him by the hair seven times a day round the market 
place and, at night, as he richly deserves, bene obtundat 
connubialibus verbis. " J 

The reference in this letter to Carlstadt and his " fami 
liar demon " (a fanatical monk who was given to prophe 
sying) calls to mind the indecent language in which 
Luther assailed the Anabaptists and " fanatics " during 
those years. He makes great fun at the expense of 
the " nackte Brant von Orlamiinde " and her amor 
ous lovers, referring, in language which is the reverse of 
modest, to a ludicrous, mystical work produced by the 
"fanatics." 2 

Melanchthon is very severe in censuring Luther s free 
behaviour and coarse jests, especially when in the presence 
of ex-nuns. It has been pointed out by a Protestant that 
Luther s tendency to impropriety of language, though it 
cannot be denied, is easily to be explained by the fact of his 
being a " monk and the son of a peasant." 3 It is hard to see 

1 " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 123, on Jonas and his writing materials 
(" schedas natales, hoc est de natibus purgatis "). 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 93 ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 169. According 
to these foes of his, it is, he says, " die rechten evangelischen Prediger, 
die der Braut von Orlamiinde das Hembd und dem Brautigam zu 
Naschhausen die Hosen ausziehen." Ibid., p. 84 = 160: " Wie aber, 
wenn Braut und Brautigam so zuchtig wiiren, und behielten Hembd 
und Rock an ? Es solle freilich nicht fast hindern, wenn sie sonst 
Lust zusammen hatten." Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 681. 

3 The explanation is Kostlin s, and is retained in the most recent 
edition by Kawerau, 1, p. 736. 


what his being a monk has to do with it, and by what right 
the excesses which were perhaps notieeable in some few 
frivolous monks are to be regarded as characteristic of the 
religious state. Melanchth oil s reproaches lead the same 
writer to say, this time with at least some show of reason, 
that his friend surpassed Luther in " delicacy of feeling." 

Melanchthon, on June 16, 1525, in a confidential letter 
written in Greek to Camerarius about Luther s recent 
marriage, complains of his behaviour towards the runaway 
nuns then at Wittenberg : " The man," he says, " is light- 
hearted and frivolous (evxepfc) to the last degree ; the nuns 
pursued him with great cunning and drew him on. Perhaps 
all this intercourse with them has rendered him effeminate, 
or inflamed his passions, noble and high-minded though he 
is." Melanchthon desiderates in him more " dignity," and 
says that his friends (" we "), had frequently been obliged 
to reprove him for his buffoonery (/Sw/xoAox/a)- 1 

In consequence of this unseemly behaviour with the nuns, 
blamed even by his intimate friends, we can understand 
that the professors of theology at Leipzig and Ingolstadt 
came to speak of Luther with great want of respect. 

Hieronymus Dungersheim, the Leipzig theologian, who had 
before this had a tilt at Luther, wrote, with undisguised rudeness 
in his "Thirty Articles," against "the errors and heresies" of 
Martin Luther : " What are your thoughts when you are seated 
in the midst of the herd of apostate nuns whom you have seduced, 
and, as they themselves admit, make whatever jokes occur to 
you ? You not only do not attempt to avoid what you declare is 
so hateful to you [the exciting of sensuality], but you intention 
ally stir up your own and others passions. What are your 
thoughts when you recall your own golden words, either when 
sitting in such company, or after you have committed your 
wickedness ? What can you reply, when reminded of your 
former conscientiousness, in view of such a scandalous life of 
deceit ? I have heard what I will not now repeat, from those who 
had intercourse with you, and I could supply details and names. 
Out upon your morality and religion, out upon your obstinacy 
and blindness ! How have you sunk from the pinnacle of perfection 
and true wisdom to the depths of depravity and abominable 
error, dragging down countless numbers with you ! Where now 
is Tauler, where the Theologia Deutsch from which you 
boasted you had received so much light ? The Theologia 

1 See the whole Greek letter below, p. 176. The passage at /j.ovaxa.1 
Tdffri /J.-nxwy fTTijSoi Aei/o/^i ai Trpoaecrwacrav avrbv, according to our opinion, 
conveys the sense attributed to it above. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 
p. 736. 

II. L 


condemns as utterly wicked, nay, devilish through and through, 
all that you are now doing, teaching and proclaiming in your 
books. Glance at it again and compare. Alas, you theologian 
of the Cross ! What you now have to show is nothing but the 
filthiest wisdom of the flesh, that wisdom which, according to the 
Apostle Paul (Rom. viii. 6 f.), is the death of the soul and the 
enemy of God." 

Uungersheim then quotes for his benefit the passage from the 
Epistle of St. James concerning the " earthly and devilish 
wisdom," notwithstanding that Luther treats this Epistle with 
contempt ; his real reason for refusing to recognise it was that 
it witnessed so strongly against his teaching. " What will you 
say on the day of reckoning to the holy Father Augustine [the 
reputed founder of the Augustinians] and the other founders 
of Orders ? They come accompanied by a countless multitude 
of the faithful of both sexes who have faithfully followed in the 
footsteps of Christ, and in the way of the evangelical counsels. 
But you, you have led astray and to destruction so many of their 
followers. All these will raise their voices against you on the 
dreadful Day of Judgment." 1 

The Leipzig University professor, in his indignation, 
refers Luther to the warning he himself (in his sermons on 
the Ten Commandments) had given against manners of 
talking and acting which tempt to impurity ; he continues : 
" And now you set aside every feeling of shame, you speak 
and write of questionable subjects in such a disgraceful 
fashion that decent men, whether married or unmarried, 
cover their faces and fling away your writings with execra 
tion. In order to cast dishonour upon the brides of Christ 
you [in your writings], so to speak, lead unchaste men to 
their couches, using words which for very shame I cannot 

He also answers his opponent s constant objection that 
without marriage, on account of the impulse of nature, 
people must needs be ever falling into sin. You forget 
two things, viz. that grace is stronger than nature and that, 
as Augustine rightly teaches, no one sins without free 
consent. You exaggerate that impulse and speak of sin 
merely to exonerate your own behaviour and your doctrine. 
In other matters you declare that everything is possible 
to him who believes. You, like all other Catholics, were 
formerly convinced that involuntary movements of the 
flesh are not sinful unless a man consents to them ; they are 
to the good a cross rather than a fault, and frequently only 
1 Arliculi sive libdli triginta, etc., art. 17, p. 81 seq. 


come from the devil and are not imputed to them at 
all." 1 

This protest from Leipzig was reinforced in 1523 from Ingol 
stadt by Dr. Johann Eck, who kept a keen eye on Luther and 
pursued him with a sharp pen. In the following description of 
Luther his bitter opponent complains not only of the frivolous 
behaviour of the apostate monk in his former monastery which 
the Elector had made over to him, but above all of the untruth and 
dishonesty displayed in his writings. " More than once have I 
proved," he says, " that he is a liar and hence that he has for 
his father, him [the devil] of whom the Scripture says that he 
is a liar and a murderer." " The fellow exudes lies from every 
pore and is inconstancy itself (homo totus mendaciis scatens nil 
constat). His teaching too is full of deception and calumny. 
What he has just advanced, he presently rejects without the least 
difficulty." " The dregs of those vices of which he is always 
accusing the Christians, we rightly pour back upon his own head ; 
let him drink himself of the cup he has mixed." " He heaps up a 
mountain of evil on the Pope and the Church," but with " his 
nun," this is what he adds in a later edition in his indignation 
with Luther s marriage " he is really worshipping Asmodeus " ; 
and this he is not ashamed to do in the old monastery of the 
Augustinians, " where once pious monks served the Lord God, 
and pious foundations, now alienated from their original purpose, 
proclaimed the Christian virtues to the faithful." 2 

It is no pleasant task to examine Luther s sermons and 
writings of those years, and to represent to ourselves the 
turmoil of his mind at the time directly preceding his 

In 1524 he repeatedly discourses to his Wittenberg 
hearers on his favourite theme, i.e. that man cannot control 
himself in sexual matters, save by a miracle and with the 
help of an " exceedingly rare grace." Speaking of impotence, 
he says, that although he himself " by the grace of God does 
not desire a wife," yet he would not like, as a married man, 
to go through the experience of those who arc impotent. 
If nature was not to be satisfied, " then death were pre 
ferable." " I have no need of a wife," he says, " but must 
provide a relief for your need." 3 This was perhaps his 
reply to those who said : " Oh, how the monk feels the 
weight of his frock, how glad he would be to have a wife ! " 4 

1 Arliculi sive libelli triginta, etc., art. 17, p. 83. 

2 Conclusion of the Tract " De Purgatorio," " Opp.," Pars II, 
Ingolst., 1531, pp. 95 , 96. Cp. volume iv., xxii. : " Luther and Lying." 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 15, p. 560 ff. 

4 See above, p. 87. 


" Hitherto," he says, " the married state has been con 
demned and styled a sensual state. . . . Alas, would that 
all men were therein ... in support of it we have the 
Word of God. . . . Those who have the grace to be chaste 
are few, and among a thousand there is scarcely one to be 

" I have frequently tried to be good," he says to his 
hearers in 1524, " but the more I try the less I succeed. See 
from this what free-will amounts to." And then, in excuse, 
he unfolds his theology. " Sin urges so greatly that we long 
for death. If to-day I avoid one sin, to-morrow comes 
another. We arc obliged to fight without ceasing : the 
Kingdom of Christ admits all, provided only they fight and 
hold fast to the Head of the Kingdom, namely, [believe] 
that Christ is the Redeemer. But if we exalt works, then 
all is lost ! ... If we desire to attain to purity, this must 
not be done by works, but Christ must be born in us anew 
[by faith]. . , . Sin cannot harm ( mordere ) us ; the 
power of sin is at an end. We hold fast to Him who has 
conquered sin." " Summa, summarum, works or no works, 
all is comprised under faith and true doctrine. . . . But 
do not let us sleep meanwhile and lull ourselves into 
security " 2 

In 1523 Luther wrote on " the Devil s chastity," as he 
called it, an exposition of the 7th chapter of the first 
Epistle to the Corinthians, which the Papists used, so he 
says, as a " fig-leaf " for celibacy and the monastic state. 
In it he deals with the inspiring, spiritual teaching of the 
Apostle of the Gentiles in the chapter which commences 
with the words : " It is good for a man not to touch a 
woman." 3 

This publication, which has been extolled as " the happy 
inauguration of a healthy love of the things of sense," 4 was 
preceded in 1522 by his sermon " On conjugal life." We 
must here call to mind a similar earlier publication of 1519. 
When, on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, he preached 
a " sermon on the conjugal state," this was at once printed 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 15, p. 667. 

2 Ibid., pp. 431, 437. 

3 " The 7th chapter," etc., " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 92 ff. 

4 In the dedication to Hans Loser zu Pretzsch, Hereditary Marshal 
of Saxony (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 199). 


by some stranger from notes made. Many who read it were 
filled with astonishment at the unheard-of freedom of 
speech displayed. Very soon Luther s friend, Christoph 
Scheurl, expressed his disapproval of the tone : "I have 
read many of Martin s writings which appeal to his best 
friends more than his sermon on Matrimony, because they 
are pure, humble, modest, measured and earnest, as beseems 
a theologian." 1 After this letter Luther declared that the 
sermon had been printed without his knowledge, and with 
many stupid mistakes, so that he was "ashamed" of it, 2 
and that same year (1519) he had it reprinted in an amended 
form. 3 It has been proved, however, that another sermon, 
which had been taken down and printed at the same time as 
the first sermon on Matrimony, was reported quite correctly; 4 
hence the first printed edition of the sermon on Matrimony 
was probably not as inexact as Luther afterwards pretended. 

When we come to examine the teaching contained in the sermon 
" On conjugal life " of the year 1522, we find, regarding the 
marriage tie, notwithstanding the protestation that marriage 
was to be considered sacred and indissoluble, such sentences as 
the following : "If the wife is stubborn and refuses to fulfil her 
duty as a wife," "it is time for the husband to say: If you 
refuse, another will comply ; if the wife will not, then let the 
maid come." She is however to be reprimanded first " before 
the Church," and only then is the above counsel to be put in 
force : "If she refuses, dismiss her, seek an Esther and let 
Vasthi go. ... The secular power must here either coerce the 
woman or make away with her. Where this is not done, the 
husband must act as though his wife had been carried off by 
brigands, or killed, and look out for another." In short, the 
marriage is dissolved, and the husband is at liberty to marry the 

1 On April 10, 1519, to Amsdorf ; see Enders, " Luthers Brief - 
wechsel," 2, p. 16, n. 33. 

2 To Johann Lang, April 13, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 12. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 162 ff. ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 49 ff., 77 ff. 
In the Preface we read : " There is a great difference between bringing 
something to light by means of the living voice or by the dead letter " 
(" Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 166). Of the marriages which were con 
cluded secretly (see below) and which were then [previous to the 
Council of Trent] regarded as valid by the Church, he says here : 
" After one has secretly pledged his word to a woman and thereafter 
takes another, either publicly or secretly, I do not yet know whether 
all that is said and written on the subject is to be accepted or not." 

4 " De duplici iustitia." Pastor Knaake remarks of the first 
edition of this sermon, that it is plain " what careful notes of the re 
former s sermons were made even then." See " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, 
p. 144. 


maid. 1 We must not, however, overlook the fact that in other 
passages of the same sermon Luther gives some quite excellent 
advice, whether against evil desires, or for the exercise of patience 
in matrimony. 

As one on whom the highest authority has been uncondition 
ally conferred, he declares in the same sermon that he " rejects 
and condemns " almost all the matrimonial impediments or pro- < 
hibitions invented by the Pope. 2 Virginity he refuses to reject 
absolutely, but nevertheless he declares: "It is true that he^ 
who does not marry must lead an immoral life, for how can it be* 1 
otherwise ? " " without a special grace " it is utterly impossible. 3 

According to his ideas, the duties incident to matrimony 
cannot be complied with without sin. " No conjugal duty can 
be performed without sin," he teaches in conclusion, 4 " though 
God by His mercy overlooks it " a statement which certainly 
does not show any great esteem for matrimony, although Luther 
is under the impression that he is raising the union of man and 
wife to a higher plane. The Church had never taught that the 
use of matrimony, which she looked upon as based on the order 
of nature, involved any sin. Some few theologians had, it is 
true, spoken of venial sin as unavoidable here, but these were 
opposed by others, and, besides, the views of these theologians 
concerning sinfulness differed widely from those of Luther. 
Luther s erroneous notion that every feeling of concupiscence 
was sinful, indeed mortally sinful, caused him to see grievous 
sin even here. 

In view of his severity in this matter, the freedom of speech 
which he retains even in the revised edition (1519), and his coarse 
treatment of the sexual subject is all the more surprising. His 
tendency to throw off the fetters of decency is at times quite 
needlessly offensive. Cochlseus remarks of this work : " Luther 
here speaks in the most filthy way of the intercourse between 
husband and wife, contrary to the laws of natural modesty." 5 

Others, and Cochlecus himself in his previous indecent 
writings, bear witness to the excess of coarseness of this sort 
which, partly as a consequence of Italian Humanism, had 
found its way into German literature at that time. Few, 
however, went so far as Luther. Several of his contempo 
raries told him so openly, though they were themselves 
accustomed to strong expressions. It is notorious that the 
sixteenth century was accustomed to speak more bluntly 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 290 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 526. For 
the explanation of the phrase, " If the wife will not, let the maid come," 
see volume iii., xvii. 6. 

2 Ibid., p. 280 = 515. 3 Ibid., p. 309 = 537 f. 
4 Ibid., p. 304 = 541. 

" Commeutaria," etc. Magunt., 1549, p. 61 : " Fcedissime 
contra naturalem pudorem loquitur de commixtione maris etfcemince." 


and openly than is at present usual. Yet in judging Luther s 
case a circumstance which is often overlooked should also 
be borne in mind, namely, that the standard by which he is 
to be tried is not that of profane authors and literary men 
of Humanistic leanings, but that of professedly religious 
writers. Luther not only professed to be a religious writer, 
but also gave himself out as the introducer of a great reform 
in faith and morals. From this standpoint the impropriety 
of his speech must assuredly be more severely judged. He 
employs by preference such language in his bitter and 
violent polemics, seeking to make an impression upon the 
lower classes by a naturalism not far removed from filthy 
talking. The vulgar figures of speech of which he makes use 
are all saturated with hate and rendered still more distasteful 
by the unclean aspersions he is ever casting on his adver 
saries ; from his manner of writing we can gather the 
satisfaction he derives from seeing the defenders of virginity, 
the religious and clergy, thus overwhelmed with filth. 

Certain preachers of the late Middle Ages, religious and 
others, for instance, Geiler von Kaysersberg, when dealing 
with sexual matters sometimes went very far in their plain 
speaking on the subject, yet their words were, without 
exception, characterised by gravity and the desire of 
saving souls. Their tone excludes any levity ; indeed, the 
honesty and simplicity of these productions of the Middle 
Ages impress the reader at every turn ; he may perhaps 
be inclined to extol the greater delicacy of feeling which 
obtains at the present day, but he will refrain from blaming 
the less covert style of days gone by. Luther s " cynical " 
language, however, impresses one as an attempt to pit nature, 
with all its brutality, with its rights and demands, against 
the more exalted moral aims of earlier ages ; the trend of 
such language, as contemporary Catholics urged, was down 
wards rather than upwards. 

One tract of Luther s, which dates from about that time, 
that " Against the Clerical State falsely so called of Pope 
and Bishops," contains a chapter "Concerning Vows," 1 
in which the descriptions are so coarse and the language so 
nasty that Staupitz might well have considered even his 
censure of certain earlier writings of Luther s not sufficiently 
strong : " Your works are praised," he had told him, " by 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 146 ff. ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 186 ff. 


those who keep houses of ill-fame," 1 etc. Several particu 
larly violent polemical tracts of those years, meant by Luther 
for his theological adversaries generally, are so brimful of 
words descriptive of the vilest parts and functions of the 
human body, that it would be impossible to match them in 
the writings of previous ages. His manner of speech was 
considered by his foes to have reached the lowest depths of 
thought and feeling. The vulgarity of his language was 
held to display the utter depravity of his mind. 

In polemics Luther was not merely the " greatest, but 
also the coarsest writer of his century " ; such is the opinion 
recently expressed by a Protestant historian. 2 

In the work dating from 1522, " Bulla Coenae Domini, 
i.e. the Bull concerning the Evening feed of our most holy 
Lord, the Pope," 3 he replies, with startling fluency, to the 
menaces of this Papal Bull against all heretics, including 
himself. Therein he describes the life and manners of the 
Roman " prostitutes " with the express intention of 
degrading all that Catholics considered most worthy of 
respect and veneration. The Pope and his followers he 
represents as indulging in every kind of sensuality, " rape, 
seduction and fornication " to their heart s content. 

Still more degrading are the opprobrious and insulting 
figures of which he makes use in 1522 in his furious reply 
" Against King Henry of England," who had attacked and 
pilloried his teaching. 4 In his tract it is his aim not only to 
" lay bare the shame of the Roman prostitute before the 
whole world, to her eternal disgrace," but also, as he says 
further down, to reveal the " shameless audacity " of the 
King of England, who is a defender of " the scarlet woman 
of Rome, the tipsy mother of unchastity " ; the King, 
"that fool," "lies and gibbers like the filthiest of prosti 
tutes," and that, merely to defend the Pope and his Church, 
" who are after all nothing more than pimp and procuress, 

1 Luther to Staupitz, repeating his words, June 27, 1522, " Brief - 
wechsel," 3, p. 406. 

, 2 Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 1, p. 226. 

t " Werke," Weim. eel., 8, p. 704 ff. ; Erl, ed. 24 2 , p. 166 ff. 
* " Contra Henricum regem Ariglise," 1522. " Werke," Weim. 
ed., 10, 2, p. 172 ff. " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 385 seq. The German 
edition published by Luther later (" Werke," Erl. ed., 28, p. 344 ff.) is 


and the devil s own dwelling." All this abuse is crammed 
into a few pages. To conclude, the King, according to 
Luther s dictum and description, has been fitly consigned to 
" the dunghcap with the Thomists, Papists and other such 
like excrements." Side by side with all this w^e find his grand 
assurances of his, Luther s, position as the messenger of God. 
" Christ through me has begun His revelations of the 
abomination in the Holy Place " ; x "I am convinced that 
my doctrines have come down to me from Heaven," 2 etc. 
The King he politely describes as a crowned donkey, an 
infamous knave, an impudent royal windbag, the excrement 
of hogs and asses. The King, according to him, is more 
foolish than a fool ; His Majesty ought to be pelted with 
mud ; he deserves nothing better, this stupid donkey, this 
Thomistic hog, this lying rascal and carnival clown, who 
sports the title of king. He is a nit which has not yet turned 
into a louse, a brat whose father was a bug, a donkey who 
wants to read the Psalter but is only fit for carrying sacks, 
a sacrilegious murderer. He is a chosen tool of the devil, 
a papistical sea-serpent, a blockhead and as bad as the worst 
rogues whom indeed he outrivals ; an abortion of a fool, a 
limb of Satan whose God is the devil and so forth. 

One of the unfortunate effects of his public struggle on 
Luther w r as, that he entangled himself more and more in a 
kind of polemics in which his invective was only rivalled by 
his misrepresentation of his opponents standpoint and 

Preachers of the new faith frequently complained of his 
insulting and unjust behaviour. 

Thus Ambrose Blaurer, the spokesman of the innovation in 
Wurtemberg, laments, in 1523, that Luther s enemies quite 
rightly made capital out of the hateful language employed in his 
controversial writings. " They wish to make this honey [Luther s 
teaching] bitter to us because Luther is so sharp, pugnacious and 
caustic, . . . because he scolds and rants. . . . Verily this has 
often displeased me in him, and I should not advise anyone to 
copy him in this respect. Nevertheless I have not rejected his 
good, Christian teaching." 3 Matthew Zell, also a Lutheran, 
wrote in 1523 : " Nothing has turned me more against Luther 
and pleased me less in him, and the same is true of other good 

1 "Contra Henricum," p. 220 = 445, etc. 

2 Ibid., p. 184 = 391. 

3 " Schutzschrift an den Rath in Costnitz," in L. Hundeshagen, 
" Beitrage zur Kirchenverfassungsgesch.," 1864, 1, p. 423. 


men, than the hard, aggressive and bitter vindications and 
writings which he has composed against even his own friends, 
not to speak of the Pope, the bishops and others whom he has 
attacked so violently and so derisively that hardly has anything 
sharper, more violent and mocking ever been read." 1 

Carlstadt, Luther s friend, and later theological opponent, 
underwent such rough treatment at his hands, that a modern 
Protestant writer on Carlstadt says of the chief work Luther 
directed against him : Its characteristic feature is the wealth of 
personal invective. . . . Though attempts have been made to 
explain the terrible bitterness of his polemics by Luther s dis 
position and the difficulty of his situation at the time the work 
was composed, yet the deep impression left by his controversial 
methods should not be overlooked. From that time forward 
they were generally imitated by the Lutheran party, even in 
disputes among themselves, and made to serve in lieu of true 
discussion ; that such a procedure was entirely alien to Christian 
charity seems not to have been noticed. The author also refers 
and, with even greater reason, to the attacks against the 
" Papists," " to the constantly recurring flood of abusive language, 
insults, misrepresentations and suspicions which the reformer 
poured upon his foes." He made use of " his extraordinary 
command of language," to accuse Zwingli, after his death, most 
maliciously of heresy. 2 

Amongst other opponents of the new faith, Erasmus, in a 
writing addressed to Luther, says : " Scarcely one of your books 
have I been able to read to the end, so great and insatiable is the 
tendency to libel which they display ( insatiata conviciandi 
libido ). If there were only two or three libels one might think 
you had given vent to them without due consideration, but as it 
is, your book swarms with abuse on every page ( scatet undique 
maledictis ). You begin with it, go on with it, and end with it." 3 
Thomas Murner says, in a reply to Luther, as early as 1520, " I 
see and understand that you are angry. Therefore it will be best 
for me to keep cool in order that it may not be said that we both 
are mad. You really go too far." 4 

It is true that Murner is very severe and satirical towards 
Luther ; in fact, all Luther s opponents who wrote against him 
frequently made use of stronger expressions than became the 
cause they advocated, being incited and encouraged in this by 
the language he employed. The Dominican, Conrad Kollin, in 
his answer to Luther s attacks on the indissolubility of Christian 
marriage, is a good instance in point. 5 The Dominicans of 

1 Rohrich, " Gesch. der Reformation im Elsass," 1, 1855, p. 294. 

2 Barge, " Karlstadt," 2, pp. 223, 275, 445. 

3 " Hyperaspistes," 1, " Opp.," ed. Basil., 9, pp. 1066, 1096. Cp. 
Erasmus in " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 689. 

4 " An den grossmechtigsten . . . Adel tiitscher Nation," Stras- 
burg, 1520 (no name), Bl. K. 1. 

5 " Adversus caninas Martini Lutheri nuptias," Colonise, 1530. By 
Luther s " canine marriages," the author does not refer to Luther s 


Cologne were particularly irritated by Luther s insults, for at the 
very outset of the struggle he had called them asses, dogs and 
hogs. 1 

That Luther s scolding and storming grew worse and worse as 
the years went on has been pointed out by the Protestant historian 
Gustav Kriiger, who remarks that Melanchthon could never " see 
eye to eye with him in this " ; Luther, however, did not " by any 
means always reflect upon what he said, and he must not be held 
responsible for all he flung among the people by word and pen." 2 

Luther s friend, Martin Bucer, strove to console himself in a 
peculiar fashion for the insults and libels which increased as 
Luther grew older. To the above-mentioned Ambrose Blaurer 
he wrote concerning Luther s attacks on the Zwinglians : " These 
are terrible invectives and even calumnies, but if you take into 
account Luther s character, the evil is diminished. He is by 
nature violent and accustomed to vituperation, and the abuse of 
such men ( conviciari assuetorum convicia ) is not to be made so 
much of as that of persons of a more peaceable temper." Two 
years later, however, Bucer confesses to the same friend his real 
concern regarding Luther s outbreaks of passion : "It thrills me 
with a deadly fear ( tantum non exanimor ) when I think of the 
fury that boils in the man whenever he is dealing with an oppo 
nent. With what utter rage did he not fall on the [Catholic] 
Duke George." 3 

In recent times Protestants have spoken with a certain admira 
tion of the " heroic, yea, godlike," rage which always inspired 
Luther s vituperation. One admirer emphasises the fact, that 
he " was only too often right," because his Popish opponents 
were altogether hardened, and " therefore it could do their souls 
no harm to make use of sharp weapons against them " ; "it was 
necessary to warn people against these obdurate enemies and to 
unveil their wickedness with that entire openness and plainness 
of speech which alone could impress his contemporaries. He 
considered this his sacred duty and performed it with diligence." 
" When he laid about him so mightily, so scornfully, so mercilessly, 
his efforts were all directed against the devil." " Where it is 
necessary for the salvation of souls," this theologian urges in 
excuse, " true charity must not refrain from dealing severe 
wounds, and Luther was obliged to describe as filth what actually 

union with Catherine Bora, as is usually inferred, but, according 
to the preface, to the numerous marriages rendered possible by Luther s 
removal of the matrimonial impediments, so that it might happen 
that one man could marry ten times even in the lifetime of the ten 
women concerned. Cp. N. Paul us, " Die Dominikaner im Kampfe 
gegen Luther," p. 126. 

1 N. Paulus, ibid. He refers to Luther s " Correspondence," 1, p. 20 ; 
2, p. 362 ; 6, p. 280. 

1 " Philipp Melanchthon," 1905, p. 16, 4. 

3 "Correspondence of the brothers Ambrose and Thomas Blaurer," 
ed. Schiess, 1, 1908, pp. 329, 476 ; Bucer to A. Blaurer, March 5, 1532, 
and March 3, 1534. 


was such." " Thus we see why he not unfrequently chooses 
dirty, common words and comparisons intentionally in order 
adequately to express his horror. His eloquence becomes at 
times a stream carrying with it a quantity of mud, dirt and filth 
of every kind ; but had it not been for it this filth would never 
have been swept away." 1 All this is expressed, even more briefly 
and drastically, by the Luther biographer, Adolf Hausrath, where, 
in reply to Harnack s criticism of the " barbarity of Luther s 
polemics," he says : " Since Luther s road led him to his goal 
it must have been the right road, and fault-finders should hold 
their tongues. . . . He knew the best language to make use of 
in order to shake his Germans out of their stupid respect for the 
Roman Antichrist." . . . Luther, the " prophet," treated his 
foes " exactly as they deserved," save in the case of Zwingli. 2 

This was too much for Gustav Kawerau, another historian of 
Luther. He pointed out, as against Hausrath, that, not to mention 
others, Duke George and also Schwenckfeld had experienced such 
treatment at Luther s hands as was certainly not " deserved." 
If Hausrath " thanked God " for the barbarity of Luther s 
prophetical polemics, he, for his part, felt compelled to " protest 
against the proclamation of any prophetical morality which 
would oblige us to set aside our own moral standard." " This 
is to do Luther and his cause, a bad service," says Kawerau. . . . 
" We are not going to venerate in Luther what was merely 
earthly." 3 Whether the " earthliness " of his libels and filthy 
polemics clung only to Luther s feet, or whether it involved his 
character and whole work, Kawerau does not say. 

We may fairly ask whether on the whole the character 
of the man has been more correctly gauged by those who 
look upon his favourite kind of controversy as nothing more 
than the disfiguring dirt under his feet, or by those others 
who trace it back to the A r ery nature of his titanic struggle 
with the Church. Bucer, as we just saw, traced Luther s 
outbursts to the violence of his temper, and Luther 
himself frequently declares that he wrote " so severely, 
intentionally and with well-considered courage." 4 This he 
looks upon as demanded by his position and, therefore, it 

1 Wilhelm Walther, " Fiir Luther Wider Rom," 1906, p. 232 ff. 

2 " Luthers Leben," 1, 1904, Preface, pp. x., xiii. 

Dinners i^eoen, i, iyu4, Jfretace, pp. 
3 " Deutsche Literaturztng.," 1904, col. 1613. 

4 To an anonymous correspondent, August 28, 1522, " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 53, p. 149, answering the question, " Why I replied so harshly 
to the King of Engelland." Principal reason : "" My method is not 
one of compromise, yielding, giving in, or leaving anything undone." 
" Do not be astonished that so many are scandalised by my writings. 
This is intended to be so and must be so, that even the few may hold 
fast to the Gospel." " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 447. 


is, as he thinks, " well done." 1 According to Wilhelm 
Walther, Luther had chosen the " heroic method of develop 
ment," i.e. " of isolating himself as it were from the whole 
world " ; his standpoint was not " within the grasp " of 
the world of his opponents. 2 Thus, unless he wished to 
forsake his cause, he had to carry it through single-handed, 
straining every nerve and having recourse to vituperation 
the like of which had never hitherto been heard. 

We shall examine elsewhere the psychological questions 
involved in this sort of polemics (vol. iv., xxvi. 3). The 
above will suffice concerning the influence exercised on his 
literary activity by the public position which Luther 
had assumed. 

4. Further Traits towards a Picture of Luther. 
Outward Appearance. Sufferings, Bodily and Mental 

A change had gradually taken place in Luther s outward 
appearance even previous to his stay at the Wartburg. By 
the time he had returned to Wittenberg his former leanness 
had gone and he was inclined to be stout. 

Johann Kessler, a Swiss pupil who saw him often in 1522 
and who frequently played the lute to cheer him, writes in 
his " Sabbata " : " When I knew Martin at the age of forty- 
one in 1522 he was by nature somewhat portly, of an upright 
gait, inclined rather backward than forward, and always 
carried his face heavenward." 3 

Albert Burer, who was also studying at Wittenberg after 
Luther s return from the Wartburg, praises his amiability, 
his pleasant, melodious voice, and his winning manner of 
speech. 4 Thomas Blaurcr, then his enthusiastic disciple, 
is also full of praise of his kindly, attractive and sym- 

1 Cp. Luther to the Elector Johann, April 10, 1531, " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 54, p. 223 (" Brief wechsel," 8, p. 388), concerning his two 
pamphlets, " Warnunge an seine lieben Deudschen," and " Auff das 
vermeint keiserlich Edict": "I am only sorry that [the style] is 
not stronger and more violent." The Elector will "readily perceive 
that my writing is far, far, too dull and soft towards such dry bones 
and dead branches [as the Papists]." But I was "neither drunk nor 
asleep when I wrote." 

2 " Fiir Luther Wider Rom," p. 231. 

3 " Sabbata," St. Gallen, 1902, p. 65. 

4 Letter of Burer, March 27, 1522, in Baum, " Capito und Butzer," 
I860, p. 83, and in " Brief wechsel des Beatus Rhenanus," ed. Horawitz 
and Hartf elder, 1866, p. 303. 


pathetic manner towards those who came under his influence 
and to whom he ever behaved in a simple and natural 
fashion. 1 Neither of them, however, describes his facial 

From the likenesses of him to be referred to below it 
appears that his face usually wore an expression of energy 
and defiance. His chin and mouth protruded slightly and 
gave an impression of firmness ; a slight frown denoted 
irritability ; over his right eye there was a large wart ; a 
lock of curly hair overhung his forehead. His " dark eyes 
blinked and twinkled like stars so that it w r as difficult to 
look at them fixedly." 2 (J. Kessler.) As remarked above, 
his deportment was upright and almost defiant. 

Of what Luther must have been, judging by his descriptions, 
not one of the portraits which have come down to us gives 
any good idea. 3 This sounds strange, as the art of portrait 
painting was already very highly developed in Luther s day, 
whilst his likenesses were in great demand and were de 
spatched from Wittenberg to every quarter in order to 
increase his popularity. Diirer and Holbein, who have left 
us characteristic and faithful likenesses of Melanchthon, 
never employed their brush or pencil in depicting Luther. 
The death-mask which we still have was not taken till four 
days after Luther s death from a stroke, i.e. after decomposi 
tion had already made some progress, while the portrait of 
the dead man painted in haste by Lucas Fortenagel is almost 
terrifying and betrays a very unpractised hand. 4 

Lucas Cranach the elder, as is well known, sketched or 
painted several likenesses of Luther, and as the two were very 
intimate with each other we might have anticipated some 
thing reliable. He was, however, not sufficiently true to 

1 Thomas Blaurer, in a letter to his brother Ambrose, dated Feb 
ruary 15, 1521, calls Luther " Pater pientissimus " ; previously, on 
January 4, he speaks of him as " christianissimus et sapientissimus vir," 
and extols the fact that " omnia contempsit prceter Christum ; prceter 
Christum nihil metuit nee sperat et id tamen ita humiliter, ut dare sentias 
nullos esse hie fucos." " Correspondence of the Brothers Blaurer," 1, 
1908, pp. 33, 29 f. 

2 Cp. vol. i., p. 279, the " Dicta Melanchthonia " on Luther s eyes. 
Catholic contemporaries called them diabolical. See e.g. Aleander in 
Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 500. 

3 Cp. for what follows H. Bohmer, " Luther im Lichte der neueren 
Forschung," 2 , 1910, p. 4 f. Some of the matter contained in the first 
edition is omitted in the second. 

4 See Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , PI. IX 


life ; he suppressed what he considered to be defects in his 
sitter, and, in spite of his artistic talent, he did not possess 
the special qualifications for faithfully reproducing in a 
portrait the expression of the soul. In his pictures of Luther 
we are at a loss to find certain traits mentioned in the 
accounts we possess ; the artist introduces into the face an 
expression of mildness and tenderness which was foreign to 
Luther. Neither is it a fact that we have hundreds of 
pictures from his studio, as is so often stated, for of all the 
portraits and engravings ascribed to Cranach only five can 
be considered as absolutely genuine, the copper plates of 
1520 and 1521, * then the " Squire George " of the Wartburg 
in the Leipzig Town Library, and two portraits in the 
Kaufmann Gallery in Berlin. " If we examine the abso 
lutely genuine Cranachs we at once notice that they 
have nothing in common with the typical Luther features 
[of a later day]." From these original likenesses down to the 
pictures of Luther which circulate to-day there are many 
steps. The transformation was carried further and further, 
though the " broad, peasant face " and the " powerful jaw " 
were destined to remain. Nearly all these pictures represent 
an elderly man, inclined to corpulence, with somewhat 
blurred features, with surprisingly abundant curly hair 
and small, kindly eyes. 

This, the typical Luther of to-day, appears perhaps for 
the first time in the so-called " Epitaphium Lutheri" a wood 
cut which was made after Luther s death by the elder 
Cranach s son, Lucas Cranach the younger. The type 
in question became very generally known owing to the 
picture of Luther painted nine years after his death by the 
younger Cranach for an altar-piece in the parish church at 
Weimar, although in this likeness, which has been so 
frequently copied, there may still be found some traces of 
the bold, warrior features of the real Luther. Bohmer, the 
Protestant historian, remarks: "In the most popular of 
these modern ideal pictures, viz. the oleograph of Luther 
in the fur cappa which adorns so many churches, even 
the Doctor s own Catherine would be unable to recognise 
her Martin." 

The pictured Luther has become almost a fable among 
Protestants. This may well make us suspicious of the pen- 
1 The latter are shown in Bohmer, p. 2. Cp. ibid., p. 37. 


picture of him now spread abroad by so many of his followers 
and admirers. Is it in the least trustworthy ? Here again 
it is the Protestant authority cited above who complains : 
" The literary Luther-portraits, though strikingly similar, 
are all more or less unlike the original. In the strict sense 
they arc not portraits at all, but presentments of a type." 

The strain of such strenuous literary work, in the case of 
one whose public life was so full of commotion as Luther s, 
could not fail to tax the most healthy nervous system. We 
can only wonder how he contrived to cope with the excite 
ment and incessant labour of the years from 1520 to 1525 
and to continue tirelessly at the task till his life s end. 

Amongst his works in those years were various contro 
versial writings printed in 1523, for instance, that against 
Cochlseus ; also tracts such as those " On the Secular 
Power " and " On the Adoration of the Sacrament " ; 
also the Instructions on the Supper, on Baptism and 
on the Liturgy, etc., and, besides these, voluminous 
circular-letters, translations from, and extensive com 
mentaries on, the Bible. There was also a vast multitude of 
sermons and private letters. Among the writings on widely 
differing subjects dealt with by Luther in 1524-25 the 
following may be specified : " On Christian Schools," " Two 
Unequal Commands of the Emperor," " On Trade and 
Usury," " On the Abomination of silent Mass," " Against the 
Heavenly Prophets," " Against the Murderous Peasants," 
" On the Unfreedom of the Will." His publications 
in the three years 1523-25 number no less than seventy- 
nine. His attacks on the vow of chastity, and on celibacy, 
constitute a striking feature of many of his then writings. 
Obstinacy in the pursuit of one idea, which characterises 
the German, degenerates in Luther s case into a sort of 
monomania, which would have made his writings unread 
able, or at least tedious, had not the author s literary gifts 
and unfortunately the prurient character of the subject- 
matter appealed to many. The haste in which all this was 
produced has left its mark everywhere. 1 

1 None but an expert can have any idea of the " speed with which 
Luther wrote. He was a born stenographer." It should be noted 
" that the haste with which he wrote is far less noticeable in the manu 
scripts which have been preserved than in the writings themselves 
with their countless defects. Outside a small circle there are but few 


In those years Luther s nerves frequently avenged them 
selves by headaches and attacks of giddiness for the un 
limited demands made upon them. Irregular meals and the 
want of proper attention to the body in the desolate " black 
monastery " of Wittenberg also contributed their quota. 
Among the bodily disorders which often troubled him we 
find him complaining of a disagreeable singing in the ears ; 
then it was that he began to suffer from calculus, a malady 
which caused him great pains in later years and of which we 
first hear in 152G. We reserve, however, our treatment of 
Luther s various ailments till we come to describe the close 
of his life. (Sec vol. v., xxxv. 1.) 

We cannot, however, avoid dealing here with a matter 
connected with his pathology, which has frequently been 
discussed in recent times. The delicate question of his 
having suffered from syphilis was first broached by the 
Protestant physician, Friedrich Kiichenmeister, in 1881, and 
another Protestant, the theologian and historian Theodore 
Kolde, has brought it into more prominent notice by the 
production of a new document, which in 1904 was un 
fortunately submitted to noisy discussion by polemical 
writers arid apologists in the public press. 

Kiichenmeister wrote : " As a student Luther was on the 
whole healthy. From syphilis, the scourge of the students and 
knights at that time (we have only to think of Ulrich von Hutten), 
he never suffered, I preserved, he says, my chastity. " l 

The inference is, however, not conclusive, since syphilis is now 
looked upon as an illness which can be contracted not merely by 
sexual intercourse, but also in other ways. There was therefore 
no real reason to introduce the question of chastity, which the 
physician here raises. 

As regards, however, the question of infection, every unbiassed 
historian will make full allowance for the state of that age. 

to-day who could fall under the magical influence of Luther s writings, 
and not weary of listening to the monotonous song of the Witten 
berg nightingale " (K. A. Meissinger, in a review of Ficker s edition 
of the Commentary on Romans, "Frankfurter Ztng.," 1910, No. 300). 
The expression " Wittenberg nightingale " occurs, as is well known, 
in a poem by Luther s Nuremberg admirer, Hans Sachs. 

1 " Luthers Krankengesch.," 1881, p. 122. " Commentar ad Gal.," 
1531, 1, p. 107. In this passage quoted by Denifle, I 2 , p. 391, 
Luther speaks of his great zeal in doing penance in the monastery, and 
adds a little further on (p. 109) : " So long as I was a Popish monk, 
externe non eram sicut ceteri homines, raptores, iniusti, adulteri, sed 
servabam castitatem, obedientiam et paupertatem," which, of course, 
only means : "I was a good religious." 

II. M 


Owing to the great corruption of morals which prevailed, syphilis, 
or the " French sickness, malum Francice," as it was called, 
raged everywhere, but especially in France and Italy. The 
danger of infection was, as Luther himself points out, extremely 
great, so that, as he says, even " boys in the cradle are plagued 
with this disease." So prevalent was this formerly unknown 
malady that " friends wished it to each other in jest." 1 He sees 
in the spread of the " scabies gallica " a manifest Divine judg 
ment for the growing lack of the fear of God, and looks upon it 
as a sign of the approaching end of the world. 2 In his " Chronicle " 
he says that, in 1490, a new illness, the French sickness, made its 
appearance, " one of the great signs of the coming of the Last 
Day." 3 

The new material furnished by Theodore Kolde in his 
" Analecta Lutherana " consists of a medieal letter of 
Wolfgang Rychardus to Johann Magenbuch dated June 11, 
1523, taken from the Hamburg Town Library, and is of a 
character to make one wonder whether Luther did not at 
one period suffer from syphilis, at any rate in a mild form. 4 

The circumstances of the letter are as follows : Luther was 
recovering from a serious attack of illness which he himself 
believed to be due to a bath. 5 We learn from Melanchthon that 
this indisposition was accompanied by high fever. 6 On May 24, 
however, the patient was able to report that he was better, but 
that he "was over-burdened with distracting labours." 7 At 
that time a certain Apriolus, a renegade Franciscan and zealous 
disciple of Luther s (his real name was Johann Eberlin), was 
staying with Luther at Wittenberg. He forwarded detailed 
accounts of Luther s illness to a physician with whom he was 
intimate, Wolfgang Rychardus, at Ulm. Rychardus was also a 
great admirer of the Wittenberg professor and at the same time, 
as it would appear, a devoted friend of Melanchthon s. In conse 
quence of Apriolus s reports he wrote the medical letter now in 

1 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 38. 

2 In the interpretation of Genesis iii. 17 ; " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 1, 
p. 263. Cp. Cordatus, " Tagebuch, . p. 38, 481, where Luther makes 
use of the usual word " Franzos " for the malady. In the latter 
passage Luther declares himself ready to exchange his very painful 
gout for this malady, or even for the plague, were that God s will. 
Hence he was then, i.e. in his later years, free from it. 

3 German translation of the " Chronicle " in " Werke," ed. Walch, 
14 ; the passage, ibid., p. 1277. 

4 " Analecta Lutherana," p. 50. 

5 To Spalatin, April 25, 1523, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 137. 

6 Melanchthon to Hammelberg, April 29, 1523, " Corp. ref.," 1, 
p. 615. 

T To Nic. Hausmann, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 144 : " Corpore satis 
bene. valeo." 


question to another physician then studying at Wittenberg, 
Johann Magenbuch of Blaubeuren, who also was intimate with 
the Wittenberg Reformers, had helped Melanchthon in his Greek 
lexicon with regard to the medical side, and was then in attend 
ance on Luther. It was Magenbuch who had first brought 
Rychardus into touch with Luther, and both had already ex 
changed letters concerning him. 1 Rychardus remained Luther s 
friend at a later date. 2 

Rychardus wrote to the physician attending Luther, that he 
had heard of the illness of the new " Elias " (Luther), but now 
rejoices to learn he is convalescent. It was evident that God was 
preserving him. In the meantime, out of pity [in a letter not 
extant], Apriolus had given him various particulars concerning 
Luther s illness and his sleeplessness. He points out that it was 
not sufficient that Luther should only enjoy some sleep every 
second night, though, of course, his mental exertion explained 
his sleeplessness, hence, as a careful physician, he recommends 
his friend Magenbuch to give the patient a certain sleeping- 
draught, which he also describes, and with which Magenbuch 
("qui medicum agis") must already be acquainted. "But if," 
he says, "the pains of the French sickness disturb his sleep," 
these must be alleviated by means of a certain plaster, the 
mysterious components of which, comprising wine, quicksilver 
(" vinum sublimatum "), and other ingredients he fully describes ; 
this would induce sleep which was absolutely essential for the 
restoration of health. " For God s sake take good care of Luther," 
he concludes, and adds greetings to Apriolus his informant. 3 

Divergent interpretations have naturally been placed upon 
this letter by Luther s friends and enemies. It might have 

1 See Enders in " Luthers Brief wechsel," 4, pp. 87, 88 n. 

2 Luther sent him a copy of his " Chronicle," above mentioned, as 
a present on May 15, 1544 (Seidemann, " Lutherbriefe," p. G8). 

3 The text in question runs as follows : " De Helia Luthero vulgata 
est apud (nos) creberrima Jama morbo laborare hominem. Oiengerius 
tamen ex Lipsiis rediens nundinis re/ert foeliciter, convaluisse scilicet 
Heliam. qui nos omnes mira affecit Icetitia. Clamabant adversarii pseu- 
doregem interiisse de Sickingero gloriantes, pseudopapam autem cegrotum 
propediem obiturum. Deus tamen, cuius res agitur, melius consuluit. 
Apriolus tamen multa mihi ex compassions de Lutheri nostri mala vale- 
tudine adscripsit, et inter reliqua de nimia vigilia, qua dominus Helias 
molestetur. Non est mirum, hominem tot cerebri laboribus immersum, in 
siccitatem cerebri incidere, unde nimia causatur vigilia. Tu autem, qui 
medicum agis, non debes esse oblitus, si lac mulieris mixtum cum oleo 
violato in commissuram coronalem ungatur, quam familiariter humectet 
cerebrum ad somnumque disponat ; et si cum hoc dolores MALI FRANCIE 
somno impedimento fuerint, mitigandi sunt cum emplastro, quod fit ex 
medulla cervi, in qua coquuntur vermes terrce cum modico croco et vino 
sublimato. Hec si dormituro apponuntur, somnum conciliant, qui somnus 
maxime est necessarius ad restaurandam sanitatem. Nam quod caret 
alterna requie durabile non est. Cura nobis Lutherum propter Deum, 
cuius fldei me commenda et charitati. Melanchthonis (?) notum fac 
Apriolumque saluta." (From the " Cod. Rych." in the Wolff collec 
tion of the Hamburg Town Library, p. 560.) 


sufficed to detail the circumstances and the contents of the letter, 
did not the somewhat violent objections raised against the view, 
that, owing to the information given him by Apriolus, Rychardus 
took Luther to be suffering from the French sickness, render 
some further remarks necessary. 

It has been said that Luther was not ill at all at the time 
Rychardus wrote, but had recovered his health long before. It is 
true that in June, 1523, his life was no longer in danger, since 
Rychardus had heard from Giengerius, who came from the fair at 
Leipzig, that Elias had recovered (" convaluiase Heliam"); but 
then his friend Apriolus forwarded the above disquieting accounts 
(" multa de valetudine adscripsit ") which led Rychardus to write 
his letter, which in turn is an echo of his informant s letter. The 
circumstance that Luther was on the whole much better is there 
fore, as a matter of fact, of no importance. It has also been said 
that " Rychardus can be understood as speaking in general 
terms without any reference to Luther." According to this view 
of the matter the physician s meaning would amount to this : 
" Luther must be made to sleep by means of the remedy well 
known to you [and which he describes], but if along with it ( cum 
hoc ) the pains of the French sickness should disturb anyone s 
sleep, they must be allayed by a plaster," etc. It is surely all 
too evident that such an explanation is untenable. 

Again, the word " if " has been emphasised ; Rychardus does 
not say that Luther has syphilis, but that if he has it. But, as a 
matter of fact, he does not write " if he be suffering from it," but, 
" if this malady disturbs his sleep " ; taken in connection with the 
account of the illness, supplied by Apriolus, the most natural 
(we do not, however, say necessary) interpretation to be placed 
on his words is that he was aware the patient w r as suffering from 
this malady, perhaps only slightly, yet sufficiently to endanger 
his sleep. " But if, when use is made of the sleeping-draught 
indicated, syphilis shou!4 prevent his sleeping," is surely a 
proviso which no physician would make in the case of a patient 
in whom syphilitic symptoms were not actually present ; 
Rychardus would never have spoken of the " new Elias " in this 
way unless he had reason to believe in the existence of the malady. 
It would have been far-fetched to introduce the subject of so dis 
gusting a complaint, and much more natural to speak of other 
commoner causes which might disturb sleep. 

It must, however, be allowed, that, both before and after this 
letter was written, no trace of such an illness occurs in any of the 
documents concerning Luther. The " molestice " twice mentioned 
previously, which by some have been taken to refer to this 
malady, have, as a matter of fact, an altogether different mean 
ing, which is clear from the context. 1 

1 In a letter to Staupitz, February 20, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, 
p. 431, Luther complains of " molestice," which were not physical 
sufferings but the weight of his position and undertaking. In the letter 
to Melanchthon, July 13, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 189, he means 
by the " other molestia " which tormented him, the constipation which 


In addition to his bodily ailments, the result more 
particularly of extreme nervous agitation, the indefatigable 
worker was over and again tormented with severe attacks of 
depression and sadness. 

They were in part due to the sad experiences with his 
followers and to the estrangement now becoming more 
and more pronounced of his party from the fanatical 
Anabaptists ; in part also to the alarming reports of the 
seditious risings of the peasants ; also to his deception 
concerning the Papacy, which, far from falling to pieces 
" at the breath of the true Gospel," had asserted its 
authority and even strengthened it by reforms such as those 
commenced under Hadrian VI. It was, however, principally 
his " interior struggles," and the pressing reproaches of his 
conscience concerning his work as a whole, which rendered 
him a prey to melancholy. This mental agony never ceased ; 
the inward voice he had heard in the Wartburg, and which 
had pierced his very soul with the keenness of a sword, 
continued to oppress him : " Are you alone wise ? Supposing 
that all those who follow you are merely dupes." 1 

If he sought for distraction in cheerful conversation, this 
was merely to react against such gloomy thoughts. The 
more and more worldly life he began to lead may also be 
regarded as due in some measure to the effort on his part to 
escape these moods. We may also find in them the psycho 
logical explanation of the excesses he commits in his 
attacks upon the Church, his very violence serving to 
relieve his feelings and to reassure him. His customary 
defiance enables him to surmount all obstacles : the external 
anxieties caused by his adversaries and the interior tempta 
tions which he ascribes to the devil. " I have triumphed 
over him [the devil]," he exclaims confidently, " who has 
more power and cunning in his smallest claw than all the 
popes, kings and doctors. . . . My doctrine shall prevail 
and the Pope fall, in defiance of the gates of hell and all the 
powers of the air, the earth and the sea." 2 

" together with temptations of the flesh had prevented him for a whole 
week from writing, praying, and studying." Cp. " Briefwechsel," 3, 
p. 171: " Malum auctum est, quo Vormacice laborabam : durissima 
patior excrementa, ut nunquam in vita, ut remedium desperaverim." 
To Spalatin, June 10, 1521. Cp. above, p. 95. 

1 Above, p. 79 ff. Cp. also volume iii., xviii. 

2 " Contra Henricum," " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 184 ; " Opp. 
Lat. var.," 6, p. 391. 


We feel it our duty to complete this remarkable picture of 
passion, defiance and struggle by some few additional traits 
taken from Luther s writings at that time. 

On the question of the vow of chastity and priestly celibacy a 
rude though perfectly justified answer was supplied him by many 
writers on the Catholic side, yet he ignored them all, and on the 
contrary proceeded on his way with even greater fury and passion. 
He proclaims a sacred command to marry, a command not one 
whit less binding than the Decalogue. Here, as in the case of 
other questions of morals and dogma, he is carried forward by 
passion, rather than by a calm recognition of the truth. He 
exclaims somewhat later : " Just as it is a matter of stern 
necessity and strict command when God says : Thou shalt not 
kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, so there is also stern 
necessity and strict command, nay a still greater necessity and 
yet more stringent command : Thou shalt marry, Thou shalt 
have a wife, Thou shalt have a husband. For there stands God s 
Word (Gen. i. 27), God created man . . . male and female he 
created them ! The consciences of the unmarried must be 
importuned, urged and tormented until they comply, and are 
made at length to say : Well, if it must be so, then let it so be. "* 

When it was pointed out to him, that in the New Testament 
celibacy embraced from love of God was presented as one of the 
evangelical counsels, he straightway denied both the existence 
and the authority of the evangelical counsels. And when his 
opponents replied that Christ frequently counselled acts of 
great virtue without making of them strict commands, but mere 
counsels of perfection, for instance with the words : "If one 
smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also," 
Luther will have it that Christ, even here, gave the strict com 
mand to allow ourselves to be smitten also on the left cheek. 

In his attack on the Mass, in his excitement, he went so far as 
to state: No sin of immorality, nay not even "manslaughter, 
theft, murder and adultery is so harmful as this abomination of 
the Popish Mass." He adjured the authorities to take steps 
against the blinded parsons " who run to the altar like hogs to 
the trough," " the shame of the scarlet woman of Babylon " 
must be laid bare in order that the " dreadful anger of God may 
not be poured forth like a glowing furnace upon the negligence " 
of those who fail to use the " sword entrusted to them by God." 
These were his words to the people in a sermon of the year 1524. 2 

How deeply his experiences with the fanatics excited and 
enraged him is apparent, for instance, from this statement con 
cerning Carlstadt : " He is no longer able to go back, there is no 

1 Preface to Justus Menius s book, " (Economia Christiana," 1529, 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 61 ; Erl. ed., 63, p. 279 (" Briefwech- 
sel," 7, p. 73). The preface is in the shape of a letter to Hans Metzsch, 
the Captain of the Wittenberg garrison, an unmarried man whom 
Luther urged in vain to marry. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 15, p. 773 f. 


hope for this orator, inflated and hardened as he is by the applause 
of the crowd " (" plausn vulgi inflatus et induratus "J. 1 Carlstadt 
and his followers, according to him, "are always on the look-out 
for a chance of incriminating the evangel." 2 Luther in these 
struggles felt bitterly that he himself, the originator of the great 
movement, had already become to many a byword and a jest, 
" a target for malice, for deceit, for buffoonery by reason of my 
simplicity." 3 

It is true he had a fellow-sufferer at his side, Melanchthon, who 
at that time " was brought to the brink of the grave " 4 by cares 
and want of sleep ; yet none of his friends suffered as much as he, 
for the whole burden of care settled upon him. To-day he has 
to dispute with a "sly and cunning monk," who ill-uses his wife 
because she desires a separation, and, then, when she actually 
leaves him, wishes to marry another ; Luther flings the desired 
permission after him ("if others will allow him so to do, I am 
content "). 5 On the morrow he has to go to Wittenberg to take 
steps " against a new sort of prophets arrived from Antwerp," 
who deny the Godhead of the Holy Ghost, which, they say, is not 
founded on the "Word," 6 On the day following he is assailed 
with complaints regarding the encroachments of the Lutheran 

" How does Satan rage," he cries in view of the above, " how 
he rages everywhere against the Word ! " 7 

When the news of the fanatics with their revelations concerning 
the " Word " arrived from Thuringia, and of the iconoclastic 
tumult at Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber, he again exclaims : 
" Thomas Miinzer at Miihlhausen, not only teacher and preacher, 
but also king and emperor ! " " Thus Satan rages against Christ 
now that he finds Him to be the stronger." 

It was formerly believed, he says at this time, that the world 
was full of noisy and turbulent ghosts and hobgoblins, and that 
they were the souls of the dead, a delusion which has been dis 
pelled to-day by the evangel, " for we know now that they are 
not the souls of men but merely naughty devils." " But now 
that the devil sees that all his noise and storming is no longer of 
any avail, he acts in a different manner and begins to rage and 
storm in his members, i.e. in the godless [and false teachers], 
hatching in them all sorts of wild and shady beliefs and doctrines." 9 

1 To Spalatin, March 4, 1525, " Briefwcchsel," 5, p. 133. 

2 Ibid. 

3 Ibid., March 23, 1525, ibid., 5, p. 140. 

4 Ibid., March 12, 1525, " Briefwcchsel," 5, p. 138. 

5 Ibid., April 15, 1525, "Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 290, "Brief- 
wechsel," 5, p. 157. 

6 Ibid., March 27, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 147. 

7 Ibid. 

8 Ibid., April 3, 1525, ibid., p. 152. To Amsdorf, April 11, 1525, 
ibid., p. 156. 

9 To the Christians at Antwerp, beginning of April, 1525, " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 18, p. 547 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 342 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 151). 


" Yea, verily this rage of Satan everywhere against the Word 
is nob the least significant sign that the end of the world is 
approaching." At that time, scarcely ten years after the dis 
covery of the evangel, this opinion was already firmly fixed in 
his mind. " Satan seems to be aware of it, hence his extra 
ordinary outburst of anger." 1 A confirmation of the approach 
of Judgment Day was discerned by Luther in the circumstance 
that, as he thought, " the princes were falling " (the French 
king had been taken captive by Charles V), " that the Emperor 
would also fall in the end," and that " more of the princes w r ill 
fall if they permit the people to grow so audacious." " These 
are greater signs that many believe." 2 The conjunction of the 
planets is also not to be overlooked, although, he admitted, " I 
do not understand much about them ; the bloody western sun 
would seem to indicate the king of France, another in the centre, 
the Emperor ; Philip [Melanchthon] is also of this opinion ; both 
together foretell the end of the world." 3 

He declares later that it " may occur any day," and that actual 
signs of extraordinary magnitude will be seen " in the sun and 
moon," although we have " already sufficient warning in the 
sun " ; above all, according to him, " the sign among men " 
[who shall wither away for fear and expectation, Luke xxi. 26] 
has already been fulfilled : "I am entirely of opinion that we 
have already experienced it. The evil Pope with his preaching has 
done very much towards this, namely by greatly affrighting 
pious minds. . . . The forgiveness of sin through Christ had 
disappeared." We were "frightened to death at Christ, the 
Judge." " Owing to the preaching of the evangel I am of opinion 
that this sign is in great part passed, in the same way that I hold 
most of the other signs in the heavens to have also already taken 
place." 4 

His scruples of conscience and the " inward struggles " 
referred to above Luther accustomed himself more and 
more to regard as the voices of the Evil One. He fancied it 
was the Good Spirit who taught him to despise them. It 
was only the Papists who were deluded and led astray by 
" Satan." " There," he writes in 1522, viz. among the 
Papists, " the true masterpiece of Satan is discernible, for 
he transforms himself into an angel of light. As in the 
beginning he wished to be equal to the Most High, so now 
he does not cease to pursue the same aim by deceiving the 
sons of unbelief with godly words and deeds. Thus does 

1 To Spalatin, March 27, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 147. 

2 Ibid., March 11, 1525, ibid., p. 136. 

3 Ibid., March 27, 1525, ibid., p. 147. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., I 2 , p. 19 ff. Sermon of 1533, the second in 
the "Postils." 


he make the Pope his instrument." " To what an abyss," 
he exclaims, " is he not capable of dragging down the Church 
by means of his sophists seated in the professorial chairs." 1 
When the thought of the day of reckoning or remorse of 
conscience for their infidelity to the Church awoke either 
in himself or in his followers, this was to be silenced as the 
voice of the wicked angel. Uxorious renegades from the 
religious Orders and the priesthood, who were now assailed 
by doubts, he consoles by means of his own moral dialectics, 
telling them they should go " forward with a strong con 
science in order to be able to withstand the devil at the hour 
of death." They were to " arm themselves with the Word 
of God " against the devil ; " you will stand in need of it, 
but rely upon this, that it is the Word of God, Who cannot 
lie ; read this [my own] little book On Vows carefully 
and strengthen yourself as best you can," for the " devil will 
work against you with your vow for all it is worth and make 
out your marriage and freedom to be sinful." 2 Here he is 
establishing a new school for the formation of consciences. 

How greatly the " inward struggles " pressed upon him 
in those years, notwithstanding such teachings and his own 
practice, is plain from two incidents of which we hear 
by chance. 

On one occasion, in a letter written in March, 1525, he invites 
his old friend, Amsdorf of Magdeburg, to come to Wittenberg 
that he may assist him " with comfort and friendly offices," 
because, as he complains, he is " very sad and tempted." The 
captain of the garrison, Hans von Metzsch, is also, so he reports, 
in a very troubled state of mind : he too looks for Amsdorf s 
help, arid will put a carriage at the disposal of the Magdeburg 
guest for the journey here and back. 3 As Luther later, in 1529, 
urged Metzsch, who till then had remained a bachelor, to marry 
forthwith and so save himself mental trouble, 4 it has been assumed 
by Protestants that Metzsch was tormented by temptations con 
cerning marriage as early as 1525, and that, as Luther in his letter 
to Amsdorf places himself in the same category with him, 5 " it was 
plain of what nature Luther s temptations were." It is certainly 

" Contra Henricum regem," " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 
205 f. ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 424. 

2 " On the two kinds of the Sacrament," 1522, " Werke," Weim. 
ed., 10, 2, p. 35 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 311. 

3 On March 12, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 138. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 63, p. 277 (" Brief wechsel," 7, p. 73). See 
above, p. 166, n. 1. 

6 " Nos afflicti satis et tentati sumus." 


possible that Luther meant by what he styles his " temptations," 1 
the struggles he had to sustain on account of the question of his 
marriage, which was pressing upon him more and more heavily. 
He elsewhere admits his fear lest he should lower himself and his 
cause in the eyes of many by his marriage, while on the other 
hand he feels himself impelled to matrimony by the impulse of 
nature. It was not merely concern for the good name of the 
evangel (" We are a spectacle to the world," etc.) 2 which troubled 
him. There is no doubt that these " temptations," if they really 
referred to matrimony, consisted in scruples of conscience which 
he had not yet mastered. We can readily understand that it was 
only gradually, and by means of strong representations from 
within and from his friends, that he was at length able to over 
come the hesitation which had persisted from his Catholic days 
when his opinions had been so different. 

Another instance of the effect of his temptations on his tempera 
ment is related in the Notes of his physician Ratzeberger. 3 The 
details refer to 1525 or 1524. 4 Katzeberger says that Luther 
" had privatim to endure great attacks of Sathana," and had 
" frequently been disturbed by the demon in various ways when 
studying and writing in his little writing-room." On one occasion 
Master Lucas Edemberger, George Rhau and some other good 
comrades, who were musicians, came to visit Luther, but on 
enquiry at his house, learnt that he had " for some time past " 
shut himself up and refused to see anyone, or to taste food or 
drink. Edemberger received no answer to his knock, and, look 
ing through the keyhole, saw Luther lying on his face on the 
floor with outstretched arms in a faint. He forced open the door, 
raised him and brought him to a lower chamber where some food 
was given him. " Thereupon he and his comrades began to play ; 
at this Dr. Luther came to himself slowly, and his melancholy 
and sadness vanished " Becoming cheerful he begged his visitors 
to visit him often and cheer him with their music, " for he found, 
that as soon as he heard music his temptations and melancholy 
disappeared ; hence the devil was a great enemy of music, which 
cheers a man, for he loves nothing better than to reduce him to 
gloom and sadness and make him faint-hearted and full of 

We have here a remarkable example of how his tempta 
tions affected Luther bodily and were in turn influenced by 
his bodily state, a subject which we shall reserve for future 
consideration (vol. vi., xxxvi. 1, 2). This mutual influence, 
finds its expression in the relief afforded him by music. 

Ratzeberger adds other interesting particulars, showing 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, pp. 796, n. 2, 729. 

2 See above, p. 133. 

" Handschriftl. Gesch.," ed. Neudecker, p. 58. 

4 G. Kawerau, " Etwas vom kranken Luther " (Deutsch-evangel- 
ische Blatter," 29, 1904, p. 303 ff.), p. 305. 


the happy effect of music on Luther s mind when confused 
by anxieties and inward torments. 

" As he found great relief from music in his temptations, 
sadness and fits of melancholy, he wrote to Ludwig Senftlin 
[Senfl], the Ducal Bavarian Band-master, and begged him to 
set to music the text In pace in idipsum dormiam et requiescam, 
which he did " ; it was also Luther s custom to have some music 
after supper with his guests, "especially devotional music, taken 
from the Gregorian chants." 1 

It is a relief to dwell for a moment, at the conclusion of a 
rather disagreeable chapter, on the pleasing trait of Luther s 
fondness for the melodies of the Church which he had known 
and loved from his youth, and for music generally. Formerly, 
the notes of the Church s chants had summoned him to " raise 
a clean heart to God," and now music assists him to assuage to 
some extent the storms which rage in his breast. 

His letter to the highly esteemed composer Senfl, who was in 
the service of the Duke of Bavaria, is still extant. 2 It is dated 
October 4, 1530, and in it Luther asks for a copy of a motet on 
the text " In pace," etc., arranged for several voices, should 
Senfl have such a thing, for since his boyish days the (Gregorian) 
melody to this text had pleased him, and did so still more when 
he learnt to understand the meaning of the words of the text. 
If Senfl had no such composition in his possession then he would 
beg him to compose one later, perhaps after Luther s death, for 
he now hoped that death would soon free him from a world of 
which he was as weary as it was of him, one reason why that 
Antiphon of the entrance into rest was so dear to him. It is 
the first Antiphon in the Nocturns of the Holy Saturday Office 
and runs : "In peace in the self -same I will sleep and I will rest, 
for Thou, O Lord, hast singularly settled me in hope." 3 

" We know," he continues, " that music is hateful and un 
bearable to the devils, and I am not ashamed to declare, that 
next to theology only music is able to afford interior peace and 
joy. The devil likes to cause us trouble and perplexity, but he 
takes to flight at the sound of music, just as he does at the words 
of theology, and for this reason the prophets always combined 
theology and music, the teaching of truth and the chanting of 
psalms and hymns." " It was thus that David with his harp," 
he said on another occasion, " allayed Saul s temptations w r hen 
the devil plagued him. . . . Do not dispute with the devil about 
the law, for he is a rare conjurer." 4 " He has a bulwark against 
us in our flesh and blood ; . . . when he makes me fancy that 
God is far from me, I say : Well then, I will cry and call upon 

1 " Handschriftl. Gesch.," p. 59. 

2 " Briefwechsel," 8, p. 276. Letters edited by De Wette, 4 (not 
3, as stated by the editor of Ratzeberger), p. 181. 

3 From Psalm iv. 9 ff. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., GO, p. 60 (" Tischreden "). 


Him." 1 " Many temptations and evil thoughts are dispelled by 
music." 2 "Singers are cheerful and drive away cares with 
song." 3 

Senfl s sweet and charming motets had, he assures him, 
special power over him. 4 " But I allow myself to be carried 
away almost too much by my love for this art," he says at the 
end of his letter to Sonfl, " which has often refreshed me and 
delivered me from great molestations." 

It would doubtless have been of great advantage to 
Luther s cause had his insistent praise of the person he is ad 
dressing, and of the Dukes of Bavaria for their love of music, 
succeeded in securing for him a footing in Munich. He does 
not in this letter conceal the fact that these Dukes were not 
favourably disposed towards him. Senfl, though holding 
constant intercourse with the followers of the new teaching, 
remained a member of the Catholic Church, nor were the 
Dukes of Bavaria, for all their enlightened ideas, to be tricked 
into a compromise with heresy by any attempt, however 
clever and pious in appearance. The warm expression of 
trust and confidence in God, such as we find here, was not 
unusual in the letters Luther addressed to princely Courts 
and high officers of state. 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 01. 2 Ibid., 61, p. 307. 

3 Ibid., p. 309. * Ibid. 




1. Luther s Marriage 

WHEN, in November, 1524, Spalatin, on the occasion of an 
enquiry made by a lady, ventured to broach the question 
when Luther proposed taking a wife, he received the 
following answer : He was to tell the enquirer (Argula), that 
Luther was " in the hands of God, as a creature whose heart 
He could fashion as He would ; whom He was able to kill 
or to make alive at any hour and any moment." His 
feelings were yet foreign to matrimony. " But I shall 
neither set bounds to God s action in my regard, nor listen 
to my own heart." 1 By these words, which were addressed 
to all observers and critics, he not only left himself an open 
door, but attempted to describe his state in the terms of that 
pseudo-mysticism of man s bondage and lack of free will as 
regards God s designs to which at times he was wont to 
abandon himself more or less completely, according to the 
varying circumstances of his life. 

About March or April, 1525, a definite intention to marry 
begins to appear. The letter to Spalatin referred to above, 
on p. 140, was written on April 16, and, though in it he does 
not yet admit his determination to marry, he speaks of 
himself jestingly as a famous lover, who had had at one 
time three wives in his hands. His eye fell on Catherine von 
Bora, who after her flight from the convent at Nimbschen, 
had found a home in the house of the Town-clerk, Reichen- 
bach (above, p. 138). He speaks of her in a letter of May 4 
as " my Katey " and declares that he is about to marry 

1 On November 30, 1524, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 77 (see p. 181, n. 2). 
Here Luther remarks that there is much gossip ("garriri") about 
him and his marriage. 



her. 1 Owing to his intimacy with her all sorts of stories 
went the rounds in the town during the following months, 
to which intercourse with the ex-nuns referred to above 
(p. 145) gave all the more colour. 

Then, suddenly, without consulting any of his friends 
and with a haste which surprised even his own followers, on 
the evening of June 13, he celebrated his wedding with Bora 
in his own house, with all the formalities then usual. 
Besides Bugenhagen and Jonas, Luther s friends, only the 
painter Lucas Cranach and his wife, and the Professor of 
Jurisprudence, Dr. Apel, were summoned as witnesses. The 
consummation of the marriage seems to have been duly 
witnessed by Bugenhagen as Pastor of Wittenberg. The 
public wedding did not take place until June 27, according 
to the custom common in that district of dividing the actual 
marriage from the public ceremony. During the interval 
Luther invited several guests to be present, as we see from 
his letters, which are still extant. From June 13 he speaks 
of himself already as " copulatus"* and as a " husband." 3 

On June 14 Jonas sent by special messenger to Spalatin 
a letter, evidently written under the stress of very mixed 
feelings : " Luther has taken Catherine von Bora to wife. 
Yesterday I was there and saw the betrothed on the bridal 
couch. I could not restrain my tears at the sight ; I know 
not what strong emotion stirred my soul ; now that it has 
taken place and is the Will of God, I wish the excellent, 
honest man and our beloved father in the Lord, every 
happiness. God is wonderful in His decrees ! " 4 

Luther also was at pains to represent the incident as 
divinely ordained, a high and holy act. 

At a later date he said : " God willed that I should take 
pity on her [Catherine]." 5 Even before taking the step, 
he had thought out the plan of impressing upon his union 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 293 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 164). In 
October, 1524, he speaks of Pastor Caspar Glatz as her future husband, 
without mentioning his own intentions (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 35). 

2 To Amsdorf, June 21, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 204. Cp. 
Enders in " Luthers Briefwechsel," 5, p. 195. 

3 To the Marshal Johann von Dolzigk, June 21, 1525, " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 53, p. 322 ("Briefwechsel," 5, p. 201). Cp. p. 175, n. 5, 
" coniux." 

4 Jonas to Spalatin, June 14, 1525, in "Jonas Briefwechsel," ed. 
Kawerau, 1, 1884, p. 94. 

6 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 238, " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 184. 


with " Katey," the ex-nun, the character of a " reforming 
work." " Because our enemies do not cease to condemn 
matrimony," he writes, and "our little wiseacres daily 
scoff at it," he feels himself for that very reason attracted to 
it ; being determined to give celebrity to the true teaching 
of the Gospel concerning marriage. 1 He had informed 
Albert, the archiepiscopal Elector, that before quitting this 
life he would enter the married state, which he considered 
as enjoined by God, 2 and somewhat earlier he had confided 
to a friend that, if he could manage it before he died, he 
meant " to take his Katey to wife in order to spite the devil." 3 
This agrees in part with what he wrote shortly after his 
marriage : " The Lord plunged me suddenly, while I still 
clung to quite other views, into matrimony." 4 

As a matter of fact it was the unpleasant rumours aroused 
when his intimacy with Bora became known, which hastened 
the step. This is what Bugenhagen, an authentic witness, 
says with evident displeasure : Evil tales were the cause 
of Dr. Martin s becoming a married man so unexpectedly. 6 
Luther himself admits this in a confidential letter to Spalatin 
three days after the step. He informs him of his marriage 
as follows : " I have shut the mouth of those who slandered 
me and Catherine von Bora." 6 

In the same letter Luther also refers to the reproach he had 
at first dreaded, viz. of degrading himself by his marriage. 
He scoffs at this : " I have become so low and despicable by 
this marriage," he says jokingly, " that I hope the angels 
will laugh and all the devils weep. The world and its wise 
ones do not yet recognise the pious and holy work of 
God and in me they regard it as something impious and 
devilish. Hence it pleases me greatly that, by my marriage, 

1 To Spalatin, April 10, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 153. 

2 See above, p. 142. 

3 To Johann Riihel, May 4, 1525, " Werke," Erl. ed., p. 53 294 
(" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 164). 

4 To Wenceslaus Link, June 20, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 201 : 
" Dominus me subito aliaque cogitantem coniecit mire in coniugium." 

5 Vogt, " Briefwechsel Bugenhagens," 1888, p. 32 : " Maligna fama 
effecit, ttf doctor Martinus insperato fieret coniux ; post aliquot tamen 
dies publica solemnitate duximus istas sacras nuptias etiam cor am mundo 

6 On June 16, 1525, "Briefwechsel," 5, p. 197 : " Os obstruxi in- 
famantibus me cum Catharina Bora." At a much later date he excuses 
the haste by his wish to anticipate the proposal of his friends that he 
should select some other woman. 


the opinion of those who continue to persevere in their 
ignorance of divine things is brought in question and con 
demned. Farewell, and pray for me." 1 Such utterances 
were directed also against many of the friends of the 
Evangel. Hieronymus Schurf, the lawyer, and otherwise 
Luther s confidant, had been one of those opposed to his 
marriage. He had said : "If this Monk takes a wife all the 
world and the devil himself will laugh, and Luther will 
undo the whole of his previous work*" 8 

Melanchthon, too, expressed his deep displeasure at the 
marriage in the remarkable Greek letter already once 
referred to (p. 145) addressed to his friend Joachim 
Camerarius, and dated June 1C, 1525. 

The true wording of this Greek letter, which Camerarius 
saw fit to modify, as is proved by the original in the Chigi 
Library in Rome, with his " corrections " in red pencil, 
only became known in 1876. 3 He revised it completely for 
his edition of Melanchthon s letters because he feared to 

1 " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 197, 198. 

2 See Amsdorf in Scultetus (fl625), " Annales Evaiigelii," 1, p. 274. 

3 V. Druffel, " Die Melanchthon-Handschriften der Chigi-Biblio- 
thek," in " SB. der Bayr. Akad. phil.-hist. KL," 1876, p. 491 ff. Wi 
Meyer, " Uber die Originale von Melanchthons Brief en an Camerarius," 
ibid., p. 596 ff. " Katholik," 1900, 1, p. 392, an article by P. A. Kirsch 
with photo of letter. We are forced to depart from his translation on 
certain points. Cp. also Nik. Miiller s reprint in " Zeitschr. fur Kirchen- 
gesch.," 21, 1901, p. 595. The letter runs : 

" Ei irpaTTeiv. "On p.ev ^ae\\e TTpbs 77 07^7? ou% ofj.oia irepl TOV yd/j.ov 
TOV \ovdepov dyyetXai, 5oe fj.oi irepl avrov u>s yv&fj.yv ^w CTOL e-mo-Te\\eiv. 
fjLrjvbs lovviov i]fj.epa iy dTrpoo~5oKr]TU}s e yy/j.e TT\V TZopeiav 6 i\ovdepos /j.r)Sevl TUV 
(friXwv rb Trpdyaa irpb TOV dva8e/j.evos, dXX eairepas Trpbs detirvov KdXfffas rbv 
IIo/j.epaviea Kal A.OVKO.V rbv ypafaa Kal rbv " A.ire\\ov /nbvovs tTroiijffe ra eWiff^va. 

" Qav/mdaeias de SLV, rotirqi TOJ Svarv^ei xpovw, Ka\Q>v Kaya0uv dvdpuiv 
Trdvrore raXanrupov/j-fvuv rovrov ov (TV/j.7rdo"%eiv, dXX tos 5o/f6? /j.d\\ov rpi (pdt> 
Kal TO avTov d^iu/ma eXarTovv, ore /idXtora \peia.v ^%ei r/ Yep^avia (ppovrjimaTos 
Te Kal f^ovffias avTov. Eya d ravra. OVTU TTWS yevtffGai ol/ ^ariv 6 
dvrip ws fj.d\iffTa 6i %e/)7js Kai al /Aovaxal Trdcry wx.a.vri eiri.l3ov\tvo^i>ai TrpofffffTraaav 
O.VTOV. "Icrws 77 iro\\T] ffvvriffeia, rj ffvv ra?s yU,oj/axa?y KO.V yevvalov ovra. Kal 
. re/xdX^a^e rj Kal Trpoffe^eKavffe. TOVTOV Tpbirov eifftrecrew doKeT ets 

rjv aKaipov piov /j.Taj3o\rjv. Qpv\\ov/j.fvov de, on Kal irpb TOV oiaKOpevaev 
, e\f/eva6ai. 5r)\bv <TTL. 

" ?\vvl de TO -rrpaxdfv fj.r] /Sape wj (pepeiv del 7? 6veiSi^iv. dXXd i) virb 
dvayKaadrjvai ya/j.e?v. OiVos Se fiios Taireivbs fJ-^v t dXXa. 6 crt6s tan KO.\ 
deLo fj.a\\ov TOV dyd/nov dp^cr/cet. Kat on avrbv TOV AovOepov eiriKvirbv TTWS ovTa 
bp(i Kal rapa-^Qevra oia. TT]V /Stou ^era^o\-qv, Trday (nrovdri Kal evvoLa ("irixeipu) 
trapafjLvde iaOai, eireiori oi Trw eirpa^e n, oirep eyKaXetffOai d^icD 7} dvaTroXoyijTOV 
8oKel. eTL o TeK/u.r)pid Tiva ^%w TT^S evcefieia S avTov, tiere KaTaKpiveiv OVK e^eivai. 
e?7reiTa SLV /maXXov T^I ^O/XT/V avTov TaTreLVOvffdat rj v^ovadai. Kal eiraipeffBai, birep 
e<TT\v ^Trtcr^aXej, ov /j.6vov rots ev lepwcrvvr], dXXd Kal Traviv dvdpwwois. TO yap e5 


make the severe censure it contained public ; thus the 
letter was formerly only known in the altered shape in which 
it was also published in 1834 in the " Corpus Reforma- 
torum," which begins with Melanchthon s letters. A similar 
fate has befallen several other letters of Melanchthon in the 
Camerarius editions, and consequently also in the " Corpus." 

Melanchthon, according to the real text of the letter (which 
we give in full in the note), commences with these words : " Since 
you have probably received divergent accounts concerning 
Luther s marriage, I judge it well to send you my views on his 
wedding." After detailing the external circumstances already 
referred to, and pointing out that Luther "had not consulted 
any of his friends beforehand," he continues : " You will perhaps 
be surprised that, at this unhappy time when upright and right- 
thinking men are everywhere being oppressed, he is not also 
suffering, but, to all appearance, leads a more easy life (/xSXXoz/ 
Tpv(f>S.i>) and endangers his reputation, notwithstanding the fact 
that the German nation stands in need of all his wisdom and 
strength. It appears to me, however, that this is how it has 
happened." And here Melanchthon brings forward the com 
plaints already related (p. 145) of the imprudent intimacy 
between a " man otherwise noble and high-minded " and the 
escaped nuns, who had made use of every art to attract him and 
thus had rendered him effeminate and inflamed his passions. 
"He seems after this fashion to have been drawn into the un 
timely change in his mode of life. It is clear, however, that the 
gossip concerning his previous criminal intercourse with her 
[Bora] was false. Now the thing is done it is useless to find 
fault with it, or to take it amiss, for I believe that nature impels 
man to matrimony. Even though this life is low, yet it is holy, 
and more pleasing to God than the unmarried state. And since 

Trparreiv, d^op^T] TOU /ca/ow? (ppovelv yiverai, ov [JLOVOV, u>? 6 pr,Tup tyy, TCHS dvor/Toi ?, 
dXXa Kal TOIS <ro0o?j. 

" IIpoj TovTip Kal c-\7ri fw, OTL 6 /3t os ovTOffl fff^oTepov avTov iroir]crei, tiffre Kal 
aTro^aXe?*/ TTJV /SaytoXox/ai/, fa TroXXa/as tfUflj/ApeB*. aXXos yap pios aXXyv 
Siairav Kara Trapoi/Liiav KaraffTriaei. 

" TaOra irpos ae paKpoXoyu, wore ^ <re vwb -rrapado^ov TT pay > oy ayav 
TapaTTeaffai. olSa yap on /u.e\ei aoi TOU d^w/iaroj TOU Aovdepov, o-rrep vvvl 
f\aTTovff8ai axdead-fja-ri. ITapa/caXtD 3e ae irpaw raura (pepeLv, OTL Ti>ioy /3ios 6 
ydfj.o^ i> ayiais ypatpais elvou X^erat. eu-os d dvayKaa0TJi>ai dX^^ws yaju.e iv. 
IloXXa TUV Ti-dXcu ayluv TrrotV/taro I5cicv 6 0ebs r,/Lui>, 6 rt 0e\et -r^ds jBaaavifoisTas 
rbv avTou \6yoi>, OVK d^ wyua dvOpuiruv i) irpb<rwirov <n >/j./3ov\ov Troieii>, dXXd fjibvov 
avrov \byov. ird\iv Se do-f/SeirraTos <TTIV, 6 <rrty did Tb 5t5aaKd\ov 
Ka.Tayi.yvuffKei TT/S 

" Michaelis pergrata consuetude in his turbis mihi est, quern miror, 
qui passus sis isthinc discedere. Patrem officiosissime tractate, et 
puta te hanc illi pro paterno amore gratiam debere Kal avTiireXapyelv 
De Francicis rebus a te litteras expecto. Vale foeliciter. Postridie 
corp. Christi. Tabellarius qui has reddet, recta ad nos rediturus est. 
^i XtTTTToj." (The seal is still preserved.) 

II. N 


I see that Luther is to some extent sad and troubled about this 
change in his way of life, I seek very earnestly to encourage him 
by representing to him that he has done nothing which, in my 
opinion, can be made a subject of reproach to him." 

In spite of his misgivings Melanchthon seeks to console him 
self with two strange reflections : Advancement and honour are 
dangerous to all men, even to those who fear God as Luther does, 
and therefore this " low " way of life is good for him. And 
again, " I am in hopes that he will now lay aside the buffoonery l 
for which we have so often found fault with him." Camerarius 
must not allow himself to be disconcerted by Luther s unex 
pected mode of proceeding, even though he may be painfully 
aware that it is injurious to him. " I exhort you to bear this 
with patience . . . God has shown us by the numerous mistakes 
(irralffjMTa) the Saints committed in earlier ages, that He wishes 
us to prove His Word and not to rely upon the reputation of any 
man, but only on His Word. He would, indeed, be a very god 
less man who, on account of the mistake (Trrcucr/xa) of the doctor, 
should judge slightingly of his doctrine. ..." Melanchthon 
then reiterates his statement that nature impels a man to matri 
mony, adding to it the word " verily." 2 

The letter, which was not intended for publication and, 
probably for this reason, was written in Greek, contains a strange 
admixture of blame and dissatisfaction coupled with recognition 
and praise of Luther s good qualities. We soe clearly how 
Melanchthon tries to overcome the bitterness he feels by means 
of these reflections, which however reveal him as the learned 
and timid Humanist he really was, rather than as a theologian 
and man of the world. Protestants have attempted to moderate 
the impression created by this letter of Melanchthon s by repre- 

1 Not p5e\vpiai>, debauchery, as was thought, but 
is the correct reading. The latter might perhaps be translated as 
" the passion for making coarse jests." This is the opinion of G. 
Kawerau in " Deutsch-Evaiigelische Blatter," 1906, " Luther und 
Melanchthon " (in the reprint, p. 37), who remarks that the only thing 
damning for Luther in this letter was Melanchthon s statement " con 
cerning the coarse jests to which Luther was given in his bachelor days, 
and which had so often scandalised his friend." Kawerau, for this very 
reason, thinks that this much-discussed letter, " which Camerarius only 
ventured to print after much revision " (p. 34), is much better cal 
culated to " make us acquainted with Melanchthon than with Luther, 
and simply bears witness to the former s sensitiveness " (p. 37). It is 
true that " some of Luther s talk appears to us to-day frightfully 
coarse, and Melanchthon felt as we do on the subject " ; but apart 
from the fact that Melanchthon s views were not representative of his 
age, Mathesius declares that " he never heard an immodest word from 
Luther s lips." We shall return later to the question of that age as 
a linguistic standard of morality and to Mathesius s statement, which, 
we may remark, refers to a later period. 

2 eiVo? de dvayKaaOrji ai aXydus ya^elv. The subject of the verb 
dvayKaadijvaL is the infinitive yap-dv, as in the previous passage 
riyoi fjia.1 viro 0iVews avayKaadqvaL On the passive form a 
see e.g. Plato, " Ph^ed.," 242a, 254a. 


senting it as written hastily in a passing fit of temper. As a 
matter of fact, however, it does not k bear the impress of having 
been so written, and, considering how the writer is evidently at 
pains to find some justification for Luther s conduct, it cannot 
be described as written hastily and without due thought. The 
writer, in spite of all he says, is anxious that " what has taken 
place should not be blamed " ; Luther to him is still " a noble 
and high-minded man," one, too, who has given proof of his fear 
of God. 

One of the most recent of Luther admirers accordingly abandons 
this excuse, and merely speaks of the letter as a " hateful " one, 
" written in an extremely uncomfortable frame of mind." After 
various reflections thereon he arrives at the following surprising 
conclusion : " If we place ourselves in poor Melanchthon s 
position and realise the slight offered him in not having been 
apprised of the matter until after the wedding had taken place, 
and his grief that his friend should thus expose the cause of the 
evangel to slander, we must admit that, after all, the letter was 
quite amiable." If, however, there was any question of slight 
in the matter, Melanchthon was certainly not the only one who 
had cause for complaint ; accustomed as he was to such treat 
ment on Luther s part, he scarcely even refers to it, his objection 
being based on far more serious grounds. He showed no 
sign of having been slighted when, shortly after, he invited 
Wenceslaus Link to the public " nuptice," expressing his good 
wishes that Luther s marriage "may turn out well." 1 The 
scruples which he shared with Camerarius concerning Luther s 
intimacy with the ex-nuns were not new, but had long disquieted 
him. We may notice over and over again his secret esteem for 
celibacy, which he ranks above matrimony, and such thoughts 
may well have animated him when composing the letter, even 
though ho repels them and praises the married state. "It is 
plain," says Kawerau, " that a shudder passes through his frame 
at the very thought of marriage between a monk and a nun." 2 
We can only regard it as clue to his state of indecision when he 
says in the letter in question, first that Luther " had done nothing 
that called for reproach," and then, that " he had made a mis 

We may nevertheless grant to the Protestant author, mentioned 
at the commencement of the previous paragraph, that Melanch 
thon who was not, as a matter of fact, apprised by Luther of 
his thoughts at that time" did not rightly understand the 
motive which caused him to enter the married state at such a 
moment. Indeed, the motive was not to be readily understood. 
Luther s intention, so our author thinks, was to set his enemies 
at defiance by his marriage and to show them " that he would 
pay less attention to them than ever " ; being apprehensive of 
his approaching end, he determined to set the last touch to his 
doctrine on matrimony by a solemn and manly act. 

Many others, like Melanchthon, have been unable to appreciate 
1 " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 750. 2 LOG. tit., p. 36. 


this " great motive," or at any rate the disadvantages of marriage 
in Luther s case seem to have weighed more heavily with them 
than its compensating advantages in the service of the Reforma 

This explanation, nevertheless, appears so convincing to our 
author that he does not insist further upon another reason 
which he hints at, viz. that Catherine von Bora " was unkindly 
disposed to Melanchthon," and that he much feared she would 
alienate his friend s heart from him. The same writer mildly 
remarks concerning the falsification of the letter committed by 
Camerarius : "it was not with the intention of falsifying, that 
he made various alterations, but in order to prevent disedifica- 
tion." Camerarius has, however, unfortunately aggravated one 
passage in the letter, for where Melanchthon speaks for the first 
time of man s natural inclination for marriage, Camerarius 
adds the word avrov, thus referring directly to Luther what 
the writer intended for men in general : "I believe he was forced 
by nature to marry," which, following immediately upon the 
passage referring to his frivolous intercourse with the nuns and 
the calumnies about Bora, gives a still more unfavourable im 
pression of Luther. This at any rate may serve to exculpate the 
Catholic controversialists, who erroneously referred this passage, 
and the other one which resembles it, directly to Luther, whereas 
he is comprised in it only indirectly. 

According to what we have seen, the circumstance of 
Luther s sudden marriage occurring just at the time of the 
panic of the Peasant War, made an especially deep impres 
sion on Melanchthon, who was ever inclined to circumspection 
and prudence. 

In point of fact, a more unsuitable time, and one in more 
glaring contrast with nuptial festivities, it would have been 
impossible for Luther to select. The flames of the conflagra 
tion raging throughout Germany and even in the vicinity of 
Wittenberg, and the battlefields strewn with the dead, slain 
by the rebels or the supporters of the Knights and Princes, 
formed a terrible background to the Wittenberg wedding. 

The precipitancy of his action was the more remarkable 
because at that time Luther himself was living in a state of 
keen anxiety concerning the outcome of the great social 
and religious upheaval. 

Seeing that he was looked upon, by both lord and peasant, 
as the prime instigator of the trouble, he had grave cause to 
fear for his own safety. About five weeks later, writing 
from Seeburg, near Mansfeld, after a preaching tour through 
the rebels country, he says : " I, who am also affected by 


it, for the devil is intent upon my death, know that he is 
angered because so far he has been unable either by cunning 
or by force to harm me and is determined to be rid of me 
even should he be forced to do his worst and set the whole 
world in an uproar ; so that I really believe, and it appears 
to me, that it is on my account that he does such things 
in the world in order that God may plague the world. If I 
reach home safe and sound, I shall, with God s help, prepare 
myself for death." 1 

Whereas he had written not long before, that he was not 
thinking of marrying because he awaited death, i.e. the 
death-penalty for heresy, 2 according to his statements after 
his marriage it was the thought of death which had led him 
to contract the union ; God s work was unmistakable, God 
was shaming his adversaries. r He repeatedly makes state 
ments to this effect, which we shall gather together with 
some of his other assertions to form a picture of his mental 
state then. 

In one of the letters of invitation to the public wedding he 
writes : " The lords, priests and peasants are all against me and 
threaten me with death ; well, as they are so mad and foolish I 
shall take care to be found at my end in the state [matrimony] 
ordained by God." 3 He is forced, however, to brace himself up 
in order not to lose heart and be vexed at the falling away of 
the people from him ; "to resign favour, honour and followers " 4 
caused him grief of heart and an inward struggle. 

His conviction that the end of the world was approaching, 
also did its part in exciting him ; " the destruction of the world 
may be expected any hour," he writes. 5 

Hence he is determined, as he declares, to marry " in order to 

1 To Johann Ruhel, " Wcrke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 293 (" Brief wechsel," 
5, p. 164). 

2 To Spalatin, November 30, 1524 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 77) : 
" Animus alienus cst a coniuyio, cum cxpectem quotidie mortem ct 
meritum hceretici supplicium" This he wrote under the influence of 
the stringent decrees of the Diet of Nuremberg (April 18, 1524), and 
in order to work upon his Elector. The decrees had led him to write : 
"You are in a great hurry to put me, a poor man, to death," but that 
his death would be the undoing of his enemies. " Two unequal decrees 
of the Emperor," " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 222 f. ; Weim. ed., 15, 
p. 254. 

3 To Johann Ruhel, Johann Thiir and Caspar Miiller, " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 53, p. 314 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 195). 

4 Sermon on Psalm xxvi. preached in Wittenberg shortly after his 
marriage, " Werke," Erl. ed., 39, p. 115. 

6 From the concluding words of the tract of 1525 : " Against the 
murderous, thievish bands of peasants," " Werke," Erl. ed., 18, 
p. 361 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 309. 


defy the devil," 1 i.e. he defies all his afflictions and anxieties, 
all the accusations of others as well as of his own conscience, 
and surrenders himself to the feeling, which, since the Wartburg 
days, ever stirred the depths of his soul on such occasions and 
made him hope to recover all the ground lost by means of force 
and violence. Peace and contentment of soul were not, however, 
the immediate result, for Melanchthon writes, that, after his 
marriage, Luther had been "sad and troubled." 2 

Luther will, however, have it that it was God Who had shown 
him the road he had taken. 

" God is pleased to work wonders in order to mock me and the 
world and to make fools of us." 3 " That it is Gfod s work even 
the wise ones among us are forced to acknowledge, though 
they are greatly vexed. The picture their fancy paints of me 
and the girl makes them lose their wits so that they think and 
speak godlessly. But the Lord liveth and is greater in us than 
he [the devil] that is in the world ( 1 John iv. 4)." 4 " God willed it 
and carried it out " (" Sic Deus voluit et fecit "). 5 "On account 
of this work of God I have, it is true, to suffer much abuse and 
many calumnies." 6 " Thus, so far as I am able, I have [by my 
marriage] thrown away the last remnant of my former popish 
life ; I am determined to make them [my foes] still madder and 
more foolish ; this is the stirrup-cup and my last good-bye." 7 

" Were the world not scandalised at us, I should be scandalised 
at the world, for I should be afraid lest what we undertake is not 
of God ; but as the world is scandalised and withstands me, I 
am edified and comfort myself in God ; do you likewise." 8 

" The cause of the Evangel has been greatly wronged by Miinzer 
and the peasants," he declares, therefore he wished to strengthen 
it by his marriage, in spite of the Papists who were shouting in 
triumph (" ne videar cessisse "), " and I shall do more still which 
will grieve them and bring them to the recognition of the Word." 9 

If, to the motives for his marriage which he enumerates 
above, we add a further reason, also alleged by him, viz. 
that he wished to show himself obedient to his father, who 
desired the marriage, we arrive at the stately number of 
seven reasons. They may be arranged as follows : 1. Be 
cause it was necessary to shut the mouth of those who spoke 
evil of him on account of his relations with Bora. 2. Because 
he was obliged to take pity on the forsaken nun. 3. Be- 

See above, p. 175. 2 See above, p. 178. 

To Leonard Koppe, June 17, 1525 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 199). 
To Michael Stiefel, June 17, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 199. 
To Amsdorf, June 21, 1525, ibid., p. 204. 
To Wenceslaus Link, June 20, 1525, ibid., p. 201. 
In letter quoted above, p. 181, n. 3. 

To Michael Stiefel, September 29, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 248. 
To Johann Brismami (after August 15 ?), 1525, " Briefwechsel," 
5, p. 226. 


cause his father wished it. 4. Because the Catholics repre 
sented matrimony as contrary to the Gospel. 5. Because 
even his friends laughed at his plan of marrying. 6. Be 
cause the peasants and the priests threatened him with 
death and he must therefore defy the terrors raised by the 
devil. 7. Because God s will was plainly apparent in the 
circumstances. Melanchthon s reason, viz. that man is 
impelled to marriage by nature, Luther does not himself 
bring forward. 

We must not lose sight of the circumstance that the 
marriage took place barely five weeks after the death of the 
Saxon Elector Frederick the Wise. His successor was more 
openly favourable towards the ecclesiastical innovations. 
Frederick would have nothing to do with the marriage of 
the clergy, particularly with nuns, although he did not 
permit any steps to be taken against those who had married. 
He wrote to his Councillors at Torgau on October 4, 1523, 
that to undertake any alteration or innovation would be 
difficult, more particularly in these days when he had to 
anticipate trouble " for our country and people " from the 
opponents of Lutheranism ; "he did not think that a 
clergyman ought to earn his stipend by idleness and the 
taking of wives, and by works which he himself condemned." * 
In May, 1524, we see from one of Luther s letters to Spalatin 
that difficulties had been raised at the Court concerning the 
remuneration of the married clergy by the Government. 
In this letter he recommends Johann Apel, formerly Canon 
of \Viirzburg, who had married a nun, for a post at the 
University of Wittenberg, and gives special advice in case 
his marriage should prove an obstacle (" quod si uxorcula 
obstet" etc.). He here condemns the faint-hearted action 
of the Elector, and remarks, that he will not thereby escape 
the animosity of his foes, seeing that he notoriously " favours 
heretics and provides for them." 2 

Luther did not lose his habit of jesting with his friends, 
though his witticisms are neither proper nor edifying : "I 
am bound in the meshes of my mistress s tresses," he writes 
to one, 3 and to another, that it all seemed " very strange " 
to him and he could hardly realise he had " become a 

1 " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 641. 

2 On May 11, 1524, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 340. 

3 In the letter quoted above, p. 174, n. 3. 


married man, but the evidence was so strong that he was in 
honour bound to believe it " ; and to a third, since God 
had taken him captive unawares in the bonds of holy 
matrimony, he would be obliged to confirm this with a 
" collation " [dinner-party], therefore he and Mrs. Catherine 
begged him to send a cask of the best Torgau beer for a good 
drink ; should " it turn out not to be good, the sender would 
have to drink it all himself as a penalty." 1 He speaks later 
in the same jocose fashion of his " Katey " as the " Kette " 
[chain] to which he is tied, and rather indelicately plays on 
his wife s maiden name : " I lie on the bier [ Bore =mod. 
Germ. Bahrc ], i.e. I am dead to the world. My Catena 
[Kette, or chain] rattles her greetings to you and your 
Catena." This to Wenceslaus Link, the former Vicar of the 
Augustinians, who was already married. 2 

Such jokes were likely to be best appreciated in the circle 
of apostate priests and monks. 

But many earnest men of Luther s own party, who like 
Melanchthon and Schurf, feared evil consequences from the 
marriage, were little disposed for such trifling. 

Luther jestingly complains of such critics : " The wise 
men who surrounded him " were greatly incensed at his 
marriage ; 3 he says he knew beforehand that "evil tongues 
would wag " and, in order that the marriage might " not be 
hindered," he had " made all haste to consummate it." 4 

Friends and followers living at a distance expressed strong 
disapproval of his conduct when it was already too late. 
The Frankfurt Patrician, Ilamman von Ilolzhausen, wrote 
on July 16, 1525, to his son Justinian, who was studying at 
Wittenberg : "I have read your letter telling me that 
Martinus Luthcrus has entered the conjugal state ; I fear 
he will be evil spoken of and that it may cost him a great 
falling off." 5 

It was, however, useless for the new husband to attempt to 

1 To Leonard Koppe, June 21, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 202. 

2 To Wenceslaus Link, July 20, 1525, ibid., p. 222. 

3 In the letter quoted above, p. 182, n. 4 : " Vehementer irritantur 
sapientes etiam inter nostros." These are the followers whom he had 
complained of already on April 10, 1525 : " Nostri sapienticuli quotidie 
idem (coniugium) ridere" To Spalatin, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 153. 

4 To Amsdorf, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 314, " Briefwechsel," 5, 
p. 204. 

5 4t Archiv fur Frankfurter Gesch.," 7, 1855, p. 102 in finders, 
" Briefwechsel Luthers," 5, p. 195, n. 4. 


defend himself against the consequences by excuses such as 
the following : "I am neither in love nor consumed by 
passion, but I esteem my wife highly." 1 According to his 
own assertion the step had not been taken under stress of 
sensual passion, seeing that it was closely bound up with 
his theology. " I had firmly determined, for the honour of 
matrimony," he says in the Table-Talk, " before ever I 
took a wife, that had I had to die unexpectedly, or were 
lying on my death-bed, I would have wedded some pious 
maiden." 2 He again assures us, that even when an old 
man and incapable of begetting children, he would still 
have taken a wife " merely in order to do honour to the 
married state and testify to his contempt for the shameful 
immorality and evil living of the Papacy." 3 

We are here confronted with a strange psychological 
phenomenon, a candidate for death who is at the same time 
one for marriage. 

Luther, however, speaks so frequently of this abnormal 
idea of marrying at the hour of death, that he may gradually 
have come to look upon it as something grand. In the case 
of most people death draws the thoughts to the severing of 
all earthly ties, but Luther, on the contrary, is desirous of 
forming new ones at the very moment of dissolution. He 
arrives at this paradox only by means of two highly ques 
tionable ideas, viz. that he must exhibit the utmost defiance 
and at the same time vindicate the sacred character of 
marriage. It would have been quite possible for him with 
out a wife to show his defiant spirit, and he had already 
asserted his doctrine concerning marriage so loudly and 
bluntly, that this fresh corroboration by means of such a 
marriage was quite unnecessary. What was wanted was, 
that he should vindicate his own act, which appeared to 
many of his friends both troublesome and detrimental. 
Hence his endeavours to conceal its true character by 
ingenious excuses. 

Luther s Catholic opponents were loud in the expression 
of their lively indignation at the sacrilegious breaking of 
their vows by monk and nun ; some embodied the same in 
satires designed to check the spread of the movement and 

1 To Amsdorf, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 204. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 167. 

3 Ibid., p. 265. 


to open the eyes of Luther s followers. One saying of 
Erasmus has frequently been quoted : A wedding was the 
usual end of a comedy, but here it was the termination of a 
tragedy. The actual wording of the somewhat lengthy 
passage runs thus : "In the comic opera the fuss usually 
ends in a wedding and then all is quiet ; in the case of 
sovereigns their tragedies also frequently come to a similar 
conclusion, which is not particularly advantageous to the 
people, but is better than a war. . . . Luther s tragedy 
seems likely to end in the same way. The Monk has taken a 
nun to wife . . . Luther has now become calmer and his 
pen no longer makes the same noise. There is none so wild 
but that a wife can tame him." 1 Erasmus, however, 
speedily withdrew his last words, writing that Luther has 
become more virulent than ever. 2 

More in place than such satires were the serious expres 
sions of disapproval and regret on the part of Catholics 
concerning the terrible fall of the quondam monk and minis 
ter of the altar, by reason of his invalid marriage with the 
nun. Hieronymus Dungershcim of Leipzig was later to 
raise his voice in a protest of this sort, addressed to Luther, 
which may be considered as an echo of the feeling awakened 
in the minds of many by the news of Luther s marriage 
and as such may serve as a striking historical testimony : 
" O unhappy, thrice unhappy man ! Once you zealously 
taught, supported by Divine testimonies and agreeably 
with the Church of God, that the insolence of the flesh must be 
withstood by penance and prayer ; now 7 you have the fallen 
woman living with you and give yourself up to serve the 
flesh under the pretence of marriage, blinded as you are by 
self-indulgence, pride and passion ; by your example you 
lead others to similar wickedness. . . . What a startling 
change, what inconstancy ! Formerly a monk, now in the 
midst of a world you once forsook ; formerly a priest, now r , 
as you yourself believe, without any priestly character and 
altogether laicised ; formerly in a monk s habit, now dressed 
as a secular ; formerly a Christian, now a Husite ; formerly 
in the true faith, now a mere Picard ; formerly exhorting the 
devout to chastity and perseverance, now enticing them to 

1 " Opp.," Lugd. Batav., 1703, t. 3, col. 900. Erasmus to Nicholas 
Everardus, Prases in Holland, from Basle, December 24, 1525. 

2 Ibid., coL 919, to Franciscus Sylvius, from Basle, March 13, 1526. 


tread their vow under foot and to deliver themselves without 
compunction into the hands of the Evil One ! ?!l 

In the above, light has been thrown upon the numerous 
legends attaching to Luther s wedding at Wittenberg, and 
their true value may now be better appreciated. 

It is clear, for instance, from the facts recorded, that it is 
incorrect to accuse Luther of not having complied with the 
then formalities, and of having consummated the marriage 
before even attempting to conclude these. The distinction 
mentioned above between the two acts of June 13 and 
27, each of which had its special significance, \vas either 
unknown to or ignored by these objectors. Were we merely 
to consider the due observance of the formalities, then there 
is no doubt that these were complied with, save that objec 
tion might be raised as to the legal status of the pastor. 
But, on the other hand, Canon Law was plainly and dis 
tinctly opposed to the validity of a marriage contracted 
between parties bound by solemn monastic vows. Thus 
from the point of view of civil law the regularity of Luther s 
new status was very doubtful, as both Canon Law and the 
Law of the Empire did not recognise the marriages of priests 
and monks, and lawyers were forced to base their decisions 
upon such laws. We shall have to speak later of Luther s 
anger at the " quibbles " of the lawyers, and his anger had 
some reason, viz. his w r ell-founded fear lest his marriage 
should not be recognised as valid by the lawyers, and hence 
that his children would be stamped as illegitimate and as 
incapable of inheriting. 

The false though frequently repeated statement, that Catherine 
von Bora was confined a fortnight after her marriage with 
Luther can be traced back to a letter of Erasmus, dated December 
24, 1525, giving too hasty credence to malicious reports. 2 Erasmus 
himself, however, distinctly retracted this statement in another 
letter of March 13, 1526 : " The previous report of the woman s 
delivery," he writes, " was untrue, but now it is said she is in a 
certain condition." 3 As his previous statement was thought to 
be correct, doubts were raised as to the authenticity of the 
secdnd letter ; the objections are, however, worthless ; both 
letters are taken from the same set of the oldest collection of the 

1 " Articuli aive libelli triginta," art. 17, p. 87 seq. 

2 " Opp.," Lugd. Batav. 
8 Ibid., col. 919, ep. 801. 

2 " Opp.," Lugd. Batav., 1703, 3, col. 900, ep. 781. 


correspondence of Erasmus, and, from their first appearance, 
were ever held to be genuine. 

Indeed, the assumption that Luther had unlawful intercourse 
with Catherine von Bora before his marriage is founded solely 
and entirely on certain reports already discussed, viz. his intimacy 
with the escaped nuns generally. 

It is true that soon after the marriage Luther speaks of 
Catherine von Bora as his "Mistress" (" Metze ") in whose 
tresses he is bound, 1 but the word he uses had not at that time 
the opprobrious meaning it conveys in modern German ; it 
simply meant a girl or woman, and was a term of endearment in 
common use. 

An assertion made by Joachim von dor Heyden, a Leipzig 
Master, has also been quoted ; in a public writing of August 10, 
1525, addressed to Catherine von Bora, he reproached her with 
having conducted herself like a dancing-girl in her flight from 
the convent to Wittenberg, and there, as was said, having lived 
in an open arid shameless manner with Luther before she took 
him as her husband. 2 A circumstance which must not be over 
looked is, that these words were intended for Catherine herself, 
and appear to come from a man who believed what he was 
saying. Yet on examination we see that he rests his assertion 
merely on hearsay : " as was said." The "dancing-girl," again, 
was adduced merely by way of comparison, though assuredly not 
a complimentary one, and refers either to the very worldly 
manners of the escaped nun, or to the secular, perhaps even 
scarcely modest dress, for which she exchanged her habit on her 
flight or afterwards. It is probable that at Leipzig, where 
Heyden lived, and which was one of the headquarters of anti- 
Lutheranism, something more definite would have been urged, 
had anything really been known of any actual immorality 
between Catherine and Luther. 

Another bitter opponent of Luther s, Simon Lemnius, who 
has also been appealed to, likewise adduces no positive or definite 
facts. Among the inventions of his fancy contained in the 
" Monachopornomachia " he left us, he does not even mention 
any illicit intercourse of Luther with Bora before his marriage, 
though in this satire he makes the wives of Luther, Spalatin, and 
Justus Jonas give vent to plentiful obscene remarks touching 
other matters. He merely relates and this only by poet s 
licence how Bora, after overwhelming Luther with reproaches 
on account of his alleged attempt to jilt her, finally dragged him 
away with her to the wedding. 3 

Since in this work it is history in the strict sense which speaks, 
only such evidence can be admitted against Luther as would be 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 322 ; see above, p. 183. 

2 See Enders, " Brief wechsel Luthers," 6, p. 334. 

3 See Strobel, " Neue Beitrage zur Literatur," 3, 1, p. 137 ff. Cp. 
Hofler, " SB. der k. bohm. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften," 1892, 
p. 110 f. Denifle states, "Luther," I 2 , p. 284, n. 3, that there is a 
specimen of the above work in the town library at Mayence. 


accepted as proof in a court of law, and mere conjectures would 
be out of place. We have seen the historic complaint made by 
Melanchthon of Luther s " effeminacy " and the " exciting of 
his passions by the nuns who pursued him with the utmost 
cunning," 1 and have some idea of the scandal created by the 
quondam monk through his light-hearted intercourse with these 
women who had quitted their seclusion ; we can now under 
stand how natural was the gossip to which he himself and his 
friends bear witness. It is true that men like Eberliii of Giinz- 
burg, the apostate Franciscan, said at the time that the devil 
was busy everywhere stirring up " wicked and vexatious sus 
picions and calumnies" against Luther, etc. 2 Others gave vent 
to their spite against the manners of the ex-nuns, who were 
bringing the evangel into dispute. 3 We can comprehend such 
reflections as the following, made at a later date by indignant 
Catholic observers, even though in an historical work such as 
this we cannot make them our own. " To have remained spot 
less amidst such dangers Luther would have to have been an 
angel. Whoever has any knowledge of human nature, and 
knows that God as a rule punishes pride and haughtiness by this 
particular vice, will not wonder that many have their doubts as 
to Luther s unblemished life before he took a wife." 4 

2. The Peasant-War. Polemics 

That the preaching of the new Evangel had a great part 
in the origin of the frightful peasant rising of 1525 is a 
fact, which has been admitted even by many non-Catholic 
historians in modern days. 

" We are of opinion," P. Schreckenbach writes in 1895, " that 
Luther had a large share in the revolution," and he endorses his 
opinion by his observations on " Luther s warfare against the 
greatest conservative power of the day," and the " ways and 
means he chose with which to carry on his war." 5 Fr. v. Bczold, 
in 1890, in his " History of the German Reformation," remarked 
concerning Luther s answer to the hostile treatment he received 
from the Diet at Nuremberg (1524), and his allusions to "the 
mad, tipsy Princes": "Luther should never have written in 
such a way had he not already made up his mind to act as leader 
of a Revolution. That he should have expected the German 
nation of those days to listen to such passionate language from 
the mouth of its Evangelist and Elias without being carried 
beyond the bounds of law and order, was a na ivete only to be 
explained by his ignorance of the world and his exclusive atten- 

1 See above, pp. 145, 177. 

2 " Eberlins Samtliche Schriften," ed. L. Enders, 3, p. 165. 

3 Eobanus Hessus says of the escaped nuns : " Nulla Phyllis nonnis 
est nostris mammosior." Cp. above, p. 125, n. 1. 

* Denifle, "Luther," I 2 , p. 284. 

5 " Luther und der Bauernkrieg," Oldenburg, 1895, p. 8. 


tion to religious interests. Herein lies his greatness and his 
weakness." 1 Concerning the effects of such language upon the 
people, the same historian wrote, as late as 1908: "How else 
but in a material sense was the plain man to interpret Luther s 
proclamation of Christian freedom and his extravagant strictures 
on the parsons and nobles ? " 

Luther s Catholic contemporaries condemned in the strong 
est manner his share in the unchaining of the revolt ; they 
failed entirely to appreciate the " greatness " referred to 

One who was well acquainted with his writings and published 
a polemical work in Latin against him at that time, referring to 
certain passages, some of which we have already met, makes 
the following representations to him on his responsibility in the 
Peasant War. It was he who first raised the call to arms, and it 
was impossible for him to wash his hands of all share in the 
revolt, even though he had told the people that they were not to 
make use of force without the consent of the authorities and had 
subsequently condemned the rising with violence. " The common 
people pay no attention to that," he tells him, " but merely 
obey what pleases them in Luther s writings and sermons." 
" You declared in your public writings, 3 that they were to assail 
the Pope and the Cardinals with every weapon available, and 
wash their hands in their blood. You called all the bishops who 
would not follow your teaching, idolatrous priests and ministers 
of the devil ; you said that the bishops deserved to be wiped off 
the face of the earth in a great rising." " You called those, dear 
children of God and true Christians, who make every effort for 
the destruction of the bishoprics and the extermination of 
episcopal rule. You said also that whoever obeyed the bishops 
was the devil s own servant. You called the monasteries dens 
of murderers, and incited the people to pull them down." 4 

A strong wave of anti-clerical and of politico-social 
commotion due to unjust oppression prevailed among the 
peasantry in many parts of Germany even before Luther 
came forward. But it was the gospel of freedom, the mis 
taken approbation found in biblical passages for the desire 
for equality among the classes and a juster distribution of 
property, as well as the example of the great spiritual up- 

1 " Gesch. der deutschen Reformation," Berlin, 1890, p. 447. 

2 " Die Kultur der Gegemvart," T. 2, Abt. 5, 1, Berlin, 1908, p. 68. 

3 The passages were quoted above, cp. pp. 6 f., 9 f., 49 f., 55 f., 63, 
69, 100 f., 107. 

4 " Dissertationes quatuor contra M. Lutherum et Lutheranismi 
fautores," Moguntise, 1532, fol. 19. See Janssen-Pastor, " Hist, of the 
German People " (Engl. trans.), 4, 1900, p. 56 ff. 


heaval then going on, which rendered the crisis acute, and 
incited the peasants to make their extravagant and violent 

An attempt was made to conceal the revolutionary 
character of the movement by explaining it as mainly 

The " Twelve Articles of the Peasants of Swabia," was 
headed, for instance, by a demand for liberty to preach the 
Gospel and for congregations to have the right of choosing 
their own pastors. 1 It was believed by those who drew up 
these Articles that all the claims, even those relating to the 
tithes, to hunting, fishing, forest rights, etc., could be proved 
from Holy Scripture ; only then, they said, were they ready 
to abandon them when they were refuted by Holy Writ; at 
the same time, however, they reserved to themselves the 
right to make in the future such additional demands as 
they might come to recognise as being in accordance with 
Scripture. Luther s ideas were also embodied in the thirty 
Articles of " Squire Helferich and the Knights Heinz und 
Karsthanns," indeed, they were for the most part couched 
in the very words of Luther s writings and the 28th 
Article swore deadly hostility to all his foes. 2 

1 Ed. A. Goetze in " Hist. Vierteljahrsschrift," 4, 1901, p. 1 ff. 

2 In Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 607, after a reference to the oppression 
of the peasantry, their insolence and desire for innovation, we read : 
" In addition to all this there now supervened the preaching of the 
new Evangel. ... A higher warrant was bestowed upon the com 
plaints and the demands concerning secular and material matters. 
. . . The Christian liberty of which the New Testament speaks and 
which Luther proclaimed was applied directly to temporal questions. 
Paul s words that in Christ there is neither bond nor free became a 
weapon. . . . Even the Old Testament was also appealed to. From 
the circumstance that God had granted to our first parents dominion 
over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the field, 
they concluded that at least the right to fish and hunt was common 
to all. Great opposition was raised, above all, to the taxes due to 
the monasteries and clergy, and even the very existence of the monastic 
state and temporal authority of the clergy was called into question. 
Such ideas were readily fostered among the excited masses when the 
new preaching found its way amongst them by word of mouth or in 
writings"; p. 701 : "Luther, however, was the man of the Evangel 
on whom the eyes of the great mass of the peasants in southern Germany 
were directed when their rising commenced." The editors of the 
Weimar edition of Luther s writings (18, 1908) remark in the first 
introduction to the same (p. 279) : " The rebellion found its encourage 
ment and support in Luther s victorious gospel of ecclesiastical reforma 
tion ; ultimately, however, it secularised the new gospel. Whence it 
came to pass that in the end, not Luther, but rather the religious 


The peasants in the Rhine province and about Mayence 
in their rising in May, 1525, demanded not merely the 
liberty to choose their own pastors and to preach the Gospel, 
but also that the preachers of the new faith imprisoned in 
Mayence should be set free. Their claim to choose their 
pastors, which was likewise made elsewhere, for instance, in 
the " Twelve Articles of the Peasants of Swabia," signified 
nothing less than the intention to fill the posts with preachers 
of the new faith. 1 

" The rebels everywhere either supported or opposed the 
Evangelical demands, those of Evangelical views joining 
the rebels with the idea that they would be able to enforce 
their wishes by this means." This explains why, after the 
rising had been put down, the Catholic lords were disposed 
"to look on Lutheranism as no better than rebellion." 2 
These words, written by a Protestant historian, refer to 
the Rhine Province, but they are equally applicable else 
where. So, too, what he says of this district may also be 
said generally, viz. that the enthusiastic expectation, which 
was widespread in Lutheran circles, of a great change before 
the approaching end of the world, helped to make of the 
followers of the new faith supporters of the peasants. Luther 
encouraged such fanatical ideas among his readers till the 
very outbreak of the revolt. (See below, p. 200 f.) 

" What wonder," the same historian says, " that when the 
social revolution broke out in the spring, Luther s perse 
cuted followers thought they recognised the beginning of 
the change, and in many instances made common cause w r ith 
the peasants and the lower classes of the towns. Luther 
himself had no wish to carry through his religious enter 
prise with the help either of the knights or of the peasants, 

fanatics, above all, Thomas Miinzer, drew the excited masses under 
their spell and impressed their stamp on the whole movement." Con 
cerning Luther s attitude tow r ards the revolt at the time it was pre 
paring, we read on p. 280 : " Up to that time [the spring of 1525], 
Luther had taken no direct part in the social movement. He was, 
however, without doubt indirectly engaged ; his writings had fallen 
like firebrands on the inflammable masses, who misunderstood them, 
interpreted them according to their own ideas and forged from them 
weapons for their own use." 

1 Fritz Herrmann, " Evangelische Regungen zu Mainz in den ersten 
Zeiten der Reformation," in " Schriften des Vereins fur Reformations- 
gesch.," No. 100, 1910 (p. 275-304), p. 297. 

2 F. Herrmann, ibid., p. 298. 


but his followers were not equal to making the necessary 
distinction between the spiritual and the temporal." 1 

Luther and his preachers had so frequently brought 
forward such disparaging and degrading charges against 
the secular, and still more against the spiritual authorities, 2 
that clear-sighted contemporaries, such as Bartholomew von 
Usingen, foretold a revolution. 3 as the result of such dis 
courses and writings. The destruction of the episcopal 
power, which, under the conditions then prevailing, was so 
closely bound up with the secular, meant a radical revolu 
tion in the law of property obtaining in the German Empire. 

The " Christian freedom " of all, the equality of high 
and low in the common priesthood, was proclaimed in the 
most incautious and seductive terms. The peasants were 
taught by itinerant and often fanatical preachers, concerning 
their real or alleged rights as vouched for by Holy Scripture. 
Thus the esteemed Strasburg preacher, Caspar Hedio, of 
the Rhinegau, in a sermon which he delivered on the Wach- 
holder Heide, near Erbach, explained to the people his 
views on the customary payment of tithes ; his words 
acting like a charm : He thought the peasants should pay 
tithes only under protest, though they were nevertheless 
not to attempt to abrogate the payment by force. Once 
roused, however, who was to keep the crowd within these 

1 F. Herrmann, p. 296. W. Vogt, " Die Vorgesch. des Bauernkrieges " 
(in "SchriftendesVereinsfurReformationsgesch.," 20, 1887), points to 
the general expectation prevailing, more particularly in the south-west 
of Germany, that a fundamental change in the existing state of things 
was imminent. " Every reform, however, even the most trifling, in 
the social sphere encroached upon the political and even the ecclesiasti 
cal domain, for the nobility and clergy, whose authority and possessions 
were the subject of discussion, were at the same time political and eccle 
siastical factors. . . . All felt that in the last instance the appeal 
would be to force " (p. 142). 

2 For examples, see above, p. 152 ff., and below, p. 297 ff. Cp. also P. 
Drews, " Entsprach das Staatskirchentum Luthers Ideal ? " Tubingen, 
1908, p. 31. 

3 Concerning Usingen s utterance of 1523 : " Nescitis populum esse 
bestiam . . . quce sanguinem sitit?" etc., cp. N. Paulus, " Barthol. Usin 
gen," p. 102. And (ibid.) another striking saying of Usingen concerning 
the preacher Culsamer. He declared that he feared Germany would 
see a storm similar to that which Constantinople had suffered at the 
hands of the iconoclasts (p. 101). The preacher Eberlin von Giinzburg 
announced in 1521 : " There will be no end to the impositions of the 
clergy until the peasants rise and hang and drown good and bad alike ; 
then the cheating will meet with its reward." See Janssen-Pastor, 
" Gesch. des deutschen Volkes," 2 18 , p. 490 ff. 


limits ? In 1524 Hedio had two sermons, preached on this 
subject in Strasburg, printed together with a circular letter 
addressed to the inhabitants of the Rhinegau, " which, there 
can be no doubt, exercised a certain influence upon the 
rising there." 1 In the circular he proposed, that the people 
themselves should go in search of capable preachers if the 
ecclesiastical authorities did not send such. 2 

A far-reaching social movement had been at work among 
the peasants, more particularly in many districts of the 
south-west of Germany, even previous to the rise of 
Lutheranism. They raised protests, which in many 
instances were justifiable, against the oppression under 
which they laboured. A crisis seemed imminent there as 
early as 1513 and 1514, and the feeling was general that a 
settlement of the difficulties could only be brought about 
by violence. The ferment in many places assumed an 
anticlerical character, which was all the more natural 
seeing that the landowners and gentry who were the chief 
cause of the dissatisfaction were either clergymen, like the 
Prince-Bishops, or closely allied with the Church and her 
multifarious secular institutions. The ill-feeling against 
the clergy was even then being stirred up by exaggerated 
descriptions of their idle life, their luxury and their un 
worthy conduct. 

To seek to represent the movement, as has been done, as 
an exclusively social one, is, even for the period before 
Luther, not quite correct, although it certainly was mainly 
social. Yet it was, as a matter of fact, the new ideas 
scattered among the people by Luther and Zwingli, and the 
preaching of the apostasy, which brought the unrest so 
quickly to a head. The anticlerical ideas of the religious 
innovators, combined with social class antagonism, lent an 
irresistible force to the rising. Hence the Peasant War 
has recently been described on the Protestant side as a 
"religious movement," called forth by the discussion of 
first principles to which the Reformation gave rise, and 
which owed its violent character to the religious contrast 
which it brought out. 3 The expert on this period who 

1 F. Herrmann, loc. cit., p. 297. 

2 The circular letter, reprinted in the " Annalen des Verems fur 
Nassauishe Gesch.," 17, 1882, p. 16 ff. 

3 W. Stolze, " Der deutsche Bauernkrieg, Halle, 1907, p. v. 


writes thus, proves and justifies his opinion, showing that 
Zwingli and Luther " were the primary cause " of the War, 
not indeed directly, but because once the peasants had 
become familiar with the new " biblical " ideas, which were 
so favourable to their cause, they refused to stand by and 
see such doctrines suppressed by violence, and preferred to 
take up arms against the Catholic rulers and their energetic 
anti-Reformation measures. 1 According to the same writer 
it is necessary to distinguish carefully between what the 
peasants themselves represented in the course of the revolt 
as the moving cause, i.e. the social disabilities of which they 
complained (for instance in the Twelve Articles), and that 
which actually produced the rising. 

Nor must it be overlooked that, at the moment when 
passions were already stirred up to their highest pitch, 
many attempts were made on the Lutheran side to pacify 
the people. The catastrophe foreseen affrighted those 
who were on the spot, and who feared lest the responsi 
bility might fall upon their shoulders. Quite recently 
a forgotten pamphlet, written by an anonymous Lutheran 
preacher and dating from the commencement of the move 
ment, has been republished, in which, after some pious 
exhortations, the author expresses his firm hope that the 
fear of God would succeed in triumphing over the excited 
passions ; even biblical quotations against misuse of the 
new evangelical freedom arc to be found in this well-inten 
tioned booklet. 2 Then as now attention was drawn to 
Luther s doctrine concerning obedience to the powers that 
be, which required of " the true Christian " that he 
should even " allow himself to be flayed," and out of love 
of the cross renounce all desire for revenge (xiv. 4). 

Notwithstanding all this, the great responsibility which 
Lutheranism shares in the matter remains. " It is no 
purely historical and objective view," says another Protes- 

1 Cp. particularly p. 22 ff. In " Archiv. f. Reformationsgesch.," 
1909, Hft. 1, p. 1GO, the author s blame of the " previous prejudiced 
insistence on the social side of the Peasant War " meets with recog 
nition ; we read there, " the emphasis laid on the religious side by 
Stolze appears to be thoroughly justified." 

2 " Die scharf Metz wider die, die sich evangelisch nennen und 
doch dem Evangelium entgegen sind," 1525, ed. W. Lucke, in " Flug- 
schriften aus den ersten Jahren der Reformation," vol. i., No. 3, Halle, 


tant historian, " but rather an apologetic and false as 
sumption, which attempts to deny the fact, that Luther s 
evangelical preaching most strongly encouraged and 
brought to a crisis the social excitement which had been 
simmering among the lowest classes since the fifteenth 
century. The agitation stirred up by the preachers who 
followed in Luther s footsteps contributed in a still greater 
degree towards this result." 1 

Special research in the different parts of the wide area 
covered by the rising has to-day confirmed even more 
completely the opinion that the accusations urged against 
Lutheranism by the olden supporters of the Church were, 
after all, not so unjust in this particular. The much-abused 
Johann Cochlarsus, who made such charges, is rightly spoken 
of by the last-mentioned historian as being " more suited " 
to depict that revolutionary period than the diplomatic and 
cautious Sleidanus, or the Protestant theological admirers 
and worshippers of Luther. 2 The learned Hieronymus 
Emser wrote, in the stormy year 1525, a work " Against 

1 W. Maurenbreeher, " Gesch. der kath. Reformation," 1, Nord- 
lingen, 1880, p. 257. Janssen, in his " Hist, of the German People," 
has brought this point out clearly. See more particularly (Engl. trans.) 
volume iii. : " The populace inflamed by preaching and the press," 
and volume iv. : " The social revolution," where it is pointed out that 
even apart from Luther s action and that of his followers, risings were 
imminent, but that the " social revolution first received the stamp of 
universal and inhuman ferocity from the conditions created or de 
veloped among the people by the religious disturbances." Concerning 
the effect of the sermons and pamphlets on the people we read, in 
the original, vol. 2 18 , p. 490, n. 5, in a letter of Archdxike Ferdinand 
to the Pope, that the deluded people believed, " se Dei negotium agere in 
templis, coenobiis, monasteriis diruendis," etc. Johann Adam Mohler, in 
the Church History (ed. Gams), which appeared after his death, com 
pares (3, p. 118) the effects of the preaching of the liberty of the chil 
dren of God in the primitive Church, and describes the pure, virtuous 
life of self-renunciation which resulted, how the lower classes learnt 
to be content with their lot and the slaves became more faithful to their 
masters. " The contrast between the effects of the old gospel and the 
new evangel gave the most convincing proof of the difference between 
them." " From the spirit of the flesh which combined with the re 
ligious in Luther s writings to form one living whole, a tendency to 
revolt gradually spread over all Germany ; ecclesiastical and secular, 
divine and human, spiritual and corporal, all ran riot together in the 
people s minds ; everywhere prevailed a fanatical, perverted longing 
for the liberty of the children of God " (p. 116). When Luther urged the 
Princes to severity in repressing the movement, his ruling idea was " to 
repress the opinion that elements dangerous to public order were 
embodied in his principles " (p. 118). 

2 W. Maurenbreeher, " Studien und Skizzen zur Gesch. der Re- 
formationszeit," 1874, p. 22. 


Luther s abominations," a large part of which is devoted to 
proving what is already explained in the sub-title of the 
book, " How, and why, and in what words, Luther, in his 
books, urges and exhorts to rebellion." Emser also gave 
indignant expression to his conviction in some verses 
intended for general circulation. 

Luther was directly implicated in the beginning of the 
rising when the " Twelve Articles of the Peasants of Swabia " 
was forwarded to him by the insurgents. The peasants 
invited him, with confidence, " to declare what was of 
Divine right." 1 Luther s honoured name came first in the 
list of learned men who were to be consulted. The Witten 
berg professor grasped the full importance of the moment ; 
he felt that the direction of German affairs had been 
placed in his hands. Naturally he did not wish to be the 
one to let loose the terrible storm, nor did he, as the repre 
sentative and "deliverer" of the people, wish to repulse 
the movement which had been so long favourable to him, 
and the demands of which were, in part at least, perfectly 
justifiable. He found himself in a position exactly similar 
to that which he had occupied formerly in regard to the 
Knights, who were anxious to take up arms, and with whom 
he had, up to a certain point, made common cause, but 
whose project afterwards appeared to him too dangerous 
and compromising to the cause of the evangel. In the 
question of the Twelve Articles it was difficult, nay, im 
possible, for him not to give offence either to the gentry or 
to the populace, or to avoid barring the way for the new 
evangel in one direction or the other. He determined to 
seek a middle course. But the tragic consequences of the 
position he had always assumed, the circumstances of the 
day and his unrestrained temper, caused him to give mortal 
offence to both sides, to the lords as well as to the peasants. 
First, he flung his " Exhortation to Peace " on the field of 
battle no mere figure of speech, as, at the time of writing, 

1 Cp. the writing, " Handlung, Ordmmg und Instruktion," in which 
the delegates to be chosen to negotiate with the Swabian League on 
the question of " divine law," are referred, among others, to " Hertzog 
Friederich von Sachsen sampt D. Martin Luther, oder Philipp Melanc- 
thon oder Pomeran [Bugenhagen]." In the introduction of the Weim. 
ed. (see above, p. 191, n. 2), p. 280. Luther refers to this passage in 
his " Ermanunge zum Fride auff die 12 Artikel" with the words: 
" particularly as they appeal to me by name in the other writing." 


the tumult had already broken out and the horrors of 
Weinsberg been enacted (April 16, 1525), though of this 
Luther was ignorant when he composed the pamphlet. 
Formerly this writing was thought to have been written in 
May, but as a matter of fact it belongs to the period just 
after April 18. 1 

In this writing, as well as in the two following which 
treat of the rising, certain sides of Luther s character are 
displayed which must be examined from the historical and 
psychological standpoint. The second, which was the out 
come of the impressions made by the bloody contest, 
consists of only one -sheet and is entitled " Against the 
murderous, thieving hordes of Peasants," or more shortly, 
" Against the insurgent Peasants " ; it, too, was written 
before the complete defeat of the rebels in the decisive days 
of May. 2 The third is the " Circular letter concerning the 
stern booklet against the Peasants," of the same year, and 
belongs to the time when the conquerors, flushed with 
victory, were raging against the vanquished. 3 

The three writings must be considered in conjunction 
with the circumstances which called them forth. Written 
in the very thick of the seething ferment, they glow with 
all the fire of their author, whose personal concern in the 
matter was so great. Whoever weighs their contents at the 
present day will be carried back to the storm of that period, 
and will marvel at the strength of the spirit which inspires 
them, but at the same time be surprised at the picture 
the three together present. He will ask, and not without 
cause, which of the three is most to be regretted ; surely 
the third, for the unmistakable blunders of the author, 
who gives the fullest play to feeling and fancy to the 
detriment of calm reason, go on increasing in each pamphlet. 

In. the first, the " Exhortation," the author seeks to put 
the truth before, and to pacify the Princes and gentry, more 
particularly those Catholics who, subsequent to the Diet of 
Nuremberg, in 1524, had entered the lists against the inno 
vations. He also would fain instruct and calm the peasants, 

1 The pamphlet in " Werke," Weini. ed., 18, 1908, p. 279 ff. Erl. 
ed., 24 2 , p. 271 ff. For the date see ibid., Weim. ed., 18, p. 281, and 
Kostliii-Kawerau, 1, p. 793. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 344 ff. ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 303 ff. 

3 Ibid., p. 375ff. = 310ff. 


his " dear Masters and Brothers/ Had Luther been endowed 
with a clear perception of the position of affairs, and seen 
the utter uselessness of any attempt merely to stem the 
movement, he would not at this critical juncture have 
still further irritated the rebels by the attacks upon the 
gentry, into which he allowed himself to break out, and which 
were at once taken advantage of. 

He cries, for instance, to the authorities : " Your government 
consists in nothing else but fleecing and oppressing the poor 
common people in order to support your own magnificence and 
arrogance, till they neither can nor will endure it. The sword is 
at your throat ; you think you sit fast in the saddle and that it 
will be impossible to overthrow you. But you will find that your 
self-confidence and obstinacy will be the breaking of your necks." 
" You are bringing it upon yourselves and wish to get your heads 
broken. There is no use in any further warning or admonishing." 
" God has so ordained it that your furious raging neither can 
nor shall any longer be endured. You must become different 
and give way to the Word of God ; if you refuse to do so willingly, 
then you will be forced to it by violence and riot. If these 
peasants do not accomplish it, others must." 1 

He admonishes the peasants to suffer in a Christian manner, 
and to be ready to endure even persecution and oppression 
willingly. Such is the spirit of the evangel which he has always 
preached. The gospel made the material life to consist in nothing 
else but suffering, injustice, crosses, patience and contempt for 
all temporal goods, even life itself. Hence they must not base 
their earthly claims on the gospel. " Murderous prophets " had, 
however, come amongst them who, by their false interpretation 
of the Bible, injured the cause of the gospel and incited men to 
the use of force, which was forbidden. He himself had been so 
successful and yet had abhorred violence, which made the spread 
of his doctrine so much the more marvellous. " Now you inter 
fere," you wish to help the cause of the evangel, but you " are 
damaging it " by your violent action. The effect of these words 
which form the central point of his train of thought he destroys 
by fresh attacks upon the lords and Princes : If they " forbid 
the preaching of the gospel and oppress the people so unbear 
ably, then they deserve that God should cast them from their 
thrones." 2 Luther fancies he already sees the hands stretched 
out to execute the sentence, and concludes by addressing the 
Princes thus : " Tyrants seldom die in their beds, as a rule they 
perish by a bloody death. Since it is certain that you govern 
tyrannically and savagely, forbidding the preaching of the 
gospel and fleecing and oppressing the people, there is no comfort 
or hope for you but to perish as those like you have perished." 3 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 293 f. = 273 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 300 = 277. 

3 Ibid., p. 329 f. = 296 f. In the Weim. ed., 18, p. 790, it is rightly 


Such words as these were scarcely in place on the very 
eve of the terrible struggle. Luther, in his excitement and his 
anxiety concerning his teaching, was not a fit judge of the 
condition of things. It is true that he fully realised that 
many of the burdens on account of which the peasants had 
risen in revolt were far too oppressive, 1 and the thoughts 
which he expresses on this matter are such as might well be 
taken to heart for all time. But he places the interests of 
his interpretation of the Bible so much in the foreground 
that he declares, at the very outset, that what pleased him 
best in the Peasants " Articles," was their " readiness to 
be guided by clear, plain, undeniable passages of Scripture ; 
since it is right and fair that no man s conscience should 
be instructed and guided otherwise than by Holy Writ." 2 

Never has the liberty of Bible interpretation been pro 
claimed under circumstances more momentous. Luther 
could not have been ignorant of the fact, that the armed 
multitude and their preachers, particularly the fanatical 
Anabaptists, had also, like him, set up a new interpretation 
of their own of the Bible, one, ho\vever, which agreed so well 
with their leanings that they would never relinquish it for 
any other. 

Owing to the divergence of their teaching, and to the fact 
that they were led by fanatics of Miinzer s persuasion, 
Luther came to see in the warlike disturbances a mere work 
of the devil ; hence he himself, the chief foe of hell, feels it 
his duty to enter the lists against Satan ; the latter is seek 
ing " to destroy and devour " both him and his evangel, 
using the bloodthirsty spirit of revolt as his instrument, 
but let the devil devour him and the result will be a belly- 
cramp. 3 In his excitement he fancies he sees sjgns and 
wonders. " I and my friends will pray to God that He may 
either reconcile you or else graciously prevent events from 
taking the course you w r ish, though the terrible signs and 
wonders of this time make me sad of heart." 4 Like the end 
of the world, which was supposed to be approaching, the 

remarked that Luther sees in the peasants of South Germany, to whom 
the " Ermanunge zum Fricle " was principally addressed, perse 
cuted men, and that from a distance he welcomes their rising with 
a certain sympathy. 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 717 ; cp. p. 792 ff. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 291 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 272. 

3 Ibid., p. 316 =p. 288. * Ibid., p. 334 = p. 299. 


" signs in the heavens and the wonders on the earth " play 
their part in his mind. " They forebode no good to you," 
he prophesies to the authorities, " and no good will come 
to you," for " the many gruesome signs which have taken 
place till now in the heavens and on the earth point to some 
great misfortune and a striking change in the German land." 1 
Shortly after the publication of the so-called " Exhorta 
tion to Peace," the news reached Wittenberg of the 
sanguinary encounters which had already taken place. Every 
thing was upside clown. What dire confusion would ensue 
should the peasants prove victorious ? Luther now asked 
himself what the new evangel could win supposing the 
populace gained the upper hand, and also how the rulers 
who had hitherto protected his cause would fare in the 
event of the rebels being successful in the Saxon Electorate 
and at Wittenberg. Says the most recent Protestant 
biographer of Luther : " Now that the rebellion was directed 
against the Princes whose kindness and pure intention 
were so well known to him, passionate rage with the rabble 
took the place of discriminating justice." 2 The fanatical 
mob that accompanied Thomas Miinzer whetted his tongue. 
We can understand how Luther, now thoroughly alarmed 
by what he saw r on his journeys and preaching-tours through 
out the insurgent districts, and by the daily accounts of 
unheard-of atrocities committed by the rebels, was anxious 
to take a vigorous part in the attempt to quench the flame. 
To his mind, with its constitutional disability to perceive 
more than one thing at a time, nothing is visible but the 
horrors of the armed rebellion. In " furious wrath " he now 
mercilessly assails the rebels, allying himself entirely with 
the Princes. The tract " Against the murderous Peasants," 
comprising only four pages, was composed about May 4. 3 

" Pure devilry," he says in this passionate and hurriedly 
composed pamphlet, is urging on the peasants ; they " rob and 
rage and behave like mad dogs." " Therefore let all who are 
able, hew them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in 
secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, 
noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel. You must kill him as 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 293 -p. 273. 

2 A. Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 55. 

3 K. Muller, " Kirche, Gemeinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther," 1910, 
p. 140. 


you would a mad dog ; if you do not fall upon him, he will fall 
upon you and the whole land." 1 

He now will have it that they are not fighting for the Lutheran 
teaching, nor serving the evangel. " They serve the devil under 
the appearance of the evangel ... I believe that the devil 
feels the approach of the Last Day and therefore has recourse to 
such unheard-of trickery. . . . Behold what a powerful prince 
the devil is, how he holds the world in his hands and can knead 
it as he pleases." " I believe that there are 110 devils left in hell, 
but all of them have entered into the peasants." 2 

He therefore invites the authorities to intervene with all their 
strength. " Whatever peasants are killed in the fray, are lost 
body and soul and are the devil s own for all eternity." The 
authorities must resolve to " chastise and slay " so long as they 
can raise a finger : " Thou, O God, must judge and act. It may 
be that whoever is killed on the side of the authorities is really a 
martyr in God s cause." 3 A happier death no man could die. 
So strange are the times that a Prince may merit heaven more 
certainly by shedding blood than by saying prayers. 

Luther does not forget to exhort the evangelically-minded 
rulers to remember to offer the " mad peasants," even at the 
last, " terms, but where this is of no avail to have recourse at 
once to the sword." Before this, however, he says : "I will 
not forbid such rulers as are able, to chastise and slay the peasants 
without previously offering them terms, even though the gospel 
does not permit it." 4 

He is not opposed to indulgence being shown those who have 
been led astray. He recommends, that the many " pious folk " 
who, against their will, were compelled to join the diabolical 
league, should be spared. At the same time, however, he declares, 
that they like the others, are " going to the devil. . . . For a 
pious Christian ought to be willing to endure a hundred deaths 
rather than yield one hair s breadth to the cause of the peasants." 6 

It has been said it was for the purpose of liberating those who 
had been compelled to join the insurgents, that he admonished 
the Princes in such strong terms, even promising them heaven 
as the reward for their shedding of blood, and that the over 
throw of the revolt by every possible means was, though in this 
sense only, " for Luther a real work of charity." This, however, 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 358; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 304. 

2 Ibid., p. 358 f. p. 305. "The violent words of the circular 
letter Wider die . . . Bawreii were really directed against his 
bitter opponent Thomas Miinzer, the arch-devil of Muhlhausen, and 
the seditious Thuringian peasants." So runs the introduction of 
the Weimar edition, with which we may, to some extent, agree, though 
the pamphlet speaks throughout of the rebellious peasants generally ; 
on the very first page we read, however : " More particularly the 
arch-devil who reigns at Muhlhausen and who incites to nothing but 
pillage, murder, and bloodshed." 

3 Ibid., p. 360 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 308. 

4 Ibid., p. 35<J=p. 300. 5 Ibid., p. 361 = p. 308. 


is incorrect, for he does not speak of saving and sparing those 
who had been led astray until after the passage where he says 
that the Princes might gain heaven by the shedding of blood ; 
nor is there any inner connection between the passages ; he 
simply says : " There is still one matter to which the authorities 
might well give attention." " Even had they 110 other cause for 
whetting their sword against the peasants, this [the saving of 
those who had been led astray] would be a more than sufficient 
reason." After the appeal for mercy towards those who had 
been forced to fight, there follows the cry : " Let whoever is 
able help in the slaughter ; should you die in the struggle, you 
could not have a more blessed death." He concludes with 
Romans xiii. 4 ; concerning the authorities : " who bear not 
the sword in vain, avengers to execute wrath upon him that doth 
evil." 1 

While his indignant pen stormed over the paper, he had been 
thinking with terror of the consequences of the bloody contest, 
and of the likelihood of the peasants coming off victorious. He 
writes, " We know not whether God may not intend to prelude 
the Last Day, which cannot be far distant, by allowing the devil 
to destroy all order and government, and to reduce the world to 
a scene of desolation, so that Satan may obtain the Kingdom 
of this world. " - 

The rebels, who had burnt the monasteries and de 
molished the strongholds and castles in Thuringia and in 
Luther s own country, were soon to suffer a succession of 
great reverses. Miinzer, the prophet, was defeated in the 
battle of Frankenhausen on May 15, 1525, and after being 
put to the torture, made his confession and was executed. 
Before his end he with great composure implored the 
Princes to have mercy on the poor, oppressed people. 
Luther said of his death, that his confession was " mere 
devilish stupidity " and that his torture should have been 
made much more severe ; Melanchthon, in his history of 
Miinzer, also regretted that lie had not been forced to con 
fess that he received his " Revelations " from the devil ; he, 
too, did not think it enough that he should have been 
tortured only once. Luther, however, was not sorry to see 
the last of him. " Miinzer, with some thousands of others, 
has unexpectedly been made to bite the dust." 3 

The open supporters of the rising, on account of his 
second tract, called Luther a hypocrite and flatterer of the 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, and p. 359 = p. 306. 

2 Ibid., p. 3<iOff. = 307ff. 

3 Melanchthon s and Luther s words given more in detail in Haus- 
rath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 59. 


Princes. 1 Even some of his best friends could not under 
stand his ferocity in inciting the lords against the peasants, 
more especially as it seemed to encourage the victors in 
their savage treatment of the prisoners, which in some 
places resembled a massacre. 

Luther s friend, Johann lliihel, the Mansfeld councillor, 
wrote to him, at the time when the pamphlet against the 
peasants was making the greatest sensation, expressing his 
misgivings. He reminded him of the words he made use of 
in the passage last quoted concerning the " scene of desola 
tion " into which the world seemed about to be transformed. 
This prophecy might prove only too true. " I am sore 
afraid," he says, " and really it seems as though you were 
playing the prophet to the gentry, for, indeed, they will 
leave nothing but a desolate land to their heirs ; the people 
arc being chastised so severely that I fear the land of 
Thuringia and the County [of Mansfeld] will recover from it 
but slowly. . . . Here they [the victorious party] give 
themselves up to nothing but robbery and murder." 2 Five 
days later Riihel again wrote to Luther in tones of warning, 
saying that he meant well by him, but must nevertheless 
point out the effect his pamphlet " Against the Peasants " 
had had on the minds of some : " Be it as it may, it still 
appears strange to many who are favourably disposed 
towards you that you should allow the tyrants to slaughter 
without mercy and tell them that they may thus become 
martyrs ; it is openly said at Leipzig that because the 
Elector has just died [May 5, 1525] you fear for your own 
skin and (latter Duke George by approving his undertaking 
[i.e. his energetic steps against the rising] out of fear for 
your own skin. I will not presume to judge, but commit it 
to your own spirit, for I know the saying : qui accipit 
gladium gladio peribit, and, again, that the secular power 
bearcth not the sword in vain ... an avenger to execute 
wrath [Horn. xiii. 4]. ... I mean well, and beg you to re 
member me in your prayers." 3 The writer tells Luther that 

1 Luther to Amsdorf, May 30, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 182: 
" adulator principum." Luther pronounces the " Curse of the Lord " 
on those Magdeburg preachers who had sided with the rebels. 

2 On May 21, 1525, Kawerau s edition of the letter in " Schriften 
des Vereins fur Reformationsgesch.," No. 100, 1910, p. 339 (" Brief 
wechsel," 5, p. 177). 

3 Kawerau s edition, ibid., p. 342 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 180). 


"the result may well be that the victors in thus slaughter 
ing without mercy will appeal to Luther, and that thus 
even the innocent will be condemned in Luther s name." 1 
Riihel w r as a good Lutheran, and his words bear witness to a 
deep-seated devotion to Luther s spirit and guidance. In 
his strange zeal for the evangel he urges Luther in this same 
letter to invite the Archbishop of Mayence and Magdeburg 
to secularise himself and take a wife. 2 

Luther s intimate friend, Nicholas Hausmann, was also 
" rather horrified and amazed " at the writing. 3 Complaints 
came from Zwickau that not only the common people but 
also many of the learned were falling away from him ; it 
was thought that his manner of writing was very unbecom 
ing, and that he had been unmindful of the poor. The 
burgomaster of Zwickau maintained that the tract against 
the peasants was " not theological," i.e. not worthy of a 
theologian. 4 " A storm of displeasure broke out against 

1 Cp. K. Miiller above (p. 201, n. 3), p. 148, where another explanation 
is given which, however, cannot stand. Miiller, p. 140 ff., deals with 
Barge s " Karlstadt " (vol. ii.), and Barge s reply to his criticism. 
Barge was of opinion that "it is plain the princes and their mercenaries 
[in their ruthless treatment of the conquered peasants] understood 
Luther aright" (" Fruhprotestantisches Gemeindechristentum," 1909, 
p. 333). " Luther, in his pamphlet against the peasants, gave high 
sanction to the impure lust for blood which had been kindled in the 
souls of hundreds and thousands who played the part of hangmen. 
. . . By seeking to exalt the cynical thirst for revenge into a religious 
sentiment he has stained the cause of the Reformation more than he 
could have done even by allying himself with the rebels " (" Karl 
stadt," 2, 1905, p. 357). 

2 "Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 308 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 186). "I 
would that in these perilous days you would write a letter of consola 
tion and exhortation to my most gracious lord of Magdeburg concern 
ing his making a change in his mode of life ; you understand what I 
mean. But please send me a copy. I purpose going to Magdeburg 
to-day to take steps in the matter. Pray God in heaven to give His 
grace in this serious work and undertaking. Be hopeful ; you under 
stand me ; it cannot be committed to writing. For God s sake 
implore, seek and pray that grace and strength may be bestowed on 
me for the work." Words so pious concerning such a business prove 
how far men may be carried a\vay by their own prepossession. 

3 Cp. Kolde, " Analecta Lutherana," p. 64. 

4 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, l,p. 715, with the references p. 794 and Weim. 
ed., 18, p. 376, Introduction. E. Rolffs (" Preuss. Jahrbiicher," 15, 
1904, p. 481) : "When, incited thereto by his evangel of the freedom 
of a Christian man, the oppressed and downtrodden peasantry sought 
by flame and bloodshed to secure for themselves an existence fit for 
human beings, then he no longer understood his German people. 
And when, thereupon, he wrote his frightful book, Against the 
murderous and thieving hordes of Peasants, the German people also 
ceased to understand him." 


Luther ... his stab, slay, hew down sounded like 
mockery in the ears of the people when the aristocratic 
bands were bathing in the blood of the vanquished. . . . 
The fact is that Luther was not in his heart so indifferent as 
he made himself out to be in the circular-letter he wrote in 
defence of his severe booklet. 51 

Before composing the circular-letter Luther sent a lively 
letter to Uiihel protesting that he was ready to stand by all 
he had written, and that his conscience was " right in the 
sight of God." " If there are some innocent people among 
them, God will surely take care to save and preserve them. 
But there is cockle among the peasantry. They do not listen 
to the Word [but to Munzer], and arc mad, so that they 
must be made to listen to the virga and the muskets, and 
. . . serve them right ! " " Whoever has seen Munzer may 
well say that he has seen the devil incarnate, in his utmost 
fury. O Lord God, where such a spirit prevails among the 
peasants it is high time for them to be slaughtered like mad 
dogs. Perhaps the devil feels the approach of the Last Day, 
therefore he stirs up all this strife. . . . But God is mightier 
and wiser." 2 

Elsewhere Luther declares that owing to this booklet 
everything God had wrought for the world by his means 
was now forgotten ; all were against him and threatened 
him with death. He had even lived to see the phrase, 
that " the lords might merit heaven by shedding their 
blood," regarded though perhaps only ironically as a 
denial of his doctrine that there was no possibility of 
deserving heaven by works. " God help us," they cried, 
" how has Luther so far forgotten himself ! He who 
formerly taught that a man could arrive at grace and be 
saved only by faith alone ! " 3 

The effect of the reproaches of excessive severity showed 
itself, nevertheless, to a certain extent in the pamphlet 
which Luther composed between the 17th and 22nd May on 
the defeat of Thomas Munzer. The title runs : "A terrible 

1 Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 58 f. 

* " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 300 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 181). " This 
rabble [the peasants under Thomas Munzer] was an enemy of the 
evangel, and its leaders bitter opponents of the Lutheran teaching." 
Introduction to the circular- letter. Weim. ed., 18, p. 376. 

3 Luther s own way of putting the objection, " Werke," Weim. ed., 
18, p. 399; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 331. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, ibid. 


account of the judgment of God on Thomas Mlinzer, wherein 
God plainly gives the lie to his spirit and condemns it." 1 
This writing, it is true, does not deal so directly with the 
peasant rising as the two previous ones, and the " circular- 
letter " to be treated of below ; its chief object is to cite the 
unfortunate termination of Munzer s enterprise as a practical 
refutation of the prophetical office he had assumed. But, 
after the warning which the author addresses to " all dear 
Germans," not excluding the rebellious peasants, against 
Munzer s co-religionists, as the " noxious, false prophets," 
he concludes with this timely exhortation : "Of the lords 
and authorities I would make two requests, first that if they 
prove victorious they be not over-elated, but fear God, in 
whose sight they are very culpable, and secondly, that they 
be merciful to the prisoners and to those who surrender, as 
God is merciful to everyone who resigns himself into His 
hands and humbles himself." 

The writing referred to on Miinzcr s defeat gives examples 
of some of the fanatical letters written by the leader of the 
Anabaptists. It was an easy task for Luther to expose their 
fanaticism and danger. The fellow s end " made it plain that 
God had condemned the spirit of revolt, and also the rebels 
themselves." With bitter mockery he puts these words into 
Miinzcr s mouth : " I, a befouled prophet, am borne along 
on a hurdle to the tower of Heldrungen." (Luther knew 
nothing as yet of Munzer s death, but only of his imprison 
ment in Heldrungen.) Therefore they ought to slay these 
" dangerous false prophets whom the judgment of God had 
unmasked, and return to peace and obedience." The 
fanatics " who teach wrongly and falsely " are not to be 
regarded as leaders of the people ; "in future the people 
must beware of them, and strive to preserve body and soul 
through the true Word of God." 

In order, however, to give an answer to all the " wise 
acres, who wished to teach him how he should write," 2 he 
at once composed the third work on the subject of the 
rising, which was now practically at an end. This is the 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 367 ff. ; Erl. ed., 65, p. 12 ff. The 
date is determined by K. Muller in the work quoted above, p. 201, n. 3, 
p. 144. 

2 In the sermon at Wittenberg on June 4, 1525, Kostlin-Kawerau, 
1, p. 715. 


" Circular-letter on the severe booklet against the Peasants," 
dedicated to the Mansfeld Chancellor, Caspar Miiller, one 
of those who had informed him of the numerous complaints 
made against him. 

The concluding words, in which wo hear the real Luther 
speaking, mark its purpose : " What I teacli and write, remains 
true, though the whole world should fall to pieces over it. If 
people choose to take up a strange attitude towards it, then I 
will do the same, and we shall see who is right in the end." 1 Such 
words are sufficient of themselves to give an idea of the tone 
which he adopts in this work, in which he goes beyond anything 
he had already said. 

At the commencement lie bravely grapples with the opposition 
he has encountered. " There, there, they boast, we see 
Luther s spirit, and that he teaches the shedding of blood without 
mercy ; it must be the devil who speaks through him ! Thus 
everybody is ready to fall on him, such is the ingratitude dis 
played towards the " great, and bright light of the evangel." 
" Who is able to gag a fool ? " His accusers were " doubtless 
also rebels." But " a rebel does not deserve a reasonable answer, 
for he will not accept it ; the only way to answer such foul- 
mouthed rascals is with the fist, till their noses dribble. The 
peasants would not listen to him or let him speak, therefore their 
ears must be opened by musket bullets so that their heads fly 
into the air. . . . I will not listen to any talk of mercy, but will 
give heed to what God s W T ord demands." 

" Therefore my booklet is right and true though all the world 
should be scandalised at it." 2 

He attacks those who " advocate mercy so beautifully, now 
that the peasants have been defeated." " It is easy to detect you, 
you ugly black devil"; every robber might as well come, and, 
after having been " sentenced by the judge to be beheaded, cry : 
* But Christ teaches that you are to be merciful. " " This is 
just what the defenders of the peasants are doing " when they 
" sing their song of mercy " ; they themselves are the " veriest 
bloodhounds, for they wish vice to go unpunished." 3 

" Here, as in many other places, where Luther has to defend 
his standpoint against attack," Kostlin says of this writing, 
" he draws the reins tighter instead of easing them." " Here he 
no longer sees fit to say even one word on behalf of the peasants, 
notwithstanding the real grievances which had caused the 
rising." 4 

At a time, when, after their victory, many of the lords, both 
Catholic and Lutheran, were raging with the utmost cruelty 
against all the vanquished, even against those who had been drawn 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 401 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 334. 

2 Ibid., p. 384ff.=pp. 311-14. 

3 Ibid., p. 387f.=pp. 315-16. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 715, 717. 


into the rising through no fault of their own, at a time when the 
loudest exhortations to mercy would have been far more in place, 
he unthinkingly pours forth such passionate words as these : 
" If wrath prevails in the Empire then we must be resigned and 
endure the punishment, or humbly sue for pardon." It is true 
that those " who are of God s Kingdom [viz. true Christians] 
must show mercy towards all and pray for them," but they must 
not " interfere with the secular power and its work, but rather 
assist and further it " ; " this wrath of the secular power [this 
at the moment entirely engrosses his thoughts] is not the least 
part of the Divine mercy." "What a fine sort of mercy would 
that be, to show pity to thieves and murderers and to allow 
myself to be murdered, dishonoured and robbed ? " " What 
more naughty was ever heard of than a mad rabble and a peasant 
gorged with food and drink and grown powerful ? "* 

" As I wrote then, so I write now : Let no one take pity on 
the hardened, obstinate and blinded peasants, who will not 
listen : let whoever can and is able, hew down, stab and slay 
them as one would a mad dog." "It is plain that they are 
traitorous, disobedient and rebellious thieves, robbers, murderers 
and blasphemers, so that there is not one of them who has not 
deserved to suffer death ten times over without mercy." " The 
masters have learnt what there is behind a rebel ... an ass 
must be beaten and the rabble be governed by force." 2 

The inflammatory letter proceeds to deal with the objections 
brought against the writer ; in any case, gainsayers argued, inno 
cent persons who had been dragged into the rising by the peasants 
would " suffer injustice in Cod s sight by being executed." 
Even on this point, on which previously he had spoken with 
more mildness, he now refuses to surrender. " First I say that no 
injustice is done them," for that no Christian man stayed in the 
ranks of the rebels ; and even if such fellows had fought only 
under compulsion, " do you think they are thereby excused ? " 
" Why did they allow themselves to be coerced ? " They ought 
rathe* to have suffered death at the hands of the peasants than 
accompany them ; owing to the general contempt for the evangel 
God ordains that even the innocent should be punished ; besides, 
the innocent ever had to suffer in time of war. " We Germans, 
who are much worse than the olden Jews, and yet are not exiled 
and slaughtered, are the first to murmur, become impatient 
and seek to justify ourselves, refusing to allow even a portion 
of our nation to be slaughtered." 3 

He then boldly confesses his more profound theological view 
of the sanguinary war : " The intention of the devil was to lay 
Germany waste, because he was unable to prevent in any other 
way the spread of the evangel." 4 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 390 f. ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 319, 320. 

2 Ibid., pp. 392-4 = 322, 324. 

3 Ibid., pp. 394, 390; Erl. ed., 24 2 , pp. 324, 327. 
* Ibid., p. 397 = 328. 

ir. p 


Some of the excuses scattered throughout the pamphlet in 
reply to the objections, whether of his foes, or of critics among 
the adherents of the new faith, are decidedly unfortunate. Offence 
had been given by his inciting " everyone who could and was 
able " against the rebels, and setting up every man as at once 
" judge and executioner," 1 instead of leaving this to the authori 
ties. Needless to say he sticks to his guns. With rhetorical 
vehemence, he declares that rebels " fall upon the Lord with 
swords drawn." Rebellion deserves neither judgment nor mercy, 
there is nothing for it but to slaughter without compunction." 2 

He now says he had never taught, " that mercy was not to be 
shown to the prisoners and those who surrendered, as I am 
accused of having done ; my booklet proves the contrary." 3 In 
point of fact his " booklet," i.e. the pamphlet " Against the 
murderous Peasants," does not prove the " contrary." 

So far he had said nothing concerning mercy towards the 
prisoners ; this he was to do only later. In his circular-letter 
he protests it is to be hoped to some purpose " I do not wish 
to encourage the ferocious tyrants, or to approve their raging, 
for I hear that some of my young squires are behaving beyond 
measure cruelly to the poor people." Now, he speaks strongly, 
though rather late in the day, against the " ferocious, raging, 
senseless tyrants who even after the battle are not sated with 
blood," and even threatens to write a special pamphlet against 
such tyrants. " But such as these," so he excuses himself 
concerning his previous utterances, " I did not undertake to 
instruct," but merely " the pious Christian authorities." 

His opponents, who sympathised with the lot of the van 
quished, asked why he did not also admonish the authorities 
who were not pious. He replies that this was not part of his 
duty : "I say once more, for the third time, that I wrote 
merely for the benefit of those authorities who were disposed to 
act rightly and in a Christian manner." 4 Even in this letter he 
again incites against the peasants, everyone who can and by 
whatever means : he allows, as stated above, anyone to kill 
the rebels, openly or by stealth, nor does he retract the sentence, 
that " every man " who would and was able ought to act to 
wards them as both " judge and executioner " ; finally he declares 
that he is unable to blame the severity of such authorities as 
do not act in a Christian manner, i.e. " without first offering 
terms." In a word, he absolutely refuses to remedy the mis 
takes into which his passion had hurried him, but takes pleasure 
in still further exaggerating them in spite of the scandal caused. 

" The Catholic bishops at once laid the blame of the 
peasant rising at the door of the great murderer of 
Wittenberg," so writes Luther s most recent biographer, 

1 " Against the murderous Peasants," ibid., p. 358 = 304. 

2 Ibid., p. 398f. = 330. 

3 Ibid., p. 399 = 331. 4 Ibid., p. 399f. = 330-3. 


" as having been his work. 1 The peasants themselves in 
many instances believed this, while Luther himself ad 
mitted a certain complicity. They went out from us ; but 
they are not of us, he says in the words of the First Epistle 
of St. John (ii. 19). The natural connection of ideas neces 
sarily implied that the spirit of reform which had been let 
loose was not to work on the Church alone. If all that was 
rotten in the Church was to fall, why should so much that 
was rotten in the Empire remain ? If all the demands of 
the Papacy were to be rejected, why should those of squire 
dom be held sacred ? If Luther might treat Duke George 
of Saxony and King Henry VIII of England as fools and 
scoundrels, why should more regard be shown to the 
smaller fry, the petty counts and lords ? If the peasant, by 
virtue of the common priesthood of all Christians, was 
capable of reforming the Church, why should he not have 
his say in the question of hunting-rights and the right of 
pasture ? The kernel of the Wittenberg preaching was that 
all man-made ordinances were worthless, and that one 
thing only was to be considered, viz. the Word of God. 
The Pope was Antichrist, the Emperor a scarecrow, the 
Princes and Bishops simple dummies. How could such 
words of Luther fail to be seized on with avidity by the 
oppressed, down-trodden, and shamelessly victimised 
peasantry ? The forces which, owing to the religious 
disturbances, now broke loose, would, however, have done 
their work even without Luther s teaching." 

It was not only the " Catholic bishops," however, who 
accused Luther of being the instigator of the rising, but also 
intelligent laymen who were observing the times with a 
watchful eye. The jurist Ulrich Zasius, who at one time 
had been inclined to favour Luther, wrote in the year of the 
revolt to his friend Amerbach : " Luther, the destroyer of 
peace, the most pernicious of men, has plunged the whole 
of Germany into such madness, that we now consider our 
selves lucky if we are not slain on the spot." He regrets 
the treaty made on May 24, 1525, at Freiburg im Breisgau, 
where he lived, on its capitulation to the rebels, in which 
provision was made for the " Disclosure of the Holy Evangel 
of godly truth and the defence of godly righteousness." 

1 Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 29. 


That the " holy evangel " and " godly truth " should only 
now be disclosed at Freiburg, called forth his sarcasm. In 
the treaty, he says, " There is much that is in bad taste and 
ridiculous, as we might expect from peasants, for instance, 
their demand that the gospel be esteemed, or, as they say, 
upheld ; as though this had not been done long before 
by every Christian." 1 

In 1525 Cochlicus published a criticism on Luther s work 
" Against the murderous Peasants," where he says, " Now 
that the poor, unhappy peasants have lost the wager, you 
go over to the princes. But in the previous booklet, when 
there was still a good chance of their success, you wrote 
very differently." 2 

Erasmus, who was closely observing Luther, says to him, 
in view of the fighting which still continued spasmodically : 
" We arc now reaping the fruit of your spirit. You do not 
acknowledge the rebels, but they acknowledge you, and it is 
well known that many who boast of the name of the evangel 
have been instigators of the horrible revolt. It is true you 
have attempted in your grim booklet against the peasants 
to allay this suspicion, but nevertheless you cannot dispel 
the general conviction that this mischief was caused by the 
books you sent forth against the monks and bishops, in 
favour of evangelical freedom, and against the tyrants, 
more especially by those written in German." 3 

It would appear that Luther himself had no difficulty 
whatever in forming his conscience and accepting the 
responsibility. On one occasion in later years, looking back 
upon the events of the unhappy rising, he declared, that he 
was completely at ease concerning the advice he had given 
to the authorities against the peasants, in spite of the 
sanguinary results. " Preachers," he says, in his usual 
drastic mode of expression, " are the biggest murderers 
about, for they admonish the authorities to fulfil their duty 
and to punish the wicked. I, Martin Luther, slew all the 
peasants in the rebellion, for I said they should be slain ; 
all their blood is upon my head. But I cast it on our Lord 

1 " Epp. ad viros aetatis suae doctissimos," ed. Rieggerus, 1774, 
p. 97. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 376, quoted in the introduction 
to the circular letter. 

3 " Hyperaspistes," " Opp.," 1, p. 1032. 


God, Who commanded me to speak in this way." His 
usual persuasion, viz. that he was God s instrument, here 
again helps him. He gives us, however, a further reason : 
The devil and the ungodly also slew not a few, but it is a 
very different matter when the authorities punish the 
wicked, for they are fulfilling a duty. 1 

Luther, after the appearance of these pamphlets, in various 
other publications asked that leniency should be shown 
towards the peasants who had been handled all too severely. 
In a private letter on behalf of the son of a citizen of Eisleben, 
who had been taken prisoner, we also meet with some fine 
recommendations in this sense. 2 

He was not, however, successful in calming the general 
ill-feeling aroused by his violent invective against the 
" murderous peasants." His former popularity and his 
power over the masses were gone. After 1525 he lost his 
close touch with the people, and was obliged more and more 
to seek the assistance necessary for his cause in the camp 
of the Princes. For this change of front he was branded as 
a " hypocrite," and " slave of Princes," by many of the 
discontented. 3 " The springtime of the reformation was 
over," says Hausrath. " Luther no longer passed from one 
triumph to another as he had during the first seven years of 
his career. He himself says : Had not the revolted 
peasants fouled the water for my fishing, things would look 
very different for the Papacy ! The hope to overthrow 
completely the Roman rule in Germany by means of a 
united, overwhelmingly powerful, popular movement had 
become a mere dream." 4 

The Catholic princes of North Germany chose that very 
time to bind themselves more closely together for self- 
defence against the social revolution, and to repel Lutheran- 
ism. By the league of Dessau on July 19, 1525, they 
followed the example set by the bishops and dukes of 
South Germany, who had likewise, at Ratisbon, taken 
common measures for self -protection. The soul of the 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 284 (Tischreden). Cp. Cordatus, 
" Tagebuch," p. 307, Mathesius, " Aufzeichnungen," p. 290. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 714, 717 f. 

3 Cp. Enders, " Luthers Brief wechsel," 5, p. 181, n. 1. 
* Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 2, p. 62. 


league was Duke George of Saxony ; Joachim of Branden 
burg, Albert of Mayence and Magdeburg, and Henry and 
Erich of Brunswick also joined him. An account given by 
Duke George, at the period when the league was established, 
throws a clearer light upon the motives which inspired it. 
Written under the influence of the horrors of the previous 
weeks, it breathes the indignation of its author at the part 
which Lutheranism had played in the misfortune, and 
looks around for some means by which the " root of the 
rebellion, the damned Lutheran sect, may be extirpated ; 
the revolt inspired by the Lutheran evangel had led to the 
diminution of the honour and service of God, and had been 
undertaken with a view to damaging the clergy, prelates 
and the lower orders of the aristocracy, nor could it well be 
completely quelled except by the rooting out of these same 
Lutherans." 1 Duke George at that time entertained hopes 
not justified by events of being able, by appealing to 
the experiences of the Peasant-War, to alienate from Luther, 
Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, and Johann, Elector of Saxony, 
who had just commenced his reign. 

The above-mentioned Princes, who were Catholic in their 
views, met together in Leipzig at Christmas, 1525, in order 
as representatives of the Catholic faith, the principles of 
which were being endangered in Germany to induce the 
Emperor to provide some remedy in accordance with the 
provisions of the Diet of Worms. 

The prolonged absence of the Emperor Charles from 
Germany, due to his concern in European politics, was one 
of the principal causes of the growing disturbances. To 
recall him to Germany and invite him to interfere was the 
object of a measure taken by certain ecclesiastics at a 
meeting held at Mayence on November 14, 1525. Delegates 
from the twelve provinces of Mayence assembled at the 
instance of the Chapter of Spires. It was a remarkable fact 
that the bishops themselves, who by the indifference they 
displayed had, as a body, roused the dissatisfaction of 
zealous Churchmen, did not attend, but only members of 
the Chapters. They determined to insist upon their bishops 
making a stand against the revolutionary Lutheran preach- 

1 Ed. W. Friedensburg, " Zur Vorgesch. des Gotha-Torgauischen 
Bundnisses der Evangelischen," 1884. Cp. Kawerau in " Theolog. 
Literaturztng.," 1884, p. 502. 


ing, to send a deputation to the Pope and the Emperor with 
an account of the general mischief which had befallen 
Germany by reason of the apostasy, and finally to urge the 
Emperor to return to Germany, and meanwhile to name 
executors for carrying out the orders he might give for the 
preservation of religion according to law. George of Saxony, 
Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and the Bavarian Dukes 
were to be proposed to the Emperor as such executors. 
The deputation from the Chapters was, however, never sent, 
owing apparently to the lack of interest displayed by those 
Chapters which assembled, and by those which were invited 
but did not send the necessary funds. The zealous Dean of 
Mayence Cathedral, Lorenz Truchsess von Pommersfelden, 
found himself practically left single-handed. 1 

Upon learning what resolutions had been passed, Luther 
wrote, in March, 1526, a tract of frightful violence against 
the "Mayence Proposal"; it was, however, suppressed by 
the Electoral Court of Saxony, owing to the intervention 
of Duke George. 2 The Emperor, notwithstanding his 
promise to arrive speedily, did not reach Germany until 
1530, after having achieved great success abroad. He came 
with the firm intention to oppose the religious revolution 
with the utmost vigour, and to place the Imperial authority 
on a firmer footing. 

Meanwhile, the Courts of Saxony and Hesse, whose 
sympathies were w r ith the Lutheran party, had, however, 
at Gotha entered into a defensive alliance which was finally 
concluded at Torgau on May 2, 1526. The Emperor s 
threats, which had become known, did their part in bringing 
this about ; and a further result of the Emperor s letters 
against the " wicked Lutheran cause and errors " was, that 
the Dukes of Brunswick-Luneburg, Philip of Brunswick- 
Grubenhagen, Henry of Mecklenburg, Wolfgang of Anhalt 
and Albert of Mansfeld also joined the league. 

Luther was greatly rejoiced at this proof of the favour of 
the Princes, but, as yet, he refused to commit himself on the 
question as to whether force might be used against the 
Emperor and the Empire. (See vol. iii., xv. 3.) 

1 Cp. Fr. Herrmann, " Evangelische Regungen zu Mainz in den 
ersten Jahren der Reformation," in " Schriften fur Reformations- 
gesch.," No. 100, 1910, pp. 275-304. 

2 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 7 f. For the tract, so far as it is 
known, see " Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 252 ff. ; Erl. ed. 65, p. 22 ff. 


As a consequence of the Peasant- War the Princes grew 
in power, while the people lost many rights and liberties 
which they had previously enjoyed. 

" The practical outcome of the great popular movement 
was deplorable," writes F. G. Ward. " The condition of 
the common people became even worse than before, and the 
national feeling which had begun to arise again degenerated 
into particularism in the vast number of small, independent 
States." 1 Just as the common people ascribed their mis 
fortunes to Luther, who, at the critical moment, had 
deserted the cause of the peasants, so likewise many of the 
nobility were angry with him because of the discontent 
which his teaching fostered. The confiscation of Church 
property by the nobility roused the hatred of many of the 
powerful against Luther, whose aim it was to favour the 
rapacity only of such as were favourable to his cause. 

When, in February, 1530, Luther s father lay on his 
death-bed, the fear of his enemies prevented the son under 
taking the journey through the flat country to sec him. He 
accordingly wrote to him, explaining why he was unable 
to leave Wittenberg : " My good friends have dissuaded 
me from it, and I myself am forced to believe that I may 
not tempt God by venturing into this peril, for you know 
the kind of favour I may expect from lord or peasant." 2 

This dislike on the part of both the peasants and the 
lords, which he frequently admits, has been taken as a 
proof that he did his duty towards both in an impartial 
manner. It would, however, be more correct to say, that 
he failed in his duty towards both parties, first to the lords 
and then to the peasants, and that on both occasions his 
mistake was closely bound up with his public position, i.e. 
with his preaching of the new faith. He advocated the 
cause of the peasants with the intention of thereby intro 
ducing the evangel amongst the people, while he supported 
the lords in order to counteract the pernicious results of the 
socio-religious movement which resulted, and to exonerate 
the evangel from the charge of preaching revolt. There is, 
as a matter of fact, no ground for the charge of " duplicity " 

1 Frank G. Ward, " Darstellung der Ansichten Luthers vom Staat 
und seinen wirtschaftlichen Aufgaben," 1898, p. 31. 

2 To Hans Luther, February 15, 1530, " Werke," Erl. ed., 54, 
p. 130 (" Brief wechsel," 7, p. 230). 


brought against him by his opponents ; the changing 
circumstances determined his varying action, and so little 
did he disguise his thoughts, that on both occasions his 
strong language increased the evil. 1 

The unfavourable feeling which prevailed towards the 
peasants at once influenced his views concerning the duty 
of the authorities. That the authorities should meet every 
transgression of the law on the part of the people by severe 
measures, appears to him more and more as one of their 
principal obligations. 

In 1526, at the instance of a stranger, he caused one of his 
sermons to be printed, in which he says to the people : 
" Because God has given a law and knows that no one 
keeps it, He has also appointed lictors, drivers and over 
seers, for Scripture speaks thus of the authorities in a 
parable ; like the donkey-drivers who have to lie on the 
neck of their beasts and whip them to make them go. In 
the same way the authorities must drive, beat and slay the 
people, Messrs. Omnes, hang, burn, behead and break them 
on the wheel, that they may be kept in awe." " As the 
swine and wild beasts have to be driven and restrained by 
force," so the authorities must insist upon the keeping of 
the laws. 2 So far docs he go as to declare that the best 
thing that could come about would be the revival of serfdom 
and slavery. 3 

At a later date he frequently depicted the peasants, quite 
generally, as rascals, and poured forth bitter words of anger 
against them. " A peasant is a hog," he says in 1532, " for 
when a hog is slaughtered it is dead, and in the same way 
the peasant docs not think about the next life, for otherwise 
he would behave very differently." 4 The following date 
also from the same period : " The peasant remains a boor, 
do what you will " ; they have, so he says, their mouth, 

1 Janssen-Pastor, " Gesch. des deutschen Volkes," 2 18 , p. 526 n. 
" Luther s conduct in the Peasant War was not ambiguous, but in 
both his writings merely violent as usual ; in the first, against the 
nobles, more especially the higher clergy ; in the second, against the 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 276. 

3 Ibid., 33, p. 390. In the " Exhortation to Peace Luther had 
represented to the peasants that their demand for the abrogation of 
serfdom was " rapacious," " and directly contrary to the gospel." Cp. 
vol. v., xxxv. 5. 

4 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichnungen," p. 118. 


nose, eyes and everything else in the wrong place. 1 " I 
believe that the devil does not mind the peasants " ; he 
" despises them as he does leaden pennies " ; he thinks " he 
can easily manage to secure them for himself, as they will 
assuredly be claimed by no one." 2 " A peasant who is a 
Christian is like a wooden poker." 3 To a candidate for 
marriage he wrote : " My Katey sends you this friendly 
warning, to beware of marrying a country lass, for they are 
rude and proud, cannot get on well with their husbands and 
know neither how to cook nor to brew." 4 

" The peasants as well as the nobles throughout the 
country," he complains in 1533, in a letter to Spalatin, 
" have entered into a conspiracy against the evangel, though 
they make use of the liberty of the gospel in the most 
outrageous manner. It is not surprising that the Papists 
persecute us. God will be our Judge in this matter ! " " Oh, 
the awful ingratitude of our age. We can only hope and 
pray for the speedy coming of our Lord and Saviour [the 
Last Day]." 5 

The psychological picture presented by Luther during the 
whole of the year 1525 reveals more plainly than at any 
other time his state of morbid excitement. The nervous 
tension which had been increasing in him ever since 1517, 
together with his mental anxiety and the spirit of defiance, 
reached their culminating point in the year of his marriage, 
a year filled with the most acute struggles. 

" His enemies called the temper of the strong man 
demoniacal," says a Protestant historian of the Peasant- 
War, " and, as a matter of fact," he adds, " the Luther we 
meet with in the writings of the years 1517-1525 bears but 
little resemblance to the earnest, but cheerful and kindly 
husband and father whom Protestants are wont to picture 
as their reformer." 6 

This remark applies with special force to the year 1525 
when he actually became a husband, though more stress 

1 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichnungen," p. 125. Cp. Cordatus, 
" Tagebuch," 216. 2 Ibid., p. 127. Cordatus, ibid., p. 217. 

3 Ibid., p. 131. Cordatus, p. 221. 

4 " Brief e," ed. De Wette, undated Fragment. 

8 On August 25, 1533, " Briefwechsel," 9, p. 333. 

6 P. Schreckenbach, " Luther und der Bauernkrieg," 1895, p. 45. 


should be laid upon the mental strain he was undergoing. 
Luther undoubtedly acted at that time, not only in the 
matter of the Peasant-War, but also in many other complex 
questions, under the influence of an overwrought temper. 
It was a period of combined internal and external conflict, 
which, so to speak, raised his troubled spirit above the 
normal conditions of existence. With the fanatics he had 
to struggle for the very existence of his evangel ; the 
contradictions and dissensions within the new fold also 
caused him constant anxiety. His controversy with the 
learned Erasmus on the subject of Free-Will angered him 
beyond measure, for Erasmus, as Luther says, " held the 
knife to his throat "* by his book in defence of the freedom 
of the human will. Luther was also at war with the " wise 
acres " who disapproved of his marriage, and had to vindicate 
his action also to himself. In feverish delirium he fancies 
he sees the jaws of death gaping for him, and feels that the 
devil in all his strength has been let loose to seize upon his 
person, as the one through whom alone, as he says, truth 
and salvation are to be proclaimed to the world. He 
marries, and then exclaims with fear : " Perhaps as soon as 
I am dead my teaching will be overthrown ; then my 
example may be a source of encouragement to the weak." 2 
" I see the rabble as well as the nobles raging against me," 
but this comfort remains to me, " however hostile they may 
be to me on account of my marriage or other matters, yet 
their hostility is only a sign that I am in the right " ; " were 
the world not scandalised at me, then I should indeed fear 
that what we do was not from God." 3 

The idea of his own divine mission, raising him far above 
the reach of his enemies, finds expression to quite a marked 
degree in the letters he wrote to his friends at that time. 
In these he is certainly not speaking of mere fancies, but of 
views which he was earnestly desirous of inculcating. 

" God has so often trodden Satan under my feet, He has 
cast down the lion and the dragon beneath me, He will not 
allow the basilisk to harm me ! " " Christ began without 
our counsel, and He will assuredly bring His work to its 

1 " De servo arbitrio," " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 776. " Opp. 
Lat. var.," 7, p. 367 : " ipsum iugulum petisti" 

2 To Michael Stiefel, September 29, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 248 f. 
8 Ibid., p. 248 : " metuens, ne non esset divinum, quod gerimus." 


completion even contrary to what we would advise. . . . 
God works above, and against, and under, and beyond all 
that we can conceive." " It is, however, a grief to me now 
that these blasphemous enemies [certain of the preachers] 
should have been raised to the ministry and the knowledge 
of the [Divine] Word through us. May God convert them 
and instruct them, or else provide for their removal. Amen." 
He writes thus to his friend Nicholas Amsdorf, the later 
" bishop," who, perhaps of all his friends, was the one most 
likely to have a real comprehension for language of this 
stamp. 1 

In utter contrast to the opinion Luther here expressed 
of himself stands the description sketched by Hieronymus 
Emser of his person and his work. 

One of Luther s humanistic followers, Euricius Cordus, 
had published in 1525, in Latin verse, the so-called " Anti- 
luthcromastix " (scourge of the antilutherans), in which he 
heaped scorn upon those literary men who defended the 
Church against Luther. Emser himself was attacked in 
the work for his championship of the older Church. Emser, 
however, replied in a work, also couched in Latin hexa 
meters and entitled " Justification of the Catholics in reply 
to the invective of the physician Euricius Cordus, and his 
Antilutheromastix." 2 Under the influence of the strong 
impression made upon him by Luther s marriage and the 
Peasant-War he has therein inserted some verses expressing 
his indignation against Luther ; from these we quote here 
some extracts. The language reflects plainly Luther s 
personality as it appeared in the eyes of Emser and many 
of the Catholic controversialists of that day, and thus serves 
to mirror the development and progress of the intellectual 
struggle. 3 

" God commanded vows to be kept, but Luther tears 
them to pieces. Christ commended those who renounced matri 
mony, but Luther praises those who wantonly violate chastity. 
Purity is pleasing in the sight of heaven, but to this height Luther 
cannot raise himself. Luther at one time renounced matrimony 
by a sacred promise made in the presence of God, but now he 

May 30, 1525, " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 182. 

2 In " Eurici Cordi Medici antilutheromastigos calumnias expur- 
gatio pro catholicis," 1526. Cp. G. Kawerau, " Hieron. Emser," 
1898, p. 83 f. For Eraser s work I made use of the very rare copy 
in the University library at Munich. 3 Verse 53 ff. 


plunges into it because he, the monk, has been led astray by his 
passion for a nun. Whereas our Saviour lived unmarried, he, 
the unhappy and faithless man, desires to take a wife. Christ 
gave an example of humility, this man is proud and even rises in 
impudent rebellion against the authorities. He launches out 
into torrents of abuse and vituperation (" Maledictorum plaus- 
tris iniuriufs "). He heaps up mountains of insults, he burns 
the sacred laws and mocks at God and man in the same way as 
did the old tyrants of Sicily. Christ is the friend of peace, but 
this fellow calls to arms. He invites the raging mob to wash 
their hands in the blood of the clergy. He provokes and incites 
the masses under the screen of a false freedom so that they 
audaciously refuse to pay tithes, dues and taxes, and ruthlessly 
conspire against the life of the lords." In Emser s opinion it 
was Luther s word and writings which caused the conflagration. 
" He persuaded the people to look on him as a prophet, and to 
set his foolish fancies on a level with the oracles of heaven. The 
German people, as though stupefied with drink, rise and follow 
him in a terrible tumult, turning their blood-stained weapons 
against themselves." 

The poet then directs the attention of the reader to the crowds 
of people massacred and the strongholds consumed by fire. 
" The priest, robbed of his means of livelihood and without a 
church, wanders to and fro ; in the families grief and dissension 
reign ; -the nun who has forfeited her honour and her chastity, 
weeps. This, Luther, is the result of your fine writings. Who 
ever says that you took them from the Word of Christ and that 
the clear light of the gospel shines through them, must indeed 
have been struck with blindness. None is more fickle than 
Luther ; nowhere does he remain true to himself ; first he 
commits his cause to the appointed judge, then he refuses to 
abide by the decision or to acknowledge any jurisdiction on 
earth. At one time he recognises all the seven Sacraments, at 
another only three, and no doubt he will soon admit none at 

This man, Emser continues, Cordus presumes to compare with 
Moses, the sublime, divinely appointed leader of the Israelites ! 
This audacious comparison he is at pains to disprove by setting 
the qualities of the one side by side with those of the other. He 
says for instance : Moses sanctified the people, " but your 
Luther gives the reins to sinful lusts. The people, after casting 
off all the wholesome restrictions of the ancient laws of morality, 
are bereft of all discipline, of all fear either of God or the authori 
ties ; virtue disappears, law and justice totter. . . . The heart 
of the German race has been hardened to stone ; sunk in the mire, 
and given over to their passions, they despise all the gifts they 
have received of God. The children suck in the errors of their 
parents with their mothers milk and follow their example, 
learn to blaspheme, are proud and thankless and thus become 
the ruin of their country. To this has your unhappy Moses 
brought them." And now Luther was seeking to make further con- 


quests by means of a flood of popular writings, embellished with 
pictures, verses and songs so as to penetrate more easily into 
the minds of the unwary ; with this aim in view he did not even 
spare the Bible, circulating false translations and explaining it 
by venomous glosses. " How many thousand souls have not his 
writings already brought to eternal perdition ! They fancied 
that in them they found the truth, and were miserably deceived 
by such doctrines." What confusion, he says, will not be occa 
sioned in the future among those who hang upon his words, by 
his translation of the Bible. 

" Go now, Cordus, and compare this man with Moses, the liar 
with the truth-loving saint, the wild stormer with the meek and 
patient leader of the people. Luther, desirous of leading us out 
of the Roman bondage, casts us into an unhappy spiritual 
bondage ; he drags us from light into darkness, from heaven 
down to hell." 

What is pleasing in the long poem, apart from the smooth 
Latin verse, is the generous recognition which Emser 
bestows on the numerous other defenders of the Church, 
who, like himself, as he says, have withstood Luther vigor 
ously and successfully with their pen. Among these he 
singles out for special mention Eck, Faber, Cochlacus, 
Dietenberger and others. His frank admission that much 
in the Church stood in need of improvement and that a real 
Catholic reformer would be welcome to all, is also worthy 
of notice. He shares the desire, which at that time was 
making itself so strongly felt in Catholic circles, that the 
Emperor, as the highest temporal authority, should now 
lend his assistance to the Church and give the impetus 
necessary towards the accomplishment of the longed-for 
renewal. " But though we do not defend the old abuses, yet 
\ve condemn Luther s foolish new doctrines. The rule of 
the earlier ages of the Church ought to shine in front of us 
to guide our life as well as to determine dogma. We must 
cling to the narrow way of the gospel and to the apostolic 
precepts, the decrees of the Fathers and the written and 
unwritten tradition as taught by the Holy Ghost who 
guides the Church. For the success of the reform it is 
certainly not necessary to overthrow the existing human 
and divine order of things, or to fill the weary world with 
noisy strife. The Emperor has it in his hands, let him 
only follow the example of so many of his predecessors who 
helped the Church to renew r her youth, particularly Charles 
the Great and his pious son Lewis." 


Luther, meanwhile, was straining every nerve in the 
cause of the intellectual revolution of which the plan floated 
in his mind. It seemed as though he were incapable of 

His numerous labours, his constant cares and the exces 
sive mental strain are apparent from his letters. He writes 
of a supposed portent in the world of nature. " The omen 
fills me with fear, it can presage nothing but evil." " I am 
altogether immersed in Erasmus," he says, " I shall take 
care not to let anything slip, for not a single word of his is 
true : " he writes thus to Spalatin. 1 " Every day I am 
overwhelmed with complaints from our parishes," he 
laments to the pastor of Zwickau : " Satan is busy in our 
midst. The people absolutely refuse to pay anything 
towards the support of the preachers." He intends, he says, 
to persuade the Elector to organise a visitation of all the 
churches throughout the land, he is also anxious to intro 
duce uniformity in matters of ritual ; all this involves him 
in a hundred difficulties. 2 Disagreements with the Zwing- 
lians of Strasburg cause some trouble. At the same time 
the negotiations with the Teutonic Order call for his whole 
care and attention, the apostasy and marriage of Albert, the 
Grand Master, greatly raising his hopes. 

It was in this frame of mind, and in the midst of all this 
manifold business, that Luther threw himself into the 
controversy on man s free-will. It was his object to estab 
lish a literary foundation for his new doctrines as a whole 
by vindicating a pet doctrine on account of which he had 
been so mercilessly attacked. 3 

3. The Religion of the Enslaved Will. The Controversy 
between Luther and Erasmus (1524-1525) 

That the will is free is one of the most indisputable facts 
of our inner consciousness. Where there is reason there 
must needs be a corresponding freedom, i.e. freedom from 
interior necessity. 

Freedom is the basis of all worship of God, and if external 
compulsion is rightly excluded from the idea of religion, 

1 September 28, 1525, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 246. 

2 On September 27, 1525, ibid., p. 245. 

3 Cp. letter of May 26, 1525, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 304 (" Brief- 
wechsel," 5, p. 179). 


surely still more opposed to it is the assumption that the 
will lacks freedom when it seeks and serves God. The true 
dignity of the soul s worship of God consists in the voluntary 
payment of homage to the highest of all beings in the 
natural as well as the supernatural order. " God has made 
you without your co-operation," says Augustine, " but He- 
will not save you without it." 1 God s greatness and omnipo 
tence are enhanced by His creation of beings gifted with the 
power of self-determination, who can will or not, who are 
free to choose this or that and arc in a position to embrace 
what is good instead of what is evil. 

The consensus of the human race as a whole in the belief in 
free-will finds its expression in the acknowledgment of the sense 
of duty. Virtue and vice, command and prohibition are written 
on every page of history since the world began. If however 
there is such a thing as a moral order, then free-will must exist. 
The misuse of the latter is followed, owing to the spontaneous 
protest on the part of nature, by a feeling of guilt and remorse, 
whence Augustine, the champion of grace and free-will, could 
say : " The feeling of remorse is a witness both to the fact that 
the individual who feels it has acted wrongly and that he might 
have acted aright." 2 

The doctrine of the Church before Luther s time was, that 
free-will had not been destroyed by original sin, and that, in one 
who acts aright, it is not interfered with by God s grace. The 
fall of our first parents did not obliterate but merely weakened and 
warped the freedom of moral choice by giving rise to concupis 
cence and the movements of passion. Among the many proofs 
of this appealed to in Holy Scripture were the words spoken by 
God to Cain : " Why art thou angry ? ... If thou do well, 
shalt thou not receive ? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be 
present at the door ? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, 
and thou shalt have dominion over it." 3 It was well known 
that Scripture always credited even the fallen will with power 
over the lower impulses, as well as with the choice between good 
and evil, life and death, the service of God and the service of 

Seeing that Luther, in teaching the contrary, appealed to the 
power of divine grace which ostensibly does all, obliterating 
every free deed, it is worth our while to point out the scriptural 
proofs by which the Church vindicated man s liberty even under 
the action of grace. 

Ecclesiastical writers, even in the days immediately before 
Luther s time, were fond of laying stress on the words of the 

1 " Qui te fecit sine te, non iustificat te sine te" " Serrn.," 160, n. 13. 

2 " De duabus animabus," 14, n. 22. 

3 Genesis iv. 6 f. According to the Vulgate. 


Apostle of the Gentiles : "We exhort you that you receive not 
the grace of God m vain " ; or, again, on that other passage 
where he says of himself : " His grace in me was not void, but I 
laboured more than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God in 
me. It was because he was conscious of freedom and of the 
power of abusing grace that the Apostle exhorted the Philippians 
as follows : Work out your salvation with fear and trembling " 
Catholic writers likewise pointed out that the same inspired 
teaching concerning the liberty of choice in those called to the 
state of grace was also to be found in the Old Testament : " Choose 
therefore life that thou mayst love the Lord thy God," an ex 
hortation prefaced by the most solemn assurance : " I call 
heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you 
life and death, blessing and cursing." 2 

True Catholic mysticism also laid great stress on free-will, 
and if some mystical writers, led astray by semi-pantheistic or 
quietistic ideas, erred from the right path, at any rate their 
views were never sanctioned by the Church. Some mystics also 
were not rightly understood and the denial of free-will was 
attributed to them, whereas all there is to censure in them is 
their vague mode of expression. This is the case with the 

Theologia Deutsch," which Luther esteemed so highly but did 
not rightly comprehend. What the Frankfurt knight of the 
Teutonic Order says in this work, viz. : " When a man is in the 
state of grace and agreeable to God, he wills and yet it is not he 
who wills, but God, and there the will is not its own," may sound 
equivocal, though it really is perfectly harmless, for the words 
which follow show that he does not deny man s will, and that 
when lie says that God Himself wills in man he is merely em 
phasising the harmony between the human and the Divine will : 
" And there nothing else is willed but what God wills, for there 
God wills and not man, the will being united to the Eternal 
Will." 3 The will which thus acts in union with the Eternal Will 
is the free-will of man on earth. 

If Luther, instead of endeavouring to find support for his 
opinions on such misunderstood passages, had examined with an 
open mind the teaching of the Church as expressed by Augustine, 
the greatest teacher on grace, he would have found, that Augustine 
holds fast to the liberty of the will notwithstanding that in his 
defence of grace he had to lay greater stress on the latter than on 
free-will. This Doctor of the Church brilliantly refutes the 
assertion of the Pelagians, that the Catholic doctrine did not 
allow to free-will its full rights. " We also, teach freedom of 
choice ( liberum in liominibus esse arbitrium )," he says, for 
instance. " On this point at least there is no difference between us 
and you. It is not on account of this doctrine that you are 
Pelagians, but because you exclude from free-will the co-operation 
of grace in the performance of good works." 4 

1 2 Corinthians vi. 1 ; 1 Corinthians xv. 10 ; Philippians ii. 12. 

2 Deuteronomy xxx. 19. 3 Ed. F. Pfeiffer 2 , 1855, p. 208. 
4 " De nuptiis et concup.," 2, c. 8. 

II. Q 


The Catholic doctrine represented all good-doing on man s 
part by which he rendered himself pleasing to God, attained to 
the state of justification and the right to an eternal reward as an 
act organically one, effected equally by God s Grace and by man s 
free co-operation. Even in the preparation for the state of grace 
both elements were held to be essential, actual grace, and human 
effort supported and carried on by such grace. Concerning such 
preparation, theology taught that man thereby made himself in 
some way worthy of justification and of heaven, that he merited 
both, though not indeed in the strict sense, rather that, so to 
speak, he rendered himself deserving of justification as an un 
merited reward, bestowed through the bountiful goodness of 
God (i.e. not " de condigno" but " de congruo"}. Further ex 
amination of the scholastic teaching on this point would here be 
out of place, nor can we discuss the principle to which the Church 
ever adhered so firmly, viz. that God gives His grace to all 
without exception, because He wills to make all without exception 
eternally happy, according to the assurance of Holy Scripture : 
" God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of 
the truth." But as regards man s free-will or want of free-will 
under the action of grace, which is the background of the present 
phase of Luther s history, according to the Church and her 
Doctors man s freedom of choice, far from being deranged by 
the action of God s grace, is, on the contrary, thereby assisted to 
arrive at a wholesome and unfettered decision. " Free-will," 
says Augustine, in his striking and thoughtful way, "is not 
destroyed because it is assisted by grace ; it is assisted because 
it has not been destroyed." 1 

The position which Luther had assumed in the Com 
mentary on Romans in 1515-1516 concerning the doctrine 
of human free-will has already been discussed in detail 
(vol. i., p. 202 ff.). It is of the utmost importance to follow 
up his other statements on free-will dating from that period, 
and the subsequent advance in his views during his public 
struggle till the publication of the decisive book " De servo 
arbitrio " in 1525. It not only affords a deep, psychological 
and theological insight into his train of thought, but also 
shows how his denial of free-will was the central point of his 
whole teaching. At the same time we shall notice certain 
emphatic statements which he makes, but which do not 
usually occupy a due place in descriptions of his theology 

1 " Epp.," 157, c. 2. It is notorious that in his controversial 
writings against the Pelagians, Augustine, in his later years, came to 
insist more and more upon grace, yet he never denied free-will nor 
its consequences, viz. merit and guilt. Some of Luther s misrepresenta 
tions^ the statements of this Father of the Church will be given 
later." 1 


and which accordingly might easily be regarded by our 
readers as not his at all, were they not attested conscienti 
ously and in detail by Luther s own writings. We refer to 
such assertions as the following : " Everything happens of 
necessity "; " Man, when he does what is evil, is not master 
of himself " ; " Man does evil because God ceases to work in 
him " ; " By virtue of His nature God s ineluctable concursus 
determines everything, even the most trivial," hence "in 
evitable necessity " compels us in " all that we do and 
everything that happens," " God alone moves and impels 
all that He has made " (" movet agit, rapit "), nay, " He decrees 
all things in advance by His infallible will," including 

the inevitable damnation of those who are damned. We 

shall hear these views expounded below by Luther himself 
as the core and kernel of his teaching (" summa causce ") ; 
with spirit and energy he advocates them through some 
hundred pages in one of his principal works, against the 
greatest of the Humanists, who had dared to attack him ; 
to question his fundamental dogma was, says Luther, to 
" place the knife at his throat." 

The Development of Luther s Opposition to Free-Will 
from 1516 to 1524 

What Luther advanced in his Commentary on Romans, 
against man s power of choice for what is good, has been 
summed up as follows by Johann Ficker, the editor of the 
Commentary : Luther allowed nothing to deter him from 
following up his new theories, nor did he even shrink from 
setting up the proposition of " the absolute impossibility 
of any good in the natural sphere," or from " stating in 
the strongest terms of determinism the exclusive power 
and action of the salutary and unconditional Divine Will." 1 

In his sermon on the Feast of St. Stephen, in 1515, Luther 
had spoken of the inward voice in man (" synteresis "), 
which urges him towards what is good and to true happiness, 
thereby implying the admission of free-will in man. This, 
he says, is capable of accepting or refusing God s grace, 
though he is careful to add that the remnant of vital 
force represented by the synteresis does not indicate a 

1 J. Ficker, in the Preface, p. Ixxv, referring to " Schol. Rom " 
38, 42, 71, 90, 91, 93, 101 ; cp. 171, 179, 188, 218. 


condition of health nor afford any cause for boasting in 
God s sight, the whole state of man being one of corruption ; 
the synteresis, in fact, constitutes a danger to us because it 
leads us to trust in our own powers (" voluntas, sapientia "), 
so that we are readily induced to regard our restoration by 
grace as unnecessary. Such confidence in his own powers 
leads man to place himself on the side of those who crucified 
Christ, for such a one has a wrong opinion of righteousness 
and looks on Christ as superfluous, who is the source of 
righteousness. " Thus it comes about," he cries, " that 
grace is most strongly opposed by those who boast most of 
it " j a paradoxical saying which often occurs in Luther s 
early sermons and which plainly owes its origin to his 
quarrel with the " Little Saints." 1 

Not here alone, but frequently in the sermons of those 
days, we hear Luther warning the people against misusing 
the synteresis. His opposition to man s natural powers 
leads him at times so far that he represents the synteresis 
merely as a vague and practically worthless faculty. It 
is true he declares that he simply wishes to obviate an 
irreligious over-esteem of free-will, but he really goes 
further, now admitting, now rejecting it ; his explanations 
let us see that " here there is an unsolved contradiction in 
his theology. He fails to explain how the remnant of vital 
force still in us is to be made use of by Divine grace so as 
to produce health," and how " it can be of any importance 
or worth for the attainment of salvation in the domain of 
reason and will." " Is there, then, no right use for the 
synteresis? Luther not only tells us nothing of this, but 
the natural consequence of much that he says is an answer 
to the question in the negative, although it should un 
doubtedly have been answered in the affirmative." 2 

If we cast a glance at the other sermons which coincide in 
point of time with his Commentary on Romans, we shall 
find in certain remarks on the regeneration of man a fore 
taste of his later teaching regarding free-will. He says, for 
instance, of the attainment of the state of grace, that here 
regeneration takes place not only " without our seeking, 
praying, knocking, simply by the mercy of God," but also 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 30 ff. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 55 f. 

2 A. Taube, " Luthers Lehre liber die Freiheit ... bis zum 
Jahre 1525," Gottingen, 1901, p. 10 f. 


that it resembles natural generation, where the child docs 
nothing (" ipso nihil agente ") ; no man can be born for 
heaven by his own operation and merits (" sua opera suoque 
merito "). He contrasts those who are generated of God 
in the spirit " with those who live after the flesh, and who 
of ten " make a great show of spirituality " : they are, he 
says, " carnal-spiritual " and, " with their horrid, hypocritical 
spirituality, are doomed to destruction." 1 

According to these sermons it is plain that God is the only 
worker in the man who is thus born of God. In him free 
will for doing what is good does not come into account, for 
the good works of the righteous man arc God s works, and 
his virtues and excellence are really God s. " He works 
all in all, all is His, He, the One Almighty Being, does all 
things," so we read in Luther s sermon on August 15, 1516, 
the Feast of the Assumption, i.e. at a time when by his 
study of the Epistle to the Romans he had been confirmed 
in his bias against man s natural powers. 2 

The Wittenberg Disputation in 1516, " On man s powers and 
will without grace," immediately followed his lectures on the 
Epistle to the Romans ; here we find it stated in plain words, 
that " man s will without grace is not free, but captive, though 
not unwillingly." 3 To complete what has already been said 
(vol. i., p. 310 ff.) we may add that the proof of this is sought in 
that the will sins in everything, and that, according to Scripture, 
" Whoever sins is the slave of sin." We learn also from the 
Bible, we read, that we are then truly free when the Son (of 
God) makes us free. The natural man without grace is an evil 
tree, as such he can only desire and do what is evil. This degra 
dation of the human will was intended to form the basis for a 
new appreciation of the grace and merits of Christ. 

It is probable that the three fragments, " On the unfreedom 
of the human will," etc., which are in agreement with this last 
Disputation, date from the late autumn of 1516. Here "the 
captivity and slavery of the will " (" volunlas necessario serva et 
captiva ") with regard to the doing of what is good, i.e. " to 
merit and demerit," is again emphasised. Freedom in respect 
of " those other, lower matters which come under the dominion 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 10 ff. " Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 29 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 78 = p. 177. Cp. F. Kattenbusch, " Luthers Lehre vom 
unfreien Willen," Gottingen, 1875, p. 51 (the 2nd edition is a mere 

3 Cp. for this and for the other theses Luther s works mentioned 
in volume i., p. 310 ff., and also "Die altesten Disputationen," etc., 
ed. Stange, for instance, p. 5 : " Voluntas hominis sine gratia non est 
libera, sed servit, licet non inwta." 


of the will " is indeed conceded. 1 But as the modern Protestant 
editor of the texts in question remarks, " even this freedom is 
merely apparent," 2 for Luther says briefly but meaningly : " I 
do not deny that the will is free, or rather seems to itself to be 
free ( imo videatur sibi libera ) 3 by the freedom of contrariety 
and of contradiction with regard to its lower objects." Here we 
already have a clear indication of the determinism which Luther 
was to advocate at a later date, according to which God s Omni 
potence works all things in man, even indifferent matters. 4 In 
these fragments it is, however, chiefly a question of moral actions. 
Where it is a question of acts having some moral value Luther s 
answer is already quite definite : " The will when confronted 
with temptation cannot without grace avoid falling ; by its own 
powers it is able to will only what is evil." 5 

A year later the " Disputation against the theology of the 
Schoolmen " of September 4, 1517, which has been already 
described generally (vol. i., p. 312), laid the axe at the root of 
free-will in respect of what is good ; its tenor is even more 
decided, and it greatly exaggerates the corruption of man by 
original sin : " It is false that the will is free to choose between 
a thing and its contrary [in the moral order] ; without grace the 
human will must of necessity do what is opposed to the will of 
God." Hence nature "must be put to death absolutely." 6 

Concerning the Heidelberg Disputation in April, 1518, we need 
only recall the fact, that Luther caused the thesis to be defended, 
that, after the Fall, free-will is but a name, and that when man 
does the best he can, he simply commits a mortal sin. The 
doctrine of the sinfulness of the works performed by the natural 
man, which he had held even previously, he now supplements by 
an addition, in the nature of a challenge : " Liberum arbitrium 
post peccatum res est de solo titulo." 1 

In the Disputation with Eck at Leipzig in the following 
year, owing to his views on the subject not yet being 
generally known, they were not directly discussed. 

When, however, after its termination, Luther, in August, 

1 Stange, ibid., p. 15. 

2 Stange, ibid., p. 16, n. 1, referring to his work, " Die reforma- 
torische Lehre von der Freiheit des Handelns," in " Neue kirchl. 
Zeitschr.," 3, 1903, p. 214 ff. 

3 Cp. Kattenbusch, " Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen," p. 48 f. 
* On Luther s Determinism, see below. For the deterministic 

passages in the work, " De servo arbitrio," 1525, cf. Taube, " Luthers 
Lehre xiber die Freiheit," p. 21. 

5 Latin text in Stange, ibid., p. 18. Cp. Kattenbusch. ibid., p. 41 ff., 
for what Luther said in 1516. 

6 See Stange, ibid., p. 35 ff. 

7 Thesis 13, in Stange, ibid., p. 53. " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 354 ; 
" Opp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 388. Cp. Thesis 14 : " Liberum arbitrium post 
peccatum potest in bonum potentia subiectiva, in malum vero activa 
semper." On the Heidelberg Disputation, see volume i, p. 315 ff. 


1519, published the Latin " Resolutions " on the Leipzig 
Disputation, he proclaimed himself to the world as a most 
determined opponent of free-will, not even confining him 
self to attacking the power for doing what is good. 

" Free-will," he says here, " is purely passive in every 
one of its acts ( in omni actu suo ) which can come under 
the term of will. ... A good act comes wholly and entirely 
( totus et totaliter ) from God, because the whole activity of 
the will consists in the Divine action which extends to the 
members and powers of both body and soul, no other 
activity existing." 1 In another passage of the "Resolu 
tions " he says : "At whatever hour of our life we may find 
ourselves we are the slaves either of concupiscence or of 
charity, for both govern free-will ( utraque enim dominabitur 
liber o arbitrio 5 )." 2 Julius Kostlin is right when he sees in 
such words the complete renunciation of free-will. " Of 
man s free-will in the ordinary sense of the term, or of any 
independent choice for good or for evil which should include 
the possibility of a different decision, there is, according to 
Luther, no question." Kostlin points out that Luther does 
not here go into the question as to whether the sinfulness 
and corruption of the lost are to be attributed to God, Who 
did not cause His saving grace to be sufficiently efficacious 
in them. 3 Luther certainly contrived to avoid this danger 
ous objection, not only here, but also for long after when 
speaking on the subject of the will. 

In the " Resolutions " Luther had merely represented his 
opposition to free-will as the consequence of his doctrine of 
the corruption of human nature due to original sin, but 
subsequent to the appearance of the Bull of Excommunica 
tion he goes further and declares the denial of the " liberum 
arbitrium " to be nothing less than the fundamental article 
of his teaching (" articulus omnium optimus et rerum 
nostrarum summa "). 4 Among the propositions condemned 
by the Papal Bull was Luther s thesis directed against free 
will at the Heidelberg Disputation. It was given in Luther s 
own words, viz. that free-will is a mere empty name, etc. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 421 ; " Opp. Lat var.," 3, p. 272. 

2 Ibid., p. 424 = p. 276. 

3 Jul. Kostlin, "Luthers Theologie," I 2 , Stuttgart, 1901, p. 218. 

4 In the " Assertio omnium articulorum," " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, 
p. 148 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 234. Cp. ibid., p. 146 = p. 231 : 
" Patimur omnes et omnia : cessat liberum arbitrium erga Deum." 


In defence of the condemned propositions Luther wrote, in 
1520, the " Assertio omnium articulorum," which was 
published in 1521. To prove his denial of free-will it is 
usual to quote his " De servo arbitrio" but the " Assertio " 
already contains in substance all the strictures embodied in 
his later attacks. 

After dealing with other subjects, he there declares that, as for 
the question of free-will, he had expressed himself far too feebly 
when speaking of the semblance of freedom ; the term " liberum 
arbitrium " was a device of the devil ; hence he withdraws his 
previous statement which erred on the side of weakness ; he 
ought to have said that free-will was a lie, an invention (" fig- 
mentum in rebus"). "No one has the power even to think 
anything evil or good, but everything takes place agreeably with 
stern necessity ( omnia de necessitate absolute eveniunt ), as 
Wiclif rightly taught, though his proposition was condemned by 
the Council of Constance." 1 

Luther now appeals to the belief in fate with which the heathen 
were already acquainted. He also appeals to the Gospel which 
surely gives him reason, for does not Christ say (Matt, x.) : 
" Not a sparrow shall fall to the ground without your Father in 
Heaven," and "the very hairs of your head are all numbered " ? 
And in Isaias xli. does not God mockingly challenge the people : 
" Do ye also good and evil if you can " ? The Pope and the 
defenders of the Bull, with their doctrine of free-will, he looks 
upon as prophets of Baal and he calls to them ironically : " Cheer 
up and be men ; do what you can, attempt what is possible, and 
prepare yourselves for grace by your own free-will. It is a great 
disgrace that you are unable to produce anything from experience 
in support of your teaching." 

" The experience of all," he says boldly, " testifies to the 
contrary " ; God has our life in His hands, and how much more 
all our actions, even the most insignificant. It is Pelagian to say 
that free-will is able, by means of earnest effort (" si studiose 
laboret "), to do anything good ; it is Pelagian to think that the 
will can prepare itself for grace ; Pelagian too, is the principle 
handed down in the schools, that God gives His grace to the man 
who does what he can. For if we do what we can, we perform 
the works of the flesh ! " Do we not know the works which are 
of the flesh ? St. Paul specifies them, Galatians v. : Fornication, 
uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, envies, murders, etc. This is 
what free-will works, i.e. what is of its nature, viz. works of 
death ; for in Romans viii. we read : The wisdom of the flesh is 
death and an enemy to God. How can we then speak of prepara- 

1 Ibid,, p. 146 = p. 230. This passage was toned down, after Luther s 
death, in the Wittenberg ed. (1546) and Jena ed. (1557); Kostlin, 
" Luthers Theologie," 2 2 , p. 316 n. 


tion for grace by enmity with God, of preparation for life by 
death ? " l 

In these somewhat disorderly effusions of his pen he repeatedly 
harks back to the Bible, strangely forcing his texts. Paul denies 
free-will, saying in Ephesians i. : " God works all in all," thus 
confirming the fact " that man, even when he does and thinks what 
is wrong, is not responsible." 2 " God even works what is evil in 
the impious," 3 as is written in Proverbs xvi. : " The Lord hath 
made all things for Himself, the wicked also for the evil day," 
and in Romans i., of the heathen : " God delivered them up to a 
reprobate sense to do those things which are not convenient." 

Room is also found for philosophical arguments : God as the 
highest Being cannot permit Himself to be influenced by man s 
changeableness, in the way that free-will would involve ; on the 
contrary, He must, by virtue of His nature, determine everything 
Himself, down to the very smallest matters ; nor does He do so 
merely by the " inftuentia generalis " (" concursus divinus 
generalis "), which, according to the " chatterboxes," alone 
assists our free-will ; free-will must perish (" periit ") in order to 
make room for a strict and compelling influence. This applies 
to our pardon, for we cannot elicit or snatch this from God by 
our own efforts, as though we surprised Him in slumber. " 
furor, furorum omnium novissimus ! " he exclaims of the Papal 
Bull in the midst of this philosophical and theological digression : 
" All is of necessity, for we every man and every creature live 
and act not as we- will, but as God wills. In God s presence the 
will ceases to exit." 4 

It is not surprising that Augustine also is made to bear witness 
in his favour. 

This Doctor of the Church, though in many passages he 
declares himself emphatically in favour of free-will, nevertheless 
frequently in his works against the Pelagians asserts (perhaps too 
strongly were we to consider his words apart from that heated 
controversy) that, without grace, and left to itself, free-will 
cannot as a rule avoid sin ; on such occasions he does not always 
express the firm conviction he also holds, viz. that the will 
nevertheless of its own strength is able to do what is naturally 
good. In one passage, he says for instance, apparently quite 
generally : " Free-will in its captive state has strength only to 
sin ; for righteousness it has none until it has been set free by 
God, and then only with His help." 6 And elsewhere again : 

1 " Werke," ibid., p. 143 ff. =p. 227 ff. It is strange but character 
istic how he appeals to experience as against the doctrine of free-will : 
everyone possessed arguments against it " ex vita propria. . . . Secus 
rem se habere monstrat experientia omnium " (p. 145 p. 230). His 
views of concupiscence come in here. 

2 " Non est homo in manu sua, etiam mala operans et cogitans " (ibid., 
p. 145 = p. 230). 

3 " Nam et mala opera in impiis Deus operatur " (ibid.). 

4 " Assertio," etc. "Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 145 ff. ; " Opp. Lat. 
var.," 5, p. 231 f. 

5 " Contra duas epp. Pelag.," 1. 3, c. 8. 


"Free-will can do nothing but sin, when the path of truth is 
hidden." 1 This latter assertion Luther places as a trump card 
at the head of the discussion of his thirty-sixth condemned 
proposition, though he alters the wording. 2 As a matter of fact it 
is not difficult to prove, as we shall do below, that Luther was 
quite wrong in appealing to the Doctor of Hippo in support of his 
own teaching. 

Of more importance for the present account is the significant 
position which Luther assigns to his supposed rediscovery of 
the doctrine of the captive will. He is full of enthusiasm for the 
idea of a religion of the enslaved will. This new religion of the 
enslaved will appears to him in the light of a " theology of the 
cross," which, in return for his renunciation of free-will, descends 
upon man in order to point out to him the true road to God. " For 
what honour remains to God were we able to accomplish so 
much ? " " The world has allowed itself to be seduced by the 
flattering doctrine of free-will which is pleasing to nature." 3 If 
any point of his teaching, then certainly that of the captive will 
is to be accounted one of the " most sublime mysteries of our 
faith and religion, which only the godless know not, but to 
which the true Christian holds fast." 4 

It fills one with grief and tears, he says, to see how the Pope 
and his followers poor creatures in their frivolity and mad 
ness, fail to recognise this truth. All the other Popish articles 
are endurable in comparison with this vital point, the Papacy, 
Councils, Indulgences and all the other unnecessary tomfoolery. 5 
Not one jot do they understand concerning the will. Sooner 
shall the heavens fall than their eyes be opened to this basic 
truth. Christ, it is true, has nought to do with Belial, or dark 
ness with light. The Popish Church knows only how to teach 
and to sell good works, its worldly pomp does not agree with 
our theology of the cross, which condemns all that the Pope 
approves, and produces martyrs. . . . That Church, given up 
to riches, luxury and worldliness, is determined to rule. But it 
rules without the cross, and that is the strongest proof by which 
I overcome it. ... Without the cross, without suffering, the 
faithful city is become a harlot, and the true kingdom of Anti 
christ incarnate. 6 

He concludes, congratulating himself upon his having given 
Holy Scripture its rights. 

Scripture is " full " of the doctrine on grace described above, 
but for at least three hundred years no writer has taken pity 

" De spiritu et litt.," c. 3, n. 5. 

2 In place of " Neque liberum arbitrium quidquid nisi ad peccandum 
valet, si lateat veritatis via," he makes Augustine say : " Liberum arbi 
trium sine gratia non valet nisi ad peccandum. Of the subject itself 
sufficient explanation will be found in Catholic handbooks. Cp., for 
instance, Hurter, " Theolog. specialis," pars. 2 11 , 1903, p. 55 f. 

3 " Assertio," etc. " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 146 : " Opp. Lat. 
var.," 5, p. 233. * Ibid., pp. 95-158. 

5 Ibid., p. 148 = 234. Ibid. 


upon grace and written in its defence, on the contrary all have 
written against it. " Minds have now become so dulled by their 
habitual delusion that I see no one who is able to oppose us on 
the ground of Holy Scripture. We need an Esdras to bring 
forth the Bible again, for [the Popish] Nabuchodonosor has 
trampled it under foot to such an extent that no trace of 
even one syllable remains." 1 He is grateful for the cheering 
" revival of the study of Greek and Hebrew throughout the 
world," and is glad to think that ho has turned this to good 
account in his biblical labours. With this consolation he writes 
his final " Amen " at the end of this curious document on the 
religion of the captive will. 

Since Luther in the above "Assertio" against the Bull of 
condemnation sets up Scripture as the sole foundation of 
theology he could not well do otherwise, seeing that he 
had rejected all external ecclesiastical authority we might 
have anticipated that, in the application of his newly pro 
claimed principle of the Bible only, he would have taken 
pains to demonstrate its advantages in this work on free 
will by the exercise of some caution in his exegesis. It is 
true that he declares, when defending the theory of the 
Bible only : " Whoever seeks primarily and solely the 
teaching of God s Word, upon him the spirit of God will 
come down and expel our spirit so that AVC shall arrive at 
theological truth without fail." " I will not expound the 
Scripture by my own spirit, or by the spirit of any man, 
but will interpret it merely by itself and according to its 
own spirit." 2 And again: It often happens that circum 
stances and a mysterious, incomprehensible impulse will 
give to one man a right understanding such as is hidden 
from the industry of others. 3 Yet when, on the basis of the 
Bible only, he attempts to " overthrow his papistical 
opponents at the first onslaught," 4 lie brings forward texts 
which no one, not even Luther s best friend, could regard 
as having any bearing on the subject. 

He quotes, for instance, the passage where the believer 
is likened to the branch of the vine Avhich must remain 
engrafted on Christ the true vine, in order to escape the fire 
of hell, and finds therein a proof of his own view, that grace 
completely evacuates the will, a proof so strong that lie 

1 Weim. ed., 5, p. 149 = p. 235. 

2 Ibid., p. 97f.=p. 161 f. 3 Ibid., p. 100 = p. 165. 
4 "Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 96 = p. 158. 


exclaims : " You speak with the voice of a harlot, O most 
holy Vicar of Christ, in thus contradicting your Master who 
speaks of the vine." 1 Another example. In Proverbs xvi. 
it is written : " It is the part of man to prepare the soul 
and of the Lord to govern the tongue," hence man, reasons 
Luther, who cannot even control his tongue, has no free-will 
to do what is good. 2 There too we read : " The heart of man 
disposeth his way, but the Lord must direct his steps," and 
further on : " As the divisions of water, the heart of the 
king is in the hand of the Lord, whithersoever He will He 
shall turn it." After adducing these texts, which merely 
emphasise the general Providence of God, Luther thinks he 
is justified in demanding : " Where then is free-will ? It 
is a pure creation of fancy." 3 

The saying of the clay and the potter (Isa. Ixiv. 8) which 
manifestly alludes to the Creation and expresses man s 
consequent state of dependence, he refers without more ado, 
both here and also later, to a continuous, purely passive 
relationship to God which entirely excludes free-will. 4 
When Christ says (Matt, xxiii. 37 ; Luke xiii. 34) that He 
wished to gather the children of Jerusalem like a hen under 
His wings, but that they would not (KOI OVK ^eXr/o-are), 
Luther takes this as meaning : They could not ; they did 
not wish to, simply because they did not possess that free 
will which his foes believe in. It might however be said, he 
thinks, that Christ only " spoke there in human fashion " 
of the willingness of Jerusalem, i.e. " merely according to 
man s mode of speech," just as Scripture, for the sake of the 
simple, frequently speaks of God as though He were a man. 5 
It is plain from his explanation that Luther, as an eminent 
Protestant and theologian says, " was seeking to escape 
from the testimony to the Divine Will that all men be 
saved." 6 

The best text against the hated free-will appeared to him 

1 "Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 142 f.=p. 226. 2 Ibid., p. 145 -p. 229. 

3 Cp. ibid., p. 145 = p. 230 : " Unde non est dubium, satana magislro 
in ecclesiam venisse hoc nomen liberum arbitrium, ad seducendos homines 
a via Dei in mas suas proprias." 

4 Cp. " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 1, p. 106. Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," 
2 2 , p. 70. 

5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 235. " Kirchenpostille," Sermon of 
1521. Cp. Kostlin, ibid., I 2 , p. 365. 

6 See Kostlin, ibid., p. 366. He admits (2 2 , p. 82) that Luther 
" expressly denies free-will " to those who " would not." 


to be Ephesians ii. 3, where St. Paul deals with original sin 
and its ethical consequences. " We were by nature children 
of wrath, even as the rest." " There is not," so he assures 
his readers, a " clearer, more concise and striking testimony 
in the Bible against free-will " ; " for if all by reason of their 
nature are children of wrath, then free-will is also a child 
of wrath," 1 etc. 

He handled Scripture as an executioner would handle a 
criminal. All unconsciously he was ever doing violence to 
the words of the Bible. We naturally wonder whether in 
the whole history of exegesis such twisting of the sense of 
the Bible had ever before been perpetrated. Yet we find 
these interpretations in the very pages where Luther first 
exposed his programme of the Bible only, and declared 
that he at least would expound the Word of God according 
to its own sense, according to the " Spirit of God," and 
setting aside all personal prejudice. The old interpretation, 
on the other hand, which was to be found in the book of 
Lyra, with which Luther was acquainted, gave the correct 
meaning retained among scholars to our own day, not 
merely of the texts already quoted, but of many other 
striking passages alleged by Luther then or afterwards 
against free-will. 

Luther proceeds rather more cautiously in the German 
edition of the "Assertio," which speedily followed the Latin. 

It deals with the denial of free-will at considerably less 
length. Perhaps, as was often the case with him, after he 
had recovered from the first excitement caused by the 
condemnation of the articles, he may have been sobered, 
or perhaps he was reluctant to let loose all the glaring 
and disquieting theses of the "Assertio " in the wide 
circle of his German readers, whom they might have 
startled and whose fidelity to his cause was at that time, 
after the sentence of outlawry, such a vital matter to him. 
In later editions of the Latin text some of his sayings were 
softened even during his lifetime so as to avoid giving 

Luther had been careful in the "Assertio," just as he had 

been in his previous treatment of the subject, not to take 

into consideration the consequences involved by his denial 

of free-will ; that, for instance, it follows that it is not man 

1 Weim. ed., 7, p. 147 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 5, p. 232, 


who actually does what is evil, but rather God who works in 
him, and that many were condemned merely on account of 
the necessity of sinning imposed upon them by God. Of 
this he has as yet nothing to say, though he was, shortly 
after, to make an attempt to obviate the difficulties. 

In his translation of the Bible, in 1522, he had to render the 
passage of the First Epistle to Timothy (ii. 4) : " God will have 
all men to be saved (<ru0r)i>ai, salvos fieri ) and to come to the 
knowledge of the truth." This he translated : " God wills that 
all be assisted." He sought to escape the doctrine of the Divine 
Will for the salvation of all men, by attributing to the principal 
word a " comprehensive and somewhat indefinite sense," for 
that " all be assisted " may only mean, that all are to be preached 
to, prayed for, or assisted by fraternal charity. l 

In a letter written at that time he even declares, that the 
Apostle says nothing more than that " it was God s will that we 
should pray for all classes, preach the truth and be helpful to 
everyone, both bodily and spiritually " ; that it did not follow 
from this that God called all men to salvation. 2 "And even 
though many other passages should be brought forward, yet all 
must be understood in this sense, otherwise the Divine Provi 
dence [i.e. prevision, predestination] and election from all 
eternity would mean nothing at all, whereas St. Paul insists 
very strongly upon this." 3 Thus his own interpretation of Paul, 
the wholly subjective interpretation which he thought he had 
received through an interior revelation, was to govern the Bible as 
a rule admitting of no exception ; it was, for instance, to elucidate 
for him the Epistles of Peter. In a sermon delivered about 
February, ^1523, on the Second Epistle of Peter, he says of the 
passage : " The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but 
that all should return to penance," that this was " one of the 
verses which might well lead a man to believe this epistle was 
not written by St. Peter at all," at any rate, the author here 
" fell short of the apostolic spirit." 4 At the back of this opinion 

1 Kostlin, ibid., I 2 , p. 366. 

2 To Hans von Rechenberg, August 18, 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
22, p. 33 (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 444). This letter to the promoter of 
Lutheranism at Freistadt in Silesia, was at once spread abroad in 
print and is included amongst Luther s catechetical works. Later he 
finds in the same passage, viz. Timothy ii. 4, merely an expression of 
God s desire that we should render our neighbours "all temporal and 
spiritual assistance " (" Werke," Erl. ed., 51, p. 316 ff.). In support 
of this he appeals to Psalm xxxvi. : " Men and beasts Thou wilt pre 
serve, O Lord." To find in Scripture that salvation was open to 
all men whose free-will was ready to accept it, was " to pluck out 
some words of Scripture and fashion them according to our own 
fancy" (p. 317). 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 51, p. 317. 

4 " Werke," Weim. ed., 14, p. 73 : Erl. ed., 52, p. 271 ; cp. ibid., 
p. 69 = p. 267. 


lay Luther s attachment to his pet doctrine and method of 

Luther s efforts to get rid of the plain texts on the salvation 
which is offered to all without exception arose, accordingly, from 
his strong aversion to free-will, and also from a certain fear of 
man s co-operation by means of works (even performed under 
grace), which would result from free-will and lead to salvation. 
He admits this plainly enough where he expounds 1 Timothy 
ii. 4 : " This saying of St. Paul, the Papists assert, confirms 
free-will ; for since he says, that God wills that every man be 
assisted [rather, that every man be saved], it no longer depends 
upon Him, but upon us, whether we comply with His Will or 
not. This is how they come to use these words as an objection 
against us." 1 

For the time being he had but little to say of predestina 
tion, though he had by no means given up the idea of 
absolute predestination, even to hell, which he had advo 
cated in the Commentary on Romans. (See vol. i., p. 187 ff., 
237 ff.). He probably had reasons of his own for being 
more reticent in his public utterances on this subject. It is 
only later, when treating of the revealed and the hidden 
God, that he again lays stress on his doctrine of predestina 

When Melanchthon published his " Loci communes rerum 
theologicarum," in December, 1521, in this work, which was 
the technical exposition of Lutheranism at that time, he 
gave clear expression to the denial of free-will. " All that 
happens," he says there, " happens of necessity ( necessario 
eveniunt ) in accordance with the Divine predestination ; 
there is no such thing as freedom of the will." 2 Luther 
praised this work as an " invictus libellus," worthy, not only 
of immortality, but of taking its place in the canon of the 
Bible. 3 It was only later that Melanchthon came to a more 
correct view, making no secret of his rejection of Luther s 

It is of interest to note how Luther, in his practical 
writings and exhortations, passes over his denial of free- 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 51, p. 317. 

2 " Corpus ref.," 21, p. 87 f. Later we read : " Fateor in externo 
rerum delectu esse quandam libertatem, internes vero affectus prorsus 
nego in potestate nostra esse " (ibid., p. 92). Both passages in Kolde s 
edition based on the editio princeps, Leipzig, 1900, 3rd. ed., pp. 07, 74. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 601 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 117. 


will in utter silence. Such a denial would, needless to say, 
have been out of place in works intended for the furtherance 
of the Christian life. In admonishing people to keep the 
commandments of God, to cultivate virtue and practise 
charity, we must necessarily take free-will for granted. On 
such occasions, therefore, Luther s language is the very 
reverse of that which we have just heard and furnishes a 
practical proof of the falseness of his theory. 

Although he had commenced his attacks on free-will in 1516, 
yet in the practical writings which appeared in 1517 and 1518, 
in his exposition of the Penitential Psalms, the Our Father and 
the Ten Commandments, he speaks as though the Christian were 
free, with the help of grace, to hearken to his exhortations and 
follow the path of salvation. In his sermons on the Decalogue he 
even calls the opinion " godless," that any man is forced by 
necessity to sin and not rather led to commit it by his own 
inclination. All that God has made is good and thus all natural 
inclination is to what is good. 1 And yet, in 1516, he had taught 
that man of necessity, though not with reluctance, follows his 
predominating inclination to evil. 2 

When, at the commencement of 1520, he wrote his detailed 
" Sermon on Good Works " to complete, or rather to vindicate, 
his theory of faith alone against the objections raised dedicating 
it to Duke Johann of Saxony, he there expressed himself so 
unhesitatingly in favour of independent moral activity as to 
make it appear quite free and meritorious. " Since man s nature 
and disposition cannot remain for a moment without doing or 
omitting, suffering or fleeing for life is ever restless, as we see 
let whoever aspires to piety and good works begin to exercise 
himself in living and working at all times in this belief, learning 
to do or leave undone all things in this assurance [of faith], and 
he will then find how much there is to keep him busy." Doing 
thus the believer will find that everything is right, for " it must 
be good and meritorious." 3 Even concerning faith we read in 
this remarkable work, that it must be united to charity, nay, 
that this must precede it, though charity is in reality the peculiar 
and noblest work of an unfettered will which strives after God. 
" Such confidence and faith brings with it charity and hope, 
indeed, if we regard it aright, charity comes first, or at least with 
faith." 4 

At a time when he was already quite convinced of the absence 
of free-will, Luther wrote, in October, 1520, his tract " On the 
Freedom of a Christian man." 5 

1 Kostlin, "Luthers Theologie," I 2 , p. 144. 

2 Thesis 1G of the Disputation of 1516 (see vol. i., p. 310) : " Voluntas 
non est liber a, sed servit, licet non invita." 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 212 ; 9, p. 238 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 *, p. 135. 

4 Ibid., p. 210 = 235 = 131. 6 See above, p. 27 ff. 


There he teaches that the Christian is "free lord of all and 
subject to none." The servitude of the body does not extend 
to the soul ; m God s Holy Word the soul lives a free and godly 
life, enjoying wisdom, liberty and everything that is good true 
the interior man, in his freedom and righteousness by faith has 
no need of any law or good works, but, since we are not altogether 
spiritual, we are obliged to exercise the body by means of 
discipline lest it resist the interior man, i.e. the will which rebels 
against God must be " quelled " more and more, so far as the 
carnal mind calls for subjugation, in order that the works which 
proceed from faith may be performed out of pure charity In all 
his works man must endeavour to direct his intention towards 
serving and being helpful to his neighbour. This is to serve God 
freely and joyfully ; by thus acting he will defy the upholders 
of ceremonies and the enemies of liberty who cling to the 
ordinances of the Church. In this way Luther is teaching the 
true Christian freedom, which " sets the heart free from all sins 
laws and ordinances, and which is as far above all other liberty 
as the heavens are above the earth." 1 And yet after his 
previous assertions against free-will, we are forced to ask whether 
he had not himself destroyed the basis of all this, for the free-will 
he attacked was the fundamental condition of all spiritual action 
which might be called free, and surely quite essential to his 
vaunted " Christian freedom." 

In his sermons, expositions and practical writings of the next 
tew years he continued, with a few exceptions, to speak to the 
iaitnlul as though they still enjoyed moral freedom of the will 
and liberty of choice, notwithstanding the position he had 
ussumed in the "Assertio." In what he says of earthly business 
and of life, public and private, his views are likewise not at all 
those of a determinist. Such inconsistency was altogether 
characteristic of him throughout his life. 

In spite of all his attempts to make his view of the will 
acceptable and to accommodate it to the prevailing convic 
tions of humanity, many, even amongst his own followers 
and admirers, were shocked at his attacks on free-will. 
People were scandalised, more particularly by the con 
sequences involved. 

At Erfurt his friends disputed as to how God could 
possibly work evil in man, and Luther was forced to request 
them to desist from enquiring into such matters, since it was 
clear that we did what was evil because God ceased to work 
in us : they ought to occupy themselves all the more 
diligently with the moral interests of the new churches. 3 

1 " Werke," Weim. eel., 7, p. 39 ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 199. Cp. Kostlin- 
Kawerau, 1, p. 358 f f. 

2 See below, p. 288, the Sermon in 1531. 

3 To Johann Lang, April 12, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 331. 

II. R 


Capito declared himself openly against Luther s theories 
concerning the absolute enslavement of the will. 1 The 
Humanist Mosellanus (Peter Schade), a great admirer of the 
Wittenbergers, spoke so strongly at Leipzig against the 
propositions deduced from Luther s teaching on predestina 
tion to hell, that the latter was warned of what had occurred. 2 
Many who had previously been favourably disposed to 
Luther were repelled, by his teaching on the enslaved will, 
and fell away then or later, for instance, the learned 
naturalist George Agricola. 3 

Mosellanus, like many others, now went over to the side 
of Erasmus, who, it had now leaked out, was growing more 
and more to dislike Luther the more the latter showed 
himself in his true colours. 

Erasmus His Attitude in General and his Attack on Luther 

in 1524 

Erasmus had frequently been invited by the highest 
authorities to take up his pen and enter the field against 
Luther. This, however, presented some difficulty to him 
owing to his timidity, his anxiety to play the part of medi 
ator and his real sympathy for many of Luther s demands. 
Even before Erasmus had reached any decision, Luther and 
his friends had already a premonition of the great Humanist s 
coming attack. 

On August 8, 1522, Erasmus, while still wavering, wrote 
to Mosellanus concerning the desire expressed by the 
Emperor, the King of England and certain Roman Cardinals. 
" All want me to attack Luther. I do not approve of 
Luther s cause, but have many reasons for preferring any 
other task to this." 4 In May, however, a work on the 
question of predestination and free-will was already looked 
for in Lutheran circles at Leipzig, and the opinion was freely 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 657. 

2 Cp. Luther to Kaspar Borner, Professor at Leipzig, May 28, 
1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 375. 

3 N. Paulus points out in his article " Georg Agricola " 
(" Histor-polit. Blatter," 136, 1905, p. 793 ff.), that this scholar had 
never been one of Luther s followers, and was particularly repelled 
by his views on the absence of free-will, which he opposed as early 
as 1522. 

4 " Luthers Briefwechsel," 3, p. 377, n. 6, from Weller s " Altes 
aus alien Teilen der Gesch.," 1, 1765, p. 18. 


expressed that Luther " would probably get the worst in 
the encounter." Luther, nevertheless, sought to inspire his 
friends with courage and confidence. 

That Erasmus should have been solicited by so many 
parties to write against Luther was due to the quite extra 
ordinary fame and influence of this scholar who, by common 
consent, was the first authority of the day on classical and 
critical studies. 

The prolific Dutch author was venerated with fanatical 
admiration by the younger Humanists as the founder and head 
of their school. Mutian had gone so far as to write : " He is 
divine and to be honoured as a god." The term " Divus 
Erasmus " was frequently applied to him. Since, owing to his 
peculiar standpoint in ecclesiastical matters, he was reckoned by 
Luther s co-religionists as one of their party, the request to write 
against Luther amounted to an invitation publicly to renounce 
all allegiance to a party which was seeking to secure him in its 
own interests. 

His great fame in the domain of learning was unquestionably 
well merited. From his ever-changing place of abode, from 
England, Italy, the Netherlands and especially (1521-1529) from 
Basle, lie sent forth into the learned world his books, all written 
in the most fluent Latin, and dealing not only with classical 
subjects and matters of general literary culture, but also with 
religious questions and historical criticism. Thanks to his 
philological learning lie was able to handle most advantageously 
the text of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church. The 
applause which was showered upon him by all scholars who were 
dissatisfied with the traditional course of studies was due not 
merely to his polished language and his wit, but chiefly to the 
new method of which he made use, particularly in dealing with 
the Fathers, viz. to his endeavour to seek out the best and oldest 
sources with the help of criticism. Among the many who formed 
themselves on his example, and, so to speak, in his school, were 
several of Luther s friends and co-workers, for instance, Melanch- 
thon and Justus Jonas. 

The " Enchiridion militis christiani," published by Erasmus in 
1501, was greeted with joy by the neo-Humanists as a new present 
ment, in harmony with the tendency of the day, of the duties of 
a Christian ; l many of them had, however, no better conception 

1 We may allude, for instance, to the beautiful words which, 
strange to say, have been described by certain Protestants as a moral 
istic explaining away of the true " evangelical comprehension of the 
person of Christ and His work " : " Ut certiore cursu queas ad felicita- 
tetn contendere, haec tibi quarto, sit regula, ut totius vitae tuae Christum 
velut unicum scopum prcefigas, ad quern unum omnia studia, omnes cona- 
tus, omne otium ac negotium conferas. Christum vero csse puta non 
vocem inanem, sed nihil aliud quam charitatem, simplicitatem, patientiam, 


of Christianity than Erasmus himself, who had already then 
forsaken his Order he was an Augustinian Canon though he 
received the requisite dispensation only in 1517, and whose 
performance of his priestly duties was anything but satisfactory. l 
The writing in question, a devotional manual for the learned, 
also made him many enemies, for, in it, he attacked various 
popular devotions and religious institutions sanctioned by the 
Church, ostensibly in order to bring to light the true piety. 2 
Even more so was this the case with his " Praise of Folly " (" Enco 
mium Moriae," 1509), a satire on the morals and ecclesiastical 
conditions of his time, brimful of exaggeration and animosity 
against certain institutions in the Church, more particularly 
the religious life. Among those who were desirous of innova 
tions, the book was so well received that it ran through at least 
twenty-seven editions during the author s lifetime. The proud, 
witty fault-finding of the great man achieved an equally great 
success in the " Colloquia familiaria," which appeared in 1518 and 
showed his style at its perfection. Intended as a handbook of 
latinity and general conduct, it was fated to be excluded from 
the more serious schools on account of the licentiousness of tone 
and language which pervades certain chapters. 

The opinion of this leading spokesman of the Renaissance was, 
that it was necessary to break away completely from the Middle 
Ages ; that for four hundred years Christ had been almost for 
gotten (" Christus pene abolitus "), and hence a return to the 
simplicity of the gospel was indispensable ; to the " simplicitas 
doctrinae," secured by the stripping off of all the padding of 
scholasticism, was to be united the original " simplicitas vitae 
christianae " and neglect of external practices. He set up a 
" Philosophy of Christ," of which the bare sobriety had no need 

puritatem, breviter, quidquid ille docuit " (" Enchiridion," Basil., 1519, 
p. 93). G. Kawerau quotes from the correspondence of Justus Jonas 
which he edited, 1, p. 31, the words of Eobanus Hessus (1519) on the 
" Enchiridion " : " Plane divinum opus," and the following utterance 
of Ulrich Zasius (1520) on the same, from the correspondence of 
Beatus Rhenanus, p. 230 : " Miles christianus, quern tamen, si vel solus 
ab Erasmo exisset, immortali laude prcedicare conveniebat, ut qui chris- 
tiano homini verce salutis compendium, brevi velut enchiridio demonstret." 
" Luther und Erasmus," in " Deutsch-Evangel. Blatter," 1906, Hit. 1, 
in the reprint, p. 4. 

1 In a letter to P. Servatius, July 9, 1514, Erasmus says : " Volup- 
tatibus etsi quando fui inquinatus nunquam servivi " (" Opp.," ed. 
Lugd., 3, col. 1527). Perhaps he meant more by this than when he 
says of Thomas More, in a letter to Ulrich von Hutten, July 23, 1519, 
which is sometimes cited in comparison : " Cum cetas ferret, non ab- 
horruit [Th. Morns } a puellarum amoribus, sed citra infamiam, et sic ut 
oblatis magis frueretur, quam captatis et animo mutuo caperetur potius 
quam coitu " (" Opp.," 3, col. 474 seq.). 

2 A. Diirer s exclamation given above, p. 41 : " O Erasmus Roder- 
damus, Knight of Christ, ride forth," etc., is an allusion to the "miles 
christianus " depicted by Erasmus in the " Enchiridion." Kawerau, 
ibid., p. 2. 


of the Pharisaism of ceremonies, i.e. of the invocation of Saints 
and the veneration of images and relics, of monastic vows, 
canonical hours, fast-days, etc. Erasmus was not desirous of 
shaking the foundations of the ancient dogmas, nor did he, like 
Luther, lay hands upon the authority of the Church ; yet he 
attacked so many of her institutions and with such terribly 
effective satire that he seemed to threaten the Church herself. 
Hardly ever had respect for the Roman See been so undermined 
as by his censure of the Popes and his tendency to contrast their 
assumption of authority with the humility of the Bishops of 
Rome in olden days. 

Nor was even the Bible safe from his love of innovation, 
inasmuch as he was wont to elucidate more particularly the 
facts of the Old Testament with the help of a spiritual interpreta 
tion, termed by him allegorical, by which the historical and 
revealed contents were explained away. His wish, too, was that 
the Bible, with notes thus interpreting its narratives, should be 
read by all, even by the unlearned. 1 The "Simple Theology," 
which he was eager to set up in place of Scholasticism, beneath 
the splendour of the Humanistic language in which it was clothed, 
was exceedingly poor in ideas ; so elastic was his language also, 
" so infinitely flexible and accommodating, so susceptible of 
being variously interpreted according to individual taste, that 
people of all creeds and of no creed . . . could point to him as 
their guide." 2 He had himself to blame for the fact, that he was 
regarded with great suspicion in Catholic circles, for, owing to his 
diplomatic caution, no one knew how far he intended to go in his 
censure of ecclesiastical institutions ; whether he merely wished 
to blame the corruption then rampant, or whether he wished to 
strike a blow at the Church herself. Besides his positive hatred 
of the monastic life, what is particularly noticeable is his funda 
mental rejection of Scholasticism, which, according to his oft- 
repeated assertion, " had replaced God s Word by human ideas." 
As a Protestant theologian opines : " We may say, that the 
mighty intellectual work, which, in spite of all its faults, was 
embodied in the ingenious systems of the Schoolmen failed 
entirely to be appreciated by him." 3 Nor was this the only thing 
he failed to appreciate. He understood nothing of the mighty 
evolution of the Church in previous ages, of the character of her 
discipline and canon law, of her theology and of the great results 
attained by mediaeval philosophy. He did not even possess 
sufficient knowledge of the practical requirements of his own age, 
when Luther s hand was already at work, demolishing the edifice 
of the Church. The one-sided scholar, blinded by the incense of 
praise, was unfitted for the task of directing his contemporaries in 
matters of religion. 

It is wonderful to see how well he knew how to secure the good- 

1 The passages in proof of his " rationalistic interpretation of 
Scripture " are to be found in Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " 
(Engl. trans.), 3, p. 21 ff. 

2 Janssen, ibid., p. 15. 3 Kawerau, ibid., p. 5. 


will of dignitaries, secular or ecclesiastical, by low flattery 
expressed in classic language. He exhibited very markedly 
certain qualities not infrequently observed in eminent Humanists, 
viz. want of character, fickleness in words and behaviour and 
extraordinary sensitiveness to criticism. His vanity was matched 
by the petty vindictiveness of the satires with which he lashes 
his opponents, and all who dared to disagree with him. Material 
assistance from the great ones of the earth was never lacking to 
him, the demi-god of the intellectual sphere ; when declining an 
invitation to go to Germany he could say : " The Emperor 
implores me to come to Spain, King Ferdinand wants me at 
Vienna, Margaret in Brabant and Henry in England ; Sigismund 
asks me to go to Poland and Francis to France, and all offer me 
rich emoluments." 1 

It is not surprising, that when Luther came forward many 
elements of his new teaching were at once welcomed with 
sympathy by Erasmus and his school. 

" It cannot be denied, that Luther commenced to play an 
excellent part and to vindicate the cause of Christ which 
had been almost wiped off the face of the earth amidst 
great and general applause." 2 Thus wrote Erasmus to Duke 
George of Saxony as late as 1522. Many of Erasmus s 
sayings in his books and confidential letters in favour of 
Luther s reform were cherished as oracles. His testimonies 
in favour of Luther s writings and his private life were 
spread far and wide, though he really knew little of Luther s 
works (those written in German he could not even read), and 
owed all his information concerning his life to Humanist 
friends who were prejudiced in Luther s favour. 

It was true that he was not personally acquainted with Luther, 
he wrote on April 14, 1519, from Antwerp to Frederick the 
Elector of Saxony, and, of his writings, he had, so far, read only 
certain extracts ; 3 " but all who were conversant with his life 
approved of it, since he was above every suspicion of ambition. 
The purity of his character is such that he even wins over the 
heathen. No one has shown his error or refuted him, and yet 
they call him a heretic." Hence he urges the Prince not to 

1 To Christoph von Stadioii, Bishop of Augsburg, August 26, 1528, 
" Opp.," 3, col. 1095 seq. 

z On September 3, 1522, " Opp.," 3, col. 731. Cp. Fel. Gess, 
" Akten mid Brief e zur Kirchenpolitik Herzog Georgs," Leipzig, 
1905, p. 352. 

8 At the end of 1520 he declares that he has only read ten or twelve 
pages of Luther s writings. To Campegius, December 6, 1520, and 
to Leo X, September 13, 1520, " Opp.," 3, col. 596, 578. 


abandon an innocent man to malicious persons. 1 It was probably 
this letter which confirmed the Elector in his determination not 
to withdraw from Luther his protection. " Luther s life is 
approved by everyone here," Erasmus writes on April 22 of the 
same year from Louvain to Melanchthon ; " opinions differ with 
regard to his learning. . . . Luther has rightly found fault with 
some things, would that he had done so with a success equal to 
his courage." 2 His letters to England are in the same strain : 
" All are agreed in praise of this man s life. It is in itself no 
small matter that his conduct is so blameless that even his 
enemies can find nothing with which to reproach him." 3 

To Luther himself, on May 30, 1519, in reply to a friendly and 
very submissive letter received from him, he complains of the 
attacks made upon him at Louvain as the alleged prime instigator 
of the Lutheran movement. He had replied what as a matter 
of fact deprives the testimony he had given in his favour of much 
of its weight that Luther was quite unknown to him (" te mihi 
ignotissimum esse"}, that he had not yet read his books and 
was therefore unable to express either approval or disapproval. 
"I hold myself, as far as is permissible, aloof ( l me integruni 
servo ), that I may be of greater service to the revival of learning. 
More is gained by well-mannered modesty than by storming." 
He adds other admonitions to peaceableness and prudence, and, 
after some cautious expressions of praise and thanks for his 
Commentary on the Psalms, 4 at which he had been able to cast 
only a cursory glance, finally \vishcs him " a daily increase of the 
Spirit of Christ to His honour and the public weal." 6 By this 

1 Cp. Max Richter, " Erasmus und seine Stellung zu Luther," 
Leipzig, 1907, p. 10 ft . 

2 Ibid., col. 431 scq. Cp. his statement to Jodocus [i.e. Justus] 
Jonas of July 31, 1518 : "Luther had given some excellent advice ; 
had he but gone to work more gently. As to the value of his doctrines, 
I neither can, nor wish to, express an opinion" (" Opp.," 3, col. 334).^ 

3 To Cardinal Wolsey : " Vita mag no omnium consensu probatur," 
etc. (" Opp.," 3, col. 322). Cp. his letter to Campegius, of December 6, 
1520. To Leo X he writes, on September 13, 1520 (col. 578) : " Bonis 
igitur illlus [Lutheri] favi . . . immo ylorice Chrisli in illo favi." 
Assurances such as these may well explain Rome s delay in condemning 

4 It is of a portion of the work (described briefly in volume i., 
p. 386) which had then appeared, that Erasmus writes: " Vchementer 
arrident et spero magnani utilitatem allaturos " (col. 445). How ready 
he was to express approval of any work of which a copy was pre 
sented to him is shown by his reply to the Bohemian Brethren in 1511, 
who had sent him one of their several confessions of faith founded 
on the new interpretation of Holy Scripture : Of what he had " read 
in their book," he writes, he had " thoroughly approved and trusted 
that the rest was equally correct " ; from any public approval he 
preferred, however, to abstain in order not to have his writings cen 
sured by the Papists, but to " preserve his reputation and strength 
unimpaired for the general good." Janssen, " Hist, of the German 
People" (Engl. trans.), 3, p. 20 f. 

5 The letter is also to be found in " Luthers Briefwechsel, 2, p. GO rr. 


letter, which appeared in print a few weeks later, Erasmus 
offended both parties ; to Luther s followers the author appeared 
too reticent, and to be wanting in cordiality ; to his opponents 
he seemed unduly to favour the innovations. To justify himself 
he sent out several letters, one being to Archbishop Albert of 
Mayence on November 1, 1519. In this he admits the existence 
of " certain sparks of an excellent, evangelical spirit" in Luther, 
" who is not striving after either honours or riches " and " at whose 
writings the best minds take no offence." Luther should not 
"be suppressed, but rather brought to a right frame of mind" ; 
he finds fault with the fact that in him an honest man has been 
unfairly and publicly defamed ; Luther had only too just cause 
for his proceeding in the thousand abuses prevailing in ecclesi 
astical life and in theology. Here again he is careful to add, as 
usual, that he had not found time to peruse Luther s writings. 1 
This letter, which was to reach Albert through Hutten, and with 
which he at once became acquainted, Luther calls an " egregia 
epistola," which might well be printed. 2 Hutten, in point of fact, 
had the letter printed before handing it to the addressee, and, on 
his own responsibility, altered the name " Lutherus " into the 
more significant " Lutherus noster."* 

Erasmus, while thus whitewashing and indirectly furthering 
Luther s cause, wrote with less restraint to Zwingli : " It seems 
to me that I have taught well-nigh all that Luther teaches, only 
less violently, and without so many enigmas and paradoxes." 4 
It was his desire to be reckoned a leader in every field. 

After the breach between Luther and the ecclesiastical 
past had been consummated in 1520, Erasmus became more 

," 3, col. 514. In his complaints concerning the disorders 
of the Church he says, for instance : " M undus oneratus est . . . tyran- 
nidefratrum mendicantium " ; and then " in sacris concionibus minimum 
audiri de Ghristo, de potestate pontificis ct de opinionibus recentium fere 
omnia" ; in short : " nihil est corruptius ne apud Turcas quidem." 

2 Luther to Lang, January 26, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 305 : 
" egregia epistola, ubi me egregie tutatur, ita tamen, ut nihil minus quam 
me tutari videatur, sicut solet pro dexteritate sua." 

3 F. O. Stichart, " Erasmus von Rotterdam," Leipzig, 1870, p. 325, 
Kawerau, ibid., p. 10. 

4 On August 31, 1521, " Zwinglii Opp.," 7, p. 310. Cp. Jansscn, 
" Hist, of the German People," Engl. trans., 3, p. 17, where the asser 
tion that Erasmus had won over Pellicanus and Capito to the Zwinglian 
doctrine of the Last Supper is said to be utterly false. Though Erasmus 
declares that he never forsook the teaching of the Church on this point, 
Melanchthon nevertheless says that he was the actual originator of 
the Zwingliefri denial of Christ s presence in the Sacrament. Melanch 
thon to Camerarius, July 26, 1529, " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 1083 : " Nostri 
inimici ilium [Erasmum] amant, qui multorum dogmatum semina in 
suis libris sparsit, quce fortasse longe graviores tumultus aliquando 
excitatura fuerant, nisi Lutherus exortus esset ac studia hominum olio 
traxisset. Tola ilia tragoedia, irepl denrvov KvpiaKou, ab ipso nata videri 


and more guarded in his utterances, whether public or 
private. His blame of Luther becomes ever more severe, 
though he is still desirous of finding a via media, and 
is willing to approve of far too much in Luther s action. 
The excommunication of the heretic by the ecclesiastical 
authorities he describes in one of his letters after the 
publication of the Bull as an unfortunate mistake, showing 
want of charity ; a peaceful adjustment of the controversy 
might easily have been reached by means of a council of 
wise men ; this course his biassed mind still regarded as 
feasible. 1 

It was on July G, 1520, only a few days before Luther broke 
out into the exclamation : " The dice have fallen in my favour " 
(above, p. 24), that Erasmus, alarmed at the tone of Luther s 
controversial writings, wrote to Spalatiii warning him that 
Luther was utterly wanting in moderation and that Christ was 
surely not guiding his pen. 2 He now exerted himself to disr 
sociate from Luther those of his friends who had not as yet 
entirely gone over to him, and to retain them for the Church, for 
instance, Justus Jonas. 3 As for himself he declared he would 
never be dragged away, either in life or death, from communion 
with the ecclesiastical authority ordained by God. 4 His com 
plaints concerning Luther s unrestrained violence and vitupera 
tion were ceaseless ; 5 he saw the effect on Luther of the popular 
feeling, and the great applause he met with, he even attributed 
his obstinacy in great measure to the " plaudits of the world s 
stage," which had turned his head. 6 In his letters he also gives 
expression to a happy thought : the upheaval accomplished by 
the Wittenberg Professor was indeed a misfortune for his own 
age, but it might also be a remedy for the future. On November 
20, 1522, he wrote to King Ferdinand : " God grant that this 
drastic and bitter remedy, which, in consequence of Luther s 
apostasy, has stirred up all the world like a body that is sick in 
every part, may have a wholesome effect for the recovery of 
Christian morals." 7 Erasmus also set to work to compose 
practical booklets on religion and worship. A " Modus conft- 
tendi " he published in 1525 w r as frequently reprinted later ; its 
aim was to restore to honour the Sacrament of Penance so 
maltreated by the innovators. At a later date he even composed 
a sort of Catechism, the " Explanatio symboli " (1533). 

1 Cp. Fel. Gess, " Akten imd Briefc zur Kirchenpolitik Herzog 
Georgs," 1 p. 354. 

2 To Spalatin, July 6, 1520, cp. Stahelin, " Theol. Realenzyklopadie," 
5 3 , p. 442. 

3 " Opp.," 3, col. (339 seq, 4 Ibid., col. 713, 742. 

5 So, for instance, " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 698 (1525). 

6 Ibid., p. 693. 7 " Opp.," 3, col. 826. 


" In Luther I find to my surprise two different persons," 
Erasmus wrote on March 13, 1526, to Bishop Michael of Langres. 
" One writes in such a way that he seems to breathe the apostolic 
spirit, the other makes use of such unbecoming invective as to 
appear to be altogether unmindful of it." 1 To another bishop, on 
September 1, 1528, he writes : " Whatever of good there may be 
in Luther s teaching and exhortations we shall put in practice, 
not because it emanates from him, but because it is true and 
agrees with Holy Scripture." 2 

He continued to scourge the abuses in ecclesiastical life and 
to demand a reformation, but he did so in a fashion more 
measured and dignified than formerly, so that well-disposed 
Catholics for the most part agreed with him. 

Owing to the new position he assumed, the Popes did not repel 
him, but showed him favour and confidence. They were desirous 
of retaining him and his enormous influence for the good of the 
Church. A Spanish theologian, who had written an " Anta- 
pologia " against Erasmus to reinforce the attack made upon him 
by Prince Carpi, tells us that Clement VII, after glancing through 
the work, said to him : " The Holy See has never set the seal of 
its approbation on the spirit of Erasmus and his writings, but 
it has spared him in order that he might not separate himself 
from the Church and embrace the cause of Lutheranism to the 
detriment of our interests." 3 According to one account, Paul III 
even wished to make him a cardinal ; Erasmus, however, refused 
this dignity on account of his age. 

Luther for his part was fond of saying, that he merely 
spoke out plainly what Erasmus in his timidity only 
ventured to hint at. He himself, he tells a correspondent, 
had led the believing Christians into the Promised Land, 
whereas Erasmus had conducted them only as far as the 
land of Moab. 4 He recognised, however, the great difference 
between himself and Erasmus in their fundamental theo 
logical views, for instance, as to the condition of man 
stained by original sin, as to his free-will for doing what is 
good, his justification and pardon, on all of which the 
Humanist scholar held fast to the traditional teaching of the 
Church because, so Luther says, he could not, or would 
not, understand the Bible. Luther was well aware that, as 
time went on, Erasmus frequently protested that he had 

1 "Opp.," 3, col. 919. ~ Ibid., col. 1104. 

3 loan. Genesius Sepulveda Cordubensis, " De rebus gestis Caroli 
Quinti," in his " Opp.," 1 (Matriti, 1780), p. 468. 

4 To Johann (Ecolampadius at Basle, June 20, 1523, " Brief - 
wechsel," 4, p. 164 : " Forte et ipse [Erasmus] in campestribus Moab 
morietur (Num. xxxvi. 13). . . . In terrain promissionis ducere noh potest 
. . . ut qui vel non possit vcl non velit de Us [scripturis] recte iudicare." 


never had any intention of writing anything contrary to the 
revealed Word of God as taught by Holy Scripture and the 
common faith of Christendom ; that he submitted himself 
to the decisions of the Popes, that he was ready to accept, 
as the Voice of God, what the authorities of the Church 
taught, even though he might not understand the reasons, 
and be personally inclined to embrace the opposite. His 
standpoint was accordingly miles removed from that of 
Luther with its unfettered freedom in religious matters. 1 

In one of his Apologies Erasmus states of his earlier writings 
in which, it is true he often goes too far that " neither Lutherans 
nor anti-Lutherans could clearly show him to have called into 
question any single dogma of the Church ; though numbers had 
tried hard to do so, they had merely succeeded in " bringing 
forward affinities, congruities, grounds for scandal and suspicion, 
and not a few big fibs." 2 Concerning his tendency to scepticism 
he says nothing. 

Of the excessive zeal of certain critics he says in the same 
passage : " Some theologians, in their hatred for Luther, condemn 
good and pious sayings which do not emanate from us at all, but 
from Christ and the Apostles. Thus, owing to their malice and 
stupidity, many remain in the party adverse to the Church who 
would otherwise have forsaken it, and many join it who would 
otherwise have kept aloof." He himself was not to be drawn by 
invective to embrace Luther s cause. He even ventures to 
affirm that he was the first, who, almost singlehanded (" ipse 
primus omnium ac pene solus restiti pullulanti malo "), opposed 
Luther, and that he had proved a true prophet in predicting that 
the play which the world had greeted with such warm applause 
would have a sad termination. He speaks more truly when he 
seriously regrets having fanned the flames by his writings. Thus, 
in 1521, he writes to Baron Mount joy : " Had I known before 
hand that things would shape themselves so, I would either have 
refrained from writing certain things, or have written them 
differently." 3 

If Luther, after having met with strong opposition from 
Erasmus, in place of the support he had anticipated, denounced 

1 In his " Diatribe " against Luther, Erasmus likewise declares that 
he submits himself in all to the authority of the Church. Cp. Job. 
Walter s edition (" Quellenschriften zur Gesch. des Protestantismus," 
Hft., 8, 1910), p. 3. Later he wrote concerning his attitude to Catholic 
dogma : " De his quce sunt ftdei, liberam habeo conscientiam apud Deum " 
(" Opp.," 10, col. 1538). 

2 To Christoph von Stadion, in the letter referred to above, p. 246, n. 1. 
Even in 1520 and 1521 he says that he had been the first to condemn 
the Wittenberg preaching because he had foreseen danger and disturb 
ance. There, however, he dwells more on the detriment to learning. 

3 " Si quis deus mihi prcedixisset, hoc sceculum exoriturum, quazdam 
aui non scripsissem, aut aliter scripsissem " (" Opp.," 3, col. 681). 


him as an infidel Epicurean, he only demonstrated anew how far 
passion and bitter disappointment could carry him. 1 " Luther," 
says Kawerau, " when passing judgment on Erasmus, sees only 
the dark side of his character, and this the more as years go by." 
" In his writings, and even in his most harmless utterances, 
Luther scents evil. In the contempt he pours upon him he is 
often grossly unfair, and, as a whole, his judgment of him does 
not do justice either to the greatness or the character of Erasmus." 2 
Even where Luther does not actually attribute unbelief and 
untruthfulness to his opponent he frequently goes too far in 
blaming his sarcasm. He says, for instance, at a later date, that 
Erasmus could do nothing but jeer ; that to refute or disprove 
anything he was utterly unable. " If I were Papist I would 
easily get the upper hand of him. ... By merely laughing at op 
ponents no one will succeed in vanquishing them." 3 He could see 
in Erasmus only the idle cynic Lucian and nothing else. As early 
as 1517 he declaims against the " Erasmic " habit of " making 
fun of the faults and miseries of the Church of Christ instead of 
bewailing them before God with deep sighs." It has, however, 
been pointed out by a Protestant theologian that such serious 
complaints concerning the disorders in the Church are not lacking 
even in the earlier writings of Erasmus. 4 

1 To quote here only one instance, Luther says (1544) in the " Tisch- 
reden " of Mathesius, edited by Kroker, p. 343, that he desired that 
the " Annotationes in Novum Testamentum" by Erasmus (a much- 
esteemed and really epoch-making work) should not be further dis 
seminated, " because it contains Epicureanism and other poison." 
Erasmus had destroyed many " in body, soul, and spirit," and had 
been an " originator of the Sakrameritirer " ; he had injured the 
gospel as much as he had furthered the interests of learning. " He 
was a terrible man, and Zwingli was led astray by him. Egranus 
[Johann. Wildenauer of Eger, who forsook the A\ 7 ittenberg teach 
ing] he had also perverted, and he now believes just about as 
much as Erasmus ; his end was " sine crux et sine lux." The latter 
remark concerning Erasmus s death calls for explanation. Erasmus 
arrived in August, 1535, in a weak state of health at Basle, a city 
already despoiled of every vestige of Catholic worship in order to 
supervise the printing of his " Origenes " by the celebrated Basle 
printers. His illness had been increasing since March, 1536, and in the 
night of the llth to 12th July of that year he died unexpectedly and 
without having received the sacraments. A fortnight before this, on 
June 28, in a letter to a friend, Johann Goclen, he had expressed his 
regret that he w r as lying ill in a city dominated by the reformers. On 
account of the difference in religion he would rather be summoned out 
of this life elsewhere. " Ep.," 1299. " Opp.," 3, col. 1522. 

2 Kawerau, ibid., p. 15. He, however, remarks concerning Eras 
mus : " The instinct of self-preservation forced such admissions from 
him." There is no reason for doubting the " veracity " of his state 
ments in favour of the Catholic Church. 

3 Cordatus, " Tagebucli," p. 287. 

4 Job. v. Walter, " Das Wesen der Religion nach Erasmus und 
Luther," 1906, p. 7. " That Erasmus set himself seriously to improve 
matters is shown by his letters," thus A. Freitag in the Preface to the 
" De servo arbitrio," Weim. ed., 18, p. 594, n. 3. 


A severe but not unfair criticism of Erasmus which docs 
not charge him with unbelief or apostasy though censuring 
him for other grave faults is to be met with in two German 
writers, both of them well conversant with their age, viz. 
Kilian Leib, Prior of the monastery of Rebel orf, and Bl. 
Peter Canisius. 

The former, in dealing in his "Annales " with the year 
1528, complains of the effect on the religious world of 
the sceptical and critical manner of his contemporary. 
" Wherever Erasmus had expressed a wish, or even merely 
conveyed a hint, there Luther has broken in with all his 
might." 1 He is here referring to the strictures contained in 
the Annotations of Erasmus on the New Testament, in 
particular on Math, xi., upon the fasts and feasts, marriage 
laws and practice of confession, on the heavy burden of 
prayers, the number of Decretals and the endless ceremonial 

The other, Peter Canisius, speaks of Erasmus in the 
Preface to his edition of the Letters of St. Jerome. He says 
that Erasmus is distinguished by the " fluency and richness 
of his literary style " and his " rare and admirable eloquence." 
In polite literature he had undoubtedly done good service, 
but he should either have refrained from meddling with 
theology or have treated it with more reserve and fairness. 
No one before him had ventured to censure the Fathers, the 
Schoolmen and the theologians in so severe and overbearing 
a fashion, nor was one to be found more touchy when con 
tradicted. " He has carried this so far that he is now made 
as little of in the Catholic as in the opposite camp. In his 
writings he paid more attention to the form than to the 
matter." The following sentence is worthy of attention : 
" I know not by what spirit he was really led, for he dealt 
with the Church s doctrine according to the theology of 
Pyrrhus [the sceptic]." 2 

1 "Annales" (ed. Aretin, " Beitrage zur Gesch. und Literatur," 9, 
1807), p. 1018 : " Ubi Erasmus quippiam optat aut fieri velle innuit, ibi 
Lutherus totis viribus irruit." Leib s " Briefwechsel und Diarien," an 
important source for that period, J. Schlecht has edited in J. Greving 
" Reformationsgesch. Studien," Hft. 7. 

2 The preface has been reprinted in O. Braunsberger, B. Petn 
Canisii Epistulce et Acto," 3, 1901, p. 280 seq. The passage is on p. 283. 
Cp. Janssen-Pastor, " Gesch. des deutschen Volkes," 2 18 , p. 15, where 
the work of Canisius, " De incomparabili vircjine Maria, 


What, we may ask in this connection, was the origin of 
the saying which became later so widely current : " Erasmus 
laid the egg which Luther hatched " ? 

It is first alluded to by Erasmus himself in 1523, where he 
informs a friend that this had been said of him by certain 
Franciscans ; he adds, that he had indeed laid a hen s egg, 
but that Luther had hatched out quite a different nestling. 1 
In 1534 he speaks^more definitely of the German Franciscans 
as the purveyors of this saying, and in particular of the 
Cismontane commissioner of the Order, Nicholas Herborn, 
who with the assistance of other Friars had caused a volume 
of sermons to be printed at Antwerp in which appeared 
"the favourite asseveration of the brethren," viz.: "Eras 
mus is Luther s father ; he laid the eggs and Luther 
hatched out the chicks ; Luther, Zwingli, (Ecolampadius 
and Erasmus arc the soldiers of Pilate who crucified 
Jesus." 2 

Similar utterances were indeed current in Catholic circles. 
Canisius mentions that he had frequently heard a saying 
which agrees with the words in Leib : " Ubi Erasmus innuit, 
illic Lutherus irruit," 3 and might be rendered : Where 
Erasmus merely indicated, Luther violently eradicated. 
So general was the feeling that the head of the Humanists 
had really paved the way for Luther s action. 

As we have frequently pointed out, Luther s speedy and 
unhoped-for success is altogether inexplicable, unless his 
way had been prepared beforehand by others, and that 
particular kind of Humanism which Erasmus had been 
largely instrumental in furthering cannot but be regarded 

1 In the letter of Erasmus to the Lutheran Johann Casarius, 
December 1C, 1523 : " Ego peperi ovum, Lutherus exclusit, mirum 
dictum minoritarum istorum magnaque et bona pulte dignum." " Opp.," 
3, col. 840. 

2 To Sinapius, July 31, 1534, in R. Stahelin, " Brief e aus der 
Reformationszeit," " Programm," Basle, 1887, p. 24 : The " proverbia 
d5e\0t/cd," to use the term of Erasmus, runs : " Erasmus est pater 
Lutheri ; Erasmus posuit ova, Lutherus exclusit pullos : Lutherus, 
Zwinglius, (Ecolampadius et Erasmus sunt milites Pilati, qui crucifix- 
erunt lesum." Similar accusations, he adds, were heard also in other 
quarters. The Spanish theologian, L. Carvajal, remarks (1528) in his 
"Apologia diluens nugas Erasmi in sacras religiones," that the Ger 
mans said of Erasmus : " Erasmus peperit ova, Lutherus exclusit 
pullos" Ed. Cracow, 1540, Fol. C 1 a. The author was very angry 
with Erasmus on account of his calumnies against religious : " Utinam 
Lutherus mentiatur, qui te [] atheon dicit." Fol. E 3a. 

3 In Preface referred to above, p. 253, n. 2. 


as one of the causes which contributed to the spread of 

It is true that Humanism in some regards presented an 
inspiring and attractive spectacle. The revival of classical 
learning, the union of which with Christian truth had been 
the original aim both of the Humanists and of the Church, 
who had encouraged them ; the idea of liberty and of the 
rights of the individual ; the criticism and revision of 
ecclesiastical studies ; all this, within due limits, seemed to 
presage a spring-tide in the development of the Christian 
nations at the close of the Middle Ages. The sanguine 
dreamt of a happy amalgamation of the ancient faith with 
the new culture of an age which was striving mightily 
upwards in all that concerned citizenship. Yet even 
enthusiastic patrons of the Christian Humanism of the day 
could not praise all the ideas current among those of its 
representatives who looked up to Erasmus ; in such 
quarters many were the grievances raised against the 
Church, it being urged that religion had been corrupted, and 
that a purer Christianity should be established on the model 
of the earlier ages, and minus the mediaeval errors. Ideas 
such as these were distinctly revolutionary, especially when 
they had taken root in the heads of the masses in an even 
worse form. " It cannot as a matter of fact be denied," 
says the French Academician P. Imbart dc la Tour, * that 
the Humanists by their mode of criticising, accelerated the 
gathering of the revolutionary storm-clouds of the sixteenth 
century." 1 

1 " Origines de la reforme," 2, Paris, 1909, p. 439, whence what 
precedes is also taken. The author s opinion here quoted is the more 
remarkable owing to the fact, that in this chapter on " Christian 
Humanism," he unduly magnifies both it and its followers, for in 
stance, Erasmus. He writes on p. 441 : " Presque partout 1 hu- 
manisme se montrera 1 adversaire du mouvement (de Luther) dont 
il sera la premiere victime. C est qu entre le principe fondamental 
de la reforme et celui de 1 humanisme il y a un abime. Ce dernier 
n entendait pas seulement rester catholique, il 1 etait, et par sa sou- 
mission a 1 unite exterieure et par sa doctrine de la liberte, et par un 
esprit d equilibre et de mesure si conforme aux habitudes de pensee 
et de vie du catholicisme." The first sentence, to dwell only upon this, 
makes out the opposition of Humanism to the Reformation to have 
been far more general than w r as the case, and speaks inaccurately of 
Humanism as its first victim. The first victim was the Catholic faith 
and practice throughout a large part of Europe, for the preservation 
of which the Humanists failed to show sufficient zeal. It is true that 
they met with a bitter retribution for their share in paving the way 


It was in the nature of an expiation that, along with 
Erasmus, many like-minded Humanists, following the 
example of their leader, deserted Luther s cause, as soon as 
the air had been cleared by the master s work against 
Luther and the denial of free-will. At the head of the 
German Humanists, Mutian, now an old man, welcomed the 
defence of free-will embodied in the " Diatribe." 1 Zasius 
and Crotus, like Pirkhcimer, returned to the Church. 
Others, especially those of Erfurt, were not to be separated 
from Luther, such were Justus Jonas, Johann Lang, Adam 
Kraft, Euricius Cordus, Draconites, Camcrarius, Menius 
and Eobanus Hessus, who, however, wavered long. 2 

Summing up all that has been said, we must discount 
both the exaggerated charges brought against Erasmus, 
and the one-sided eulogies lavished upon him. A type of 
the unfair critic was Hieronymus Aleander, who was chiefly 
responsible for the violent attack made on Erasmus by 
Prince Albert Pius of Carpi. In 1521 Aleander declared : 
" Erasmus has written worse things against the faith than 
Luther " ; he is of opinion that Erasmus had preached a real 
" intellectual revolt in Flanders and the Rhine-Lands." 3 
Equally exaggerated in the opposite direction is the state 
ment ascribed to the Emperor Charles V, which must have 
been due to the glowing accounts given by the admirers of 
Erasmus, viz. that Erasmus had greatly reduced the number 
of Lutherans and achieved what Emperors, Popes, Princes 

for the catastrophe, in the destruction of much they had done which 
perished in the storm which submerged scholarship. Erasmus twice 
asserts his conviction : " Ubicunque regnal Luther anismus, ibi lit- 
terarum est interitus " (" Opp.," 3, col. 1139 ; 10, col. 1618), and often 
repeats the same in other words. See present work, vol. v., 
xxxv. 3. 

1 K. Gillert, " Brief wechsel des Konrad Mutianus," Halle, 1890, 
p. 300. 

2 Cp. G. Kawerau in W. Moller, "Lehrbuch der Kirchengesch.," 
3 3 , 1907, p. 63. 

3 From Aleander s account in Balan, " Monumenta ref. Luth.," 
p. 100 (cp. pp. 55, 79, 81) ; cp. Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " 
(Engl. trans.), 3, p. 16. Erasmus, in the above letter, dated August 26, 
1528, and addressed to Christoph v. Stadion, describes Aleander 
and his intimate friend the Prince of Carpi as the originators of the 
charge, that, by his denial of dogma, he had been the cause of Luther- 
anism : " Cuius vanissimi rumoris prcecipuus auctor fuit Hieronymus 
Aleander, homo, ut nihil aliud dicam, non superstitiose verax. Eiusdem 
sententice videtur Albertus Carporum princeps, Aleandro iunctissimus 
magisque simillimus," 


and Universities had previously striven to do, but in vain. 
The allusion would seem to be to the great Humanist s 
work against Luther s denial of free-will. 

What has been said tends to place in a true light a certain 
view which has been put forward in modern days. Thanks 
to a wrong interpretation of his antagonism to Luther s 
principles and of his criticism of Catholic doctrine and 
practice, an attempt has been made to represent him as the 
" father of religious universalism " and of religion minus 
dogma. His bold schemes for renovation it is said paved 
the way for a great " renascence of Christianity " towards 
which we might well strive even to-day. As a matter of 
fact this " original creator in the domain of religion," this 
" spokesman of modern religion," never existed in Erasmus. 
It is a mere figment of the imagination of those who desire 
the complete reformation of religion and seek to shelter 
themselves behind the great Humanist. What is really 
strange is that such a deformation of the Erasmus of 
history has been attempted by certain Protestant theo 
logians, whereas in Luther s day Erasmus was denounced 
by Protestants as a free-thinker and unbeliever. There are 
other Protestant theologians, however, who candidly admit 
the futility of such efforts with regard to Erasmus. 1 

Catholics can see easily enough why the rise of Protestant 
ism tended to bring back many Humanists, among them 
Erasmus himself, to a firmer and more clearly denned 
religious standpoint and to a more whole-hearted support of 
the Church. Erasmus, as stated above, frequently spoke of 
Luther s work as a " remedy " (p. 249). It was a remedy 
above all for himself and for the more serious elements among 
his own party, whom the sight of the outward effects and 
internal consequences of the new teaching served to with 
draw from the abyss towards which they were hurrying. 

In his Annotations on the New Testament, Erasmus had 
clearly expressed both his fundamental antagonism to 
Luther s denial of free-will and his own position. It so 
happens that the contrast between Luther and Erasmus 

1 Hermelink, " Die religiosen Reformbestrebungen des deutschen 
JIumanismus," Tubingen, 1908. We may also mention here that 
Joh. v. Walter, in his edition of the " Diatribe" p. xxiii., criticises 
Zickendraht (" Der Streit zwischen Erasmus und Luther," etc., see 
below), " who lays too much stress on the sceptical utterances of 
Erasmus [in the Diatribe ]." 


becomes apparent for the first time in Luther s correspond 
ence of the famous year 1517. Luther had at that time 
been devoting some attention to his future opponent s 
interpretation of Romans ix., of which the Avords con 
cerning Divine election had confirmed him in his false teach 
ing, while supplying Erasmus with an opportunity to lay 
stress on the freedom of the will under the influence of grace. 
The Wittenberg professor, full of the spirit of his recently 
completed Commentary on Romans, had, during his reading 
of it, written to his friend Lang concerning Erasmus in 
words which seem to presage the coming encounter : "I am 
reading our Erasmus, but every day" he pleases me less. 
That he should so boldly attack the religious and the clergy 
for their ignorance pleases me, but I fear he does not 
sufficiently vindicate the rights of Christ and the grace of 
God. . . . How different is the judgment of the man who 
concedes something to free-will from one who knows nothing 
besides grace ! 5?1 In these words we hear, as it were, the 
distant muttering of the storm which broke out seven years 
later, when the two exchanged their thunderbolts, clearing 
the air and plainly disclosing the difference between the 
Catholic and the Lutheran standpoint. 

When a report reached Luther in 1522 that Erasmus was 
about to oppose his teaching on free-will, he was carried 
away to say certain things in his letters which greatly 
provoked his opponent. 

In a letter to the Leipzig Professor, Caspar Borner, he stated 
that Erasmus understood less about these matters than the 
schools of the Sophists (the Schoolmen). " I have no fear of 
being vanquished so long as I do not alter my opinion." 2 " Truth 
is stronger than eloquence, the spirit mightier than talent, faith 
greater than learning " ; with his habitual confidence he says 
that were he only to stammer forth the truth he would still be 
sure of vanquishing the eloquence even of far-famed Erasmus. 
He did not wish to vex the scholar, but should he dare to attack 
he would be made to see " that Christ fears neither the gates of 
hell nor the powers of the air " ; he (Luther) well knew the 
thoughts of Satan (" quandoquidem et Satance cogitationes 
noverimus"). 3 Hence he seems to have regarded the doctrine of 

1 On March 1, 1517, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 88. See present work, 
vol. i., p. 43. 

2 " Neque est ut timeam casurum me, nisi mutem sententiam," 

3 On May 28, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 375. 


the absence of free-will as a sort of revelation, which the devil 
must necessarily oppose. 

Erasmus got to hear of this letter. With the expressions it 
contained, viz. : spirit, truth, faith, triumph of Christ, he was 
familiar, for they were Luther s watchwords ; the innovators, 
following Luther s example, made use of them, in season and out 
of season, though they were not able to conceal their real nature, 
least of all from the sharp eyes of Erasmus. " All," Erasmus 
wrote in 1524 to Theodore Hezius, " have these five words 
always on their lips : evangel, God s Word, faith, Christ and 
Spirit, and yet I see many behave so that I cannot doubt them 
to be possessed by the devil." 1 

After long delay and anxious consideration, Erasmus finally 
decided to comply with the requests made of him and to publish 
a polemical work against Luther on the subject of free-will, 
for his own vindication and for the enlightenment of many whose 
eyes were turned upon him. In 1523 he set to work and for 
warded a rough draft to Henry VIII of England. 

He has frequently been said to have declared, in his witty 
way, that he had only yielded against his will to strong 
persuasion and that the work had been wrung from him ; that, 
writing of free-will, he had lost his own free-will, and was, there 
fore, not to be taken seriously. This legend rests upon a false 
interpretation of a passage, the text of Erasmus containing 
nothing of the sort. 2 

In order if possible to delay or parry the attack, Luther, about 
the middle of 1524, wrote a strange letter addressed to the 
scholar. 3 He there complains openly of the criticisms Erasmus 
had directed against him latterly and of his ostensibly insulting 
remarks, and informs him that he, the Wittenberg Professor, has 
nothing whatever to fear, " even though an Erasmus should fall 
on him tooth and nail ; " at the same time he begs him, with a 
most flattering eulogy of his gifts and standing, to consider well 
whether it would not be better to leave his (Luther s) doctrines 
alone (" intacta dimittere "), and to busy himself with his own 
Humanist affairs. " I desire that the Lord may bestow on you 
a spirit worthy of your name. Should the Lord, however, still 

1 " Opp.," 3, col. 809. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 656 f. In the note on p. 790 it is pointed 
out that the passage in question does not refer to any work by Erasmus. 
A. Freitag, in the introduction to his reprint of the book, " De servo 
arbitrio," Weim. ed., 18, p. 577, says : " The words of Erasmus, in his 
letter to L. Vives on Ascension Day, 1527 : perdidimus liberum 
arbitrium, do not refer to the work, De libero arbitrio. " The 
jesting words used by Erasmus in a letter to Auerbach, dated Decem 
ber 10, 1524, which have also been quoted in support of the legend 
(" Profecto nunc habere desii liberum arbitrium, posteaquam emisi in 
vulgus "), only mean that, even had he so desired, it was now impossible 
to withdraw a book already published. He wrote in exactly the same 
sense to King Henry VIII on September 6, 1524 : " iacta est alea, exiit 
in lucem libellus de libero arbitrio." 

3 " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 319, " about April 15," 1524. 


delay this gift, I would beg you meanwhile, if you can do nothing 
else, at least to remain a mere spectator of our tragedy ; do not 
write against me or increase the number and strength of my 
opponents ; particularly do not attack me through the press, 
and I for my part shall also refrain from attacking you." The 
writer was all too well aware how heavily the words of Erasmus 
would weigh down the scale against him in public opinion. 

Erasmus, however, was not to be moved from his decision ; 
indeed, he felt still further provoked to write by an allusion of 
Luther s in the above letter to the kindness he had hitherto 
displayed towards godless and hypocritical foes ; should Erasmus 
dare to come forward against him publicly Luther vows he will 
alter this tone. 1 In the latter event Luther, in another passage 
of the letter, had declared regretfully, in perfect accordance with 
his theory of grace and the absence of free-will, that " Erasmus 
had not yet received from the Lord the gift of strength and an 
inward mind," which would have enabled him to ally himself 
freely and trustfully with him (Luther) in his struggle with the 
monsters who were attacking him ; even from Erasmus one could 
not expect what was beyond his power and lay outside his 
way. " On the contrary, we have accepted with patience and 
respect your weakness and the limitation of God s gift in 

We may perhaps be permitted to remark here concerning the 
absence of the Divine action on the will, that Luther on other 
occasions did not allow himself to be swayed by " patience and 
respect," as in the case of Erasmus, least of all when dealing with 
the Pope and his supporters. On the contrary, he reproves them 
severely for their " terrible blindness " and says, that the wrath 
of God had led to the setting up of an empire of error and lying, 
in spite of the Church having been so often warned by Christ and 
the Apostles against the Pope, i.e. Antichrist. The only explana 
tion was in 2 Thessalonians ii. 10 : " Therefore God sent 
upon them the operation of error, to believe lying"; "this 
operation was so great ( ilia energia tarn potens fuit ) that 
they were blind even to the worst errors " ; thus it was that 
they had set up their horrid Papacy. Out upon you, he cries 
to those, who, on the Lutheran hypothesis, were unable to do 
otherwise, " the overwhelming effect of your delusion defies all 
opposition " (" ilia efficacia erroris potentissime restitit "). " But 
I have attacked the Pope in his very marrow and teaching, not 
merely his abuses." " Had I not brought about his downfall by 

1 " Ceterum dementia et mansuetudo mea erga peccatores et impios, 
quantumvis insanos et iniquos, arbitror, non modo teste mea conscientia, 
sed et multorum experientia, satis testata sit. Sic hactenus stilum cohibui, 
utcunque, pungeres me, cohibiturum etiatn scripsi in literis ad amicos, quce 
tibi quoque lectce sunt, donee palam prodires. Nam utcunque non nobis- 
cum sapias et pleraque pietatis capita vel impie vel simulanter damnes 
aut suspendas, pertinaciam tamen tibi tribuere non possum neque volo " 
(p. 320 f.). Cp. Erasmus to Melanchthon, September 6, 1524, " Corp. 
ref.," 1, p. 672. 


means of the Word, the devil himself would have vomited him 
forth." 1 

The work of Erasmus, " De liber o arbitrio diatribe," which 
appeared in that same year, 1524, at Basle, was a severe 
blow to Luther. * 

The ground chosen by Erasmus in his long-expected 
reply to all the questions raised by the Reformers, viz. 
the matter of free-will, was singularly apt ; he launched 
forth at once into one of the most important subjects, one, 
too, which was readily understood by the people. His task 
was the exposure of the religion of the enslaved will. 

Though the author was not thoroughly conversant with 
the learning of the Schoolmen, which might perhaps have 
enabled him to place the relationship between grace and 
free-will in an even clearer light, and though in the work he 
is rather reserved, yet his refinement of judgment and his 
eloquence more than compensate for his defects ; these 
at least insured him great applause in an age so favourable 
to Humanism. Even the theologians were, on the whole, 
satisfied with the scriptural proofs adduced by so learned a 
man, whose linguistic knowledge and exegetical skill gave 
all the more weight to his work. Many cultured laymen 
breathed more freely, as though relieved of a heavy burden, 
when the authoritative voice of the great scholar was at 
last raised against Luther and in defence of free-will, that 
basic truth of sane human reason and pillar of all religious 

Ulrich Zasius, the Freiburg-im-Breisgau lawyer, who had 
hitherto been hesitating, wrote in enthusiastic praise of the 
work to Boniface Amerbach. 3 Duke George of Saxony expressed 
his thanks to the author in a letter, with the honest and not 
altogether unwarranted remark : " Had you come to your 
present decision three years ago, and withstood Luther s shameful 
heresies in writing instead of merely opposing him secretly, as 
though you were not willing to do him much harm, the flames 
would not have extended so far and we should not now find our- 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden " (Kroker), p. 404, said in 1537, 
March 21-28. 

2 In the Leyden edition (Lugd. Batav.), 9, col. 1215-48. In 
German in Walch s edition of Luther s Works, 18, p. 1962 seq. New 
critical edition with introduction by Joh. v. Walter in the " Quellen- 
schriften zur Gesch. des Protestantismus," No. 8, Leipzig, 1910. 

3 " Epp.," ed. Riegger, cp. 45. Cp. Enders, " Luthers Brief- 
wechsel," 5, p. 47. 


selves in the distressing present state of things." 1 The modera 
tion with which the champion of free-will wrote, was com 
mended even by Melanchthon in a letter to Erasmus (" perplacuit 
tua moderatio "). z With this, other critics, Martin Lipsius for 
instance, agreed. 3 

Luther was forced unwillingly to admit the kindness displayed 
by Erasmus, but the fact that the keen intellect of his opponent 
should have singled out for animadversion the most vital point 
of his teaching, as he termed it, was very bitter to him. The 
question dealt with, he said, certainly constituted the central 
point of the quarrel ; it is absolutely essential that we should 
know what and how much we are capable of in our relations to 
God, otherwise we remain ignorant of God s work, nay, of God 
Himself, and are unable to honour, to thank, or to serve Him. 4 
Luther accordingly admitted, concerning Erasmus s work 
and this he was in his own way anxious to see regarded as it 
deserved that the author, unlike his previous opponents, " had 
seized upon the real question at issue, the summa causoz " ; he had 
not scolded him on the Papacy, indulgences and similar subjects, 
but had hit upon the cardinal point, and held the knife at his 
(Luther s) throat. God had not, however, yet bestowed upon 
Erasmus the grace which would have fitted him to deal with the 
controversy. " God has not so willed nor given it ; perhaps He 
may bestow it later and make this opponent capable of defending 
my doctrine more efficaciously than I can myself, seeing he is so 
far beyond me in all other things [especially in worldly learning]." 
These words, so remarkable from the psychological standpoint, 
are to be found in Luther s reply. 5 

In his " Diatribe " Erasmus dwelt with emphasis and success 
on the fact that, according to Luther, not merely every good, 
but also every evil must be referred to God ; this was in contra 
diction with the nature of God and was excluded by His holiness. 
According to Luther, God inflicted eternal damnation on sinners, 
whereas they, in so far as they were not free agents, could not be 
held responsible for their sins ; what Luther had advanced 
demanded that God should act contrary to His eternal Goodness 
and Mercy ; it would also follow that earthly laws and penalties 
were superfluous, because without free-will no one could be 

1 Db llinger, "Die Reformation," 1, p. 7. 

2 On September 30, 1524. " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 675. Cp. Enders, 
5, p. 46. 3 Enders, 5, p. 47. 

4 In the Introduction to the work, " De servo arbitrio," Weim. ed., 
18, p. 614 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 131 seq., we read : " An 
voluntas aliquid vel nihil agat in Us quce pertinent ad salutem . . . hie 
est cardo nostrce disputationis, hie versatur status causce huius. Nam 
hoc animus," etc. " Hoc problema esse partem alter am totius summce 
christianarum rerum," etc. " Alter a pars summce Christianas est nosse, 
an Deus contingentur aliquid prcesciat, et an omnia faciamus necessi 

5 At the close of the work mentioned in the previous note, p. 786 = 
367 : " Unus tu et solus cardinem rerum vidisti et ipsum iugulum 


responsible ; finally, the doctrine involved the overthrow of the 
whole moral order. 

The scriptural passages bearing on the question, more par 
ticularly those appealed to by Luther in his "Assertio," are 
examined with philological exactitude and with sobriety. 

" Erasmus, in defending free-will," writes A. Taube, a Protes 
tant theologian, " fights for responsibility, duty, guilt and 
repentance, ideas which are essential to Christian piety. He 
vindicates the capacity of the natural man for salvation, without 
which the identity between the old and the new man cannot be 
maintained, and without which the new life imparted by God s 
grace ceases to be a result of moral effort and becomes rather the 
last term of a magical process. He combats the fatalism which is 
incompatible with Christian piety and which Luther contrived to 
avoid only by his want of logic : ho vindicates the moral character 
of the Christian religion, to which, from the standpoint of 
Luther s theology, it was impossible to do justice." 1 

The work of Erasmus reached Wittenberg in September, 
1524. Luther treated it with contempt and ostentatiously 
repudiated it. He wrote to Spalatin, on November 1, that it 
disgusted him ; he had been able to read only two pages of 
it ; it was tedious to him to reply to so unlearned a book 
by so learned a man. 2 All the same, he did write a lengthy 
and detailed answer ; that he delayed doing so until 
late in the following year is to be accounted for by the 
Peasant- War with its terrors, which entirely engrossed his 
attention ; it was also the year of his marriage. In esti 
mating the value of the reply, upon which he then set to 
work with great energy, we must bear in mind the state of 
the author and the inward and outward experiences through 
which he had just gone. The impression made on his mind 
by the events of those days has left its stamp in the even 
more than usually extreme utterances contained in his 
reply to Erasmus. When once he had begun the work he 
carried it to its end with a rush ; he himself admits that it 

1 A Taube, " Luthers Lehre iiber die Freiheit ... bis zum Jahro 
1525," Gottingen, 1901, p. 46. It is true that the author declares 
on the same page : " Because and in so far as Luther was moved to his 
denial by his refusal to admit of merit and by his doctrine of the 
assurance of salvation, every evangelical theologian will agree with 
him the admission of a system of salary between God and man is the 
death of evangelical piety ; but belief in free-will does not necessarily 
lead to this." Free-will, he declares, is, on the contrary, quite com 
patible with the "sola fides: On p. 45 he had said: Luther a 
theolooy ends in contradictions which can only be obviated by tlie 
assumption of free-will and by a positive recognition of the powers < 
the natural man." 2 " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 46. 


was composed in excessive haste. We also know to whose 
influence his final decision to take the work in hand was due, 
viz. to Catherine Bora. " It was only at her request " that 
he undertook the work, when she pointed out to him, " that 
his foes might see in his obstinate silence an admission of 
defeat." 1 

Luther s Book " On the Enslaved Will " against Erasmus 
The title " De servo arbitrio," " On the enslaved will," was 
borrowed by Luther from a misunderstood saying of 
St. Augustine s. 2 While the book which bears it was still in 
the press his friend Jonas commenced a German version 
and entitled it : " Dass der freic Wille nichts sei." 3 

However grotesque and exaggerated some of the principal 
theses of the famous work, Luther was at pains to declare 
therein that they were the result of most careful delibera 
tion and were not written in the heat of controversy. Hence, 
as a Protestant historian says, " we must not seek to hide or 
explain them away, as was soon done by Luther s followers 
and has been attempted even in our own day." 4 Another 
Protestant scholar, in the preface to his study on the work 
" De servo arbitrio," remarks that " quite rightly it caused 
great scandal and wonder," and goes on to point out that 
" the hard, offensive theory " which it champions was "no 
mere result of haste or of annoyance with Erasmus, coupled 
with the desire clearly to define his own position with 
regard to the latter," but really " expresses the matured 
conviction of the Reformer." 5 

In this lengthy, badly arranged and rather confused work 

1 E. Kroker, " Katherina Bora," Leipzig, 1906, p. 280 f. " Ipsa 
supplicante scripsi" Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 146. 

2 See present work, vol. i., p. 204. 

3 The Latin text in " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 113-368, and (with 
only unimportant differences) in the Weim. ed., 18, p. 600-787. A 
new German translation with introduction and explanations by 
O. Scheel, in "Luthers Werke," ed. Buchwald, etc., sup. vol ii Berlin 
1905, p. 203 ff. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 663 f. This work of Luther s " was 
a stumbling-block to his followers, and attempts were made to explain 
it away by all the arts of violent exegesis ; cp. Walch (in his edition 
of Luther s works), 18, Introduction, p. 140 ff." Kawerau in W. 
Moller, " Lehrbuch der Kirchengesch.," 3 3 , 1907, p. 63. 

5 F. Kattenbusch, " Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen und von 
der Predestination," Gottingen, 1875 (Anastatischer Neudruck, 
Gottingen, 1905). Many Protestant theologians have recently de- 


we see, first, that Luther gives the widest limits to his 
denial of free-will and declares man to be absolutely devoid 
of freedom of choice, even in the performance of works not 
connected with salvation, and moral acts generally. He does, 
indeed, casually remark that man is free " in inferioribus," 
and that the question is whether he also possesses free-will 
in respect of God (" an erga Deum habeat liberum arbitrium"). 1 
" But it is doubtful whether we are to take Luther at his 
word." For " as a matter of fact he shows clearly enough 
that he does not wish this limitation to be taken literally." 2 
That his intentions are, on the contrary, of the most 
radical character, is plain from many other passages where 
he attacks free-will everywhere, and represents all that we 
do and everything that occurs ( omnia quce facimus et 
omnia quce fiunt ), as taking place in accordance with 
inexorable necessity." 3 He lays it down as a principle that 
God s omnipotence excludes all choice on man s part, and 
again supports this on an argument from the Divine 
omniscience ; God from all eternity sees all things, even 
the most insignificant, by virtue of His prescience, hence 
they must happen. Even where God acts on man apart from 
the influence of grace (" citra gratiam spiritus "), according 
to Luther, it is He Who works all in all, as the Apostle says, 
" even in the impious." " All that He has made, He moves, 
impels and urges forward ( movet, agit, rapit ) with the 
force of His omnipotence which none can escape or alter; 

fended, with renewed enthusiasm, Luther s standpoint in the book 
" De servo arbitrio," under the impression that it places man in the 
true state of subserviency to God and thus forms the basis of true 
religion. See below. 

1 " De servo arbitrio," " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 781 ; " Opp. 
Lat. var.," 7, p. 359. Cp. ibid., p. 638 = 160 : at most " in inferioribus 
sciat [homo ], sese in suis facultatibus et possessionibus habere ius utendi, 
faciendi, omittcndi pro libero arbitrio, licet et idipsum rec/atur solius Dei 
libero arbitrio, quocunque illi placuerit." Taube (see p. 228, n. 2), p. 21, 
remarks, like Kattenbusch (above p. 264, n. 5), p. 48, that such 
degradation of free-will, even "m inferioribus," is to be found in 
Luther s earlier writings. 

2 Kattenbusch, p. 7 f. 

3 " De servo arbitrio," p. 615=134 : " Ex quo sequitur irrefragabili- 
ter : Omnia quce facimus, omnia quce fiunt, etsi nobis videntur muta- 
biliter et contingenter fieri, revera tamen fiunt necessario, si Dei voluntatem 
species. Voluntas enim Dei efficax est," etc. In the Jena Latin edition of 
Luther, 3 (1567), this passage has been watered down. Cp. also 
p. 615 = 133 : " Deus nihil prcescit contingenter, sed omnia incommut- 
abili et ceterna infallibiliquc voluntate et prcevidet et proponit et facit," 
p. 670 = 200 : " Omnia quce fiunt (sunt) merce necessitatis." 


all must yield compliance and obedience according to the 
nature of the power conferred on them by God." 1 

In the same way as he here speaks of a certain " power " 
in the creature, so also, in the same connection, he refers to 
" our co-operation " in the universal action of God (" et nos ei 
cooperaremur "). By this, however, he does not mean any 
real free co-operation but, as he says darkly, only an activity 
of the will corresponding to its nature and governed by law, 
" whether in submission to the universal omnipotence of 
God in matters which do not refer to His Kingdom, or under 
the special impulse of His Spirit [grace] within His Kingdom." 

Luther s main object in the book " De servo arbitrio " is 
undoubtedly the vindication of religious determinism. 

His denial of free-will had its root in his mistaken con 
viction that man was entirely passive in the matter of his 
salvation and in his attempt to destroy all personal merit, 
even that won by the help of grace, as at variance with the 
merit of Jesus Christ. He is fond of dwelling with emphasis 
on the absence of any co-operation on man s part in his 
justification, which is effected by faith alone, and on the 
so-called " righteousness " which had been effected in man 
by God alone even previous to man s choice. Even that free 
will for doing what is good, which is given back to the man 
who is justified, does not strictly co-operate lest the merit 
of Christ should suffer. 

" This, then, is what we assert : Man neither does nor attempts 
anything whatever in preparation for his regeneration by justi 
fication or for the Kingdom of the Spirit, nor does he afterwards 
do or attempt anything in order to remain in this Kingdom, but 
both are the work of the Spirit in us, Who, without any effort on 
our part, creates us anew and preserves us in this state. ... It 
is He Who preaches through us, Who takes pity upon the needy 
and comforts the sorrowful. But what part is there here for free 
will to play ? What is left for it to do ? Nothing, absolutely 
nothing." 2 

Here we have a renewal of the attack on his old bugbear, self- 

1 " De servo arbitrio," p. 753 = 317 : " Deus omnla, quoe condidit solus, 
solus quoque movet, agit et rapit, omnipotentice suce motu, quern ilia non 
possunt vitare nee mutare, sed necessario sequuntur et parent." Cp. p. 
747 = 308 : God works upon the will with His " actuosissima operatio, 
quam vitare vel mutare non possumus, sed qua (homo) tale velle habet 
necessario, quale illi Deus dedit, et quale rapit suo motu. . . . Eapitur 
omnium voluntas, ut velit et faciat, sive sit bona sive mala" 

2 Ibid., p. 754 = 317, 318. Luther here shows a quite enigmatical 
want of comprehension for Erasmus s exposition of the ancient Catholic 
doctrine concerning the co-operation of the will with grace. 


righteousness, his dislike of which leads him to universal 
determinism ; from his mechanical doctrine of faith alone it was 
merely a step to this mechanical view of everything. 

We can only marvel at the ease with which, in his zeal for the 
supposed glory of the Saviour, he closes his eyes to the devasta 
tion which such teaching must work in the spiritual domain. 
He declares that he is not in the least afraid of the consequences. 
He fancies he has at last placed the whole motive force of human 
action in its true light and estimated it at its real value. For 
"it is above all else necessary and wholesome for the Christian 
to know that God foresees nothing conditionally, but that He 
knows all things beforehand unconditionally, determines them 
and carries them out by His unchangeable, eternal and infallible 
Will." 1 He builds up piety, humility and all consolation on the 
basis of this abnegation of the will. " Christian faith," he says, 
would be " altogether destroyed, God s promises and the whole 
gospel would be trodden under foot were we not to believe in 
God s indispensable fore-knowledge and that all happens through 
necessity ; on the other hand, the greatest and only consolation 
for Christians in the trials they encounter is to know, that God 
does not lie but invariably performs all things, that there is no 
resisting His will and no possibility of change or hindrance." 2 
Herein, according to him, lies " the only possibility of leading 
man to entire self-abnegation, and to perfect humility towards 
God." Therefore " this truth must be proclaimed aloud, every 
where arid at all times " ; here, as in the service of the Word in 
general, any prosopolepsia, topolepsia, tropolepsia, or ko&nolepsia 
is pernicious and damnable. The Protestant theologian from 
whom the last sentences are taken remarks : We have here a 
peculiar form of piety, and it may remain an open question whether 
the same is to be judged pathologically or not." 3 

Luther seems to ignore if indeed he ever was acquainted with 
them the reliable solutions to the problem of the Divine 
prescience and omnipotence in relation to human free-will, 
furnished both by philosophy and by theology from the times of 
the Fathers. He dismisses with utter contempt the distinctions 
and definitions of the greatest theologians of earlier ages. 

On the other hand, he turns upon Erasmus and the theology 
of the Church with the formal charge : " You have denied God 
Himself by taking away faith in Him and fear of Him, you have 
shaken all God s promises and menaces." Without being clearly 
conscious of the fact, he is actually changing the true idea of 
God and seeking to set up a Being, who governs with the blind 
force of fate, in the stead of a God Who rules with wisdom, con 
trolling His own power and restraining Himself with goodness 
and condescension. 4 Free-will, he says, belongs to God alone, 
Who alone is able to do what He wills in heaven and on earth. 

1 " De servo arbitrio," p. 615 = 133. 

2 Ibid., p. 619 = 138. 3 Taube, p. 19 f. 

4 " De servo arbitrlo" " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 636 ; " Opp. 
Lat. var.," 7, p. 158. 


How the ideas of free-will and of God are treated in 
Luther s " De servo arbitrio" is made still more plain from 
the conclusions which he draws in this work from the 
denial of free-will, and deals with without the slightest 

The first consequence is the absolute predestination of 
the reprobate to hell. 

Luther here throws to the winds the will of God Almighty for 
the salvation of all men, and he does so, with regard to those 
who are delivered over to eternal death, with a precision which 
is quite shocking. They were incapable of being saved because 
God did not so will it. Owing to the reprobate, God has " an 
OBternum odium erga homines, not merely a hatred of the 
demerits and works of free-will, but a hatred which existed even 
before the world was made." 1 Hence He inflicts eternal punish 
ment upon those who do not deserve it (" immeritos damnat "). 2 
And if sinners are thereby confirmed in their sins instead of being 
converted, this does not matter in the least, for the Spirit of God 
will nevertheless, in due season, lay hold of the elect and change 
them into children of God (" electi tamen manebunt "). 3 

The severity of his doctrine does not here differ in any way 
from Calvin s cruel views, though, as the fact is less generally 
known, Luther s name has not been so closely associated with 
predestination to hell as Calvin s. Luther s doctrine on this 
matter did not come so much to the front as that of Calvin, 
because, unlike the latter, he did not make capital out of it by 
means of popular and practical exhortations, and because the 
early Lutherans, under the influence of Melanchthon, who 
became an opponent of the rigid denial of free-Mail and of Luther s 
views on predestination, soon came to soften their master s hard 
sayings. Yet there can be no doubt that the book " De servo 
arbitrio " does contain such teaching quite definitely expressed. 

The decree according to which God from all eternity condemns 
irrevocably to hell a great part of mankind, is, however, accord 
ing to Luther, His " Secret Will " which we cannot investigate. 
With this His " Revealed Will " docs not coincide. This distinc 
tion becomes a pet one of Luther s, by means of which he fancies 
he can escape the embarrassment in which the many passages of 
the Bible concerning God s desire that all men be saved, involve 
him. The " voluntas occulta et metuenda " of the " Deus maies- 
tatis " determines man s fate irrevocably ; upon this we must 
not speculate, for it is beyond human investigation. We must, 
on the contrary, according to Luther, not go beyond the "voluntas 
Dei revelata " which he also speaks of elsewhere as the " voluntas 
prcedicata et oblata," or " voluntas beneplaciti " which, it is true, 

1 " De servo arbitrio," 1, p. 724 seq.^216. 2 Ibid., p. 730 = 284. 
3 Ibid., p. Jl2scq. = 259seq. : cp. p. 627-629 seq. = 147, 150 seq. : 
Kattenbusch, ibid., p. 12. 


strives after the salvation of all men and the removal of sin. 1 
" From this we must conclude that God, as He is preached, is 
not in every instance the same as He Who actually works, and 
that in some cases in His revelation He says what is quite 
untrue." 2 

Thus the author is no longer content to place another meaning 
upon the biblical statements concerning God s will that all men 
be saved, as he did in the "Assertio," 3 though even in the " De 
servo arbitrio " he still " attempts to place a different interpreta 
tion upon the passages of Scripture in .question and to explain 
away by a desperate exegesis God s will for the salvation of the 
whole human race as expressed in the New Testament." Hence 
he takes refuge in the " voluntas revelata," which differs from the 
" occulta." Should the former not agree with the latter and 
revelation declare that God wills, whereas the " voluntas secreta " 
really does not so will, then the passages of the revealed word 
" are a proof that God is raised above our code of morality." 4 
" The voluntas occulta becomes entirely arbitrary." The 
demand, Luther says, that God should act as we think right is 
tantamount to calling Him to account for being God. We must 
believe that He is just and good even when He transgresses the 
codes of Justinian and Aristotle. Is He, forsooth, only to con 
demn that man whom we think deserving of condemnation ? 
Shall we look upon it as an absurdity, that He should condemn 
the man whose lot it is to be declared deserving of damnation ? 

1 Loofs, " Dogmengesch.," 4 p. 758: " God s universal action and 
His sovereign will determines [according to Luther s theory] man s 
destiny." That passages of the Bible, such as 1 Timothy ii. 4, as 
urged in the " Diatribe " of Erasmus, contradict this, Luther will 
not admit. " Illudit sese Diatribe ignorantia sua, dum nihil dis- 
tinguit inter Deum prcedicatum et absconditum, hoc est inter verbum 
Dei et Deum ipsum. Multa . . . Deus . . . vult, quce verbo suo 
non ostendit se velle ; sic non vult mortem peccatoris, verbo scilicet, 
vult autem illam voluntate ilia imperscrutabili." In connection with 
such thoughts Luther does not shrink from saying (p. 731 = 284): 
" Si placet tibi Deus indignos coronans, non debet etiam displicere im- 
meritos damnans" and (p. 633 = 154) : "Sua voluntate nos necessario 
damnabiles facit." The passage here quoted on the " Deus absconditus " 
is to be found in Luther s " De servo arbitrio," p. 685 = 222, and has 
many parallels, for instance, p. 684, 689 = 221, 227. Of such passages 
Kattenbusch says (p. 17, ibid.} : " Luther expressly advances it as a 
theory that God has two contradictory wills, the secret will of which no 
one knows anything, and another which He causes to be proclaimed." 
Luther assumes that God makes use of His " exemption from the 
moral law which binds us " by " not being obliged actually to strive 
after what He proclaims to be His intention [the salvation of all men] 
in other words, that He is free to lie." According to Luther there is 
a great difference " between God not considering Himself bound by 
His word, and man acting in the same way " (ibid.). 

2 Taube, p. 35. 3 See above p. 235 f. 

4 Taube, p. 35. See what has already been said (vol. i., p. 155 ff.) of 
Luther s connection with the Nominalism of Occam. It should also 
be compared with what follows. 


Shall we consider it wrong that He should harden whom He 
chooses to harden, and have mercy on whom He wills to have 
mercy ? x From the standpoint that we must simply accept the 
" seer eta maiestatis " even when apparently most unreasonable, 
he pours out his scorn on the efforts of the olden theologians to 
harmonise free-will with eternal election to grace. 

His last word is that all we say of God is imperfect, inaccurate 
and altogether inadequate. As a matter of fact, however, as a 
Protestant critic already cited says, 2 " By the voluntas occulta 
everything is called in question that Christian theology affirms 
concerning God on the authority of the gospel. Luther not only 
saw, but allowed, these consequences, yet as he was perfectly 
alive to the danger which they constituted, he is careful to warn 
people against going further into the question of the Deus 
maiestatis. Non est interrogandum, cur ita faciat, sed rever- 
endus Deus, qui talia et possit et velit. . . . Luther always held 
fast to the actuality and rights of the Secret Will. That he never 
forsook this standpoint even later, when the voluntas beneplaciti 
alone was of interest to him, has been established by recent 
research. In his practice, however, we find but little trace of 
what was really an essential part of Luther s theology." 

The same theologian is of opinion that the inconsistencies in 
which Luther at last finds himself entangled are the best refuta 
tion of his denial of free-will and the powers of the natural man. 3 

A second consequence of his teaching may also be pointed 
out here. From his theory of the enslaved will Luther was 
forced to deduce that God is responsible for evil. 

" It is indeed an offence to sound common sense and to natural 
reason to hear that God is pleased to abandon men, to harden 
and to damn them, as though He He, the All-Merciful, the All- 
Perfect took delight in sin and torment. Who would not be 
horrified at this ? . . . and yet we cannot get away from this, 
notwithstanding the many attempts that have been made to 
save the holiness of God. . . . Reason must always insist upon 
the compulsion God imposes on man." 4 

According to Luther it is quite wrong to wish to judge of 
God s secret, inscrutable action. 6 Fly, he repeats again and 

1 P. 729 seq. = 2S3. 2 Taube, p. 35 f. 

3 Ibid., p. 33. 

4 P. 719 = 268 : " Hoc offendit quam maxime sensum ilium communcm 
seu rationem naturalem," etc. Cp. p. 707 seq. 252seq.: " Ratio humana 
offenditur. . . . Absurdum enim manet, ratione iudice, ut Deus ille 
Justus et bonus exigat a libero arbitrio impossibilia. . . . Sed fides et 
spiritus aliter iudicant, qui Deum bonum credunt, etiamsi omnes homines 
perderet." P. 720 = 260 : " Cuius (Dei) voluntatis nulla est causa, nee 
ratio, quce illi ceu regula et mensura prcescribatur, quum nihil sit illi 
cequale aut superius, sed ipse est regula omnium." 

5 P. 784 = 363 : " Si enim talis esset eius iustitia, quce humano captu 
posset iudicari esse iusta, plane non esset divina." 


again, from these stumbling-blocks to faith. " Quczrere non 
licet. ! Adore the hidden ruling. " Adorare decet." 2 

It is true that the author, here as elsewhere, shows a certain 
reluctance to credit to God Himself the performance of what is 
evil ; he prefers to speak of God s action as though it merely 
supplied man, whose own inclination is towards what is evil, 
with the power and ability to act. 3 The same theory is to be met 
with in Calvin. 4 But, the critics in Luther s own camp objected : 6 

This does not settle the question, Luther must go further. . . . 
He admits that, after all, God not only has a part in the origin of 
sin, since owing to His omnipotence He is the cause of all things 
( causa principalis omnium ), but even made Adam to sin. 6 
And yet, precisely on account of the difficulty, faith will not 
relinquish it." " Surely a credo, not only quamquam, but, 
quia, absurdum. " 7 

We may, in the third place, cast a glance at the ethical 
consequences of the theory. 

Luther refuses to admit what all people naturally believe, 
viz. that if God gives commandments man must be able 
either to obey, or to disobey, and thus incur guilt. What 
he teaches is, that God has a right and reasons of His own 
to impose commandments even though there should be no 
free-will ; since without Him we are unable to keep the 
commandments He gives them for the wise purpose of 
teaching us how little we are capable of. The law is in 
tended to awaken in us a sense of indigence, a desire for 
redemption, and the consciousness of guilt. When once 
this is present, God s power does the rest ; but the ground- 

1 P. 686 = 223. 2 P. 695 = 236. 3 Cp. p. 709, 711, 747 = 255, 
257, 308. 

* Cp. M. Scheibe, " Calvins Pradestinationslehre, ein Beitrag zur 
Wiirdigung der Eigenart seiner Theologie und Religiositat," Halle, 
1897, p. 12. s Taube, p. 39. 

6 Kattenbusch, p. 11 f. : "Adam s sin, from which springs the 
depravity of the human race, was [according to Luther] called forth by 
God Himself . . . Adam could not avoid acting contrary to the 

7 " De servo arbitrio" p. 633 = 154 : In order that faith may reign, 
everything must be hidden " sub contrario obiectu, sensu, experientia. 
.... Hie est fidei summus gradus, credere ilium esse clementem qui tarn 
paucos salvat, tarn multos damnat, qui sua voluntate nos necessario 
damnabiles facit." Against this Taube remarks (p. 41) : " Theological 
criticism cannot fail to assert that the Christian faith, viz. belief in a 
God of almighty and holy love, becomes impossible, if He arbitrarily 
predestines so many, indeed, the greater part of mankind, to damna 
tion, and is the creator of sin. ... In this case faith in the Christian 
God, and also morality generally, could only remain despite such 
theological theories." 


work of all salvation is that we should become conscious of 
our nothingness, for which reason the belief in the enslaved 
will is to be proclaimed everywhere as the supreme virtue. 

" God," he says, " has promised His grace first and foremost to 
the abandoned and to those who despair. Man cannot, however, 
be completely humbled so long as he is not conscious that his 
salvation is entirely beyond his own powers, plans and efforts, 
beyond both his will and his works, and depends solely upon the 
free choice, will and decree of another ( ex alterius arbitrio, 
consilio, voluntate ) . " l 

Hence, instead of a moral responsibility for not keeping the 
commandments, all there is in man is a certain compunction for 
being unable to keep them. But this is surely very different 
from the consciousness of guilt. " Without free-will there is no 
guilt." " Luther can no longer assert that guilt is incurred by 
the rejection of grace." If a sense of guilt actually exists it can 
not but be a subjective delusion, nor can it fail to be recognised 
aa such as soon as we perceive the true state of the case, viz. that 
it is all due to delusive suggestion. " When Luther instances 
Adam s fall as a proof of guilt, we can only see in this an admission 
of his perplexity. In this matter Luther s theology I mean 
Luther s own theology is altogether at fault." 2 

The greatest stress is laid by the champion of the " en 
slaved will " on the alleged importance of this doctrine for 
the personal assurance of salvation. 

It is this doctrine alone, he says, which can impart to 
timorous man the pacifying certainty that he will find a 
happy eternity at the hands of the Almighty, Who guides 
him ; on the other hand, the assumption of free-will shows 
man a dangerous abyss, ever yawning, into which the abuse 
of his freedom threatens to plunge him. Better to trust to 
God than to our own free-will. 

" Since God," he writes, " has taken my salvation upon 
Himself and wills to save me, not by my own works but by 
His grace and mercy, I am certain and secure ( securus et 
certus ) that no devil and no misfortune can tear me out of 
His hands. . . . This is how all the pious glory in their 
God." 3 

1 P. 632, 633 = 153, 154. Cp. Luther s Commentary on Romans, 
1515-1516, on the humility and despair of self which brings about 
justification (vol. i., p. 217 ff.). 

2 Taube, dealing with certain Protestants, who, after having duly 
watered down some of Luther s theological peculiarities, assert that 
" the feeling of responsibility is satisfactorily explained in his the 
ology." 3 P. 783 


With enthusiasm he describes this consciousness, care 
fully refraining, however, from looking at the other side, 
where perchance predestination to hell, even without free 
will, may lie. 1 When it presses on him against his will he 
at once drowns the thought with the consoling words of 
St. Paul on the greatness of the inscrutable ways of God. 
His justice must indeed be unsearchable, otherwise there 
would be no faith, but in the light of eternal glory we shall 
realise what we cannot now understand. 2 

The not over-enthusiastic critic, whom we have frequently 
had occasion to quote, remarks : " Seeing that faith accord 
ing to Luther is no act of our will, but a mere form given to 
it by God, . . . Luther is right in saying, that the very 
slightest deviation from determinism is fatal to his whole 
position. His fides is fides specialissima. It is the 
assurance of personal salvation. But even though " com 
bined with a courageous certainty of salvation, Luther s 
views, taken as they stand, would still offer no consolation 
to the tempted, so that when Luther has to deal with such 
he is forced to put these views in the background." The 
critic goes on to wonder : " How if the thought, which 
Luther himself is unable to overcome, should trouble a 
man and make him believe that he is of the number of 
those whom the voluntas maiestatis wills to hand over 
to destruction ? " His conclusion is : " The certainty of 
salvation, about which Luther is so anxious, cannot be 
reached by starting from his premises." 3 

At the end of his " De servo arbitrio" summing up all he 
had said, Luther appeals to God s rule and to His un 
changeable predestination of all things, even the most 
insignificant ; likewise to the empire of the devil and his 
power over spirits. His words on this matter cannot be read 
without amazement. 

" If we believe that Satan is the Prince of this world, who 
constantly attacks the Kingdom of Christ with all his might 
and never releases the human beings he has enslaved with 
out being forced to do so by the power of the Spirit of God, 
then it is clear that there can be no free-will." 4 Either God 

1 P. 784 = 363 : " Si movet, quod difficile sit, clementiam et cequitatem 
Dei tueri, ut qui damnet immeritos" etc. 

2 Ibid., and p. 785 = 365. 3 Taube, p. 41 ff. 
4 " De servo arbitrio" p. 786 = 366. 


or Satan rules over men ; to this pet thought he adds : 
" The matter stands simply thus . . . when God is in us, 
the devil is absent and then we can will only what is good ; 
but when God is not there, the devil is, and then we can 
will only what is evil. Neither God nor Satan leaves us with 
an indifferent will." 1 " When the stronger of the two comes 
upon us," 2 he says, " and makes a prey of us, snatching us 
away from our former ruler, we become servants and 
prisoners to such an extent that we desire and do gladly 
what he wills ( ut velimus et faciamus libenter quce ipse 
velit ). Thus the human will stands," Luther continues, 
using a simile which has become famous, " like a saddle- 
horse between the two. If God mounts into the saddle, 
man wills and goes forward as God wills . . . but if the 
devil is the horseman, then man wills and acts as the devil 
wills. He has no power to run to one or the other of the two 
riders and offer himself to him, but the riders fight to obtain 
possession of the animal." 3 

1 "De servo arbitrio," p. 670 = 199. 2 Ibid., p. 635 = 157. 

3 " Sic humana voluntas in medio posita est, ceu iumentum. Si 
insederit Deus, vult et vadit quo vult Deus, ut psalmus (Ixxiii. [Ixxii.], 22) 
dicit : Factus sum sicut iumentum, et ego semper tecum. Si insederit 
Satan, vult et vadit quo vult Satan. Nee est in eius arbitrio ad utrum 
sessorem currere aut eum qucerere, sed ipsi sessores certant ob ipsum 
obtinendum et possidendum" (p. 635 = 157). And yet it has recently 
been asserted by some Protestants, that, according to Luther, grace 
was " psychologically active," whereas by the Schoolmen it was 
regarded as a " dead quality " ; Luther s " delicate psychological 
comprehension of God s educational way " is at the same time ex 
tolled. N. Paulus rightly remarks (" Theol. Revue," 1908, col. 344), 
"that the Schoolmen advocated a vital* co-operation with grace is 
known to everyone who is at all acquainted with Scholasticism." He 
quotes W. Kohler s opinion of Luther s system : Where man is im 
pelled by God " every psychological factor must disappear." " All 
actions become in the last instance something foreign to man " (" Theol. 
Literaturztng.," 1903, col. 526). Paulus also refers to the following 
criticism by Kohler concerning the total depravity of man s nature 
by the Fall, to which Luther ascribes our unfreedom : " Involuntarily 
we feel ourselves urged to ask, in view of this mass of siiifulness, 
how, given the total depravity of man, can redemption be possible 
unless by some gigantic, supernatural, mechanical means ? " (" Ein 
Wort zu Denifles Luther," 1904, p. 39). 

F. Kattenbusch points out in his criticism of Luther s doctrine of 
the enslaved will (" Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen," p. 32 ff.) 
that Luther s aim was certainly to humble and abase himself before 
the greatness of God s grace, but that he went much too far ; he 
wished to feel his salvation as the " result of God s arbitrary act " ; 
this sentiment was, however, not normal, nor " religiously healthy " 
(p. 35 f.)- He also remarks (p. 10) : " If according to this [the com 
parison with the saddle-horse] the process of regeneration is made to 


With frightful boldness he declares this view to be the 
very core and basis of religion. Without this doctrine of the 
enslaved will, the supernatural character of Christianity 
cannot, so he says, be maintained ; the work of redemption 
falls to the ground, because whoever sets up free-will cheats 
Christ of all His merit j 1 whoever advocates free-will brings 
death and Satan into the soul. 2 

In such passages we hear the real Luther, with all his 
presumptuous belief in himself : "To me the defence of this 
truth is a matter of supreme and eternal importance. I am 
convinced that life itself should be set at stake in order to 
preserve it. It must stand though the whole world be 
involved thereby in strife and tumult, nay, even fall into 
ruins and dissolve into nothing." 3 

He ventures again to assert of Erasmus, that it had not 
been given him from above to feel, as he himself does, how 
in this great question " faith, conscience, salvation, the 
Word of God, the glory of Christ and even God Himself are 
involved." 4 Concerning himself, on the other hand, he 
assures the reader that, with no earthly motives, he is waging 
a great war " with a God-given courage and steadfastness 
which his foes call obstinacy ; that he holds fast to his cause 
in spite of so many dangers to his life, so much hatred, so 
many persecutions, in short, exposed as he is to the fury of 
man and of all the devils." 5 

In various passages a lurid light is thrown on his inner 

appear merely as a struggle between God and Satan, in which God 
remains the victor, it is clear that the doctrine which Luther cherishes 
of the ethico-religious life is altogether mechanical and outward." 
Kattenbusch was quite aware of the influence of the mediaeval schools 
on Luther. The after-effects of Nominalism, he says, are not, indeed, 
so very prominent in the Reformer, " yet it seems to me we must 
admit, that alongside the principal religious current in Luther, runs 
a side-stream of religious feeling which can only spring from 
Nominalism and Mysticism. ... In so far as they influence Luther s 
doctrines, the latter may be said to spring from a polluted source. 
And, as regards the doctrine of the servum arbitrium and of Pre 
destination, the Church which takes its name from Luther has as 
suredly done well in improving upon the paths traced out for her by 
the great Reformer" (p. 94 f.). Cp. Albert Ritschl s criticism of 
Luther s denial of free-will, " Rechtfertigung und Versohnung," 3 4 , 
pp. 280, 296 ff. 

1 P. 779 = 350 : " Dum liberum arbitrium statuis, Christum evacuas." 

2 Ibid. : " De libero arbitrio nihil dicere poteris, nisi quce contraria 
sunt Christo, scilicet quod error, mors, Satan et omnia mala in ipso reg- 
nent." 3 Ibid., p. 625 = 143. 

* Ibid. 5 Ibid., p. 625 = 144. 


state. In language which recalls the pseudo-mysticism of his 
Commentary on Romans ten years earlier, he says, that the 
predestination to hell which he advocated was certainly 
terrifying, that he himself had frequently taken great 
offence at it and had been brought to the abyss of despair, 
so that he wished he had never been born ; but then " he 
saw how wholesome was this despair and how near to 
grace." 1 " For whoever is convinced that all things depend 
on God s Will, in his despair of self avoids making any 
choice and simply waits for God to act ; such a one is near 
to grace and to finding salvation." He himself " attributes 
nothing to himself, hopes for nothing and desires nothing " 
for his salvation ; in thus waiting on the action of God s 
grace he is very nigh to salvation, though he is as it were 
dead, stifled by the consciousness of guilt, and spiritually 
buried in hell ; " whoever has read our works will be 
familiar with all this." 2 

The echo of the pseudo-mystical ideas in which he had 
formerly steeped himself is plainly discernible in these 
words which go to form one of the most remarkable of the 
pictures he has left us of his state. 

Even the " self-righteous," whom he had at one time 
so bitterly assailed, again rise from their graves. The ad 
mission of free-will, he tells them, destroys all inward peace. 
After every work performed, the question still rankles : 
"Is it pleasing to God, or does God require something 
more ? This is attested by the experience of all self- 
righteous (iustitiarii), and I myself, to my cost, was 
familiar with it for many long years." 3 

On the same page he gives us a glimpse of the psycho 
logical source whence his whole theory of the enslaved will 
springs. The doctrine was born of personal motives and 
fashioned to suit his own state of soul. None the less, he 
insists that it must also become the common property of all 
the faithful which none can do without, nay, the very 
basis of the new Christianity. " Without this doctrine I 

1 " De servo arbitrio," p. 719 = 268: "Ego ipse non semel offen- 
sus sum usque ad profundum et dbyssum desperationis, ut optarem, 
nunquam esse me creatum hominem, antequam scirem, quam salutaris 
ilia esset desperatio et quam gratice propinqua." 

2 Ibid., p. 633 = 154. To the reader of the present work it will 
also be familiar. Compare the passages previously quoted, vol. i., 
218 f., 235, 238 ff., 259, 317 f., 379, 381. 3 Ibid., p. 783 = 362 seq. 


should believe it necessary to plague myself with un 
certainty and to beat the air with hopeless efforts, even 
were there no perils for the soul, no tribulations and no 
devils. Though I should live and work for all eternity, my 
conscience would never attain to a real peace and be able 
to say to itself, you have done enough for God." He goes 
so far as to say : " For myself I admit, that, were free-will 
offered me, I should not care to have it ; I should not wish 
to see anything placed within my power by means of which 
I might work for my salvation, because I should never be 
able to withstand and endure the trials and dangers of life 
and the assaults of so many devils." 1 

The last words of the book even exceed the rest in confi 
dence, and the audacity of his demand that his work should 
be accepted without question almost takes away one s breath : 
" In this book I have not merely theorised ; I have set up 
definite propositions, and these I shall defend ; no one will 
I permit to pass judgment on them, and I advise all to 
submit to them. May the Lord Whose cause is here vindi 
cated," he says, addressing himself to Erasmus, " give you 
light to make of you a vessel to His honour and glory. 
Amen." 2 

The great importance of the work " De servo arbitrio " 
for a knowledge of the religious psychology of its author 
may warrant a description of some of its other psychological 
aspects, and first of the connection discernible between the 
denial of free-will and Luther s so-called inward experiences, 
which were supposed to be behind his whole enterprise. 

1 " De servo arbitrio" p. 783 = 262 f : " Ego sane me confitcor, si qua 
fieri posset, nollcm mihi dari liberum arbitrium, aut quippiam in manu 
mea relinqui, quo ad salutem conari possem," etc. 

2 Ibid., p. 787 308 : " Eyo vcro hoc libro non contuli, sed asserui 
et assero, ac penes nullum volo csse indicium, scd omnibus suadeo, ut 
prcestent obsequium." The extraordinary self-confidence of these 
words is more easily explained if we consider them as aimed against 
the literary device of Erasmus. After the manner of the Humanists, 
at the beginning of his " Diatribe," ho had declared that he intended 
merely to enter upon an examination, a collatio (cp. dia.Tpi(3r)), 
and that he hated logical demonstrations, an exaggeration for which 
Luther soundly rated him in the very first pages, urging that he must 
be either a " frivolous orator " or a " godless writer," if he could 
not take so important a question seriously (p. 120). The termination 
of Erasmus s work, where he says : " Contuli, penes alios stet ultimum 
iudicium " (ed. J. v. AValter, p. 92), is played upon word for word 
in the conclusion of the " De servo arbitrio." 


He always believed he was following the irresistible pull 
of grace, and that he was merely treading the path ap^ 
pointed to him from above. In this work he breaks out into 
a loud hymn in praise of the irresistibility of the Divine 
action. " All that I have done," he exclaims, " was not the 
result of my own will ; this God knows, and the world, too, 
should have known it long ago. Hence, what I am and by 
what spirit and council I was drawn into the controversy is 
God s business." 1 In this explanation, so typical of his 
character and way of thinking, is summed up his reply to 
that argument of Erasmus against his doctrine, particularly 
of free-will, where the latter had confronted him with the 
teaching of the whole of the Church s past. 

For more than ten years, Luther adds, he had to listen to the 
reproach of his conscience : How dare you venture to overthrow 
the ancient teaching of all men and of the Church, which has been 
confirmed by saints, martyrs and miracles ? " I do not think 
anyone has ever had to fight with this objection as I had. Even 
to me it seemed incredible that this impregnable stronghold 
which had so long withstood the storms, should fall. I adjure 
God, and swear by my very soul, that, had I not been driven, had 
I not been forced by my own insight and the evidence of things, 
my resistance would not have ceased even to this day." But, 
under the higher impulse, ho had suffered authorities ancient 
and modern to pass like a flood over his head that God s grace 
might alone be exalted. " Since this is my only object, the 
spirit of the olden saints and martyrs and their wonder-working 
power witness in my favour." The utter rigidity of his doctrine 
and line of thought, and the connection between his present 
attack on freedom and his own ostensible unfreedom in God s 
hands could hardly be placed in a clearer light than here in 
Luther s reply to the argument of Erasmus. 

In another passage he describes, perhaps unconsciously, his 
experiences with his own will, so inclined to contradiction and 
anger ; he says : That the will is not free is evident from the 
fact that, " it becomes the more provoked the greater the 
opposition it encounters. . . . 2 Whoever pursues an object 
passionately is not open to correction, as experience shows. If 
he gives way, this is not willingly, but under pressure, and 
because it serves his purpose. It is only the man who has^no 
interest whatever who allows things to take their own course." 3 

1 il De servo arbitrio," p. 641 

2 " Quod probat eius indignatio. Hoc non fteret, si esset libera vel 
haberet liberum arbitrium" The effect of egotism in man depraved by 
original sin is here classed by him with the enslavement of the will ; 
he was ever given to exaggerating the strength of concupiscence. 
Cp. vol. i., pp. 70 f., 110 ff. 3 P. 634=156. 


From time to time the several pet ideas which had played a 
part in his previous development are harnessed to his argument 
and made to prove the servitude of the will. 

We are conscious, he says, that, pressed down to the earth by 
concupiscence, we do not act as we should ; hence man is not 
free to do what is good. The " sting " of this inability remains, as 
experience teaches, in spite of all theological distinctions. Natural 
reason, which groans so loudly under it and seeks to resist God s 
action, would prove it even were it not taught in Holy Scripture. 
But Paul, throughout the whole of his Epistle to the Romans, 
while vindicating grace, teaches that we are incapable of any 
thing, even when we fancy we are doing what is good. 1 

And further, the desire of gaining merit for heaven the 
supposed error which he opposed quite early in his career owing 
to his distaste for works generally can only be finally vanquished 
when the idol of free-will is overthrown. Then, too, he says, the 
fear of undeserved damnation by God also vanishes ; for if there 
be no merit for heaven, then neither can there be any for hell ; 
accordingly we may say without hesitation what must otherwise 
be repellent to every mind, viz. that God condemns to hell 
although man has not deserved it (" immeritos damnat "); 2 this 
is the highest degree of faith, to hold fast to the belief that 
" God is righteous when of His own will He makes us of necessity 
to be worthy of damnation ( necessario damnabiles facit ), so 
that He would seem, as Erasmus says, to take delight in the 
torments of the damned and be more worthy of hatred than 
of love." 3 

Here another element of his earlier development and mental 
trend comes into view, viz. a disregard for the rights of reason, 
based ostensibly on the rights of faith. 

The denial of free-will seems to him in this regard quite 
attractive such at least is the impression conveyed. For, when 
we deny the freedom of the will, so much becomes contradictory 
and mysterious to our reason. But so much the better ! " Reason 
speaks nothing but madness and foolishness, especially con 
cerning holy things." 4 " Faith," so he declares at great length, 
" has to do with things that do not appear (Heb. xi. 1) ; in order 
that true faith may enter in, everything that is to be believed 
must be wrapped in darkness. But things cannot be more com 
pletely concealed than when what is seemingly contradictory is 
presented to the mind, to the senses and to experience." 5 In the 
present case, according to Luther, the apparent injustice of God 
in the " seemingly unjust " punishment of sinners, who are not 
free agents, is a grand motive for faith in His Justice. 6 Luther 

1 " De servo arbitrio" p. 720 = 269. 

2 Ibid., p. 730 = 283. Here he is seeking to prove, " (Deum non) 
talcm esse oportere, qui merita respiciat in damnandis. " 

3 Ibid., p. 633 = 154. 4 Ibid., p. 673 = 204. 5 Ibid., p. 633=154. 
6 " Hie est fidei summits gradus, credere ilium esse clemenlem, qui tarn 

paucos salvat, tarn multos damnat. . . . iSi possem ulla ratione compre- 
hendere, quomodo -is sit Deus misericors et iustus, qui tantam iram et 


here displays his love of paradox. Even more than in his other 
writings plentiful opportunity for paradox presents itself in the 
" De servo arbitrio," and of it he makes full use. " God makes 
alive by putting to death," he writes in the passage under con 
sideration, " He renders guilty and thereby justifies ; He drags 
down the soul to hell and thereby raises it to heaven." 

Among the forcible expressions by which, here as elsewhere, he 
attempts to convince both himself and others, that he is in the 
right, are the following : " Liberty of choice is a downright lie 
( merum mendacium )." 1 "Whoever assigns free-will to man, 
thereby makes him Divine, and thus commits the worst form of 
sacrilege." 2 " To get rid altogether of the term free-will would 
be the best and most pious work ( tutissimum et religiosissi- 
mum )." 3 Whoever follows the road of Erasmus "is rearing 
within himself a Lucian or a hog of the breed of Epicurus." 4 
" Erasmus concedes even more to free-will than all the sophists 
hitherto." 5 " He denies Christ more boldly than the Pelagians," 6 
and those who hold with him are " double-dyed Pelagians, who 
merely make a pretence of being their opponents." 7 But he 
himself, Luther, had never fallen so low as to defend free-will : 
" I have always, up to this very hour, advocated in my writings 
the theory that free-will is a mere name." 8 

In this last assertion ho repudiates his Catholic days and 
refuses even to take into account the works dating from that 
time ; in his Commentary on the Psalms he had expressly 
admitted free-will for doing what is good and for the choice in 
the matter of personal salvation ; it is true, however, that he 
never published this work. But in many of the writings com 
posed and published even after his apostasy he had clearly 
assumed free-will in man and made it the basis of his practical 
exhortations, as shown above (p. 239). Now, however, he 
prefers to forget all such admissions. 9 

iniquitatem ostendit, non esset opus fide. Nunc cum id comprehendi non 
potest, fit locus exercendce fidei." 

1 " De servo arbitrio," p. 602 = 119. 2 Ibid., p. 636 = 158. 

3 Ibid., p. 638=160. 4 P. 605=123. 5 Ibid., p. 601 = 117. 

6 P. 664 = 192. The Weimar editor remarks of a similar assertion 
of Luther s on p. 664 : " There is no doubt that Luther in this passage 
draws conclusions from the definition of Erasmus (viz. of free-will) 
which do not directly follow from it." In confirmation of this Katten- 
busch (p. 28) is quoted where he speaks of " Luther s tactics in his 
controversy with Erasmus, the object of which was ... to convict 
Erasmus in one way or another, usually by distorting his words, of 
rendering grace, the Holy Ghost, or Christ, superfluous for the attain 
ment of salvation." Kattenbusch instances in support of this pp. 
191 seq., 193, 208, 213, 224, 231, 238, 287, 303, 324, 330, 354, etc., in 
the Erlangen ed. 

7 P. 770 = 342. "And yet Erasmus, as against the Pelagians, 
always upheld the necessity of the gratia peculiaris." Thus the Weim. 
ed., 18, p. 770, n. 2. Ibid., p. 756 = 320. 

9 Luther says in the passage quoted : " Exstant themata et prob- 
lemata, in quibus perpetuo asserui usque in hanc fioram, liberum arbi- 
trium esse nihil et rem (eo verbo turn utebar) de solo titulo." The last 


On the other hand he pretends to recall that in his Catholic 
days, " Christ had been represented as a terrible judge, Who must 
be placated by the intercession of His mother and the saints ; 
that the many works, ceremonies, Religious Orders and vows 
were invented to propitiate Christ and to obtain His grace." 1 
Out of this is forged a fresh proof, drawn from his own experience, 
of the servitude of the will. For had Christ not been regarded 
exclusively as a judge, but as a " sweet mediator," Who by His 
blood has redeemed all, then recourse would not have been had 
to the empty works of a self-righteous free-will. As it was, how 
ever, he had been made to feel strongly, that this delusion of 
w r orks and free-will could only lead to despair. Yet if, in his 
agony of soul, he really had sought and found peace of con 
science in the theory of the enslaved will, how can we explain his 
many statements, made at almost that very time, concerning 
his enduring inward anguish and doubts ? 2 The Protestant 
theologian, O. Scheel, the last to translate and expound the " De 
servo arbitrio," says of the comfort that Luther professed to have 
derived from the absence of free-will and from the theory of 
predestination, that " in the Reformer s piety a tendency is 
discernible which militates against the supposed whole-hearted 
and settled confidence of his faith in the redemption." 3 

Contradictions formed an integral part of Luther s psy 
chology. Long pages of this work are full of them, though 
Luther seems quite unaware of his inconsistencies, obscurities 
and confusion. Conflicting lines of thought may be traced, 
similar to those which appeared in the Commentary on 
Romans (vol. i., p. 256), while the author was still a young 
man. They indicate a mentality singularly deficient in 
exactitude and clearness. The workshop where his ideas 
were fashioned was assuredly not an orderly one. 

In the first place the main contention is very involved, 
while the statements that the will of the man who docs 
what is evil is moved by God seem conflicting. The " movet, 
agit, rapit " in which the action of God on the will usually 
consists, docs not here assert its sway ; the Divine Omnipo 
tence, which, as a rule, is the cause of all action, interferes 

words refer to the 13th Thesis of his Heidelberg Disputation (see vol. i., 
p. 317). The Weimar editor quotes against the " perpetuo asserui," 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 32, and 4, p. 295, with the remark : "These 
are exceptions of which Erasmus could not be aware." It is not, 
however, a question of Erasmus, but whether Luther was telling the 
truth when he said: "It is false that I e^er admitted free- will" 
(" antea non nihil illi tribuerim "). 

1 P. 778 = 354. 2 Cp. vol. v., xxxii. 4. 

8 Luther s Works ed. by Buchwald, etc., 2. Supplementary volume, 
1905, p. 530. 


here, either not at all, or at least less strongly than usual- 
God must not be made the direct author of sin. This 
illogical twisting of his theory is particularly noticeable 
where great sins of mighty consequence are in question. Is 
God to be -regarded as having caused the Fall of Adam and 
the treason of Judas ? Luther certainly does not answer 
this question in the affirmative so categorically as Mclanch- 
thon in his " Loci theolo^ici." 1 Here he carefully avoids 
speaking of an irresistible impulse of the will given by God ; 
for the time being we seem to lose sight altogether of God s 
imperative and exclusive action. 

In the case of the betrayal of Judas, as Scheel points out, 
Luther does not mention any necessity " which compelled Judas 
to act as he did " ; Luther seems, at least in certain passages, 
to look on that act as necessary, only because, having been 
foreseen by God, it " inevitably occurs at the time appointed." 2 
Yet elsewhere he says : " His will [that of the traitor] was the 
work of God ; God by His Almighty Power moved his will as 
He does all that is in the world." 3 

A similar confusion is apparent in his statements concerning 
Adam s Fall. Adam was not impelled to his sin, but the Spirit 
of God forsook him, and intentionally placed him in a position 
in which he could not do otherwise than fall even though his 
will was as yet free arid though as yet he felt no attraction 
towards evil as the result of original sin. May we then say after 
all that God brought about the Fall and was Himself the cause 
of the depravity of the whole human race through original sin ? 
To this question, which Luther himself raises, the only answer he 
gives is : " He is God ; of His willing there is no cause or reason," 
because no creature is above Him and He Himself " is the rule 
of all things." 4 Because He wills a thing, it is good, "not 

1 Cp. Melanchthon s "Loci theologici" (1521), in the third edition 
by Plitt-Kolde, 1900, p. 87. In this work, in which " the fundamental 
ideas of Luther found a classical expression," the theology is " strongly 
predestinarian. in character, and even answers affirmatively the ques 
tion : utrum Dcus mala facial. " Kawerau, in Moller, " Lehrb. der 
Kirchengesch.," 3 3 , 1907, pp. 41, 43. The " Loci " Luther speaks of in 
" De servo arbitrio " (Weim. ed., 18, p. 601 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, 
p. 117) as an " invictus libellus, meo iudicio non solum immortal itate, 
sed canone quoque ecclesiastico dignus." 

2 Scheel, ibid, (above, p. 264, n. 3), p. 400. 

3 " Fingat, refingat, cavilletur, recavilletur Diatribe, quantum volet. 
Si prcescivit Dcus, ludamfore proditorem, necessarie ludas fiebat proditor* 
nee erat in manu Judce aut ullius creaturce, aliter facere aut voluntatem 
mutare, licet id fecerit volendo non coactus, sed velle illud erat opus Dei, 
quod omnipotentia sua movebat, sicut et omnia alia." " Werke," Weim. 
ed., 18, p. 715 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 263. 

* " Cur pennisit (Dcus) Adam ruere ? . . . Deus cst, cuius volun- 
tatis nulla est causa nee ratio," etc. Ibid., p. 712 = 260. 


because He must or ought so to will." In the case of the creature 
it is otherwise ; " His will must have reason and cause, not so, 
however, the will of the Creator." 1 What seems to follow from 
these Occamistic subtleties is, that Adam s sin was after all 
" brought about by God," 2 and that Adam could not do other 
wise than sin, even though God merely placed him in a position 
where sin was inevitable, but that he was nevertheless punished, 
and with him all his descendants. But is it so certain that in 
Adam s case Luther excludes a real impulse, a real inner com 
pulsion to transgress ? The fact is that certain of his statements on 
this question present some difficulty. " Since God moves and 
does all, we must take it that He moves and acts even in Satan 
and in the godless." 3 It is true, according to Luther, that He 
acts in them " as He finds them, i.e. since they are turned away 
from God and are wicked, and are carried away by the impulse of 
Divine Omnipotence ( rapiuntur motu illo divincc, omnipo- 
tentice ), they do only what is contrary to God and evil. . . . 
He works what is evil in the wicked because the instrument, 
which is unable to withdraw itself from the impelling force of 
His might, is itself evil." 4 If this means that the impulse on 
God s part must in every case have an effect conformable to the 
condition of the instrument moved, then, in Adam s case, its 
effect should surely have been good, inasmuch as Adam, being 
without original sin, was not inclined to evil by any passions. 
If then Adam fell we can only infer that the Almighty allowed 
an entirely different impulse from the ordinary one to take effect, 
one which led directly to the Fall. How, in that case, could God 
be exonerated from being the author of sin ? Luther, unfortu 
nately, was not in the habit of reconciling his conflicting thoughts. 
According to him there is nothing unreasonable in God s punish 
ing the first man so severely for no fault of his. Why ? It is 
mere " malice on the part of the human heart " to boggle at the 
punishment of the innocent ; it takes for granted the reward 
which, without any merit on their part, is the portion of the 
saved, and yet it dares to murmur when the matter is to its 
disadvantage and the reprobate too receive a reward without 
any desert on their part. 5 A reward is a reward, and the same 
standard should be applied freely in both cases. 

It is scarcely comprehensible how, after such wanderings out 
of the right path and the exhibition of such mental confusion, 
Luther could proclaim so loudly the victory of his " servum 
arbitrium." He describes his proof of the " unchanging, eternal 

1 "De servo arbitrio" p. 712 = 260. 

2 Thus Kattenbusch, ibid., p. 22, who points out that, according to 
Luther, " Nothing takes place in the world without God." He con 
cludes (ibid.} that "On the whole nothing is gained" by Luther s 
supposed attempts to relieve God of the responsibility for Adam s Fall. 

ti " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 709 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 255. 

* Ibid. 

" 5 Ibid., p. 730 = 284 : " Quia incommodum sib i est, hoc imquum,^ hoc 
intolerabile est, hie expostulatur, hie munnuratur, hie blasphematur." 


and infallible will by which God foresees, orders and carries out 
all things " as a " thunderbolt " launched against the Erasmic and 
Popish heresy. 

Even the editor of the Weimar edition of the " De servo 
arbitrio " is unable to refrain from remarking in connection with 
one such passage : "It cannot be denied that this mechanical 
conception of a God, Who is constantly at work, reeks strongly of 
pantheism." 1 He also quotes the opinion of Kattenbusch : 
" Luther occasionally expresses his idea [of God s constant 
action] very imperfectly." " God becomes to a certain extent 
the slave of His own Power," and all things " lose their resistance 
when in His presence." " There is no doubt that the whole 
conception is strongly impregnated with pantheism." 2 Katten 
busch says further : " Relying on such an argument, Luther 
could not fail to advocate the view that everything is determined 
by God, even what has no bearing on morality or religion." 
Finally he concludes : " We were therefore right in refusing,, as 
we did, to admit that Luther s proposition : Omnia necessario 
fiunt (p. 134 in the Erl. ed.) applied merely to the domain of 
morals, as Luther himself tries to make us believe." 3 This 
subsequent explanation given by Luther is only a fresh proof 
of his mental confusion. Kattenbusch brings forward other 
evidences of the conflicting currents in Luther s train of thought ; 
for instance, in his conception of God and of destiny ; into these 
we have, however, no time to enter. 4 

The theoretical weakness of Luther s attack on free-will and 
its manifest bias in his own religious psychology caused the 
theologian O. Scheel to exclaim regretfully : " Luther impressed 
a deterministic stamp on the fundamental religious ideas which 
he put before the world." Luther s determinism was vainly 
repudiated as a " reformed heresy " by the later Protestants. 
It is true that Luther based his predestinarian sayings on his 
" personal experience of salvation, which he felt to have been 
a free gift," but then his " religious state was not normal," as 
Kattenbusch already had " rightly pointed out." Luther s 
doctrine of the distinction between the " Deus absconditus " 
and the " Deus revelatus " Scheel ascribes to a false conception 
of God, 6 though he is inclined to look with favour on Luther s 
fatalism, finding therein " nothing irreligious," but merely 
Luther s lively " trust in God " ; he even speaks of the "religious 
power and truth inherent in this idea." 6 

Under another aspect the work exhibits, better than any 
other, the undeniable qualities of its writer, the elasticity 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 711, n. 1. 

2 Kattenbusch, ibid., p. 15 f. 

* Ibid., p. 20. Cp. on the proposition " omnia necessario fiunt" 
above, p. 265, n. 3. 4 P. 20 ff. 

5 Scheel, ibid, (see above, p. 264, n. 3), pp. 211, 529 f ., 532, 545. Kat 
tenbusch, ibid. 6 Scheel, ibid., p. 540. 


of his mind, his humour and imagination, and his startling 
readiness to turn every circumstance to advantage ; at the 
same time, undoubtedly because it was a case of breaking a 
lance with Erasmus, the style is more polished than usual 
and the language less abusive. The editor of the Weimar 
edition speaks of the book as the " most brilliant of Luther s 
Latin polemics, nay, perhaps the most brilliant of all his con 
troversial works." 1 

Luther would not have committed this great work to 
writing had not his mind been full of the subject. How far 
calm deliberation had any place in the matter it is as hard 
to determine here, as it is in so many of his other productions, 
where feeling seems to hold the reins. It is likewise difficult 
to understand how Luther, in practice, managed to com 
promise with the ideas he expounds, more especially as he 
was the leader of a movement on the banner of which was 
inscribed, not the gloomy domination of fatalism, but the 
amelioration of religious conditions by means of moral 
effort in all directions. The contradiction between lack of 
freedom on the one hand, and practice and the general 
belief in free-will on the other, was a rock which he circum 
navigated daily, thanks to his self-persuasion that the 
strands drawn by the Divine Omnipotence around the will 
were of such a nature as not to be perceptible and could 
therefore be ignored. We believe ourselves to be free, and 
do not feel any constraint because we surrender ourselves 
willingly to be guided to the right or to the left ; this, how 
ever, is merely due to the exceptional fineness of the threads 
which set the machine in motion. 

For an ennobling of human nature and of the Christian 
state such a system was certainly not adapted. A tragic 
fate ordained that the apostasy, of which the cause was 
ostensibly the deepening of religious life and feeling, should 
bear this bitter fruit. Freedom had been proclaimed for 
the examination of religious truth, and now, the " sub 
mission of every man " is categorically demanded to 
doctrines opposed to free-will and to the dignity of the 
Christian. Nevertheless, both then and later, even to the 
present clay, this curious, assertive book, like the somewhat 
diffident one of Erasmus, to which it was a reply both of 
them so characteristic of the mind of their authors have 
1 P. 211 f. 


drawn many to examine the spirit of that age and of its two 
spokesmen. 1 

In the work " De servo arbitrio," Luther speaks of 
Laurentius Valla as one who had cherished similar views. 2 
In his "Table-Talk" he praises his opinions on free-will and 
the simplicity which he cultivated both in piety and learning. 
" Laurentius Valla," he says, " is the best Wai [Italian] 
I have ever come across in my life." 3 Opinions differ widely 
as to Valla s views, which are expressed with enigmatical 
obscurity in his Dialogue " De liber o arbitrio. At a later 
date Erasmus took his part against Luther, rightly pointing 
out that Valla was seeking to explain popularly how it is 
that the Divine foreknowledge does not necessarily make all 
things happen without freedom and of necessity. 4 Valla 
was a Humanist and critic, but neither a theologian nor a 
philosopher. In the question at issue he left the decision to 
faith, but laid great stress on the objections raised by 
reason. According to a modern historian he did not deny 
free-will, but merely left the problem, " which he neither 
could nor would solve," to the Omnipotence of God. 5 

Luther s Later Dicta on the Enslaved Will and on 


Luther always remained faithful to the position taken up 
in his great work " De servo arbitrio, as to both the absence 
of freedom and predestination. 

1 Of the more modern works we shall mention only the Catholic 
one by H. Humbertclaude, " Erasme et Luther," 1910, and the 
Protestant one by K. Zickendraht, " Der Streit zwischen Erasmus 
und Luther iiber die Willensfreiheit," 1909. The latter, though on the 
whole supporting Luther, cannot help perceiving " the contradictions 
of the whole work De servo arbitrio " (p. 130), which led Ritschl, 
whom Kattenbusch follows, to call it an " unhappy piece of patch 
work." Although he characterises Luther s ideas as " wholly the 
outcome of the Pauline spirit " (p. 134), yet he speaks of " Luther s 
pantheistic determinism " (p. 197), and avers the " incompatibility " 
of the monistic pantheism which he finds here with the ethical dualism 
of his general train of thought (p. 168) ; the presence of " two con 
tradictory theories " is, according to him, an undoubted " fact " 
(P- 141). 

" Werke," Weirn. ed., 18, p. 640 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, p. 162 : 
" Ex meet parte unus Vuicleff, et alter Laurentius Valla, quanquam et 
Aucfustinus quern prceteris, meus totuft est." Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 
61, pp. 101, 103, 107. 

3 " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 2, p. 60. 

4 Cp. " Luthers Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 619, n. 

5 Zickendraht, ibid., p. 180 f. 


In the Disputations of which we have records, he fre 
quently reverts to his denial of free-will. 

In a Disputation of December 18, 1537, for the sake of debate 
the objection is advanced, that there is no purpose in making 
good resolutions owing to the will not being free : " Man," says 
the opposer, " has no free-will, hence he can make no good 
resolutions, and sins of necessity whether he wishes to or not." 
The professor s reply runs : " Nego consequentiam. Man, it is 
true, cannot of himself alter his inclination to sin ; he has this 
inclination and sins willingly, neither under compulsion nor un 
willingly. Man s will, not God, is the author of sin." 1 On 
another occasion, on January 29, 153G, the objector refers to the 
opinions of great Churchmen of olden times, that some freedom 
of the will exists. The reply is : " What such men say is not 
to be accepted as gospel-truth ; they often gave proof of weakness 
and stood in need of additional purification by the { remissio 
peccatorum. You youngsters must not get into the habit of 
deriding them, yet we esteem Holy Scripture more highly." 2 
In the same year we read the following in the theses of the 
School : " It is godless philosophy, and censured by theology, 
to assert that liberum arbitrium exists in man for the forming 
of a just judgment and a good intention, or that it is man s 
business to choose between good and evil, life and death, etc. 
He who speaks thus does not know what man really is, and does 
not understand in the least what he is talking about." 3 

Melanchthon, however, found urgent reasons in the growing 
immorality of the young men at the University and the sight of 
the evil results in the religious life of the people produced by the 
new doctrine of the will and good works to revise what he had 
said on free-will in his " Loci Theologici," In the course of time 
he took up an altogether different standpoint, coming at last to 
acknowledge free-will and a certain co-operation with grace 
(" Synergismus "). 4 Luther, nevertheless, was loath to break 

1 ; Disputationen M. Luthers, 1535-1545," edited for the first time 
by Paul Drews, Gottingen, 1895, p. 279 f. 2 Ibid., p. 75. 

3 Ibid., p. 92, n. 29 ft . Drews points out (p. 90) that in the 1538 
edition the whole of the theses De homine "are, strange to say, omitted." 
Cp. also "Disputationen," p. 11, n. 29 : " lustificati autem sic gratis 
turn facinms opera, imo Christus ipse in nobis facit omnia." Also pp. 
92, 94, 95, 266, 318, 481. On p. 160 we meet with the drastic ex 
pression : The depravation of human, nature by original sin is so 
great, " ut suspirare ad Deum non possimus, nedum nos explicare aut 
bonum facer e." Hence there is an end to our "liberum arbitrium; sed 
restituetur nobis in resurrections mortuorum, ubi rursum collocabimur in 

4 Cp. Melanchthon s letter to the Elector August of Saxony, which 
will be given in detail later, where he characterises as " stoica " and 
" manichcea deliria," on the part of Luther, the view that " all works, 
good and bad, in all men, whether good or bad, happened by necessity." 
Sucli mad fancies he had rejected " during Luther s lifetime and 
afterwards," " Corp. Ref.," 9, p. 766. Likewise, in his " Responsiones 


with him on account of this divergence in doctrine ; out of 
esteem for so indispensable a fellow-worker, he even recom 
mended to his hearers the new edition of the " Loci " without 
a word about the corrections in question. 

But Luther himself never surrendered his favourite idea in 
spite of his anxiety and horror at the effect his preaching pro 
duced on the people, who seized upon his theory of human help 
lessness and the sole action of grace as a pretext for moral 
indolence. In 1531 he was again to be heard stating this time 
in a public sermon, a very unusual thing that man lacks free 
will. Here he connects this doctrine with the impossibility of 
" keeping the Commandments without the grace of the Spirit." 
In Popery they indeed preached, as he himself had also done 
at one time, " quod homo habeat liberum arbitrium," to keep the 
Commandments by means of his natural powers ; but this was 
an error which had grown up even in the time of the Apostles. 1 
As a matter of fact, however, the Church did not teach that 
fallen man could, at all times, keep all the Commandments 
without grace. 

When, in August, 1540, someone said to him : " People are 
merely getting worse through this preaching on grace," he 
replied : " Still, grace must be preached because Christ has 
commanded it ; and though it has been preached for a long 
time, yet at the hour of death the people know nothing about it ; 
it is to the honour of God that grace should be preached ; and, 
though we make the people worse, still God s Word cannot be 
set aside. But we also teach the Ten Commandments faith 
fully, these must be insisted on frequently and in the right 
place." 2 The Antinomians had just then attacked the preaching 
of the Decalogue on the pretext of Luther s own doctrine regard 
ing man s incapacity. 

In his " Table-Talk " Luther elsewhere declares it to be his " final 
opinion " that " whoever defends man s free-will and says that 
it is capable of acting and co-operating in the very least degree 
in spiritual matters, has denied Christ." 3 Absolute determinism, 
or the entire absence of free-will everywhere, is here no longer 
expressed. " I admit," he says, " that you have free-will for 

ad articulos bavaricce inquisitionis" Melanchthon calls such doctrines 
" stoici et manichcei furores," and adds : " Oro iuniores, ut fugiant has 
monstruosas opiniones, quce sunt contumeliosce contra Deum et perni- 
ciosce moribus. Nam si omnia necessaria sunt, nihil opus est delibera- 
tione et diligentia. . . . Saepe homines applaudunt monstruosis 
opinionibus tantum quia monstruosce sunt et mirantur non intellectas. 
. . . Firmissima veritas est, Deum nee velle peccata nee impellere voluntates 
ad peccandum." Melanchthon wrote this after Luther had already 
passed away ; he was terrified by the moral results of these " monstrous " 
doctrines. " Opp.," Witebergse, 1562, 1, p. 3G9. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 34, 1, p. 1G3, in the first and second set 
of notes on the sermon. 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 177 f., said between August 7 and 24, 
from notes taken by Mathesius himself. 

8 " Tischreden, " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 222. 


milking the cows, for building a house, etc., but not for anything 
further." 1 Of spiritual things, however, he says : "Man s free 
will does not work or do anything towards his conversion 
but merely suffers and is the material upon which the Holy 
Ghost works, as the potter fashions the pot out of the clay, 
doing this even in those who resist and are unruly like Paul! 
But after the Holy Ghost has worked on such a rebellious will] 
He renders it pliable so that it wills as He does." 2 The example 
of those " whose bodies are possessed by the devil, who rends them 
and drags them about, rides and drives them," he continues, 
shows how little "man s will can do" for his conversion. 3 
Johann Aurifaber (1566), the old editor of the " Table-Talk," says 
of Luther s statement, referred to above, concerning his " final 
opinion " : " There you see, dear Christian brother, that it is a 
lie what some say and give out, more particularly the Synergists, 
viz. : that the dear Man of God modified in any way his opinion 
on free-will, which they term hard because it is directly opposed 
to their heresy. And yet they boast of being Luther s disciples ! "< 

In his own mind Luther practically denied his doctrine 
as often as he struggled with remorse, or sought to overcome 
his terrors of conscience. Few men have had to exert their 
will with such energy (as we shall have occasion to point 
out later, vol. v., xxxii.) to hold their own against inward 
unrest. He, the advocate of the servitude of the will, in his 
struggles with himself and his better feelings, made his soul the 
battlefield of free-will, i.e. of a will vindicating its freedom. 

From his artificial position of security he ventures to 
stand up vigorously against others, great men even, who 
" abused " his doctrine. Count Albert of Mansfeld was one 
of those who, according to Luther s account, said of pre 
destination and the helplessness of the will : " The Gospel ? 
What is predestined must come to pass. Let us then do as 
we please. If we are to be saved, we shall be saved," etc. 
Luther, therefore, takes him to account in a letter addressed 
to him on December 8, 1542. He tells him that he intends 
to speak freely, being himself " a native of the county of 
Mansfeld." " He, too, had been tormented with such 
thoughts or temptations " and had thus been in danger of 
hell. " For in the case of silly souls such devilish thoughts 
breed despair and cause them to distrust God s grace ; in 
the case of brave people, they make them contemners and 
enemies of God, who say : let me alone, I shall do as I 

1 " Tischreden," " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 222. 

1 Ibid., p. 224. 3 Ibid., 225. * Ibid., p. 222. 


please, for in any case all I do is to no purpose." He does 
not forbear to scold the Count for his behaviour, for " with 
drawing himself from the Word and the Sacrament," for 
" growing cold and set upon Mammon." In the end he is, 
however, only able to give him the following questionable 
(consolation concerning his doctrine. "It is perfectly true 
that what God has determined must certainly take place," 
but there is " a great distinction to be observed " between 
the revealed and the secret will of God. He should not 
" trouble himself much " about the latter ; for those who do 
soon " come to care nothing for the Word of God or the 
Sacrament, give themselves up to a wild life, to Mammon, 
tyranny and everything evil ; for, owing to such thoughts, 
they can have no faith, hope or charity for either God or 
man." Instead of this he desires, as he had explained in 
his book against Erasmus, that we should simply cling to 
the God Who has revealed Himself ; " what He has 
promised we must believe, and what He has commanded we 
must do." A servant, for instance, does not presume to 
seek out " the secret thoughts " of his master before obeying 
him. "Has not God the same right to secret knowledge of 
His own beyond what He chooses to tell us ? " Some say : 
If it is to be, then all will happen in any case according to 
God s will ; " of what use, then, is baptism, Holy Scripture 
and every other creature to us ? If God wills it, He can 
surely do it without all that." 1 

At that time the report of such frivolous talk among the 
great ones led him to broach the subject in the lectures on 
Genesis which he happened to be delivering. 2 Here, if we 
may trust the reporter, he reverts to the doctrine he had 
defended in his " De servo arbitrio," viz. that all things 
happen of entire necessity (" esse omnia absoluta et neces- 
saria "). 3 He retracts nothing, but merely says, that he had 

1 " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 512 ff. 

2 " Opp. Lat. exeg.," G, p. 290-300. Cp. on this passage, from a 
lecture published from notes, Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," 2 2 , p. 6 f., 
where he very aptly draws attention to the points which Luther here 
(as elsewhere) evades: (1) "Whether faith is rendered inwardly 
possible to every man by the will and action of God ? " (2) " Why 
does God fail to instil faith into^so many ? " (3) " How is final per 
severance assured in the elect ? 

3 " The enigmas of predestination were in his case in the last in 
stance inextricably bound up with deterministic ideas a fact not 
unimportant for the fate of his predestinarian ideas, for instance, in 
the hands of Melanchthon." F. Loofs, " Dogmengesch.," p. 763. Ibid., 


emphasised the necessity of paying attention only to the 
revealed God ; in this artifice he finds a means of preventing 
any frivolous abuse of the theory of predestination, any 
despair or recourse to the complaint " I cannot believe." 

In another letter he gives encouragement, no less doubtful 
in character, to an unknown person, who, in the anxiety 
caused by his apprehension of being predestined to hell, 
had applied to him. Luther boldly re-affirms the existence 
of such absolute predestination : " God rejected a number 
of men and elected and predestined others to everlasting 
life before the foundation of the world, such is the truth." 
" He whom He has rejected cannot be saved, even though 
he should perform all the works of the Saints ; such is the 
irrevocable nature of the Divine sentence. But do you gaze 
only upon the Majesty of the Lord Who elects, that you 
may attain to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." 
In Christ, he proceeds, we have that revealed Majesty of 
God, Who wills to save all who believe in Christ ; " whom He 
has predestined to salvation, He has also called by the 
gospel, that he may believe and be justified by faith." 1 
Yet, strangely enough, this letter also contains a sentence 
which denies absolute predestination to hell, the only such 
denial known to have been made by Luther. 2 The text of 
the letter has, however, not yet been verified critically. 
The words in question appear to be a quotation from 
Augustine added by another hand in extenuation of 
Luther s doctrine. 

p. 757. " He was convinced that lie was merely advocating Paul s 
doctrine of grace. Yet what he expounds is a deterministic doctrine of 
predestination which shrinks from no consequences, not even from 
attributing the Fall directly to God." Loofs points out, that, accord 
ing to Luther, Adam fell because " the Spirit [of God] did not render 
him ^obedient," and quotes the " De servo arbitrio" " Opp. Lat. 
var.," 7, p. 207 : " Non potuit velle bonum . . . id est obedientiam, quia 
spiritus illam non addebat" The same author shows (p. 766 f.) how 
the above ideas remain with Luther even at a later date, and cause 
him to represent the faith which, in man, is coincident with justifica 
tion, as " effected by God simply in accordance with His Eternal 
Providence." " We can, however, understand how Luther, in his 
sermons to the people, prefers to state the case as though faith were 
the condition demanded of man for the forgiveness of his sins and the 
receiving of the Spirit " ; the fact is he " frequently leaves his pre- 
destinarian ideas on one side." 

1 " Brief e," ed De Wette, 6, p. 427, no date. 

2 Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," 2 2 , p. 80 f., where he states : 
" This contradicts all that we otherwise know of him." 


Although Luther did not put forth his rigid doctrine of 
predestination to hell either in his popular or strictly theo 
logical writings, yet, to the end of his life, he never sur 
rendered it ; that he " never retracted it " is emphasised 
even in Kostlin and Kawcrau s Life of Luther. 1 

Of his book against Erasmus Luther spoke long after as 
the only one, save the Catechism, which he would be sorry 
to see perish. 2 In reply to the question put by Caspar 
Aquila, a preacher, why so many who heard the Word 
did not believe, he refused to ascribe this to free-will, and 
as regards the temptations to despair, which the same 
enquirer complained were the result of his thoughts on 
predestination, Luther insisted, that God had not chosen to 
reveal His secret will (" maiestas lucis illius occultata et 
non significata est "), hence the need to turn away resolutely 
from such thoughts and to defy this " greatest of all tempta 
tions, truly a devilish one." He refuses to withdraw even 
the proposition, that all things happen of necessity. 3 In his 
later years he is fond of speaking of the power of sin over 
man s interior, and though he does not allude so decidedly 
or so frequently to man s " absolute and entire dependence 
upon God s Omnipotence," yet he has by no means relin 
quished the idea. Thus the " difference between his earlier 
and later years " is one only of degree, i.e. he merely suc 
ceeded in keeping his theory more in the background. 4 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 6G4. 

2 To Capito at Strasburg, July 9, 1537, " Brief wechsel," 11, p. 47 : 
" Magis cuperem eos (libros meos) omnes devoratos. Nullum enim 
agnosco meum iustum librum, nisi forte De servo arbitrio et Catechismum" 
In the " Tischreden," ed. Forstemann, 3, p. 418, Luther says, that 
Erasmus had " not refuted " his work " De servo arbitrio, " and 
would " never be able to do so for all eternity." 

3 To Aquila, October 21, 1528 (?), " Briefwechsel," 7, p. 6. In the 
Schmalkalden Articles, 1537 (3, 1), Luther asserts that it is utterly 
erroneous to say " hominem habere liberum arbitrium faciendi bonum 
et omittendi malum, et contra omittendi bonum et faciendi malum" 
After enumerating other errors on sin he concludes : " Talia et similia 
portenta orta sunt ex inscitia et ignorantia peccati et Christi Servatoris 
nostri, suntque vere et mere ethnica dogmata, quce tolerare non possumus. 
Si enim ista approbantur, frustra Christus mortuus est," etc. " Die 
symbolischen Bvicher der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche," ed. 
Miiller-Kolde 10 , p. 311. 

* Kostlin, " Luthers Theologle," 2 2 , pp. 124 and 82. In the last 
passage Kostlin attempts to base " Luther s reticence " on a certain 
" conviction " which he does not describe more particularly and which 
it is difficult to recognise ; he attributes to Luther " a purer, more 
resigned readiness to listen to the other side." Yet he had remarked 


The controversy with Erasmus did not cease with the 
appearance of Luther s book, on the contrary. Apart from 
the question itself, the injustice done to the eminent 
scholar, and still more to the Church, by the arrant per 
version of his opponent s words to which Luther descended 

previously : " From all that we know with certainty of Luther, it is 
plain that he stuck to his earlier views as to the hidden God and 
Divine predestination. Nor does Luther make any attempt to solve 
the difficulty, which must appear to us a contradiction ; he simply 
discourages reflection on the subject." M. Staube (" Das Verhaltnis der 
menschhchen Willensfreiheit zur Gotteslehre bei Luther und Zwingli," 
Zurich, 1894) writes with less indulgence than Kostlin on Luther s 
doctrine. This theologian, an admirer of Zwingli, says bluntly : Luther s 
doctrine of predestination and the lack of free-will " leads to the 
destruction of all evangelical belief, not only of the personal assurance 
of salvation but also of Holy Scripture, which itself knows nothing of 
an arbitrary and faithless God in the matter of man s salvation " 
(p. 30). " What then is left of Luther s Deity ? " " A Divine Person 
Who dispenses His grace and mercy according to His mood " (p. 37). 
God appears and acts as a blind, naked force, fortuna, fatum," 
because what He does is " beyond good and evil " (p. 38). " Why 
invent the fable of God s justice and holiness ? . . . We do nothing, 
God works all in all. . . . This religion, which is the logical outcome 
of Luther s work De servo arbitrio, is surely not Christianity but 
Materialism " ; only the name is wanting for morality and law to 
become " foolish fancies " (p. 39). Diametrically opposed to this are 
the explanations of certain of Luther s modem theological admirers, 
who not only pay homage to the author of " De servo arbitrio " on 
account of his true piety, but see in Erasmus s vindication of free-will 
mere frivolous Pelagianism. Adolf Harnack, in the fourth edition of 
his " Dogmengeschichte," 3, p. 841, says : " Rightly the Diatribe 
is looked upon as the masterpiece of Erasmus, yet it is an altogether 
secular, and, at bottom, irreligious work. Luther, on the other hand, 
insists on the fundamental fact of Christian experience. On this 
rests his doctrine of predestination, which is simply the expression of the 
Omnipotence of the grace of God." With his doctrine of predestina 
tion and the enslaved will, and his treatment of the Deus absconditus, 
he " gave back religion to religion." In the Weimar ed. of Luther s 
works (18, p. 593), Harnack s opinion is accepted and (p. 595) we are 
told that Luther " refuted in a masterly fashion the obscure and un 
intelligible definition given by Erasmus [of free-will]." Luther s work 
appears to the author of the Preface to the " De servo arbitrio," in 
this edition, as " a real achievement " (p. 596), and he quotes with 
satisfaction A. Ritschl s opinion, that Luther, its writer, in his sove 
reign certainty, did not shrink from the conlradictio in adiecto. In the 
" Deutsch-evangel. Blatter " (p. 528, n. 1 [reprint, p. 14]), G. Kawerau 
states that Luther asserted " with relentless logic man s inability to 
turn to God, and did not shrink from the harshest predestinarian 
expressions, phrases, indeed, which gave great trouble to Lutherans 
at a later date, and which they would gladly have seen expunged from 
his writings that Calvin s followers might not appeal to them. And 
yet we agree with Harnack," etc. (then follow Harnack s words as 
given above). Kostlin concludes : " The death of all religion, as K. 
Miiller ( Kirchengesch., 2, p. 307) rightly remarks, is to take our own 
works and doings into account." 


in order to stamp him and the Catholic doctrine of the past 
as altogether un-Christian, could not be allowed to pass 
unchallenged. It has been admitted, even by Protestants, 
as Luther s constant policy in this work to make Erasmus 
say, that, in order to arrive at salvation it was sufficient to 
use free-will and that grace was unnecessary, and then to 
conclude that the Holy Ghost and Christ were shamefully 
set aside by Catholics. This Luther did (as Kattenbusch 
says) " by a certain, of course bona fide, perversion of his 
[Erasmus s] words, or by a process of forced reasoning 
which can seldom, if indeed ever, be regarded as justified." 1 

4. New Views on the Secular Authorities 
" Since the time of the Apostles 110 doctor or scribe, no 
theologian or jurist has confirmed, instructed and comforted 
the consciences of the secular Estates so well and lucidly as 
I have done." 2 

" Even had I, Dr. Martin, taught or done no other good, 
save to enlighten and instruct the secular government and 
authorities, yet for this cause alone they ought to be 
thankful to and well-disposed towards me, for they all of 
them, even my worst enemies, know that in Popery such 
understanding of the secular power was not merely dis 
countenanced, but actually trampled under foot by the 
stinking, lousy priests, monks and mendicant friars." 3 

" In Popery," as hundreds of documents attest, the 
people were taught, as they always had been, that the 
secular government was divinely appointed and altogether 
independent in its own sphere ; 4 that it was nevertheless to 
govern according to the dictates of law and justice ; that, 
far from neglecting it, it was to promote the eternal welfare 
of the subject ; finally, that it was bound to recognise 
the Catholic Church as the supreme guardian, of both 
the natural and religious law. Government and secular 

1 Kattenbusch, " Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen," p. 28, where 
in proof of such perversions he refers to " Opp. Lat. var.," 7, pp. 191 seq., 
208, 213, 224, 231, 238, 287, 303, 324, 330, 354, adding at the end 
an " etc." which is full of meaning. 

2 Luther, " Verantwortung der auffgelegten Auffrur," 1533, 
"Werke," Erl. ed., 31, p. 236. 3 Ibid. 

4 The theories of some theologians on the direct authority of the 
Church to interfere in secular matters do not here come into considera 


Estate could work in all freedom and prosperity. All that 
Luther taught rightly concerning the secular power had 
been proclaimed long before by the voice of the Church and 
put into practice. 1 As to the new and peculiar doctrines he 
taught in the first period of his career, they must now be 

A curious changeableness and want of logic are apparent, 
not merely in his way of expressing himself, but also in his 
views. This was due in part to the fact that his mental 
abilities lent themselves less to the statement and defence 
of general theories than to controversy on individual points, 
but still more to the influence on his doctrine exercised by 
the changes proceeding in the outer world. 

The main point with him in the matter of the secular 
authorities was, whether they might demand obedience from 
him and his followers in matters concerning the new 
doctrine, i.e. whether they might compel them to forsake 
the innovations, or whether the Lutheran party had the 
right to resist the authorities and the Emperor, even by the 
use of force. Another question was whether Catholics 
could be left free to practise their religion in localities where 
the authorities were on Luther s side. Were the authorities 
bound to respect Catholic convictions, or had the Lutheran 
Prince or magistrate the right to force the refractory to 
accept the innovations ? Finally, Luther s relations with 
those parties within the new faith who differed from him 
raised fresh questions : Were the evangelical authorities to 
tolerate these sectarians, or were they to repress any 
deviation from the Wittenberg doctrine ? 

To formulate any definite answers to such questions was 
rendered still more difficult in Luther s case by the fact that 
prudence compelled him to exercise great reticence and 
caution in his utterances on many such points. 2 On the 
one hand he might easily have spoilt his whole work in the 

1 Fr. v. Bezold says : " Luther claimed the merit of having exalted 
the true understanding of the secular power in a way that no one else 
had done since the time of the Apostles. . . . The indefensibility of 
this and similar claims has long since been demonstrated " (" Kultur 
der Gegenwart," 2, 5, 1, Berlin, 1908, p. 60). 

2 Some of his reservations were, however, of doubtful practical 
value. K. Holl, " Luther und das landesherrliche Kirchenregiment," 
1911 (p. 1 ff.). shows how Luther urges the secular power to make 
an end of the " thievery " of the clerics, and how he ascribes to this 
power the right of summoning Councils, though only " when needful." 


eyes of his cautious sovereign had he proclaimed openly 
the right of his friends among the nobles to resist the 
Emperor even by force. On the other, many would have 
been repelled had he laid down the principle of intolerance 
towards Zwinglians and Anabaptists as strongly at the 
commencement as he did later. In considering his doctrine 
concerning the secular authorities and the obedience due 
to them, we must simply take his utterances in their 
historical sequence, at the same time keeping a watchful 
eye on his actual behaviour in which we shall find at once 
their explanation and justification. 1 Only in this way 
shall we arrive at a clear estimation of his tangled ideas on 
secular authority and religious toleration. 2 

As to his varying theories, 3 at the outset and during the 
first stage of his revolt against the Church, Luther was 
fond of launching out into very questionable and far-reach 
ing statements concerning the secular authority, as appears, 
for instance, in his tract addressed in 1520 to the German 
Nobility. Where the authorities are on the side of the 
Evangel, their power is so great that they may exercise 
their office " unhindered," " even against Pope, bishop, 
parson, monk or nun or whatever else there be " ; in that 
case, too, the secular authorities are perfectly justified in 
summoning clerics to answer before their tribunal. 4 " St. 
Paul says to all Christians," Luther argues, " Let every 
soul hence, I suppose, even the Pope himself be subject 
to higher powers, for they bear not the sword in vain. . . . 
St. Peter, too, foretold that men would arise who would 
despise the temporal rulers, which has indeed come to pass 
through the rights of the clergy.* 5 In such wise does he 
charge the past. 

But now, he continues (owing to his efforts), " the secular 
power has become a member of the ghostly body, and, 
though its office is temporal, yet it has been raised to a 

1 This will be done in the present work as occasion arises. See 
more particularly vol. iii., xv. 2 and 3, and vol. v., xxxv. 1 and 2. 

2 See vol. iv., xxviii. 

3 For a Protestant, criticism of them see Erich Brandenburg, 
" Luthers Anschauung von Staat und Gesellschaft," 1901 ("Schriften 
des Vereins fur Reformationsgesch.," Hft. 70), and Karl Miiller, 
" Kirche Gemeinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther," 1910. 

4 " To the Christian nobility," 1520, " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, 
p. 409 ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 284. 5 Ibid. 


spiritual dignity ; its work may now be done freely and 
unhindered among all the members of the whole body, 
punishing and compelling, where guilt deserves it or neces 
sity demands, regardless of Pope, bishop or priest, let them 
threaten and ban as they please." 1 It is clear how the 
interests of the " reformation " he has planned impel him 
to extend the rights of the secular power, even in the 
spiritual domain, over all who resist. 

In his work " On the secular power," of March, 1523, we 
find an entirely different language. 

Here he insists with great emphasis on the fact that the 
secular authorities have no right to interfere in the spiritual 
domain. The explanation of his change of attitude is 
that here he is thinking of the Catholic authorities who 
were placing obstacles in the way of the spread of the 
Lutheran apostasy. His teaching is : The secular power 
exists and is ordained by God, but it has no concern with 
spiritual matters, may not place difficulties in the way of 
the preaching of the " Word," and has no right to curtail the 
interests of the Evangel, by prohibiting Luther s books, by 
threatening excommunication, or by hindering the new 
worship. He thus sets up general principles which are 
quite at variance with the line of action he himself constantly 
pursued where the authorities were favourable to his cause. 

His teaching he expounds in this way : Temporal rulers 
are, it is true, established in the \vorld by the will of God 
and must be obeyed ; but their sword must not invade a 
domain which does not belong to them ; it is not their 
business to render men pious, and they have nothing what 
ever to do with the good, their only object being to prevent 
outward crimes and to maintain outward peace as " God s 
task-masters and executioners." 2 He speaks almost as 
though there were two kingdoms of men, one, of the wicked 
and those who are not " Christians," coming under the rule 
of the authorities and belonging to the kingdom of the 
world ; the other, the kingdom of God, whose members are 
not subject to earthly laws and authorities ; such are " all 
true believers in and beneath Christ." 

Not only could this curious dualism be objected to on the 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 410-285. 

2 " On the secular power," 1523, "Werke," Weim. ed., 11, p. 268 ; 
Erl. ed., 22, p. 89. 


score of want of clearness, but the assertion that the secular 
power was merely an " executioner " for the punishment 
of outward crime actually tended to abase and degrade it. 
The olden Church had, on the contrary, exalted the secular 
power by permitting its representatives to share in many 
ways in the spiritual work of the Church, and by desiderat 
ing the harmonious co-operation of the two pow r ers, spiritual 
and secular, in the interests of the ultimate end of mankind. 

The singular attitude adopted by Luther is to be explained, 
as hinted above, by the fact that, in his work " On the secular 
power," he has allowed himself to be so largely influenced by 
polemical regard for the Catholic authorities, whom he describes 
as those blind, wretched people, the Emperor and the wise 
Princes and tyrants generally. He inveighs against the " clever 
squires who seek to uproot heresy," and against " our Christian 
Princes, who defend the faith." The authorities with whom he 
is here concerned consist almost exclusively of persons who, 
" instead of allowing God s Word to have free course," would 
fain impose by compulsion the faith of bygone days upon their 
subjects, thus creating " liars by constraint." They " command 
men to feel with the Pope^" but they act " without the clear 
Word of God " and must therefore necessarily perish in their 
" perverted understanding." 1 

In the work in question he nevertheless seeks to establish a 
general theory, though, partly owing to its being forcibly shaped 
to meet the special needs of the case, partly because it was based 
on a certain kind of pseudo-mysticism, the theory remains open 
to many objections. 

The secular power (more particularly where it is Catholic) 
cannot exercise any authority in spiritual matters, hence, he 
says, " these two governments must be carefully kept asunder, 
and both be preserved, the one to render men pious, the other to 
safeguard outward peace and prevent evil deeds." 2 In speaking 
as he does here and elsewhere in this work of the " two govern 
ments " he is, however, very far from acknowledging an inde 
pendent ecclesiastical or spiritual government such as had 
existed in Catholicism. What he called spiritual government 
was " without law or command," and merely " the inward 
sovereignty of the Word," " Christ s spiritual dominion " where 
souls are ruled by the Evangel ; there the Word of God is 
furthered by teaching and the sacraments, by which minds are 
led and heresy vanquished ; " for Christians must be ruled by 
faith, not by outward works. . . . Those who do not believe 
are not Christians and do not belong to Christ s kingdom, but to 
the kingdom of the world, and must therefore be compelled and 
governed by the sword." " Christians do all what is good without 

1 Cp. ibid., Erl. ed., pp. 83-6, 88, 89, 91-3. 2 Ibid., p. 69. 


compulsion and God s Word suffices them." 1 Hence it is certain 
that he does not look upon this kingdom of the Christian as a 
real government, seeing that it implies no jurisdiction. The 
power to make and enforce laws in this world belongs only to 
the secular authorities. They alone form on earth a real govern 
ment. " Priests and bishops," too, have neither " supremacy 
nor power." 2 

True believers are subject to " no laws and no sword," 3 for 
they stand in need of none. For this reason Christ commands us 
not to make use of the sword and to refrain from violence. " The 
words of Christ are clear and peremptory : resist not evil " 
(Matt. v. 39). These words and the whole passage concerning 
the blow on the cheek, the Sophists (i.e. the Schoolmen) had 
indeed interpreted as a mere " counsel." In reality, however, 
they constitute a command, though only for " Christians " ; " the 
sword has no place among Christians, hence you cannot use it 
upon or among Christians, since they need it not." 4 He is here 
addressing Duke Johann, the Elector s brother, who sympathised 
with his cause and to whom, in the Preface, the work is dedicated. 
He goes on to tell him that the Christian ruler nevertheless must 
not lay aside the sword on account of what has just been said, 
for in point of fact there are few such " Christians," wherefore 
the sword was still " useful and necessary everywhere." " The 
world cannot and will riot do without " authority. Even with 
the sword you still remain " true to the gospel," he tells this 
Christian Prince, and still hold fast to Christ s Word, " so that 
you would gladly offer the other cheek to the smiter and give 
up your cloak after your coat, if the matter affected yourself or 
your cause." 5 Every Christian likewise must comply with the 

1 Cp. ibid., Erl. eel., p. 94. 

2 Ibid., p. 93. Whereas Luther s other ideas to be described changed 
considerably in later years, this one of an " abrogated spiritual govern 
ment " always remained, though with some modifications. According 
to the Preface to his " Instruction for Visitations " (1528) and the 
" Instruction " itself, " the visitors have of themselves no official 
public authority for holding the Visitation, but must be conversant 
with the Bible, find therein their qualification and be appointed by 
the Elector, in the name of the preachers, to hold the Visitation. la 
this quality they are unable to exercise any sort of force or compulsion, 
this being reserved to the Elector, but, as representing him, they also 
share in his secular power." " It is part of the duty of the authorities " 
to " establish and regulate the Matrimonial Courts " ; the secular 
authorities are bound where the work of the pastors has been of no 
avail, to take their " own means for the spiritual and temporal pro 
tection of the Christianity of the country, against scandal and false 
doctrine," and to make God s Word the only public and authorised 
code and authority. For the spiritual government consists exclusively 
" in the Word and the preaching-office, and can only penetrate into 
the heart by means of the Word and the work of the pastor." Karl 
Miiller thus sums up the teaching of the documents in question in 
" Kirche, Gemeinde und Obrigkeit nach Luther," 1910, p. 74 f. 

3 " Werke," ibid., p. 69. 4 " Werke," ibid., p. 72 f. 
5 Ib id., p. 73. 


command to relinquish his rights, " allow himself to be insulted 
and disgraced," but in his neighbour s cause he must insist upon 
what is just, even to having recourse to the sword of authority. 1 

In this way he fancies, as he says in the Dedication, that he 
is the first to instruct " the Princes and secular authorities to 
remain Christians with Christ as their Lord, and yet not to make 
mere counsels out of Christ s commands " ; but the " Sophists " 
" have made a liar of Christ and placed Him in the wrong in order 
that the Princes may be honoured. . . . Their poisonous error 
has made its way throughout the world, so that everyone looks 
upon Christ s teaching as counsels for the perfect and not as 
obligatory commands, binding on all." 

Should the secular power exceed its limits and the rulers 
demand what is against conscience, then God is to be obeyed 
rather than man. 2 He now comes to the new Evangel. If the 
authorities require you " to believe this or the other," " or order 
you to put away certain books, you must reply, ... In this 
respect you are acting like tyrants ; you are going too far and 
commanding where you have neither right nor power, etc. 
Should they thereupon seize your property and punish you for 
your disobedience, you should esteem yourself happy and thank 
God." 3 In the County of Meissen, in Bavaria, and in the March, 
where the authorities required, under penalties, that his transla 
tion of the New Testament should be given up, he says, " the 
subjects are not to surrender a single leaflet, nor even a letter, 
if they do not wish to imperil their salvation, for whoever does 
such a thing, surrenders Christ into the hands of Herod." They 
are, however, not to offer violent resistance, but to " suffer."* 

The Imperial Edicts issued against the innovations led him to 
speak more fully of the interference of the secular authorities on 
behalf of religious doctrine generally. " God," he declares, " will 
permit none to rule over the soul but Himself alone. . . . Hence, 
when the secular power takes upon itself to make laws for the 
soul it is trespassing upon God s domain and merely seducing 
and corrupting souls. We are determined to make this so plain 
that everyone can grasp it, and that our squires, Princes and 
bishops may see what fools they are when with laws and com 
mandments they try to force the people to believe this or that." 5 
Such meddling of the authorities with matters which did not 

1 A Utopian idealism, certainly unknown in the earlier ages, 
is apparent in the following, taken from Luther s writing referred to 
above : "A Christian must be ready to suffer all kinds of evil and 
injustice . . . and not to defend himself before the law. . . . But in 
the case of others he may and ought to seek for revenge, justice, pro 
tection, and assistance, and do his best to this end according as he 
is able. The authorities, therefore, ought, either of their own initiative 
or at the instigation of others, to help and protect him without any 
complaining, appealing, or effort on his part. But where this is not 
done he must allow himself to be fleeced and oppressed and not offer 
any resistance, according to the words of Christ " (p. 78). 

2 Cp. ibid., p. 87 ff. 3 Ibid., p. 89. 
* Ibid. 5 Ibid., p. 82. 


concern them was, so he says, due to the " commandments of 
men," and was therefore utterly at variance with " God s Word." 
God would have " our faith founded only on His Divine Word," 
but what the worldly authorities were after " was uncertain, 
or rather, certainly, displeasing [to God], because there was no 
clear Word of God in its favour." " Such things are enjoined by 
the devil s apostles, not by the Church, for the Church com 
mands nothing save when she knows for certain that it is accord 
ing to the Word of God. ... As for them, they will find it a hard 
job to prove that the decrees of the Councils are the Word of 
God." 1 

It is well worth our while to consider the following general 
grounds he assigns for his repudiation of all interference of the 
authorities in matters of faith, for, not long after, his position will 
be very different. He declares that, speaking generally, the 
authorities have " no power over souls " ; the soul is removed 
altogether from the hands of men and " placed in the hands of 
God alone." The ruler has just as little control over a soul as he 
has over the moon. " Who would not be accounted crazy who 
commanded the moon to shine at his pleasure ? " Besides, 
Pope, Bishops and Schoolmen are " without God s Word," " and 
yet they wish to be termed Christian Princes, which may God 
prevent ! " Further proofs follow from the Bible, where we 
read, that God alone knows and governs all things, and from the 
fact, that " every man s salvation depends on his belief, and he 
must accordingly look to it that he believes aright " ; " faith is 
a voluntary act to which no one can be forced, nay, it is a Divine 
work of the Spirit." Moreover, "it is a vain and impossible 
thing " to compel the heart, and God will bring to a dreadful 
pass the purblind rulers who are now attempting it. 2 

His conclusion is that " the secular power must be content to 
wait and allow people to believe this or the other as they please 
and are able, and not to compel any man by force." 3 

" Heresy can never be withstood by force," he says further on. 
" Something else is needed. . . . God s Word must here do the 
work, and if it fails, then the secular power will certainly not 
achieve it, though it should fill the world with blood. . . . God s 
Word alone can be effective." Hence the squires should learn 
at last to cease " destroying heresy, and allow God s Word 
which enlightens the heart " to have its way. 4 

Nevertheless, he admits that it is the right of the bishops to 
" restrain heretics." " The bishops must do this, for it apper 
tains to their office though not to the Princes " a theory which 
Luther persistently refused to see carried to its logical conclusion. 
He also admits, that " no one has a right to command souls 
unless he knows how to show them the way to heaven," though 
here, again, he would have denied the consequence which Catholics 
gathered from this truth, when they urged that the measures 

1 Cp. ibid., p. 83. 2 Ibid., p. 84 ff. 

3 Ibid., p. 85. * Ibid., p. 90 f. 


adopted by the Empire against the innovations were for the 
safeguarding of the road to heaven, which an infallible Church 
points out to mankind. In Luther s opinion there no longer 
existed any Church able to " point out the way to heaven " 
without danger of error. "This no man can do," he exclaims 
in the same passage, 1 " but God alone." It was hopeless for 
Catholics to argue that the Church did so only in God s name, 
and under explicit promise of His assistance. Facts are there to 
prove that, at the very time when Luther was proclaiming his 
theories of religious toleration, he was setting them at nought in 
the most outrageous fashion where Catholics were concerned ; 
he was, however, careful to veil his invitation to abolish their 
faith and worship under the specious pretext of demolishing 
abuses, sacrilege and the Kingdom of Antichrist. Nor was it 
long before he invoked the help of the secular power against 
sectarians within his own camp. 

Where, towards the close of the work " On the secular power," 
Luther passes on to show how Princes, who are " desirous of 
acting as Christian Princes and lords," ought to administer 
their authority, he reaches a less controversial subject and is 
able to expound in that popular, imaginative language which he 
knew so well how to handle certain wholesome views which had 
already found expression in earlier times. In the forcible 
exhortations he here gives, rulers desirous of profiting might 
have found much to learn. Whoever wishes to be a Christian 
Prince must above all " lay aside the notion that he is to rule 
and govern by violence." " Justice must reign at all times and 
in everything." His whole mind must be set on " making him 
self of use and service to his subjects." Secondly, " he must 
keep an eye on the Jacks-in-office and on his councillors, and 
behave towards them in such a way as not to despise any of them, 
while at the same time not confiding in any one man to such an 
extent as to leave everything to him." " Thirdly, he must take 
care to deal rightly with evil-doers." " He must not follow those 
advisers and fire-eaters who urge and tempt him to make war." 
" Fourthly what ought really to have been placed first . . . 
the ruler must behave towards his God as a Christian, sub 
mitting himself to Him with entire confidence, and praying for 
wisdom to rule well." 2 

Concerning the latter point, viz. the attitude of the ruler 
towards God and towards religion, which, according to Luther, 
really should come first, the exhortations of earlier days addressed 
to the rulers, hardly ever failed to represent the protection of the 
Kingdom of God as the noblest task of any sovereign, who looked 
beyond temporal things to the world to come. Luther himself 
at a later period commends the protection and extension of the 
Kingdom of God most earnestly and eloquently to all rulers who 
followed the new faith, and instances the example of the Jewish 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 11, p. 268 f. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 90. 
8 Ibid., p. 94 ff. 


Kings and Jewish priesthood. 1 Here, however, where he is full 
of other interests, we find not a word of the kind. On the subject 
of their relation to God, all he does is to remind the Princes in one 
sentence of the need of " true confidence and heartfelt prayer," 
and, having done so, he breaks off and hurriedly brings the work 
to an end. In this circumstance, in itself insignificant, Luther s 
violent breach with tradition is very apparent. Here, where, for 
the first time in any work of his, he puts forth his views as to 
what the conduct of secular authorities should be, in dealing with 
their relations to faith and worship, he has not a word in support 
of the recommendation to protect religion, albeit so justifiable 
and hitherto so usual ; he could not give such a recommendation, 
because a few pages before he had laid it down that " the secular 
government has laws which do not extend beyond life and 
property and what is external on earth." " The secular power 
must leave people free to believe this or that as they please " ; 
" the blind, miserable wretches [the Catholic Princes] see not 
how vain and impossible a thing they are undertaking." 2 
Nowhere in the writing, as a Protestant theological critic re 
marks, " does the idea appear that a Christian ruler has the right 
or the duty to pass beyond the limits of his temporal jurisdiction 
and to concern himself with ecclesiastical matters." 3 

It is quite remarkable how Luther reduces the action of 
the secular power and the rights of the authorities to a 
judicial constraint to be exercised against evil-doers, or, as 
he says, to the task of a mere executioner. 

For the explanation of these ideas on the secular power, 
two points are of especial importance : In the first place, 
Luther was at that time somewhat disappointed with the 
Princes and the nobles. In his work " To the Nobility " he 
had urged them to make an end of the Papal rule, and now 
he was vexed to see that, almost to a man, they had 

1 " The main work which Luther required of the Princes has always 
been regarded by Lutheran rulers as their first duty, viz. to be the 
gxiardians and protectors of the Evangel and the true faith in their 
lands, to repress all public evil arid falsehood and to provide for the 
regular ministry of the Word." Karl Miiller, " Kirche, Gemeinde und 
Obrigkeit nach Luther," p. 81 f. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., p. 85. 

3 P. Drews, as above, p. 193, n. 2, p. 74. Drews adds : " But it 
would be premature to conclude from the above that this thought, 
because not expressed here, is altogether excluded." Yet it would 
appear to be excluded by the reference to the bishops, who alone were 
to trouble themselves concerning any danger to the Church through 
heresy (p. 301). How Luther, nevertheless, makes the duty of the 
Lutheran rulers to protect religion the foundation first of his practice, 
and then of his theory, is shown in the next section, also in vol. iii., 
xv. 2, and vol. v., xxxv. 2. 


declined to do anything, whilst he himself was under the 
ban of the Empire. Secondly, it was his idea of the inward 
action of the Evangel upon souls and his conception of a 
sort of invisible Church, which induced him to exclude 
altogether the secular power from the spiritual domain, and 
to speak in exaggerated and disparaging terms of the 
" outward actions " with which alone it was concerned. 
In those years, when he was still to some extent under the 
influence of his early pseudo-mysticism, he was fond of 
picturing to himself the community of believers as an 
assembly of all those who had been awakened by " the 
Word," and who, in spirit, were far above the compulsion 
of any earthly regulations. Thus, with him, the Church, 
in comparison with the political community, tended to 
evaporate into a mere union of souls, scarcely perceptible to 
earthly eyes. 1 

To us now it is clear that, in spite of every effort to the 
contrary, the new Church was bound in process of time to 
become entirely dependent on the secular power, first and 
foremost in its outward administration. Luther s spiritual 
Church could not endure but for the support of the authori 

It is notorious that the tendency to make his Church 
depend upon the secular authorities, as soon as they had 
embraced his cause, was part of Luther s plan from the 
very outset. A State Church corresponded with his require 
ments. However much at the commencement Luther 
might emphasise the congregational ideal, tracing the whole 
authority of the freshly formed communities back to it, 
viz. to the priestly powers inherent in all the faithful, yet, as 
occasion arises, he falls back on the one external authority 
left standing, now that he has definitely set aside one of the 
two powers recognised of old. 

In the sixteenth century the Church was confronted not 
only by official Protestantism, but by various other oppos 
ing bodies, Anabaptists, fanatics and anti-Trinitarians. If 
among all these only the Wittenberg, Zurich and Geneva 
groups " were able to assert themselves, this," says a recent 
Protestant theologian, Paul Wernle, " was not due, or at 
least not solely due, to the fact, that they were more true 
or more profound than the others, but that they accommo- 
1 See above, p. 104ff. 


dated themselves better to existing conditions, and, above 
all, to the State." 1 Karl Sell, a Protestant professor of 
theology, speaks in the same strain : " Where the Reforma 
tion gained the day it did so with the help of the secular 
power, of the Princes or republics and, in every instance, the 
Reformation itself strengthened the power of these author 
ities. Upon them devolved the new office of caring . . . 
for religion. . . . Thus the duty of providing for wholesome 
doctrine and right faith, for the doctrine which alone could 
be pleasing to God, became one of the principal concerns of 
the rulers ; hence arose the strict adherence to orthodoxy, 
the exclusion of erroneous teaching from the confines of 
the State, in short, the theological police system which 
prevailed in all Protestant countries till the middle of the 
seventeenth century." 2 

The tendency to seek an alliance with the secular powers 
did not, however, hinder Luther from degrading the authori 
ties and the Princes in the eyes of the people in the most 
relentless and public manner. In his mortification at the 
want of response to his call he allowed himself to be carried 
away to strictures and predictions which greatly excited the 

In his work " On the secular power " he asks : " Would you 
learn why God has decreed such a terrible fate to befall the 
worldly Princes ? " His answer is : " God has delivered them 
up to a perverted mind and means to make an end of them, just 
as in the case of the clerical Princes. . . . Secular lords should 
rule over the land and the people in outward matters. This they 
neglected. All they could do was to rob and oppress the people, 
heaping tax upon tax and rate upon rate." He reminds his 
readers that the Romans, too, acted unjustly in things both 
spiritual and temporal until " they were destroyed. There 
now ! there you see God s judgment on the great braggarts." 3 
" There are few Princes," he says, in the same writing, " who 
are not regarded as either fools or knaves. This is because they 
prove themselves to be such, and the common people are grow 
ing to understand it ; scorn for Princes, which God calls con- 
temptum, prevails among the peasants and common folk ; and 
I fear there will be no stopping this unless the Princes behave as 

1 " Die Renaissance des Christentums im 16. Jahrhundert," 1904, 
p. 36. 

2 " Der Zusammenhang von Reformation und politischer Freiheit " 
(" Theolog. Arbeiten aus dem rhein. wiss. Predigerverein," N. F., Hft. 
12, Tubingen, 1910, pp. 44-79, 54). 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 22, p. 86 seq. 


beseems Princes and begin again to govern reasonably and 
justly. Your tyranny and wantonness cannot be endured much 
longer." 1 His chief grievance here and elsewhere is, that the 
rulers do not allow the gospel to be freely preached, but their 
" dancing, hunting, races, games and such-like worldly pleasures " 
he also holds up to execration. " Who does not know that in 
heaven a Prince is like a hare ? " i.e. it would take many beaters 
to locate one. 2 " I do not say these things in the hope that the 
secular Princes will profit " ; it is not indeed absolutely im 
possible for a Prince to be a good Christian, " but such a case is 
rare." A Prince who is at the same time a Christian is " one of 
the greatest wonders and a most precious sign of the potency of 
Divine Grace." 3 It has been already pointed out that, in seek 
ing the causes of the Peasant-War, we must take into account 
these inflammatory discourses of Luther s to the people and his 
imperious demand for freedom to preach the " Evangel." 

In his " Exhortation to Peace " of the year 1525, he addresses 
" the Princes and Lords," spiritual and temporal, and tells them 
they have themselves to blame for the seditious risings of the 
peasants : " We have no one on earth to thank for such disorder 
and revolt but you, Princes and Lords, and more particularly 
you, blind bishops and mad priests " ; you are not merely enemies 
of the Evangel, but " rob and tax in order to live in luxury and 
state, until the poor, common people neither can nor will bear it 
any longer. The sword is at your throat," etc. ; here he is 
speaking to the " tyrannical and raging authorities," as he terms 
them, of that sword which, according to the words he had flung 
among the people in earlier years, had long been unsheathed. 4 To 
Frederick his Elector he had written, on March 7, 1522, that the 
Princes who were hostile to the Evangel did not see that they 
were " forcing the people to rebel, and behaving as though they 
wished themselves or their children to be exterminated ; this, 
without a doubt, God will send as a punishment." 6 

How Luther was wont to criticise the authorities in his sermons, 
regardless of the effect it might produce in such a period of 
excitement, appears from a sermon preached on August 20, 1525, 
i.e. at the time of the great peasant rising in Germany. 

" Let anyone count up the Princes and rulers who fear God 
more than man. How many do you think they will number ? 
You could write all their names on one finger, or as someone has 
said, on a signet ring." 6 "At the Courts nowadays infidelity, 
egotism and avarice prevail among the Princes and their council 
lors . . . they say : my will be done and forget that there is a 
God in heaven above." 7 "These braggarts and great lords 
think they are always in the right, and want others to give judg- 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 22, p. 92. 
Ibid., p. 97. 3 Ibid., p. 90. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 293 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 273. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. Ill (" Briefwechsel," 3, p. 298). 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 16, p. 359. 
Ibid., p. 361. 


ment and pass sentence as pleases them. If this is not done, woe 
betide the judge." 1 

In the same sermon, it is true, Luther quotes, happily and at 
the same time forcibly, passages from Holy Scripture in praise of 
good rulers. In his popular style he points out what should be 
the qualities of a righteous sovereign who is solicitous for his 
people s welfare. Such a ruler, he says, is courageous and 
determined in dealing with evil of every sort, and says to him 
self : " Even though this rich, powerful, strong man, be he Jack 
or peer, becomes my enemy, I don t care. By virtue of my 
office and calling I have one on my side who is far stronger, more 
respected and more powerful than he, and though he [the enemy] 
should have all the devils, Princes and Kings on his side, all 
worse than himself, what is all that to me if He Who sits up there 
in Heaven is with me ? All undertakings should be decided in 
this way, and one should say : Dear Lord, I leave it in Thy 
hands, though it should cost me my life. Then God answers : 
Be steadfast and I will also stand by you." Luther nevertheless 
concludes : " But where will you find such rulers ? Where are 
they ? " 2 In his sermon of December 3, likewise, he had drawn 
a beautiful picture of the modesty and renunciation which the 
example of Christ teaches both Princes and people. Yet there 
again, at the conclusion, we find him saying : " There is no 
kingdom that is not addicted to plunder. The Princes are a 
gang of cut-purses." 3 

In the writing " On the secular power," to which we must 
here revert, Luther says, that the Princes are, as a rule, 
" the biggest fools or the worst knaves on the surface of the 
earth " ; a good Prince " had always been a rare bird from 
the beginning of the world." Because the world is " of the 
devil," therefore " its Princes too are of a like nature." In 
spite of this Luther ends by saying, that as God s " hang 
men," the Princes ought to be obeyed. 4 Later on he was to 
declare that the passages from the Bible, which he had 
here quoted in support of this obedience, were his best 
defence against the charge of diminishing the respect due to 
Princes, or of teaching rebellion. " The fact that, in that 
work, I based and confirmed the temporal supremacy and 
obedience on Scripture is of itself sufficient refutation of 
such slanders." 5 

When he asserts in the above writing, that " Among 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 16, p. 357. 

2 Ibid., p. 358. 3 Ibid. t 17, 1, p. 478. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 22, pp. 89, 90. 

5 " Widder den Radschlag der Meintzischen Pfaft erey " (1526), 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 278. 


Christians no authority can or ought to exist, but that 
everyone should be subject to all," 1 his intention was not, 
as has sometimes been erroneously supposed by his 
opponents, to incite the people against the secular power ; 
the words, though badly chosen, must be understood in 
connection with his mystical theory of the true believers, 
i.e. of the invisible Church, being intended to convey, that 
no authority should rule by enforced commands, but that, 
on the contrary, all must serve, and that even superiors 
should be mindful of their duty of service. It is not, 
however, very surprising that such a statement, so un 
wisely expressed in general terms as that, " among 
Christians there neither can nor ought to be any authority," 
when taken out of its context and published abroad among 
the people, was misapplied by the malcontents, more 
especially when taken in conjunction with other question 
able utterances of Luther s. 

His experience with the fanatics, and, still more, the 
events of the Peasant- War, caused Luther to dwell more and 
more strongly on the duty and right of the authorities to 
exercise compulsion towards evil-doers. 2 

In the work " Against the Heavenly Prophets," the first 
published in the stormy year 1525, he says : " The principal 
thing " required to protect the people against the devils 
who were teaching through the mouths of the Anabaptist 
prophets was, " in the case of the common people," com 
pulsion by the sword and by law. The authorities must 
force them to be at least " outwardly pious " (true Christians, 
of course, do all of themselves) ; the law with its penalties 
rules over them in the same way that " wild beasts are held 
in check by chains and bars, in order that outward peace 
may prevail among the people ; for this purpose the 
temporal authorities are ordained, and it is God s will that 
they be honoured and feared." 3 The change in his views 
concerning the treatment of sectarians and heretics will, 
however, be considered elsewhere. 4 

On the other hand, it must be pointed out here that he 
at least allows the supreme secular power such authority as 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 22, p. 93. 

2 With regard to the peasants, compare the passages quoted 
above, p. 217. 3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 29, p. 140. 

* Cp. particularly vol. vi., xxxviii. 


to deprecate any armed resistance to it, even where the 
Evangel is oppressed. In his work " On the secular power " 
we find him stating : "I say briefly that no Prince may 
make war on his over-Lord, such as the King, or the Emperor, 
or any other feudal superior, but must allow him to seize 
what he pleases. For the higher authorities must not be 
resisted by force, but merely by bringing them to a know 
ledge of the truth. If they are converted, it is well ; if not, 
you are free from blame, and suffer injustice for God s 
sake." 1 As early as 1520 we find him saying : " Even 
though the authorities act unjustly God wills that they 
should be obeyed without deceit, unless, indeed, they insist 
publicly on the doing of what is wrong towards God or men ; 
for to suffer unjustly harms 110 man s soul, indeed is profit 
able to it." 2 At the outset he persisted in dissuading 
Princes favourable to his cause from armed resistance to the 

His earlier unwillingness, however, only contrasts the 
more strangely with his later attitude, particularly after the 
Diet of Augsburg, when his position had become stronger 
and when danger appeared to threaten the new Evangel 
from the Imperial power, even though all the Emperor s 
steps were merely in accordance with the ancient laws of the 
Empire. Addressing the protesting Princes, he tells them 
they must act as so many Constantines in defence of their 
cause, and not wince at bloodshed in order to protect the 
Evangel against the furious, soul-destroying attacks of the 
new Licinii. His change of front in thus inciting to rebellion 
he covered, by declaring he was most ready to render to 
Caesar the things that were Caesar s, but that when the 
Emperor forbade " what God in His Word [according to 
Luther s interpretation] had taught and commanded," then 
he was going beyond his province ; in such a case it was well 
to remember that " God still retained what was His," " and 
that they, the tyrants, had lost everything and suffered 
shipwreck." 3 In this case the action taken by the temporal 
power according to law must, he says, be forcibly frus 
trated by the subject. New theories as to the rights of the 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 22, p. 100 f. 

2 In the " Sermon on Good Works," to Duke Johann of Saxony, 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 259 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 198. 

3 In a sermon of 1532 in the " Hauspostille," " Werke," Erl. ed., 
3 2 , p. 182. 


Emperor and the Princes did their part in justifying these 
demands in his eyes. " Gradually," says Fr. von Bezold, 
" his experience of the limitations of the Imperial power and 
the liberty of the Princes of the Empire brought about a 
change in him. Thus he became . . . the father of the 
doctrine of the right of resistance." 1 

In 1522 he had written in quite a different strain to his 
Elector. At that time the critical question of the latter s 
attitude towards the Imperial authority and of the pro 
tection to be afforded Luther against the Emperor was 
under discussion. " In the sight of men it behoves Your 
Electoral Highness to act as follows : As Elector to render 
obedience to the power established and allow His Imperial 
Majesty to dispose of life and property in the towns and 
lands subject to Your Electoral Highness, as is right and in 
accordance with the laws of the Empire ; nor to oppose or 
resist, or seek to place any obstacle or hindrance in the way 
of the aforesaid power should it wish to lay hands on me 
or kill me. ... If Your Electoral Highness were a believer, 
you would see in this the glory of God, but since you are not 
yet a believer, you have seen nothing so far." 2 This, com 
pared to the summons to resistance, spoken of above, reads 
like an invitation to submit with entire patience to those 
who were persecuting the Evangel. It is true that the then 
position of affairs to some extent explains the case. The 
writer was well aware that the Elector might be relied upon 
to protect him, he also knew that a little temporary self- 
restraint in his demands would do his cause no harm, and 
that a profession of entire readiness to sacrifice himself 
would be most conducive to his interests. 3 

But from this time the opinion that, in the pressing 
interests of the gospel, it was permissible to make use of 
violence against the authorities and their worldly regula 
tions, breaks out repeatedly, and, in spite of the reticence he 
frequently displays and of his warnings against rebellion 
and revolt, he is quite unable to conceal his inner feeling. 
Many passages of an inflammatory character have already 
been instanced above and might be cited here. 4 

1 " Kultur der Gegenwart," p. 85, see above, p. 295, n. 1. 

2 To the Elector Frederick, March 5, 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, 
p. 108 f. (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 296). 

3 See above, pp. 1-4, 20 f., 24, 101. 4 Cp. p. 190, n. 3. 


The opposition smouldering in his breast to the conduct 
of the authorities in the matter of religious practices differ 
ing from their own, comes out very strongly at an early 
period. Though he declared that he had no wish to inter 
fere, yet, even in 1522, he requested Frederick the Elector 
of Saxony, through the intermediary of Spalatin, 1 to have 
Masses prohibited as idolatrous, " an interference in religious 
matters on the part of the authorities," as Fr. Paulsen 
remarks, " which it is difficult to reconcile with the position 
which Luther assigns to them in 1523 in his work On the 
secular power. " 2 Paulsen also recalls the statement 
(above, p. 300) that a sovereign may not even order his 
subjects to surrender the book of the gospels, and that 
whoever obeyed such an order was handing over Christ to 
Herod. It is true, he concludes, that here the order 
would have emanated from " Popish authorities." 

When the Canons of Altenburg, in accordance with their 
chartered rights, wished, in 1522, to resist the appointment of 
a Lutheran preacher in that town, neither olden law nor the 
orders of the authorities availed anything with Luther, as 
we shall see below (p. 314 ff) ; " against this [the introduction 
of the Evangel] no seals, briefs, custom or right are valid," 
he writes ; it was the duty of the Elector " as a Christian 
ruler to encounter the wolves." Finally, we have the out 
burst : " God Himself has abrogated all authority and 
power where it is opposed to the Evangel, we must obey 
God rather than men " (Acts v. 29). 3 

Here we have a practical commentary on what he says 
when speaking of the " Word " which must make its way 
alone : " The Word of God is a sword, is destruction, 
vexation, ruin, poison, and as Amos says, like a bear in the 
path and a lioness in the wood." 4 

Even in his sermon on Good Works in 1520 he had made 
a remarkable application of the above principle of the 
abrogation of all authority in the case of those who ruled 
in defiance of God : People must not, he declares in ac- 

1 N. Paulus, " Protestantismus und Toleranz im 16. Jahrh.," 
1911, p. 4. Cp. p. 327. 

2 "Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichtes," I 2 , 1896, p. 209. 

3 To the Elector Frederick of Saxony, May 8, 1522, " Werke, 
Erl. ed., 53, p. 134 (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 356). 

To Spalatin, 1520, soon after February 18 (" Brief wechsel, 2, 
p. 328). 


cordance with Acts v* 29, allow themselves to be forced to 
act contrary to God s law ; " If a Prince whose cause is 
obviously unjust wishes to make war, he must not be followed 
or assisted, because God has commanded us not to kill 
our neighbour or to do him an injury." 1 A Protestant 
theologian and historian of Luther remarks on this : 
" Luther does not, however, explain how far the responsi 
bility, right and duty of the subject extends, and clearly 
had not given this matter any careful consideration." 2 

A want of " consideration " may be averred by the 
historian concerning all Luther s theoretical statements on 
secular authority during the first period of his career. The 
historian will find it impossible to discover in Luther s views 
on this subject the thread which, according to many modern 
Protestant theologians, runs through his new theories. 
Wilhclm Hans, a Protestant theologian, was right when he 
wrote in 1901 : " Luther s lack of system is nowhere more 
apparent than in his views concerning the authorities and 
their duty towards religion. The attempt to sum up in a 
logical system the ideas which he expressed on this subject 
under varying circumstances and at different times, and to 
bring these ideas into harmony with his practice, will ever 
prove a failure. It will never be possible to set aside the 
contradictions in his theory, and between his theory and his 
practice." 3 

5. How the New Church System was Introduced 
A complete account of the introduction of the new 
ecclesiastical system will become possible only when 
impartial research has made known to us more fully than 
hitherto the proceedings in the different localities according 
to the records still extant. 

Some districts were thrown open to the new Evangel 
without any difficulty because the inhabitants, or people of 
influence, believed they would thus be bringing about a 
reformation in the true sense of the word, i.e. be contributing 
to the removal of ecclesiastical abuses deplored by them 
selves and by all men of discernment. 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 206 ; Weim. ed., 6, p. 265. 

2 J. Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," I 2 , p. 274. 

3 " Gutachten und Streitschriften xiber das ius reformandi des 
Rates vor und wahrend der Einfiihrung der offiziellen Kirchenreform 
in Augsburg, 1534-1537 " (Augsburg, 1901, p. 73 f.). 


In the opinion of many, to quote words written by Dollinger 
when yet a Catholic, " there was on the one side a large body of 
prelates, ecclesiastical dignitaries and beneficiaries who, too 
well-provided with worldly goods, lived carelessly, troubling 
themselves little about the distress and decay of the Church, 
and even looking with complacent indolence at the stormy 
attacks directed against her ; on the other side stood a simple 
Augustinian monk, who neither possessed nor sought for what 
those men either enjoyed in plenty or were striving to obtain, 
but who, for that very reason, was able to wield weapons not at 
their command ; to fight with spirit, irresistible eloquence and 
theological knowledge, with invincible self-confidence, steadfast 
courage, enthusiasm, yea, with the energy of a will called to 
dominate the minds of men and gifted with untiring powers for 
work. Germany was at that time still virgin soil ; journalism 
was yet unknown ; little, and that of no great importance, had as 
yet been written on subjects of public and general interest. 
Higher questions which might otherwise have engrossed people s 
minds were not then mooted, thus people were all the more open 
to religious excitement, while at the same time the nation, as 
yet unaccustomed to pompous declamation and exaggerated 
rhetoric, was all the more ready to believe every word which fell 
from the lips of a man who, as priest and professor of theology 
at one of the Universities, had, at the peril of his life, raised the 
most terrible charges against the Church, charges too which 
on the whole met with comparatively little contradiction. His 
accusations, his appeals to a consoling doctrine, hitherto malici 
ously repressed and kept under a bushel, he proclaimed in the 
most forcible of language, ever appealing to Christ and the 
gospel, and ever using figures from the Apocalypse to rate the 
Papacy and the state of the Church in general, figures which could 
not fail to fire the imagination of his readers. Luther s popular 
tracts, which discussed for the first time the ecclesiastical system 
as a whole, with all its defects, were on the one hand couched in 
biblical phraseology and full of quotations and ideas from Holy 
Scripture, while at the same time they were the work of a dema 
gogue, well aware of the object in view, and perfectly alive to the 
weaknesses of the national character. His writings could equally 
w^ell be discussed in the tap-rooms and market-places of the 
cities or preached from the pulpits. Even more efficacious than 
the methods employed in propagating it were the motives 
embodied in the system itself ; the doctrines brought before 
the people in so many sermons, hymns and tracts on justifica 
tion without any preparation, by the mere imputation of the 
sufferings and merits of Christ, were sweet, consoling and welcome. 
. . . Then there was the new Christian freedom . . . the 
abolition of the obligation to confess, to fast, etc. Oh, what a 
grand doctrine that was, Wicel wrote at a later date, not to 
be obliged to confess any more, nor to pray, nor to fast, nor to 
make offerings or give alms. . . . You ought surely to have been 
able to catch tw T o German lands, not one only, with such bait, 


and to have dragged them into your net. For if you give a man 
his own way, it is easy to convert him. " l 

Altenburg, Lichtenberg, Schwarzburg, Eilenburg 
When the first preacher of the Lutheran faith at Alten 
burg in the Saxon Electorate, Gabriel Zwilling, a former 
comrade of Carlstadt s, began to behave in too violent and 
arrogant a manner, Luther, out of consideration for his 
sovereign, admonished him to " lay aside all presumption " 
and to " leave God to do everything." " You must not 
press for innovations, but, as I besought you once before, 
free consciences by means of the Word alone, and by 
exhorting to pure faith and charity. ... I gave my word 
to the Prince that you would do this, so don t act otherwise 
and bring shame on me, upon yourself and the Evangel. 
You see the people running after external things, sacraments 
and ceremonies ; this you must oppose and make an end 
of ; see that you lead them first to faith and charity in 
order that by their fruits they may show themselves to be 
a branch of our Vine." 2 

As, however, the gentle methods which Luther had 
promised his Elector to employ did not appear to suffice, 
recourse was had to force. The town-council, with the 
support of the inhabitants of Wittenberg, boldly threw law 
and custom overboard. 

Prejudiced in favour of Luther, they had invited him to 
visit Altenburg and to preach there, and he had agreed. 
On that occasion Luther had recommended Gabriel Zwilling 
to the magistracy as resident preacher, in spite of the Ana 
baptist tendencies he had already shown. The Canons, who 
were faithful to the Church and who for centuries had the 
gift of the livings, opposed the appointment of Zwilling to 
one of the parishes. Thereupon the town-council, in a com 
plaint composed by Luther himself, declared that, as the 
natural and duly appointed senate of the congregation, it 
had the right to decide ; that the councillors were, by virtue 
of their office, not merely responsible for the secular govern 
ment, but also were bound by the duty of " fraternal 
Christian charity " to interfere on behalf of the Evangel. 

1 " Luther, erne Skizze," reprinted in Wetzer and Welte, " Kirchen- 
lexikon," 8 2 , col. 319 f. 

2 On May 8, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 357. 


The council, or rather Luther, also pointed out, that accord 
ing to Matthew vii. every man has the right to drive away 
ravening wolves, that the Canons with the Provost at their 
head were indeed such, not having scrupled to appropriate 
the revenues, whilst all the while teaching false doctrine ; 
" Scripture does not give power to a Concilium, but to 
each individual Christian to judge of doctrine, to detect the 
wolves and to avoid them. . . . Each one must believe for 
himself and be able to distinguish between true and false 
doctrine." 1 Luther here at one and the same time, because 
it happens to serve his purpose, advocates an extravagant 
religious freedom, manifestly inconsistent with any religious 
commonwealth, and yet denies the unfortunate Canons any 
liberty whatsoever : " They must either hold their tongues 
or teach the pure Evangel " or else depart elsewhere. 

Luther supported the manifesto in a letter addressed to 
the Elector in which he declares, that, " God Himself has 
abrogated all authority and power where it opposes the 
gospel," 2 though he does not say who is to decide whether 
anyone may quote the gospel in his own favour, and what 
is to be done if the authorities themselves assume the right 
of " deciding in matters of doctrine." 

The Provost of the Canons, in the matter of the appoint 
ment, represented the lawful authority. To the demand of 
the councillors he replied by asking what they would say 
were he to appoint a new burgomaster at Altenburg ; yet 
they had as little right to introduce a preacher as he would 
have to interfere in their affairs; further, it was not his 
duty to stand by and sec his collegiate establishment 
deprived of any of its chartered rights. 3 

The decision came at last before the Elector. He refused to 
confirm the appointment of Zwilling in his office of preacher, 
as his turbulent Anabaptist views did not inspire confidence. 
In the summer of 1522, however, he bestowed the appoint 
ment on Wenceslaus Link, one of Luther s friends, without 
paying any attention to the Canons and obviously acting on 
Luther s advice. Link, in February, 1523, resigned the 
office of Vicar-General of the Augustiniaii Congregation, and 
soon after was married by Luther himself at Altenburg. 

1 On April 28, 1522, ibid., p. 347. 

2 Above, p 311. Cp. " Brief wcchsel," 3, p. 349. 

3 Enders in " Luthers Brief wechsel," 3, p. 334, n. 2. 


The Canons protested in vain against the compulsion 

In the spring, 1524, Link succeeded in inducing the 
council of Altenburg to prohibit the Franciscans from 
celebrating Mass in. public, preaching and hearing con 
fessions. The council vindicated its action in a document 
probably composed by Link addressed to the Elector, in 
which from the Old and New Testament it is shown that 
rulers must not tolerate " idolatry." 1 When Spalatin, after 
resigning his post as Court Chaplain, became parish priest 
of Altenburg, he at once set about suppressing the Catholic 
worship even in the Collegiate Church of the town. A 
demand for the suppression of the " idolatrous worship " 
at Altenburg, which Luther had addressed to the Elector on 
July 20, 1525, 2 was followed by another composed by 
Spalatin in October of the same year. 3 Both were full of 
attacks on the un-Christian, blasphemous mischief to which 
an end ought to be put. On January 10, 1526, a fresh docu 
ment of a similar nature, written by Spalatin and two 
Altenburg preachers, was forwarded to the Elector. There 
we read that the sovereign, if he wishes to escape the severe 
chastisements of God, must follow the example of the pious 
Jewish kings, who rooted out the abomination of idolatry. 
Owing to the continuance of the service in the Collegiate 
Church at Altenburg, the weak were exposed to spiritual 
danger, and he must furthermore consider that " many a 
poor man would readily come over to the Evangel if this 
miserable business were made an end of." The utmost that 
could be permitted was, that the Canons should perform 
" their ceremonies in the most private fashion, with locked 
doors, no one else being admitted." 4 

This petition was at once based by Luther on the general 
theological principles referred to above, i.e. the statement he 
had addressed to the Elector, declaring that, owing to the 
value of the Evangel, no place must be allowed in the Elec 
torate for the practice of any religion other than the " evan 
gelical " : Let there be but one doctrine in every place ! 

1 For text, see " Mitteilungen der Geschichts- und Altertumsgesell- 
schaft des Osterlandes," 6, 1886, p. 119 ff. 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 324 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 221). 

3 See Kolde, " Friedrich der Weise," 1881, p. 72. 

4 For text, see " Mitteilungen . . . des Osterlandes," 0, p. 513 ff. 


Luther adds, that the Canons of Altenburg had indeed 
alleged their conscience, but that this was not a true con 
science but merely a fictitious one, otherwise they would 
have agreed " to allow their conscience to be formed and 
instructed from Scripture." This they had refused to do, 
and had appealed instead to traditional usage " as vouched 
for by the Church," " thereby giving ample proof that their 
plea concerning their conscience was an invention and only 
brought forward for the sake of preserving appearances ; 
for a true conscience desires nothing so ardently as to be 
instructed from Scripture." If they wished to continue 
publicly to blaspheme the true God by their worship, they 
must " prove from Scripture their right and authorisation 
to do so." 1 The Canons were convinced that there was no 
need for them to prove to Luther their right from the Bible, 
and also that the best proof would be of no avail. The 
decision on the validity of any such proof lay in the last 
instance with the Electoral Court, and he would indeed 
have been blind who could have expected in that quarter 
any judgment differing from Luther s. 

Recourse was accordingly taken to force, and the Catholic 
religion was obliged to retire from its last foothold. Neverthe- 
less ? a large number of the burghers of Altenburg remained 
secretly faithful to the Church of their fathers. When, in 
1528, the Lutheran visitors held an enquiry there, the town- 
councillors, who themselves were on the side of Luther, 
declared there were still " many Papists " in the town. 2 

Lichtenberg, in the Saxon Electorate, affords an example 
of how Catholic ecclesiastics themselves promoted the falling 
away of their flock by being the first to join the party of the 
innovators, sometimes merely in order to be able to marry. 
As soon as Luther had heard that Wolfgang Reissenbusch, 
the clerical preceptor and administrator of the property be 
longing to the Antonines, was showing signs of a desire for 
matrimony, by means of the seductive letter of March 27, 1 525, 
already quoted above, 3 he invited him to carry out his project 

1 On February 9, 1526, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 367 (" Brief - 
wechsel," 5, p. 318). 

2 C. A. Burkhardt, " Gesch. der sachs. Kirchenvisitationen, 1524 
1545," Leipzig, 1879, p. 44. 3 See above, p. 116 f. 


boldly. After his marriage, and notwithstanding the fact of 
his broken vow, the monk not only retained his spiritual office, 
but even continued to administer the temporalities of his 
Order, in defiance of all justice. According to the custom now 
introduced, the property was placed at the disposal of the 
Elector. Ueissenbusch enjoyed the favour of the Court, and 
in due course became one of the councillors of the Elector ; 
his district was gradually won over to Lutheranism. 

Count Johann Heinrich of Schwarzburg, son of Count 
Giinthcr one of Luther s enemies, wished to see the new 
church system introduced in his domains, but met with the 
resistance of the monks to whom his father, legally and in 
due form, had entrusted the livings. He accordingly 
approached Luther with the question whether he might 
deprive them of the livings, rights and property. 

Luther soon came to a decision, replied in the affirmative and 
proceeded to explain to his questioner how he might quiet his 
conscience. 1 The Count s father had made the transfer on the 
condition that the monks should : " Keep their observance and 
above all preach the Gospel." Upon taking over the cure of souls 
they had assumed the usual obligation of preaching the Catholic 
faith. Now, he continues, it is only necessary that the Count 
should summon them before him, and in the presence of witnesses 
prove from their replies that they had not preached the Gospel 
(i.e. not according to Luther) ; thereupon he would have the 
" right and the power, indeed it would be his duty, to take the 
livings away from them . . . for it is not unjust, but an urgent 
duty, to drive away the wolf from the sheepfold. . . . No 
preacher receives property and emoluments for doing harm, but 
in order that he may make men pious. If, therefore, he does not 
make them pious, the goods are no longer his. Such is my brief 
answer." This was indeed the principle which he applied 
throughout the Saxon Electorate. The result of its application 
to the bishoprics of Germany and to the great ecclesiastical 
domains in the Empire was to overthrow the very foundation of 
the law of property. If the bishop, abbot or provost no longer 
succeeds in making people pious, " then the property no longer 
belongs to him." 

Johann Heinrich of Schwarzburg at once seized upon the 
property and rights which his father had made over by charter 
to the Catholic Church. The monks were ousted, the livings 
seized, the new teaching was introduced and the Count became 
the founder of Lutheranism in Schwarzburg. 

1 On December 12, 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 154 (" Brief- 
wechsel," 4, p. 36). 


In Eilenburg Luther proceeded through the agency at once 
of his sovereign and the town-councillors, who were no less 
zealous than the Prince himself in their efforts to extend their 
sphere of influence. Luther himself had already worked 
there in person for his cause. On the occasion of his second 
stay at Eilenburg he found the councillors somewhat lacking 
in zeal. Those who favoured the innovations were, however, 
of opinion that if the Elector were to invite them to apply 
for a preacher, they would do so. There is no doubt that the 
Catholic consciences of the councillors were still troubled 
with scruples, and that the demand of a number of the new 
believers among the people had as yet failed to move 

Luther accordingly wrote from Eilenburg to the Court 
Chaplain, Spalatin, asking him to employ his influence with 
the Elector in the usual way. He was to obtain from the 
latter a letter addressed to the town-councillors begging 
them to " yield to the poor people in this so essential and 
sacred a matter," and to summon one of the two preachers 
whom he at once proposed. The reason he gives in these 
words : "It is the duty of the sovereign, as ruler and 
brother Christian, to drive away the wolves and to be 
solicitous for the welfare of his people." 1 The change of 
religion was thereupon actually carried out, under the 
Elector s pressure, in true bureaucratic fashion as a matter 
appertaining to the magistracy. One of the two preachers 
proposed, Andreas Kauxdorf of Torgau, arrived shortly after, 
having been dutifully accepted by the councillors. He was 
permitted to Lutheranise the people, however reluctant and 
faithful to the Church they might be. He remained there 
from 1522 to 1543, in which year he died. 

General Phenomena accompanying the Religious Change 
It not infrequently happened that the people were deceived 
by faithless and apostate clerics who became preachers of 
the new religion, and were drawn away from the olden faith 
without being clearly aware of the fact. After having 
become gradually and most insensibly accustomed to the 
new faith and worship, not even the bravest had, as a rule, 
the strength to draw back. The want of religious instruction 

1 On May 5, 1522, " ex arce Eylenburgensi," " Brief wechsel," 3, 
p. 351. 


among the people was here greatly to blame, likewise the 
lack of organised ecclesiastical resistance to the error, and 
also, the indolence of the episcopate. 

Mass still continued to be said in many places where 
Luthcranism had taken root, though in an altered form, 
a fact which contributed to the deception. One of the 
chief of Luther s aims was to combat the Mass as a 

He expressed this quite openly to Henry VIII in 1522 : 
" If I succeed in doing away with the Mass, then I shall 
believe I have completely conquered the Pope. On the Mass, 
as on a rock, the whole of the Papacy is based, with its 
monasteries, bishoprics, colleges, altars, services and 
doctrines. ... If the sacrilegious and cursed custom of 
Mass is overthrown, then the whole must fall. Through me 
Christ has begun to reveal the abomination standing in the 
Holy Place (Dan. ix. 27), and to destroy him [the Papal 
Antichrist] who has taken up his seat there with the devil s 
help, with false miracles and deceiving signs." 1 In respect 
of the deception of the Mass, " I oppose all the pronounce 
ments of the Fathers, of men, of angels, of devils, not by an 
appeal to ancient custom and tradition nor to any man, 
but to the Word of the Eternal Majesty and to the Gospel 
which even my adversaries are forced to acknowledge." 
" This is God s Word," he vehemently exclaims of his denial 
of the sacrifice, " not ours. Here I stand, here I take my 
seat, here I stay, here I triumph and laugh to scorn all 
Papists, Thomists, Henryists, sophists, and all the gates of 
hell, not to speak of all the sayings of men, and the most 
sacred and deceitful of customs." 2 

It was of the utmost importance to him that the Mass 
should no longer be regarded as a sacrifice and as the centre 
of worship. He wished to reduce it to a mere " sign and 
Divine Testament in which God promises us His Grace and 
assures us of it by a sign." 3 Nor is the presence of Christ 
in the sacrament, according to him, to be assumed as the 
result of a change of substance ; Christ is in, with, and 
beneath the bread. The churches were robbed of their 
Divine Guest, for only in the actual ceremony of reception 

1 " Contra Henricum regem Angliae," " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, 
p. 220 ; " Opp. Lat. var.," 6, p. 445. 

2 Ibid., p. 215 = 437. 3 Ibid., p. 214 = 437. 


was the Supper a sacrament, at all other times it was 
nothing. 1 

Yet, in spite of all this, as already pointed out, Luther 
did not wish to abolish every form of liturgical celebration 
at once. In the reconstruction of public worship everything 
depended on not making the change felt by the people in a 
way that was displeasing to them. The very fact of the 
change was concealed from many by the form of liturgy 
Luther advocated, 2 and by the retaining of the ceremonies, 
vestments, lights, etc. Even the elevation was continued 
for a long while. But, though the celebration was clothed 
in a Catholic garb, yet of everything that expressed in 
words the sacrificial character Luther had already said that 
it " must and shall be done away with." 3 

The priest," says Luther thoughtfully, when giving 
detailed instructions on the subject, " will easily be able to 
arrange that the common people learn nothing of it, and 
take no scandal." 4 " How the priests are to behave with 
regard to the Canon," he wrote in his Instruction for the 
Visitors in the Saxon Electorate, " they know well from 
other writings, and there is no need to preach much about 
this to the laity." One would have thought, nevertheless, 
that the " common people," no less than the learned, had a 
perfect right to the truth and to being instructed. 

Luther was also anxious that the innovation at communion 
should be introduced in an unobtrusive manner. " Avoid 
anything unusual or any attempt to oppose the masses." 5 

Although to receive under both kinds was regarded as the 
only " evangelical " way, agreeable " to Christ s institution," 
yet the weak were to be permitted to receive under the form 
of bread only and the reception of the chalice not to be 

1 Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," 2 2 , p. 245. According to the 
above new doctrine the Sacrament was not to be reserved in the taber 
nacle. For further particulars it may suffice to refer to the Memoranda 
which Luther, Jonas, Bugenhagen, and Melanchthon addressed to the 
Council of the Margrave of Ansbach and to that of Nuremberg, August 
1, 1532, "Werke," Erl. ed., 54, p. 319 (" Brief wechsel," 9, p. 312). 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 72 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 228. A Mass in 
German was, however, also introduced by him because, as he said, 
many had requested it and " the secular authorities urged him to it." 
See vol. v., xxix. 9. 

3 " On the twofold species of the Sacrament," 1522, " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 29 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 304. 

* Ibid., p. 29 = 305 ; cp. Erl. ed., 28, p. 215. 

6 Ibid., p. 29 = 305. 


prescribed " until we make the Evangel better known 
throughout the world." 1 " But if anyone is so weak in this 
matter as rather to omit receiving the Sacrament altogether 
than to receive under one kind only, he was also to be 
indulged and allowed to live according to his conscience." 2 
In justification of all this Luther declared that the practice 
of the new religion must be introduced gently and " without 
detriment to charity." That it was really a question of pre 
venting disturbances and preserving charity, Cochlrcus and 
others could not be made to see ; this writer, in his work on 
Lutheranism, goes so far as to speak of Luther s " hypo 
critical deception " of the masses. 

Later, the advocate of this sagacious method of procedure 
could declare : " Thank God, in indifferent matters our 
churches are so arranged that a layman, whether Italian or 
Spaniard, unable to understand our preaching, seeing our 
Mass, choir, organs, bells, chantries, etc., would surely say 
that it was a regular papist church, and that there was no 
difference, or very little, between it and his own." He 
rejoiced that, in spite of the hot-heads, no more had been 
altered in the ritual than was absolutely necessary to con^ 
form it to his teaching. 3 

Such is the course to pursue, he says, " If our churches are 
not to be shattered and confused and nothing to be effected 
among the Papists." 4 As a matter of fact, the system he 
recommended did in some districts " effect much " among 
Papists who would otherwise have refused to have anything 
to do with him, the poor people not dreaming of the wide 
gulf which separated the new worship from the old. The 
people would not voluntarily have given up their faith in 
the truly sacrificial character of the Eucharist, in transub- 
stantiation and sacrifice generally ; as Melanchthon himself 
admitted : " The world is so much attached to the Mass 
that it seems well-nigh impossible to wrest people from it." 5 

We may here mention what occurred at a later date within 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 31 = 307. 

2 Ibid., p. 31 = 306. To Gregor Briick, Chancellor to the Elector 
of Saxony, beginning of April, 1541. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 55, p. 300. * Ibid. 

5 " Corp. Reform.," 1, p. 842 ; cp. p. 845. In reply to Luther s 
grievances against the celebration of Mass in earlier times, W. Kohler 
remarks (" Katholizismus und Reformation," p. 46) that one might 
form a better opinion of the Mass from A. Franz s book, " Die Messe 
im Mittelalter " (1902), than from Luther s writings. 


the Lutheran fold. At the instigation of Wittenberg the 
adaptation of the Catholic worship was carried out very 
thoroughly in some places, the principle proving highly con 
ducive to the acceptance of the new church system. In 
few countries, however, was this the case to such an extent 
as in Denmark, where Luther s friend Bugenhagen was 
responsible for the change of religion. Even to-day, in the 
Protestant worship established in Denmark, Norway and 
the duchies formerly united to the Danish crown, there 
is to be found a surprising number of Catholic remin 
iscences, from the solemn Eucharistic service down to the 
ringing of the bells thrice daily for prayer. In the celebration 
of the solemn Eucharist the preachers even vest in a white 
linen alb and chasuble of red velvet ; the elevation, too, is 
still preserved, for, after the " consecration," which is pro 
nounced from the middle of the altar according to im 
memorial custom, the Bread and Wine are shown to the 

Martin Weier, a young student of good family from 
Pomerania, took counsel of Luther as to how, on his return 
from Wittenberg, he was to behave with regard to his old 
father in the matter of Divine worship. Luther, according to 
his own account, told him " to conform to his father s wishes 
in every way in order not to offend him ; follow his example 
concerning fasting, prayer, hearing Mass and the veneration 
of the Saints, but at the same time instruct him in the Word 
of God and on the subject of justification, so as, if possible, 
to become his spiritual father without giving any offence." 
Luther had declared concerning himself that he had offended 
God most horribly by his former celebration of Mass, more 
so than if he had been " a highwayman or kept a brothel " ; 
yet he tells his aristocratic pupil that he will be committing 
no sin, if, " for the sake of his father, he is present at Mass 
and other acts by which God is dishonoured." 1 

A contrast to this system of accommodation and the 
gentle introduction of innovations is presented by the acts 
of violence which too often occurred on German soil at the 
time of the religious revolution. The excesses perpetrated 
by the people were, as can be proved, encouraged by the 
inflammatory speeches of the preachers, Luther s own 
words being frequently appealed to ; their effect in such 
1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 265, and ibid., n. 83. 


times of popular commotion was like that of oil poured on 
the flames. In " the streets and at every corner," on all the 
walls, on placards, in broadsides, and even on playing 
cards the clergy and the monks were abused, to quote 
Luther s own testimony. 1 " Turks " and " worse than 
Turks," such were the descriptions applied to them by the 
populace in imitation of Luther. " We shall never be 
successful against the Turks," he says later, reverting to his 
earlier style of language, " unless we fall upon them and the 
priests at the right moment and smite them dead." 2 

In the case of Luther himself such expressions were empty 
words, but the mob scrupled little about carrying them into 
effect. In many instances, however, lust for riches on the 
part of the great, who longed to possess themselves of 
Church property, and the long-standing antagonism of 
towns and Princes to the rights claimed by bishops and 
abbots, led to violence. The exaltation of their own power 
was for many of the authorities their principal reason for 
taking sides against the older Church. It must be borne in 
mind that, subsequent to 1525, Luther himself was no 
longer the sole head of the movement of apostasy. More 
and more he began to hand over the actual guidance of the 
movement to the secular power, a condition of things which 
had been preparing since the Diet of Worms. The direction 
of so far-reaching an undertaking was scarcely suited to his 
talents, which were not of the administrative order. To his 
followers, however, he remained the chief authority as 
pastor, preacher and writer ; he continued to take an active 
part in all public affairs, and, on many occasions, exercised 
a direct and profound influence on the spread of the new 

Many well-meaning and highly respected men supported 
the new establishment from no selfish motives, and became 
open and genuine promoters of Luther s cause, because 
they looked upon it as just and true. The ideal character, 
which Wittenberg was successful in stamping on Luther s 
aims, proved very seductive, especially in the then prevailing 

1 To Albert, Elector of Mayence, June 2, 1525, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
35, p. 309 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 186). 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 80. In parallel passages in other 
collections the words read " the priests at Zeitz and Meissen " ; obviously 
the proper names are misprints for " Zeit " and " schmeissen." 


ignorance of the real state of things, and in many places 
won for the cause devoted and enthusiastic workers. 

To take but one example : A knight, Hartmuth (Hart- 
mann) von Cronberg, in the Taunus, glowing with zeal for 
the new Evangel, wrote a letter recommending the Lutheran 
congregational system to the inhabitants of Cronberg and 

In 1522 he published a letter, addressed to Luther, in which he 
expresses his readiness to work faithfully with him in order that 
" all may awake from the sleep and prison of sin." I have heard, 
with heartfelt sympathy, he says to Luther, of " your great pains 
and crosses arising from the ardent charity you bear towards 
God and your neighbour, for I am thoroughly aware, from sad 
observation, of the misery and dreadful ruin of the whole German 
nation." It is no wonder that a true Christian should tremble 
in every limb with horror when he considers the desolation and 
how awful the fall of Germany must be unless a Merciful God 
enlightens us by His Grace so that we may come to the know 
ledge of Him." " Fain would I speak to the German lands and 
say : O Germany ! rejoice in the visitation of your heavenly 
Father, accept with humble thanksgiving the heavenly light, the 
Divine Truth and the Supreme Condescension, avail yourself of 
the great clemency of God, Who of His Mercy is ready to forgive 
you your great sin. . . . Throw off the heavy yoke of the devil 
and accept the sweet yoke of Christ." The writer beseeches 
God to grant " that we may not trust in ourselves or our works ; 
rather do Thou justify us by a strong faith and confidence in 
Thee alone, and Thy Divine promises, in order that Thy Divine, 
Supreme Name, Grace and Clemency may be increased, praised 
and magnified throughout the world." 1 

The same enthusiastic man of the sword had, even before this, 
expressed himself in favour of Luther in other writings in 
language almost fanatical. Luther, while at the Wartburg, had 
received two pamphlets from him, one addressed to the Emperor 
and the other to the Mendicant Orders. Luther had thanked him 
in similar tones for his zeal, and encouraged him to stand fast in 
spite of persecution. 2 The above-quoted letter, addressed by 
Cronberg to Luther, was his answer to Luther s from the Wart- 
burg ; both were printed together and made the round of 
Germany under the title " A missive to all those who suffer 
persecution for the Word of God." 

Luther there says to his admirer : " It is plain that your words 
spring from the depths of your heart and soul," and this testi 
mony seemed no exaggeration in the eyes of many who were also 
working for the spread of Lutheranism with all their heart, and 

1 On April 14, 1512, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 335. 

2 About the middle of March, 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 119 ff. 
(" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 308). 


in the best of faith. Cronberg and all these were animated by 
the spirit which Luther by his writings had sought to instil into 
all, and which he had once expressed in his own powerful, defiant 
fashion : " And even should Satan attempt greater and worse 
things he shall not weary us ; he may as well attempt to drag 
Christ down from the right hand of God. Christ sits there 
enthroned, and we too shall remain masters and lords over sin, 
death, the devil and every thing." 

The earnestness with which Cronberg espoused the 
Lutheran ideas is shown by the fact of his resigning, after 
the Diet of Worms, a yearly stipend of 200 gold gulden, 
promised him by the Emperor, when he entered his service 
with Sickingen in 1519. 1 The assistance he lent to Sickin- 
gen s treacherous machinations against the Empire proved 
his undoing. His castle of Cronberg was seized on October 
15, 1522. He sought to console himself for the loss of his 
property by a passionate devotion to his religious and 
political aims. After a life of " undismayed attachment to 
what he deemed his duty," says H. Ulmann, this man, 
" whose fidelity to conviction verged on puritanism," died 
at Cronberg on August 7, 1549. 2 

This Lutheran had demanded of the Emperor that he 
should convince the Pope by " irrefragable proofs " that 
he was the viceroy of the devil, nay, himself Antichrist. 
But should the Pope, owing to demoniacal possession, not 
admit this, then the Emperor had full right and authority 
and was bound before God to proceed against him by force, 
as against an apostate, heretic and Antichrist." 3 Some of 
his admirers, and likewise a eulogist of modern times, have 
extolled Hartmuth von Cronberg as a " Knight after 
God s own heart." His fanaticism, however, went so far 
that few dared to follow. The most unjust acts of violence, 
not merely against the Papal Antichrist, but also against 
church property which he declared everyone free to appro 
priate, were exalted by him to principles. In a circular- 
letter to Sickingen he wrote : " All ecclesiastical property 

1 Luther to Melanchthon, May 12, 1521, " Briefwechsel," 3, p. 149 : 
" Hartmannus Cronenbergius renuntiavit Ccesari stipendium WO 
aureorum nummorum, nolens servire ei, qui impios istos (Luther s 
princely foes) audiat . . . Deus vivit et regnal in scecula sceculorum. 

2 H. Ulmann, " Franz von Sickingen," Leipzig, 1872, p. 186. 

3 Cp. Janssen-Pastor, ; Gesch. des deutschen Volkes," 2 18 , p. 251 f. 


has been declared free [i.e. ownerless] by God Himself, so 
that whoever by the grace of God can get some of it may 
keep it with God s help, and no creature whether Pope or 
devil can harm such property." He warns the Frankfurt 
priest, Peter Meyer, in a printed letter, that unless he is 
converted to the " Evangel " any man may, with a good 
conscience, take action against him, " just as it is lawful 
to fall upon a ravening wolf, a sacrilegious thief and mur 
derer, with word and deed." 1 

Wittenberg. The Saxon Electorate 

The abolition of the last remnants of Catholic worship in 
Wittenberg was characterised by violence and utter want 
of consideration. 

Only in the Collegiate Church, which was ruled by Provost 
and Chapter, had it been possible to continue the celebration 
of Mass. On April 26, 1522, at the instance of Luther, the 
Elector Frederick determined that the solemn exposition 
of the rich treasury of relics belonging to the Church should 
be discontinued, in spite of the fact that the relics were in 
great part his own gift to a Church which had enjoyed his 
especial favour. Luther, however, was anxious completely 
to transform this " Bcthaven," this place of idolatry, as 
he called the Church, 2 and in this matter the Prior and 
some of the Canons were on his side. 

After some unsuccessful negotiations, carried on with the 
Elector through Spalatin, Luther himself invited the 
Chapter, on March 1, 1523, to abolish all Catholic ceremonies, 
as abominations, which could only give scandal at Wit 
tenberg. " The cause of the Evangel, which Christ has 
committed to this city as a priceless gift," forced him, so he 
declared, to speak. " My conscience can no longer keep 
silence owing to the office entrusted to me." If they would 
not give way peaceably, then they must be prepared for 
" public insults " from him, seeing that they would have 
to be excluded from the congregation as non-Christians, and 
have their company shunned. 3 

1 The passages quoted, ibid., p. 252. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 525. 

3 " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 90. Cp. the contradiction between this 
and his statement given above, p. 295 (cp. p. 328, n. 3), on the right 
and duty of the authorities in regard to Divine worship. 


The Dean, who was faithful to the Church, and the 
Catholic members of the Chapter persisted in their resistance, 
urging that the Elector himself did not wish to see the 
Masses discontinued which his ancestors had founded for the 
repose of their souls. 

Luther, not in the least disconcerted, on July 11, 1523, 
repeated his written declaration, this time in a peremptory 
tone. " If we endure this any longer," he writes, " it 
will fall upon our own heads and w r e shall be burdened with 
the sins of others." The Canons were not to tell him that 
" the Elector commanded or did not command to do this or 
to alter that. I am speaking now to your own consciences. 
What has the Elector to do with such matters ? " he asks, 
strangely contradicting his own theory. " You know what 
St. Peter says, Acts v. 29, We ought to obey God rather 
than men, and St. Paul (Gal. i. 8), Though an angel from 
heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have 
preached to you, let him be anathema. He summons 
them to " obey," otherwise he will pray against them as he 
has hitherto prayed for them, and as Christ was " jealous " it 
might be that his " prayer would be powerful and you may 
have to suffer for it." " Christ soon punishes those who are 
His, when they wax disobedient (cp. 1 Peter iv. 17). 51 

His violence in the pulpit gave reason for anticipating the 
worst when, on the very next day, he gave free rein to his 
eloquence against the Collegiate Church. 

On August 2, 1523, he again stirred up the excited mob against 
the Canons and their service. 2 

He spoke to the multitude on that day of independent action 
to be taken by all who were able, without the Elector and even 
against him : " What does he matter to us ? " he cried. " He 
commands only in worldly matters. But if he attempts to act 
further, we [i.e. Luther and the people] shall say : " Your 
Grace, pray look after your own business." 3 It was an unequivo 
cal invitation to make use of force when he told the people in 
the same sermon, that they also would be " responsible for the 
sins of others " if they permitted the Popish disorder any longer 

1 "Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 178 (" Brief wechsel," 4, p. 17G). 
" Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 649. 

3 Very different are his words in the " Exhortation to abstain 
from revolt" of the end of 1521 ("Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 680) : 
" Pay heed to the authorities. So long as they do not take up the 
matter and give orders, remain quiet. If they are against action, you 
must be so also. For if you do anything, you are unjust and much 
worse than the opposite party." 


in their midst. " I am afraid that this may also be the reason 
why the Evangel effects so little amongst us, viz. that we suffer 
such things to be." 1 Yet he was careful prudently to admonish 
the people not to touch the Canons persons. 

This admonition seems to have been more than counter 
balanced by the remaining contents of the discourse. After the 
sermon the Elector sent to remind Luther earnestly that, as a 
rule, he had spoken against risings and that he trusted he would 
" not go any further," as there was quite enough "discontent at 
Wittenberg already." 2 The offender in reply assured the 
Elector by messenger, that he would give the people no occasion 
for the employment of force, for discontent or tumult, 3 and, for 
the time being, he refrained from any further steps. Whether 
he calmed the populace, or how he did this, we are not told. 
We do know, however, that he addressed a fresh letter to the 
Canons couched in such strong language as to draw down on 
himself another reprimand from the Elector, who urged that 
Luther did not act up to what he preached. 4 In the letter in 
question, dated November 17, 1524, he told the Canons quite 
openly, that, unless they refrained voluntarily from " Masses, 
vigils and everything contrary to the Holy Evangel," they 
would be forced to do so ; he moreover asked f or a " true, straight 
and immediate answer, yea or nay, before next Sunday " ; 
what has happened is that " the devil has inspired you with a 
spirit of defiance and mischief." The " great patience with 
which we have hitherto supported your devilish behaviour and 
the idolatry in your Churches " is exhausted. He also hints 
that they could no longer be certain of the Elector s protection. 5 

Had he drawn the bow still tighter and incited to direct acts 
of violence, the results would have fallen on his own head. Yet 
a sermon which he delivered on November 27 against Mass at 
the Collegiate Church had such an effect upon the people, that 
the matter was decided. In it he asserted, that the Mass was 
blasphemy, madness and a lie ; its celebration was worse than 
unchastity, murder or robbery ; princes, burgomasters, council 
lors and judges must protect the honour of God, since they had 
received the sword from Him. 6 He exhorts " all princes and 
rulers, burgomasters, councillors and judges " to summon the 
" blasphemous ministers " of the " whore of Babylon " and 
force them to answer for themselves. His appeal is ostensibly for 
the interference of the responsible authorities, not of the masses. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 649 f. 

2 The Elector s Instructions to Hier. Schurf, Job. Scbwertfeger and 
Melanchthon re Luther, August 7, 1523, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 203. 

3 Hier. Schurf, etc., to the Elector, August 13, 1523, ibid., p. 207. 

4 The Elector pointed out that " he himself preached that the 
Word of God must be allowed to settle the question, and that this 
would in its own good time have the desired effect, so God willed " 
(November 24). See Enders, " Luthers Brief wechsel," 5, p. 55, n. 

5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 269 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 54). 

6 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 527, with the texts, p. 780. 


The agitation intentionally fomented became, however, so 
great, that the Canons did not know what steps to take 
against the " rising excitement of the inhabitants " of 
Wittenberg, 1 for the saving of the Catholic services, and 
for the safety of their own persons. Even before this, students 
had perpetrated disorders at night in the Collegiate Church, 
and Luther had himself declared that he was obliged daily 
to restrain the people to prevent the committing of excesses. 
The Canons were now tormented by the singing of satires 
on the Mass outside their house, and had to listen to the 
curses which were showered on them. One night the Dean 
had his windows smashed. The Town Council, and also the 
University, now definitely took sides against the Chapter, 
and, after warning them in writing of God s anger, sent 
representatives to advise the Canons of their excommunica 
tion. Although no actual tumult took place, yet the public 
declarations and the threatening attitude of the populace 
incited by Luther amounted to practical compulsion. The 
few Canons still remaining finally yielded to force, particu 
larly when they saw that the Elector, Frederick " the Wise," 
refused to give any but evasive replies to their appeals. 

On Christmas Day, 1524, for the first time, there was no 

Protestants themselves have recently admitted that, 
" contrary to the express wish of the sovereign and not 
without the employment of force against the Canons" 2 did 
" Luther succeed in carrying matters so far." 3 The 
Canons finally gave way before new outbursts of violence 
on the part of the students and the citizens," when, according 
to Luther s own account, there remained only " three hogs 
and paunches " of all the Canons formerly attached to this 
Church, not of " All Saints," but rather of " All Devils." 4 

An echo of his tempestuous sermon of November 27 is to 
be found in the pamphlet which Luther published at the 
commencement of 1525 : " On the abomination of Silent 
Masses " (against the Canon of the Mass). In the Preface he 
refers directly to the inglorious proceedings against the 
unfortunate Chapter. He finds it necessary to declare that 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 527, with the texts, p. 780. 

2 Th. Kolde, " Friedrich der Weise,"" p. 34. 

3 C. A. Burkhardt, " Luthers Briefwechsel," 1866, p. 76. 

4 Hausrath, " Luthers Leben," 1, p. 550. 


he, for his part, had aroused no revolt, for what was done by 
the established authorities could not be termed revolt ; the 
" secular gentlemen," who, according to him, constituted 
the established authorities, had, however, felt it their duty 
to take steps against the Catholic worship in the Collegiate 

In that same year, 1525, under the auspices of the new 
Elector Johann, a great friend to Lutheranism, who suc 
ceeded the Elector Frederick upon his death on May 5, 1525, 
and whom Luther had long before won over to his cause, 
the order of Divine Service at Wittenberg was entirely 
altered. " The Pope " was at last, as Spalatin joyfully 
proclaimed throughout the city, " completely set aside." 1 

Under the rule of the Elector Johann, Luther at once 
carried out the complete suppression of Catholic worship 
throughout the Electorate. 

On October 1, 1525, Spalatin wrote to the Elector Johann : 
* Dr. Martin also says, that your Electoral Grace is on no 
account to permit anyone to continue the anti-Christian 
ceremonies any longer, or to start them again." 2 

With the object of helping him in his work at Court and of 
removing any scruples he might have, Luther explained to 
Spalatin, in a letter of November 11 of the same year, that 
by stamping out the Catholic worship rulers would not be 
forcing the faith on anyone, but merely prohibiting such 
open abominations as the Mass ; if anyone, in spite of all, 
desired to believe in it privately, or to blaspheme in secret, 
no coercion would be exercised. 3 No attention was paid 
to the rights of Catholics to a Divine Worship, attendance 
at which was to them a matter of conscience. They were 
simply to be permitted to emigrate ; if they chose to remain 
they were not to " perform or take any part in any public 
worship." 4 It was on such principles as these that the 
Memorandum which Spalatin presented to the Elector on 
January 10, 1526, was based. 5 

1 Cp. Spalatin to V. Warbeck, September 30, 1525, in Schlegel, 
" Vita Spalatini," p. 222. 2 Kolde, ibid., p. 72. 

3 " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 271 seq. * Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 524. 

5 Reprinted in the " Mitteil. der Gesch. und Alter tumsges. des 
Osterl.," 6, 1886, p. 513. Cp. N. Paulus, " War Luther im Prinzip toler 
ant ? " ( Wissenschaftl. Beilage zur Germania," 1910, Nos. 12, 13, 
p. 96). 


Luther himself appealed to the Elector on February 9, 
1526, seeking to " fortify his conscience " and to encourage 
him " to attack the idolaters with even greater readiness." 
He points out to him, first, how damnable is the blasphemous, 
idolatrous worship ; were he to afford it any protection, 
then " all the abominations against God would eventu 
ally weigh upon his, the Prince s, conscience " ; secondly, 
that differences in religious worship would inevitably 
give rise to " revolt and tumults"; hence the ruler 
must provide that " in each locality there be but one 
doctrine." 1 

To the force of such arguments Johann could not but 

He answered in a friendly letter to Luther on February 13, 
1526, that he had been pleased to take note of the difficulty, 
and would for the future know how to comport himself in 
these matters in a Christian and irreproachable manner. 2 
Subsequent to this assurance he acted as an apt pupil of the 
Wittenberg Professor. 

In accordance with the instructions given by the Elector 
in 1527 for the general Visitation of the Churches in the 
Saxon Electorate, an " inquisition " was to be held every 
where by the ecclesiastical Visitors as to whether any " sect 
or schism " existed in the country. Whoever was " suspected 
of error in respect of the sacraments or some doctrine of 
faith " was to be " summoned and interrogated, and, if the 
occasion required, hostile witnesses were to be heard " ; 
if any refused to give up their " error," they were com 
manded to sell their possessions within a given time and to 
quit the country. 3 One thing only was still wanting, viz. 
that the people should be compelled by the Ruler to attend 
the Lutheran sermons and services. Even this was, however, 
implied in the regulations, since those who did not attend 
were classed among the " suspects." As time went on 
Luther demanded the exercise of such coercion, and it was 

1 Letters, cd. De Wette, 3, p. 88 seq., " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 367 
(" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 318). It is therefore incorrect to assert that 
Luther was thinking only of the peace which would be a result of uniform 
preaching, and not of the damnable nature of the worship to be pro 
hibited. See the passages quoted here and above, p. 315 if. 

2 " Briefwechsel," 5, p. 321. 

3 E. Sehling, " Die evang. Kirchenordnungen des 16 Jahrh.," 
1, 1902, p. 142 ff. 


actually introduced in the Electorate and, later, in the 
Protestant Duchy of Saxony. 1 . 

The proceedings on the introduction of the innovations in 
other districts were similar to those in the Electorate of 
Saxony. Wherever a small group of persons were willing 
to throw in their lot with the first local representatives of the 
new faith generally clerics they were backed up by the 
State authorities, who reconstructed the religious system 
as they thought best. " Nowhere was the primitive Lutheran 
ideal realised of a congregation forming itself in entire 
independence. . . . Thus at an early date Lutheranism took 
its place among the political factors, and its development 
was to a certain extent dependent upon the tendencies and 
inclinations of the authorities and ruling sovereigns of 
that day." 2 

The Electors Frederick and Johann of Saxony were 
gradually joined by a number of other Princes who intro 
duced the innovations into their lands, and the magistrates 
of the larger, and even of some of the smaller, Imperial cities 
soon followed suit. Thus the whole movement, having 
owed its success so largely to the authorities, was governed 
and exploited by them and assumed a strongly political 
character, needless to say, much to the detriment of its 
religious aspect. 

What part the " inclinations of the ruling sovereigns " 
played, even in opposition to Luther s own wishes, is plain 
from the example of the Margrave Philip of Hesse, who, 
next to the Elector of Saxony, was the most powerful, and 
undoubtedly the most determined, promoter of the great 
apostasy. This Prince, whose leanings were towards 
Zurich, as early as 1529 was anxious to extend the alliance 
he had concluded in the interests of the innovations with 
the Saxon Electorate, so as to embrace also the Zwinglians. 
Attracted by Zwingli s denial of the sacrament, he also 
sought, with the assistance of theologians of his own way of 
thinking, to amalgamate the Swiss doctrine with that of 

1 Luther to Levin Metzsch, August 26, 1529, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
54, p. 97 (" Brief wechsel," 7, p. 149) ; to Thomas Loscher of same 
date, " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 150 ; to the Margrave George of Branden 
burg, September 14, 1531, "Werke," Erl. ed., 54, p. 253 (" Brief- 
wechsel," 9, p. 103). 

2 W. Friedensburg, " Schriften des Vereins fiir Reformationsgesch.," 
No. 100, 1910, p. 50. 


Wittenberg ; in this he was not, however, successful. The 
great religious alliance with Wittenberg aimed at by 
Zwingli himself as well as by Philip, and which it was hoped 
to settle at the Conference of Marburg (see vol. iii., xix. 1), 
was never realised, Luther refusing to give in on any point. 
In Hesse, however, the Zwinglian influence was maintained 
through the agency of theologians of Bucer s school, which 
had the favour of the Court, while at Strasburg and other 
South German cities the authorities, leaning even more to 
the Swiss Confession, set up their " reformed " view as the 
actual rule of faith in their domains. 


The history of the apostasy of Nuremberg, which may be 
considered separately here, exhibits another type of the 
proceedings at the general religious revolution. 

Here the two centres of the inception of the movement were 
the Augustinian monastery, inhabited by monks of Luther s own 
Order, and, as in so many other places, the town-council. 
Several clerics had already preached the new doctrines when the 
magistrates, at the time of the Diet of Nuremberg, in 1522, from 
motives of prudence, forbade the discussion of controversial 
questions in the pulpit. In 1524 two Provosts, and likewise the 
Prior of the Augustinians, abolished the celebration of Mass. The 
most active in the cause of the change of religion was the former 
priest and preacher, Andreas Osiander. At the Diet of Nurem 
berg, in 1524, Catholic prelates were insulted by the excited mob. 
Wives were taken by the Augustinian Johann Walter, by 
Dominic Schleupner, preacher at St. Sebaldus, by the Abbot of 
St. ^Egidius, by Provost Pessler and Osiander himself. Whereas 
the town-council the moving spirits of which were Hieronymus 
Ebner, Caspar Stiitzel and particularly Lazarus Spengler, the 
Town Clerk formally decided to join Luther s party, many 
among the people remained wavering, doubtful and undecided ; 
here, as in so many other places, we find no trace of any sudden 
falling away of the people as a whole. 

What Charity Pirkheimer, the sister of the learned Nuremberg 
patrician, wrote of her native city is applicable to many other 
towns : "I frequently hear that there are many people in this 
city who are almost in despair and no longer go to any sermons, 
but say the preaching has led them astray so that they really do 
not know what to believe, and that they are sorry they ever 
listened to it." 1 

1 " Charitas Pirkheimers Denkwiirdigkeiten aus dem Reforma- 
tionszeitalter," ed. C. Hofler, 1852, p. 130. Cp. Franz Binder, " Chari 
tas Pirkheimer" 2 , 1878. 


The magistrates of Nuremberg, by dint of violent measures, 
sapped all Catholic life little by little and prevailed on the 
chief families to embrace Lutheranism. The religious Orders 
were prohibited from undertaking the cure of souls, the clergy 
were ordained civilly, while, to those who proved amenable, 
stipends were assured for life. The monastery of St. ^Egidius 
surrendered to the magistrates in 1525 with its community 
numbering twenty-five persons, likewise the Augustinian priory 
from which no less than twenty-four religious passed over to 
Lutheranism, likewise the Carmelite monastery with fifteen 
priests and seven lay brothers, of whom only a few remained 
staunch, and finally the Carthusian house, where most of the 
monks became Lutherans. 

All these changes took place in 1525. 

The Dominicans held out longer. At last the five surviving 
Friars surrendered their convent to the magistrates in 1543. The 
Franciscan Observantines, however, made the finest stand, 
enduring every kind of persecution and the most abject poverty 
until the last died in 1562. Together with the sons of St. Francis 
mention must also be made of the convent of Poor Clares, subject 
to them, and presided over as Abbess by Charity Pirkheimer, 
a lady equally clever and pious. 

The Poor Clares, eighty in number, were, like the nuns of the 
other convents in the town, deprived of their preachers and con 
fessors and forced to listen to the evangelical pastors, which they 
did grudgingly and with many a murmur. For five years they 
were forcibly prevented from receiving the Blessed Sacrament. 
The priests of the town could only bring them spiritual assistance 
at the peril of their lives, and the consolations of the Church had 
eventually to be conveyed to them from a distance, from Bam- 
berg and Spalt, by priests in disguise. One after another the 
inmates died in heroic fidelity to the Catholic religion ; those 
who survived clung even more closely to the faith of their fathers 
and to the strict observance of their Rule. It is touching to read 
in the " Memoirs " of Charity Pirkheimer how the poor nuns 
passed through the misery of bodily privations and spiritual 
martyrdom in union with our suffering Saviour, in an inward 
peace which nothing could destroy ; how they worked actively 
for their friends, the poor of the city, and even celebrated now 
and then little family festivals in joyful, sisterly love. 

Wenceslaus Link, the former Superior of the Augustinian 
house at Altenburg, had removed to Nuremberg with his wife, 
where he became warden and preacher to the new hospital, 
proving himself a fierce Lutheran. In 1541 he informed Luther 
of the sad experiences he had had with the Evangel in the city. 
The " Word " was despised, he writes, immorality was on the 
increase and went unpunished, the preachers were hated and 
he himself when he went out had the name " parson " derisively 
hurled at him ; people dubbed the Evangel a human invention, 
and snapped their fingers at the sentence of excommunication. 
Luther expressed his sympathy with his downhearted correspon- 


dent and sought to encourage him : it grieved him deeply, he 
wrote, that this fate should have befallen the Word of God ; 
such a state of things was the third great temptation in the 
history of the Church, the first being the persecutions in the 
times of the Pagan rulers, and the second the difficulties occa 
sioned by the great heresies in the period of the Fathers of the 
Church, both of which had been safely withstood. He comforts 
Link by assuring him that this, the third great temptation of the 
Gospel, will also pass over happily. " Should this not be the 
case, however, then there is no hope for Nuremberg, for that 
would be to grieve the Holy Ghost, and it would be necessary to 
think of quitting this Babylon. We would have cured Babylon, 
but she is not healed [he says with Jeremias li. 9] ; let us forsake 
her. " l 

It would, of course, be unfair to ascribe to Luther all the 
deeds of violence or injustice which took place in great 
number on the spread of the new ecclesiastical system. It 
is notorious how much the unruly, turbulent spirit of that 
day contributed to the distressing phenomena of the 
struggle then being carried on. Such a far-reaching revolu 
tion naturally set free forces and passions in both the 
higher and lower spheres, which could only with difficulty be 
brought once more under control. Now and then, too, 
faithful Catholics, laymen, priests and religious, by a misuse 
of the power they happened to possess, gave occasion to 
renewed acts of oppression on the part of the Lutherans. 

It is, nevertheless, right to point out the turbulent stamp 
which Luther impressed upon the movement. His own share 
in the work, some examples of which we have considered 
above, were utterly at variance with his advice to Gabriel 
Z willing, viz. " to leave everything to God, to avoid intro 
ducing innovations and to guide the people solely by faith 
and charity" (above, p. 314). 

Luther and the Introduction of the New Teaching 

at Erfurt 

The most powerful impulse to the introduction of the 
new teaching in Erfurt proceeded from the Augustinian 
house in that town. Its former Prior, Johann Lang, became 
an apostle of Lutheranism after having prepared the way 
for the innovation as a Humanist of modern views closely 
allied with the Humanist group at Erfurt. 

1 On September 8, 1541, Letters, ed. De Wette, 5, p. 398 f. The 
nature of the complaints made by Link are inferred from this letter. 


We find Lang, in the summer of 1520, still Rural Vicar of 
his Order, and he may have retained the dignity for some 
time longer when Wenceslaus Link was elected as Staupitz s 
successor at the Chapter held at Eisleben in that year. The 
fourteen monks of the Augustinian Congregation at one 
time so faithful to the Church who quitted the Order 
before Lang, remind us of the sad fact, that in his work 
Luther met with support in many places from those who 
were originally Catholics, and that the innovation was 
often heartily welcomed by members of the clergy, secular 
and regular. 

The Saxon Augustinian Congregation, which was strongly 
represented at Erfurt, had been undermined by Luther s 
spirit no less than by the struggle between the Conventuals 
and the Observantines. At the convention of the Order, 
held at Wittenberg on the Feast of the Three Kings in 1522, 
it was decided that begging would henceforth be no longer 
allowed, 1 "because we follow Holy Scripture." At that 
time many had already apostatised. It was further or 
dained, that, by virtue of the evangelical freedom of the 
servants of God, everyone was free to leave his monastery. 
" Among those who are Christ s there is neither monk nor 
layman. Whoever is not yet able to comprehend this free 
dom may act as he thinks fit, but must not give scandal to 
others by his conduct, in order that the Holy Evangel be not 
blasphemed." On this the Protestant historian of the 
Augustinian Congregation remarks : " This [i.e. the giving 
of no scandal] was more easily commended than put into 
effect." And, speaking of the time when the Erfurt Augus 
tinian house was already almost empty (Usingen, Nathin 
and a few others alone remaining faithful), he writes : 
" Lang and his companions were in great danger of seeing 
the triumph of the Evangel rather in the rooting out of 
Popery than in the promoting of the new evangelical life. 
. . . Usingen, exposed to the mockery and insults of his own 
pupils, which he had certainly never deserved, at last 
quitted in anger the spot where he had worked for many 
years," " an honest man." 2 He withdrew in 1525 to the 
Augustinian monastery at Wiirzburg. 

Factors favourable to the spread of Lutheranism in 

1 Kolde, " Die deutsche Augustinerkongregation," p. 378 f. 

2 Ibid. 
II. Z 


Erfurt were : The Humanism, antagonistic to the Church, 
which was all-powerful at the University ; the restlessness 
of the common people, who were dissatisfied with their 
condition ; the jealousy existing between the secular and 
regular clergy, the struggle which the town was carrying 
on with its chief pastor, the Archbishop of Mayence, con 
cerning rights and property ; last, but not least, the hatred 
of the laity for the opulent and far too numerous clergy. 
Here, therefore, we find the selfsame elements present which 
elsewhere so ably seconded the preaching of the new 

Erfurt affords an example of how pious foundations of 
former ages had multiplied to an excessive and burdensome 
extent, a condition of things which was no longer any real 
advantage to the Church, and simply tended to arouse the 
jealousy of the laity and working man. 

There were more than three hundred vicariates (livings, 
or benefices), twenty-one parish churches or churches of the 
same standing, thirty chapels and six hospitals ; the number of 
secular clergy was in proportion to the work entailed in 
serving the above, and there was an even greater number of 
monks and nuns. In every corner there were monastic estab 
lishments. Benedictines, the Scottish Brotherhood, the 
Canons Regular, Carthusians, Dominicans and Franciscans, 
Servites and Augustinians, all were represented. In addition 
to this were four or five convents of women. Erfurt perhaps 
possessed more ecclesiastical foundations and institutions 
than any other town in Germany, with the possible ex 
ception of Cologne and Nuremberg. 1 The rich possessions 
of the convents and churches at Erfurt were made the 
pretext for the religious innovations. The immunity they 
enjoyed from the burdens borne by the citizens was to be 
made an end of, the ecclesiastical property was to be handed 
over to the town, and the town itself was to be withdrawn 
from the temporal sway of the Archbishop of Mayence. 

When Luther, who was already under the ban, preached 
at Erfurt, on April 7, 1521, in the Church of the Augus 
tinians (see above, p. 63), he represented the religious 
change, the way for which had already been paved, 

1 Cp. Kolde, " Das religiose Leben in Erfurt beim Ausgang des 
Mittelalters," 1898, p. 3, and the work of the Erfurt expert, Georg 
Oergel, " Vom jungen Luther," 1899, p. 42. 


in the light of that evangelical freedom which his view 
of faith and works was to bring to the inhabitants of 
Erfurt. 1 

" We must not build upon human laws or works, but have a 
real faith in Him Who destroys all sin. . . . Thus we don t care 
a straw for man-made laws." He derides the ecclesiastical laws, 
enacted by shepherds who destroyed the sheep and treated them 
" as butchers do on Easter Eve." " Are all human laws to be 
ignored ? " "I answer and say, that, where true Christian 
charity and faith prevails, everything that a man does is meritori 
ous and each one may do as he pleases, provided always that he 
accounts his works as nothing ; for they cannot save him." 
" Christ s work, which is not ours," alone avails to save us. He 
extols the " sola fides " in persuasive and popular language, 
showing how it alone justifies and saves us. 

It was on this occasion that, unguardedly, he allowed him 
self to be carried away to say : " What matters it if we commit 
a fresh sin ! so long as we do not despair but remember that 
Thou, O God, still livest." 2 

The contrary " delusion," he says, had been invented and 
encouraged by the preachers, whose proceedings were infinitely 
worse than any mere "numbering of the people." He storms 
against the clergy and vigorously foments the social discontent. 
To build churches, or found livings, etc., was mere outward 
show ; " such works simply gave rise to avarice, desire for the 
praise of men and other vices." " You think that as a priest you 
are free from sin 5 and yet you nourish so much jealousy in your 
heart ; if you could slay your neighbour with impunity you 
would do so and then go on saying Mass. Surely it would not be 
surprising were a thunderbolt to smite you to the earth." In 
order to complete the effect of this demagogic outburst he mocks 
at the sermons, with their legends " about the old ass," etc., 
and their quotations from ancient philosophers, who were " not 
only against the Gospel, but even against God Himself." 

The result was stupendous, especially in the case of the 
young men at the University whom the Humanists had 
disposed in Luther s favour. On the day after Luther s 
departure one of his sympathisers, a Canon of the Church 
of St. Severus, who had taken part in the solemn reception 
accorded Luther on his arrival in the town, was told by the 
Dean, Jakob Doliatoris, that he was under excommunication 
and might no longer attend the service in choir. On 
his complaining to the University, of which he was a 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 808 ff. ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 251. 

2 Ibid., p. 810-254. 


member, the students intervened with demonstrations in 
his favour. 1 

Luther heard of this only through certain unreliable 
reports and wrote to Spalatin : " They apprehend still 
worse things at Erfurt. The Senate pretends to see nothing 
of what is going on. The clergy are reviled. The young 
apprentices are said to be in league with the students. We 
are about to see the prophecy fulfilled : Erfurt has 
become a new [Husite] Prague. : Previous to this, in the 
same letter, he had said of his adversaries in the Empire : 
" Let them be, perhaps the day of their visitation is at 
hand." 2 

Soon after, however, he became rather more concerned, 
perhaps owing to further reports of the unrest, and began 
to fear for the " good name and progress of the Evangel," in 
consequence of the acts of brutality committed. " It is 
indeed quite right," he wrote to Melanchthon, " that those 
who persist in their impiety should have their courage 
cooled," but in this " Satan makes a mockery of us " ; he 
sees in a mystical vision " The Judgment Day," the ap 
proaching end of the world at Erfurt, and the fig tree, as 
had been foretold, growing up, covered with leaves, but 
bare of fruit because the cause of the Evangel could not 
make its way. 3 

In July, 1521, there broke out in the town the so-called 
" Pfaffensturm." 

In a few days more than sixty parsonages had been 
pulled down, libraries destroyed and the archives and tithe 
registers of the ecclesiastical authorities ransacked ; little 
regard was shown for human life. A little later seven 
clergy-houses were again set on fire. Meanwhile the 
Lutheran preachers, with the fanatical Lang at their head, 
were at liberty to stir up the people. 4 The ruin of the 
University was imminent ; many parents withdrew their 
sons, fearing lest they should be infected with the " Husite 
heresy." The customary Catholic services were, however, 

1 Cp. G. Oergel, " Beitrage zur Gesch. des Erfurter Humanismus," 
in " Mitt, des Vereins fiir Gesch. und Altertumskunde von Erfurt," 
Hft. 15, Erfurt, 1892, p. 85 ff., who points out certain errors of Kamp- 
schulte in his " Gesch. der Erfurter Universitat." 

2 On May 14, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 153. 

3 About the middle of May, 1521, ibid., p. 158. 

* Janssen, " Hist, of the German People," 3, p. 246 ff. 


performed as usual, but the end of Catholic worship could 
be foreseen owing to the ever-increasing growth of " evan 
gelical freedom." Renegade monks, especially Luther s 
former Augustinian comrades, preached against " the old 
Church as the mother of faithlessness and hypocrisy " ; 
Lang spoke of the monasteries as " dens of robbers." Under 
the attacks of the preachers one human ordinance after 
another fell to the ground. Fasting, long prayers, founded 
Masses, confraternities, everything in fact, disappeared 
before the new liberty, value being allowed only to temporal 
works of mercy. The avarice of the "shorn, anointed 
priestlings " was no longer to be stimulated by the people s 
money. " Ruffianly crowds showed their sympathy with the 
preachers by yelling and shouting in church. Theological 
questions were debated in market-places and taverns, 
men, women and boys expounded the Bible." 1 

Luther, through Lang, urged the Augustinians at Erfurt, 
who still remained true to their monastic Rule, to apostatise ; 
he merely expressed the wish that there should be no 
"tumults" against the Order. Lang was to " defend the 
cause of the Evangel " 2 at the next Convention of the 
Saxon Augustinians, a meeting which took place at 
Epiphany, 1522 (above, p. 337). Lang justified his apostasy 
in a work in which he expressly appeals to the new doctrines 
on faith and good works. The exodus of the monks from 
their convent was not, however, carried out as quietly as 
Luther would have wished ; he dreaded the " slanders of 
the foes of the Evangel " and was depressed by the im 
morality of the inhabitants of Erfurt, and by his own experi 
ence with his followers. He spoke his mind to Lang : " The 
power of the Word is still concealed, or else you pay too 
little heed to it. This surprises me greatly. We are just 
the same as before, hard, unfeeling, impatient, sinful, in 
temperate, lascivious and combative, in short, the mark of 
the Christian, true charity, is nowhere to be found. Paul s 
words are fulfilled in us : We have God s Word on our lips, 
but not in power (cp. 1 Cor. iv. 20). " 3 In 1524 Lang married 
the rich widow of an Erfurt fuller. 

Those who had been unfaithful to their vows and priestly 

1 Jansseii, "Hist, of German People," 3, p. 248. 

2 To Lang, December 18, 1521 (" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 256). 

3 On March 28, 1522, ibid., p. 323. 


obligations, and then acted as preachers of the new faith, 
gave the greatest scandal by their conduct. 

Many letters dating from 1522, 1523 and 1524, written by 
Lutheran Humanists such as Eobanus Hessus, Euricius 
Cordus and Michael Nossenus, who, with disgust, were 
observing their behaviour, bore witness to the general 
deterioration of morals in the town, more particularly 
among the escaped monks and nuns. 1 " I see," Luther 
himself wrote to Erfurt, " that monks are leaving in 
great numbers for no other reason than for their belly s 
sake and for the freedom of the flesh." 2 

Meanwhile, discussions were held in the Erfurt circle of 
the semi-theologian Lang, on the absence of free-will in 
man and on " the evil that God does." Lang applied to 
Luther for help. " I see that you are idlers," was his reply, 
" though the devil provides you with abundance of occupa 
tion in what he plots amongst you. You must not argue 
concerning the evil that God does. It is not, as you fancy, 
the work of God, but a ceasing to work on God s part. We 
desire what is evil when He ceases to work in us and leaves 
our nature free to fulfil its o\vn wickedness. Where He 
works the result is ever good. Scripture speaks of such 
ceasing to work on God s part as a hardening. Thus evil 
cannot be wrought [by God], since it is nothing ( malum non 
potent fieri, cum sit nihir), but it arises because what is good 
is neglected, or prevented." 

This was one of the ethical doctrines proclaimed by Luther 
and Melanchthon which lay at the back of the new theory 
of good works. Luther enlarged on it in startling fashion in 
.his book " De servo arbitrio " (above, p. 223 ff.). 

Bartholomew Usingen, the learned and pious Augus- 
tinian, who had once been Luther s professor and had 
enjoyed his especial esteem, witnessed with pain and sad 
ness the changes in the town and in his own priory. The 
former University professor, now an aged man, fearlessly 
took his place in the yet remaining Catholic pulpits, par- 

1 Cp. above, p. 123 ff., and Janssen- Pastor, " Gesch. des d. Volkes," 
2 18 , p. 565, where reference is made to the letters of Eobanus Hessus : 
" He speaks of the increase of crime and the executions which took 
place almost daily ; for instance, that of a father who had dishonoured 
his own daughter ; the prisons did not suffice for the number of 
criminals." Nossenus remained with Lang. 

2 In letter last referred to, p. 323 f. 


ticularly at St. Mary s, assured of the support and respect 
of the staunch members of the fold who flocked in numbers 
to hear him. There he protested against the new doctrines 
and the growing licentiousness, though he too had to 
submit to unheard-of insults, abuse and even violent inter 
ruptions of his sermons when emissaries of the Lutherans 
succeeded in forcing their way in. He also laboured against 
religious innovations with his pen. 

" If we are taught," says Usingen, " that faith alone can save 
us, that good works are of no avail for salvation and do not merit 
a reward for us in heaven, who will then take the trouble to 
perform them ? Why exhort men even to do what is right if we 
have no free-will ? And who will be diligent in keeping the com 
mandments of God if the people are taught that they cannot 
possibly be kept, and that Christ has already fulfilled them 
perfectly for us ? "* 

Usingen points out to the preachers, especially to Johann 
Gulsamer, the noisiest of them all: "The fruits of your preach 
ing, the excesses and scandals which spring from it, are known 
to the whole world ; then indeed shall the people exert them 
selves to tame their passions when they are told repeatedly that 
by faith alone all sin is blotted out, and that confession is 
no longer necessary. Adultery, unchastity, theft, blasphemy, 
calumny and such other vices increase to an alarming extent, as 
unfortunately we see with our own eyes ( patet per quotidianum 
exercitium )." 2 

" The effect of your godless preaching is," he says, on another 
occasion, " that the faithful no longer perform any works of 
mercy, and for this reason the poor are heard to complain 
bitterly of you." 3 " The rich no longer trouble about the needy, 
since they are told in sermons that faith alone suffices for salva 
tion and that good works are not meritorious. The clergy, who 
formerly distributed such abundant alms from the convents and 
foundations, are no longer in a position to continue these works 
of charity because, owing to your attacks, their means have been 
so greatly reduced." 4 

The worthy Augustinian had shown especial marks of favour 
to his pupil Lang, and it grieved him all the more deeply that he, 
by the boundless animosity he exhibited in his discourses, should 
have set an example to the other preachers in the matter of 
abuse, whether of the Orders, the clergy or the Papacy. He said 
to him in 1524, " I recalled you from exile [i.e. transferred you 
from Wittenberg to the studium generate at Erfurt] . . . and 
this is the distinction you have won for yourself ; you were the 
cause of the Erfurt monks leaving their monastery ; there had 

1 N. Paulus, " Bartholomavis vori Usingen," p. 92, n. 2-4. 

2 Ibid., pp. 90, 91, n. 1. . 3 Ibid. 
4 Ibid., p. 90, n. 2. 


been fourteen apostasies and now yours makes the fifteenth ; 
like the dragon of the Apocalypse when he fell from heaven, you 
dragged down with you the third part of the stars." 1 

Usingen mentions the " report," possibly exaggerated, 
that at one time some three hundred apostate monks were 
in residence at Erfurt ; many ex-nuns were daily to be seen 
wandering about the streets. 2 Most of these auxiliaries 
who had flocked to the town in search of bread, were un 
educated clerics who drew upon themselves the scorn of the 
Humanists belonging to the new faith. Any of these clerics 
who were capable of speaking in public, by preference 
devoted themselves to invective. Usingen frequently 
reproached his foes with their scurrility in the pulpit, their 
constant attacks on the sins and crimes of the clergy, and 
their violent reprobation and abuse of institutions and 
customs held in universal veneration for ages, all of which 
could only exercise a pernicious influence on morality. 
" Holy Scripture," he says in a work against the two 
preachers Culsamer and Mechler, " commands the preacher 
to point out their sins to the people and to exhort them to 
amendment. But the new preaching does not speak to the 
people of their faults but only of the sins of the clergy, and 
thus the listener forgets his own sins and leaves the church 
worse than he entered it." And elsewhere : " Invective 
was formerly confined to the viragoes of the market-place, 
but now it flourishes in the churches." " Even your own 
hearers are weary of your everlasting slanders. Formerly, 
they say, the gospel was preached to us, but such abuse and 
calumny was not then heard in the pulpit." 3 

It could not be but regarded as strange that Luther him 
self, forgetful of his former regard, went so far as to egg on 
his pupils and friends at Erfurt against his old professor. 
Usingen certainly had never anticipated such treatment at 
his hands. " He has, as you know," Luther wrote to Lang, 
on June 26, " become hard-headed and full of ingrained 
obstinacy and conceit. Therefore, in your preaching, you 
must draw down upon his folly the contempt that such 
coarse and inflated blindness deserves." As from his 
early years he had never been known to yield to anyone, 

1 " Bartholomaus von Usingen," p. 16, 54 f. Cp. Oergel, " Vom 
jungen Luther," p. 132. 

2 Paulus, ibid., p. 100, n. 1. 3 Ibid., p. 93 f. 


Luther gave up the hope of seeing the stubborn sophist 
" yield to Christ " ; he sees here the confirmation of the 
proverb : " No fool like an old fool." 1 

Carried away by his success at Erfurt, Luther urged the 
preachers not to allow their energies to flag. 

It is true that in an official Circular-Letter to the Erfurt 
Congregation, despatched on July 10, 1522, and intended 
for publication, his tone is comparatively calm ; the super 
scription is : " Martin Luther, Ecclesiastes of Wittenberg, 
to all the Christians at Erfurt together with the preachers 
and ministers, Grace and Peace in Christ Jesus, Our Lord." 2 
Therein, at Lang s request, dealing with the controversy 
which had arisen at Erfurt regarding the veneration 
of the Saints, he declares that whilst there was cer 
tainly no warrant of Scripture for Saint-worship, it ought 
not to be assailed with violence (i.e. not after the fashion of 
the fanatics whose doings were a public danger). He trusts 
" we shall be the occasion of no rising " and points to his 
own example as showing with what moderation he had 
ever proceeded against the Papists : "As yet I have not 
moved a finger against them, and Christ has destroyed them 
with the sword of His mouth" (2 Thess. ii. S). 3 "Leave 
Christ to act " in true faith such is the gist of his exhorta 
tion in this letter so admirably padded with Pauline phrases 
but despise and avoid the " stiff-necked sophists " ; 
" Whoever stinks, let him go on stinking." He concludes, 
quite in the Pauline manner : " May Our Lord Jesus Christ 
strengthen you together with us in all the fulness of the 
knowledge of Himself to the honour of His Father, Who is 
also ours, to Whom be Glory for ever and ever, Amen. 
Greet Johann Lang [and the other preachers] : George 
Forchheim, Johann Culhamer, Antony Musam, Jigidius 
Mechler and Peter Bamberger. Philip, Jonas and all our 
people greet you. The Grace of God be with you all, 
Amen." 4 

But when Luther, at the instance of Duke Johann of 
Saxony and his son Johann Frederick, came to Erfurt, in 
October, 1522, accompanied by Melanchthon, Agricola and 

1 " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 403. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 164 ff. ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 139 ft. 
(" Brief wechsel," 3, p. 431). 

3 Ibid., p. 167 = 143. * Ibid., p. 168 = 144. 


Jacob Probst, and proceeded to address the multitude who 
nocked to hear him (October 21 and 22), he was unable to 
restrain his passion, and, by his words of fire, fanned the 
hatred and blind fanaticism of the mob to the highest pitch. 

He scolded the clergy as " fat and lazy priestlings and monks," 
who " hitherto had carried on their deceitful trade throughout 
the whole world," and upon whom " everything had been 
bestowed." " So far they have mightily fattened their great 
paunches." "Of what use were their brotherhoods, indulgence- 
letters and all their countless trickeries ? " " Ah, it must have 
cost the devil much labour to establish the ecclesiastical Estate. 
. . . Alas for these oil-pots who can do nothing but anoint 
people, wash walls and baptise bells ! " But the believer is 
" Lord over Pope and devil and all such powers, and is also a 
judge of this delusion." 

And yet in remarkable contrast to all this, in his closing words, 
spoken with greater ponderance, he exhorts the people " not to 
despise their enemies even though they know not Christ, but to 
have patience with them." Yet before this he had declared : 
" We must crush the fiendish head of this brood with the Evangel. 
Then the Pope will lose his crown." He had also preached against 
the secular authority exercised at Erfurt by the Archbishop of 
Mayence : " Our Holy Fathers and reverend lords, who have 
the spiritual sword as well as the temporal, want to be our rulers 
and masters. It is plain they have not got even the spiritual 
sword, and certainly God never gave them the temporal. There 
fore it is only right, that, as they have exalted their government 
so greatly, it should be greatly humbled." 1 

Amidst all this he has not a single word of actual blame for the 
former acts of violence, but merely a few futile platitudes on 
peaceableness, such as : " We do not wish to preserve the Evangel 
by our own efforts," for it is sufficiently strong to see to itself. 
He assures his hearers that, " he was not concerned how to 
defend it." 2 Yet he sets up each of his followers as " king " and 
" yoke-fellow of Christ," having the Royal Priesthood so that 
they may defy the Hierarchy, " who have stolen the sword out 
of our hands." All this while expressly professing to proclaim 
the great and popular doctrine of faith and Bible only. 

" You have been baptised and endowed with the true faith, 
therefore you are spiritual and able to judge of all things by the 
word of the Evangel, and are not to be judged of any man. . . . 
Say : My faith is founded on Christ alone and His Word, not on 
the Pope or on any Councils. . . . My faith is here a judge and 
may say : This doctrine is true, but that is false and evil. And 
the Pope and all his crew, nay, all men on earth, must submit to 
that decision. . . . Therefore I say : Whoever has faith is a 
spiritual man and judge of all things, and is himself judged of no 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 13, 3, p. 358-61, 362 fi. ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , 
pp. 445, 446, 447, 451, 454, 460, 461. 2 p. 354-439. 


man . . . the Pope owes him obedience, and, were he a true 
Christian, would prostrate himself at his feet, and so too would 
every University, learned man or sophist." 1 

All depends on one thing, namely, whether this believer 
" judges according to the Evangel," i.e. according to the new 
interpretation of Scripture which Luther has disclosed. 

We naturally think of Usingen and those Erfurt professors 
who remained faithful to the Church when Luther, in the course 
of his sermon, in sarcastic language, pits his new interpreta 
tion of Scripture against the " sophists, birettas and skull-caps." 
" Bang the mouths of the sophists to [when they cry] : Papa 
Papa, Concilium, Concilium, Patres, Patres, Universities, Uni 
versities. What on earth do we care about that ? one word 
of God is more than all this." 2 " Let them go on with all their 
sermons and their dreams ! " " Let us see what such bats will 
do with their feather-brooms ! " 3 

The commanding tone in which he spoke and the persuasive 
force of his personality were apt to make. his hearers forgetful of 
the fact, that, after all, his great pretensions rested on his own 
testimony- alone. In the general excitement the objections, 
which he himself had the courage to bring forward, seemed 
futile : " Were not Christ and the Gospel preached before ? Do 
you fancy," he replies, " that we are not aware of what is meant 
by Gospel, Christ and Faith ? " 4 

It was of the utmost importance to him that, on this occasion 
of his appearance at Erfurt, he should make the whole weight of 
his personal authority felt so as to stem betimes the flood let loose 
by others who taught differently ; he was determined to impress 
the seal of his own spirit upon the new religious system at this 
important outpost. 

Even before this he had let fall some words in confidence to 
Lang expressive of his concern that, at Erfurt, as it seemed to 
him, they wished to outstrip him in the knowledge of the Word, 
so that he felt himself decreasing while others increased (John 
iii. 30), 6 and in the Circular-Letter above mentioned, he had 
anxiously warned the Erfurt believers against those who, 
confiding in their " peculiar wisdom," were desirous of teaching 
"something besides Christ and beyond our preaching." 6 Now, 
personally present at the place where danger threatened, he 
insists from the pulpit with great emphasis on his mission : "It 
was not I who put myself forward. . . . Christ Our Master 
when sending His apostles out into the world to preach gave 
them no other directions than to preach the Gospel . . . when 
He makes a man a preacher and apostle He also in His gracious 
condescension gives him instructions how to speak and what 
to speak, even down to the present day." Those who heard 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 13, 3, p. 359-445 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 359 f.=446. 3 Ibid., p. 354 = 440. 

4 Ibid., p. 364 f. = 453. 

5 On March 28, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 323. 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 167 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 143. 


him were therefore to believe for certain " that he was not 
preaching what was his, but, like the apostles, the Word of God." 1 

Many of his hearers were all the more likely to overlook the 
strange pretensions herein embodied, seeing that a large portion 
of his discourse proclaimed the sweet doctrine of evangelical 
freedom and denounced good works. 

For the latter purpose he very effectively introduces the 
Catholic preachers, putting into their mouths the assertion, 
falsely credited to them, that " only works and man s justice " 
availed anything, not " Christ and His Justice " ; for they say, 
" faith is not sufficient, it is also necessary to fast, to pray, to build 
churches, to found monasteries, monkeries and nunneries, and 
so forth." But " they will be knocked on the head and recoil, 
and be convicted of the fact, that they know nothing whatever 
of what concerns Christ, the Gospel and good works." " We 
cannot become pious and righteous by our own works, if we 
could we should be striking Paul a blow on the mouth." These 
" dream-preachers " speak in vain of " Works, fasting and 
prayer," but you are a Christian if you believe that Christ is for 
you wisdom and righteousness. " The doctrine of those who are 
called Christians must not come from man, or proceed from 
man s efforts. . . . Therefore a Christian life is not promoted 
by our fasting, prayers, cowls or anything that we may under 
take." 2 

He returns again and again to the belief, so deeply rooted in 
the heart, of the efficacy of good works in order that he may up 
root it completely. The whole Christian system demands, he 
thinks, the condemnation of the importance attached hitherto 
to good works. " Thus the whole of Christianity consists in your 
holding fast to the Evangel, which Christ alone ordains and 
teaches, not to human words or w r orks." 3 It is a " devil " who 
speaks to you of the meritorious power of works, " not indeed a 
black or painted devil, but a white devil, who, under a beautiful 
semblance of life, infuses into you the poison of eternal death." 4 
Of the Christian who relies only on faith, he says, " Christ s 
innocence becomes his innocence, and in the same way Christ s 
piety, holiness and salvation become his, and all that is in Christ 
is contained in the believing heart together with Christ." 5 " But 
such faith is awakened in us by God. From it spring the works 
by which we assist and serve our neighbour." 6 

He speaks at considerable length in the last part of his 
sermons of the particular works which he considers allowable and 
commendable. How much he wished to imply may, however, 
be inferred from what has gone before. 

Shall we not do good works ? Shall we not pray any more, 
fast, found monasteries, become monks or nuns, or do similar 
w r orks ? The answer is : " There are two kinds of good works, 
some which are looked upon as good," i.e. " our own self-chosen 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 13, 3, p. 361 = 16 2 , p. 452. 

2 Ibid., p. 365 f. -452-4. 3 Ibid., p. 370 = 461. 

4 Ibid. & Ibid., p. 356-442. Ibid., p. 357 = 443. 


works," such as " special fasting, special prayers, wearing a 
special dress or joining an Order." " None of this is ordained by 
God," and " Christian faith looks to nothing save Christ only," 
therefore these works we must leave severely alone. There are, on 
the other hand, works which are better than these. " When once 
we have laid hold upon Christ, then good Christian works follow, 
such as God has commanded and which man performs not for 
his own advantage but in the service of his neighbour." But 
even of these works Luther is careful to add that they should be 
performed " without placing any trust in them for justification." 
" Fasting is a good work," but then, " the devil himself does not 
eat too much," and sometimes even " a Jew " fasts ; " prayer 
is also a good work," but it does not consist in " much mumbling 
or shouting," and even " the Turk prays much with his lips." 
" No one may or can bear the name of Christian except by the 
work of Christ." 1 

Thus, even where he is forced to admit good works, he must 
needs add a warning. 

Finally, where he is exhorting to the patient bearing of crosses, 
he immediately, and most strangely, restricts this exercise of 
virtue to the limits of his own experience : One bears the cross 
when he is unjustly proclaimed " a heretic and evil-doer," not 
" when he is sick in bed " ; to bear the cross is to be " deprived 
of interior consolation," and to be severely tried by " God s hand 
and by His anger." 2 

In the new congregation at Erfurt it was a question of the very 
foundations of the moral life. Yet in Luther s addresses we miss 
the necessary exhortations to a change of heart, to struggle 
against the passions and overcome sensuality. Neither is the 
sinner exhorted to repentance, penance, contrition, fear of God 
and a firm purpose of amendment, nor are the more zealous 
encouraged to the active exercise of the love of God, to self- 
denial according to the virtues of their state, or to sanctification 
by the use of those means which Luther still continued to recog 
nise, at least to a certain extent, such as the Eucharist. All his 
exhortations merge into this one thing, trust in Christ. He 
preached, indeed, one part of the sermon of the Precursor, viz. 
" The Kingdom of God is at hand " ; with the other : " Bring 
forth therefore fruit worthy of penance," he would have nothing 
to do. 

As far as the change at Erfurt went, the moral condition 
of the town was to serve more than ever as a refutation of 
Luther s expectation that " the works will follow." 

On January 24, 1524, Eobanus Hessus wrote to Lang : 
" Immorality, corruption of youth, contempt of learning 
and dissensions, such are the fruits of your Evangel." 3 " I 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 13, 3, pp. 363, 366 f. = 455 f. 

2 Ibid., p. 368 = 458. 3 Cp. Paulus, "Usingen," p. 94, n. 2. 


dislike being here very much," he says, in the same year, to 
his friend Sturz, " since all is lost, for there is now no hope 
of a revival of learning or of a recovery in public life. Every 
thing is on the road to destruction, and we ourselves are 
rendered odious to all classes by reason of some unlearned 
deserters. " Oh, unhappy Erfurt," he cries, in view of the 
" outrageous behaviour of these godless men of God " ; one 
seeks to oppress the other ; already the battlefield of 
passion is tinged with " blood." 1 

" You have by your preaching called forth a diabolical 
life in the town," Usingen wrote in 1524 of the preachers at 
Erfurt, " although this is now displeasing to you, and you 
encourage it even up to the present day ; you set the people 
free from the obedience which, according to the Divine 
command, they owe to the authorities of the Church, you 
deprive the people of the fear both of God and of man, 
hence the corruption of morals, which increases from day 
to day." 2 

Usingen, who continued courageously to vindicate the 
faith of his fathers, was depicted by the preachers as a 
" crazy old man," just as they had been advised to do by 
Luther. "I am quite pleased to hear," Luther wrote to 
Lang some considerable time after his return, " that this 
Unsingen is still carrying on his fooleries ; as the Apostle 
Paul says, their folly must be made manifest (2 Tim. iii. 9). 3 

The champion of the Church, the alleged fool, was suffi 
ciently clear-sighted and frank to predict the Peasant-War 
as the end of all the godless commotion, and to prophesy 
that the result of the general religious subversion would be 
the ruin of his German Fatherland. A fanatical preacher 
in the town had appealed to the mattocks of the peasants. 
Him the Augustinian asks : "If the Word of God suffices 
in the Church, why have you in your sermons appealed for 
help to the pickaxes, mattocks and spades of the peasants ? " 
" Why do you tell the people that the peasant must come 
from the field with these weapons to assist the Evangel, if 
your own and your comrades words prove of no avail ? 
Do you not know with what audacity the peasants are 
already rising against their lords ? " " The new preaching," 

1 Cp. Paulus, "Usingen," p. 100, n. 2. 2 Ibid., p. 91, n. 4. 

3 In the first half of November, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 27 : 
" Unsingen inaanire lubens audio," etc. 


he complains, even where it is not directly inflammatory, 
" renders the people, who are already desirous of innova 
tions and dearly love the freedom of the flesh, only too much 
inclined for tumults, and this daily foments the spirit of 
unrest." 1 "Do you not know that the mob is a hydra- 
headed monster, a monster that thirsts for blood ? Are you 
anxious to promote your cause with the help of cut 
throats ? " 2 Owing to the iconoclasts, the ancient greatness 
of Constantinople fell, and the Roman Empire of the East 
faded away ; in like manner, so gloomily he predicts, the 
religious struggle now being waged in Germany will bring 
about the ruin of the Western Empire and the loss of its 
ancient greatness. 3 

The help which the innovators received from the Erfurt 
magistrates induced the leaders of the party to pin their 
trust on the support of the secular authorities. Even this 
was justified by appeals to Scripture. 

Lang, on presenting to Hermann von Hoff, the president 
of the Erfurt town-council, a translation which he had made 
of the Gospel of St. Matthew, stated in the accompanying 
letter, that he had done so " in order that all may know and 
take heed to the fact, that whatever they undertake against 
the Gospel is also directed against you. It is necessary, 
unfortunately, to defend the Gospel by means of the 
sword." 4 

In July, 1521, an agreement had, it is true, been entered into 
which brought some guarantee of safety to the clergy, more 
particularly the Canons of St. Mary s and St. Severus, yet in the 
ensuing years the Chapters were forced to make endless protests 
against the preachers interference in their services and the 
encroachments of the magistrates on their personal liberty, all 
in direct contravention of the agreement. 

The council demanded that the oath of obedience should be 
taken to itself and not to the Archbishop of Mayence, as here 
tofore. Priests were arrested on charges which did not concern 
the council at all, and were taken to the Rathaus. The clergy 
were obliged to pay taxes like other citizens on all farms and 
property which belonged to them or to their churches which 
had been exempt from time immemorial and likewise on any 
treasure or cash they might possess. When the peasants threat 
ened Erfurt, the clergy were advised to bring all the valuables 
belonging to their churches to the Rathaus where the council, in 

1 Paulus, ibid., p. 102, n. 2. 2 Ibid., p. 102, n. 4. 

3 Ibid., p. 101, n. 2. * Paulus, ibid., p. 35. 


view of the danger of the times, would receive them into safe 
custody, giving in return formal receipts. Since the council, as 
guardians of several monasteries, including St. Peter s, had 
already appointed laymen who hindered the lawful Superiors from 
coming to any independent decision in matters of any moment, and 
as all the chalices and other vessels of gold and silver, together with 
the more valuable Church vestments, had already been seized 
at the Servites, the Brothers of the Rule and the Carthusians, 
the Canons saw how futile it would be to reject the " advice " 
given, and they accordingly decided to deliver up the more 
valuable objects belonging to the two principal churches, St. 
Mary s and St. Severus, their decision being accepted by the 
council with " hearty thanks." At the formal surrender of the 
vessels the magistrates protested that the Canons were really 
not fully aware how well disposed they, the magistrates, were 
towards them ; that they had no wish to drive away the clergy, 
" but rather to show them all charity so that they might return 
thanks to God." Yet we learn also that : Many persons belonging 
to the council whispered that it was their intention to make the 
position of the clergy unbearable by means of this and other 
like acts of despoliation. 1 

On April 27, 1525, on the occasion of the taking over of the 
treasure, with the co-operation of persons " distinguished for their 
strong Lutheran views," a strict search was made in both the 
venerable churches for anything of any value that might have 
been left. Not the least consideration was paid to the private 
property of the individual clergy, objects were seized in the most 
violent manner, locked chests and cupboards were simply forced 
open, or, if this took too long, broken with axes. Every hasp of 
silver on copes and elsewhere was torn off. " Unclean fists," 
says a contemporary narrator, " seized the chalices and sacred 
vessels, which they had no right to touch, and carried them with 
loud jeers in buckets and baskets to places where they were 
dishonoured." As in other churches and convents, the books 
and papers on which any claims of the clergy against the 
council might be based were selected with special care. While 
precious works of art were thus being consigned to destruction, 2 
members of the town-council were consoling the Canons by 
renewed assurances, that the council " would protect both their 
life and their property." Finally, the two churches were closely 
watched for some while after, " lest something might still be 
preserved in them, and to prevent such being taken possession 
of by the clergy." 3 

When, in 1525, on the news of the Peasant Rising in 

1 See Th. Eitner, " Erfurt und die Bauernaufstande im 16. Jahr- 
hundert," Halle, 1903, p. 58 f. This writing, which is also printed in 
the " Mitteilungen des Vereins fur Gesch. und Altertumskunde von 
Erfurt," 24, 1903, p. 3-108, is founded on detailed studies of the archives 
and local history, and has been made the basis of the following account . 

2 Present work, vol. v., xxx. 6. 3 Eitner, ibid., p. 57-60. 


Swabia and Franconia, meetings were held by the peasants 
in the Erfurt district, the adherents of the movement 
determined to enforce by violence their demands even at 
Erfurt. Those in the town who sympathised with Luther 
made common cause with the rebels. 1 The magistrates were 
undecided. They were not as yet exclusively Lutheran, but 
were anxious to make the town independent of the Arch 
bishop of Mayence, and to secure for themselves the property 
and rights of the clergy. For the most part the lower orders 
were unfavourable to the magistrates, and therefore sided 
with the peasantry. 

The peasants from the numerous villages which were 
politically regarded as belonging to the Erfurt district 
demanded that they should be emancipated from the 
burdens which they had to bear, and placed on a footing of 
social equality with the lower class of Erfurt burghers. 
With this they joined, as had been done elsewhere, religious 
demands in the sense of Luther s innovations. The move 
ment was publicly inaugurated by fourteen villages at a 
meeting held in a beerhouse on April 25 or 26, 1525, at 
which the peasants bound themselves by an oath taken 
with " uplifted right hand," at the risk of their lives " to 
support the Word of God and to combine to abolish the old 
obsolete imposts." When warned not to go to Erfurt, one of 
the leaders replied : " God has enlightened us, we shall not 
remain, but go forward." As soon as they had come to an 
agreement as to their demands concerning the taxes " and 
other heavy burdens which the Evangel was to assist them 
to get rid of," they collected in arms around the walls of 
Erfurt. 2 The magistrates then took counsel how to divert 
the threatening storm and direct it against the clergy and 
the hated authorities of Mayence. The remembrance of the 
" Pfaffensturm " which, in 1521, had served as a means to 
allay the social grievances, was an encouragement to adopt 
a similar course. As intermediary between council and 
peasants, Hermann von Hoff, who has been mentioned 
above as an opponent of the Catholic clergy and the rights 

1 Cp. also Janssen. Ibid., 4, p. 301 f. : " The Erfurt preachers had 
for years long been among the most violent agitators in town and 
country. ... On the news of the insurrection in Swabia and Franconia 
several gatherings of peasants were held in the Erfurt district in the 
spring, 1525," etc. 

2 Eitner, p. 33 f., pp. 43, 48. 

ii. 2 A 


of Mayence, took a leading part ; one of his principles was 
that " it is necessary to make use of every means, sweet as 
well as bitter, if we are to allay so great a commotion and to 
avert further mischief." 1 

In their perplexity the magistrates, through the agency 
of Hoff, admitted the horde of peasants, only stipulating 
that they should spare the property of the burghers, though 
they were to be free to plunder the Palace of the Archbishop 
of Mayence, the " hereditary lord " of the city, and also the 
toll-house. The peasants made their entry on April 28 
with that captain of the town whom Lang had invited to 
draw the sword in the cause of the Evangel. Not only was 
the Palace despoiled and the toll-house utterly destroyed, 
but the salt warehouses and almost all the parsonages were 
attacked and looted. In the name of " evangelical freedom " 
the plunderers vented all their fury on the sacred vessels, 
pictures and relics they were still able to find. 

" In the Archbishop s Palace Lutheran preachers, for 
instance, Eberlin of Gunzburg, Mechler and Lang, mixed 
with the rabble of the town and country and preached to 
them." The preachers made no secret of being " in league 
with the peasantry and the proletariate of the town." The 
clergy and religious were, hoAvever, to be made " to feel 
still more severely " 2 the effects of the alliance between the 
three parties. 

At the first coming of the peasants, that quarters might be 
found for them, " all the convents of monks and nuns were 
confiscated and their inhabitants driven out into the street." 
" Alas, how wretched did the poor nuns look passing up and 
down the alleys of the town," 3 says an eye-witness in an Erfurt 
chronicle. All those connected with the Collegiate churches 
of St. Mary and St. Severus had peasants billeted on them in 
numbers out of all proportion to their means. On the morning 
of April 28, the service in the church of St. Mary s was violently 
interrupted. On the following Sunday, Eberlin, the apostate 
Franciscan, commenced a course of sermons, which he continued 
for several days with his customary vehemence and abuse. 

1 Eitner, p. 68. According to Eitner we learn from local sources, 
" that, in view of the state of affairs, the council thought it the most 
prudent course to do as in 1521, and to set the peasants and the citizens 
against the common foe, the clergy of Mayence, in order thus to 
satisfy the coarser instincts of the mob and to divert their thoughts 
from dangerous projects." 

2 Ibid., p. 98. 3 Ibid., p. 70, n. 1. 


Exactly a week after the coming of the peasants they passed a 
resolution in the Mainzer Hof that the number of parishes should 
be reduced to ten, including the Collegiate church of St. Mary s, 
and that in all these parish churches " the pure Word of God 
should be preached without any additions, man-made laws, 
decrees or doctrines." As for the pastors, they were to be ap 
pointed and removed by the congregation. This was equivalent to 
sentencing the old worship to death. On the same day an order 
was issued to all the parish churches and monasteries to abstain 
in future from reciting or singing Matins, Vespers or Mass. The 
only man who was successful in evading the prohibition was Dr. 
Conrad Klinge, the courageous guardian of the Franciscans, who 
at the hospital continued to preach in the old way to crowded 

Most of the beneficed clergy now quitted the town, as the 
council refused to undertake any responsibility on their behalf ; 
and as they were forbidden to resume Divine Worship or even to 
celebrate Mass in private, at the gate of the town they were 
subjected to a thorough search lest they should have any priestly 
property concealed about them. The magistrates sought to 
extort from the clergy who remained, admissions which might 
serve as some justification for their conduct. The post of 
preacher at the Dom, after it had been refused by Eberlin, who 
had at length taken fright at the demagogic spirit now abroad, 
was bestowed upon one of Luther s immediate followers ; the 
new preacher was Dr. Johann Lang, an " apostate, renegade, 
uxorious monk," as a contemporary chronicler calls him. 

All tokens of any authority of the Archbishop of Mayence in 
the town were obliterated, and the archiepiscopal jurisdiction 
was declared to be at an end. Eobanus Hessus wrote gleefully 
of the ruin of the " popish " foe. " We have driven away the 
Bishop of Mayence, for ever. All the monks have been expelled, 
the nuns turned out, the canons sent away, all the temples and 
even the money-boxes in the churches plundered ; the common 
wealth is now established and taxes and customs houses have 
been done away with. Again we are now free." 1 Here the 
statement that the clergy of Mayence had been expelled " for 
ever " proved incorrect, for the rights of the over-lord were 
soon to be re-established. 

The magistrates were the first to fall ; they were deposed, and 
the lower-class burghers and the peasants replaced them by two 
committees, one to represent the town, the other the country. 
In the latter committee the excited ringleaders of the peasantry 
gave vent to threatening speeches against the former municipal 
government, and such wild words as " Kill these spectres, blow 
out their brains " were heard. 2 

The actual wording of the resolutions passed by both the 
committees was principally the work of preachers of the new 
faith. Eberlin, too, was consulted as to how best to draw up 

1 Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. trans.), 4, p. 304. 

2 Eitner, p. 85 f. 


" the articles in accordance with the Bible," but he cautiously 
declined to have anything to do with this, and declared that their 
demands seemed to him to be exorbitant and that, " the Evangel 
would not help them." The Lutheran preachers also exerted 
themselves to bring about the reinstatement of the magistrates. 
It is said that on April 30, in every quarter of the town, a minister 
of the new doctrine preached to the citizens and country people 
to the following effect : " You have now by your good and 
Christian acts and deeds emancipated yourselves altogether from 
the Court at Mayence and its jurisdiction, which, according to 
Divine justice and Holy Scripture, should have no temporal 
authority whatever. But in order that this freedom may not 
lead you astray, there must be some authorities over you, and 
therefore you must for the future recognise the worthy magistrates 
of Erfurt as your rulers," etc. 1 

The words of the preachers prevailed, and the newly elected 
councillors became the head of a sort of republic. The burdens 
of the town increased to an oppressive extent, however, and the 
peasants who had returned to their villages groaned more than 
ever under the weight of the taxes. Financial difficulties con 
tinued to increase. 

Yielding to the pressure of circumstances, the councillors 
gave their sanction on May 9, 1525, " under the new seal," 
to the amended articles, twenty -eight in number, which had 
been drafted by the town and peasant committees during the 
days of storm and stress. The very first article made 
obligatory the preaching of " the pure Word of God," and 
gave to each congregation the right to choose its own pastors. 
" The gist of the remaining articles was the appointment 
of a permanent administrative council to give a yearly 
account, and to impose no new taxes without the knowledge 
and sanction of both burghers and country subjects." 

In accepting the articles it was agreed that Luther s 
opinion on them should be ascertained, a decision which 
seems to show that the peasants and burghers, though 
probably not the councillors themselves, reckoned upon the 
weighty sanction of Wittenberg. Yet about May 4 Luther 
had finished his booklet " Against the murderous Peasants " 
(above p. 201), which was far from favourable to seditious 

1 " The peasant rising in the neighbourhood of Erfurt did nothing 
but harm [from the material point of view]. A phase in the business 
decay of the once flourishing community, a desperate attempt to mend 
what was wrong by what was worse, it merely sapped the strength of 
the town and so prepared the way for the event which some 
hundred and forty years later robbed her for ever of her political 
independence " (Eitner, ibid., p. 108). 


movements such as that of Erfurt. The council invited 
him by letter, on May 10, to come to Erfurt with Melanch- 
thon "and establish the government of the town," as 
Melanchthon puts it ("ad constituendum urbis statum"). 1 
Luther, however, did not accept the invitation, and a month 
later the council sent him a copy of the articles, requesting a 
written opinion. It is difficult to believe that the Erfurt 
magistrates were not aware of Luther s growing bitterness 
against the peasants, which is attested by the pamphlets 
he wrote at the time, or that they were incapable of drawing 
the obvious conclusion as to his reply. 2 " If the council in 
taking this step," says Eitner, " was relying on Luther s 
known attitude towards all revolutionary movements, and 
hoped to make an end of the inconvenient demands 
of the people by means of the Reformer s powerful 
words, then their expectation was fully realised. Both 
Luther s letter (i.e. his answer to the council), and 
his written notes on the copy of the articles sent him, 
are full of irony expressing the displeasure of one whose 
advice was so much in request, but whose interference in 
the peasant movement, in spite of his good intentions, had 
thus far met with so little success. . . . The very articles 
which the authors had most at heart were submitted by 
Luther to a relentless and somewhat pointless criticism. . . . 
Thus we see in a comparatively trivial case what has long 
been acknowledged of his action generally, viz. that Luther s 
interference in the Peasant-War cannot be altogether 
justified. . . . His conduct shattered his reputation, both 
in the empire and in his second native town [Erfurt], and 
paved the way for the inevitable reaction." 3 

Luther, in his reply to the " Honourable, prudent 
and beloved " members of the Erfurt council, 4 declares 

1 It is thus that Melanchthon describes the object of the invitation 
in a letter to Camerarius of May 19, 1525, " Corp. reform.," 1, p. 744. 

2 It is true that the council declared on this occasion " that it was 
by no means its mind, desire or intention to oppress the people with 
out necessity, contrary to evangelical equity and right, or to refuse 
them anything which it was its duty to permit or tolerate." Eitner, 
ibid., 2, p. 93, where he remarks : "It will probably be best not to 
attribute any duplicity to the councillors." 3 Eitner, ibid., p. 94. 

4 On September 19 (according to Enders), 1525, in " Briefe," ed. 
De Wette, 6, p. 59, and Erl. ed., 56, p. xii. (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 243). 
The first sentences quoted are contained in the letter itself, the others 
in the marginal notes to the various articles, which inDe Wette s collec 
tion are printed together with the articles themselves after the letter. 


in the very first sentences that the Twenty-eight Articles 
were so " ill-advised " that " little good could come 
of them " even were he present himself at Erfurt ; 
he is of opinion that certain people, who " are better 
off than they deserve," are putting on airs at the ex 
pense of the council, constitute a danger to the common 
weal, and, with "unheard-of audacity and wickedness," 
wish to " turn things upside down." Things must never 
be permitted to come to such a pass that the councillors 
fear the common people and become their servants ; the 
common people must be quiet and entrust all to the honour 
able magistrates to be set right, "lest the Princes have 
occasion to take up arms against Erfurt on account of such 
unwarrantable conduct." Luther s new sovereign, the 
Elector Johann, had just been assisting in the suppression 
of the peasant rising. He was in entire sympathy with the 
Wittenberg Professor, whom he so openly protected and 
favoured, and doubtless they had discussed together the 
state of affairs at Erfurt. In his written reply Luther asks 
whether it is not " seditious " to refuse to pay the Elector 
the sum due to him for acting as protector of the city. 
" Did they, then, esteem so lightly the Prince and the security 
of the town, which, as a matter of fact, was something not 
to be paid for in money ? " Their demand really signified 
either that " no one was to protect the town of Erfurt, or 
that the Princes were to relinquish their claim to payment 
and yet continue to protect the town." 

The demand that the congregations of the parishes should 
appoint their own pastors Luther considered particularly 
inadmissible ; it was " seditious that the parishes should 
wish to appoint and dismiss their own pastors without 
reference to the councillors, as though the councillors, in 
whom authority was vested, were not concerned in what 
the town might do." He insists that " the councillors have 
the right to know what sort of persons are holding office in 
the town." 

Concerning some of the articles which dealt with taxes 
and imposts, he points out that the business is not his con 
cern, since these are temporal matters. Of the proposal to 
re-establish the decayed University of Erfurt he says : 
" This article -is the best of all." Of two of the articles he 
notes : " Both these will do," one being that, for the future, 


openly immoral persons and prostitutes of all classes were 
not to be tolerated, nor the common houses of public women, 
and the other, that every debtor, whether to the council or 
the community, should be " faithfully admonished no 
matter who he might be." Concerning the former of these 
two articles, however, we may remark, that a house of 
correction for the punishment of light women had existed at 
Erfurt under the Archbishop s rule, but had been razed to 
the ground by the very framers of the articles as soon as the 
peasants entered the town. 

The principal thing, in Luther s opinion, was to place the 
reins in the hands of the magistrates, so that they may not 
sit there like an " idol," " bound hand and foot," " while 
the horses saddle and bridle their driver " ; on the con 
trary, the aim of the articles seemed to him to be, to reduce 
the councillors to be mere figureheads, and to let " the 
rabble manage everything." 1 The " rabble " was just then 
Luther s bugbear. 

The clergy who had quitted the city addressed, on May 30, 
a written complaint to the Cardinal of Mayence, with an 
account of the proceedings. On June 8 they also appealed to 
Johann, the Saxon Elector, and to Duke George of Saxony, 
asking for their mediation, since they were the " protectors 
and liege lords " of their Church. They also did all they 
could with the council to recover their rights. The coun 
cillors were, however, merely rude, and replied that the 
proud priests might ask as much as they pleased but would 
get no redress. This was what caused them to complain to 
their secular protectors that they were being treated worse 
than the meanest peasant. Duke George advised them to 
await the result of the negotiations which, as he knew, were 
proceeding between the town of Erfurt and the Cardinal. 

The Lutheran Elector, on the other hand, entered into 
closer relations with the town-council of Erfurt, accepting 
with good grace their appeal for help, their protestation of 
submission and obedience to his rule, and the explicit 
assurance of the councillors at the Weimar conference, on 

1 This is Luther s disdainful note to Art. 7, in itself a quite reason 
able one, viz. " That the present councillors shall give an account 
of all expenditure and receipts." His dislike for the " rabble " here 
made Luther unjust, and not here alone. His question concerning 
Art. 6 (on the protection of the " wards and trades ") is not to the 
point : "If councillors are not trusted, why appoint them ? " 


June 22, " that they would stand by the true and unfeigned 
Word of God as pious and faithful Christians, and, in support 
of the same, stake life and limb, with the help of God s grace." 
Thereupon the Elector promised them, on June 23, that, 
" should they suffer any inconvenience or attack because 
of the Word of God," he, as their " liege lord, ruler and 
protector," would " stand by them and afford them protec 
tion to the best of his ability," since " the Word of God and 
the Holy Evangel were likewise dear to him." In point of 
fact he did espouse the cause of the inhabitants of Erfurt, 
though, like Duke George, it was his wish to see a peaceful 
settlement arrived at between the town and its rightful 
over-lord. 1 

The crafty councillors were actually negotiating with the 
representatives of the Cardinal of Maycnce at the very time 
when they were seeking the protection of Saxony. The 
over-lord whose rights they had outraged, through his vicar, 
had made known his peremptory demands to the council 
on May 26, viz. entire restitution, damages, expulsion of the 
Lutheran sect, re-establishment of the old worship and 
payment of an indemnity. In the event of refusal he 
threatened them with the armed interference of the Swabian 
League. The threat took effect, for the Swabian League at 
that time was feared, and disturbers of the peace had had 
occasion to feel its strength. The hint of armed interference 
proved all the more effective when Duke George advised the 
inhabitants of Erfurt to come to terms with the Mayence 
vicar and abolish Lutheranism, as otherwise they would 
have to expect " something further." 

The council therefore assumed a conciliatory attitude 
towards Mayence, and negotiations concerning the restitu 
tion to be made were commenced at a conference at Fulda 
on August 25, 1525. After protracted delays these ter 
minated with the Treaty of Hammelburg on February 5, 
1530. This was, " from the political point of view, an utter 
defeat for the inhabitants of Erfurt." 2 The council was not 
only obliged to recognise the supremacy of the Archbishop, 
but also to re-erect all buildings which had been destroyed, 
and to return everything that had been misapplied ; in 
addition to this, for the loss of taxes and other revenues, 
the council was to pay the Archbishop 2500 gulden, and to 
1 Eitner, ibid., pp. 102, 104. 2 Ibid., p. 107. 


the two Collegiate churches, for losses sustained, 1200 marks 
of fine silver. Both these churches were to be handed over 
for Catholic worship. The reinstated over-lord, however, 
declared, for his part, that, " As regards the other churches 
and matters of faith and ritual, we hereby and on this occa 
sion neither give nor take, sanction nor forbid, anything to 
any party." 1 

Thus the rescinding of the innovations was for the present 
deferred, and Luther had every reason to be satisfied with 
what had been effected in a town to which he was attached 
by many links. How little gratitude he showed to Arch 
bishop Albert, and how fiercely his hatred and animus 
against the cautious Cardinal would occasionally flame up, 
will be seen from facts to be mentioned elsewhere. 

Among the few Erfurt monks who, though expelled from 
their monastery, remained true to their profession and to 
the Church, there was one who attained to a great age 
and who is mentioned incidentally by Flacius Illyricus. He 
well remembered the first period of Luther s life in Erfurt, 
his zeal for the Church and solicitude for the observance of 
the Rule. 2 

When considering Luther s intervention in Erfurt matters, 
and his personal action there, one thought obtrudes 

When Luther, now quite a different man and in vastly 
altered circumstances, returned to Erfurt on the occasion 
of the visit referred to above, is it not likely that he recalled 
his earlier life at Erfurt, where he had spent happy days of 
interior contentment, as is shown by the letters he wrote 
before his priestly ordination ? In one of the sermons he 
delivered there, in October, 1522, he refers to his student days 
at Erfurt, but it does not appear that he ever seriously 

1 Eitner, ibid., p. 107. 

2 Matthias Flacius, " Clarissimce qucedam notes verce ac falsce 
religionis" 1549 (Vienna Court Library), in showing " Holiness " as 
a mark sufficiently discernible in Luther s church and person. Accord 
ing to O. Clemen, the Erfurt monastery dragged on a miserable exist 
ence until 1525. On July 31 of that year, Adam Horn, the Prior, 
received from the Vicar-General of the Congregation, Johann von 
Spangenberg, permission to leave the monastery since he was no 
longer safe in it. " Aus den letzten Tagen des Erfurter Augustiner- 
klosters," in " Theol. Studien und Kritiken," 1899, p. 278 ff. It may 
be that Usingen quitted Erfurt at that time for the same reason 
(above, p. 337). The last trace of Nathin is found at the Chapter of 
the Order at Leipzig in 1523, at which he represented the Erfurt priory. 


reflected on the contrast presented by the convictions he 
held at that time on the Church and his new ideas on faith 
and works. His allusions to his Erfurt recollections are 
neither serious nor grateful towards his old school. He 
speaks scofnngly of his learned Erfurt opponents, some of 
whom he had been acquainted with previously, as " knights 
of straw." " Yes, they prate, we are Doctors and Masters. 
. . . Well, if a title settles the matter, I also became a 
Bachelor here, and then a Master and then again a Bachelor. 
I also went to school with them, and I know and am con 
vinced that they do not understand their own books." 1 

Another circumstance must be taken into account. 
Whereas in later life he can scarcely speak of his early years 
as a monk without telling his hearers how he had passed 
from an excessive though purely exterior holiness-by-works 
to his great discovery, viz. to the knowledge of a gracious God, 
in 1522 he is absolutely silent regarding these " inward 
experiences " ; yet his very theme, viz. the contrast between 
the new Evangel and the " sophistical holiness-by-works " 
preferred by Catholics, and likewise the familiar Erfurt 
scene of his early life as a monk, should, one would think, 
have invited him to speak of the matter here. 2 

While Luther was seeking to expel by force the popish 
" wolves," more especially the monks and nuns, from the 
places within reach of the new Evangel, an enemy was 
growing up in his own camp in the shape of the so-called 
fanatics ; their existence can be traced back as far as his 
Wartburg days, and his first misunderstanding with Carl- 
stadt ; these, by their alliance with Carlstadt, who had 
been won over to their ideas, and with the help of men 
like Thomas Miinzer, had of late greatly increased their 
power, thanks to the social conditions which were so favour 
able to their cause. 

1 " Werks," Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 353 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 438. 

2 We may here mention what K. A. Meissinger, of Strasburg, says : 
" The period previous to 1517 has been looked upon as Luther s 
age of immaturity and shyness, and his own numerous statements 
on the subject have contributed not a little to this fiction. The legend 
of Martin, the zealous young Papist, seeking to get to heaven by his 
monkish practices and wasting away in utter despair, gives (a fact 
which has become apparent only of recent years) quite a false picture 
of that decisive and truly momentous period in the inward growth of 
the great Reformer " (" Der junge Luther," Frankfurter Ztng., 1910, 
No. 300). 


6. Sharp Encounters with the Fanatics 

If, on the one hand, the antagonism which Luther was 
obliged to display towards the fanatical Anabaptists en 
dangered his work, on the other the struggle was in many 
respects to his advantage. 

His being obliged to withstand the claim constantly made 
by the fanatics to inspiration by the Holy Ghost served as 
a warning to him to exercise caution and moderation in 
appealing to a higher call in the case of his own enterprise ; 
being compelled also to invoke the assistance of the au 
thorities against the fanatics subversion of the existing order 
of things, he was naturally obliged to be more reticent him 
self and to refrain from preaching revolution in the interests 
of his own teaching. We even find him at times desisting 
from his claim to special inspiration and guidance by the 
" spirit " in the negotiations entered into on account of the 
Milnzer business ; this, however, he does with a purpose 
and in opposition with his well-known and usual view. In 
place of his real ideas, as expressed by him both before and 
after this period, he, for a while, prefers to deprecate any 
use of force or violence, and counsels his sovereign to intro 
duce the innovations gradually, pointing out the most 
suitable methods with patience and prudence. 

At first he was anxious that indulgence should be observed 
even in dealing with the Anabaptists, but later on he in 
voked vigorously the aid of the authorities. 

In reality he himself was borne along by principles akin to 
those of the fanatics whose ideas were, as a matter of fact, 
an outcome of his own undertaking. His own writings 
exhibit many a trait akin to their pseudo-mysticism. In 
the end his practical common sense was more than a match 
for these pestering opponents, who for a time gave him so 
much trouble. His learning and education raised him far 
above them and made the religious notions of the Ana 
baptists abhorrent to him, while his public position at the 
University, as well as his official and personal relations with 
the sovereign, ill-disposed him to the demagogism of the 
fanatics and their efforts to win over the common people to 
their side. 

The fanatical aim of Thomas Miinzer, the quondam 
Catholic priest who had worked as a preacher of the new 


faith at Allstedt, near Eisleben, since 1523, was the exter 
mination by violence of all impious persons, and the 
setting up of a Kingdom of God formed of all the righteous 
here on earth, after the ideal of apostolic times. This tenet, 
rather than rebaptism, was the mark of his followers. The 
rebaptism of adults, which was practised by the sect, was 
merely due to their belief that an active faith was essential 
for the reception of the sacraments, whilst children of tender 
years were incapable of any faith at all. 

As a beginning of the war against the " idolatry " of the 
old Church, Miinzer caused the Pilgrimage Chapel at 
Maldcrbach, near Eisleben, \vhere a miraculous picture of 
Our Lady was venerated, to be destroyed in April, 1524. 
He then published a fiery sermon he had recently preached, 
in which he exhorted the great ones and all friends of the 
Evangel among the people at once to abolish Divine Worship 
as it had hitherto been practised. The sermon was sent to 
the Electoral Court by persons who w r ere troubled about the 
rising, and who begged that Miinzer might be called to 
account. The sermon was also forwarded to Luther by 
Spalatin, the Court Chaplain, evidently in order that Luther 
might take some steps to obviate the danger. In point of 
fact, Luther s eagle eye took in the s