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Full text of "Luther"

LUTHER 



IMPRIMATUR 

EDM. CAN. SURMONT, 

Vic. Gen. 
Wcstmonasterii, die 13 Decembris, 1915. 



LUTHER 



BY 

HARTMANN GRISAR, SJ 

PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF INNSBRUCK 



AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE GERMAN BY 

E. M. LAMOND 

EDITED BY 

LUIGI CAPPADELTA 



VOLUME V 



LONDON 
KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUBNER & CO., LTD. 

BROADWAY HOUSE, 68-74 CARTER LANE, E.G. 
1916 



A FEW PRESS OPINIONS OF VOLUMES I-IY. 

"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 Athenccum (Vol. I). 

"The second volume of Dr. Grisar s Life of Luther is fully as interesting as the 
first. There is the same minuteness of criticism and the same width of survey." 

The Athenceum (Vol. II). 

"Its interest increases. As we see the great Reformer in the thick of his work, 
and the heyday of his life, the absorbing attraction of his personality takes hold of 
us more and more strongly. His stupendous force, his amazing vitality, his super 
human interest in life, impress themselves upon us with redoubled effect. We find 
him the most multiform, the most paradoxical of men. . . . The present volume, 
which is admirably translated, deals rather with the moral, social, and personal side 
of Luther s career than with his theology." The Athe7iceum (Vol. III). 

"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 judgments as 
well as absolutely accurate in matters of fact." Glasgow Herald. 

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

"Like its two predecessors, Volume III excels in the minute analysis not merely of 
Luther s actions, but also of his writings ; indeed, this feature is the outstanding 
merit of the author s patient labours." The Irish Times. 

" This third volume of Father Grisar s monumental Life is full of interest for the 
theologian. And not less for the psychologist ; for here more than ever the author 
allows himself to probe into the mind and motives and understanding of Luther, so 
as to get at the significance of his development." The Tablet (Vol. III). 

"Historical research owes a debt of gratitude to Father Grisar for the calm un 
biased manner in which he marshals the facts and opinions on Luther which his 
deep erudition has gathered." The Tablet (Vol. IV). 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER XXIX. ETHICAL RESULTS OF THE NEW 

TEACHING . pages 3-104 

1. PRELIMINARIES. NEW FOUNDATIONS or MORALITY. 

Difficulties involved in Luther s standpoint ; poverty of 
human reason, power of the devil, etc. How despair may 
serve to excite humility . pages 3-7 

2. THE TWO POLES : THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL. 

His merits in distinguishing the two ; what he means by 
" the Gospel " ; his contempt for " the Law " ; the Law 
a mere gallows . pages 7-14 

3. ENCOUNTER WITH THE ANTINOMIANISM or AGRICOLA. 

Connection between Agricola s doctrine and Luther s. 
Luther s first step against Agricola ; the Disputations ; 
the tract " Against the Antinomians " ; action of the Court ; 
end of Agricola ; the reaction of the Antinomian movement 
on Luther . page* 15-25 

4. THE CERTAINTY OF SALVATION AND ITS RELATION TO 

MORALITY. 

Psychology of Luther s conception of this certainty as the 
very cause and aim of true morality. Luther s last sermons 
at Eisleben ; notable omissions in these sermons on morality ; 
his wavering between Old and New . pages 25-43 

5. ABASEMENT or PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY. 

Faith, praise and gratitude our only duties towards God. 
" All works, apart from faith, must be for our neighbour s 
sake." There are " no good works save such as God com 
mands." Good works done without faith are mere sins. 
Annulment of the supernatural and abasement of the 
natural order. The Book of Concord on the curtailment of 
free-will. Christianity merely inward. Divorce of Church 
and World, of Religion and Morals. Lack of obligation and 
sanction . pages 43-66 

6. THE PART PLAYED BY CONSCIENCE AND PERSONALITY. 

LUTHER S WARFARE WITH HIS OLD FRIEND CASPAR 

SCHWENCKFELD. 

On Conscience and its exercise ; how to set it to rest. 
Help of conscience at critical junctures. Conscience in 
the religious questions of the day. Schwenckfeld . pages 66-84 



vi CONTENTS 

7. SELF-IMPROVEMENT AND THE REFORMATION OF THE CHURCH. 

Whether Luther founded a school of godly, Christian life. 
A Lutheran theologian on the lack of any teaching concerning 
emancipation from the world. The means of self-reform and . 
their reverse side. Self -reform and hatred of the foe. Com 
panion phenomena of Luther s hate. Kindlier traits and 
episodes : The Kohlhase case in history and legend. The 
Reformation of the Church and Luther s Ethics ; His 
work " Against the new idol and olden devil." The Reforma 
tion in the Duchy of Saxony. The aims of the Reformation 
and the currents of the age . . . pages 84-133 

8. THE CHURCH APART OF THE TRUE BELIEVERS. 

Luther s earlier theory on the subject ; Schwenckfeld ; 
the proceedings at Leisnig ; the Popular Church supported by 
the State ; the abortive attempt to create a Church Apart 
in Hesse ....... pages 133-144 

9. PUBLIC WORSHIP. QUESTIONS OF RITUAL. 

The " Deudsche Messe " ; the liturgy not meant for 
" true believers "; place of the sermon . . pages 145-154 

10. SCHWENCKFELD AS A CRITIC OF THE ETHICAL RESULTS 

OF LUTHER S LIFE-WORK. 

Schwenckfeld disappointed in his hope of a moral renova 
tion. Luther s wrong teaching on Law and Evangel ; 
on predestination,, on freedom and on faith alone, on the 
inward and outward Word. Schwenckfeld on the Popular 
Church and the new Divine Service . . pages 155-164 



CHAPTER XXX. LUTHER AT THE ZENITH OF HIS 
LIFE AND SUCCESS, FROM 1540 ONWARDS. APPRE 
HENSIONS AND PRECAUTIONS . . pages 165-224 

1. THE GREAT VICTORIES OF 1540-1544. 

Success met with at Halle and Naumburg ; efforts made 
at Cologne, Minister, Osnabriick, Brunswick, and Merseburg. 
Progress abroad ; the Turkish danger ; the Council pages 165-168 

2. SAD FOREBODINGS. 

False brethren ; new sects ; gloomy outlook for the 
future .... . pages 169-174 

3. PROVISIONS FOR THE FUTURE. 

A Protestant Council suggested by Bucer and Melanchthon. 
Luther s attitude towards the Consistories. He seeks to re- 
introduce the Lesser Excommunication. The want of a 
Hierarchy begins to be felt .... pages 174-191 

4. CONSECRATION OF NICHOLAS AMSDORF AS " EVANGELICAL 

BISHOP " OF NAUMBURG (1542). 

The Ceremony. Luther s booklet on the Consecration of 
Bishops. Excerpts from his correspondence with the new 
" Bishop " . pages 192-200 



CONTENTS vii 

5. SOME FURTHER DEEDS OF VIOLENCE. FATE OF ECCLESIASTICAL 

WORKS OF ART. 

End of the Bishopric of Meissen. Destruction of Church 
Property. Luther s^ attitude towards pictures and images. 
Details as to the fate of works of art in Prussia, Bruns 
wick, Danzig, Hildesheim, Merseburg, etc. Protest of the 
Nuremberg artists . . pages 200-224 

CHAPTER XXXI. LUTHER IN HIS DISMAL MOODS, 

HIS SUPERSTITION AND DELUSIONS pages 225-318 

1. His PERSISTENT DEPRESSION IN LATER YEARS. PERSECU 

TION MANIA AND MORBID FANCIES. 

Weariness and pessimism. Grounds of his low spirits ; 

suspects the Papists ; and his friends. His single-handed 

struggle with the powers of evil . . pages 225-241 

2. LUTHER S FANATICAL EXPECTATION OF THE END OF THE 

WORLD. His HOPELESS PESSIMISM. 

Why he was convinced that the end was nigh. Allusions 
to the end of the world in the Table-Talk . . pages 241-252 

3. MELANCHTHON UNDER THE DOUBLE BURDEN, OF LUTHER S 

PERSONALITY AND HIS OWN LIFE S WORK. 

Some of Melanchthon s deliverances. His state of servi 
tude. His last years. His real character. Unfounded tales 
about him . pages 252-275 

4. DEMONOLOGY AND DEMONOMANIA. 

Luther s devil-lore. On all the evil the devil works in the 
world. On the devil s dwelling-place, his shapes and kinds. 
Witchcraft. Connection of Luther s devil-mania with his 
character and doctrine. The best weapons to use against the 
devil ..... . pages 275-305 

5. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LUTHER S JESTS AND SATIRE. 

His humour in the home and in his writings. He finds 
relief in it amidst his troubles. Some instances of his jests 

pages 306-318 

CHAPTER XXXII. A LIFE FULL OF STRUGGLES OF 

CONSCIENCE pages 319-375 

1. ON LUTHER S " TEMPTATIONS " IN GENERAL. 

Some characteristic statements concerning his " combats 
and temptations " . . . . . pages 319-321 

2. THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE " TEMPTATIONS. 

" Supposing you had to answer for all the souls that 
perish ! " "If you do not penance shall you not likewise 
perish ? " " See how much evil arises from your doctrine ! " 

pages 321-326 

3. AN EPISODE. TERRORS OF CONSCIENCE BECOME TEMPTA 

TIONS OF THE DEVIL. 

Schlaginhaufen falls into a faint at Luther s house. 
Luther persuades himself that his remorse of conscience 
comes from the devil ..... pages 326-330 



BR 



V <" 



viii CONTENTS 

4. PROGRESS OF HIS MENTAL SUFFERINGS UNTIL THEIR FLOOD- 

TIDE IN 1527-1528. 

" What labour did it not cost me ... to denounce the 
Pope as Antichrist." The height of the storm ; " tossed 
about between death and hell " ; "I seek only for a gracious 
God." Luther pens his famous hymn, " A safe stronghold 
our God is still " ; the hymn an echo of his struggles pages 330-345 

5. THE TEN YEARS FROM 1528-1538. How TO WIN BACK PEACE 

OF CONSCIENCE. 

At the Coburg. " I should have died without a struggle." 
The waning of the " struggles by day and by night " ; 
thoughts of suicide ; how to reach peace pages 346-356 

6. LUTHER ON HIS FAITH, HIS DOCTRINE, AND HIS DOUBTS, PAR 

TICULARLY IN HIS LATER YEARS. 

His notion of faith, (a) the accepting as true, (b) the be 
lieving trust. His picture of himself and his difficulties in 
late years ; he compares his case with that of St. Paul and 
with that of Christ in the Garden. Some misunderstandings 
and false reports as to Luther s having himself condemned 
his own life-work ..... pages 356-375 

CHAPTER XXXIII. THE COUNCIL OF TRENT IS CON 
VOKED, 1542. LUTHER S POLEMICS AT THEIR 
HIGHEST TENSION . pages 376-431 

1. STEPS TAKEN AND TRACTS PUBLISHED SUBSEQUENT TO 1537 

AGAINST THE COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH. 

The Schmalkalden meeting in 1537. Luther, after having 
asked for a Council, now opposes such a thing. His " Von 
den Conciliis." The Ratisbon. Interim. The Council is 
summoned . . . . . . pages 376-381 

2. " WIDER DAS BAPSTUM zu ROM VOM TEUFFEL GESTIFFT." 

THE PAPACY RENEWS ITS STRENGTH. 

Luther is urged by highly placed friends to thwart the plans 
of Pope Paul III. The fury of his new book. How to deal 
with Pope and Cardinals. The " Wittenberg Reforma 
tion " drawn up as a counterblast against the Council of 
Trent . pages 381-389 

3. SOME SAYINGS OF LUTHER S ON THE COUNCIL AND HIS OWN 

AUTHORITY 

" If we are to submit to this Council we might as well have 
submitted twenty-five years since to the lord of the Councils." 
How Luther would have spoken to the Fathers of the Council 
had he attended it . . . . pages 389-394 

4. NOTABLE MOVEMENTS OF THE TIMES ACCOMPANIED BY LUTHER 

WITH " ABUSE AND DEFIANCE DOWN TO THE VERY GRAVE." 
THE CARICATURES. 

The Brunswick raid and Luther s treatment of Duke 
Henry. His wrath against the Zwiiiglians : "A man that is a 
heretic avoid." The exception Luther made in favour of Cal 
vin, the friendly relations between the two, their similarities 
and divergencies. Luther vents his anger on the Jews in his 



CONTENTS ix 

" Von den Jiiden " and " Vom Schem Hamphoras " (1543) ; 
exceptional foulness of his language in these two screeds. 
An earlier work of his on the Jews ; reason why, in it, he is 
fairer to the Jews than in his later writings ; some special 
motives for his later polemics against the Jews ; his " De 
ultimis verbis Davidis." His crusade against the Turks ; 
his translation of the work of Richardus against the Alcoran. 
His last effort against the Papacy : " Popery Pictured " ; 
some of the abominable woodcuts described ; the state of soul 
they presuppose. Pirkheimer on " the audacity of Luther s 
unwashed tongue " . . . . . pages 394-431 

CHAPTER XXXIV. END OF LUTHER S LITERARY 

LABOURS. THE WHOLE REVIEWED pages 432-556 

1. TOWARDS A CHRISTIANITY VOID OF DOGMA. PROTESTANT 

OPINIONS. 

Harnack, etc., on Luther s abandonment of individual 
points of Christian doctrine and destruction of the older 
idea of faith : The Canon and true interpretation of Scrip 
ture ; speculative theology. Luther s own admissions that 
Christian doctrine is a chain the rupture of any link of which 
involves the rupture of the whole. Luther s inconsistencies 
in matters of doctrine as instanced by Protestant theologians : 
Original sin and unfreedom ; Law and Gospel ; Penance ; 
Justification and good works ; his teaching on merit, on the 
sacraments and the supper ; on the Church and Divine wor 
ship pages 432-469 

2. LUTHER AS A POPULAR RELIGIOUS WRITER. THE CATECHISM. 

Collected works : Luther s preface to the Latin and 
German Collections. The Church-postils and Home- 
postils ; advantages and shortcomings of his popular 
works ; his silence regarding self-denial. Origin and charac 
ter of the Larger and Smaller Catechisms. His Catechisms 
compared with the older catechetic works . pages 470-494 

3. THE GERMAN BIBLE. 

The work of translation completed in 1534 ; how it was 
launched on the public and the extent of its success. The 
various revisions of the work and the notes of the meetings 
held under Luther s presidency. His anxiety to use only the 
best German ; " Chancery German." The language of the 
German Bible, its scholarship ; its inaccuracies ; Luther s 
" Sendbrieff " to defend his addition of the word " alone " 
in Romans iii. 28. The corrections of Emser the Dresden 
" scribbler." How Luther belittled certain books of Scrip 
ture. Some sidelights into the psychology of Luther s trans 
lation. The Bible in earlier ages ; the " Bible in chains." 
Luther s indebtedness to earlier German translators pages 494-546 

4. LUTHER S HYMNS. 

His efforts to interest his friends in the making of hymns. 
His best-known hymn, " A safe stronghold our God is still." 
Other hymns ; their character and musical setting. The 
" Hymn for the Outdriving of Antichrist " once falsely 
ascribed to Luther ..... pages 546-556 



x CONTENTS 

CHAPTER XXXV. LUTHER S ATTITUDE TOWARDS 
SOCIETY AND EDUCATION (continued in Vol. VI) 

pages 557-606 

1. HISTORICAL OUTLINES FOB JUDGING OF HIS SOCIAL WORK. 

Luther s " signal services " as they appear to certain 
modern Protestants. The fell results of his twin principle : 
1, that the Church is alien to the world, and 2 , has no 
power to make binding laws . . . pages 557-568 

2. THE STATE AND THE STATE CHURCH. 

The State de-Christianised and the Church regarded as a 
mere union of souls. Luther as " Founder of the modern 
State." The secular potentate assimilated to King David. 
The New Theocracy. The Established Church. Significance 
of the Visitation introduced in the Saxon Electorate. The 
" Instructions of the Visitors." Luther to the end the 
plaything of divergent currents . . . pages 568-606 



VOL. V. 

THE REFORMER (III) 



LUTHEK 

CHAPTER XXIX 

ETHICAL RESULTS OF THE NEW TEACHING 

1. Preliminaries. New Foundations of Morality 

LUTHER S system of ethics mirrors his own character. If 
Luther s personality, in all its psychological individuality, 
shows itself in his dogmatic theology (see vol. iv., p. 387 ff.), 
still more is this the case in his ethical teaching. To obtain 
a vivid picture of the mental character of their author and 
of the inner working of his mind, it will suffice to unfold his 
practical theories in all their blatant contradiction and to 
examine on what they rest and whence they spring. First 
and foremost we must investigate the starting-point of his 
moral teaching. 

To begin with, it was greatly influenced by his theory 
that the Gospel consisted essentially in forgiveness, in the 
cloaking over of guilt and in the soothing of " troubled 
consciences." Thanks to a lively faith to reach a feeling of 
confidence, is, according to him, the highest achievement of 
ethical effort. At the same time, however, Luther lets it 
be clearly understood that we can never get the better of 
sin. In the shape of original sin it ever remains ; con 
cupiscence is always sinful ; and, even in the righteous, 
actual sin persists, only that its cry is drowned by the voice 
speaking from the Blood of Christ. Man must look upon 
himself as entirely under the domination of the devil, and, 
only in so far as Christ ousts the devil from his human 
stronghold, can a man be entitled to be called good. In 
himself he is not even free to do what is right. 

To the author of such doctrines it was naturally a matter 
of some difficulty to formulate theoretically the injunctions 
of morality. Some Protestants indeed vaunt his system of 
ethics as the best ever known, and as based on an entirely 

3 



4 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

" new groundwork." Many others, headed by Staudlin the 
theologian, have nevertheless openly admitted that " no 
system of Christian morality could exist," granted Luther s 
principles. 1 

Of his principles the following must be borne in mind. 
Man s attitude towards things Divine is just that of the 
dumb, lifeless " pillar of salt into which Lot s wife was 
changed " ; " he is not one whit better off than a clod or 
stone, without eyes or mouth, without any sense and with 
out a heart." 2 Human reason, which ought to govern moral 
action, becomes in matters of religion " a crazy witch and 
Lady Hulda," 3 the " clever vixen on whom the heathen 
hung when they thought themselves cleverest." 4 Like 
reason, so the will too, in fallen man, behaves quite nega 
tively towards what is good, whether in ethics or in religion. 
" We remain as passive," he says, " as the clay in the hands 
of the potter " ; freedom there is indeed, " but it is not 
under our control." In this connection he refers to Melanch- 
thon s "Loci communes," 5 whence some striking statements 
against free-will have already been quoted in the course of 
this work. 6 

It is only necessary to imagine the practical application 
of such principles to perceive how faulty in theory Luther s 
ethics must have been. Luther, however, was loath to see 
these principles followed out logically in practice. 

Other theories of his which he applies either not at all or 
only to a very limited extent in ethics are, for instance, his 
opinions that the believer, " even though he commit sin, 
remains nevertheless a godly man," and, that, owing to our 
trusting faith in Christ, God can descry no sin in us " even 
when we remain stuck in our sins," because we " have 
donned the golden robe of grace furnished by Christ s 
Blood." In his Commentary on Galatians he had said : 
" Act as though there had never been any law or any sin 
but only grace and salvation in Christ " ; 7 he had declared 

" Gesch. der Moral," Gottingen, 1908, p. 209. 

Cp. the passages quoted in Mohler, " Symbolik," 11. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 24, p. 516 ; Erl. ed., 34, p. 138. 

/&., 10, 2, p. 295 = 16 2 , p. 532. 

Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 7. 

6 Vol. ii., p. 239 f. and vol. iv., p. 435. Cp. Luther s own words, 
passim, in our previous volumes. 

7 Comm. on Gal., Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 557 ; Irmischer, 2, p. 144. 



LACK OF MORAL INCENTIVE 5 

that all the damned were predestined to hell, and, in spite of 
their best efforts, could not escape eternal punishment. 
(Vol. ii., pp. 268 ff., 287 ff.) 

In view of all the above we cannot help asking ourselves, 
whence the moral incentive in the struggle against the 
depravity of nature is to come ; where, granted that our 
will is unfree and our reason blind, any real ethical answer- 
ableness is to be found ; what motive for moral conduct a 
man can have who is irrevocably predestined to heaven or 
to hell ; and what grounds God has for either rewarding or 
punishing ? 

To add a new difficulty to the rest, Luther is quite certain 
of the overwhelming power of the devil. The devil sways all 
men in the world to such a degree, that, although we are 
" lords over the devil and death," yet " at the same time we 
lie under his heel ... for the world and all that belongs to 
it must have the devil as its master, who is far stronger than 
we and clings to us with all his might, for we are his guests 
and dwellers in a foreign hostelry." 1 But because through 
faith we are masters, "my conscience, though it feels its 
guilt and fears and despairs on its account, yet must insist 
on being lord and conqueror of sin ... until sin is entirely 
banished and is felt no longer." 2 Yea, since the devil is so 
intent on affrighting us by temptations, " we must, when 
tempted, banish from sight and mind the whole Decalogue 
with which Satan threatens and plagues us so sorely." 3 

Such advice could, however, only too easily lead people to 
relinquish an unequal struggle with an unquenchable Con 
cupiscence and an overwhelmingly powerful devil, or, to lose 
sight of the distinction between actual sin and our mere 
natural concupiscence, between sin and mere temptation ; 
Luther failed to see that his doctrines would only too readily 
induce an artificial confidence, and that people would put the 
blame for their human frailties on their lack of freedom, their 
ineradicable concupiscence, or on the almighty devil. 

How, all this notwithstanding, he contrived to turn his 
back on the necessary consequences of his own teaching, and 
to evolve a practical system of ethics far better than what 
his theories would have led us to expect, is plain from his 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 36, p. 495 ; Erl. ed., 51, p. 90. Cp. our 
vol. iv., p. 436. 2 Ib., p. 495 = 91. 

3 To Hier. Weller (July ?), 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 159. 



6 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

warm recommendation of good works, of chastity, neigh 
bourly love and other virtues. 

* In brief, he taught in his own way what earlier ages had 
also taught, viz. that sin and vice must be shunned ; in his 
own way he exhorted all to practise virtue, particularly to 
perform those deeds of brotherly charity reckoned so high in 
the Church of yore. In what follows we shall have to see 
how far his principles nevertheless intervened, and how 
much personal colouring he thereby imparted to his system 
of ethics. In so doing what we must bear in mind is his own 
way of viewing the aims of morality and practical matters 
generally, for here we are concerned, not with the results at 
which he should logically have arrived, but with the opinions 
he actually held. 

The difficulty of the problem is apparent not merely from 
the nature of certain of his theological views just stated, but 
particularly from what he thought concerning original sin 
and concupiscence, which colours most of his moral teaching. 

In his teaching, as we already know, original sin remains, 
even after baptism, as a real sin in the guise of con 
cupiscence ; by its evil desires and self-seeking it poisons 
all man s actions to the end of his life, except in so far as his 
deeds are transformed by the " faith " from above into 
works pleasing to God, or rather, are accounted as such. 
Owing to the enmity to God which prevails in the man who 
thus groans under the weight of sin even " civil justice is 
mere sinfulness ; it cannot stand before the absolute 
demands of God. All that man can do is to acknowledge 
that things really are so and to confess his unrighteous 
ness." 1 Such an attitude Luther calls " humility." Catholic 
moralists and ascetics have indeed ever made all other 
virtues to proceed from humility as from a fertile source, 
but there is no need to point out how great is the difference 
between Luther s " humility " and that submission of the 
heart to God s will of which Catholic theologians speak. 
Humility, as Luther understood it, was an " admission of 
our corruption " ; according to him it is our recognition of 
the enduring character of original sin that leads us to God and 
compels us "to admit the revelation of the Grace of God 
bestowed on us in Christ s work of redemption," by means 

1 W. Braun, " Die Bedeutung der Concupiscenz in Luthers Leben 
und Lehre," Berlin, 1908, p. 310. 



LAW AND GOSPEL 7 

of "faith, i.e. security of salvation." It is possible to speak 
" only of a gradual restraining of sin," so strongly are we 
drawn to evil. We indeed receive grace by faith, but of any 
infused grace or blotting out of sin, Luther refuses to hear, 
since the inclinations which result from original sin still 
persist. Hence " by grace sin is not blotted out." Rather, 
the grace which man receives is an imputed grace ; " the real 
answer to the question as to how Luther arrived at his 
conviction that imputed grace was necessary and not to be 
escaped is to be found in his own inward experience that the 
tendencies due to original sin remain, even in the regenerate. 
This sin, which persists in the baptised, . . . forces him, if 
he wishes to avoid the pitfall of despair ... to keep before 
his mind the consoling thought . . . that God does not 
impute to him his sin. J>1 

2. The two Poles: the Law and the Gospel 

One of the ethical questions that most frequently engaged 
Luther s attention concerned the relation of Law and Gospel. 
In reality it touched the foundations of his moral teaching. 

His having rightly determined how Law and Gospel stood 
seemed to him one of his greatest achievements, in fact one 
of the most important of the revelations made to him from 
on High. " Whoever is able clearly to distinguish the Law 
from the Gospel," he says, " let such a one give thanks to 
God and know that he is indeed a theologian." 2 Alluding to 
the vital importance of Luther s theory on the Law with its 
demands and the Gospel with its assurance of salvation, 
Friedrich Loofs, the historian of dogma, declares : Here 
" may be perceived the fundamental difference between the 
Lutheran and the Catholic conception of Christianity," 3 
though he does not fear to hint broadly at the " defects " 
and " limitations " of Luther s new discovery ; rather he 
admits quite openly, that some leading aspects of the 
question " never even revealed themselves clearly " to 
Luther, but betray a " notable " lack of discernment, and 
that Luther s whole conception of the Law contained 
" much that called for further explanation." 4 

1 Braun, ib., p. 310-312. 

1 " Comm. on Gal.," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 207 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 172. 

3 "Leitfaden zum Stud, der DC," Halle, 19G6, p. 722. 

4 Ib., pp. 770 f., 773 f., 778. 



8 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

In order to give here a clearer picture of Luther s doctrine 
on this matter than it was possible to do in the earlier 
passages where his view was touched upon it may be pointed 
out, that, when, as he so frequently does, he speaks of the 
Law he means not merely the Old-Testament ceremonial 
and judicial law, but even the moral law and commands 
both of the Old Covenant 1 and of the New, 2 in short every 
thing in the nature of a precept binding on the Christian the 
infringement of which involves him in guilt ; he means, as 
he himself expresses it, " everything . . . that speaks to us 
of our sins and of God s wrath." 3 

By the Gospel moreover he understands, not merely the 
promises contained in the New Testament concerning our 
salvation, but also those of the Old Covenant ; he finds the 
Gospel everywhere, even previous to Christ : " There is not 
a book in the Bible," he says, " which does not contain them 
both [the Law and the Gospel]. God has thus placed in 
every instance, side by side, the Law and the promises, for, 
by the Law, He teaches what we are to do, and, by the 
promises, how we are to set about it." In his church-postils 
where this passage occurs Luther explains more fully what 
he means by the " promise," or Gospel, as against the Law : 
It is the " glad tidings whereby grace and forgiveness of sins 
is offered. Hence works do not belong to the Gospel, for it 
is no law, but faith only [is required], for it is simply a 
promise and an offer of Divine grace. Whoever believes it 
receives the grace." 4 

As to the relationship between the Law and the Gospel : 
Whereas the Law does not express the relation between God 
and man, the Gospel does. The latter teaches us that we 
may, nay must, be assured of our salvation previous to any 
work of ours, in order, that, born anew by such faith, we 
may be ready to fulfil God s Will as free, Christian men. 
The Law, on the other hand, reveals the Will of God, on 
pedagogic grounds, as the foundation of a system of merit or 
reward. It is indeed necessary as a negative preparation 
for faith, but its demands cannot be complied with by the 
natural man, to say nothing of the fact that it seems to make 
certainty of salvation, upon which everything depends in 

1 Cp. Loofs, ib. y p. 771, n. 4. 

2 But cp. what Loofs says, ib., p. 772, n. 5. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 13 2 , p. 153. 4 Ib., 10 2 , p. 96 



LAW AND GOSPEL 9 

our moral life, contingent on the fulfilment of its pre 
scriptions. 1 

From this one can see how inferior to the Gospel is the Law. 

The Law speaks of " facer -e, operari" of " deeds and 
works " as essential for salvation. " These words " so 
Luther told the students in his Disputations in 1537 on the 
very eve of the Antinomian controversy " I should like to 
see altogether banished from theology ; for they imply the 
notions of merit and duty (" meritum et debitum "), which is 
beyond toleration. Hence I urge you to refrain from the use 
of such terms." 2 

What he here enjoins he had himself striven to keep in view 
from the earliest days of his struggle against " self -righteous 
ness " and " holiness-by-works." These he strove to under 
mine, in the same measure as he exalted original sin and its con 
sequences. Psychologically his attitude in theology towards 
these questions was based on the renegade monk s aversion 
to works and their supposed merit. His chief bugbear is the 
meritoriousness of any keeping of the Law. For one reason 
or another he went further and denied even its binding 
character (" debitum ") ; caught in the meshes of that 
pseudo-mystic idealism to which he was early addicted we 
hear him declaring : the Christian, when he is justified by 
" faith," does of his own accord and without the Law every 
thing that is pleasing to God ; what is really good is per 
formed without any constraint out of a simple love for what 
is good. In this wise it was that he reached his insidious 
thesis, viz. that the believer stands everywhere above the Law 
and that the Christian knows no Law whatever. 3 In quite 
general terms he teaches that the Law is in opposition to 
the Gospel ; that it does not vivify but kills ; and that its 
real task is merely to frighten us, to show us what we are 
unable to do, to reveal sin and " increase it." The preaching 
of the Law he here depicts, not as " good and profitable, but 
as actually harmful," as " nothing but death and poison." 4 

That such a setting aside of the specifically Mosaic Law 
appealed to him, we can readily understand. But does he 

1 Cp. Loofs, ib., p. 721 f. 

" Disput.," ed. P. Drews, p. 159 ; cp. ib., pp. 126, 136 f., 156. 

3 " Dixi . . . quod christianus nullam prorsus legem habeat, sed quod 
tota illi lex abrogata sit cum suis terroribus et vexationibus." " Comm. 
on Gal.," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 668 f. ; Irmischer, 2, p. 263. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 9 2 , p. 238 f. 



10 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

include in his reprobation the whole " lex moralis," the 
Natural Law which the Old Testament merely confirmed, 
and which, according to Luther himself, is written in man s 
heart by nature ? This Law he asserts is implicitly obeyed 
as soon as the heart, by its acceptance of the assurance of 
salvation, is cleansed and filled with the love of God. 1 And 
yet " in many instances he applies to this Natural Law what 
he says elsewhere of the Law of Moses ; it too affrights us, 
increases sin, kills, and stands opposed to the Gospel." 2 
Desirous of destroying once and for all any idea of righteous 
ness or merit being gained through any fulfilment of any 
Law, he forgets himself, in his usual way, and says strong 
things against the Law which scarcely agree with other 
statements he makes elsewhere. 

Owing to polemists taking too literally what he said, he 
has been represented as holding opinions on the Law and 
the Gospel which in point of fact he does not hold ; indeed, 
some have made him out a real Antinomian. Yet we often 
hear him exhorting his followers to bow with humility to 
the commandments, to bear the yoke of submission and 
thus to get the better of sin and death. Nevertheless, par 
ticularly when dealing with those whose " conscience is 
affrighted," he is very apt to forget what he has just said in 
favour of the Law, and prefers to harp on his pet theology : 
" Man must pay no heed to the Law but only to Christ." 
" In dealing with this aspect of the matter we cannot speak 
too slightingly of so contemptuous a thing [as the Law]." 3 

His changeableness and obscurity on this point is character 
istic of his mode of thought. 

At times he actually goes so far as to ascribe to the Law merely 
an outward, deterrent force and to make its sole value in ordinary 
life consist in the restraining of evil. Even when he is at pains 
to emphasise the " real, theological " use of the Law as prepara 
tory to grace, he deliberately introduces statements concerning 

1 Ib., Weim. ed., 24, p. 10 ; Erl. ed., 33, p. 13. Cp. Loofs, ib., p. 764, 
n. 2. 

2 Loofs, ib., p. 773, where he cites the "Comm. on Gal." (1535), 
Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 209 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 174. 

3 " Quia Paulus hie versatur in loco iustificationis, . . . necessitas 
postulabat, ut de lege tamquam de re contemptissima loqueretur, neque 
satis viliter et odiose, cum in hoc argumento versamur, de ea loqui pos- 
sumus." " Comm. on Gal.," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 557 ; Irmischer, 2, 
p. 144. " Conscientia perterrefacta . . . nihil de lege et peccato scire 
debet, sed tantum de Christo." Ib., p. 207 f.=p. 173 sq. Cp. " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 58, p. 279 f. ("Tischreden ") and " Opp. lat. var." 4, p. 427. 



LAW AND GOSPEL 11 

the Law which do not at all help to explain the matter. Accord 
ing to him, highly as we must esteem the Law for its sacred 
character, its effect upon people who are unable to keep it is 
nevertheless not wholesome but rather harmful, because thereby 
sin is multiplied, particularly the sin of unbelief, i.e. as seen in 
want of confidence in the certainty of salvation and in the 
striving after righteousness by the exact fulfilling of the Law. 1 
" Whoever feels contrition on account of the Law," he says for 
instance, " cannot attain to grace, on the contrary he is getting 
further and further away from it." 2 

Even for the man who has already laid hold on salvation by 
the " fides specialis " and has clothed himself in Christ s merits, 
the deadening and depraving effect of the Law has not yet ceased. 
It is true that he is bound to listen to the voice of the Law and 
does so with profit in order to learn " how to crucify the flesh by 
means of the spirit, and direct his steps in the concerns of this 
life." Yet and on this it is that Luther dwells because the 
pious man is quite unable to fulfil the Law perfectly, he is only 
made sensible of his own sinfulness ; against this dangerous feeling 
he must struggle. 3 Hence everything depends on one s ability 
to set oneself with Christ above the Law and to refuse to listen 
to its demands ; for Christ, Who has taken the whole load upon 
Himself, bears the sin and has fulfilled the Law for us. 4 That 
this, however, was difficult, nay, frequently, quite impossible, 
Luther discovered for himself during his inward struggles, and 
made no odds in admitting it. He gives a warning against engaging 
in any struggles with our conscience, which is the herald of the 
Law ; such contests " often lead men to despair, to the knife and 
the halter." 5 Of the manner in which he dealt with his own con 
science we shall, however, speak more in detail below (XXIX, 6). 

It is not necessary to point out the discrepancies and contra 
dictions in the above train of thought. Luther was untiring in 
his efforts at accommodation, and, whenever he wished, had 
plenty to say on the matter. Here, even more plainly than else 
where, we see both his lack of system and the irreconcilable con 
tradictions lying in the very core of his ethics and theology. 
Friedrich Loofs says indulgently: "Dogmatic theories he had 
none ; without over much theological reflection he simply gives 
expression to his religious convictions." 6 

It is strange to note how the aspect of the Law changes accord 
ing as it is applied to the wicked or to the just, though it was 
given for the instruction and salvation of all alike. In the New 
Testament we read : " My yoke is sweet and my burden light," 

1 Cp. Loofs, ib., p. 775. Luther here refers to Rom. v. 20 ; vii. 9, etc. 

2 " Contritus lege tantum abest ut perveniat ad gratiam, ut longius ab 
ea discedat" " Disput.," ed. P. Drews, p. 284. 

3 " Comm. on Gal.," Weim. ed., 2, p. 498 ; 40, 1, p. 208 ; Irmischer, 
3, p. 236 ; 1, p. 173. 4 Loofs, ib., p. 775 f. 

5 " Quce (conscientia) scepe ad desperationem, ad gladium etadlaqueum 
homines adigit." " Werke," Weim. ed., 25, p. 330 ; " Opp. lat. exeg.," 
23, p. 141 sq. P. 737, n. 



12 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

but even in the Old Testament it had been said : " Much peace 
have they that love thy Law." 1 According to Luther the man 
who is seeking for salvation and has not yet laid hold on faith in 
the forgiveness of sins must let himself be " ground down [ con- 
teri, cp. contritio ] by the Law " until he has learnt " to live 
in a naked trust in God s Mercy." 2 The man, however, who 
by faith has assured himself of salvation looks at the Law and 
its transgressions, viz. sin, in quite a different light. 

" He lives in a different world," says Luther, " where he must 
know nothing either of sin or of merit ; if however he feels his 
sin, he is to look at it as clinging, not to his own person, but to 
the person (Christ) on whom God has cast it, i.e. he must regard 
it, not as it is in itself and appears to his conscience, but rather 
in Christ by Whom it has been atoned for and vanquished. Thus 
he has a heart cleansed from all sin by the faith which affirms 
that sin has been conquered and overthrown by Christ. . . . 
Hence it is sacrilege to look at the sin in your heart, for it is the 
devil who puts it there, not God. You must say, my sins are not 
mine ; they are not in me at all ; they are the sins of another ; 
they are Christ s and are none of my business." 3 Elsewhere he 
describes similarly the firm consolation of the righteous with 
regard to the Law and its accusations of sin : This is the 
supreme comfort of the righteous, to vest and clothe Christ with 
my sins and yours and those of the whole world, and then to 
look upon Him as the bearer of all our sins. The man who thus 
regards Him will soon come to scorn the fanatical notions of the 
sophists concerning justification by works. They rave of a faith 
that works by love ( fides formata caritate ), and assert that 
thereby sins are taken away and men justified. But this simply 
means to undress Christ, to strip Him of sin, to make Him 
innocent, to burden and load ourselves with our own sins and to 
see them, not in Christ, but in ourselves, which is the same thing 
as to put away Christ and say He is superfluous." 4 

The confidence with which Luther says such things concerning 
the transgression of the Divine Law by the righteous is quite 
startling ; nor does he do so in mere occasional outbursts, but his 
frequent statements to this effect seem measured and dispassion 
ate, nor were they intended simply for the learned but even 
for common folk. It was for the latter, for instance, that in his 
" Sermon von dem Sacrament der Puss " he said briefly : "To 
him who believes, everything is profitable and nothing harmful, 
but, to him who believes not, everything is harmful and nothing 
profitable." 6 

" Whosoever does not believe," i.e. has failed to lay hold of 

1 Mt. xi. 30 ; Ps. cxviii. 165. 

2 "Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 357; " Opp. lat. var.," 1, p. 392. 
Luther frequently uses the term " conteri lege." 

3 " Dices enim : Peccata mea non sunt mea, quia non sunt in me, sed 
sunt aliena, Christi videlicet ; non ergo me Icedere poterunt." " Werke," 
Weim. ed., 25, p. 330 ; " Opp. lat. exeg.," 23, p. 141. 

4 " Comm. on Gal.," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 436 ; Irmischer, 2, p. 17. 

5 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 723 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 48. 



LAW AND GOSPEL 13 

the certainty of salvation, deserves to feel the relentless severity 
of the Law ; let him learn that the " right understanding and 
use of the Law " is this, " that it does no more than prove " that 
all " who, without faith, follow its behests are slaves, stuck [in 
the Law] against their will and without any certainty of grace." 
" They must confess that by the Law they are unable to make 
the slightest progress." 

" Even should you worry yourself to death with works, still 
your heart cannot thereby raise itself to such a faith as the Law 
calls for." 1 

Thus, by the Law alone, and without the help of Luther s 
" faith," we become sheer " martyrs of the devil." 

It is this road, according to him, that the Papists tread and 
that he himself, so he assures us, had followed when a monk. 
There he had been obliged to grind himself on the Law, i.e. had 
been forced to fight his way in despair until at last he discovered 
justification in faith. 2 One thing that is certain is his early 
antipathy due to the laxity of his life as a religious and to his 
pseudo-mysticism for the burdens and supposed deadening 
effect of the Law, an antipathy to which he gave striking expres 
sion at the Heidelberg Disputation. 3 

Luther remained all his life averse to the Law. 4 In 1542, 
i.e. subsequent to the Antinomian controversy, he even 
compared the Law to the gallows. He hastens, however, to 
remove any bad impression he may have made, by referring 
to the power of the Gospel : " The Law does not punish the 
just ; the gallows are not put up for those who do not steal 
but for robbers." 5 The words occur in an answer to his 
friends questions concerning the biblical objections advanced 
by the Catholics. They had adduced certain passages in 
which everlasting life is promised to those who keep the Law 
(" factor -es legis ") and where " love of God with the whole 
heart " rather than faith alone is represented as the true 

1 Ib., 10, 1, 1. p. 338 f. = 7 2 , p. 259 ff. 

2 See, however, below, vol. vi., xxxvii., 2. 

3 Vol. i., p. 317 f. and passim. 

4 Cp. Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 260. Ammon 
(" Hdb. der chr. Sittenlehre," 1, 1823, p. 76) laments that Luther 
" regarded the moral law merely as a vision of terror," and that 
according to him "the essence of the Christian religion consisted, not 
in moral perfection, but in faith." De Wette, " Christl. Sittenlehre," 
2, 2, 1821, p. 280 f., thinks that an ethical system might have been 
erected on the antithesis set up by Luther between the Law and the 
Gospel and on his theories of Christian freedom, " but that Luther was 
not equal to doing so. He was too much taken up with his fight against 
the Catholic holiness-by-works to devote all the attention he should to 
the moral side of the question and not enough of a scholar even to 
dream of any connection between faith and morality being feasible." 

5 Mathesius, ib. The Note in question is by Caspar Heydenreich. 



14 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

source of righteousness and salvation. Luther solves the 
questions to his own content. Those who keep the Law, he 
admits, " are certainly just, but not by any means owing 
to their fulfilment of the Law, for they were already just 
beforehand by virtue of the Gospel ; for the man who acts 
as related in the Bible passages quoted stands in no need 
of the Law. . . . Sin does not reign over the just, and, to 
the end, it will not sully them. . . . The Law is named 
merely for those who sin, for Paul thus defines the Law : 
The Law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. iii. 20)." In 
reality what St. Paul says is that " By the Law is the know 
ledge of sin," and he only means that the Old-Testament 
ordinances of which he is speaking, led, according to God s 
plan, to a sense of utter helplessness and therefore to a 
yearning for the Saviour. Luther s very different idea, viz. 
that the Law was meant for the sinner and served as a gallows, 
is stated by W. Walther the Luther researcher, in the 
following milder though perfectly accurate form : " In so 
far as the Christian is not yet a believer he lacks true 
morality. Even in his case therefore the Law is not yet 
abrogated." 1 

" A distinction must be made," so Luther declares, 
" between the Law for the sinner and the Law for the non- 
sinner. The Law is not given to the righteous, i.e. it is not 
against them." 2 

The olden Church had stated her conception of the Law and 
the Gospel both simply and logically. In her case there was no 
assumption of any assurance of salvation by faith alone to dis 
turb the relations between the Law and the Gospel ; one was the 
complement of the other ; though, agreeably to the Gospel, she 
proclaimed the doctrine of love in its highest perfection, yet at 
the same time, like St. Peter, she insisted in the name of the 
* Law," that, in the fear of sin and " by dint of good works " we 
must make sure our calling and election (2 Peter i. 10). She 
never ceased calling attention to the divinely appointed connec 
tion between the heavenly reward and our fidelity to the Law, 
vouched for both in the Old Testament (" For thou wilt render 
to every man according to his works," Ps. Ixi. 13) and also in 
the New (" The Son of Man will render to every man according 
to his works," Mt. xvi. 27, and elsewhere, " For we must all be 
manifested before the judgment seat of Christ that everyone may 
receive the proper things of the body according as he hath done, 
whether it be good or evil," 2 Cor. v. 10). 

1 " Christl. Sittlichkeit nach Luther," 1909, p, 91 f. 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 261. 



JOHANN AGRICOLA 15 



3. Encounter with the Antinomianism of Agricola 

Just as the Anabaptist and fanatic movement had 
originally been fostered by Luther s doctrines, so Antinomi 
anism sprang from the seed he had scattered. 

Johann Agricola, the chief spokesman of the Antinomians, 
merely carried certain theses of Luther s to their logical 
conclusion, doing so openly and regardless of the conse 
quences. He went much further than his master, who 
often had at least the prudence here and elsewhere to turn 
back half-way, a want of logic w r hich Luther had to thank 
for his escape from many dangers in both doctrine and 
practice. In the same way as Luther, with the utmost 
tenacity and vigour, had withstood the Anabaptists and 
fanatics when they strove to put in full practice his own 
principles, so also he proclaimed war on the Antinomians 
enlargement and application of his ideas on the Law and 
Gospel which appeared to him fraught with the greatest 
danger. That the contentions of the Antinomians were 
largely his own, formulated anew, must be fairly evident to 
all. 1 

Johann Agricola, the fickle and rebellious Wittenberg 
professor, seized on Luther s denunciations of the Law, more 
particularly subsequent to the spring of 1537, and built 
them up into a fantastic Antinomian system, at the same 
time rounding on Luther, and even more on the cautious 
and reticent Melanchthon, for refusing to proceed along the 
road on which they had ventured. In support of his views 
he appealed to such sayings of Luther s, as, the Law " was 
not made for the just," and, was "a gallows only meant for 
thieves." 

He showed that, whereas Luther had formerly refused to 
recognise any repentance due to fear of the menaces of the 
Law, he had come to hold up the terrors of the Law before 
the eyes of sinners. As a matter of fact Luther did, at a 
later date, teach that justifying faith was preceded by a 
contrition produced by the Law ; such repentance due to 
fear was excited by God Almighty in the man deprived of 
moral freedom, as in a " materia passiva." The following 

1 Cp. the passages cited above, p. 9 ff., and vols. iii. and iv, 
passim. 



16 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

theses were issued as Agricola s : "1. The Law [the 
Decalogue] does not deserve to be called the Word of God. 
2. Even should you be a prostitute, a cuckold, an adulterer 
or any other kind of sinner, yet, so long as you believe, you 
are on the road to salvation. 3. If you are sunk in the 
depths of sin, if only you believe, you are really in a state of 
grace. 4. The Decalogue belongs to the petty sessions, not 
to the pulpit. 11. The words of Peter : That by good 
works you may make sure your calling and election 
[2 Peter i. 10] are all rubbish. 12. So soon -as you begin to 
fancy that Christianity requires this or that, or that people 
should be good, honest, moral, holy and chaste, you have 
already rent asunder the Gospel [Luke, ch. vi.]." 1 

In his counter theses Luther indignantly rejected such 
opinions : " the deduction is not valid," he says, for instance, 
" when people make out, that what is not necessary for 
justification, either at the outset, later, or at the end, should 
not to be taught " (as obligatory), e.g. the keeping of the 
Law, personal co-operation and good works. " Even 
though the Law be useless to justification, still it does not 
follow that it is to be made away with, or not to be taught." 2 



Luther was the more indignant at the open opposition 
manifest in his own neighbourhood and at the yet worse 
things that were being whispered, because he feared, that, 
owing to the friendly understanding between Agricola, 
Jacob Schenk and others, the new movement might extend 
abroad. The doctrine, in its excesses, seemed to him as 
compromising as the teaching of Carlstadt and the doings of 
the fanatics in former days. In reality it did embody a 

1 It was Luther himself who published the Aritinomian theses in two 
series on Dec. 1, 1537. Cp. " Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 420 sqq. The most 
offensive of these theses Luther described as the outcome of Agricola s 
teaching and attributed them to one of the latter s pupils ; Agricola, 
however, refused to admit that the propositions were his. Cp. Kostlin- 
Kawerau (2, p. 458), who, after attempting to harmonise Luther s earlier 
and later teaching on the Law, proceeds : "He paid no heed to the fact 
that Agricola was seeking to root sin out of the heart of the believer, 
though in a way all his own, and which Luther distrusted, nor did he 
make any distinction between what Agricola merely hinted at and 
what others carried to extremes : in the one he already saw the other 
embodied. All this was characteristic enough of Luther s way of 
conducting controversy." 

2 " Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 434 (Thes. 17), 428 (Thes. 10). 



JOHA.NN AGRICOLA 17 

fanatical doctrine and an extremely dangerous pseudo- 
theology ; in Antinomianism the pseudo-mystical ideas 
concerning freedom and inner experience which from the 
very beginning had brought Luther into conflict with the 
" Law," culminated in a sort of up-to-date gnosticism. 

We now find Luther, in the teeth of his previous state 
ments, declaring that " Whoever makes away with the Law, 
makes away with the Gospel." 1 He says : " Agricola 
perverts our doctrine, which is the solace of consciences, 
and seeks by its means to set up the freedom of the flesh " ; 2 
the grace preached by Agricola was really nothing more than 
immoral licence. 3 

The better to counter the new movement Luther at once 
proceeded to modify his teaching concerning the Law. In 
this wise Antinomianism exercised on him a restraining 
influence, and was to some extent of service to his doctrine 
and undertaking, warning him, as the fanatic movement 
had done previously, of certain rocks to be avoided. 

Luther now came to praise Melanchthon s view of the 
Law, which hitherto had not appealed to him, and declared 
in his Table-Talk : If the Law is done away with in the 
Church, that will spell the end of all knowledge of sin. 4 

This last utterance, dating from March, 1537, is the first 
to forebode the controversy about to commence, which was 
to cause Luther so much anxiety but which at the same 
time affords us so good an insight into his ethics and, no less, 
into his character. Even more noteworthy are the two 
sermons in which he expounds his standpoint as against that 
of Agricola, whom, however, he does not name. 5 

The first step taken by Luther at the University against 
the Antinomian movement was the Disputation of Dec. 18, 
1537. For this he drew up a list of weighty theses. When 
the Disputation was announced everyone was aware that it 
was aimed at a member of the Wittenberg Professorial staff, 
at one, moreover, whom Luther himself, as dean, had 
authorised to deliver lectures on theology at Wittenberg. 
When Agricola failed even to put in an appearance at the 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 352. 2 Ib. 3 Ib., p. 357. 

4 16., p. 403. 

5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 13 2 , p. 153, Sermon of July 1, 5th Sunday after 
Trinity, and ib., 14 2 , p. 178, Sermon of Sep. 30, 18th Sunday after 
Trinity. Cp. Buchwald, " Ungedruckte Predigten Luthers," 3, 
p. 108 ff. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 457. 

v. c 



18 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Disputation, as though it in no way concerned him, and also 
continued to " agitate secretly " against the Wittenberg 
doctrine, Luther, in a letter addressed to Agricola on Jan. 6, 
1538, withdrew from him his faculty to teach, and even 
demanded that he should forswear theology altogether ("a 
theologia in totum abstinere ") ; if he now wished to deliver 
lectures he would have to ask permission " of the University " 
(where Luther s influence was paramount). 1 This was a 
severe blow for Agricola and his family. His wife called on 
Luther, dropped a humble curtsey and assured him that in 
future her husband would do whatever he was told. This 
seems to have mollified Luther. Agricola himself also 
plucked up courage to go to him, only to be informed that he 
would have to appear at the second Disputation on the 
subject for which Luther had drawn up a fresh set of 
theses and there make a public recantation. Driven into 
a corner, Agricola agreed to these terms. At the second 
Disputation (Jan. 12, 1538) he did, as a matter of fact, 
give explanations deemed satisfactory by Luther, by whom 
he was rewarded with an assurance of confidence. He 
was, nevertheless, excluded from all academical office, and 
though the Elector of Saxony permitted him to act as 
preacher this sanction was not extended by Bugenhagen to 
any preaching at Wittenberg. 2 A third and fourth set of 
theses drawn up by Luther, 3 who could not do enough 
against the new heresy, date from the interval previous to 
the settlement, though no Disputation was held on them 
that the peace might not be broken. 

Agricola nevertheless was staunch in his contention, that, 
in his earlier writings, Luther had expressed himself quite 
differently, and this was a fact which it was difficult to 
disprove. 

On account of Agricola s renewal of activity, Luther, on 
Sep. 13, 1538, held another lengthy and severe Disputation 
against him and his supporters, the " hotheads and avowed 
hypocrites." For this occasion he produced a fifth and last 
set of theses. He also insisted that his opponent should 
publicly eat his words. This time Luther admitted that 

1 " Brief wechsel," 11, p. 323. 

2 Cp. Drews, " Disputationen Luthers," pp. 382, 388, 394 ; G. 
Kawerau, " Job. Agricola," 1881, p. 194. 

3 " Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 430 sq. 



JOHANN AGRICOLA 19 

some of his own previous statements had been injudicious, 
though he was disposed to excuse them. In the beginning 
they had been preaching to people whose consciences were 
troubled and who stood in need of a different kind of 
language than those whose consciences had first to be 
stirred up. Agricola, finding himself in danger of losing his 
daily bread, yielded, and even agreed to allow Luther him 
self to pen the draft of his retractation, hoping thus to get 
off more easily. 

Instead of this, and in order, as he said, to " paint him as 
a cowardly, proud and godless man," Luther wrote a tract 
(" Against the Antinomians ") addressed to the preacher 
Caspar Giittel, which might take the place of the retractation 
agreed upon. 1 It was exceedingly rude to Agricola. It 
represented him as a man of " unusual arrogance and pre 
sumption," " who presumed to have a mind of his own, but 
one that was really intent on self-glorification " ; he was a 
standing proof that in the world " the devil liveth and 
reigneth " ; by his means the devil was set on raising 
another storm against Luther s Evangel, like those others 
raised by Carlstadt, Miinzer, the Anabaptists and so forth. 2 
In spite of all this the writing, according to a statement 
made by its author to Melanchthon, was all too mild (" tarn 
levis fui "), particularly now that Agricola s great "ob 
stinacy " was becoming so patent. 3 

Luther even spoke of the excommunication which should 
be launched against so contumacious a man. As a penalty 
he caused him to be excluded from among the candidates 
for the office of Dean, and when Agricola complained to the 
Rector and to Bugenhagen of Luther s " tyranny " both 
refused to listen to him. 4 

In the meantime Agricola expressed his complete sub 
mission in a printed statement, which, however, was 
probably not meant seriously, and thereupon, on Feb. 7, 
1539, was nominated by the Elector a member of the 
Consistory. He at once profited by this mark of favour 
to present at Court a written complaint against Luther, 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 32, p. 1 ff. (publ. early in 1539). Also " Briefe," 
ed. De Wette, 5, p. 147 ff. 

2 " Briefe," ib., p. 154. 

3 To Melanchthon, Feb. 2, 1539, " Brief wechsel," 12, p. 84. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 35 (Table-Talk). Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 
2, p. 462 f. 



20 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

referring particularly to the scurrilous circular letter sent to 
Caspar Giittel. He protested that, for wellnigh three years, 
he had submitted to being trodden under foot by Luther, 
and had slunk along at his heels like a wretched cur, though 
there had been no end to the insult and abuse heaped upon 
him. What Luther reproached him with he had never 
taught. The latter had accused him of many things which 
he " neither would, could nor might admit." 1 

Luther in his turn, in a writing, appealed to the Elector 
and his supreme tribunal. In vigorous language he ex 
plained to the Court, utterly incapable though it was of 
deciding on so delicate a question, why he had been obliged to 
withstand the false opinions of his opponent which the Bible 
condemned. Agricola had dared to call Luther s doctrine 
unclean, " a doctrine on behalf of which our beloved Prince 
and Lord wagered and imperilled land and subjects, life 
and limb, not to speak of his soul and ours." In other words, 
to differ from Luther was high treason against the sovereign 
who agreed with him. He sneers at Agricola in a tone 
which shows how great licence he allowed himself in his 
dealings with the Elector : Agricola had drawn up a 
Catechism, best nicknamed a " Cackism " ; Master Grickel 
was ridden by an angry imp, etc. So far was he from 
offering any excuse for his virulence against Agricola that he 
even expressed his regret for having been " so friendly and 
gentle." 2 

To the same authority, as though to it belonged judgment 
in ecclesiastical matters, Melanchthon, Jonas, Bugenhagen 
and Amsdorf sent a joint memorandum in which they 
recommended a truce, " somewhat timidly pointing out to 
the Elector, that Luther was hardly a man who could be 
expected to retract." 3 

The Court Councillors now took the whole matter into 
their hands and it was settled to lodge a formal suit against 
Agricola. The latter, however, accepted a call from Elector 
Joachim of Brandenburg, to act as Court preacher, and, in 
spite of having entered into recognisances not to quit the 

1 (In March, 1540) see C. E. Forstemann, "N. Urkundenbuch zur 
Gesch. der Kirchenreformation," 1, 1842, reprinted, p. 317 ff. 

2 /&., p. 321 ff.; also in "Werke," ed. Walch, 20, p. 2061 ff., and 
" Brief e," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 256 ff. 

3 Forstemann, ib., p. 325. The quotation is from G. Kawerau, 
" Joh. Agricola," " KE. f. prot. Theol." 



JOHANN AGRICOLA 21 

town, he made haste to get himself gone to his new post in 
Berlin (Aug., 1540). On a summons from Wittenberg, and 
seeing that, unless he made peace with Luther, he could do 
nothing at Berlin, he consented to issue a circular letter to 
the preachers, magistrates and congregation of Eisleben 1 
" which might have satisfied even Luther s exorbitant 
demands." 2 He explained that he had in the meantime 
thought better of the points under discussion, and even 
promised " to believe and teach as the Church at Witten 
berg believes and teaches." 

In 1545, when he came to Wittenberg with his wife and 
daughter, Luther, who still bore him a grudge, whilst 
allowing them to pay him a visit, refused to see Agricola 
himself. On another occasion it was only thanks to the 
friendly intervention of Catherine Bora that Luther con 
sented to glance at a kindly letter from him, but of any 
reconciliation he would not hear. Regarding this last inci 
dent we have a note of Agricola s own : " Domina Ketha, 
rectrix cceli et terrce, luno coniunx et soror lovis, who rules 
her husband as she wills, has for once in a way spoken a 
good word on my behalf. Jonas likewise did the same." 3 

Luther s hostility continued to the day of his death. He 
found justification for his harshness and for his refusal to be 
reconciled in the evident inconstancy and turbulence of his 
opponent. For a while, too, he was disposed to credit the 
news that Antinomianism was on the increase in Saxony, 
Thuringia and elsewhere. 

Not only was Agricola s fickleness not calculated to 
inspire confidence, but his life also left much to be desired 
from the moral standpoint. Though Luther was perhaps 
unaware of it, we learn from Agricola s own private Notes, 
that the " vices in which the young take delight " had 
assailed him in riper years even more strongly than in his 
youth. Seckendorff also implies that he did not lead a 
" regular life." 4 

In 1547 Agricola, together with Julius Pflug, Bishop of 
Naumburg, and Helding, auxiliary of Mayence, drew up the 
Augsburg Interim. As General Superintendent of the 

1 Forstemann, ib., p. 349. 2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 464. 

3 E. Kroker, " Katharina von Bora," 1906, p. 280, from Agricola s 
Notes, pub. by E. Thiele. 

4 Cp. Kawerau in the Article referred to above, p. 20, n. 3. 



22 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Brandenburg district and at the invitation of his Elector he 
assisted in the following year at the religious Conferences of 
the Saxon theologians. He died at Berlin, Sep. 22, 1566, 
of a disease resulting from the plague. 

Of the feeling called forth in circles friendly to Luther by 
Agricola s part in the Interim we have proof in the preface which 
introduces in the edition of 1549 Luther s letter of 1539 to the 
Saxon Court. Here we read : If the Eisleben fellow (Agricola) 
" was ever a dissolute sharper, who secretly promoted false 
doctrine and made use of the favour and applause of the pious 
as a cloak for his knavery," much more has this now become 
apparent by his outcry concerning the Interim and the alleged 
good it does. The editors recall the fact, that " Our worthy father 
in God, Dr. Martin Luther of happy memory, shortly before his 
end, in the presence of Dr. Pommer, Philip, Creutziger, Major, 
Jonas and D. Paulus Benedictus " spoke as follows : " Eisleben 
(Agricola) is not merely ridden by the devil but the devil himself 
lodges in him." In proof of the latter statement they add, that 
trustworthy persons, who had good grounds for their opinion, 
had declared, that " it was the simple truth that devils had visibly 
appeared in Eisleben s house and study, and at times had made 
a great disturbance and clatter ; whence it is clear that he is the 
devil s own in body and soul." " The truth," they conclude, " is 
clear and manifest. God gives us warnings enough in the writings 
of pious and learned persons and also by signs in the sky and in 
the waters. Let whoever wills be admonished and warned. For 
to each one it is a matter of life eternal ; to which may God assist 
us through Christ our Lord, Amen." 1 

A writing of Melanchthon s, dating from the last months of his 
life and brought to light only in 1894, gives further information 
concerning a later phase of the Antinomian controversy as fought 
out between Agricola and Melanchthon. 2 

Melanchthon, for all his supposed kindliness, here empties the 
vials of his wrath on Johann Agricola because the latter had 
vehemently assailed his thesis " Bona opera sunt necessaria." 
As a matter of fact, so he writes, he bothered himself as little 
about Agricola s " preaching, slander, abuse, insistence and 
threats " as about the " cackle of some crazy gander." But 
Christian people were becoming scandalised at " this grand 
preacher of blasphemy " and were beginning to suspect his own 
(Melanchthon s) faith. Hence he would have them know that 
Agricola s component parts were an " asinine righteousness, a 
superstitious arrogance and an Epicurean belly-service." To his 
thesis he could not but adhere to his last breath, even were he to 
be torn to pieces with red-hot pincers. He had refrained from 
adding the words " ad salutem " after " necessaria " lest the 

1 " Luthers Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 256 fL 

2 Melanchthon to Willibald Ransberck (Ramsbeck), Jan. 26, 1560, 
publ. by Nic. Miiller in " Zeitschr. fur KG.," 14, 1894, p. 139. 



JOHANN AGRICOLA 23 

unwary should think of some merit. The " ad salutem " was an 
addition of Agricola s, that " foolish man," who had thrust it on 
him by means of a " shameless and barefaced lie." He is anxious 
to win his spurs off the Lutherans. Yet donkeys of his ilk d^ 
understand nothing in the matter, and God will " punish these 
blasphemers and disturbers of the Churches. But in order that 
" a final end may at length be put to the evil doing, slander, abuse 
and cavilling it will," he says, " be necessary for God to send the 
Turk ; nothing else will help in such a case." Melanchthon com 
pares himself to Joseph, who was sold by his brethren. If Joseph 
had to endure this "in the first Church," what then " will be my 
fate in the extreme old age of this mad world ( extrema mundi 
delira senecta ) when licence wanders abroad unrestrained to 
sully everything and when such unspeakably cruel hypocrites 
control our destinies ? I can only pray to God that He will 
deign to come to the aid of His Church and graciously heal all 
the gaping wounds dealt her by her foes. Amen." 

A certain reaction against the Antinomian tendency, is, 
as already explained, noticeable in Luther s latter years ; 
at least he felt called upon to revise a little his former stand 
point with regard to the Law, the motive of fear, indifference 
to sin and so forth, and to remove it from the danger of 
abuse. He was also at pains to contradict the view that 
his doctrine of faith involved an abrogation of the Law. 
" The fools do not know," he remarked, for instance, allud 
ing to Jacob Schenk, " all that faith has to do." 1 

In his controversy with Agricola we can detect a tendency 
on his part " to revert to Melanchthon s doctrine concerning 
repentance." 2 He insisted far more strongly than before 3 
on the necessity of preaching the Law in order to arouse 
contrition ; he even went so far along Catholic lines as to 
assert, that " Penance is sorrow for sin with the resolve to 
lead a better life." 4 He also admitted, that, at the outset, 
he had said things which the Antinomians now urged 
against the Law, though he also strove to show that he had 
taken pains to qualify and safeguard what he had said. Nor 
indeed can Luther ever have expected that all the strong 
things he had once hurled against the Law and its demands 
would ever be used to build up a new moral theology. 

And yet, even at the height of the Antinomian contro- 

1 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 90. For other statements of Luther s 
see our vol. iii., p. 401. 2 Loofs, ib., p. 858. 

3 On Luther s attitude towards penance see our vol. iii., pp. 184 ff,. 
196. 4 " Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 424. 



24 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

versy, he stood firmly by his thesis regarding the Law, fear 
and contrition, viz. that " Whoever seeks to be led to 
repentance by the Law, will never attain to it, but, on the 
contrary, will only turn his back on it the more " j 1 to this 
he was ever true. 

"Luther," says Adolf Harnack, "could never doubt that only 
the Christian who has been vanquished by the Gospel is capable of 
true repentance, and that the Law can work no real repentance." 2 
The fact however remains, that, at least if we take his words as 
they stand, we do find in Luther a doctrine of repentance which 
does not claim faith in the forgiveness of sins so exclusively as 
its source. 3 The fact is that his statements do not tally. 4 Other 
Protestant theologians will have it that no change took place in 
Luther s views on penance, 5 or at least that the attempts so far 
made to solve the problem are not satisfactory. 6 Stress should, 
however, be laid on the fact, that, during his contest with Anti- 
nomiariism Luther insisted that it was necessary " to drive men 
to penance even by the terrors of the Law," 7 and that, alluding 
to his earlier statements, he admits having had much to learn : 
" I have been made to experience the words of St. Peter, Grow 
in the knowledge of the Lord. 

Of the converted, i.e. of those justified by the certainty of 
salvation, he says in 1538 in his Disputations against Agricola : 
The pious Christian as such " is dead to the Law and serves it 
not, but lies in the bosom of grace, secure in the righteousness 
imputed to him by God. . . . But, so far as he is still in the 
flesh, he serves the law of sin, repulsive as it may sound that a 
saint should be subject to the law of sin." 8 If Luther finds in the 
saint or devout man such a double life, a free man side by side 
with a slave, holiness side by side with sin, this is on account of 
the concupiscence, or as Luther says elsewhere, original sin, 
which still persists, and the results of which he regarded as really 
sinful in God s sight. 

Elsewhere in the same Disputations he speaks of the Law as 
contemptuously as ever : " The Law T can work in the soul nothing 
but wanhope ; it fills us with shame ; to lead us to seek God is 
not in the nature and might of the Law ; this is the doing of 

1 See above, p. 11, n. 2. 2 " DG.," 3 4 , p. 842. 

3 Cp. Loofs, ib., p. 860, n. 2 and 4 ; 790, n. 7, and Harnack, ib. 

4 Harnack (loc. cit.) points out that Luther s statements on the 
subject do not agree when examined in detail. 

5 E.g., Lipsius, "Luthers Lehre von der Busse," 1892. 

6 E.g., Galley, " Die Busslehre Luthers und ihre Darstellung in 
neuester Zeit," 1900. 

7 To the latter passage (" Werke," Erl. ed., 32, p. 7) E. F. Fischer 
draws attention (" Luthers Sermo de poenitentia von 1518," 1906, 
p. 36). Galley (loc. cit., p. 20) had also referred to the same as being 
a further development of Luther s doctrine on penance. On Luther s 
shifting attitude in regard to the motive of fear see our vol. iv., p. 455 f. 

8 " Disputation.es," ed. Drews, p. 452. 



CERTAINTY OF SALVATION 25 

".another fellow," viz. of the Gospel with its preaching of for 
giveness of sins in Christ. 1 It is true he adds in a kindlier vein : 
" The Law ought not so greatly to terrify those who are justified 
( nee deberet ita terrere iustificatos ) for it is already much chas 
tened by our justification in Christ. But the devil conies and 
makes the Law harsh and repellent to those who are justified. 
Thus, through the devil s fault, many are filled with fear who have 
no reason to fear. But [and now follows the repudiation of the 
extreme theories of the Antinomians], the Law is not on that 
account abolished in the Church, or its preaching suppressed ; 
for even the pious have some remnant of sin abiding in their 
flesh, which must be purified by the Law. ... To them, how 
ever, the Law must be preached under a milder form ; they should 
be admonished in this wise : You are now washed clean in the 
Blood of Christ. Yield therefore your bodies to serve justice 
and lay aside the lusts of the flesh that you may not become like 
to the world. Be zealous for the righteousness of good works." 
There too he also teaches how the " Law " must be brought 
home to hardened sinners. In their case no " mitigation " is 
allowable. On the contrary, they are to be told : You will be 
damned, God hates you, you are full of unrighteousness, your lot 
is that of Cain, etc. For, " before Justification, the Law rules, 
and terrifies all who come in contact with it, it convicts and 
condemns." 2 

Among the most instructive utterances touching the Anti- 
nomians is the following one on sin, more particularly on breach 
of wedlock, which may be given here as amplifying Luther s 
statements on the subject recorded in our vol. iii. (pp. 245, 256 f., 
etc.) : The Antinomians taught, so he says, that, if a man had 
broken wedlock, he had only to believe (" tantum ut crederet ") and 
he would find a Gracious God. But surely that was no Church 
where so horrible a doctrine (" horribilis vox ") was heard. On 
the contrary what was to be taught was, that, in the first place, 
there were adulterers and other sinners who acknowledged their 
sin, made good resolutions against it and possessed real faith, 
such as these found mercy with God. In the second place, how 
ever, there were others who neither repented of their sin nor 
wished to forsake it ; such men had no faith, and a preacher who 
should discourse to them concerning faith (i.e. fiducial faith) 
would merely be seducing and deceiving them. 

4. The Certainty of Salvation and its relation to Morality 

How did Luther square his system of morality with his 
principal doctrine of Faith and Justification, and where did 
he find any ground for the performance of good works ? 

In the main he made everything to proceed from and rest 
upon a firm, personal certainty of salvation. The artificial 

1 Ib., p. 402. 2 J6., pp. 402-404. 



26 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

system thus built up, so far as it is entitled to be called a 
system at all, requires only to be set forth in order to be 
appreciated as it deserves. It will be our duty to consider 
Luther s various statements, and finally his own summary, 
made late in life, of the conclusions he had reached. 

Certainty of Salvation as the cause and aim of True Morality. 
The Psychological Explanation 

Quite early Luther had declared : " The fides specialist 
or assurance of salvation, of itself impels man to true 
morality." For, " faith brings along with it love, peace, 
joy and hope. ... In this faith all works are equal and one 
as good as the other, and any difference between works 
disappears, whether they be great or small, short or long, 
few or many ; for works are not pleasing [to God] in them 
selves but on account of faith. ... A Christian who lives in 
this faith has no need to be taught good works, but, what 
ever occurs to him, that he does, and everything is well 
done." Such are his words in his " Sermon von den gut en 
Wercken " to Duke Johann of Saxony in 1520. 1 

He frequently repeats, that " Faith brings love along with 
it," which impels us to do good. 

He enlarges on this in the festival sermons in his Church- 
Postils, and says : When I am made aware by faith, that, 
through the Son of God Who died for me, I am able to 
" resist and flaunt sin, death, devil, hell and every ill, then 
I cannot but love Him in return and be well disposed 
towards Him, keeping His commandments and doing 
lovingly and gladly everything He asks " ; the heart will 
then show itself full " of gratitude and love. But, seeing 
that God stands in no need of our works and that He has 
not commanded us to do anything else for Him but to 
praise and thank Him, therefore such a man must proceed 
to devote himself entirely to his neighbour, to serve, help 
and counsel him freely and without reward." 2 

All this, as Luther says in his " Von der Freyheyt eynes 
Christen Menschen," must be performed " by a free, willing, 
cheerful and unrequited serving of our neighbour " ; 3 it 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 206 f. ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 127. 

2 16., Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 40. 

3 76., Weim. ed., 7, p. 36 ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 196. 



CERTAINTY OF SALVATION 27 

must be done " cheerfully and gladly for Christ s sake Who 
has done so much for us." 1 " That same Law which once 
was hateful to free-will," he says in his Commentary on 
Galatians, " now [i.e. after we have received the faith and 
assurance of salvation] becomes quite pleasant since love is 
poured into our hearts by the Holy Ghost. . . . We now 
are lovers of the Law." 2 From the wondrous well-spring of 
the imputed merits of Christ there comes first and foremost 
prayer ; if only we cling " trustfully to the promise of 
grace," then " the heart will unceasingly beat and pulsate 
to such prayers as the following : O, beloved Father, may 
Thy Name be hallowed, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be 
done." 3 But all is not prayer and holy desire ; even when 
the " soul has been cleansed by faith," the Christian still 
must struggle against sin and against the body " in order 
to deaden its wantonness." 4 The Christian will set himself 
to acquire chastity ; "in this work a good, strong faith is 
of great help, more so here than anything else." And why ? 
Because whoever is assured of salvation in Christ and 
" enjoys the grace of God, also delights in spiritual purity. 
. . . Under such a faith the Spirit without doubt will tell 
him how to avoid evil thoughts and everything opposed to 
chastity. For as faith in the Divine mercy persists and 
works all good, so also it never ceases to inform us of all that 
is pleasing or displeasing to God." 5 

Whence does our will derive the ability and strength to 
wage this struggle to the end ? Only from the assurance of 
salvation, from its unshaken awareness that it has indeed a 
Gracious God. For this certainty of faith sets one free, 
first of all from those anxieties with regard to one s salva 
tion with which the righteous-by-works are plagued and 
thus allows one to devote time and strength to doing what 
is good ; secondly this faith in one s salvation teaches one how 
to overcome the difficulties that stand in one s way. 6 

There was, however, an objection raised against Luther 

1 Ib., p. 30=189. 

2 " Comm. in ep. ad. Gal.," 3, p. 365 (Irmischer). 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 49, p. 114 f., Exposition of John xiv.-xvi. 

4 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 30 f. ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 189 f. 

5 Ib., 6, p. 269 f. = 16 2 , p. 212, " Sermon von den guten Wercken," 
1520. 

6 Owe account is from Walther (above, p. 14, n. 1), p. 75 ff. His 
faithful rendering of Luther s thought shows how actual grace is 
excluded. 



28 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

by his contemporaries and which even presented itself to his 
own mind : Why should a lifelong struggle and the per 
formance of good works be requisite for a salvation of which 
we are already certain ? It was re-formulated even by 
Albert Ritschl, in whose work, " Rechtfertigung und 
Versohnung," we find the words : "If one asks why God, 
Who makes salvation to depend on Justification by faith, 
prescribes good works at all, the arbitrary character of the 
assumption becomes quite evident." 1 In Luther s own 
writings we repeatedly hear the same stricture voiced : "If 
sin is forgiven me gratuitously by God s Mercy and is 
blotted out in baptism, then there is nothing for me to do." 
People say, " If faith is everything and suffices of itself to 
make us pious, why then are good works enjoined ? " 2 

In order to render Luther s meaning adequately we must 
emphasise his leading answer to such objections. He is 
determined to insist on good works, because, as he says, 
they are of the utmost importance to the one thing on which 
everything else depends, viz. to faith and the assurance of 
salvation. 3 



In his " Sermon von den guten Wercken," which deserves to 
be taken as conclusive, he declares outright that all good works 
are ordained for the sake of faith. " Such works and sufferings 
must be performed in faith and in firm trust in the Divine mercy, 
in order that, as already stated, all works may come under the 
first commandment and under faith, and that they may serve 
to exercise and strengthen faith, on account of which all the 
other commandments and works are demanded." 4 Hence 
morality is necessary, not primarily in order to please God, to 
obey Him and thus to work out our salvation, but in order to 
strengthen our " fides specialis " in our own salvation, which 
then does all the needful. 5 It is necessary, as Luther says else 
where, in order to provide a man with a reassuring token of the 
reality of his " fides specialis " ; he may for instance be tempted 
to doubt whether he possesses this saving gift of God, though the 
very doubt already spells its destruction ; hence let him look at 
his works ; if they are good, they will tell him at the dread hour 

3 4 , p. 460. 

"Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 29 f. ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 188. "Von der 
Freyheyt eynes Christen Menschen." Cp. ib., Erl. ed., 7 2 , p. 257. 

Walther, ib., p. 99. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 249 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 184. 

Cp. " Brief e," ed. De Wette, where the idea that faith " then does 
all the needful," and that works are a natural product of faith is summed 
up thus : " Opera propter fidem fiunt." 



CERTAINTY OF SALVATION 29 

of death: Yes, you have the "faith." 1 Strangely enough he 
also takes the Bible passages which deal with works performed 
under grace as referring to faith, e.g. " If thou wilt enter into 
life keep the commandments " (Mt. xix. 17) and, " By good works 
make your calling and election sure " (2 Peter i. 10). The latter 
exhortation of St. Peter signifies according to Luther s exegesis : 
" Take care to strengthen your faith," from the works " you may 
see whether you have the faith." 2 According to St. Peter 
you are to seek in works merely " a sign and token that the faith 
is there " ; his meaning is not that you " are to do good works 
in order that you may secure your election." " We are not to 
fancy that thereby we can become pious." 3 

This thought is supplemented by another frequent exhortation 
of Luther s which concerns the consciousness of sin persisting 
even after " justification." The sense of sin has, according to 
him, no other purpose than to strengthen us in our trustful cling 
ing to Christ, for as no one s faith is perfect we are ever called 
upon to fortify it, in which we are aided by this anxiety concern 
ing sin : " Though we still feel sin within us this is merely to 
drive us to faith and make our faith stronger, so that despite our 
feeling we may accept the Word and cling with all our heart and 
conscience to Christ alone," in other words, to follow Luther s 
own example amidst the pangs of conscience that had plunged 
him into " death and hell." 4 " Thus does faith, against all feeling 
and reason, lead us quietly through sin, through death and 
through hell." " The more faith waxes, the more the feeling 
diminishes, and vice versa. Sins still persist within us, e.g. pride, 
avarice, anger and so on and so forth, but only in order to move 
us to faith." He refrains from adducing from Holy. Scripture 
any proof in support of so strange a theory, but proceeds to sing 
a paean on faith " in order that faith may increase from day to 
day until man at length becomes a Christian through and through, 
keeps the real Sabbath, and creeps, skin, hair and all, into 
Christ." 5 The Christian, by accustoming himself to trust in the 
pardoning grace of Christ and by fortifying himself in this faith, 
becomes at length " one paste with Christ." 6 

Hence the " fides specialist as just explained, seems to be 
the chief ethical aim of life. 7 This is why it is so necessary 
to strengthen it by works, and so essential to beat down all 
anxieties of conscience. 

1 Cp. " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 386 ; Erl. ed., 51, p. 479, in 1523, 
on 1 Peter iv. 19. Cp. also Erl. ed., 18 2 , pp. 330, 333 f., in 1532, on 
1 John iv. 17. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 9 2 , p. 273. 3 /&., 13 2 , p. 97. 

4 Cp. our vol. iv., p. 442. 

5 " Werke," Erl. ed., II 2 , p. 219 f. 6 Ib., 14 2 , p. 257. 

7 Cp. Loofs, " DG.," 4 , p. 737. Hence Luther also says : " Dum 
bonus aut malus quisquam efficitur, non hoc ab operibus, sed a fide vel 
incredulitate-oritur." " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 62 ; " Opp. lat. var .," 
4, p. 239. 



30 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Here Luther is speaking from his own inward experience. 
He says : " Thus must the conscience be lulled to rest and 
made content, thus must all the waves and billows subside. 
. . . Our sins towered mountain-high about us and would 
fain have made us despair, but in the end they are calmed, 
and settle down, and soon are seen no longer." 1 It was only 
very late in his life that Luther reached a state of compara 
tive calm, a calm moreover best to be compared with the 
utter weariness of a man worn out by fatigue. 2 

Luther s Last Sermons at Eisleben on the Great Questions 
of Morality 

In the four sermons he preached at Eisleben the last he 
ever delivered Luther gives utterance to certain leading 
thoughts quite peculiar to himself regarding morality and 
the " fides specialist These utterances, under the circum 
stances to be regarded as the ripest fruit of his reflection, 
must be taken in conjunction with other statements made 
by him in his old age. They illustrate even more clearly 
than what has gone before the cardinal point of his teaching 
now under discussion, which, even more than any other, has 
had the bad luck to be so often wrongly presented by 
combatants on either side. 

Luther s four sermons at Eisleben, which practically 
constitute his Last Will and Testament of his views on 
faith and good works, were delivered before a great con 
course of people. A note on one delivered on Feb. 2, 1546, 
tells us : "So great was the number of listeners collected 
from the surrounding neighbourhood, market-places and 
viHages, that even Paul himself were he to come preaching 
could hardly expect a larger audience." 3 For the reports of 
his sermons we are indebted to the pen of his pupil and 
companion on his journey, Johann Aurifaber. 4 From their 
contents we can see how much Luther was accustomed to 
adapt himself to his hearers and to the conditions prevailing 
in the district where he preached. The great indulgence 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., II 2 , p. 220. 2 See below, ch. xxxii., 6. 

3 Printed, in " Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 524. 

4 The first revised by Cruciger. Aurifaber published his notes four 
months after the sermons, which, as the Preface points out, " might 
well be taken as a standing witness to his [Luther s] doctrine." 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 501. 



THE EISLEBEN SERMONS 31 

then extended to the Jews in that territory of the Counts of 
Mansfeld ; the religious scepticism shared or favoured by 
certain people at the Court; and, in particular, the moral 
licence which, taking its cue from Luther s teaching, 
argued : " Well and good, I will sin lustily since sin has 
been taken away and can no longer damn me," as he him 
self relates in the third sermon, x all this lends colour to the 
background of these addresses delivered at Eisleben. In 
particular the third sermon, on the parable of the cockle 
(Mt. xiii. 24-30), is well worth notice. It speaks of the weeds 
which infest the Church and of those which spring up in our 
selves ; in the latter connection Luther expatiates on the lead 
ing principles of his ethics, on faith, sin and good works, and 
concludes by telling the Christian how he must live and 
" grow in faith and the spirit." 2 One cannot but acknow 
ledge the force with which the preacher, who was even then 
suffering acutely, speaks on behalf of good works and the 
struggle against sin. What he says is, however, tainted by 
his own peculiar views. 

" God forgives sin in that He does not impute it. ... But 
from this it does not follow that you are without sin, although it 
is already forgiven ; for in yourself you feel no hearty desire to 
obey God, to go to the sacrament or to hear God s Word. Do 
you perhaps imagine that this is no sin, or mere child s play ? " 
Hence, he concludes, we must pray daily " for forgiveness and 
never cease to fight against ourselves and not give the rein to 
our sinful inclinations and lusts, nor obey them contrary to the 
dictates of conscience, but rather weaken and deaden sin ever 
more and more ; for sin must not merely be forgiven but verily 
swept away and destroyed." 3 

He exhorts his hearers to struggle against sin, whether 
original or actual sin, and does so in words which place the 
" fides specialis " in the first place and impose the obligation 
of a painful and laborious warfare which contrasts strongly 
with the spontaneous joy of the just in doing what is good, 
elsewhere taken for granted by Luther. 

" Our doctrine as to how we are to deal with our own unclean- 
ness and sin is briefly this : Believe in Jesus Christ and your sins 
are forgiven ; then avoid and withstand sin, wage a hand-to- 
land fight with it, do not allow it its way, do not hate or cheat 
your neighbour," etc. 4 

1 "Werke," Erl. ed., ib,. p. 551. z Ib., p. 552. 

3 Ib., p. 551. * Ib., p. 554. 



32 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Such admonitions strenuously to strive against sin involun 
tarily recall some very different assurances of his, viz. that the 
man who has once laid hold on righteousness by faith, at once 
and of his own accord does what is good : " Hence from faith 
there springs love and joy in God and a free and willing service 
of our neighbour out of simple love." 

Elsewhere too he says, " Good works are performed by faith 
and out of our heartfelt joy that we have through Christ obtained 
the remission of our sins. . . . Interiorly everything is sweet 
and delicious, and hence we do and suffer all things gladly." 1 
And again, just as we eat and drink naturally, so also to do what 
is good comes naturally to the believer ; the word is fulfilled : 
Only believe and you will do all things of your own accord ; 2 as 
a good tree must bring forth good fruit and cannot do otherwise, 
so, where there is faith, good works there must also be. 3 He 
speaks of this as a " necessitas immutdbilitatis " and as a " neces- 
sitas gratuita," no less necessary than that the sun must shine. 
In 1536 he even declared in an instruction to Melanchthon that 
it was not right to say that a believer should do good works, 
because he can t help performing them ; who thinks of ordering 
" the sun to shine, a good tree to bring forth good fruit, or three 
and seven to make ten ? " 4 



Of this curious idealism, first noticed in his "Von der Freyheyt 
eynes Christen Menschen," we find traces in Luther till the very 
end of his life. 5 In later life, however, he either altered it a little 
or was less prone to insist on it in and out of season. This was 
due to his unfortunate experiences to the contrary ; as a matter 
of fact faith failed to produce the effects expected, and only in 
rare instances and at its very best was it as fruitful as Luther 
wished. The truth is he had overrated it, obviously misled by 
his enthusiasm for his alleged discovery of the power of faith for 
justification. 

He was also fond of saying and of this assurance we find 
an echo in his last sermon that a true and lively faith should 
govern even our feeling, and as we are so little conscious of 
such a feeling and impulse to what is good, it follows that 
we but seldom have this faith, i.e. this lively certainty of 
salvation. 

When a Christian is lazy, starts thinking he possesses every 
thing and refuses to grow and increase, then " neither has he 
earnestness nor a true faith." Even the just are conscious of sin 

1 " Comm. on Gal.," 1, p. 196 (Irmischer). 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 559 ; Erl. ed., 12 2 , p. 175. " Comm. 
on Gal." (Irmischer), 1, p. 196. 

3 Ib., Erl. ed., 17 2 , p. 94 ; 49, p. 348. 4 Ib., 58, pp. 343, 347. 
5 See above, p. 26 f., and vol. ii., p. 27 ff. 



THE EISLEBEN SERMONS 33 

(i.e. original sin), but they resist it ; but where there is a distaste 
for the beloved Word of God there can be " no real faith." Luther, 
to the detriment of his ethics, was disposed to relegate faith too 
much to the region of feeling and personal experience ; this, 
however, he could scarcely avoid since his was a " fides specialis " 
in one s own personal salvation. True religion, in his opinion, is 
ever to rejoice and be glad by reason of the forgiveness of sins 
and cheerfully to run the way of God s service ; this idea is 
prominent in his third sermon at Eisleben. The right faith " is 
toothsome and lively ; it consoles and gladdens." 1 " It bores 
its way into the heart and brings comfort and cheer " ; "we feel 
glad and ready for anything." 2 

But because the actual facts and his experience failed to tally 
with his views, Luther, as already explained, had recourse to a 
convenient expedient ; towards the close of his life we frequently 
hear him speaking as follows : Unfortunately we have not yet 
got this faith, for " we do not possess in our hearts, and cannot 
acquire, that joy which we would gladly feel " ; thus we become 
conscious how the " old Adam, sin and our sinful nature, still 
persist within us ; this it is that forces you and me to fail in our 
faith." 3 "Even great saints do not always feel that joy and 
might, and we others, owing to our unbelief, cannot attain to 
this exalted consolation and strength . . . and even though we 
would gladly believe, yet we cannot make our faith as strong as 
we ought." 4 He vouchsafes no answer to the objection : But 
why then set up aims that cannot be reached ; why make the 
starting-point consist in a " faith " of which man, owing to 
original sin, can only attain to a shadow, except perhaps in the 
rare instances of martyrs, or divinely endowed saints ? 

Luther, when insisting so strongly that good works must 
follow " faith," as a moral incentive to such works also 
refers incidentally to our duty of gratitude and lo.ve in 
return for this faith bestowed on us. 

Thus in the Eisleben sermons he invites the believer, the 
better to arouse himself to good works, to address God in 
this way : " Heavenly Father, there is no doubt that Thou 
hast given Thy Son for the forgiveness of my sins. There 
fore will I thank God for this during my whole life, and 
praise and exalt Him, and no longer steal, practise usury or 
be miserly, proud or jealous. ... If you rightly believe," 
he continues, " that God has sent you His Son, you will, 
like a fruitful tree, bring forth finer and finer blossoms the 
older you grow." 5 In what follows he is at pains to show 
that good works will depend on the constant putting into 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 553. 2 /&., p. 548. 

3 Ib. 4 /&., p. 549. * /&., p. 554. 

v. D 



34 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

practice of the " faith " ; the Justification that is won by 
the " fides specialis " is insufficient, in spite of all the 
comfort it brings ; rather we must be mindful of the saying of 
St. Paul : " If by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the 
flesh you shall live." " But if your flesh won t do it, then 
leave it to the Holy Ghost." 1 

The motive for good works which Luther here advances, 
viz. " To thank God, to praise and extol Him," 2 is worthy of 
special attention ; it is the only real one he furnishes either 
here or elsewhere. Owing to the love of God which arises 
in the heart at the thought of His benefits we must rouse 
ourselves to serve Him. The idea is a grand one and had 
always appealed to the noblest spirits in the Church before 
Luther s day. It is, however, a very different thing to 
represent this motive of perfect love as the exclusive and 
only true incentive to doing what is pleasing to God. Yet 
throughout Luther s teaching this is depicted as the 
general, necessary and only motive. " From faith and the 
Holy Ghost necessarily comes the love of God, and together 
with it love of our neighbour and every good work." 3 When 
I realise by faith that God has sent His Son for my sake, 
etc., says Luther, in his Church-Postils, " I cannot do 
otherwise than love Him in return, do His behests and keep 
His commandments." 4 This love, however, as he expressly 
states, must be altogether unselfish, i.e. must be what the 
Old Testament calls a " whole-hearted love," which in turn 
" presupposes perfect self-denial." 5 

It is plain that we have here an echo of the mysticism 
which had at one time held him in thrall ; 6 but his extrava 
gant idealism was making demands which ordinary Christians 
either never, or only very seldom, could attain to. 

The olden Church set up before the faithful a number of 
motives adapted to rouse them to do good works ; such 
motives she found in the holy fear of God and His chastise 
ments, in the hope of temporal or everlasting reward ; in the 
need of making satisfaction for sin committed, or, finally, 
for those who had advanced furthest, in the love of God, 
whether as the most perfect Being and deserving of all our 

1 Ib., p. 555. 

2 Cp. p. 552 : " Help me that I may, with gratitude, praise and 
exalt Thy Son." 3 Kostlin s summary, ib., p. 206. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 40. Cp. " Opp. lat. exeg.," 13, p. 144. 
6 Kostlin, ib., p. 207. 6 Cp. vol. i., passim. 



THE EISLEBEN SERMONS 35 

love, or on account of the benefits received from Him ; she 
invited people to weld all these various motives into one 
strong bond ; those whose dispositions were less exalted 
she strove to animate with the higher motives of love, so 
far as the weakness of human nature allowed. Luther, on 
the contrary, in the case of the righteous already assured 
of salvation, not only excluded every motive other than 
love, but also, quite unjustifiably, refused to hear of any 
love save that arising from gratitude for the redemption and 
the faith. " To love God," in his eyes, " is nothing more 
than to be grateful for the benefit bestowed " (through the 
redemption). 1 And, again, he imputes such power to this 
sadly curtailed motive of love, or rather gratitude, that it 
is his only prescription, even for those who are so cold- 
hearted that the Word of God " comes in at one ear and 
goes out at the other," and who hear of the death of Christ 
-with as little devotion as though they had been told, " that 
the Turks had beaten the Sultan, or some other such tit-bit 
of news." 2 

Some notable Omissions of Luther s in the above Sermons 
on Morality 

Hitherto we have been considering what Luther had to 
say on the question of faith and morality in his last sermons. 
It remains to point out what he did not say, and what, on 
account of his own doctrines, it was impossible for him to 
say ; as descriptive of his ethics the latter is perhaps of even 
greater importance. 

In the first place he says nothing of the supernatural life, which, 
according to the ancient teaching of the Church, begins with 
the infusion of sanctifying grace in the soul of the man who is 
justified. As we know, he would not hear of this new and vital 
principle in the righteous, which indeed was incompatible with 
his theory of the mere non-imputation of sin. Further, he also 
ignores the so-called " infused virtues " whence, with the help 
of actual grace, springs the new motive force of the man received 
into the Divine sonship. By his denial of the complete renewal 
of the inner man he placed himself in opposition to the ancient 
witnesses of Christendom, as Protestant historians of dogma 
now admit. 3 

1 Kostlin, ib., p. 204. - In the Eisleben Sermons, p. 548. 

3 On Luther s attitude towards the supernatural moral order, see 
xxix., 5. 



36 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Secondly, he dismisses in silence the so-called actual grace. 
Not even in answering the question as to the source whence the 
believer draws strength and ability to strive after what is good, 
does he refer to it, so hostile is his whole system to any co-opera 
tion between the natural and the supernatural in man. 

Thirdly, he does not give its due to man s freedom in co-opera 
ting in the doing of what is good ; it is true he does not expressly 
deny it, but it was his usual practice in his addresses to the people 
to say as little as possible of his doctrine of the enslaved will. 1 
Along with faith, however, he extols the Holy Ghost. " Leave 
it to the Holy Ghost ! " Indeed faith itself, and the strong feeling 
which should accompany it, are exclusively the work of the Holy 
Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost alone Who believes, and feels, and 
works in man, according to Luther s teaching elsewhere. This 
action of God alone is something different from actual grace. 
In the instructions he gave to Melanchthon in 1536 concerning 
justification and works, 2 Luther entirely ignores any action on 
man s part as a free agent, and yet here we have the " clearest 
expression " of his doctrine of how good works follow on justifi 
cation. The Protestant author of " Luthers Theologie in ihrer 
geschichtlichen Entwicklung " remarks of this work (and the 
same applies to the above sermons and other statements) : 
" Luther is always desirous, on the one hand of depreciating man s 
claim to personal worth and merit, and on the other by his 
testimony to God s mercy in Christ, of furthering faith and the 
impulses and desires which spring from faith and the spirit ; 
here, too, he says nothing of any choice as open to man between 
the Divine impulses working within him and those of his sinful 
nature." 3 

Fourthly, and most important of all, Luther says nothing of the 
true significance of morality for the attainment of everlasting 
life. 

The best and theologically most convincing reply to the objec 
tion of which he spoke : " Well and good, then I shall sin lustily," 
etc. would have been : No, a good moral life is essential for 
salvation ! The strongest Bible texts would have been there to 
back such a statement, and, to his powerful eloquence, it should 
have proved an attractive task to crush his frivolous opponents 
by so weighty an argument. Yet we find never a word concern 
ing the necessity of good works for salvation, but merely an 
account of the wonders worked by faith of its own accord alone 
after it has laid hold on the heart. This is readily understood, 
if justification is purely passive and effected solely by the Spirit 
of God which enkindles faith and, with it, covers over sin as with 
a shield, then the very being of the life of faith must be mere 
passivity, and there can be no more question of attaining to 
salvation by means of good deeds performed with the aid of grace. 
In the instruction for Melanchthon mentioned above we find at 

1 Cp. vol. ii., p. 223 ff., particularly p. 240 ff, 

2 See above, p. 32, n. 4. 

3 Kostlin, ib., p. 206. 



THE EISLEBEN SERMONS 37 

the end this clear query: "Is this saying true : Righteousness by 
works is necessary for salvation ? " Luther answers by a distinc 
tion : " Not as if works operate or bring about salvation," he 
says, " but rather they are present together with the faith that 
operates righteousness ; just as of necessity I must be present 
in order to be saved." This distinction, however, leaves the 
question just where it was before. He concludes his remarks on 
this vital matter with a jest on the purely external and fortuitous 
presence of works in the man received into eternal life : "I too 
shall be in at the death, said the rascal when he was about to be 
hanged and many people were hurrying to see the scene." 1 

All the more strongly did Luther in his usual way describe in 
his last sermon the natural sinfulness which persists in man 
owing to original sin. 

The sin that still dwells within us " forces " man to prevent 
faith and works coming to their own. 2 For "he is not yet with 
out sin, though he has the forgiveness of sins and is sanctified by 
the Holy Ghost." In consequence of the " foulness " within him 
" the longer he lives the worse he gets." " We cannot get rid 
of our sinful body." 3 For this reason even the "best minds " 
so often are indifferent to eternal life. On account of the evil 
taint in our flesh we are unable to rise as high as we ought. 4 But 
if original sin and its workings were declared really sinful in man 
(for even the very motions against " heartfelt pleasure " in God s 
service are, so we are told, "sins" 5 ), then it is no wonder that 
Luther should have been confronted with the question of which 
he speaks : "If sin be in me, how then can I be pleasing to 
God ? " a question which formerly could not have been asked 
of those whose original sin had been washed away in baptism. 
The teaching of the olden Church had been, that original sin was 
blotted out by baptism, but that the inclination to evil per 
sisted in man to his last breath, though without any fault on his 
part so long as consent was lacking. 6 

Still less to be wondered at was it, that many, unable to regard 
themselves as responsible or guilty on account of the involuntary 
motions of original sin, began to doubt whether any responsi 
bility existed for evil actions or whether moral effort was within 
the bounds of possibility. 

Further, according to Luther, our constant exercise of our 
selves in faith and our " rubbing " ourselves against sin was 
finally to lead " not merely to our sins being forgiven but to their 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 346. 2 Ib., 20 2 , 2, p. 548. 

3 Ib., p. 545. * Ib., p. 549 f. 5 Ib., p. 551. 

6 Luther s opposite doctrine, which is of importance to the matter 
under consideration, is expressed by Kostlin (ib., p. 126 f.) as follows : 
Luther " does not make guilt and condemnation follow on the act 
which is contrary to God s will, nor even on the determination to 
commit such an act, but on the inward motion, or concupiscence, nay, 
in the inborn evil propensity [even of the baptised] which exists prior 
to any conscious motion. . . . We do not find in his writings any 
further information on the other questions here involved " (e.g. of the 
children who die unbaptised, etc.). 



38 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

being altogether rooted up and swept away ; for your shabby, 
smelly body could not enter heaven without first being cleansed 
and beautified." 1 Taking for granted his mystic assumption 
that sinful concupiscence can at last be " swept away," he insists 
on our continuing hopefully " to amend by faith and prayer our 
weakness and to fight against it until such a change takes place 
in our sinful body that sin no longer exists therein," 2 though, in 
his opinion, this cannot entirely be until we reach heaven. Yet 
experience, had he but opened his eyes to it, here once again 
contradicted him. The " fomes peccati," as the Catholic Church 
rightly teaches, cannot be extinguished so long as man is on this 
earth, though it may be damped, and, by the practice of what is 
right and the use of the means of grace, be rendered harmless to 
our moral life. The Church expected nothing unreasonable 
from man, though her moral standards were of the highest. 
Luther, however, by abandoning the Church s ethics, came to 
teach a strange mixture of perverted, unworkable idealism and 
all too great indulgence towards human frailty. 

Luther s Vacillation between the Two Faiths, Old and New, 
in the Matter of Morality and the Assurance of Salvation 

Many discordant utterances, betraying his uncertainty 
and his struggles, have been bequeathed to us by Luther 
regarding the main questions of morality and as to how we 
may insure salvation. First we have his statements with 
regard to the importance of morality in God s sight. 

In 1537 in a Disputation on June 1 he denounced the thesis, 
" Good works are necessary for salvation." 3 In the same way, 
in a sermon of 1535, he asserted that it was by no means neces 
sary for us to perform good w r orks " in order to blot out sin, to 
overcome death and win heaven, but merely for the profit and 
assistance of our neighbour." " Our w T orks," he there says, 
" can only shape what concerns our temporal life and being " ; 
higher than this they cannot rise. 4 

Yet, when thus degrading works, he had again and again to 
struggle within his own heart against the faith of the ancient 
Church concerning the merit of good deeds. Especially was this 
the case when he considered the " texts which demand a good 
life on account of the eternal reward," 5 for instance, "If thou 
wilt enter into life, keep the commandments " (Mt. xix. 17), or 
"Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven" (ib., vi. 20). With 
them he deals in a sermon of 1522. The eternal reward, he here 
says, follows the works because it is a result of the faith which 

1 In the Eisleben sermons, ib., p. 551. 2 Ib., p. 546. 

3 " Disputationes," ed. Drews, p. 159. Cp. " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 385. 
Loofs, " DG.," 4 , p. 857, n. 4, and 770, n. 4. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 153. 5 Ib., 13 2 , p. 307. 



GOOD WORKS 39 

itself is the cause of the works. But the believer must not " lock 
to the reward," or trouble about it. Why then does God promise 
a reward ? In order that " all may know what the natural result 
of a good life will be." Yet he also admits a certain anxiety on 
the part of the pious Christian to be certain of his reward, and the 
favourable effect of such a certainty on the good man s will. 1 
Here he exhorts his listeners ; " that you be content to know and 
be assured that this indeed will be the result," whilst in another 
sermon of that same year he describes as follows the promise of 
eternal life as the reward of works : " It is an incentive and in 
ducement that makes us zealous in piety and in the service and 
praise of God. . . . That God should guide us so kindly makes 
us esteem the more His Fatherly Will and the Mercy of Christ " 
but on no account " must we be good as if for the sake of the 
reward." 2 He also quotes incidentally Mt. xix. 29, where our 
Lord says that all who leave home, brethren, etc. for His name s 
sake " shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life ever 
lasting " ; also Heb. x. 35 concerning the " great reward " that 
awaits those who lose not their confidence. Such statements, 
he refuses, however, to see referred to salvation, which will be 
the equal portion of all true believers, but, in his arbitrary 
fashion, explains them as denoting some extra ornament of glory. 3 

" Good works will be present wherever faith is." As this 
supposition, a favourite one with Luther from early days, fails 
to verify itself in practice, and as the expedients he proposed to 
meet the new difficulty are scattered throughout his writings, 
an admirer in recent times ventured to sum up these elements 
into a system under the following headings : " Faulty morality 
is a proof of a faulty faith." " The fact of morality being present 
proves the presence of faith." " Moral indolence induces loss of 
faith." " Zeal for morality causes faith to increase." 4 The true 
explanation would therefore seem always to be in the assumption 
of a w^ant of " faith," i.e. of a lack of that absolute certainty of 
personal salvation which should regulate all religious life, 5 in 
other words moral failings should be held to prove the absence of 
this saving certainty. 

Seen in this light good works are of importance, as the outward 
demonstration that a person possesses the " fides specialist and 
in this wise alone are they a guarantee of everlasting happiness. 
They prove " before the world and before his own conscience " 
that a Christian really has the " faith." This is what Luther 
expressly teaches in his Church-Postils : " Therefore hold fast 
to this, that a man who is inwardly a Christian is justified before 
God solely by faith and without any works ; but outwardly 
and publicly, before the people and to himself, he is justified by 
works, i.e. he becomes known to others as, and certain in himself 

1 Ib., p. 305 ff. 2 Ib., 15 2 , p. 524. Kostlin, ib., p. 213. 

3 Cp. ib., 43, p. 362 ff. 

4 The headings in W. Walther s " Die Sittlichkeit nach Luther," 
pp. 100, 106, 120, 125 are as above. 5 Above, p. 32 f. 



40 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

that, he is inwardly just, believing and pious. Thus you may 
term one an open or outward justification and the other an in 
ward justification." 1 Hence Luther s certainty of salvation, 
however strong it may be, still requires to be tested by something 
else as to whether it is the true " faith " deserving of God s com 
passion ; for " it is quite possible for a man never to doubt God s 
mercy towards him though all the while he does not really 
possess it " ; 2 according to Luther, namely, there is such a thing 
as a fictitious faith. 

In Luther s opinion " faith " was a grasping of something 
actually there. Hence if God s mercy was not there, then neither 
was there any " faith." Accordingly, an " unwarrantable assur 
ance of salvation " was not at all impossible, and works served as 
a means of detecting it. Walther, to whom we owe our summary, 
does not, it is true, prove the existence of such a state of " un 
warrantable assurance " by any direct quotation from Luther s 
writings, and, indeed, it might be difficult to find any definite 
statement to this effect, seeing that Luther was chary of speaking 
of any failure in the personal certainty of salvation, on which 
alone, exclusive of works, he based the whole work of justification. 
And yet, as Luther himself frequently says, moods and feelings 
are no guarantee of true faith ; what is required are the works, 
which, like good fruit, always spring from a good tree. So 
strongly, in spite of all his predilection for faith alone, is he im 
pelled again and again to have recourse to works. In many 
passages they tend to become something more than mere signs 
confirmatory of faith. We need not examine here how far his 
statements concerning faith and works are consistent, and to 
what extent the sane Catholic teaching continued to influence 
him. 

What is remarkable, however, is, that, in his commendable 
efforts to urge the performance of works in order to curtail the 
pernicious results of his doctrine, Luther comes to attribute a 
saving action to " faith," only on condition that, out of love of 
God, we " strive " against sin. In one of his last sermons at 
Eisleben he tells his hearers : Sins are forgiven by faith and " are 
not imputed so far as you set yourself to fight against them, and 
learn to repeat the Our Father diligently . . . and to grow in 
strength as you grow in age ; and you must be at pains to exer 
cise your faith by resisting the sins that remain in you ... in 
short, you must become stronger, humbler, more patient and 
believe more firmly." 3 The conditional " so far as " furnishes a 
key which has to be used in many other passages where works 
are demanded as well as faith. Faith, there, is real and whole 
some "in so far as " it produces works : " For we too admit it 
and have always taught it, better and more forcibly than they 
[the Papists], that we must both preach and perform works, and 
that they must follow the faith, and, that, where they do not follow 
there the faith is not a3 it should be." 4 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 13 2 , p. 304 f. 2 Walther, ib., p. 102. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 553. 4 Ib., 12 2 , p. 219. 



GOOD WORKS 41 

Nor does he merely say that works of charity must follow 
eventually, but that charity must be infused by the Spirit of 
God together with faith of which it is the fruit. 

" For though faith makes us righteous and pure, yet it cannot 
be without love, and the Spirit must infuse love together with 
faith. In short, where there is true faith, there the Holy Ghost 
is also present, and where the Holy Ghost is, there love and all 
good things must also be. . . . Love is a consequence or fruit 
of the Spirit which comes to us wrapped up in the faith." 1 
" Charity is so closely bound up [with faith and hope] that it 
can never be parted from faith where this is true faith, and as 
little as there can be fire without heat and smoke, so little can 
faith exist without charity." 2 From gratitude (as we have heard 
him state above, p. 26) the man who is assured of salvation must 
be " well disposed towards God and keep His commandments." 
But if he be " sweetly disposed towards God " this must " show 
itself in all charity." 

Taking the words at their face value we might find in 
these and similar statements on charity something reminis 
cent of the Catholic doctrine of a faith working through love. 3 
But though this is what Luther should logically have 
arrived at, he was in reality always kept far from it by his 
idea both of faith and of imputation. It should be noted 
that he was fond of taking shelter behind the assertion, that 
his " faith " also included, or was accompanied by, charity. 
He was obliged to do this in self-defence against the 
objections of certain Evangelicals who rushed to con 
clusions he would not accept or of Catholic opponents. 
Indeed, in order to pacify the doubters, he even went so far 
as to say. that love preceded the " faith " he taught, and 
that " faith " itself was simply a work like any other work 
done for the fulfilling of the commandments. 

1 Ib., 8 2 , p. 119, in the exposition of 1 Cor. xiii. 2 : " And though 
I had all faith and could remove mountains and had not charity, I am 
nothing." 2 Ib., 15 2 , p. 40. 

3 Willibald Pirkheimer confronted Luther with the following state 
ment of the Catholic teaching : " We know that free-will of itself 
without grace cannot suffice. We refer all things back to the Divine 
grace, but we believe, that, after the reception of that grace without 
which we are nothing, we still have to perform our rightful service. 
We are ever subject to the action of grace and always unite our efforts 
with grace. . . . But whoever believes that grace alone suffices even 
without any exercise of our will or subduing of our desire, such a one 
does nothing else but declare that no one is obliged to pray, watch, fast, 
take pity on the needy, or perform works of mercy," etc. " Opp.," ed. 
Goldast, p. 375 sqq., in Drews, " Pirkheimers Stellung zur Reforma 
tion," Leipzig, 1884, p. 119. 



42 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

It was in this sense that he wrote in the " Sermon von den guten 
Wercken," composed at the instance of his prudent friend Spalatin 
for the Duke of Saxony : " Such trust and faith brings with it 
charity and hope ; indeed, if we look at the matter aright, charity 
comes first, or at least simultaneously with faith. For I should 
not care to trust God unless I believed He would be kindly and 
gracious to me, whereby I am well disposed towards Him, trust 
Him heartily and perform all that is good in His sight." In the 
same connection he characterises " faith " as a " work of the 
first Commandment," and as a " true keeping of that command," 
and as the " first, topmost and best work from which all others 
flow." 1 It might seem, though this is but apparent, that he had 
actually come to acknowledge the reality and merit of man s 
works, in the teeth of his denial of free-will and of the possibility 
of meriting. 

Of charity as involved in faith he wrote in a similar strain in 
1519 to Johann Silvius Egranus, who at that time still belonged 
to his party, but was already troubled with scruples concerning 
the small regard shown for ethical motives and the undue stress 
laid on faith alone : " I do not separate justifying faith from 
charity," Luther told him, " on the contrary we believe because 
God, in Whom we believe, pleases us and is loved by us." To 
him all this was quite clear and plain, but the new-comers who 
had busied themselves with faith, hope and charity " under 
stood not one of the three." 2 

We may recall how the enquiring mind of Egranus was by no 
means entirely satisfied by this explanation. In 1534 he pub 
lished a bitter attack on the Lutheran doctrine of works, though 
he never returned more than half-way from Lutheranism to the 
olden Church. 3 

Many, like Silvius Egranus, who at the outset had been won 
over to the new religion, took fright when they saw that, owing 
to the preference shown to faith (i.e. the purely personal assurance 
of salvation), -the ethical principles regarding Christian perfection 
and man s aim in life, received but scant consideration. 

Many truly saw therein an alarming abasement of the 
moral standard and accordingly returned to the doctrine of 
their fathers. As the ideal to be aimed at throughout life 
the Church had set up before them progress in the love of 
God, encouraging them to put this love in practice by 
fidelity to the duties of their calling and by a humble and 
confident trust in God s Fatherly promises rather than in 
any perilous " fides specialist 

In previous ages Christian perfection had rightly been thought 
to consist in the development of the moral virtues, particularly 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 131. 

2 Feb. 2, 1519, " Brief wechsel," 1, p. 408. 3 See vol. hi., p. 462 ff. 



LOWERING OF MORALS 43 

of charity, the queen of all the others. Now, however, Luther 
represented " the consoling faith in the forgiveness of sins as the 
sum of Christian perfection." 1 According to him. the "real 
essence of personal Christianity lies in the confidence of the justi 
fied sinner that he shares the paternal love of the Almighty of 
which he has been assured by the work and person of Jesus 
Christ." In this sense alone can he be said to have " rediscovered 
Christianity " as a religion. We are told that " the essence of 
Lutheran Christianity is to be found in Luther s reduction of 
practical Christianity to the doctrine of salvation." 2 He " altered 
the ideal of religious perfection as no other Christian before 
his day had ever done." The " revulsion " in moral ideals which 
this necessarily involved spelt " a huge decline." 3 

George Wicel, who, after having long been an adherent of 
Lutheranism, broke away from it in consequence of the moral 
results referred to, wrote, in 1533, with much bitterness in the 
defence he addressed to Justus Jonas : " Amongst you one hears 
of nothing but of remitting and forgiving ; you don t seem to 
see that your seductions sow more sins than ever you can take 
away. Your people, it is true, are so constituted that they will 
only hear of the forgiving and never of the retaining of sin 
(John xx. 23) ; evidently they stand more in need of being loosed 
than of being bound. Ah, you comfortable theologians ! You 
are indeed sharp-sighted enough in all this business, for were you 
to bind as often as you loose, you, the ringleaders of the party, 
would soon find yourselves all alone with your faith, and might 
then withdraw into some hole to weep for the loss of your authority 
and congregation." " Ah, you rascals, what a fine Evangelical 
mode of life have you wrought with your preachment on grace." 4 



5. Abasement of Practical Christianity 

To follow up the above statement emanating from a 
Protestant source, concerning the " huge decline " in moral 
ideals and practical Christianity involved in Luther s work, 
we shall go on to consider how greatly he did in point of 
fact narrow and restrict ethical effort in comparison with 
what was required by the ethics of earlier days. In so doing 
he was following the psychological impulse discernible even 
in the first beginnings of his dislike for the austerity of his 
Order and the precepts of the Church. 

1 Adolf Harnack, " DG.," 3 4 , p. 850. 

2 Loofs, " DG.," 4 , p. 698, n. 1, p. 737. 

3 Harnack, ib., p. 831 f. 

4 " Confutatio calumn. resp.," E 2a. Dollinger, " Reformation," 
1, p. 39. 



44 LUTHER THE REFORMER 



Lower Moral Standards 

1. The only works of obligation in the service of God are 
faith, praise and thanksgiving. God, he says, demands only 
our faith, our praise and our gratitude. Of our works He 
has no need. 1 He restricts our " deeds towards God " to 
the praise-offering or thank-offering for the good received, 
and to the prayer-offering " or Our Father, against the evil 
and badness we would wish to be rid of." 2 This service is 
the duty of each individual Christian and is practised in 
common in Divine worship. The latter is fixed and con 
trolled with the tacit consent of the congregation by the 
ministers who represent the people ; in this we find the 
trace of Luther s innate aversion to any law or obligation 
which leads him to avoid anything savouring of legislative 
action. 3 

In the preface to his instructions to the Visitors in 1528 
he declares, for instance, that the rules laid down were not 
meant to " found new Papal Decretals " ; they were rather 
to be taken as a " history of and witness to our faith " and 
not as " strict commands." 4 This well expresses his 
antipathy to the visible Catholic Church, her hierarchy and 
her so-called man-made ordinances for public worship. 

Since, to his mind, it is impossible to offer God anything 
but love, thanksgiving and prayer, it follows that, firstly, 
the Eucharistic Sacrifice falls, and, with it, all the sacrifices 
made to the greater glory of God by self-denial and abnega 
tion, obedience or bodily penances, together with all those 
works practised in imitation of Christ by noble souls 
done over and above the bounden duties of each one s 
calling. He held that it was wrong to say of such sacrifices, 
made by contrite and loving hearts, that they were both 
to God s glory and to our own advantage, or to endeavour 
to justify them by arguing that : Whoever does not do 
great things for God must expect small recompense. Among 
the things which fell before him were : vows, processions, 
pilgrimages, veneration of relics and of the Saints, ecclesi- 

1 Kostlin, " Luthers Theol.," 2 2 , p. 208. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 9 2 , p. 33. 3 Kostlin, ib., pp. 284, 295. 

4 "Werke," Weim. ed., 26, p. 200; Erl. ed., 23, p. 9. Kostlin, 
however (p. 275 f.), points out that Luther nevertheless threatens those 
who refuse to accept his injunctions. Cp. below, xxix., 9. 



LOWERING OF MORALS 45 

astical blessings and sacramentals, not to speak of holy 
days and prescribed fasts. With good reason can one speak 
of a " huge decline." 

He justifies as follows his radical opposition to the 
Catholic forms of Divine worship : " The only good we can 
do in God s service is to praise and thank Him, in which in 
fact the only true worship of God consists. ... If any 
other worship of God be proposed to you, know that it is 
error and deception." 1 " It is a rank scandal that the Papists 
should encourage people to toil for God with works so as 
thereby to expiate their sins and secure grace. ... If you 
wish to believe aright and really to lay hold on Christ, you 
must discard all works whereby you may think you labour 
for God ; all such are nothing but scandals leading you away 
from Christ and from God ; in God s sight no work is of any 
value except Christ s own ; this you must leave to toil for 
you in God s sight ; you yourself must perform no other 
work for Him than to believe that Christ does His work 
for you." 2 

In the same passage he attempts to vindicate this species 
of Quietism with the help of some recollections from his own 
earlier career, viz. by the mystic principle which had at one 
time ruled him : " You must be blind and lame, deaf and 
dead, poor and leprous, or else you will be scandalised in 
Christ. This is what it means to know Christ aright and to 
accept Him ; this is to believe as befits a true Christian." 3 

2. " All other works, apart from faith, must be directed 
towards our neighbour." 4 As we know, besides that faith, 
gratitude and love which are God s due, Luther admits no 
good works but those of charity towards our neighbour. By 
our faith we give to God all that He asks of us. " After this, 
think only of doing for your neighbour what Christ has done 
for you, and let all your works and all your life go to the 
service of your neighbour." 5 God, he says elsewhere, asks 
only for our thank-offering f " look upon Me as a Gracious 
God and I am content " ; " thereafter serve your neigh 
bour, freely and for nothing." 6 Good works in his eyes are 
only " good when they are profitable to others and not to 

1 " Werke," ib., 7 2 , p. 68. 2 Ib., 10 2 , p. 108. 

3 On dying spiritually, cp. vol. i., p. 169 and passim. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 108. 5 Ib. 
6 " Werke," Erl. ed., 13 2 , p. 206. 



46 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

yourself." Indeed he goes so far as to assert : "If you find 
yourself performing a work for God, or for His Saints, or for 
yourself and not alone for your neighbour, know that the 
work is not good." 1 The only explanation of such sentences, 
as already hinted, is to be found in his passionate polemics 
against the worship and the pious exercises of the Catholics. 
It is true that such practices were sullied at that time by 
certain blemishes, owing to the abuses rampant in the 
Church ; yet the Catholic could confidently answer in self- 
defence in the words Luther proceeds to put on his lips : 
Such " works are spiritual and profitable to the soul of our 
neighbour, and God thereby is served and propitiated and 
His Grace obtained." 

Luther rudely retorts : " You lie in your throat ; God is 
served not by works but by faith ; faith must do everything 
that is to be done as between God and ourselves." That 
the priests and monks should vaunt their religious exercises 
as spiritual treasures, he brands as a " Satanic lie." " The 
works of the Papists such as organ-playing, chanting, 
vesting, ringing, smoking [incensation], sprinkling, pilgrim- 
ing and fasting, etc., are doubtless fine and many, grand and 
long, broad and thick works, but about them there is nothing 
good, useful or profitable." 

3. " Know that there are no good works but such as God 
has commanded." What, apart from faith, makes a work a 
good one is solely God s express command. Luther, while 
finding fault with the self-chosen works of the Catholics, 
points to the Ten Commandments as summing up every 
good work willed by God. " There used to be ecclesiastical 
precepts wljich were to supersede the Decalogue." The 
commandments of the Church were invented and set up by 
men in addition to and beyond God s Word. Luther there 
fore deals with the true worship of God in the light of the 
Ten Commandments." 2 As for the Evangelical Counsels so 
solemnly enacted in the New Testament, viz. the striving 
after a perfection which is not of obligation, Luther, urged 
on by his theory that only what is actually commanded 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 25. Cp. on Luther s restriction of good 
works to practical love of our neighbour, vol. iv., p. 477 ff., and above, 
p. 26, 38 f. 

2 Chr. E. Luthardt, " Die Ethik Luthers in ihren Grundziigen," 2 , 
1875, p. 70. 



THE EVANGELICAL COUNSELS 47 

partakes of the nature of a good work, came very near 
branding them as an invention of the Papists. 

They have " made the Counsels twelve" in number, 1 he says, 
" and twist the Gospel as they please." They have split the 
Gospel into two, into " Consilia et prcecepta." " Christ," so he 
teaches, " gave only one Counsel in the whole of the Gospel, viz. 
that of chastity, which even a layman can preserve, assuming 
him to have the grace." He sneers at the Pope and the Doctors 
because they had established not only a clerical order which 
should be superior to the laity, but also an order of the counsels 
the duty of whose members it was to portray the Evangelical 
perfection by the keeping of the three vows of poverty, chastity 
and obedience. " By this the common Christian life and faith 
became like flat, sour beer ; everyone rubbed his eyes, despised 
the commandments and ran after the counsels. And after a 
good while they at last discovered man-made ordinances in the 
shape of habits, foods, chants, lessons, tonsures, etc., and thus 
God s Law went the way of faith, both being blotted out and 
forgotten, so that, henceforth, to be perfect and to live according 
to the counsels means to wear a black, white, grey or coloured 
cowl, to bawl in church, wear a tonsure and to abstain from eggs, 
meat, butter, etc." 2 

In the heat of his excitement he even goes so far as to deny 
the necessity of any service in the churches, because God demands 
only the praise and thanks of the heart, and " this may be given 
. . . equally well in the home, in the field, or anywhere else." 
" If they should force any other service upon you, know that it 
is error and deception ; just as hitherto the world has been crazy, 
with its houses, churches and monasteries set aside for the 
worship of God, and its vestments of gold and silk, etc. . . , 
which expenditure had better been used to help our neighbour, 
if it was really meant for God." 3 

It was of course impossible for him to vindicate in the long 
run so radical a standpoint concerning the churches, and, else 
where, he allows people their own way on the question of litur 
gical vestments and other matters connected with worship. 

4. The good works which are performed where there is 
no " faith " amount to sin. This strangely unethical 
assertion Luther is fond of repeating in so extravagant a 
form as can only be explained psychologically by the utter 
blindness of his bias in favour of the " fides specialis " by him 
discovered. True morality belongs solely to those who have 
been justified after his own fashion, and no others have the 
slightest right to credit themselves with anything of the sort. 

1 Cp. " Compend. totius theol. Hugonis Argentorat. O.P.," V. cap. ult. 

2 Quoted from Luthardt, ib., pp. 70-73. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 7 2 , p, 68, 



48 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

When, in 1528, in his " Great Confession " he expounded his 
" belief bit by bit," declaring that he had " most diligently 
weighed all these articles " as in the presence of death and 
judgment, he there wrote : " Herewith I reject and condemn 
as rank error every doctrine that exalts our free-will, which is 
directly opposed to the help and grace of our Saviour Jesus 
Christ. For seeing, that, outside of Christ, death and sin are our 
masters and the devil our God and sovereign, there can be no 
power or might, no wit or understanding whereby we could make 
ourselves fit for, or could even strive after, righteousness and life, 
but on the contrary we must remain blind and captive, slaves of 
sin and the devil, and must do what pleases them and runs 
counter to God and His Commandments." 1 Even the most 
pious of the Papists, he goes on to say, since they lack Christ and 
the " Faith," have " merely a great semblance of holiness," 
and although " there seem to be many good works " among them, 
" yet all is lost " ; chastity, poverty and obedience as practised 
in the convents is nothing but " blasphemous holiness," and 
" what is horrible is that thereby they refuse Christ s help and 
grace." 2 

This, his favourite idea, finds its full expression in his learned 
Latin Commentary on Galatians (1535) : " In the man who does 
not believe in Christ not only are all sins mortal, but even his 
good works are sins " ; 3 for the benefit of the people he enunciates 
the same in his Church-Postils. ; The works performed without 
faith are sins . . . for such works of ours are soiled and foul in 
God s eyes, nay, He looks on them with horror and loathing." 
As a matter of course he thinks that God looks upon concupis 
cence as sin, even in its permissible manifestations, e.g. in the 
" opus conjugates . " Amongst the heathen even virtues such as 
patriotism, continence, justice and courage in which, owing to 
the divine impulses (" divini motus "), they may shine, are 
tainted by the presence in them of original sin (" in ipsis heroicis 
virtutibus depravata "). 4 As to whether such men were saved, 
Luther refuses to say anything definite ; he holds fast to the 
text that without faith it is impossible to please God. Only 
those who, in the days of Noe, did not believe may, so he declares, 
be saved in accordance with his reading of 1 Peter iii. 19 by 
Christ s preaching of salvation on the occasion of His descent 
into hell. He is also disposed to include among those saved by 
this supposed course of sermons delivered "tn inferis," such fine 
men of every nation as Scipio, Fabius and others of their like. 5 

In general, however, the following holds good : Before " faith 
and grace " are infused into the heart " by the Spirit alone," 
"as the work of God which He works in us" everything in 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 26, p. 502 f. ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 365. 

2 Ib., pp. 507, 509 = 370, 372. 

3 Ed. Irmischer, 3, p. 25. Cp. Loofs, " DG.," 4 , p. 705. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed. 15 2 , p. 60. " Opp. lat. exeg.," 2, p. 273 sqq. ; 
19, p. 18; 24, p. 463, sq. " Disputationes," ed. Drews, pp. 115, 172. 

5 Cp. Kostlin, " Luthers Theol.," 2 2 , p. 169 f., the passages quoted. 



THE SUPERNATURAL 49 

man is the " work of the Law, of no value for justification, but 
unholy and opposed to God owing to the unbelief in which it is 
performed." 1 



Annulment of the Supernatural and Abasement of the 
Natural Order 

From the above statements it is clear that Luther, in 
doing away with the distinction between the natural and 
supernatural order, also did away with the olden doctrine of 
virtue, and without setting up anything positive in its place. 
He admits no naturally good action different from that per 
formed " by faith and grace " ; no such thing exists as a 
natural, moral virtue of justice. This opinion is closely 
bound up with his whole warfare on man s natural character 
and endowments in respect of what is good. Moreover, 
what he terms the state of grace is not the supernatural state 
the Church had always understood, but an outward imputa 
tion by God ; it is indeed God s goodness towards man, but 
no new vital principle thanks to which we act justly. 2 

Not only does he deny the distinction between natural and 
supernatural goodness, essential as it is for forming an 
ethical estimate of man, but he practically destroys both the 
natural and supernatural order. Even in other points of 
Luther s doctrine we can notice the abrogation of the 
fundamental difference between the two orders ; for 
instance in his view of Adam s original state, which, accord 
ing to him, was a natural not a supernatural one, " no 
gift," as he says, " apart from man s nature, and bestowed 
on him from without, but a natural righteousness so that it 
came natural to him to love God [as he did], to believe in 
Him and to acknowledge Him." 3 It is, however, in the 
moral domain that this peculiarity of his new theology comes 
out most glaringly. Owing to his way of proceeding and the 
heat of his polemics he seems never to have become fully 
conscious of how far-reaching the consequences were of his 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 340 ; Erl. ed., 7 2 , p. 261. For 
the theological and psychological influences which led him to these 
statements, see vol. i., pp. 72 ff., 149 ff. 

2 Cp. what Luther says in his Comm. on Romans in 1515-16 : It 
depends entirely " on the gracious Will of God whether a thing is to be 
good or evil," and " Nothing is of its own nature good, nothing of its 
own nature evil," etc., vol. i., p. 211 f. 

3 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 1, p. 109, " In Genesim," c. 3. 

V. B 



50 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

destruction of all distinction between the natural and the 
supernatural order. 

Natural morality, viz. that to which man attains by means 
of his unaided powers, appears to him simply an invention of 
the pagan Aristotle. He rounds on all the theologians of his 
day for having swallowed so dangerous an error in their 
Aristotelian schools to the manifest detriment of the divine 
teaching. This he does, for instance, at the commencement 
of his recently published Commentary on Romans. He calls 
it a " righteousness of the philosophers and lawyers " in 
itself utterly worthless. 1 A year later, in his manuscript 
Commentary on Hebrews, he has already reached the 
opinion, that, " the virtues of all the philosophers, nay, 
of all men, whether they be lawyers or theologians, have 
only a semblance of virtue, but in reality are vices 
( vitia )." 2 

But what would be quite incomprehensible, had he 
actually read the scholastic theologians whose " civil, 
Aristotelian doctrine of justice " he was so constantly 
attacking, is, that he charges them with having stopped 
short at this natural justice and with not having taught any 
thing higher ; this higher justice was what he himself had 
brought to light, this was the " Scriptural justice which 
depended more on the Divine imputation than on the nature 
of things," 3 and was not acquired by deeds but bestowed by 
God. The fact is, however, that the Schoolmen did not rest 
content merely with natural justice, but insist that true 
justice is something higher, supernatural and only to be 
attained to with the help of grace ; it is only in some few 
later theologians with whom Luther may possibly have 
been acquainted, that this truth fails to find clear expression. 
Thomas of Aquin, for instance, distinguishes between the 
civil virtue of justice and the justice infused in the act of 
justification. He says expressly : "A man may be termed 
just in two ways, on account of civil [natural] justice and on 
account of infused justice. Civil justice is attained to with 
out the grace which comes to the assistance of the natural 
powers, but infused justice is the work of grace. Neither the 
one nor the other, however, consists in the mere doing of 

1 See vol. i., p. 148 f. Cp. Denifle-Weiss, I 2 , p. 527, n. 1. 

2 Denifle-Weiss, ib., p. 528, n. 2. 

;i Denifle-Weiss, ib., p. 527. Cp. our vol. i., p. 148 f, 



THE SUPERNATURAL 51 

what is good, for not everyone who does what is good is just, 
but only he who does it as do the just." 1 

With regard to supernatural (infused) justice, the Church s 
representatives, quite differently from Luther, had taught that 
man by his natural powers could only attain to God as the Author 
of nature but not to God as He is in Himself, i.e. to God as He 
has revealed and will communicate Himself in heaven ; it is 
infused, sanctifying grace alone that places us in a higher order 
than that of nature and raises us to the status of being children 
of God ; in it we love God, by virtue of the " habit " of love 
bestowed upon us, as He is in Himself, i.e. as He wills to be loved ; 
sanctifying grace it is that brings us into a true relation with our 
supernatural and final end, viz. the vision of God in heaven, in 
which sense it may be called a vital principle infused into the 
soul. 2 

This language Luther either did not or would not understand. 
On this point particularly he had to suffer for his ignorance of 
the better class of theologians. He first embraced Occam s 
hypothesis of the possibility of an imputation of justice, and 
then, going further along the wrong road, he changed this possi 
bility into a reality ; soon, owing to his belief in the entire cor 
ruption of the natural man, imputed justice became, to him, the 
only justice. In this way he deprived theology of supernatural 
as well as of natural justice ; for imputed justice is really no 
justice at all, but merely an alien one. " With Luther we have 
the end of the supernatural. His basic view, of justifying faith 
as the work of God in us performed without our co-operation, 
bears indeed a semblance of the supernatural. . . . But the 
supernatural is ever something alien." 3 

What he had in his mind was always a foreign righteousness 
produced, not by man s own works and acts performed under 
the help of grace, but only by the work of another ; this we are 
bold by Luther in so many words : " True and real piety which 
is of worth in God s sight consists in alien works and not in our 
own." 4 "If we wish to work for God we must not approach 
Him with our own works but with foreign ones." " These are 
the works of Our Lord Jesus Christ." " All that He has is ours. 
... I may attribute to myself all His works as though I had 
actually done them, if only I believe in Christ. . . . Our works 

1 " In 2 Sent.," dist. 28, a. 1 ad 4. Denifle- Weiss, ib., p. 482, n. 1. 
Cp. Luther s frequent statement, already sufficiently considered in our 
vol. iv., p. 476 f., in which he sums up his new standpoint : Good 
works never make a good man, but good men perform good works. 

2 Cp. Denifle-Weiss, ib., p. 598. 

3 Denine-Weiss, p. 604. Cp. also p. 600, n. 2, where Denifle remarks : 
" Being an Occamist he never understood actual grace." 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 60. After the words quoted above 
follows the remarkable passage : One builds churches, another makes 
pilgrimages, etc. " These are self -chosen works which God has not 
commanded. . . . Such self-chosen works are nought . . . are sin." 



52 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

will not suffice, all our powers together are too weak to resist 
even the smallest sin. . . . Hence when the Law comes and 
accuses you of not having kept it, send it to Christ and say : There 
is the Man who has fulfilled it, to Him I cling, He has fulfilled 
it for me and bestowed His fulfilment of it upon me ; then the 
Law will have to hold its tongue." 1 

The Book of Concord on the Curtailment of Free-Will. 

When orthodox Lutheranism gained a local and temporary 
victory in 1580 with the so-called Book of Concord, the 
authors of the book deplored the inferences drawn from 
Luther s moral teaching, particularly from his denial of 
free-will, the dangers of which had already long been 
apparent. 

" It is not unknown to us," they say, " that this holy doctrine 
of the malice and impotence of free-will, the doctrine whereby 
our conversion and regeneration is ascribed solely to God and in 
no way to our own powers, has been godlessly, shamelessly and 
hatefully abused. . . . Many are becoming immoral and savage 
and neglectful of all pious exercises ; they say : Since we can 
not turn to God of our own natural powers, let us remain hostile 
to God or wait until He converts us by force and against our 
will. " It is true that they possess no power to act in spiritual 
things, and that the whole business of conversion is merely the 
work of the Holy Ghost. And thus they refuse to listen to the 
Word of God, or to study it, or to receive the Sacraments ; they 
prefer to wait until God infuses His gifts into them directly from 
above, and until they feel and are certain by inward experience 
that they have been converted by God." 

" Others," they continue, speaking of the case as a possibility 
and not as a sad reality, " may possibly give themselves up to 
sad and dangerous doubts as to whether they have been pre 
destined by God to heaven, and as to whether God will really 
work His gifts in them by the help of the Holy Ghost. Being 
weak and troubled in mind they do not grasp aright our pious 
doctrine of free-will, and they are confirmed in their doubts by the 
fact that they do not find within themselves any firm and ardent 
faith or hearty devotion to God, but only weakness, misery and 
fear." The authors then proceed to deal with the widespread 
fear of predestination to hell. 2 

We have as it were a sad monument set up to the morality 
of the enslaved will and the doctrine of imputation, when 
the Book of Concord, in spite of the sad results it has just 

. ! Ib., p. 61 f. 

2 " Symb. Biicher," ed. Muller-Kolde, 10 , p. 599 f. 



THE SYNERGISTS 53 

admitted, goes on in the same chapter to insist that all 
Luther s principles should be preserved intact. " This 
matter Dr. Luther settled most excellently and thoroughly 
in his De servo arbitrio against Erasmus, where he showed 
this opinion to be pious and irrefutable. Later on he 
repeated and further explained the same doctrine in his 
splendid Commentary on Genesis, particularly in his 
exposition of ch. xxvi. There, Joo, he made other matters 
clear e.g. the doctrine of the absoluta necessitas defended 
them against the objections of Erasmus and, by his pious 
explanations, set them above all evil insinuations and 
misrepresentations. All of which we here corroborate and 
commend to the diligent study of all." 1 

Melanchthon s and his school s modifications of these 
extreme doctrines are here sharply repudiated, though 
Luther himself " never spoke with open disapproval " of 
Melanchthon s Synergism. 2 

" From our doctrinal standpoint," we there read, "it is plain 
that the teaching of the Synergists is false, who allege that man 
in spiritual things is not altogether dead to what is good but merely 
badly wounded and half dead. . . . They teach wrongly, that 
after the Holy Spirit has given us, through the Evangel, grace, 
forgiveness and salvation, then free-will is able to meet God by 
its natural powers and . . . co-operate with the Holy Ghost. 
In reality the ability to lay hold upon grace ( facultas applicandi 
se ad gratiam ) is solely due to the working of the Holy Ghost." 

What then is man to do, and how are the consequences de 
scribed above to be obviated, on the one hand libertinism, on the 
other fear of predestination to hell ? 

Man still possesses a certain freedom, so the Book of Concord 
teaches, e.g. " to be present or not at the Church s assemblies, to 
listen or close his ears to the Word of God." 

" The preaching of the Word of God is however the tool 
whereby the Holy Ghost seeks to effect man s conversion and to 
make him ready to will and to work ( in ipsis et velle et perficere 
operari vult )." " Man is free to open his ears to the Word of 
God or to read it even when not yet converted to God or born 
again. In some way or other man still has free-will in such out 
ward things even since Adam s Fall." Hence, by the Word, " by 

1 Ib. The Thesis of man s lack of freedom is bluntly expressed on 
p. 589, and in the sequel it is pointed out that in Luther s larger 
Catechism not one word is found concerning free-will. Reference is 
made to his comparison of man with the lifeless pillar of salt (p. 593), 
and to Augustine s " Confessions " (p. 596). 

2 The last remark is from Loofs, " DG.," 4 , p. 857. Cp. our vol. iii., 
p. 348 ff. and passim. 



54 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the preaching and contemplation of the sweet Evangel of the 
forgiveness of sins, the spark of faith is enkindled in his 
heart." 1 

" Although all effort without the power and work of the Holy 
Spirit is worthless, yet neither the preacher nor the hearer must 
doubt of this grace or work of the Holy Spirit," so long as the 
preacher proceeds according to God s will and command and 
" the hearer listens earnestly and diligently and dwells on what 
he hears." We are not to judge of the working of the Holy Ghost 
by our feelings, but " agreeably with the promises of God s 
Word." We must hold that " the Word preached is the organ 
of the Holy Ghost whereby He truly works and acts in our 
hearts." 2 

With the help of this queer, misty doctrine which, as we may 
notice, makes of preaching a sort of Sacrament working " ex 
opere operato," Luther s followers attempted to construct a 
system out of their master s varying and often so arbitrary 
statements. At any rate they upheld his denial of any natural 
order of morality distinct from the order of grace. It was to 
remain true that man, " previous to conversion, possesses indeed 
an understanding, but not of divine things, and a will, though 
not for anything good and wholesome." In this respect man 
stands far below even a stock or stone, because he resists the 
Word and Will of God (which they cannot do) until God raises 
him up from the death of sin, enlightens and creates him anew. 3 

Nevertheless several theses, undoubtedly Luther s own, are 
here glossed over or quietly bettered. If, for instance, according 
to Luther everything takes place of absolute necessity (a fact to 
which the Formula of Concord draws attention), if man, even 
in the natural acts of the mind, is bound by what is fore-ordained, 4 
then even the listening to a sermon and the dwelling on it cannot 
be matters of real freedom. Moreover the man troubled with 
fears on predestination, is comforted by the well-known Bible 
texts, which teach that it is the Will of God that all should be 
saved ; whilst nothing is said of Luther s doctrine that it is 
only the revealed God who speaks thus, whereas the hidden 
God acts quite otherwise, plans and carries out the very opposite, 
" damns even those who have not deserved it and, yet, does 
not thereby become unjust." 5 Reference is made to Adam s 
Fall, whereby nature has been depraved ; but nothing is said 
of Luther s view that Adam himself simply could not avoid 
falling because God did not then " bestow on him the spirit of 
obedience." But, though these things are passed over in silence, 
due prominence is given to those ideas of Luther s of which the 
result is the destruction of all moral order, natural as well as 

1 " Symb. Biicher," ib., p. 601. 2 Ib. 

3 Ib., p. 602. 4 Cp. vol. ii., pp. 232, 265 f., 290. 

5 Quoted from Loofs, " DGL," 4 , p. 758. On the statement " with 
out on that account being unjust " see vol. i., p. 187 ff., vol. ii, p. 268 f. 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 675 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 207. 
Cp. Loofs, ib., p. 757. 



CHRISTIANITY INWARD 55 

supernatural. According to the Formula of Concord the natural 
order was shattered by Adam s Fall ; as for the supernatural 
order it is replaced by the alien, mechanical order of imputation. 

Christianity merely Inward. The Church Sundered from 
the World 

Among the things which Luther did to the detriment of 
the moral principle must be numbered his merciless tearing 
asunder of spiritual and temporal, of Christian and secular 
life. 

The olden Church sought to permeate the world with the 
religious spirit. Luther s trend was in a great measure 
towards making the secular state and its office altogether 
independent ; this, indeed, the more up-to-date sort of 
ethics is disposed to reckon among his greatest achievements. 
Luther even went so far as to seek to erect into a regular 
system this inward, necessary opposition of world and 
Church. Of this we have a plain example in certain of his 
instructions to the authorities. 1 Whereas the Church had 
exhorted people in power to temper with Christianity their 
administration of civil justice and their use of physical force 
urging that the sovereign was a Christian not merely in 
his private but also in his official capacity, Luther tells the 
ruler : The Kingdom of Christ wholly belongs to the order 
of grace, but the kingdom of the world and worldly life 
belong to the order of the Law ; the two kingdoms are of 
a different species and belong to different worlds. To the 
one you belong as a Christian, to the other as a man and 
a ruler. Christ has nothing to do with the regulations of 
worldly life, but leaves them to the world ; earthly life 
stands in no need of being outwardly hallowed by the 
Church. 2 Certain statements to a different effect will be 
considered elsewhere. 

" A great distinction," Luther said in 1523, " must be made 
between a worldling and a Christian, i.e. between a Christian 
and a worldly man. For a Christian is neither man nor woman 
. . . must know nothing and possess nothing in the world. . . . 
A prince may indeed be a Christian, but he must not rule as a 
Christian, and when he rules he does so not as a Christian but 
as a prince. As an individual he is indeed a Christian, but his 

1 Cp. vol. ii., p. 294 ff, and below, xxxv., 2. 

2 The above largely reproduces Luthardt, " Luthers Ethik," 2 , 
p. 81 ff. 



56 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

office or princedom is no business of his Christianity." This 
seems to him proved by his mystical theory that a Christian 
" must not harm or punish anyone or revenge himself, but for 
give everyone and endure patiently all injustice or evil that 
befalls him." The theory, needless to say, is based on his mis 
apprehension of the Evangelical Counsels which he makes into 
commands. 1 On such principles as these, he concludes, it was 
impossible for any prince to rule, hence " his being a Christian 
had nothing to do with land and subjects." 2 

For the same reason he holds that " every man on this earth " 
comprises two " practically antagonistic personalities," for "each 
one has at the same time to suffer, and not to suffer, everything." 3 
The dualism which Luther here creates is due to his extravagant 
over-statement of the Christian law. The Counsels of Perfection 
given by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, with which Luther 
is here dealing (not to resist evil, not to go to law, etc., Mt. v. 19 ff.), 
are not an invitation addressed to all Christians, and if higher con 
siderations or some duty stands in the way it would certainly 
denote no perfection to follow them. Luther s misinterpretation 
necessarily led him to make a cleavage between Christian life 
and life in the world. 

The dualism, however, in so far as it concerned the authorities 
had, however, yet another source. For polemical reasons Luther 
was determined to make an end of the great influence that the 
olden Church had acquired over public life. Hence he absolves the 
secular power from all dependence as the latter had itself sought 
to do even before his time. He refused to see that, in spite of all 
the abuses which had followed on the Church s interference in 
politics during the Middle Ages, mankind had gained hugely by 
the guidance of religion. To swallow up the secular power in the 
spiritual had never been part of the Church s teaching, nor was 
it ever the ideal of her enlightened representatives ; but, for the 
morality of the great, for the observance of maxims of justice 
and for the improvement of the nations the principle that religion 
must not be separated from the life of the State and from the 
office of those in authority, but must permeate and spiritualise 
them was, as history proved, truly vital. Subsequent to Luther s 
day the tendency to separate the two undoubtedly made un 
checked progress. He himself, however, was not consistent in 
his attitude. On the contrary, he came more and more to 
desiderate the establishment of the closest possible bond between 
the civil authorities and religion provided only that the ruler s 
faith was the same as Luther s. Nevertheless, generally speaking, 
the separation he had advocated of secular from spiritual became 
the rule in the Protestant fold. 

1 See our vol. ii., p. 298 f. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 32, p. 439 ; Erl. ed., 43, p. 211. Exposition 
of Mt. v.-vii. Cp. our vol. ii., p. 297 f., and vol. iii., pp. 52 f., 60 : A 
prince, as a Christian, must not even defend himself, since a Christian 
is dead to the world. 

3 " Werke," ib. 



COUNSEL AND PRECEPT 57 

" Lutheranism," as Friedrich Paulsen said on the strength of 
his own observations in regions partly Catholic and partly 
Protestant, " which is commonly said to have introduced religion 
into the world and to have reconciled public worship with life and 
the duties of each one s calling has, as a matter of fact, led to 
the complete alienation and isolation of the Church from real 
life ; on the contrary, the older Church, despite all her over- 
worldliness, has contrived to make herself quite at home in the 
world, and has spun a thousand threads in and around the fabric 
of its life." He thinks himself justified in stating: "Protestant 
ism is a religion of the individual, Catholicism is the religion of 
the people ; the former seeks seclusion, the latter publicity. 
In the one even public worship bears a private character and 
appears as foreign to the world as the pulpit rhetoric of a Lutheran 
preacher of the old school ; the [Protestant] Church stands out 
side the bustle of the workaday world in a world of her own." l 

We may pass over the fact, that, Luther, by discarding 
the so-called Counsels reduced morality to a dead level. 
In the case of all the faithful he abased it t.o the standard 
of the Law, doing away with that generous, voluntary 
service of God which the Church had ever approved and 
blessed. We have already shown this elsewhere, more 
particularly in connection with the status of the Evangelical 
Counsels and the striving after Christian perfection in the 
monastic life. According to him there are practically no 
Counsels for those who wish to pass beyond the letter of the 
Law ; there is but one uniform moral Law, and, on the true 
Christian, even the so-called Counsels are strictly binding. 2 

Life in the world, however, according to his theory has 
very different laws ; here quite another order obtains, 
which is, often enough, quite the opposite to what man, as 
a Christian, recognises in his heart to be the true standard. 
As a Christian he must offer his cheek to the smiter ; as 
a member of the civil order he may not do so, but, on the 
contrary, must everywhere vindicate his rights. Thus his 
Christianity, so long as he lives in the world, must perforce 
be reduced to a matter of inward feeling ; it is constantly 
exposed to the severest tests, or, more accurately, constantly 
in the need of being explained away. The believer is faced 
by a twofold order of things, and the regulating of his moral 
conduct becomes a problem which can never be satis 
factorily solved. 

1 " Jugenderinnemngen aus seinem Nachlasse," Jena, 1909, p. 155 f. 

2 Cp. vol. ii., p. 140 ff. ; vol. iii., p. 187 ft ; vol. iv., p. 130 f. 



58 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

" Next to the doctrine of Justification there is hardly any 
other doctrine which Luther urges so frequently and so 
diligently as that of the inward character and nature of 
Christ s kingdom, and the difference thus existing between 
it and the kingdom of the world, i.e. the domain of our 
natural life." 1 

Let us listen to Luther s utterances at various periods on the 
dualism in the moral life of the individual : " The twin kingdoms 
must be kept wide asunder : the spiritual where sin is punished 
and forgiven, and the secular where justice is demanded and 
dealt out. In God s kingdom which He rules according to the 
Gospel there is no demanding of justice, but all is forgiveness, 
remission and bestowal, nor is there any anger, or punishment, 
but nothing save brotherly charity and service." 2 " No rights, 
anger, or punishment," this certainly would have befitted the 
invisible, spiritual Church which Luther had originally planned 
to set up in place of the visible one. 3 

" Christ s everlasting kingdom ... is to be an eternal 
spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men by the preaching of the 
Gospel and by the Holy Spirit." 4 "For your own part, hold 
fast to the Gospel and to the Word of Christ so as to be ready to 
offer the other cheek to the smiter, to give your mantle as well as 
your coat whenever it is a question of yourself and your cause." 5 
It is a strict command, though at utter variance with the civil 
law, in which your neighbour also is greatly concerned. In so 
far, therefore, you must resist. " Thus you manage perfectly to 
satisfy at the same time both the Kingdom of God and that of 
the world, both the outward and the inward ; you suffer evil and 
injustice and yet at the same time punish evil and injustice ; you 
do not resist evil, and yet at the same time you resist it ; for 
according to the one you look to yourself and to yours, and, 
according to the other, to your neighbour and to his rights. As 
regards yourself and yours, you act according to the Gospel and 
suffer injustice as a true Christian ; as regards your neighbour 
and his rights, you act in accordance with charity and permit no 
injustice." 6 

If, as is but natural, we ask, how Christ came so strictly to 
enjoin what was almost impossible, Luther replies that He gave 
His command only for Christians, and that real Christians were 
few in number : "In point of fact Christ is speaking only to His 
dear Christians [when He says, that Christians must not go to 

1 Luthardt, " Luthers Ethik," 2 , p. 81. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 14 2 , p. 280 f. 

3 Cp. vol. ii., p. 107 for Luther s earlier idea of the " holy brother 
hood of spirits," in which " omnia sunt indifferentia et liberal See also 
vol. vi., xxxviii., 3. 

4 "Werke," Erl. ed., I 2 , p. 108. 

5 16., Weim. ed., 11, p. 255 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 73. " Von welltlicher 
Uberkeytt," 1523. G /6. 



COUNSEL AND PRECEPT 59 

law, etc.], and it is they alone who take it and carry it out ; 
they make no mere Counsel of it as the Sophists do, but are so 
transformed by the Spirit that they do evil to no one and are 
ready willingly to suffer evil from anyone." But the world is 
full of non-Christians and " them the Word does not concern at 
all." 1 Worldlings must needs tread a very different way : " All 
who are not Christians belong to the kingdom of the world and 
are under the law." Since they know not the command " Resist 
not evil," " God has given them another government different 
from the Christian estate, and the Kingdom of God." There 
ruleth coercion, severity, and, in a word, the Law, " seeing, that, 
amongst a thousand, there is barely one true Christian." " If 
anyone wished to govern the world according to the Gospel . . . 
dear heart, what would the result be ! He would be loosening 
the leashes and chains of the wild and savage beasts, and turn 
ing them astray to bite and tear everybody. . . . Then the 
wicked would abuse the Christian freedom of the Gospel and 
work their own knavery." 2 

Luther clung to the very end of his life to this congeries of 
contradictory theories, which he advocated in 1523, in his 
passionate aversion to the ancient doctrine of perfection. In 
1539 or 1540 he put forth a declaration against the " Sophists " 
in defence of his theory of the " Counsels," directed more par 
ticularly against the Sorbonne, which had insisted that the 
" consilia evangelica," " were they regarded as precepts, would be 
too heavy a burden for religion." 3 " They make out the 
Counsels," he says, " i.e. the commandments of God, to be not 
necessary for eternal life and invite people to take idolatrous, nay, 
diabolical vows. To lower the Divine precepts to the level of 
counsels is a horrible, Satanic blasphemy." As a Christian " you 
must rather forsake and sacrifice everything" ; to this the first 
table of the Law (of Moses, the Law of the love of God) binds 
you, but, on account of the second table (the law of social life), 
you may and must preserve your own for the sake of your family. 
As a Christian, too, you must be willing to suffer at the hands of 
every man, " but, apart from your Christian profession, you must 
resist evil if you wish to be a good citizen of this world." 4 

" Hence you see, O Christian brother," he concludes, " how 
much you owe to the doctrine which has been revived in our day, 
as against a Pharisaical theology which leaves us nothing even of 
Moses and the Ten Commandments, and still less of Christ." 

" Such honour and glory have I by the grace of God 
whether it be to the taste or not of the devil and his brood 
that, since the days of the Apostles, no doctor, scribe, 
theologian or lawyer has confirmed, instructed and com 
forted the consciences of the secular Estates so well and 

1 Ib., p. 252 = 70. 2 /6., p . 251 = 68. 

" Opp. lat. var.," 4, p. 451. 4 /&., p. 445. 



60 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

lucidly as I have done by the peculiar grace of God. Of this 
I am confident. For neither St. Augustine nor St. Ambrose, 
who are the greatest authorities in this field, are here equal 
to me. . . . Such fame as this must be and remain known 
to God and to men even should they go raving mad over it." 1 

It is true that his theories contain many an element of 
good and, had he not been able to appeal to this, he could 
never have spoken so feelingly on the subject. 

The good which lies buried in his teaching had, however, 
always received its due in Catholicism. Luther, when 
contrasting the Church s alleged aversion for secular life 
with his own exaltation of the dignity of the worldly calling, 
frequently speaks in language both powerful and fine of the 
worldly office which God has assigned to each one, not only 
to the prince but even to the humble workman and tiller of 
the field, and of the noble moral tasks which thus devolve 
on the Christian. Yet any aversion to the world as he 
conceives it had never been a principle within the Church, 
though individual writers may indeed have erred in this 
direction. The assertion that the olden Church, owing to 
her teaching concerning the state of perfection and the 
Counsels, had not made sufficient allowance for the dignity 
of the secular calling, has already been fully dealt with. 

It is true that Luther, to the admiration of his followers, 
confronted the old Orders founded by the Church with three 
new Orders, all Divinely instituted, viz. the home, the State 
and the Church. 2 But, so far from " notably improving " 
on the " scholastic ethics " of the past, he did not even 
contrive to couch his thoughts on these " Orders " in 
language as lucid as that used long before his day by the 
theologians and moralists of the Church in voicing the same 
idea ; what he says of these " Orders " also falls short of 
the past on the score of wealth and variety. 3 Nevertheless 
the popular ways he had of depicting things as he fain would 
see them, proved alluring, and this gift of appealing to the 
people s fancy and of charming them by the contrast of 
new and old, helped to build up the esteem in which he has 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 31, p. 236. Verantwortung der auffgelegten 
Auffrur, 1533. Cp. our vol. ii., p. 294, and vol. iv., p. 331. 

2 Luthardt, " Luthers Ethik," 2 , pp. 93-96. 

3 Cp. vol. iv., p. 127 ff., on the high esteem of worldly callings in the 
period previous to Luther s. Cp. N. Paulus, " Die Wertung der 
weltlichen Berufe im MA." (" Hist. Jahrb.," 1911, p. 725 ff.). 



RELIGION AND MORALS 61 

been held ever since ; his inclination, moreover, to promote 
the independence of the individual in the three " Orders," 
and to deliver him from all hierarchical influence must 
from the outset have won him many friends. 



Divorce of Religion and Morals 

Glancing back at what has already been said concerning 
Luther s abasement of morality and considering it in the 
light of his theories of the Law and Gospel, of assurance 
of salvation and morality, we find as a main characteristic 
of Luther s ethics a far-reaching, dangerous rift between 
religion and morals. Morality no longer stands in its old 
position at the side of faith. 

Faith and the religion which springs from it are by nature 
closely and intimately bound up with morality. This is 
shown by the history of heathenism in general, of modern 
unbelief in particular. Heathenism or unbelief in national 
life always signifies a moral decline ; even in private life 
morality reacts on the life of faith and the religious feeling, 
and vice versa. The harmony between religion and morality 
arises from the fact that the love of God proceeds from faith 
in His dominion and Fatherly kindness. 

Luther, in spite of his assurances concerning the stimulus 
of the life of faith and of love, severed the connection between 
faith and morality and placed the latter far below the 
former. His statements concerning faith working by love, 
had they been more than mere words, would, in themselves, 
have led him back to the very standpoint of the Church he 
hated. In reality he regards the " Law " as something 
utterly hostile to the " pious " soul ; before the true 
" believer " the Law shrinks back, though, to the man not 
yet justified by " faith," it serves as a taskmaster and a 
hangman. The " Law " thus loses the heavenly virtue 
with which it was stamped. In Luther s eyes the only thing 
of any real value is that religion which consists in faith in the 
forgiveness of sins. 

" This," he says, " is the Summa Summarum of a truly 
Christian life, to know that in Christ you have a Gracious God 
ready to forgive you your sins and never to think of them again, 
and that you are now a child of everlasting happiness, reigning 
with Christ over heaven and earth." 



62 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

It is true he hastens to add, that, from this saving faith, works 
of morality would " assuredly " flow. 1 

" Assuredly " ? Since Albert Ritschl it has been repeated 
countless times that Luther did no more than " assert that faith 
by its very nature is productive of good works." As a matter of 
fact "he is wont to speak in much too uncertain a way of the 
good works which follow faith " ; with him " faith " is the 
whole man, whereas the Bible says : " Fear God and keep His 
commandments [i.e. religion plus morality] ; this is the whole 
man." 2 

Luther s one-sided insistence on a confiding, trusting faith in 
God, at the cost of the moral work, has its root in his theory of 
the utter depravity of man and his entire lack of freedom, in 
his low esteem for the presuppositions of morality, in his con 
viction that nature is capable of nothing, and, owing to its want 
of self-determination, is unable on its own even to be moral at 
all. If we desire, so he says frankly, to honour God s sublime 
majesty and to humble fallen creatures as they deserve, then let 
us recognise that God works all in all without any possibility of 
any resistance whatsoever on man s part,, God s action being like 
to that of the potter on his clay. Just as Luther was unable to 
recognise justification in the sense in which it had been taught 
of yore, so also he entirely failed to appreciate the profounder 
conception of morality. 

His strictures on morality which had ever been esteemed as 
the voluntary keeping of the Law by man, who by a generous 
obedience renders to God the freedom received point plainly 
to the cause of his upheaval of the whole field of dogma. At the 
outset he had set himself to oppose self-righteousness, but in 
doing so he dealt a blow at righteousness itself ; he had attacked 
justice by works, but justice itself had suffered ; he declared 
war on the wholly imaginary phantom of a self-chosen morality 
based on man-made ordinances and thereby degraded morality, 
if he did not indeed undermine its very foundations. 

What Mohler says of the reformers and their tendency to set 
aside the commands of morality applies in particular to Luther 
and his passionate campaign. It is true he writes, that " the 
moral freedom they had destroyed came to involve the existence 
of a freedom from that moral law which concerns only the seen, 
bounded world of time, but fails to apply in the eternal world, 
sot high above all time and space. This does not mean, however, 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 42 f. 

2 Cp. W. Walther, " Die christliche Sittlichkeit nach Luther," 1909, 
p. 50, where Hitachi s opinion is disputed. The above complaint of 
Luther s " uncertain way " is from Ritschl, who was not the first to make 
it ; the Bible objection is also much older. It matters nothing that 
in addition to the faith usually extolled as the source of works, Luther 
also mentions the Holy Ghost (see passages in Walther, p. 46 f.) and 
once even speaks of the new feeling as though it were a gift of the 
Spirit dwelling in His very substance in the believer. (" Opp. lat. 
exeg,." 19, p. 109 sq*) These are reminiscences of his Catholic days 
and have in reality nothing to do with his doctrine of Imputation. 



RELIGION AND MORALS 63 

that the reformers were conscious of what lay at the base of their 
system ; on the contrary, had they seen it, had they perceived 
whither their doctrines were necessarily leading, they would have 
rejected them as quite unchristian." 1 

The following reflection of the famous author of " Catholic 
Symbolism " may also be set on record, the better to safeguard 
against misapprehension anything that may have been said, 
particularly as it touches upon a matter to which we repeatedly 
have had occasion to allude. 

" No one can fail to see the religious element in Protestantism," 
he says, " who calls to mind the idea of Divine Providence held 
by Luther and Melanchthon when they started the work of the 
Reformation. . . . All the phenomena of this world [according 
to it] are God s own particular work and man is merely His 
instrument. Everything in the history of the world is God s 
invisible doing which man s agency merely makes visible. Who 
can fail to see in this a truly religious outlook on all things ? All 
is referred back to God, Who is all in all. ... In the same way 
the Redeemer also is all in all in the sense that He and His Spirit 
are alone active, and faith and regeneration are solely due to 
Him." 2 

Mohler here relates how, according to Luther, Staupitz had 
said of the new teaching at its inception, " What most consoles 
me is that it has again been brought to light how all honour and 
praise belong to God alone, but, to man, nothing at all." This 
statement is quite in keeping with the vague, mystical world of 
thought in which Staupitz, who was no master of theology or 
philosophy, lived. But it also reflects the impression of many 
of Luther s contemporaries who, unaware of his misrepresentation 
of the subject, were attracted by the advantage to religion and 
morality which seemed to accrue from Luther s effort to ascribe 
all things solely to God. 

Where this tendency to subordinate all to God and to 
exalt the merits of Christ finds more chastened expression 
in Luther s writings, when, in his hearty, homely fashion, he 
paints the love of the Master or His virtues as the pattern of 
all morality, or pictures in his own peculiar realistic style 
the conditions of everyday life the better to lash abuses, 
then the reader is able to appreciate the better side of his 
ethics and the truly classic example he sometimes sets of 
moral exhortations. It would surely be inexplicable how so 
many earnest Protestant souls, from his day to our own, 
should have found and still find a stimulus in his practical 
works, for instance, in his Postils, did these works not really 
contain a substratum of truth, food for thought and a 

1 " Symbolik," 25. 2 Ib., 26. 



64 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

certain gift of inspiration. Even the man who studies the 
long list of Luther s practical writings simply from the 
standpoint of the scholar and historian though he may not 
always share Luther s opinions cannot fail to acknowledge 
that the warmth with which Luther speaks of those Christian 
truths accepted by all, leaves a deep impression and re 
echoes within the soul like a voice from our common home. 

On the one hand Luther rightly retained many profoundly 
religious elements of the mediaeval theology, indeed, owing 
to his curious way of looking at things, he actually outdid in 
medievalism the Middle Ages themselves, for he merged all 
human freedom in the Divine action, a thing those Ages 
had not dared to do. 

And yet, on the other hand, to conclude our survey of 
his " abasement of practical Christianity," he is so ultra 
modern on a capital point of his ethics as to merit being 
styled the precursor of modern subjectivism as applied to 
morals. For all his new ethical precepts and rules, beyond 
the Decalogue and the Natural Law, are devoid of ob 
jective obligation ; they lack the sanction which alone 
would have rendered them capable of guiding the human 
conscience. 

The Lack of Obligation and Sanction 

Luther s moral instructions differed in one weighty par 
ticular from those of the olden Church. 

As he himself insists at needless length, they were a 
collection of personal opinions and exhortations which 
appeared to him to be based on Holy Scripture or the Law 
of Nature and in many instances, though not always, 
actually did rest on this foundation. When he issued new 
pronouncements of a practical character, for instance, 
concerning clandestine espousals, or annulled the olden 
order of public worship, the sacraments, or the Command 
ments of the Church, he was wont to say, that, it was his 
intention merely to advise consciences and to arouse the 
Evangelical consciousness. He took this line partly because 
he was conscious of having no personal authority, partly 
because he wished to act according to the principles pro 
claimed in his " Von der Freyheyt eynes Christen Menschen," 
or, again, in order to prevent the rise of dissent and the 



LACK OF SANCTION 65 

resistance he always dreaded to any attempt to lay down 
categorical injunctions. Thus his ethical regulations, so far 
as they differed from the olden ones, amounted merely to so 
many invitations to act according to the standard set up, 
whereas the character of the ethical legislation of Catholicism 
is essentially binding. Having destroyed the outward 
authority of the Church, he had nothing more to count upon 
than the " ministry of the Word," and everything now 
depended on the minister s being able to convince the 
believer, now freed from the ancient trammels. 

He himself, for instance, once declared that he would " assume 
no authority or right to coerce, for I neither have nor desire 
any such. Let him rule who will or must ; I shall instruct and 
console consciences as far as I am able. Who can or wants to 
obey, let him do so ; who won t or can t, let him leave it alone." 1 

He would act " by way of counsel," so he teaches, "as in 
conscience he would wish to serve good friends, and whoever 
likes to follow his advice must do so at his own risk." 2 " He 
gives advice agreeably to his own conscience," writes Luthardt in 
" Luthers Ethik," " leaving it to others to accept his advice or 
not on their own responsibility." 3 

Nor can one well argue that the requisite sanction for the new 
moral rules was the general sanction found in the Scriptural 
threats of Divine chastisements to overtake transgressors. The 
question is whether the Law laid down in the Bible or written in 
man s heart is really identical with Luther s. Those who were 
unable of themselves to prove that this was the case were ulti 
mately (so Luther implies) to believe it on his authority and 
conform themselves to his " Evangelical consciousness " ; thus, 
for instance, in the matter of religious vows, held by Luther to be 
utterly detestable, and by the Church to be both permissible and 
praiseworthy. 

In but few points does the purely subjective character of 
the new religion and morality advocated by Luther stand 
out so clearly as in this absence of any objective sanction or 
higher authority for his new ethics. Christianity hitherto 
had appealed to the divine, unchangeable dignity of the 
Church, which, by her infallible teaching, her discipline and 
power to punish, insured the observance of law and order 
in the religious domain. But, now, according to the new 
teaching, man who so sadly needs a clear and definite lead 
for his moral life besides the Decalogue, " clear " Bible 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 206 ; Erl. ed., 23, p. 95. 

2 76. 3 p. 111. 

V. F 



66 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

text and Natural Law, is left with nothing but 
mendations " devoid of any binding force ; views are dinned 
into his ears the carrying out of which is left solely to his 
feelings, or, as Luther says, to his " conscience." 

Deprived of the quieting guidance of an authority which 
proclaims moral obligations and sees that they are carried 
out, conscience and personality tend in his system to 
assume quite a new role. 

6. The part played by Conscience and Personality. Luther s 
warfare with his old friend Caspar Schwenckfeld 

Protestants have confidently opined, that " Luther 
mastered anew the personal foundation of morality by 
reinstating conscience in its rights " ; by insisting on feeling 
he came to restore to " personality the dignity " which in 
previous ages it had lost under the ban of a " legalism " 
devoid of " morality." 

To counter such views it may be of use to give some 
account of the way in which Luther taught conscience to 
exercise her rights. The part he assigns to the voice within 
which judges of good and evil, scarcely bears out the con 
tention that he really strengthened the " foundation of 
morality." The vague idea of " personality " may for the 
while be identified with conscience, especially as in the 
present connection " person " stands for the medium of 



On Conscience and its Exercise in General 

To quiet the conscience, to find some inward support for 
one s actions in the exercise of one s own will, this is what 
Luther constantly insists on in the moral instructions he 
gives, at the same time pointing to his own example. 2 What 

1 Owing to his assertion of man s unfreedom and passivity, Luther 
found it very difficult to retain the true meaning of conscience. So 
long as he thought in any way as a Catholic he recognised the inner 
voice, the " synteresis," that urges us to what is good and reproves 
what is evil, leaving man freedom of choice ; this we see from his first 
Commentary on the Psalms, above, vol. i., p. 76 f. But already in his 
Commentary on Romans he characterised the " synteresis," and the 
assumption of any freedom of choice on man s part, as the loophole 
through which the old theology had dragged in its errors concerning 
grace. (Above, vol. i., p. 233 f.) 

2 Cp. W. Walther, " Die ehristl. Sittlichkeit," p. 31. 



ON CONSCIENCE 67 

was the nature of his own example ? His rebellion against 
the Church s authority was to him the cause of a long, fierce 
struggle with himself. He sought to allay the anxiety which 
stirred his soul to its depths by the reassuring thought, that 
all doubts were from the devil from whom alone all scruples 
come ; he sternly bade his soul rest secure and as resolutely 
refused to hearken to any doubts regarding the truth of his 
new Evangel. His new and quite subjective doctrines he 
defended in the most subjective way imaginable and, to 
those of his friends whose consciences were troubled, he 
recommends a similar course of action ; he even on several 
occasions told people thus disturbed in mind whom he 
wished to reassure, that they must listen to his, Luther s, 
voice as though it were the voice of God. This was his 
express advice to his pupil Schlaginhaufen 1 and, in later 
days, to his friend Spalatin, who also had become a prey to 
melancholy." 2 He himself claimed to have been delivered 
from his terrors by having simply accepted as a God-sent 
message the encouraging words of Bugenhagen. 3 

" Conscience is death s own cruel hangman," so he told 
Spalatin ; from Ambrose and Augustine the latter should learn 
to place all his trust not in conscience but in Christ. 4 It scarcely 
needs stating that here he is misapplying the fine sayings of both 
these Fathers. They would have repudiated with indignation 
the words of consolation which not long after he offered the man 
suffering from remorse of conscience, assuring him that he was as 
yet a novice in struggling against conscience, and had hitherto 
been " too tender a sinner " ; "join yourself to us real, big, tough 
sinners, that you may not belittle and put down Christ, Who is the 
Saviour, not of small, imaginary sinners, but of great and real 
ones " ; thus it was that he, Luther, had once been consoled in 
his sadness by Staupitz. 5 Here he is applying wrongly a perfectly 
correct thought of his former Superior. Not perhaps quite false, 
but at any rate thoroughly Lutheran, is the accompanying 
assurance : "I stand firm [in my conscience] and maintain my 
attitude, that you may lean on me in your struggle against Satan 
and be supported by me." 

1 Above, vol. iv., p. 227. " You are to believe without doubting 
what God Himself has spoken to you, for I have God s authority and 
commission to speak to and to comfort you." 

2 Letter of Aug. 21, 1544, " Brief e," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 680 : 
" Believe me, Christ speaks through me." 

3 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 220 : " persuasi mihi, esse de coelo 
vocem Dei." 

4 Letter of March 8, 1544, " Briefe," ib., p. 636. 

5 In the letter quoted in n. 2, ib., p. 679 f. 



68 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Thus does he direct Spalatin, who was tormented by remorse, 
to comfort himself against his conscience." 1 

" To comfort oneself against one s conscience," such is the 
task which Luther, in many of his writings, proposes to the 
believer. Indeed, in his eyes the chief thing of all is to " get the 
better of sin, death, hell and our own conscience " ; in spite of 
the opposition of reason to Luther s view of Christ s satisfaction, 
we must learn, " through Him [Christ] to possess nothing but 
grace and forgiveness," of course, in the sense taught at Witten 
berg. 2 

A former brother monk, Link, the apostate Augustinian of 
Nuremberg, Luther also encourages, like Spalatin the fallen priest, 
to kick against the prick of conscience : " These are devil s 
thoughts and not from us, which make us despair," they must 
be " left to the devil," the latter always " keeps closest to those 
who are most pious " ; to yield to such despairing thoughts " is 
as bad as giving in and leaving Satan supreme." 3 

When praising the " sole " help and consolation of the grace 
of Christ he does not omit to point out, directly or otherwise, how, 
" when in despair of himself," and enduring frightful inward 
" sufferings " of conscience, he had hacked his way through them 
all and had reached a firm faith in Christ minus all works, and had 
thus become a " theologian of the Cross." 4 

Even at the commencement of the struggle, in order to en 
courage wavering followers, he allowed to each man s conscience 
the right to defy any confessor who should forbid Luther s 
writings to such of his parishioners who came to him : " Absolve 
me at my own risk," they were to say to him, " I shall not give 
up the books, for then I should be sinning against my conscience." 
He argues that, according to Rom. xiv. 1, the confessor might 
not " urge them against their conscience." Was it then enough 
for a man to have formed himself a conscience, for the precept 
no longer to hold ? His admonition was, however, intended 
merely as a counsel for " strong and courageous consciences." 
If the confessor did not prove amenable, they were simply to "go 
without scruple to the Sacrament," and if this, too, was refused 
them then they had only to send " Sacrament and Church " 
about their business. 5 Should the confessor require contrition for 
sins committed, this, according to another of his statements, was 
a clear attack on conscience which does not require contrition 
for absolution, but merely faith in Christ ; such a priest ought to 
have the keys taken out of his hands and be given a pitchfork 
instead." 6 

i Ib. 2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 337. 

3 On July 14, 1528, " Brief weohsel," ed. Enders, 6, p. 300 f. 

4 Cp. " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 354 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 1, p. 388. 
Cp. vol. i., p. 319. 

5 " Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 290 f. ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 209, For fuller 
quotations see vol. ii., p. 58 f. 

6 76., Weim. ed., 4, p. 658. 



ON CONSCIENCE 69 

In the above instances the Catholic could find support for 
his conscience in the infallible authority of the Church. It 
was this authority which forbade him Luther s writings as 
heretical, and, in the case of contrition which Luther also 
brings forward it was likewise his religious faith, which, 
consonantly with man s natural feeling, demanded such 
sorrow for sin. In earlier days authority and faith were the 
reliable guides of conscience without which it was impossible 
to do. Luther left conscience to itself or referred it to his 
own words and his reading of Scripture, though this again, 
as he himself acknowledged, was not an absolute rule ; thus 
he leaves it a prey to a most unhappy uncertainty unless, 
indeed, it was able to " find assurance " in the way he 
wishes. 

Quite early in his career he also gave the following instruction 
to those of the clergy who were living in concubinage on how to 
form their conscience ; they were " to salve their conscience " 
and take the female to their " wedded wife," even though this 
were against the law, fleshly or ghostly. " Your soul s salva 
tion is of more account than any tyrannical laws. . . . Let him 
who has the faith to take the risk follow me boldly." " I will 
not deceive him," he adds apologetically, but at least he had " the 
power to advise him regarding his sins and dangers " ; he will 
show them how they may do what they are doing, "but with a 
good conscience." 1 For as Luther points out in another passage, 
even though their discarding of their supposed obligation of 
celibacy had taken place with a bad conscience, still the Bible- 
texts subsequently brought forward, read according to the inter 
pretation of the new Evangelist, avail to heal their conscience. 2 
At any rate, so he tells the Teutonic Knights when inviting them 
to break their vow of chastity : "on the Word of God we will 
risk it and do it in the teeth of and contrary to all Councils and 
Churches ! Close eyes and ears and take God s Word to heart." 3 
Better, he cries, go on keeping two or three prostitutes than seek 
of a Council permission to marry ! 4 

These were matters for " those to risk who have the faith," 
so we have heard him say. In reality all did depend on people s 
faith ... in Luther, on their conviction that his doctrine and 
his moral system were right. 

But what voice was to decide in the case of those who 
were wavering ? 

On the profoundest questions of moral teaching, it is, ac- 

1 Ib., Erl. ed., 21, p. 324. 2 Ib., 28, p. 224. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 237 ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 25. 

4 Ib., Erl. ed., 29, p. 23 ; cp. above, vol. iii., p. 262 ff. 



70 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

cording to Luther, the "inward judgment " that is to decide 
what " spirit " must be followed. " For every Christian," 
he writes, " is enlightened in heart and conscience by the 
Holy Ghost and by God s Grace in such a way as to be able 
to judge and decide with the utmost certainty on all 
doctrines." It is to this that the Apostle refers when he 
says : " A spiritual man judges all things " (1 Cor. iii. 15). 
Beyond this, moreover, Scripture constitutes an " outward 
judgment " whereby the Spirit is able to convince men, it 
being a "ghostly light, much brighter than the sun." 1 It 
is highly important "to be certain " of the meaning of the 
Bible, 2 though here Luther s own interpretation was, 
needless to say, to hold the field. The preachers instructed 
by him were to say : "I know that the doctrine is right in 
God s sight " and " boast " of the inward certainty they 
shared with him. 3 

Luther s rules for the guidance of conscience in other 
matters were quite similar. Subjectivism becomes a regular 
system for the guidance of conscience. In this sense it was 
to the person that the final decision was left. But whether 
this isolation of man from man, this snatching of the 
individual from dutiful submission to an authority holding 
God s place, was really a gain to the individual, to religion 
and to society, or not rather the reverse, is only to be 
settled in the light of the history of private judgment 
which was the outcome of Luther s new principle. 

Of himself Luther repeats again and again, that his knowledge 
and conscience alone sufficed to prove the truth of his position ; 4 
that he had won this assurance at the cost of his struggles with 
conscience and the devil. Ulenberg, the old writer, speaking of 
these utterances in his "Life of Luther," 5 says that his hero 
mastered his conscience when at the Wartburg, and, from that 
time, believed more firmly than ever that he had gained this 
assurance by a Divine revelation (" ccelesti quadam revelatione"), 
for which reason he had then written to his Elector that he had 
received his lead solely from heaven. 6 

In matters of conscience wherever the troublesome " Law " 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 653 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 176 sq. 

Ib., Erl. ed., 58, pp. 394-398. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 17, 1, p. 232 ; Erl. ed., 39, p. 111. Should 
a p eacher be unable thus to " boast," he is to " hold his tongue," so we 
read there. 

See, e.g., vol. iii., pp. 110 ff.-158 f. 

" Vita Lutheri," Colonise, 1622, p. 141. 

Above, vol. iii., p. 111. 



ON CONSCIENCE 71 

comes in we can always trace the devil s influence ; we " must 
come to grips with him and fight him," 1 only the man who has 
been through the mill, as he himself had, could boast of having 
any certainty : " The devil is a juggler. Unless God helps us, 
our work and counsel is of no account ; whether we turn right 
or left he remains the Prince of this world. Let him who does 
not know this just try. I have had some experience of this. But 
let no one believe me until he too has experienced it." 2 

Not merely in the case of his life-work in general, but even in 
individual matters of importance, the inward struggles and 
" agonies " through which he had passed .were signs by which 
to recognise that he was in the right. Thus, for instance, referring 
to his hostile action in Agricola s case, Luther says : " Oh, how 
many pangs and agonies did I endure about this business. I 
almost died of anxiety before I brought these propositions out 
into the light of day." 3 Hence it was plain, he argued, how far 
he was from the palpable arrogance displayed by his Antinornian 
foe, and how evidently his present conduct was willed by God. 



The Help of Conscience at Critical Junctures 

It was the part played by subjectivism in Luther s ethics 
that led him in certain circumstances to extend suspiciously 
the rights of " conscience." 

In the matter of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse he soothed 
the Elector of Saxony by telling him he must ignore the 
general outcry, since the Landgrave had acted " from his 
need of conscience " ; in his " conscience " the Prince 
regarded his " wedded concubine " as "no mere prostitute." 
" By God s Grace I am well able to distinguish between 
what by way of grace and before God may be permitted in 
the case of a troubled conscience and what, apart from such 
need of conscience, is not right before God in outward 
matters." 4 In his extreme embarrassment, consequent on 
this matrimonial tangle, Luther deemed it necessary to make 
so hair-splitting a distinction between lawfulness and per 
missibility when need of conscience required it. The 
explanation that, in such cases, something must be con 
ceded " before God and by way of grace " which he offers 
together with the Old-Testament texts as justifying the 
bigamy, must look like a fatal concession to laxity. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 23, p. 69 f. ; Erl. ed., 30, p. 19. 

2 Ib., p. 70 = 20 . 3 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 22. 

4 On July 24, 1540, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 274. Above, 
vol. iv., p. 13 ff. 



72 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

He also appealed to conscience in another marriage 
question where he made the lawfulness of bigamy depend 
entirely on the conscience. 

A man, who, owing to his wife s illness was prevented from 
matrimonial intercourse, wished, on the strength of Carlstadt s 
advice, to take a second wife. Luther thereupon wrote to 
Chancellor Briick, on Jan. 27, 1524, telling him the Prince should 
reply as follows : " The husband must be sure and convinced in 
his own conscience by means of the Word of God that it is lawful 
in his case. Therefore let him seek out such men as may convince 
him by the Word of God, whether Carlstadt [who was then in dis 
grace at Court], or some other, matters not at all to the Prince. 
For if the fellow is not sure of his case, then the permission 
of the Prince will not make him so ; nor is it for the Prince to 
decide on this point, for it is the priests business to expound the 
Word of God, and, as Zacharias says, from their lips the Law of 
the Lord must be learned. I, for my part, admit I can raise 
no objection if a man wishes to take several wives since Holy 
Scripture does not forbid this ; but I should not like to see this 
example introduced amongst Christians. ... It does not beseem 
Christians to seize greedily and for their own advantage on every 
thing to which their freedom gives them a right. . . . No Chris 
tian surely is so God-forsaken as not to be able to practise con 
tinence when his partner, owing to the Divine dispensation, 
proves unfit for matrimony. Still, we may well let things take 
their course." 1 

On the occasion of his own marriage with Bora we may re 
member how he had declared with that defiance of which he was 
a past master, that he would take the step the better to with 
stand the devil and all his foes. (Vol. ii., p. 175 ff.) 

A curious echo of the way in which he could set conscience at 
defiance is to be met with in his instructions to his assistant 
Justus Jonas, who, as soon as his first wife was dead, cast about 
for a second. Luther at first was aghast, owing to Biblical 
scruples, at the scandal which second marriages on the part of the 
regents of the Church would give and entreated him at least to 
wait a while. When he found it impossible to dissuade Jonas, he 
warned him of the " malicious gossip of our foes," " who are ever 
eager to make capital out of our example " ; nevertheless, he goes 
on to say that he had nothing else to urge against another union, 
so long as Jonas " felt within himself that spirit of defiance 
which would enable him, after the step, to ignore all the outcry 
and the hate of all the devils and of men, and not to attempt, nay, 
to scorn any effort to stop the mouths of men, or to crave their 
favour." 2 

1 To Chancellor Briick, " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 282 : " Oportere ipsum 
maritum sua propria conscientia esse firmum ac cerium per verbum Dei, 
sibi hcec licere." Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 259 f. 

2 Letter to Jonas, May 4, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 556. 



ON CONSCIENCE 73 

The " spirit of defiance " which he here requires as a 
condition for the step becomes elsewhere a sort of mystical 
inspiration which may justify an action of doubtful morality. 

Granted the presence of this inspiration he regards as per 
missible what otherwise would not be so. In a note sent to the 
Elector of Saxony at the time of the Diet of Augsburg regarding 
the question whether it was allowed to offer armed resistance to 
the Emperor, we find this idea expressed in remarkable words. 
Till then Luther had looked upon resistance as forbidden. The 
predicament of his cause, now endangered by the warlike threats 
of the Emperor, led him to think of resistance. He writes : If 
the Elector wishes to take up arms " he must do so under the 
influence of a singular spirit and faith ( vocante aliquo singulari 
spiritu et fide ). Otherwise he must yield to superior force and 
suffer death together with the other Christians of his faith." 1 It 
is plain that there would have been but little difficulty in finding 
the peculiar mystical inspiration required ; no less plain is it, 
that, once this back door had been opened " inspiration " would 
soon usurp the place of conscience and justify steps, that, in them 
selves, were of a questionable character. 

Conscience in the Religious Question of the Day 

The new method of dealing with conscience is more 
closely connected with Luther s new method of inducing 
faith than might at first sight appear. 

The individualism he proclaimed in matters of faith embodied 
the principle, that " each one must, in his own way, lay hold on 
religious experience and thus attain religious conviction." 2 Luther 
often says, in his idealistic way, that only thus is it possible to 
arrive at the supreme goal, viz. to feel one s faith within as a kind 
of inspiration ; our aim must ever be to feel it " surely and im 
mutably " in our conscience and in all the powers of our soul. 3 

1 Text in G. Berbig (" Quellen und Darstellungen aus der Gesch. 
des Reformationszeitalters," Leipzig, 1908), p. 277 (cp. Enders, 
" Brief wechsel," 4, p. 76 f.). This statement completes what was said 
in vol. iii., p. 55. 

2 Karl Stange, " Die altesten ethischen Disputationen Luthers," 
1904, p. vii. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 23 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 298." He 
ventured, relying on Christ," says Adolf Harnack (" DG.," 3 4 , p. 824), 
" to lay hold on God Himself, and, by this exercise of his faith, in 
which he saw God s work, his whole being gained in independence and 
firmness, and he acquired such confidence and joy as no man in the 
Middle Ages had ever known." Of Luther s struggles of conscience, to 
be examined more closely in ch. xxxii., Harnack says nothing. On the 
other hand, however, he quotes, on p. 825, n. 1, the following words 
of Luther s : " Such a faith alone makes a Christian which risks all on 
God whether in life or death." 



74 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Everything must depend on this experience, the more so as to 
him faith means something very different from what it means to 
Catholics ; it is, he says, " no taking it all for true " ; " for that 
would not be Christian faith but more an opinion than faith " ; 
on the contrary, each one must believe that "he is one of those 
on whom such grace and mercy is bestowed." 1 Now, such a faith, 
no matter how profound and immutable the feeling be, cannot 
be reached except at the cost of a certain violence to conscience ; 
such coercion is, in fact, essential owing to the nature of this faith 
in personal salvation. 

What, according to Luther, is the general character of faith ? 
Fear and struggles, so he teaches, are not merely its usual ac 
companiments, but are also the " sure sign that the Word has 
touched and moved you, that it exercises, urges and compels 
you " ; nay, Confession and Communion are really meant only 
for such troubled ones, " otherwise there would be no need of 
them " i.e. they would not be necessary unless there existed 
despair of conscience and anxiety concerning faith. It was a 
mistaken practice, he continues, for many to refrain from 
receiving the Sacrament, " preferring to wait until they feel the 
faith within their heart " ; in this way all desire to receive is 
extinguished ; people should rather approach even when they 
feel not at all their faith ; then " you will feel more and more 
attracted towards it " 2 though this again, according to Luther, 
is by no means quite certain. 

The " inward experience of faith " too often becomes simply 
the dictate of one s whim. But a whim and order to oneself to 
think this or that does not constitute faith as the word is used in 
revelation, nor does a command imposed on the inward sense of 
right and wrong amount to a pronouncement of conscience. 

Though Luther often held up himself and his temptations 
regarding faith, as an example which might comfort waverers, 
Protestants have nevertheless praised him for the supposed 
firmness of his faith and for his joy of conscience. But was not his 
" defiant faith " really identical with that imposition he was wont 
to practise on his conscience and to dignify by the name of 
inspiration ? 

Yet, in spite of all, he never found a secure foundation. " I 
know what it costs me, for I have daily to struggle with myself," 
he told his friends in 1538. 3 " I was scarcely able to bring my 
self to believe," he said in a sermon of the same year, " that the 
doctrine of the Pope and the Fathers was all wrong." 4 His faith 
was as insecurely fixed, so he quaintly bewailed on another 
occasion, " as the fur trimming on his sleeve." 5 " Who believes 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 7 2 , p. 253 f. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., II 2 , p. 248 f. 

3 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch " : "in quotidiana versor lucta." On 
Feb. 26. 

4 " Luthers ungedruckte Predigten," ed. G. Buchwald, Leipzig, 
1885, 3, p. 245. Sermon of March 16, 1538. 

5 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 56. 



ON CONSCIENCE 75 

such things ? " he asks, wildly implicating all people in general, 
at the conclusion of a note jotted down in a Bible and alluding 
to the hope of Kfe everlasting. 1 In 1529 he repeatedly describes 
to his friends how Satan tempts him (" Satanas fatigat ") with 
lack of faith and despair, how he was sunk in unspeakable 
" bitterness of soul," and, how, for this reason as he once says, he 
was scarce able " with a trembling hand " to write to them. 2 

Calvin, too, was aware of the frequent terrors Luther endured. 
When Pighius, the Catholic writer, alleged Luther s struggles of 
conscience and temptations concerning the faith as disproving 
his authority, Calvin took good care not to deny them. He 
boldly replied that this only redounded to Luther s honour since 
it was the experience of all devout people, and particularly of the 
most famous divines. 3 

Was it possible, according to Luther, to be conscientiously 
opposed to his teaching on faith and morals ? At least in 
theory, he does go so far in certain statements as to recognise 
the possibility of such conscientious scruples. In these 
utterances he would even appear to surrender the whole 
weight and authority of his theological and ethical dis 
coveries, fundamental though they were to his innovations. 
" I have served the Church zealously with what God has 
given me and what I owe to Him. Whoever does not care 
for it, let him read or listen to others. It matters but little 
should they feel no need of me." 4 With regard to public 
worship, it is left " to each one to make up his conscience as 
to how he shall use his freedom." " I am not your preacher," 
so he wrote to the " Strasburg Christians," who were 
inclined to distrust his exclusiveness ; "no one is bound to 
believe me ; let each man look to himself " ; 5 all are to be 
referred "from Luther," "to Christ." 6 

Such statements, however, cannot stand against his 
constant insistence on his Divine mission ; they are rather 

1 " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6. p. 411. 

2 To Amsdorf, Oct. 18 (?), 1529, " Briefwechsel," 7, p. 173. 

3 Cp. A. Zahn, " Calvins Urteile iiber Luther " (" Theol. Stud, aus 
Wiirttemberg," 4, 1883), p. 187. Pighius had written against Luther 
in 1543 on the servitude of the will. Cp., ib., p. 193, Calvin s remark 
against Gabriel de Saconay. 

4 The words can be better understood when we bear in mind that 
they occur in the dedication to Duke Johann of Saxony, of his " Sermon 
von den guten Wercken " (March 29, 1520). " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, 
p. 203 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 . p. 122 f. 

6 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 273 (" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 83). Here 
also we must remember that he is speaking to preachers, some of whom 
differed from him. 6 Ib., 53, p. 276. 



76 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

of psychological interest as showing how suddenly he passes 
from one idea to another. Moreover, his statement last 
mentioned, often instanced by Protestants as testifying to 
his breadth of mind, is nullified almost on the same page by 
the solemn assurance, that, his " Gospel is the true Gospel " 
and that everything that contradicts it is " heresy," for, 
indeed, as had been foretold by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 
xi. 19), " heresies " must needs arise. 1 

And, in point of fact, those teachers who felt themselves 
bound in conscience to differ from him and go their own way 
for instance, the " Sacramentarians " in their interpreta 
tion of the words of consecration were made to smart. Of 
this the example of Schwenckfeld was a new and striking 
proof. 

The contradiction presented on the one hand by Luther s 
disposition to grant the most absolute freedom of conscience, 
and on the other by his rigid exclusiveness, is aptly described 
by Friedrich Paulsen : "In the region of morals Luther 
leaves the decision to the individual conscience as instructed 
by the Word of God. To rely on human authority in 
questions of morals appeared to him not much better than 
blasphemy. . . . True enough, however, this very Luther, 
at a later date, attacked those whose conscience found in 
God s Word doctrines at all different from those taught at 
Wittenberg." 2 

Hence, neither to the heretics in his own camp nor to the 
adherents of the olden faith would he allow the right of 
private judgment, so greatly extolled both by himself and 
his followers. Nothing had been dearer to the people of 
mediaeval times, who for all their love of freedom were 
faithful children of the Church, than regard and esteem for 
the rights of personality in its own domain. Personality, 
denoting man s unfettered and reasonable nature stamped 
with its own peculiar individuality, is assuredly something 
noble. The Catholic Church, far from setting limits to the 
development of personality, promoted both its real freedom 
and the growth of individuality in ways suited to man s 
nature and his supernatural vocation. Even the monastic 
life, so odious to Luther, was anything but " hostile to the 
ideal of personality." An impartial observer, prepared to 

1 Ib., p. 272. 

2 " Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichtes," I 2 , 1896, p. 174, n. 



ON CONSCIENCE 77 

disregard fortuitous abuses, could have seen even then, that 
the religious life strives after the fairest fruits of ethical 
personality, which are fostered by the very sacrifice -of self- 
will : Obedience is but a sacrifice "made in the interests of 
personality." 1 Mere wilfulness and the spirit of " defiance," 
ever ready to overstep the bounds set by reason and grace, 
creates, not a person, but a " superman," whose existence 
we could well spare ; of such a being Luther s behaviour 
reminds us more than once. 

After all we have said it would be superfluous to deal in 
detail with the opinion expressed above (p. 66) by certain 
Protestant judges, viz. that Luther reinstated conscience, 
which had fallen into the toils of " legalism," and set it again 
on its " true basis," insisting on " feeling " and on real 
"morality." Nor shall we enquire whether it is seriously 
implied, that, before Luther s day, people were not aware 
that the mere " legality " of a deed did not suffice unless 
first of all morality was recognised as the true guide of 
conduct. 

We may repeat yet once again that Luther was not the 
first to brand " outward holiness-by-works " in the sphere 
of morality. 2 Berthold of Ratisbon, whose voice re-echoed 
through the whole of Germany, summing up the teaching of 
the mediaeval moral theologians, reprobates most sternly 
any false confidence in outward deeds. No heaping up of 
external works, no matter how eager, can, according to him, 
prove of any profit to the soul, not even if the sinner, after 
unheard-of macerations, goes loaded with chains on a 
pilgrimage to Jerusalem and there lays himself down to die 
within the very sepulchre of the Lord ; all that, so he points 
out with an eloquence all his own, would be thrown away 
were there lacking the inward spirit of love and contrition for 
the sins committed. 

The doctrine on contrition of the earlier Catholic theo 
logians and popular writers, which we have already had 
occasion to review, forms an excellent test when compared 
with Luther s own, by which to decide the question : Which 
is the outward and which the inward morality ? Their 

1 F. Sawicki, " Kath. Kirche und sittliche Personlichkeit," Cologne, 
1907, pp. 86, 88, and " Das Problem der Personlichkeit und des Uber- 
menschen," Paderborn, 1909 ; J. Mausbach, " Die kath. Moral und 
ihre Gegner, 3 ", Cologne, 1911. Part 2, particularly pp. 125 ff., 223 ff. 

2 See vol. iv., p. 118 ff. 



78 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

doctrine is based both on Scripture and on the traditions 
of antiquity. Similarly the Catholic teaching on moral self- 
adaptation to Christ, such as we find it, for instance, in 
St. Benedict s Prologue to his world-famous Rule, that text 
book of the mediaeval ascetics, in the models and examples 
of the Fathers and even in the popular Catholic works of 
piety so widely read in Luther s day, strikingly confutes 
the charge, that, by the stress it laid on certain command 
ments and practices, Catholicism proved it had lost sight 
of "the existence of a living personal morality " and that it 
fell to Luther once more to recall to life this ideal. The 
imitation of Christ in the spirit of love was undoubtedly 
regarded as the highest aim of morality, and this aim 
necessarily included " personal morality " in its most real 
sense, and Luther was not in the least necessity of inaugurat 
ing any new ideals of virtue. 

Luther s Warfare with his old friend Caspar Schwenckfeld 

Caspar Schwenckfeld, a man of noble birth hailing from 
Ossig near Liiben in Silesia, after having studied at Cologne, 
Frankfurt-on-the-Oder and perhaps also at Erfurt, was, in 
1519, won over by Luther s writings to the religious innova 
tions. Being idealistically inclined, the Wittenberg preach 
ing against formalism in religion and on the need of returning 
to a truly spiritual understanding of the Bible roused him 
to enthusiasm. He attempted, with rather more logic than 
Luther, to put in practice the latter s admonitions con 
cerning the inward life and therefore started a movement, 
half pietist, half mystic, for bringing together those who had 
been really awakened. 

Schwenckfeld was a man of broad mind, with considerable 
independence of judgment and of a noble and generous 
disposition. His good position in the world gave him what 
many of the other Lutheran leaders lacked, viz. a free hand. 
His frank criticism did not spare the faults in their preaching. 
The sight of the sordid elements which attached themselves 
to Luther strengthened him in his resolve to establish 
communities first of all in Silesia modelled on the very 
lines roughly sketched by Luther, which should present a 
picture of the apostolic age of the Church. The Duke of 
Silesia and many of the nobility were induced to desert 



CASPAR SCHWENCKFELD 79 

Catholicism, and a wide field was won in Silesia for the new 
ideals of Wittenberg. 

In spite of his high esteem for Luther, Schwenckfeld 
wrote, in 1523: It is evident "that little improvement can 
be discerned emerging from the new teaching, and that those 
who boast of the Evangel lead a bad and scandalous life. . . . 
This moves us not a little, indeed pierces our heart when 
we hear of it." 1 To the Duke he dedicated, in 1524, a writing 
entitled : " An exhortation regarding the misuse of sundry 
notable Articles of the Evangel, through the wrong under 
standing of which the common man is led into the freedom 
of the flesh and into error." The book forms a valuable 
source of information on the religious state of the people at 
the time of the rise of Lutheranism. Therein he laments, 
with deep feeling and with an able pen, that so many 
Lutherans were being influenced by the most worldly of 
motives, and that a pernicious tendency towards freedom 
from social restrictions was rife amongst them. 2 

Though Schwenckfeld was all his life equally averse to the 
demagogue Anabaptist movement and to Zwinglianism 
with its rationalistic tendency, yet his fate led him into 
ways very much like theirs. Together with his associate 
Valentine Krautwald, a former precentor, he attacked the 
Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, giving, however, 
a new interpretation of the words of Institution, different 
from that of Zwingli and (Ecolampadius. To the fanaticism 
of the Anabaptists he approximated by his opposition to 
any organised Church, to the sacraments as means of grace, 
and to all that appeared to him to deviate from the spirit 
of the Apostolic Church. 

He besought Luther in a personal interview at Witten 
berg, on Dec. 1, 1525, to agree to his doctrine of the Sacra 
ment, explaining to hirii at the same time its affinity with 
his supposedly profounder conception of the atonement, the 
sacraments and the life of Christ as followed in his com 
munities ; he also invited him in fiery words to throw over 
the popular churches in which all the people received the 

1 " A study of the earliest Letters of C. Schwenckfeld," Leipzig, 
1907 (vol. i. of the "Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum "), p. 268. Karl 
Ecke, " Schwenckfeld, Luther und der Gedanke einer apostolischen 
Reformation," Berlin, 1911, p. 58. 

2 Cp. Ecke, ib., p. 59. Ecke (p. viii.) speaks of this writing as a 
" first-rate source." 



80 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Supper and rather to establish congregations of awakened 
Christians. Luther, though in no unfriendly manner, put 
him off ; throughout the interview he addressed him as 
" Dear Caspar," but he flatly refused to give any opinion. 
According to Schwenckfeld s own account he even allowed 
that his doctrine of the Sacrament was " plausible "... if 
only it could be proved, and, on parting, whispered in his 
ear : " Keep quiet for a while." 1 

When, however, the Sacramentarian movement began to 
assume alarming dimensions, and the Swiss started quoting 
Schwenckfeld in favour of their view of the Sacrament, 
Luther was exasperated and began to assail his Silesian 
fellow-worker. His indignation was increased by certain 
charges against the nobleman which reached him from 
outside sources. He replied on April 14, 1526, to certain 
writings sent him by Schwenckfeld and Krautwald by an 
unconditional refusal to agree, though he did so briefly and 
with reserve. 2 On Jan. 4, of the same year, referring to 
Zwingli, CEcolampadius and Schwenckfeld in a writing to 
the " Christians of Reutlingen " directed against the Sacra- 
mentarians he said : " Just behold and comprehend the devil 
and his coarseness " ; in it he had included Schwenckfeld, 
though without naming him, as a " spirit and head " among 
the three who were attacking the Sacrament. 3 

From that time onward the Silesian appeared to him one 
of the most dangerous of heretics. He no longer admitted 
in his case the rights of conscience and private judgment 
which Luther claimed so loudly for himself and defended 
in the case of his friends, and to which Schwenckfeld now 
appealed. It was nothing to him that on many occasions, 
and even till his death, Schwenckfeld expressed the highest 
esteem for Luther and gratitude for his services in opening 
up a better way of theology. 

" Dr. Martin," Schwenckfeld wrote in 1528, " I would most 
gladly have spared, if only my conscience had allowed it, for I 
know, praise be to God, what I owe to him." 4 

1 " Epistolar Schwenckfelds," 2, 2, 1570, p. 94 ff. For full title see 
Ecke, ib., p. 11. Cp. Th. Kolde, " Zeitschr. fur KG.," 13, p. 552 ff. 
Cp. below, p. 138 f. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 383 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 337). 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 123 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 362 (" Brief- 
wechsel," 5, p. 302). 

" Epistolar," ib., p. 645. Ecke, p. 87. 



CASPAR SCHWENCKFELD 81 

It was his purpose to pursue the paths along which Luther 
had at first striven to reach a new world. " A new world is being 
born and the old is dying," so he wrote in 1528. x This new world 
he sought within man, but with the same mistaken enthusiasm 
with which he taught the new resurrection to life. The Divine 
powers there at work he fancied were the Holy Ghost, the Word 
of God and the Blood of the all-powerful Jesus. The latter he 
wished to reinstate in person as the sole ruler of the Church ; in 
raising up to life and in supporting it, Jesus was ministering 
personally. According to him Christ s manhood was not the 
same as a creature s ; he deified it to such an extent Jas tojdis- 
solve it, thus laying himself open to the charge of Eutychianism. 
Regeneration in baptism to him seemed nothing, compared with 
Christ s raising up of the adult to life. 

He would have it that he himself had passed, in 1527, through 
an overwhelming spiritual experience, the chief crisis of his life, 
when God, as he says, made him " partaker of the heavenly 
calling, received him into His favour, and bestowed upon him 
a good and joyful conscience and knowledge." 2 On his "con 
science and knowledge " he insisted from that time with blinded 
prejudice, and taught his followers, likewise with a joyful con 
science to embrace the illumination from on high. He adhered 
with greater consistency than Luther to the thesis that everyone 
who has been enlightened has the right to judge of doctrine ; 
no " outward office or preaching " might stand in the way of 
such a one. To each there comes some upheaval of his earthly 
destiny ; it is then that we receive the infusion of the knowledge 
of salvation given by the Spirit, and of faith in the presence of 
Christ the God-man ; it is a spiritual revelation which fortifies 
the conscience by the absolute certainty of salvation and guides 
a man in the freedom of the Spirit through all the scruples of 
conscience he meets in his moral life. His system also comprises 
a theory of practically complete immunity from sin. 3 

No other mind has given such bold expression as Schwenckfeld 
to the individualism or subjectivism which Luther originally 
taught ; no one has ever attempted to calm consciences and 
fortify them against the arbitrariness of religious feeling in words 
more sympathetic and moving. 

Carl Ecke, 4 his most recent biographer, who is full of admira 
tion for him, says quite truly of the close connection between 
Schwenckfeld and the earlier Luther, that the chief leaders of the 
incipient Protestant Church, estimable men though some of them 
were, nevertheless misunderstood and repulsed one of the most 
promising Christians of the Reformation age. When he charged 
them with want of logic in their reforming efforts they regarded 
it as the fanaticism of an ignoramus. ... In Schwenckfeld 
16th-century Protestantism nipped in the bud the Christian 

1 Ecke takes these words as his motto on the title-page. 

2 " Epistolar," 1, 1566, p. 200. Cp. on the " experience," Ecke, 
p. 48 ff. 

3 Ecke, p. 118 f. 4 See above, p. 79, n. 1. 

v. G 



82 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

individualism of the early ages rediscovered by Luther, in which 
lay the hope of a higher unity." 1 

In 1529, two years after his great interior experience, 
Schwenckfeld left his home, and, on a hint from the Duke 
of Silesia, severed his connection with him, being unwilling 
to expose him to the risk of persecution. Thereafter he led 
a wandering existence for thirty years ; until his seventy- 
second year he lived with strangers at Strasburg, Esslingen, 
Augsburg, Spires, Ulm and elsewhere. After 1540, when the 
Lutheran theologians at Schmalkalden published an admo 
nition against him, his history was more that of a " fugitive " 
than a mere " wanderer." 2 

Still, he was untiringly active in furthering his cause by 
means of lectures and circular letters, as well as by an 
extensive private correspondence. He scattered the seeds 
of his peculiar doctrines amongst the nobility in particular 
and their dependents in country parts. Many people of 
standing either belonged or were well-disposed to his school, 
as Duke Christopher of Wiirtemberg wrote in 1564 ; accord 
ing to him there were many at Augsburg and Nuremberg, 
in the Tyrol, in Allgau, Silesia and one part of the Mark. 3 
" The well-known intolerance of the Reformation and of its 
preachers," remarks the Protestant historian of Schwenck 
feld, " could not endure in their body a man who had his 
own views on the Sacraments and refused for conscience 
sake to take part in the practices of their Church. . . . He 
wandered, like a hunted deer, without hearth or home, 
through the cities and forests of South Germany, pursued 
by Luther and the preachers." 4 As late as 1558 Melanchthon 
incited the authorities against him, declaring that " such 
sophistry as his requires to be severely dealt with by the 
princes." 5 

Not long after Schwenckfeld departed this life at Ulm in 
1561. His numerous following in Silesia migrated, first to 
Saxony, then to Holland and England, and finally to 
Pennsylvania, where they still exist to this day. 

1 P. 222. 

2 Thus G. Kawerau in his sketch of Schwenckfeld in Holler s " KG.," 
3 3 , p. 475. 

3 16., p. 478. 4 Ecke, p. 217. 

6 " Corp. ref.," 9, p. 579 : " Heri Stenckfeldianum librum contra me 
scriptum accepi. . . . Talis sophistica principum severitate compescenda 
est" To G. Buchholzer, Aug. 5, 1558. 



CASPAR SCHWENCKFELD 83 

Luther s indignation against Schwenckfeld knew no 
bounds. In conversation he spoke of him as Swinesfield, 1 
and, in his addresses and writings, still more commonly as 
Stinkfield, a name which was also repeatedly applied by his 
followers to the man they so disliked. 2 

In his Table-Talk Luther refers to that " rascal Schwenckfeld," 
who was the instigator of numerous errors and deceives many 
people with his " honeyed words." 3 He, like the fanatics, so Luther 
complains, despises " the spoken word," and yet God willed " to 
deal with and work in us by such means." 4 

In 1540 he told his friends that Schwenckfeld was unworthy 
of being refuted by him, no less unworthy than Sebastian Frank, 
another gifted and independent critic of Luther and Lutheranism. 5 

In 1543, when Schwenckfeld attempted to make advances to 
Luther and sent him a tract together with a letter, Luther sent 
down to the messenger a card on which he acknowledged the 
receipt of the book, but declared that " the senseless fool, beset 
as he is by the devil, understands nothing and does not even 
know what he is talking about." He had better leave him, 
Luther, alone and not worry him with his " booklets, which the 
devil himself discharges through him." In the last lines he 
invokes a sort of curse on Schwenckfeld, and all " Sacramen- 
tarians and Eutychians " of whom it had been said in the Bible 
(Jer. xxiii. 21) : "I did not send prophets, yet they ran : I have 
not spoken to them, yet they prophesy." 6 

When giving vent to his grudge against Schwenckfeld in his 
Table-Talk shortly after this, he declared : " He is a poor crea 
ture, with neither talent nor an enlightened spirit. . . . He 
bespirts the people with the grand name of Christ. . . . The 
dreamer has stolen a few phrases from my book, De ultimis verbis 
Davidis [of 1543], and with these the poor wretch seeks to make 
a great show." It was on this occasion that Catherine Bora took 
exception to a word used by her husband, declaring that it was 
" too coarse." 7 

In his " Kurtz Bekentnis vom heiligen Sacrament " (1545) 
Luther again gives vigorous expression to his aversion to 
the " Fanatics and foes of the Sacrament, Carlstadt, Zwingii, 
(Ecolampadius and Stinkfield " ; they were heretics 
" whom he had warned sufficiently " and who were to be 
avoided. 8 He had refused to listen to or to answer that 

1 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 337. 

2 Cp. below, and above, p. b2, n. 5 ; also Ecke, p. 218. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 54. 4 Ib., 57, p. 51. 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 167. 

6 " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 613. " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 29. 
Cp. Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 335. 

7 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ib. 

8 " Werke," Erl. ed., 32, p. 397. 



84 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

" slanderer Schwenckfeld " because everything was wasted 
on him. " This you may well tell those among whom, no 
doubt, Stinkfield makes my name to stink. I like being 
abused by such slanderers." If by their attacks upon the 
Sacrament they call the " Master of the house Beelzebub, 
how should they not abuse His household ? 51 

7. Self-Improvement and the Reformation of the Church 

Self-betterment, by the leading of a Christian life and, 
particularly, by striving after Christian perfection, had in 
Catholic times been inculcated by many writers and even 
by first-rank theologians. In this field it was usual to 
take for granted, both in popular manuals and in learned 
treatises, as the general conviction, that religion teaches 
people to strive after what is highest, whether in each 
one s ordinary duties of daily life, or in the ecclesiastical or 
religious state. The power of the moral teaching was to 
stand revealed in the struggle after the ideal thus set forth. 

Did Luther Found a School of True Christian Life ? 

Luther, of set purpose, refused to make any attempt to 
found, in the strict sense of the term, a spiritual school of 
Christian life or perfection. He ever found it a difficult 
matter even to give any methodical instructions to this end. 

Though he dealt fully and attractively with many details 
of life, not only in his sermons and commentaries, but also in 
special writings which still serve as inspirations to practical 
Christianity, yet he would never consent to draft anything 
in the shape of a system for reaching virtue, still less for 
attaining perfection. On one occasion he even deliberately 
refused his friend Bugenhagen s request that he would 
sketch out a rule of Christian life, appealing to his well- 
known thesis that " the true Christian has no need of rules 
for his conduct, for the spirit of faith guides him to do all 
that God requires and that brotherly love demands of him." 2 

It may indeed be urged that his failure to bequeath to 
posterity any regular guide to the spiritual life was due to 
lack of time, that his active and unremitting struggle with 

1 "Werke," ib., 32, p. 411. 

2 1520 or beginning of 1521. " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 37. Cp., how 
ever, Ender s remark on the authorship. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 85 

his opponents left him no leisure, and, in point of fact, it is 
quite true that his controversy did deprive him of the 
requisite freedom and peace of mind. It may also be 
allowed that no one man can do everything and that Luther 
had not the methodical mind needed for such a task, which, 
in his case, was rendered doubly hard by his revolution in 
doctrine. The main ground, however, is that there were too 
many divergent elements in his moral teaching which it was 
impossible to harmonize ; so much in it was false and awry 
that no logical combination of the whole was possible. 
Hence his readiness to invoke the theory, which really 
sprung from the very depths of his ethics, viz. that the true 
Christian has no need of rules because everything he has to 
do is the natural outcome of faith. 

In his "Sermon von den guten Wercken " (1520), he 
expressed this in a way that could not fail to find a following, 
though it could hardly be described as in the interests of 
moral effort. Each one must take as his first rule of conduct, 
not on any account to bind himself, but to keep himself free 
from all troublesome laws. The very title of the tract in 
question, so frequently reprinted during Luther s lifetime, 
would have led people to expect to find in it his practical 
views on ethics. Characteristically enough, instead of 
attempting to define the exact nature and value of moral 
effort, Luther penned what, in reality, was merely an 
appendix to his new doctrine on faith. He himself, in his 
dedication of it to Duke Johann of Saxony, admits this of 
the first and principal part : " Here I have striven to show 
how we must exercise and make use of faith in all our good 
works and consider it as the chief est of works. If God allows 
me I shall at some other time deal with faith itself, how we 
must each day pray and speak it." 1 

As, however, no other of Luther s writings contains so 
many elements of moral teaching drawn from his theology, 
some further remarks on it may here be in place, especially 
as he himself set such store on the sermon, that, while 
engaged on it, referring evidently to the first part, he wrote 
to Spalatin, that, in his opinion it " would be the best thing 
he had yet published." 2 Kostlin felt justified in saying : 
" The whole sermon may be termed the Reformer s first 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 204 ; Erl. ed., 16, 2 p. 123. 

2 On March 25, 1520, " Brief wechsel," 2, p. 366. 



86 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

exposition and vindication of the Evangelical teaching on 
morals." 1 

Starting from his doctrine that good works are only those 
which God has commanded, and that the highest is " faith, or 
trust in God s mercy," 2 he endeavours to show, agreeably to his 
usual idea, that from faith the works proceed, and for this 
reason he lingers over the first four commandments of the 
Decalogue. He explains the principle that faith knows no idle 
ness. By this faith the believer is inwardly set free from the laws 
and ceremonies by which men were driven to perform good 
works. If faith reigned in all, then of such there would no longer 
be any need. The Christian must perform good works, but he is 
free to perform works of any kind, no man being bound to one 
or any work, though he finds no fault with those who bind them 
selves. 3 " Here we see, that, by faith, every work and thing is 
lawful to a Christian, though, because the others do not yet 
believe, he bears with them and performs even what he knows is 
not really binding." 4 Faith issues in works and all works come 
back to faith, to strengthen the assurance of salvation. 5 

His explanation of the 3rd Commandment, where he speaks of 
the ghostly Sabbath of the soul and of the putting to death of the 
old man, seems like an attempt to lay down some sort of a system 
of moral injunction, and incidentally recalls the pseudo-mystic 
phase through which Luther had passed not so long before. 
Here we get just a glimpse of his theory of human unfreedom and 
of God s sole action, so far as this was in place in a work intended 
for the " unschooled laity." 6 

In man, because he is " depraved by sin, all works, all words, 
all thoughts, in a word his whole life, is wicked and ungodly. If 
God is to work and live in him all these vices and this wickedness 
must be stamped out." This he calls " the keeping of the day of 
rest, when our works cease and God alone acts within us." We 
must, indeed, " resist our flesh and our sins," yet " our lusts are 
so many and so diverse, and also at times under the inspiration 
of the Wicked One so clever, so subtle and so plausible that no man 
can of his own keep himself in the right way ; he must let his 
hands and feet go, commend himself to the Divine guidance, 
trusting nothing to his reason. . . . For there is nothing more 
dangerous in us than our reason and our will. And this is the 
highest and the first work of God in us, and the best thing we can 
do, for us to refrain from work, to keep the reason and the will 
idle, to rest and commend ourselves to God in all things, par 
ticularly when they are running smoothly and well." ; The 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 291. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 209 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 131. 

3 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 288. 

4 " Werke," ib., p. 214=138. 

5 Much the same in the Exposition of the Ten Commandments 
(1528), " Werke," Weim. ed., 16, p. 485 ; Erl. ed., 36, p. 100. 

6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 203 ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 122. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 87 

spiritual Sabbath is to leave God alone to work in us and not to 
do anything ourselves with any of our powers." 1 He harks back 
here to that idea of self -surrender to the sole action of God, under 
the spell of which he had formerly stood : " The works of our 
flesh must be put to rest and die, so that in all things we may 
keep the ghostly Sabbath, leaving our works alone and letting 
God work in us. ... Then man no longer guides himself, his lust 
is stilled and his sadness too ; God Himself is now his leader ; 
nothing remains but godly desires, joy and peace together with 
all other works and virtues." 2 

Though, according to the peculiar mysticism which speaks to 
the " unschooled laity " out of these pages, all works and virtues 
spring up of themselves during the Sabbath rest of the soul, still 
Luther finds it advisable to introduce a chapter on the mortifica 
tion of the flesh by fasting. 

Fasting is to be made use of for the salvation of our own soul, 
so far but no further, as or than each one judges it necessary 
for the repression of the " wantonness of the flesh " and for the 
"putting to death of our lust." 3 We are not to "regard the 
work in itself." Of corporal penance and mortification, and 
fasting in particular, he will have it, that they are to be used 
exclusively to " quench the evil " within us, but not on account of 
any law of Pope or Church. Luther dismisses in silence the other 
motives for penance recommended by the Church of yore, in the 
first place satisfaction for sins committed and the desire to obtain 
graces by reinforcing our prayers by self-imposed sacrifices. 4 

He fancies that a few words will suffice to guard against any 
abuse of the new ascetical doctrine : " People must beware lest 
this freedom degenerate into carelessness and indolence . . . into 
which some indeed tumble and then say that there is no need 
or call that we should fast or practise mortification." 5 

When, in the 3rd Commandment, he comes to speak of the 
practice of prayer one would naturally have expected him to give 
some advice and directions concerning its different forms, viz. 
the prayer of praise, thanksgiving, petition or penitence. All he 
seems to know is, however, the prayer of petition, in the case of 
temporal trials and needs, and amidst spiritual difficulties. 6 

Throughout the writing Luther is dominated by the idea that 
faith in Christ the Redeemer, and in personal salvation, must at 
all costs be increased. At the same time he is no less certain that 
the Papists neither prayed aright, nor were able to perform any 
good works because they had no faith. 

His exhortations to a devout life (some of them fine 
enough in themselves, for instance, what he says on the 

1 Ib., pp. 243-245=177-179. 

2 Ib., p. 247 f. = 182 f. Cp. the similar statements in the Exposition 
of the Ten Commandments (1528), pp. 480 f., 484 f. = 93 f., 96 f. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 245 f. ; Erl. ed., 16 2 , p. 180. 

4 Cp. ib., p. 246 = 181. 5 P. 247 = 182. 

6 Elsewhere, however, he treats of the other forms of prayer. 



88 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

trusting prayer of the sinner, on the prayers of the congrega 
tion which cry aloud to heaven and on patience under 
bitter sufferings), are, as a rule, intermingled to such an 
extent with polemical matter, that, instead of a school of 
the spiritual life, we seem rather to have before us the 
turmoil of the battlefield. 1 To understand this we must 
bear in mind that he wrote the book amidst the excitement 
into which he was thrown by the launching of the ban. 

In the somewhat earlier writing on the Magnificat, which 
might equally well have served as a medium for the en 
forcing of virtue and which in some parts Luther did so use, 2 
we also find the same unbridled spirit of hatred and abuse. 
Nor is it lacking even in his later works of edification. The 
most peaceable ethical excursus Luther contrives to dis 
figure by his bitterness, his calumnies and, not seldom, by 
his venom. 

In the Sermon on Good Works as soon as he comes to 
speak of prayer he has a cut at the formalism of the prayer 
beloved of the Papists ; 3 he then proceeds to abuse the 
churches and convents for their mode of life, their chanting 
and babbling, all performed in " obstinate unbelief," etc. 
At least one-half of his instruction on fasting consists in 
mockery of the fasting as practised by the Papists. His 
anger, however, reaches its climax in the 4th Command 
ment, where he completely forgets his subject, and, losing 
all mastery over himself, wildly storms against the spiritual 
authorities and their disorders. 4 The only allusion to any 
thing that by any stretch of imagination would be termed 
a work, is the following : 5 The rascally behaviour of the 
Church s officers and episcopal or clerical functionaries 
" ought to be repressed by the secular sword because no 
other means is available." "The best thing, and the only 
remaining remedy, would be, that the King, Princes, nobles, 
townships and congregations should take the law into 
their hands, so that the bishops and clergy might have good 
cause to fear and therefore to obey." For everything must 
make room for the Word of God. 

" Neither Rome, nor heaven, nor earth " may decree 
anything contrary to the first three Commandments. 

1 Cp. p. 237-168 f., 238 f. = 170 f., 247 f. = 182 f. 

2 See vol. iv., p. 501 f. 3 P. 232 = 162. 
4 P. 262 = 202. 5 P. 258 = 197. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 89 

In dealing with these first three Commandments the 
booklet releases the reader at one stroke from all the Church s 
laws hitherto observed. " Hence I allow each man to choose 
the day, the food and the amount of his fasting." 1 " Where 
the spirit of Christ is, there all is free, for faith does not 
allow itself to be tied down to any work." 2 

" The Christian who lives by faith has no need of any 
teacher s good works." 3 Here we can see the chief reason 
why Luther s instructions on virtue and the spiritual life 
are so meagre. 

A Lutheran Theologian on the Lack of any Teaching 
Concerning " Emancipation from the World 1 

Even from Protestant theologians we hear the admission 
that Luther s Reformation failed to make sufficient allow 
ance for the doctrine of piety ; he neglected, so they urge, 
the question of man s " emancipation from the world," so 
that, even to the present day, Protestantism, and traditional 
Lutheran theology in particular, lacks any definite rule of 
piety. According to these critics, ever since Luther s day 
practical and adequate instructions had been wanting with 
regard to what, subsequent to the reconciliation with the 
Father brought about by Justification, still remains "to be 
done in the Father s house " ; nor are we told how the life 
in Christ is to be led, of which nevertheless the Apostle 
Paul speaks so eloquently, though this is in reality the 
"main question in Christianity" and concerns the "vital 
interests of the Church." 

The remarks just quoted occur in an article by the theologian 
Julius Kaftan, Oberkonsistorialrat at Berlin, published in the 
" Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche " in 1908 under the title, 
" Why does the Evangelical Church know no doctrine of the 
Redemption in the narrower sense, and how may this want be 
remedied ? " We all the more gladly append some further 
remarks by a theologian, who, as a rule, is by no means favourably 
disposed to Catholicism. 

According to Kaftan, Luther indeed supplied " all the elements " 
for the upbuilding of a doctrine of " redemption from the world " ; 
he gave " the stimulus " to the thought ; it is "not as though 
we had no conception of it." 

But he, and the Reformation as a whole, failed to furnish any 
" actual, detailed doctrine " on this subject because their attack 

1 P. 246 = 180. 2 P. 207 = 127. 3 Ib. 



90 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

was directed, and had to be directed, against the ideal of piety 
as they found it in the Church s monastic life ; they destroyed 
it, so the author opines, because it was only under this distorted 
monkish shape that the " Christian idea of redemption from the 
world was then met." 1 The Reformation omitted to replace it 
by a better system. It suffers from having fallen into the way 
of giving " too great prominence to the doctrine of Justification," 
whereas the salvation " bestowed by Christ is not merely Justi 
fication and forgiveness of sins," as the traditional Lutheran 
theology seems on the surface to assume even to-day, but rather 
the " everlasting possession " to be reached by a Christ-like life ; 
Justification is but the road to this possession. Because people 
failed to keep this in view the doctrine of the real " work of sal 
vation " has from the beginning been made far too little of. 

A further reason which explains the neglect is, according to 
Kaftan, the following : In Catholicism it is the Church which acts 
as the guide to piety and supplies all the spiritual aids required ; 
she acts as intermediary between Cod and the faithful. But 
" the Evangelical teaching rejected the Church (in this connec 
tion) as a supernatural agency for the dispensation of the means 
of salvation. In her place it set the action of the Spirit working 
by means of the Word of God." Since this same teaching stops 
short at the Incarnation and Satisfaction of Christ, it has " no 
room for any doctrine of redemption (from the world) as a work 
of God." 2 Pietism, with all its irregularities, was merely an out 
come of this deficiency ; but even the Pietists never succeeded 
in formulating such a doctrine of redemption. 

It is to the credit of the author that he feels this want deeply 
and points out the way in which theology can remedy it. 3 He 
would fain see introduced a system of plain directions, though 
framed on lines different from those of the " ostensibly final 
doctrinal teaching " of the Formula of Concord, 4 i.e. instructions 
to the devout Christian how to manifest in his life in the world 
the death and resurrection of Christ which St. Paul experienced 
in himself. Much too much emphasis had been laid in Protes 
tantism on Luther s friendliness to the world and the joy of 
living, which he was the first to teach Christians in opposition 
to the doctrine of the Middle Ages ; yet the other idea, of redemp 
tion from the world, must nevertheless retain a lasting signifi 
cance in Christianity. Although, before Luther s day, the Church 
had erroneously striven to attain to the latter solely in the 
monastic life, yet there is no doubt " that the most delicate 
blossoms of pre-Reformation piety sprang from this soil, and that 
the best forces in the Church owed their origin to this source." 
Is it merely fortuitous, continues the author, " that the Imitation 

1 P. 236. 2 P. 271. 

3 Kaftan speaks of a theological want which he had attempted to 
supply in his own " Dogmatik." In reality, however, he has practice 
equally in view, and, from his statements we may infer that the want 
which had been apparent from Luther s day was more than a mere 
defect in the theory. * P. 281. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 91 

of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, should be so widely read 
throughout Christendom, even by Evangelicals ? Are there not 
many Evangelical Christians who could witness that this book 
has been a great help to them in a crisis of their inner life ? But 
whoever knows it knows what the idea of redemption from the 
world there signifies." All this leads our author to the conclusion : 
" The history of Christianity and of the Church undoubtedly 
proves that here [in the case of the defect in the Lutheran 
theology he is instancing] it is really a question of a motive power 
and central thought of our religion." 1 He points out to the world 
of our day, " that growing civilisation culminates in disgust 
with the world and with civilisation." " Then," he continues, 
" the soul again cries for God, for the God Who is above all the 
world and in Whom alone the heart finds rest. As it ever was, 
so is it still to-day." 2 

It is a satisfaction to hear this call which must rejoice the 
heart of every believer. The same, however, had been heard 
throughout the ancient Church and had met with a happy 
response. Not in the " Imitation " only, but in a hundred 
other writings of Catholics, mystic and ascetic, could our 
author have found the ideals of Christian perfection and of 
the rest in God which comes from inward severance from the 
world, all expressed with the utmost clearness and the 
warmest feeling. Nor was Christian perfection imprisoned 
within the walls of the monasteries ; it also nourished in the 
breezy atmosphere of the world. The Church taught the 
universality of this ideal of perfect love of God, of the 
imitation of Christ and of detachment from the world, and 
she recommended it indiscriminately to all classes, inviting 
people to practise it under all conditions of life and ex 
pending liberally in all directions her supernatural powers 
in order to attain her aim. Among the best of those whose 
writings inaugurated a school of piety may be classed 
St. Bernard and Gerson, in whom Luther had found light 
and edification when still a zealous monk. With him, 
however, the case was very different. Of the works he 
bequeathed to posterity the Protestant theologian referred 
to above, says regretfully : They contain neither a " doc 
trine " nor a definite " scheme of instruction " on " that 
side of life which faces God." " No clear, conclusive 
thoughts on this all-important matter are to be found." 

On the other hand it must be added that there is no want 
of " clear, conclusive thoughts " to a quite opposite effect ; 

1 P. 276. 2 P. 278. 



92 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

not merely on enjoyment of the world, but on a kind of 
sovereignty over it which is scarcely consistent with the 
effort after self -betterment. 



The Means of Self -Reform and their Reverse Side 

Self-denial as the most effective means of self-education 
in the good, and self-conquest in outward and inward things, 
receive comparatively small attention from Luther ; rather 
he is set on delivering people from the " anxiety-breeding," 
traditional prejudice in favour of spiritual renunciation, 
obedience to the Church and retrenchment in view of the 
evil. This deliverance, thanks to its alluring and attractive 
character, was welcomed, in spite of Luther s repeated 
warnings against any excess of the spirit of the world. His 
abandonment of the path of perfection so strongly recom 
mended by Christ and his depreciation of " peculiar " works 
and " singular " practices were more readily understood 
and also more engaging than his words in favour of real 
works of faith. He set up his own inward experiences of the 
difficulty and, as he thought, utter futility of the conflict 
with self, together with his hostility to all spiritual efforts 
exceeding the common bounds, as the standard for others, 
and, in fact, even for the Church ; in the Catholic past, on 
the other hand, the faithful had been taught to recognise 
the standard of the Church, their teacher and guide, as the 
rule by which to judge of their own experiences. 

Here to prove what we have said, would necessitate the 
repetition of what has already been given elsewhere. 

Luther s writings, particularly his letters, also contain 
certain instructions, which, fortunately, have not become 
the common property of Protestants, but which everybody 
must feel to be absolutely opposed to anything like self- 
betterment. We need only call to mind his teaching, that 
temptations to despondency and despair are best withstood 
by committing some sin in defiance of the devil, or by 
diverting the mind to sensual and carnal distractions. 1 The 
words : " What matters it if we commit a fresh sin ? " 2 

1 Cp. the letter to Hier. Weller, July (?), 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, 
p. 159; Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichnungen," pp. 11, 89, etc.; Cordatus, 
" Tagebuch," p. 450 ; " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 299. See our 
vol. iii., p. 175 ff. 

2 See vol. ii., p. 339 ; iii., p. 180 ff. ; above, p. 9 ff. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 93 

since through faith we have forgiveness, and the other 
similar utterance, " Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe 
more boldly still," are characteristic of him, though he 
would have been unwilling to see them pressed or taken too 
literally. By these and other statements he did, however, 
seriously endanger the ethical character of sin ; in reality he 
diminished the abhorrence for sin, though no doubt he did 
not fully perceive the consequences of his act. 1 

To the man who had become sensible of the ensnaring 
influence of the world and of its evil effects upon himself, or 
who on account of his mental build felt himself endangered 
by it, Catholic moralists advised retirement, recollection, 
self-examination and solitude. Luther was certainly not 
furthering the cause of perfection when he repeatedly 
insisted, with an emphasis that is barely credible, that 
solitude must be avoided as the deadly foe of the true life 
of the soul, and that what should be sought was rather 
company and distraction. Solitude was a temptation to sin. 
" I too find," so he says, " that I never fall into sin more 
frequently than when I am alone. . . . Quietude calls forth 
the worst of thoughts. Whatever our trouble be, it then 
becomes much more dangerous," etc. 2 Of course, in the 
case of persons of gloomy disposition Luther was quite right 
in recommending company, but it was just in doing so that 
he exceeded the bounds in his praise of sensual distractions ; 3 
of his own example, too, he makes far too much. On the 
other hand, all the great men in the Church had sought to 
find the guiding light of self-knowledge in solitude ; this 
they regarded as a school for the subjugation of unruly 
emotions. 

Not only were self-control and self-restraint something 
strange to Luther, 4 but he often went so far as to adduce 
curious theoretical reasonings of his own to prove that they 
could have no place in his public life and controversies, and 
why he and his helpers were compelled to give the reins to 
anger, hatred and abuse. Thus the work of self -improve 
ment was renounced in yet another essential point. 

1 Above, vol. iii., p. 185 f. 

2 " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 155 ff. 

3 Cp. our vol. iii., p. 176 f. 
* Vol. iii., p. 213 f. 



94 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Then again with regard to prayer. His exhortations 
thereto are numerous enough and he himself prayed fre 
quently. But it is not necessary to be an ascetic to see that 
several things are wanting in his admonitions to prayer. 
The first is the salt of contrition and compunction. He was 
less alive to the wholesome underlying feeling of melancholy 
that characterises the soul which prays to God in the 
consciousness of having abused its free-will, than he was to 
the suggestions of self-confidence and assurance of salvation. 
The second thing wanting is the humility which should 
permeate prayer even when exalted to the highest limits of 
trusting confidence. If man, as Luther taught, is incapable 
of any work, then of course there can be no sense of shame 
at not having done more to please God and to merit greater 
grace from Him. Moreover, Luther indirectly encouraged 
people to pray in the bold consciousness of being justified 
and to look for the keeping of the law as a natural conse 
quence of such " faith." Lastly, and this sums up every 
thing, we miss the spirit of love in his often so strongly 
worded and eloquent exhortations to prayer ; the spirit 
which should have led him to resignation to God s designs, 
and to commit his life s work to the Will of God with a 
calm indifference as to its eventual success. 1 Hardly ever 
do we find any trace of that zeal for souls which embraces 
the whole of God s broad kingdom even to the heathen, in 
short, the whole of the Church s sphere. 2 On the other 
hand, however, he expressly exhorts his followers to 
increase the ardour of their prayers, after his own example, 
by interspersing them with curses on all whose views were 
different. 3 

In place of the pleasing variety of the old exercises of 
prayer from the Office recited by the clergy with its daily 
commemoration of the Saints down to the multifarious 
devotions of the people, to say nothing of the great Sacrifice 
of the Altar, the very heart s pulse of the Church he 
recommends as a rule only the Our Father, the Creed and 
the Psalms prayers indeed rich beyond all others and 
which will ever hold the first place among Christian devo 
tions. But had they not been brought closer to the heart 

1 Cp. on Luther s prayer, vol. iii., p. 206 f. ; iv., p. 274 ff. 

2 Vol. iii., p. 213 f. 

3 Vol. iii., p. 207 f. ; iv., p. 311. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 95 

formerly in the inner and outer life of prayer dealt with 
in the writings of the Catholic masters of the spiritual life, 
and exemplified in the churches and monasteries, and even 
in private houses and the very streets ? But behind all this 
rich display Luther saw lurking the demon of " singular 
works." The monk absorbed in contemplation was, in 
Luther s eyes, an unhappy wretch sitting " in filth " up to 
his neck. Thus he restricts himself to recommending the 
old short formulas of prayer. In accordance with his 
doctrine that faith alone avails, he desires that sin, and the 
intention of sinning, should be withstood by the use of the 
Our Father : " That you diligently learn to say the Our 
Father, the Creed and the Ten Commandments." 1 " Grant, 
O God (thus must you pray), that Thy Name be hallowed by 
me, Thy Kingdom come to me, and Thy Will be done in me "; 
in this wise they would come to scorn " devil, death and 
hell." 2 He indeed kept in touch with the people by means 
of the olden prayers, but, even into them, he knew how to 
introduce his own new views ; the Kingdom of God, which to 
him is forgiveness of sins, 3 " must come to us by faith," and 
the chief article of the whole Creed with which to defy 
" death, devil and hell " was the " remissio peccatorum." 
These remarks must not, however, be understood as detract 
ing from the value of his fine, practical, and often sympa 
thetic expositions of the Our Father, whether in his special 
work on it in 1518 or in the Larger Catechism. 4 

Of the numerous " man-made laws " which he banished 
at one stroke by denying the Church s authority there is no 
need to speak here. Without a doubt the overturning of all 
these barriers erected against human lusts and wilfulness 
was scarcely conducive to the progress of the individual. 

Nor does the absence of any higher standard of life in his 
own case 5 serve to recommend his system of ethics. Seeing 
that, as has been already pointed out, 6 he himself is disposed 
to admit his failings, the apparent confidence with which, 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 553. Cp. pp. 554, 558. 

2 /&., p. 552. 

3 W. Walther, " Die Sittlichkeit nach Luther," p. 63. 

4 The Explanation of the Our Father in 1518, " Werke," Weim. ed., 
2, p. 74 ff ; 9, p. 122 ff ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 156 ff ; 45, p. 203 ff. Note 
worthy additions to it were made by Luther in 1519, ib., 6, pp. 8 ff., 
20 ff.-45, p. 208 ff. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, pp. 116 f., 291 f. 

6 Above, vol. iii., pp. 169 f., 211 f. 6 Vol. iii., p. 200 ff. 



96 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

in order to exalt his reform of ethics, he appeals to the 
biblical verity, that the truth of a doctrine is proved by its 
moral fruits, is all the more surprising. 

Of this confidence we have a remarkable example in a 
sermon devoted to the explanation of the 1st Epistle of 
St. John. At the same time the exceptional boldness of his 
language and the resolute testimony he bears in his own 
favour constitute striking proof of how the very firmness of 
his attitude impressed his followers and exercised over many 
a seductive spell. The weakness of the Reformer s ethics 
seems all at once to vanish before his mighty eloquence. 

The discourse in question, where at the same time he vindicates 
his own conduct, belongs to 1532. About that time he preached 
frequently at Wittenberg on St. John s sublime words concerning 
the love of God and our neighbour (1 Jo. iv. 16-21). His object 
was to cleanse and better the morals of Wittenberg, the low 
standard of which he deplores, that the results of justification by 
faith might shine forth more brightly. At that very time he was 
treating with the Elector and the Saxon Estates in view of a new 
visitation of all the parishes to be held the next year, which might 
promote the good of morality. The sermons were duly reported 
by his pupil Cruciger, whose notes were published at Wittenberg 
in 1533 under the general title of " A Sermon on Love." 1 

Dealing therein with ethical practice he starts by proclaiming 
that, according to the " pious Apostle " whose doctrines he was 
expounding, everything depends on Christians proving by their 
fruits whether they really "walk in love." Of many, however, 
who not only declared themselves well acquainted with the 
principles of faith and ethics but even professed to be qualified 
to teach them, it was true that, "if we applied and manifested in 
our lives their ethics after their example, then we should be but 
poorly off." 2 Such men must, nevertheless, be tested by their 
works. Nor does he exempt himself from this duty of putting 
ethics to a practical test. 

Nowhere else does he insist more boldly than in these sermons 
on proof by actual deeds, even in his own case. According 
to the words of John, so he says, a life of love would give 
them "confidence in the Day of Judgment" (iv. 17). Confi 
dence, nay, a spirit of holy defiance, even in the presence of death 
and judgment, must fill the hearts of all who acted aright, owing 
to the very testimony of their fellow-men to the blamelessness 
of their lives. " We must be able to boast [with Christ, the 
reconciliation for our sins ] not before God alone but before God 
and all Christendom, and against the whole world, that no one 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 36, pp. 416-477 ; Erl. ed., 18 2 , pp. 304-361. 

2 76., pp. 420-308 f. 



SELF-IMPROVEMENT 97 

can truthfully condemn or even accuse us." " We must be able 
to assure ourselves that we have lived in such a way that no one 
can take scandal at us " ; we must have this testimony, " that 
we have walked on earth in simplicity and godly piety, and that 
no one can charge us with having been given to trickery. In 
this wise had Paul countered false doctrines by boasting, just as 
Moses and Samuel had already done under the Old Covenant. 1 

Coming to his own person the speaker thinks he can honestly 
say the same of himself, though, like the rest, he too must confess 
to being still in need of the article of the forgiveness of sins. 
There were false teachers who could not appeal so confidently to 
the morality of their lives, " proud, puffed-up spirits who lay 
claim to a great and wonderful holiness, who want to reform the 
whole world and to do something singular in order that all may 
say that they alone are true Christians. This sort of thing lasts 
indeed for a while, during which they parade and strut, but, 
when the hour of death comes, that is the end of all such idle 
nonsense." 2 He himself, with the faithful teachers and good 
Christians, is in a very different case : " If I must boast of how 
I have acted in my position towards everyone then I will say : 
I witness before you and all the world, and know that God too 
witnesses on my behalf together with all His angels, that I have 
not falsified God s Word, His Baptism or the Sacrament but have 
preached and acted faithfully as much as was in me, and suffered 
all ill solely for God s and His Word s sake. Thus must all the 
Saints boast." 3 

He lays the greatest stress on the unanimous testimony which 
the preacher must receive from his fellow-men and from posterity. 
He must be able to say, " you shall be my witnesses," he " must 
be able to call upon all men to bear him witness " ; they must 
bear us witness on the Last Day that we have lived aright and 
shown by our deeds that we were Christians. If this is the case, 
if they can point to their practice of good works, then the preach 
ing of good works can be insisted on with all the emphasis 
required. 4 It is natural, however, that towards the end Luther 
lays greater stress on his teaching than on his works. 

On his preaching of the value of good works he solemnly assures 
us : " We can testify before the whole world that we have 
preached much more grandly and forcefully on good works than 
even those who calumniate us." 5 

Self-Reform and Hatred of the Foe 

In speaking of Luther, his staunch friends are wont to 
boast of his lifelong struggle against the fetters of the Papacy 
and of the overwhelming power of his assault on the olden 
Church ; this, so they imply, redounded to his glory and 
showed his moral superiority. 

1 P. 448 f. = 335 f. 2 P. 444 = 331. 3 P. 452 = 339. 

4 P. 449 ff. = 336 ff. 6 P. 447 = 334. 

v. H 



98 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

In what follows we shall therefore consider some of the 
main ethical features of this struggle of Luther s and of the 
attitude he adopted in his conflict with Popery. His very 
defence of himself and of the moral effects of his preaching, 
which we have just heard him pronounce subsequent to the 
Diet of Augsburg, invites us to consider in the light of 
ethics his public line of action, as traced in his writings of 
that period. These years represent a turning-point in his 
life, and here, if anywhere, we should be able to detect his 
higher moral standard and the power of his new principles 
to effect a change first of all in himself. In the sermon of 
1532 (above, p. 96) he had said : The new Gospel which 
he had " preached rightly and faithfully " made those who 
accepted it "to walk in simplicity and godly piety " accord 
ing to the law of love, and to stand forth " blameless before 
all the world." Could he truthfully, he, the champion of 
this Gospel, really lay any claim to these qualities as here 
he seems to do, at least indirectly ? 

His controversial tracts dating from that time display 
anything but " simplicity and godly piety." His hate was 
without bounds, and his fury blazed forth in thunderbolts 
which slew all who dared to attempt to bridge the chasm 
between him and the Catholic Church. Reproaching voices, 
about him and within him, seemed to him to come from so 
many devils. The Coburg, where he stayed, was assuredly 
" full of devils," so he wrote. 1 There, in spite of his previous 
attempts to jest and be cheerful, 2 and notwithstanding the 
violent and distracting labours in which he was engaged, 
the devil had actually established an " embassy," troubling 
him with many anxieties and temptations. 3 

The devil he withstood by paroxysms of that hate and rage 
which he had always in store for his enemies. " The Castle 
may be crammed with devils, yet Christ reigneth there in 

1 To Melanchthon from the Coburg, July 31, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 
8, p. 157 : " ex arce dcemonibus plena." 

2 To the same, April 23, 1530, ib., 7, p. 308 : " Hcec satis pro ioco, 
sed serio et necessario ioco, qui mihi irruentes cogitationes repelleret, si 
tamen repellet." 

3 To the same, May 12, 1530, ib., 7, p. 333 : " Eo die, quo literce tuce 
e Norimberga venerunt, Tiabuit satan legationem suam apud me," etc. 
See vol. ii., p. 390. Cp. to the same, June, 1530 (" Brief wechsel," 8, 
p. 43), where he calls the devil his torturer, and to the same, June 30, 
1530, ib., p. 51, where he speaks of his " private struggles with the 
devil." 



HATE AND RAGE 99 

the midst of His foes ! "* He includes in the same categpry 
the Papists, and the Turks who then were threatening 
Europe : Both are " monsters," both have been " let loose 
by the fury of the devil," both represent a common " woe 
doomed to overwhelm the world in these last days of 
Christendom." 2 These "stout jackasses" (of the Diet of 
Augsburg), so he cried from the ramparts of his stronghold, 
" want to meddle in the business of the Church. Let them 
try ! " 3 " The very frenzy and madness of our foes of itself 
alone proves that we are in the right." 4 4 Their blasphemy, 
their murders, their contempt of the Gospel, and other 
enormities against it, increase day by day and must bring 
the Turk into the field against us." 5 "I am a preacher 
of Christ," so he assures us, "and Christ is the truth. "- 
But is hatred a mark of a disciple of Christ, or of a higher 
mission for the reformation of doctrine and worship ? 

Elsewhere Luther himself describes hate as a " true image 
of the devil ; in fact, it is neither human nor diabolical but 
the devil himself whose whole being is nothing but an ever 
lasting burning," etc. " The devil is always acting contrary 
to love." " Such is his way ; God works nothing but 
benefits and deeds of charity, while he on the contrary 
performs nothing but works of hate." 6 On other occasions 
in his sermons he speaks in familiar and at the same time 
inspiring words of the beauty of Christian love. " Love is 
a great and rich treasure, worth many hundred thousand 
gulden, or a great kingdom. Who is there who would not 
esteem it highly and pursue it to the limit of his power, 
nay, pour out sweat and blood for it if he only hoped or 
knew how to obtain it ! ... What is sun, moon, heavens or 
all creation, all the angels, all the saints compared with it ? 
Love is nothing but the one, unspeakable, eternal good and 
the highest treasure, which is God Himself." 7 

1 To the same, July 31, 1530, ib., 8, p. 157. 

2 Cp. to the same, April 23, 1530, ib., 7, p. 303. 

3 To the same, May 12, 1530, ib., p. 333. 

4 To the same, May 15, 1530, ib., p. 335. 

5 To the same, Aug. 15, 1530, ib., 8, p. 190 : " Christus vivit et 
regnat. Fiant sane dcemones, si ita volunt, monachi vel nonnce quoque. 
Nee forma melior eos decet, quam qua sese tnundo hactenus vendiderunt 
adorandos" The "monks or nuns " is an allusion to the appearance of 
the "spectre-monks" at Spires just before the Diet of Augsburg; see 
vol. ii., p. 389 f. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 36, p. 424 ; Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 313 f. 

7 Ib., p. 423 = 312. The so-called " Sermon on Love " (above, 



100 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

i 

But his " Vermanug an die geistlichen versamlet auff dem 
Reichstag zu Augsburg " (which he wrote from the Coburg) 
was the fruit, not of love, but of the most glowing hate. 1 
In a private letter he calls it quite rightly, not an " exhorta 
tion " (Vermanug), but "an invective" against the clergy, 2 
and, in another letter, admits the " violent spirit " in which 
he had written it ; when composing it the abusive thoughts 
had rushed in on him like an " uninvited band of moss 
troopers." 3 But, that he drove them back as he declares he 
did, is not discernible from the work in question. 

In the booklet under discussion he several times uses what 
would seem to be words of peace, and, in one passage, even 
sketches a scheme for reunion ; but, as a Protestant critic of the 
latter says, not altogether incorrectly, the "idea was of its very 
nature impossible of execution." 4 Indeed, we may say that 
Luther himself could see well enough that the idea was a mere 
deception ; the best motto for the writing would be : Enmity 
and hatred until death ! 

The Catholic members of the Diet are there represented as 
"obstinate and stiff-necked," and as "bloodhounds raging 
wantonly " ; they had hitherto, but all to no purpose, " tried 
fraud and trickery, force and anger, murder and penalties." To 
the bishops he cries : " May the devil who drives them dog 
their footsteps, and all our misfortunes fall on their head ! " 

p. 96 f.) seeks to demonstrate in the above words the value of love of 
our neighbour, and, that this necessarily resulted from true faith. It 
abounds in beautiful sayings concerning the advantage of this virtue. 
Cruciger had his reasons for publishing it, one being, as he says in the 
dedication, to stop the mouths of those who never cease to cry out 
against our people as though we neither taught nor practised any 
thing concerning love and good works." (Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 305.) Kostlin- 
Kawerau remarks (2, p. 273) : " The fundamental evil was that the new 
Church included amongst its members so many who were indifferent 
to such preaching ; they had joined it not merely without any real 
interior conversion, but without any spiritual awakening or sympathy, 
purely by reason of outward circumstances." It must be added that 
the Sermon, though intended as a remedy, suffers from the defect of 
being permeated through and through with a spirit of bitter hate 
against the Church Catholic ; in the very first pages we find the speaker 
complaining, that the devil, " who cannot bear the Word," " attacks 
us ... in order to murder us by means of his tyrants " ; " we are, 
however, forced to have the devil for our guest," who molests us 
" with his crew." Weim. ed., 36, p. 417 f. ; Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 306 f. 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 356 ff. 

2 To Melanchthon, May 12, 1530, " Briefwechsel," 7, p. 332. 

3 To the same, April 29, 1530, ib., p. 313 : " Oratio mea ad clerum 
procedit ; crescit inter manus et materia et impetus, ut plurimos Lands- 
knechtos prorsus vi repellere cogar, qui insalutati non cessant obstrepere." 
Cp. Kolde, " Luther," 2, p. 330. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 199. 



HATE AND RAGE 101 

He puts them on a level with "procurers and whoremongers," 
and trounces them as " the biggest robbers of benefices, bawds 
and procurers to be found in all the world." 1 There had been 
many cases of infringement of the law of celibacy among both 
lower and higher clergy previous to Luther s advent, while the 
Wittenberg spirit of freedom set free in the German lands helped 
considerably to increase the evil amongst the ranks of the 
Catholic clergy ; but to what unheard-of exaggerations, all 
steeped in hate, did not Luther have recourse the better to 
inflame the people and to defend the illicit marriages of those of 
the clergy who now were the preachers of the new religion ? He 
was about "to sweep out of the house the harlots and abducted 
spouses " of the bishops, and not merely to show up the bishops 
as real " lechers and brothel-keepers " (a favourite expression of 
his), but to drag them still deeper in the mire. It was his unclean 
fancy, which delighted to collect the worst to be found in corrupt 
localities abroad, that led him to say : " And, moreover, we shall 
do clean away with your Roman Sodom, your Italian weddings, 
your Venetian and Turkish brides, and your Florentine bride 
grooms ! " 2 

The pious founders of the bishoprics and monasteries, he cries, 
" never intended to found bawdy-houses or Roman robber- 
churches," nor yet to endow with their money " strumpets and 
rascals, or Roman thieves and robbers." The bishops, however, 
are set on " hiding, concealing and burying in silence the whole 
pot-broth of their abominations and corrupt, unepiscopal abuses, 
shame, vice and noxious perversion of Christendom, and on seeing 
them lauded and praised," whereas it is high time that they " spat 
upon their very selves " ; their auxiliary bishops " smear the 
unschooled donkeys with chrism " (ordain priests) and these in 
turn seek " to rise to power " ; yet revolt against them and 
against all authority is brewing in the distance ; if the bloody 
deeds of Miinzer s time were repeated, then, he, Luther, would not 
be to blame ; " men s minds are prepared and greatly embittered 
and, that, not without due cause " ; if you "go to bits " then 
" your blood be upon your own head ! " Meanwhile it is too bad 
that the bishops "should go about in mitres and great pomp," as 
though we were " old fools " ; but still worse is it that they 
should make of all this pomp " articles of faith and a matter of 
conscience, so that people must commit sin if they refuse to 
worship such child s play ; surely this is the devil s own work." 
Of such hateful misrepresentations, put forward quite seriously, 
a dozen other instances might be cited from this writing. " But 
that we must look upon such child s play as articles of faith, 
and befool ourselves with bishops mitres, from that we cannot 
get away, no matter how much we may storm or jeer." 3 

The writing culminates in the following outburst : "In 
short we and you alike know that you are living with- 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 391 ff. 

2 Ib., p. 395 f. 3 Ib., p. 406. 



102 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

out God s Word, but that, on our side, we have God s 
Word." 

" If I live I shall be your bane ; if I die I shall be your 
death ! For God Himself has driven me to attack you ! 
I must, as Hosea says, be to you as a bear and a lion in the 
way of Assur. You shall have no peace from me until you 
amend or rush to your own destruction." 1 

At a later date, of the saying " If I live," etc., Luther 
made the Latin couplet : " Pestis eram vivus moriens ero 
mors tua papa." In life, O Pope, I was thy plague, in dying 
I shall be thy death. He first produced this verse at 
Spalatin s home at Altenburg on his return journey from 
the Coburg ; afterwards he frequently repeated it, for 
instance, at Schmalkalden in 1537, when he declared, that 
he would bequeath his hatred of the Papacy as an heirloom 
to his disciples. 2 

As early as 1522 he had also made use of the Bible passage 
concerning the lion and the bear in his " Wyder den falsch 
genantten geystlichen Standt " with the like assurance of the 
Divine character of his undertaking, and in a form which shows 
how obsessed he was by the spirit of hate : He was sure of 
his doctrine and by it would judge even the angels ; without it 
no one could be saved, for it was God s and not his, for which 
reason his sentence too was God s and not his : " Let this be my 
conclusion. If I live you shall have no peace from me, if you 
kill me, you shall have ten times less peace ; and I shall be to 
you as Oseas says, xiii. 8, a bear in the path and a lion in the 
road. However you may treat me you shall not have your will, 
until your brazen front and iron neck are broken either unwillingly 
or by grace. Unless you amend, as I would gladly wish, then we 
may persist, you in your anger and hostility and I in paying 
no heed." 3 

On another occasion he tells us how he would gladly have 
left Wittenberg with Melanchthon and the others who were 
going by way of Nuremberg to the Diet of Augsburg, but 
a friend had said to him : " Hold your tongue ! Your 
tongue is an evil one ! " 4 

1 Ib., p. 396 f. 2 Cp. our vol. iii., p. 435. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 107 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 144. 

4 To Eobanus Hessus, April 23, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 301. 
Cp. n. 2 in Enders, who suggests the above translation of " tu habes 
malam vocem." We read in Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 199 : " We must 
admit, that, judging by the tone of this tract [the Vermanug ] Luther s 
voice would have been out of place at Augsburg, as he admits in 
his letter to Eobanus Hessus." 



SENSE OF GREATNESS 103 

After the publication of the " Vermanug an die Geist- 
lichen," or possibly even before, Melanchthon seems to have 
written to him, re-echoing the observations of startled and 
anxious friends, and saying that the writing had .been 
" variously " appreciated, in itself a significant remark ; 
Luther himself at that time certainly dreaded the censure 
of his adherents. Still, he insists as defiantly as ever on his 
" invective " : " Let not your heart be troubled," he 
admonishes Melanchthon, " My God is a God of fools, Who 
is wont to laugh at the wise. Whence I trouble myself about 
them not the least bit." 1 On the contrary, he even came 
near regarding his writing as a special work of God. 

As we have already pointed out, the defiant and violent 
steps he took, only too often became in his eyes special 
works of God. His notorious, boundless sense of his own 
greatness, to which this gave rise, is the first of the phenomena 
which accompanied his hate ; these it will now be our duty 
briefly to examine in order better to appreciate the real 
strength of his ethical principles in his own case. 

Companion- Phenomena of his Hate 

As a matter of fact Luther s sense of his superiority was 
so great that the opponents he attacked had to listen to 
language such as no mortal had ever before dreamed of 
making use of against the Church. 

The Church is being reformed " in my age " in "a Divine 
way, not after human ways." " Were we to fall, then 
Christ would fall with us." 2 

Whenever he meets with contradiction, whenever he 
hears even the hint of a reproach or accusation, he at once 
ranges himself as he does, for instance, in the " Vermanug " 
on the side of the persecuted " prophets and apostles," 
nay, he even likens himself to Christ. 3 He stood alone, 
without miracles, and devoid of holiness, as he himself 
candidly informed Henry VIII. of England ; nevertheless 
he pits himself against the heads of both Church and 
Empire assembled at the Diet. 

All he could appeal to was his degree of Doctor of 
Theology : " Had I not been a Doctor, the devil would have 

1 On June 5, 1530, " Briefwechsel," 8, p. 367. 

2 See vol. iv., p. 338 f. 3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 364. j 



104 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

given me much trouble, for it is no small matter to attack 
the whole Papacy and to charge it " (with error). 1 In the 
last instance, however, his self-confidence recalls him to the 
proud consciousness of his entire certainty. " Thus our 
cause stands firm, because we know how we believe and how 
we live." 2 

With these words from his " Vermanug " he defies the 
whole of the present and of the past, the Pope and all his 
Councils. 

He knows and that suffices that what he has and 
proclaims is God s Word ; " and if you have God s Word 
you may say : Now that I have the Word what need have 
I to ask what the Councils say ? " 3 " Among all the 
Councils I have never found one where the Holy Spirit rules. 
. . . There will never be no Council [sic], according to the 
Holy Spirit, where the people have to agree. God allows this 
because He Himself wills to be the Judge and suffers not men 
to judge. He rice He commands every man to know what he 
believes." 4 Luther only, and those who follow him, know 
what they believe ; he takes the place of all the councils, 
Doctors of the Church, Popes and bishops, in short, of all 
the ecclesiastical sources of theology. 

" The end of the world may now come," he said, in 1540, 
" for all that pertains to the knowledge of God has now been 
supplied " (by me). 5 

With this contempt for the olden Church he combines a most 
imperious exclusiveness in his treatment even of those who like 
him were opposed to the Pope, whether they were individuals 
or formed schools of thought. They must follow his lead, other 
wise there awaits them the sentence he launched at the Zwing- 
lians from the Coburg : " These Sacramentarians are not merely 
liars but the very embodiment of lying, deceit and hypocrisy ; 
this both Carlstadt and Zwingli prove by word and deed." 
Their books, he says, contain pestilential stuff ; they refused to 
retract even when confuted by him, but simply because they 
stood in fear of their own following ; he would continue to put 
them to shame by those words, which so angered them : " You 
have a spirit different from ours." He could not look upon them 
as brothers ; this was duly expressed in the article in which he 
went so far as to promise them that love which was due even to 

1 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 363 f. 

2 " Werke," ib., p. 361 ; cp. p. 396. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 24, p. 313 ; Erl. ed., 33,>p. 331. Sermons on 
Genesis, 1527. 4 Ib., p. 312 f. = 330 f. 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 108. From the year 1540. 



WANT OF CHARITY 105 

enemies. On his own authority he curtly dubs them " heretics," 
and is resolved in this way to tread unharmed with Christ through 
Satan s kingdom and all his lying artifices. 1 Luther s aggra 
vating exclusiveness went hand-in-hand with his overweening 
self-confidence. 

In consequence of this treatment the Swiss, through the agency 
of Bullinger, Zwingli s successor, complained to Bucer, " Beware 
of not believing Luther readily or of not yielding to him ! He 
is a scorpion ; no matter how carefully he is handled he will 
sting, even though to begin with he seems to caress your hand." 2 
To this Bucer, who had also ventured to differ from Luther, 
wrote in his reply : " He has flung another scathing book at 
us. ... He speaks, and means to speak, much more harshly 
than heretofore." " He will not now endure even the smallest 
contradiction, and I am sure that, were I to go any further, I 
should cause such a tragedy that all the churches would once 
more be convulsed." 3 Another Protestant voice we hear ex 
claiming with a fine irony : " Luther rages, thunders and lightens 
as though he were a Jupiter and had all the bolts of heaven at 
his command to launch against us. . . . Has he then become an 
emperor of the Christian army on the model of the Pope, so as to 
be able to issue every pronouncement that his brain suggests ? " 4 
" He confuses the two Natures in Christ and brings forward 
foolish, nay godless, statements. If we may not condemn this, 
then what, pray, may be condemned ? " 5 

His natural lack of charity, of which we shall have later 
on to add many fresh and appalling examples to those 
already enumerated, aggravated his hatred, his sense of 
his own greatness and his exclusiveness. What malicious 
hatred is there not apparent in his advice that Zwingli and 
(Ecolampadius should be condemned, " even though this led 
to violence being offered them." 6 It is with reluctance that 
one gazes on Luther s abuse of the splendid gifts of mind and 
heart with which he had been endowed. 

A recent Protestant biographer of Carlstadt s laments the 
" frightful harshness of his (Luther s) polemics." " How deep 
the traces left by his mode of controversy were, ought not to 
be overlooked," so he writes. " From that time forward this 
sort of thing took the place of any real discussion of differences 
of opinion between members of the Lutheran camp, nor did 
people even seem aware of how far they were thus drifting from 
the kindliness and dignity of Christian modes of thought." 7 

1 To Jacob Probst, June 1, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 353 f. 

2 To Bucer, July 12, 1532, in " Anal. Lutherana," ed. Kolde, p. 203. 

3 " Anal.," loc. cit. 4 Leo Judae, 1. c., 203. 
5 Ib., p. 204. 6 See our vol. iv., p. 87. 
7 H. Barge, " Carlstadt," see our vol. ii., p. 154. 



106 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

What is here said of the treatment of opponents within the camp 
applies even more strongly to Luther s behaviour towards 
Catholics. 

The following episode of his habitual persecution of Albert, 
Archbishop and Elector of Mayence, illustrates this very well. 

On June 21, 1535, the Archbishop in accordance with the then 
law and with the sentence duly pronounced by the judge, had 
caused Hans von Schonitz, once his trusted steward, to be executed ; 
the charge of which he had been proved guilty was embezzlement 
on a gigantic scale. The details of the case, which was dealt with 
rather hurriedly, have not yet been adequately cleared up, but 
even Protestant researchers agree that Schonitz deserved to be 
dealt with as a "public thief," 1 seeing that "in the pecuniary 
transactions which he undertook for Albert he was not unmindful 
of his own advantage " ; 2 " there is no doubt that he was rightly 
accused of all manner of peculation and cheating." 3 Luther, 
however, furiously entered the lists on behalf of the executed 
man and against the detested Archbishop who, in spite of his 
private faults, remained faithful to the Church and was a hin 
drance to the spread of Lutheranism in Germany. Luther im 
plicitly believed all that was told him, of Hans s innocence and 
of Albert s supposed abominable motives, by Schonitz s brother 
and his friend Ludwig Rabe who himself was implicated in the 
matter and both of whom came to Wittenberg. " Both natur 
ally related the case from their own point of view." 4 Luther 
sent two letters to the Cardinal, one more violent than the other. 5 
The second would seem to have been intended for publication 
and was sent to the press, though at present no copy of it can be 
discovered. In it in words of frightful violence he lays at the 
door of the Prince of the Church the blood of the man done to 
death. The Archbishop was a " thorough-paced Epicurean 
who does not believe that Abel lives in God and that his blood 
still cries more loudly than Cain, his brother s murderer, fancies." 
He, Luther, like another Elias, must call down woes " upon 
Achab and Isabel." He had indeed heard of many evil deeds 
done by Cardinals, " but I had not taken your Cardinalitial 
Holiness for such an insolent, wicked dragon. . . . Your Elec 
toral Highness may if he likes commit a nuisance in the Em 
peror s Court of Justice, infringe the freedom of the city of Halle, 
usurp the sword of Justice belonging to Saxony, and, over and 
above this, look on the world and on all reason as rags fit only 
for the closet " such is a fair sample of the language and, 
moreover, treat everything in a Popish, Roman, Cardinalitial 

1 F. Hiilsse, " Card. Albrecht und Hans Schenitz," " Magdeburger 
Geschichtsblatter," 1889, p. 82; cp. Enders, " Brief wechsel Luthers," 
10, p. 182, who remarks of F. W. E. Roth s review in the " Hist.-pol. 
BL," 118, 1896, p. 160 f. : " The author does not seem to be acquainted 
with Hiilsse s work and therefore condemns Albert." 

2 Enders, ib., p. 181. 3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 419. 

4 Enders, ib. 

5 On July 31, 1535, and Jan.-Feb., 1536, " Werke," Erl. ed., 55, 
pp. 98 and 125 (" Brief wechsel," 10, pp. 180 and 296). 



HIS IRRITABILITY 107 

way, but, please God, our Lord God will by our prayers one day 
compel your Electoral Highness to sweep out all the filth your 
self." 

In the first letter he had threatened fiercely the hated Cardinal 
with publishing what he knew (or possibly only feigned to know) 
of his faults ; he would not " advise him to stir up the filth any 
further " ; here in the second letter he charges him in a general 
way with robbery, petty theft and fraud in the matter of Church 
property, also with having cheated a woman of the town whom he 
used to keep ; he deserved to be " hanged on a gallows three 
times as high as the Giebichstein," where Schonitz had been 
executed. Incidentally he promises him a new work that shall 
reveal all his doings. The threatened work was, however, never 
published, Albert s family, the Brandenburgs, having raised 
objections at the Electoral Court of Saxony. Albert, however, 
offered quite frankly to submit the Schonitz case and the 
grievances raised by his relatives to the judgment of George of 
Anhalt, one of the princes who had gone over to Lutheranism, 
who was perfectly at liberty to take the advice of Jonas, nay, 
even of Luther himself. " In this we may surely see a proof that 
he was not conscious of being in the least blameworthy." 1 At 
any rate he seems to have been quite willing to lay his case even 
before his most bitter foe. 2 



Such was Luther s irritability and quickness of temper, 
even in private concerns, that, at times, even in his letters, 
he would pour forth the most incredible threats. 

On one occasion, in 1542, when a messenger sent by Justus 
Jonas happened to offend him, he at once wrote an " angry 
letter " to Jonas and on the next day followed it up with another 
in which he says, that his anger has not yet been put to rest ; 
never is Jonas to send such people into his house again or else 
he will order them to be gagged and put under restraint. 
" Remember this, for I have said it. This man may scold 
and do the grand elsewhere, but not in Luther s house, unless 
indeed he wants to have his tongue torn out. Are we going to 
allow such caitiffs as these to play the emperor ? " 3 He had, 
as we already know, a sad experience with a certain girl named 
Rosina, whom he had engaged as a servant, but who turned out 
to be a person of loose morals and brought his house into dis 
repute. " She shall never again have the chance of deceiving 
anyone so long as there is water enough in the Elbe," so he writes 
of her to a judge. In letters to other persons he accuses her 
of " villainy and fornication " ; she had " shamed all the 
inmates of his house with the [assumed] name of Truchsess " ; 
he could only think that she had been " foisted on him by the 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 420. 

2 Enders, " Brief wechsel," 10, p. 297 ; Hulsse, p. 61. 

3 On March 10, 1542, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 442. 



108 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Papists as an arch-prostitute the god-forsaken minx and lying 
bag of trouble, who has damaged my household from garret to 
cellar . . . accursed harridan and perjured, thieving drab that 
she is ! " Away with her " for the honour of the Evangel." 1 

Even in younger days he had been too much accustomed to 
give the reins to his excitement, as his two indignant letters (his 
own description of them) to his brother monks at Erfurt show. 2 
Even his upbringing of his own children, highly lauded as it has 
been, suffered from this same lack of self-control. " The mere 
disobedience of a boy would stir him to his very depths. For 
instance, he admits of a nephew he had living with him a son 
of his brother James that once he angered me so greatly as 
almost to be the death of me, so that for a while I lost the use of 
my bodily powers. " 3 So exasperated was he with the lawyers 
who treacherously deceived the people that he went so far as to 
demand that their tongues should be torn out. At times he 
confesses his hot temper, owning and acknowledging that it was 
" sinful " ; to such fits of passion he was still subject, but, as a 
rule, his anger was at least both right and called for, for he could 
not avoid being angry where it was " a question of the soul and 
of hell." Anger, he also says, refreshed his inner man, sharpened 
his wits and chased away his temptations ; he had to be angry in 
order to write, preach or pray well. 4 

Repeatedly he seemed on the point of quitting Wittenberg for 
ever in revenge for all the neglect he met with there ; "I can no 
longer contain my anger and disappointment." 5 It was to this 
depression of spirits that he was referring when he said, that, 
often, in his indignation, he had " flung down the keys on Our 
Lord God s threshold." 6 He sees his inability to change his 
surroundings and how Popery refuses to be overthrown ; yet, as 
he told us, he is determined to " rain abuse and curses on the 
miscreants [the Papists] till he is carried to the grave," and to 
provide the "thunder and lightning for the funeral" of the foe. 7 

A gloomy, uncanny passion often glows in his words and 
serves to fire the fanatism of the misguided masses. 

" Lo and behold how my blood boils and how I long to 
see the Papacy punished ! " And what was the punishment 
he looked for ? Just before he had said that the Pope, his 

1 To Johann Goritz, judge at Leipzig, Jan. 29, 1544, ib., p. 625. 
Cp. for the account of Rosina, vol. iii., pp. 217 f., 280 f. 

2 Vol. i., p. 59. " Stupidce litterce " here perhaps means " indig 
nant " rather than " amazed " letters. 

8 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 483. 

4 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn." (Loesche), p. 200. Cp. above vol. iii., 
p. 437 f. 

5 To Catherine, end of July, 1545, " Brief e," ed. De Wette, 5, 
p. 753. 

6 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 127. Cp. above vol. iv., p. 276. 

7 " Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 470 ; Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 127. " Widder 
den Meuchler zu Dresen," 1531. 



VIOLENT LANGUAGE 109 

Cardinals and all his court should have " the skins of their 
bodies drawn off over their heads ; the hides might then be 
flung into the healing bath [the sea] at Ostia, or into the 
fire," unless indeed they found means to pay back all the 
alien property that the Pope, the " Robber of the Churches, 
had stolen only to waste, lose and squander it, and to spend 
it on whores and their ilk." Yet even this punishment fell 
short of the crime, for " my spirit knows well that no tem 
poral penalty can avail to make amends even for one Bull 
or Decree." 1 

Side by side with language so astonishing we must put other 
sayings which paint his habitual frame of mind in a light any 
thing but favourable : " It is God s Word ! Let what cannot 
stand fall ... no matter what!" 2 "The Word is true, or 
everything crumbles into ruin ! " 3 " Even if you will not follow " 
- such were his words to Staupitz as early as 1521, "at least 
suffer me to go on and be carried away [ ire et rapi ]." "I have 
put on my horns against the Roman Antichrists " ; 4 in these 
words Luther compares himself to a raving bull. 

This frame of mind tended to promote his natural tendency to 
violence, hitherto repressed. His proposal to flay all the members 
of the Roman Curia was not by any means his first hint at deeds 
of blood ; such allusions occur in other shapes in earlier discourses, 
particularly in his predictions of the judgments to come. The 
Princes, nobility and towns, so he declared, must put their foot 
down and prevent the shameful abuses of Rome : " If we mean 
to fight against the Turks let us begin at home where they are 
worst ; if we do right in hanging thieves and beheading robbers, 
why then do we let Roman avarice go scot free, when all the 
time it is the biggest thief and robber there ever has been or will 
ever be upon the earth." Whoever comes from Rome bringing 
in his pocket a collation to a benefice ought to be warned either 
" to desist, or else to jump into the Rhine or the nearest pond, 
and give the Roman Brief letter, seals and all, a cold bath." 5 
Not without a shudder can one read the description in his 
" Bapstum vom Teuffel gestifft," written in his last days, of the 
kinds of death best suited to the Pope and his Curia, of which the 
flaying and the " bath " at Ostia is only one example. (Cp. below, 
xxx., 2.) True enough he is careful to point out that such a 
death will be theirs only should they refuse to amend their ways 
and accept the Lutheran Evangel ! 

Ten years previously, in 1535, he had written to Melanchthon, 

1 Ib., 26 2 , p. 242, " Das Bapstum vom Teuffel gestifft," 1545. 

2 Ib., Weim. ed., 33, p. 605 ; Erl. ed., 48, p. 342. Expos, of John 
vi.-viii., 1530-1532. 3 Ib., p. 341. 

4 Feb. 7, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 83 f. 

5 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, pp. 427, 428 f. ; Erl. ed., 21, pp. 305 and 
307. "An den christl. Adel," 1520. Cp. above p. 88 f. 



110 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

who shrank from acts of violence with what appeared to Luther 
too great timidity : " Oh, that our most venerable Cardinals, 
Popes and Roman Legates had more Kings of England to put 
them to death ! " x These words he penned soon after Henry VIII 
of England had sacrificed the lives of John Fisher, bishop of 
Rochester, and his Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, to his sensual 
passions and his thirst for blood. Luther adds, of the Pope and 
the Curia, with the object of vindicating the sentence of death he 
had passed on them, " They are traitors, thieves, robbers and 
regular devils. . . . They are out and out miscreants to the very 
bottom of their hearts. May God only grant you too to see this." 2 
Fury had stood by the cradle of Luther s undertaking and 
under its gloomy auspices his cause continued to progress. 
Without repeating what has already been said, it may suffice to 
point out how his excitement frequently led him to take even 
momentous steps which he would otherwise have boggled at. 
Only too frankly he admitted to his friend Lang in 1519 and soon 
after to Spalatin, that Eck had so exasperated him that he would 
now shake himself loose and write and do things from which he 
would otherwise have refrained. His early " jest " at Rome s 
expense would now become a real warfare against her 3 as 
though Rome was to be made to suffer for Eck and his violence. 
In 1521, from apprehension of his violence and out of considera 
tion for the Court, Spalatin had kept back two of Luther s 
writings which the latter wished to be printed. " I shall get into 
a towering rage," so the author wrote to him, " and bring out 
much worse things on this subject afterwards if my manuscripts 
are lost, or you refuse to surrender them. You cannot destroy 
the spirit even though you destroy the lifeless paper." 4 This 
incident at so early a date shows how deeply seated in him was 
his tendency to violence ; even at the outset it was to some 
extent personal animus which led him to shape his action as he 
did. Self-esteem and the plaudits of the mob had even then 
begun to dim his mental vision. 

The part played by the first person is great indeed in 
Luther s writings. 

" We should all have fallen back into the state of the 
brute ! " " Not for a thousand years has God bestowed 
such great graces on any bishop as on me." " I, wonderful 
monk that I am," have, by God s grace, overthrown the 
devil of Rome ; "I have stamped off the heads of more than 
twenty factions, as though they had been worms." Count- 

1 " Utinam haberent plures reges Anglice, qui illos occiderent" Cp. 
Paulus, " Protestantismus und Toleranz in 16. Jahrh.," 1911, p. 17 ff. 

2 Dec., 1535, " Briefwechsel " 10, p. 275. 

3 Feb. 3, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 410 ; cp. to Spalatin, Feb. 7, 
1519, ib., p. 412. 

4 4-9 Dec., 1521, ib., 3 , p. 253 : " Exacerbabitur mihi spiritud, ut 
multo vehementiora deinceps in earn rem nihilominus moliar," 



HIS QUARRELSOMENESS 111 

less other such utterances are to be found in what has gone 
before. 1 " He," so he declares, " was surely far too learned 
to allow himself to be taught by the Swiss theologians " ; 
this was one of the sayings that led the friends of the latter 
to speak of his " tyrannical pride." 2 

Here come the fractious Sacramentarians, he says, and 
want a share in my fame ; they want to celebrate a 
" glorious victory " as though it was not from me that they 
got everything. This is how things turn out, " one labours 
and some other man takes the fruit." 3 Carlstadt comes 
forward and seeks to become a new doctor ; " he is anxious 
to detract from my importance and to introduce among the 
people his own regulations." 4 

A character w r here the first person asserted itself so 
imperiously could not but be a disputatious one. Down to 
his very last years Luther s whole life was filled with strife : 
quarrels with the jurists ; with his own theologians ; with 
the Jews ; with the Princes and rapacious nobility ; with 
the Popish foemen and with his own colleagues and followers, 
even with the preachers and writers dearest to him. 

Luther sought to safeguard his cause on every side, even 
at the cost of concessions at variance with his duty, or by 
grovelling subserviency to the Princes, whether he actually 
granted their desire, 5 or, as in the case of the bigamy of 
Henry VIII of England, merely threw out a suggestion. 6 

His new ethical principles should surely have been 
attested in his own person, above all by truthfulness. In 
this connection we must, however, recall to mind the 
observations made elsewhere. (Above, vol. iv., p. 80 ff.) 

Who is the lover of truth who does not regret the advice 
Luther gave from the Coburg to his followers at the Diet of 
Augsburg, viz. to make use of cunning when the cause 
seemed endangered ? Where does self-betterment come in 
if " tricks and lapses " are to form a part of his life s task, 
even though " with God s help " they were afterwards to 

1 Vol. iv., p. 329 ff. 

2 Oswald Myconius to Simon Grynseus, Nov. 8, 1534, in Kostlin- 
Kawerau, 2, p. 665, from a MS. source : " Doctiorem se esse, quam qui 
ab eiusmodi hominibus doceri velit " ; this showed his " tyrannica 
superbia." 

3 To Amsdorf, April 14, 1545, " Briefe " ed. De Wette, 5, p. 728. 

4 To Caspar Giittel, March 30, 1522, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 326. 

5 Vol. iv., p. 13 ff. 6 Ib., p. 3 ff. 



112 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

be amended ; x if, when treating of the most important church 
matters, " reservation and subterfuge ( insidice ) " are not 
only to be used but even to be represented as the work of 
Christ ? Wherever the principle holds : Against the malice 
of our opponents everything is lawful, 2 there, undoubtedly, 
the least honest will always have the upper hand. As to 
how far Luther thought himself justified in going in order 
to conceal his real intentions we may see from his letters to 
the Pope, particularly from the last letter he addressed to 
him, where the public assertion of his devotion to the Roman 
Church coincides with his private admission to friends that 
the Pope was Antichrist and that he had sworn to attack 
him. 3 

In his relentless polemics against the Church where he 
does not hesitate to bring the most baseless of charges 
against both her dignitaries and her institutions we might 
dismiss as not uncommon his tendency to see only what was 
evil, eagerly setting this in the foreground while passing 
over all that was good ; his eyes also served to magnify and 
distort the dark spots into all manner of grotesque shapes. 
But what tells more heavily against him is his having 
evolved out of his own mind a mountain of false doctrines 
which he foists on the Church as hers, though in reality not 
one of them but the very opposite was taught in and by the 
Church. 

The Pope, he writes, for instance, in his " Vermanug " from the 
Coburg, wants to " forbid marriage " and teaches that the " love 
of woman " is to be despised ; this is one of the abominations 
and plagues of Antichrist, for God created woman for the honour 
and help of man." 4 The state of celibacy, willingly embraced by 
many under the Papacy, Luther decried in the same violent 
writing as a " state befitting whores and knaves," 5 and he even 
connects with it unmentionable abominations. 

1 Cp. our vol. ii., p. 386 : " For when once we have evaded the 
peril and are at peace, then we can easily atone for our tricks and 
lapses ( dolos ac lapsus nostros ), because His [God s] mercy is over us," 
etc., for the word mendacia after dolos see vol. iv., p. 96. 

2 See vol. iv., p. 95 : " In cuius [Antichristi] deceptionem et nequitiam 
ob salutem animarum nobis omnia licere arbitramur." 

3 Ib., p. 81 f. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 388 f. Cp. our vol. iv., p. 166 ff. 

5 Ib., p. 391. "Even should the Pope, the bishops, the canons 
and the people wish to remain in the state of celibacy, or the state of 
whores and knaves and even the heathen poet admits that fornica- 



DISHONEST POLEMICS 113 

He had declared " contempt of God " to be the mark of the 
Papal Antichrist, but, in the booklet in question, and elsewhere, 
we find him tirelessly charging with utter forgetfulness of God, 
hatred of religion, nay, complete absence of Christian faith not 
only the Pope and his advisers who, none of them rose above 
an Epicurean faith but all his opponents, particularly those 
who by their pen had damaged his doctrine. " Willingly enough 
would I obey the Pope and all the bishops, but they require me 
to deny Christ and His Gospel and to take of God a liar, there 
fore I prefer to attack them." 1 When, in addition to this, he 
tries in all seriousness to make the people believe that at Rome 
the Gospel and all it contained was scoffed at ; that the Papists 
were all sceptics ; that their Doctors did not even know the Ten 
Commandments ; that their priests were quite unable to quiet 
any man s conscience ; that the popish doctrine spelt nothing 
but murder, and that indeed every Papist must be a murderer, 
etc., 2 one is tempted to seek for a pathological explanation of so 
strange a phenomenon. Such explanations will, it is true, be 
forthcoming in due course and will furnish grounds for a more 
lenient judgment. Here it may suffice to instance the terrific 
strength of will which dominated Luther s fiery warfare, and 
which at times made him see things that others, even his own 
followers, were absolutely unable to see. Fortunately his mad 
statements concerning the Papists love of murder found little 
credence, any more than his repeated assurance that the Papists 
were at heart on his side, at any rate their leaders, writers and 
educated men. 

He seems, however, also to believe many other monstrous 
things : it was his discovery, that, " in the Papacy, men sought 
to find salvation in Aristotle " ; this belief he attempted to 
instil into the people in a sermon of 1528. 3 In 1542 he assured 
his friends in tones no less confident that the Papists had suc 
ceeded in teaching nothing but idolatry, " for every work [as 
taught by them] is idolatry. What they learnt was nothing but 
holiness-by-works. . . . Man was to perform this or that ; to put 
on a cowl or get his head shaved ; whoever did not do or believe 
this was damned. Yet, on the other hand, even if a man did all 
this they were unable to say with certainty whether thereby he 
would be saved. Fie, devil, what sort of doctrine was this ! " 4 

The cowl and tonsure of the monks were particularly obnoxious 
to him. He cherished the view that he had for ever extirpated 
monkery ; he declared that even the heads of Catholicism would 
not in future endure these hateful guests. To have been instru 
mental in preparing such a fate for the sons of the most noble- 
minded men, of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, and for all 

tors and whoremongers are loath to take wives still I hope you will 
take pity on the poor pastors and those who have the cure of souls 
and allow them to marry." 

1 Cordatus, " Tageb./ p. 364. 2 Cp. vol, iv., p. 102 f. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 27, p. 286. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 287, 



114 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the monks generally, who had been the trustiest supports of the 
faith, of the missions and of civilisation, this appears to him a 
triumph, which he proceeds to magnify out of all proportion the 
better to gloat over it. 

" No greater service has ever been rendered to the bishops and 
pastors," so he writes in his " Vermanug," " than that they 
should thus be rid of the monks ; and I venture to surmise that 
there is hardly anyone now at Augsburg who would take the part 
of the monks and beg for their reinstatement. Indeed the bishops 
will not permit such bugs and lice again to fasten on their fur 
[their cappas], but are right glad that I have washed the fur so 
clean for them." 1 The untruth of this is self-evident. If some 
few short-sighted or tepid bishops among them were willing to 
dispense with the monks, still this was not the general feeling 
towards those auxiliaries of the Church, whom Luther himself 
on the same page dubs the " Pope s right-hand men." But the 
lie was calculated to impress those who possessed influence. 

Further untruths are found in this booklet : Hitherto, the 
monks, not the bishops, had " governed the churches " ; it was 
merely his peaceable teaching and the power of the Word that 
had " destroyed " the monks ; this the bishops, " backed by the 
might of all the kings and with all the learning of the universities 
at their command had not been able to do." 2 Let no one 
accuse him of " preaching sedition," so he goes on ; he had 
merely " taught the people to keep the peace " ; 3 he would much 
rather have preferred to end his days in retirement ; " for me 
there will be no better tidings than to hear that I had been 
removed from the office of preacher " ; better and more pious 
heretics than the Lutherans had never before been met with ; he 
cannot deny that there is nothing lacking in his doctrine and in 
that of his "followers . . . whatever their life may be." 4 

We have here a row of instances of the honesty of his 
polemics and of the way in which he treated with the State 
authorities concerning the deepest matters of the Church s 
life. Often enough his polemics consist solely of unwarrant 
able statements concerning his own pacific intentions and 
salutary achievements, supported by revolting untruths, 
misrepresentations and exaggerations tending to damage 
his opponents case. 

Beyond this we frequently find him having recourse to 
low and unworthy language, and to filthy and unmannerly 
abuse. (Vol. iv., p. 318 ff.) 

" When they are most angry I say to the Papists," he cries in 
his " Warnunge an seine lieben Deudschen," " My dear sirs, 



" Werke," Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 364. 
/&., p. 365. 3 Ib., p, 364. 



4 Ib., p. 361, 



BULLINGER ON LUTHER 115 

leave the wall, relieve yourselves into your drawers and sling it 
round your neck. ... If they do not care to accept my services, 
then the devil may well be thankful to them ! " etc. 1 " Oh, the 
shameful Diet, such as has never before been held or heard of ... 
an everlasting blot on the whole Empire ! What will the Turk 
say ... to our allowing the accursed Pope with his minions to 
fool and mock at us, to treat us as children, nay, as clouts and 
blocks, to our behaving contrary to justice and truth, nay, with 
such utter shamelessness in open Diet as regards their blasphemies, 
their shameful and Sodomitic life and doctrines ? " 2 These were 
the words in which he described the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. 

We may here recall the saying of Valentine Ickelsamer the 
Anabaptist. At one time he had thought of espousing Luther s 
cause, but " owing to the diabolical abuse " which he piled on 
" erring men " it was possible to regard him only " as a non- 
Christian." Luther wanted to overthrow his opponents simply 
by words " of abuse " ; these " Saxon rogues of Wittenberg," 
" when unable to get what they want by means of a few kind 
words, invoke on you all the curses of the devil." 

Heinrich Bullinger complains repeatedly, and quite as bitterly, 
of the frightful storm into which Luther s eloquence was apt 
to break out. It is noteworthy that he applies what he says to 
Luther s polemics, not merely against the Swiss, but against 
other opponents. " Here all men have in their hands Luther s 
King Harry of England, and another Harry as well, in his un 
savoury Hans Worst ; item, they have Luther s book on the 
Jews with its hideous letters of the Bible dropped from the 
posterior of the pig, which the Jews may swallow, indeed, but 
never read ; then, again, there is Luther s filthy, swinish Schem- 
hamphorasch, for which some small excuse might have been found 
had it been written by a swine-herd and not by a famous pastor 
of souls." 3 

" And yet most people," so Bullinger says, " even go so far as 
to worship the houndish, filthy eloquence of the man. Thus it 
comes that he goes his way and seeks to outdo himself in vitupera 
tion. . . . Many pious and learned people take scandal at his 
insolence, which really is beyond measure." He should have 
someone at his side to keep a check on him, so Bullinger tells 
Bucer, for instance, his friend Melanchthon, " so that Luther may 
not ruin a good cause with his wonted invective, his bitterness, his 
torrent of bad words and his ridicule." 4 

And yet Luther at this very time, in his " Warnunge," calls 
himself " the German Prophet " and " a faithful teacher." 5 

The following words of Erasmus contain a general censure : 
" You wish to be taken for a teacher of the Gospel. In that case, 
however, would it not better beseem you not to repel all the 
prudent and well-meaning by your vituperation nor to incite men 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 291 ; Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 23. 

2 Ib., p. 285- 14 f. 

3 " Wahrhaffte Bekanntnuss," Bl. 9 . 4 Ib. 

5 " Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 3, p. 290 ; Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 22. 



116 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

to strife and revolt in these already troubled times?" 1 " You 
snarl at me as an Epicurean. Had I been an Epicurean and Jived 
in the time of the Apostles and heard them proclaim the Gospel 
with such invective, then I fear I should have remained an 
Epicurean. . . . Whoever is conscious of teaching a holy 
doctrine should not behave with insolence and delight in malicious 
misrepresentation." 2 " To what class of spirits," he had already 
asked him, " does yours belong, if indeed it be a spirit at all ? 
And what unevangelical way is this of inculcating the holy 
Gospel ? Has perchance the risen Gospel done away with all the 
laws of public order so that now one may say and write any 
thing against anyone ? Does the freedom you are bringing back 
to us spell no more than this ? " 3 

Kindlier Traits and Episodes 

The unprejudiced reader will gladly turn his gaze from 
pictures such as the above to the more favourable traits in 
Luther s character, which, as already shown elsewhere, 4 
are by no means lacking. 

Whoever has the least acquaintance with his Kirchen- 
postille and Hauspostille will not scruple to acknowledge 
the good and morally elevating undercurrent which runs 
below his polemics and peculiar theories. For instance, his 
exhortations, so warm and eloquent, to give alms to the 
needy ; his glowing praise of Holy Scripture and of the 
consolation its divine words bring to troubled hearts ; again, 
his efforts to promote education and juvenile instruction ; 
his admonitions to assist at the sermon and at Divine 
worship, to avoid envy, strife, avarice and gluttony, and 
private no less than public vice of every kind. 

The many who are familiar only with this beautiful and 
inspiring side of his writings, and possibly of his labours, 
must not take it amiss if, in a work like the present, the 
historian is no less concerned with the opposite side of 
Luther s writings and whole conduct. 

As a matter of fact, gentler tones often mingle with the 
harsher notes, while the unpleasant traits just described 
alter at times and tend to assume a more favourable aspect. 
This is occasionally true of his severity, his defiant and 
imperious behaviour. He not seldom, thanks to this art 
of his, achieved good and eminently creditable results, 

1 " Opp." 10, col. 1558. " Adv. ep. Lutheri." 

2 76., 1555. 3 Ib., 1334. " Hyperaspistes." 
4 Vol. iv., p. 228 ff. 



THE KOHLHASE CASE 117 

particularly in the protection of the poor or oppressed. 
Many who were in dire straits were wont to apply to him in 
order to secure his powerful intervention with the authori 
ties on their behalf. 

During the famine of 1539, when the nobles avariciously 
cornered the grain, Luther made strong representations to 
the Elector and begged him to come to the assistance of the 
town. Nor, in the same year, did he hesitate to address a 
severe " warning " to the Electoral steward, the Knight 
Franz Schott of Coburg, when the town-council at his 
instigation was moved to take too precipitate action. 1 

Best known of all, however, was his powerful intervention 
in the case of a certain man whose misdeeds were the plague 
of the Saxon Electorate from 1534 to 1540 ; this was Hans 
Kohlhase, a Berlin merchant. He had been overreached in a 
matter of two horses by a certain Saxon squire of Zaschwitz, 
and had afterwards lost his case in the courts. In order to 
obtain satisfaction Kohlhase formally gave out, that he 
would " rob, burn, capture and hold to ransom " the 
Saxons until he obtained redress. Incendiary fires broke 
out shortly after in Wittenberg and the neighbourhood 
which were laid to the charge of Kohlhase s men. The 
Elector could think of no better plan than to suggest a 
settlement between the merchant, now turned robber- 
knight, and the heirs of the above-mentioned squire ; it 
was then that Kohlhase appealed to Luther for advice. 

Luther replied with authority and dignity, not hesitating 
to rebuke him for his unprincipled action. He would not 
escape the wrath of God if he continued to pursue his 
unheard-of course of private revenge, since it stands written 
that " Vengeance is mine " ; the shameful acts of violence 
which had been perpetrated by his men would be put down 
to his account. He ought not to take the devil as his 
sponsor. If in spite of all peaceful efforts he failed to 
succeed in obtaining his due, then nothing was left but for 
him to submit to the Divine decree, which was always for 
our best, and to suffer in patience. He consoled him at the 
same time in a friendly way for such injury and outrage as 
he might have endured ; nor was it wrong to seek redress, 
but this must be done within the right bounds. 2 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 442. 

2 Dec. 8, 1534, " Werke," Erl. ed., 55, p. 71 (" Brief wechsel," 10, 



118 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

The well-meaning letter, which does Luther credit, had 
unfortunately no effect. 

The attempted arbitration, owing to the leniency of the 
Electoral agent, Hans Metzsch, ended so much to the 
advantage of Kohlhase that the Elector, partly owing to his 
strained relations with Brandenburg, refused to ratify it. 
Kohlhase s bands came from Brandenburg and fell upon the 
undefended castles and villages in the Saxon Electorate. 
Their raids were also to some extent connived at by the 
Elector of Brandenburg. They excited great terror even 
at Wittenberg itself owing to sudden attacks made in the 
vicinity of the town. New attempts to reach a settlement 
brought them to a standstill for a while, but soon the strange 
civil war an echo of the Peasant Rising and Revolt of the 
Knights broke out anew and lasted until 1539. 

Luther told his friends that such things could never have 
taken place under the Landgrave of Hesse ; that, as the 
principal actor had shed blood, he would himself die a 
violent death. In 1539 he invited the Elector of Saxony 
by letter to act as the father of his country ; he should come 
to the assistance of his people who were at the mercy of 
a criminal, nor should he leave the Elector of Brandenburg 
a free hand if it were true that he was implicated in the 
business. 1 

Finally Kohlhase, after committing excesses even in 
Brandenburg itself, was executed at Berlin on March 22, 
1540, being broken on the wheel. 

On Luther s admonition to the robber, Protestant legend 
soon laid hold, and, even in the second half of the 16th 
century, we find it further embellished. There is hardly 
a popular history of Luther to-day which does not give the 
scene where Kohlhase, in disguise, knocks at Luther s door 
one dark night and on his reply to the question, " Art thou 

p. 88 f.) ; " Briefe," 4, p. 567 ff. : "To set ourselves up as judges and 
ourselves to judge is assuredly wrong, and the wrath of God will not 
leave it unpunished." " If you desire my advice, as you write, I 
counsel you to accept peace, however you reach it, and rather to suffer 
in your goods and your honour than to involve yourself further in such 
an undertaking where you will have to take upon yourself all the crimes 
and wickedness that are committed. . . . You must consider for how 
much your conscience will have to answer if you knowingly bring 
about the destruction of so many people." 

1 Cp. Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 159. " Brief wechsel," 12, 
pp. 84-102 ; 13, p. 13. 



REALITY OF THE " REFORMATION 119 

Kohlhase ? " is admitted by the latter, explains his quarrel 
in the presence of Melanchthon, Cruciger and others and is 
reconciled with God and his fellow-men ; he then promises 
to abstain from violence in future as Luther and his people 
are willing to help him to his rights, and the romantic visit 
closes by the repentant sinner making his confession and 
receiving the Supper. 

The only chronicler of the March who relates this at the 
date mentioned above fails to give any authority for his 
narrative, nor can it, as Kostlin-Kawerau points out, be 
assigned its place " anywhere in Kohlhase s life-story as 
otherwise known to us." 1 Luther s own statements con 
cerning the affair, particularly his last ones, do not agree 
with such an ending ; throughout he appears as the 
champion of outraged justice against a public offender. The 
not unkindly words in which Luther had answered Kohlhase s 
request were probably responsible for the legend, which 
sprang up all the easier seeing that numerous instances were 
known where Luther s powerful intervention had succeeded 
in restraining violence and in securing victory for the cause 
of justice against the oppressor. 2 

The Reformation of the Church and Luther s Ethics 

The defenders of the ancient faith urged very strongly 
that the first step towards a real moral reformation of the 
Church was to depict the Church as she was to be in accord 
ance with Christ s institution and the best traditions, and 
then, with the help of this standard, to see how far the 
Church of the times fell short of this ideal ; in order to 
re-form any institution, so they argued, we must be ac 
quainted with its primitive shape so as to be able to revert 
to it. 

This they declared they had in vain asked of Luther, who, 
on the contrary, seemed bent on subverting the whole 
Church. They even failed to see that he had suggested any 
means wherewith to withstand the moral shortcomings of 
the age. In their eyes the radical and destructive changes 
on which he so vehemently insisted spelt no real improve 
ment ; the discontent with prevailing conditions which he 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 444. 

2 Cp. C. A. Burkhardt, " Der historische Hans Kohlhase," 1864. 



120 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

preached to the people could not but create a wrong atmo 
sphere ; nor could the abolishing of the Church s spiritual 
remedies, the slighting of her commands and the revolting 
treatment of the hierarchy serve the cause of prudent 
Church reform. 

Luther himself, in his so-called " Bull and Reformation," 
put forth his demands for the reform of ecclesiastical 
conditions as they presented themselves to his mind during 
the days of his fiercest struggle. 1 The " Bull " does not, 
however, afford any positive scheme of reformation, as the 
title might lead one to suppose. It is made up wholly of 
denials and polemics, and the same is true of his later works. 

According to this writing the bishops are " not merely 
phantoms and idols, but folk accursed in God s sight " ; 
they corrupt souls, and, against them, " every Christian 
should strive with body and substance." One should 
" cheerfully do to them everything that they disliked, just 
as though they were the devil himself." All those who now 
are pastors must repudiate the obedience which they gave 
" with the promise of chastity," seeing that this obedience 
was promised, not to God, but to the devil, " just as a man 
must repudiate a compact he has made with the devil." 
" This is my Bull, yea, Dr. Luther s own," etc. 

In this Luther was striking out a new road. Christ and 
his Apostles had begun the moral reform of the world by 
preaching the doing of " penance, for the Kingdom of 
Heaven is at hand." True enough such a preaching can 
never have been so popular with the masses as Luther s 
invitation to overthrow the Church. 

Luther s " Reformation " did not, however, consist merely 
in the overthrow of the olden ecclesiasticism ; it also strove 
to counteract much that was really amiss. 

His action had this to recommend it, that it threw into 
the full light of day the shady side of ecclesiastical life ; after 
all, knowledge of the evil is already a step towards its 
betterment. For centuries few had had the courage to point 
a finger at the Church s wounds so insistently as Luther ; 
at the ills rampant in the clergy, Church government and in 
the faith and morals of the people. His piercing glance saw 
into every corner, and, assisted by expert helpers, some of 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 140 ff. ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 178 ff. In 
" Wyder den falsch genantten geystlichen Standt," 1522. 



REALITY OF THE "REFORMATION 1 121 

them formerly officials of the Curia, he laid bare every 
regrettable disorder, needless to say not without exaggerat 
ing everything to his heart s content. Practically, however, 
Luther s revelations represent what was best in the move 
ment which professed to aim at a reform of morals. Had he 
not embittered with such unspeakable hate the long list 
of shortcomings with which he persistently confronted the 
olden Church, had he used it as a means of amendment and 
not rather as a goad whereby to excite the masses, then one 
might have been even more thankful to him. 

It cannot be gainsaid that, particularly at the outset, 
ethical motives were at work in him ; that he like others 
felt the burden of the evil, was certainly no lie. 

Yet it must not be forgotten that he attacked the Pope 
and the Church so violently, not on account of any refusal 
to amend, but in order to clear a path for his subversive 
views of theology and for the " Evangel " which had been 
condemned by ecclesiastical authority. The very magnitude 
of the attack he led on the whole conception of the Church, 
in itself proves that it was no mere question of defending 
the rights of Christian ethics ; the removal of moral dis 
orders from Christendom was to him but a secondary 
concern, and, moreover, he certainly did everything he 
could to render impossible any ordered abolishment of 
abuses and any real improvement. 

One may even ask whether he had any programme at all 
for the betterment of the Church. The question is made 
almost superfluous by the history of the struggle. He him 
self never set up before his mind any regular programme for 
his work, whether ecclesiastical, social or even ethical, when 
once he had come to see that the idealist scheme in his 
" An den christlichen Adel " was impossible of realisation. 
Hence, when he had succeeded in destroying the old order 
in a small portion of the Church s territory, he had perforce 
to begin an uncertain search after something new whereby 
to replace it ; nothing could be more hopeless than his 
efforts to build up from the ruins a new Church and a new 
society, a new liturgy and a new canon law, and to improve 
the morals of the adherents of his cause. In spite of Luther s 
aversion to the scheme, it came about that the whole work 
of reformation was, by the force of circumstances, left to 
the secular authorities ; from the Consistories down to the 



122 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

school-teachers, from the Marriage Courts down to the 
guardians of the poor, everything came into the hands of the 
State. Luther had been wont to complain that the Church 
in olden days had drawn all secular affairs to herself. Since 
his day, on the other hand, everything that pertained to 
the Church was secularised. The actual result was a 
gradual alienation of secular and ecclesiastical, quite at 
variance with the theories embodied in the faith. In this 
it is impossible to see a true reformation in any moral 
meaning of the word, and Luther s ethics, which made all 
secular callings independent of the Church, failed in the 
event to celebrate any triumph. 

The better to appreciate certain striking contrasts between 
the olden Church and her ratification of morality on the one 
hand and Luther s thought on the other, we may glance at 
his attitude towards canonisation and excommunication. 

Canonisation and excommunication are two opposite poles 
of the Church s life ; by the one the Church stamps her 
heroes with the seal of perfection and sets them up for the 
veneration of the faithful ; by the other she excludes the 
unworthy from her communion, using thereto the greatest 
punishment at her command. Both are, to the eye of faith, 
powerful levers in the moral life. 

Luther, however, laughed both to scorn. The ban he 
attacked on principle, particularly after he himself had 
fallen under it ; in this his action differed from that of 
Catholic writers, many of whom had written against the ban 
though only to lament its abuse and its too frequent employ 
ment for the defence of the material position of the clergy. 

The Pope, according to Luther, had made such a huge " mess 
in the Church by means of the Greater Excommunication that 
the swine could not get to the end with devouring it." 1 Chris 
tians, according to him, ought to be taught rather to love the 
ban of the Church than to fear it. We ourselves, he cries, put 
the Pope under the ban and declare that " the Pope and his 
followers are no believers." 

Later on, however, he came to see better the use of ghostly 
penalties for unseemly conduct and made no odds in em 
phasising the right of the community as such to make use of 
exclusion as a punishment ; in view of the increase of disorders 
he essayed repeatedly to reintroduce on his own authority a sort 
of ban in his Churches. 2 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 44, p. 84. In the sermons on Mt. xviii.-xxiii. 

2 See xxix., 8. 



SAINT-WORSHIP 123 

As early as 1519 Luther had expressed his disapproval of the 
canonising of Saints by the Church, a practice which stimulated 
the moral efforts of the faithful by setting up an ideal and by 
encouraging daily worship ; he added, however, that " each one 
was free to canonise as much as he pleased." 1 In 1524, however, 
he poured forth his wrath on the never-ending canonisations ; 
as a rule they were " nothing but Popish Saints and no Christian 
Saints " ; 2 the foundations made in their honour served " merely 
to fatten lazy gluttons and indolent swine in the Churches " ; 
before the Judgment Day no one could " pronounce any man 
holy " ; Elisabeth, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, Bernard and 
Francis, even he regarded as holy, though he would not stake 
his life on it, seeing there was nothing about them in Holy 
Scripture ; " but the Pope, nay, all the angels, had not the 
power of setting up a new article of faith not contained in Scrip 
ture." 3 

On May 31, 1523, was canonised the venerable bishop Benno 
of Meissen, a contemporary of Gregory VII. Luther was in 
censed to the last degree at the thought of the special celebration 
to be held in 1524 in the town the Duchy being still Catholic 
in honour of the new Saint. He accordingly published his 
" Against the new idol and olden devil about to be set up at 
Meyssen." 4 His use of the term " devil " in the title he vindi 
cates as follows on the very first page : Now, that, " by the 
grace of God, the Gospel has again arisen and shines brightly," 
" Satan incarnate " is avenging himself " by means of such 
foolery " and is causing himself to be worshipped with great 
pomp under the name of Benno. It was not in his power to 
prevent Duke George setting up the relics at Meissen and erecting 
an artistic and costly altar in their honour. The only result of 
Luther s attack was to increase the devotion of clergy and people, 
who confidently invoked the saintly bishop s protection against 
the inroads of apostasy. The attack also led Catholic writers in 
the Duchy to publish some bitter rejoinders. The rudeness of 
their titles bears witness to their indignation. " Against the 
Wittenberg idol Martin Luther " was the title of the pamphlet 
of Augustine Alveld, a Franciscan Guardian ; the work of Paul 
Bachmann, Abbot of Alte Zelle, was entitled "Against the 
fiercely snorting wild-boar Luther," and that of Hieronymus 
Emser, " Reply to Luther s slanderous book." The last writer 
was to some extent involved in the matter of the canonisation 
through having published the Legend of the famous Bishop. 
This he had done rather uncritically and without testing his 
authorities, and for this reason had been read a severe lesson by 
Luther. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 651 f. ; " Opp. lat. var.," 2, p. 511. 
In the " Defensio contra Eccii iudicium." 

2 Ib., Weim. ed., 15, p. 183 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 251. " Widder den 
newen Abgott und allten Teuffel der zu Meyssen sol erhaben werden." 

3 Ib., p. 194 f. = 264. 
* Ib., p. 175 = 249. 



124 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Luther s opposition to this canonisation was, however, 
by no means dictated by historical considerations but by his 
hatred of all veneration of the Saints and by his aversion to 
the ideal of Christian self-denial, submissive obedience to 
the Church and Catholic activity of which the canonised 
Saints are models. He himself makes it easy to answer the 
question whether it was zeal for the moral reformation of 
the Church which drove him to assail canonisation and the 
veneration of the Saints ; nowhere else is his attempt to 
destroy the sublime ideal of Christian life which he failed to 
understand and to drag down to the gutter all that was 
highest so clearly apparent as here. The real Saints, so he 
declared, were his Wittenbergers. Striving after great 
holiness on the part of the individual merely tended to 
derogate from Christ s work ; the Evangelical Counsels 
fostered only a mistaken desertion of the world. 

Judging others by his own standard, he attempted to drag 
down the Saints of the past to the level of mediocrity. Real 
Saints must be " good, lusty sinners who do not blush to 
insert in the Our Father the forgive us our trespasses. 
It was " consoling " to him to hear, that the Apostles, too, 
even after they had received the Holy Ghost, had at times 
been shaky in their faith, and " very consoling indeed " that 
the Saints of both Old and New Covenant " had fallen into 
great sins " ; only thus, so he fancies, do we learn to know 
the " Kingdom of Christ," viz. the forgiveness of sins. 
Even Abraham, agreeably with Luther s interpretation of 
Josue xxiv. 2, was represented to have worshipped idols, 
in order that Luther might be able to instance his con 
version and say : Believe like him and you will be as holy 
as he. 1 

The Reformation in the Duchy of Saxony considered as 
typical 

In 1539, after the death of Duke George, at Luther s 
instance, the protestantising of the duchy of Saxony was 
undertaken with unseemly haste ; to this end Henry, the 
new sovereign, ordered a Visitation on the lines of that 
held in the Saxon Electorate and to be carried out by 

1 Cp. vol. iii., p. 191 f. ; 211 f. and Joh. Wieser in "Luther und 
Ignatius von Loyola" (" Zeitschr. f. kath. Theol.," 7 (1883) and 8 
(1884), particularly 8, p. 365 ff.). 



THE SAXON REFORMATION 125 

preachers placed at his disposal by the Elector. Jonas and 
Spalatin now became the visitors for Meissen. Before this, 
on the occasion of the canonisation of St. Benno, Spalatin, 
in a letter to Luther, had treated the canonisation as 
a laughing matter. On July 14, the visitors, alleging the 
authority of the Duke, summoned the Cathedral Chapter at 
Meissen to remove the sepulchre of St. Benno. On this 
being met by a refusal armed men were sent to the Cathedral 
the following night. " They broke into fragments the 
richly ornamented sepulchre of the Saint, together with the 
altar, to quote the words of the bishop s report to the 
Emperor, they decapitated a wooden statue of St. Benno 
and stuck it up outside as a butt for ridicule. " x 

Luther, for his part, in a letter to Jonas of August 14 of 
the same year, has his little joke about the visitors undoing 
of the canonisation of Benno. You have unsainted Benno 
and have shown no fear of Cochlseus, Schmid, nor of the 
Nausei and Sadoleti, who teach the contrary. They are 
indignant with you, ultra-sensitive men that they are, know 
ing so little of grammar and so much less of theology." 2 

Nor did the progress of the overthrow of the Church 
throughout the Duchy bear the least stamp of moral reform. 
The very violence used forbids our applying such a term to 
the work. The Catholic worship at the Cathedral was at 
once abolished and replaced by Lutheran services and 
preaching. The priests were driven into exile, the bishop 
alone being permitted to carry on " his godless papistical 
abominations and practices openly in his own residence " 
(the Castle of Stolpen). At the demand of the Witten- 
bergers the professors at Leipzig University who refused to 
conform to the Lutheran doctrine were dismissed. Melanch- 
thon insisted, that, if they refused to hold their tongues, 
they must be driven out of the land as " blasphemers." The 
new preachers publicly abused the friends, clerical and lay, 
of the late Duke to such an extent that the Estates were 
moved to make a formal complaint. Churches and 
monasteries were plundered and the sacred vessels melted 
down. 3 

Maurice, the son of Duke Henry, who succeeded in 1541, 

1 Janssen, "Hist, of the German People" (Engl. Trans.), vi., p. 54. 

" Brief wechsel," 12, p. 231. 
3 Cp. Janssen, ib. 



126 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

showed himself even more violent and relentless in ex 
tirpating the olden system. 

The profoundly immoral character of this reformation, 
the interference with the people s freedom of conscience, 
the destruction of religious traditions which the peaceable 
inhabitants had received a thousand years before from holy 
missionaries and bishops, merely on the strength of the 
new doctrines of a man who claimed to have a better Gospel 
all this was expressly sanctioned and supported by 
Luther. 

He wrote in a memorandum on the proceedings : " There is 
not much room here for discussion. If my gracious Duke Henry 
wishes to have the Evangel, then His Highness must abolish 
idolatry, or not afford it protection . . . otherwise the wrath 
of heaven will be too great." As a " sovereign appointed by 
God " the ruler " owed it to Him to put down such horrible, 
blasphemous idolatry by every means in his power." This was 
nothing more than " defending Christ and damning the devil " ; 
an example had been given by the " former kings of Juda and 
Israel," who had abolished " Baal and all his idolatry," and later 
by Const an tine, Theodosius and Gratian. For it was as much 
the duty of princes and lords as of other people to serve God and 
the Lord Christ to the utmost of their power. Away, therefore, 
with the abbots and bishops " since they are determined to remain 
blasphemers . . . they are blind leaders of the blind ; God s 
wrath has come upon them ; hence we must help in the matter 
as much as we can." 1 

Yet the Christian emperors here appealed to could have fur 
nished Luther with an example of forbearance towards heathen 
Rome and its religious works of art which might well have shamed 
him. He did not know that at Rome the defacing and damaging 
of temples, altars or statues was most strictly forbidden, and that, 
for instance, Pope Damasus (f384) had been formally assured by 
the city-prefect that never had a Christian Roman appeared 
before his tribunal on such a charge. 2 Elsewhere, however, such 
acts of violence were not unknown. 

Luther s spirit of persecution was quite different from the 
spirit which animated those Roman emperors who came over to 
Christianity. It was their desire to hasten the end of an out 
worn religion of superstition, immorality and idolatry. With 
them it was a question of defending and furthering a religion 
sent from heaven to renew the world and which had convincingly 
proved the divinity of its mission by miracles, by the blood of 
martyrs and by the striking holiness of so many thousands of 
confessors. 

1 July, 1539, " Brief wechsel," 12, p. 188. 

2 Cp. my " Hist, of Rome and the Popes in the Middle Ages " 
(Engl. Trans., i., pp. 9-26). 



THE CURRENTS OF THE AGE 127 

It was against the faithful adherents of this very religion 
that, on the pretext of the outward corruption under which 
it groaned, Luther perpetrated so many acts of violence 
regardless of the testimony of a thousand years of beneficent 
labours. His ingratitude towards the achievements of the 
olden Church in the education of the nations, his deliberate 
ignoring of the great qualities which distinguished her and 
in his day could still have enabled her to carry out her own 
moral regeneration from within, are incompatible with his 
having been a true moral reformer. 

The Aims of the Reformation and the Currents of the Age 

Looking at the state of the case from the standpoint of the 
olden Catholic Church a closer historical examination shows 
that what she needed above all was a strengthening of her 
interior organisation. 1 

In vieAV of the tendency to split up into separate States, 
in view of the decay of that out\vard bond of the nations 
under the Empire which had once been her stay, and of the 
rise of all sorts of new elements of culture requiring to be 
exploited for the glory of God and the spiritual betterment 
of mankind, a consolidation of the Church s structure was 
essential. The Primacy indeed was there, exercised its 
functions and was recognised, but what was needed was 
a more direct recognition of a purified Papacy. The bond 
of unity between the nations within the Church needed to 
be more clearly put in evidence. This could best be done by 
allowing the significance of a voluntary submission to the 
authority appointed by God, and of the Primacy, to sink 
more deeply into the consciousness of Christendom. This 
was all the more called for, now that the traditional devotion 
to Rome had suffered so much owing to the great Schism 
of the West, to the reforming Councils and the prevalence 
of Gallican ideas, and that the splendour of the Papacy 
seemed now on the wane. The excessive concern of the 
Popes in politics and the struggle they had waged in Italy 
in the effort to establish themselves more securely had by no 
means contributed to increase respect for the power of the 
keys in its own peculiar domain, viz. the spiritual. 

1 In what follows we have drawn largely on J. Wieser (see above, 
p. 124, n. 1). 



128 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Thus any reformer seeking to improve the Church s 
condition had necessarily to face this task first of all. Many 
other moral requirements arising out of the then state of 
society had, however, also to be borne in mind. 

It was necessary to counteract, by laying stress on what 
had been handed down, the false subjectivism and universal 
scepticism which the schools of philosophy had let loose on 
the world ; also to oppose the cynicism, lack of discipline 
and love of destruction which characterised Humanism, by 
infusing into education the true spirit of the Church. Both 
these tasks could, however, be accomplished only by men 
filled with respect for tradition who while on the one hand 
broad-mindedly accepting the new learning, i.e. without 
questioning or distrusting reason and its rights, on the other 
hand possessed the power and the will to spiritualise the 
new culture. The disruptive tendency of the nations, the 
counterpart in international politics of the prevalent in 
dividualism, required to be corrected by laying stress on 
the underlying common ground. The undreamt-of enlarge 
ment of the Church through the discovery of new lands had 
to be met by organisations, the members of which were 
filled with love of self-denial and zeal for souls. At the same 
time the materialism, which was a consequence of the great 
increase of wealth brought from foreign lands, had to be 
checked. To oppose the alarming growth of Turkish power 
it was necessary to preach self-sacrifice, manly courage and 
above all Christian unity amongst those in power, amongst 
those who in former times had sallied forth against the East 
strong in the feeling of being one family in the faith. A still 
worse foe to Christian society was to be found in moral 
discouragement and exhaustion ; there was need of a new 
spirit to awaken the motive force of religious life and to 
stir men to a more active use of the means of grace. 

If we compare the moral aims and motives which inspired 
Luther s reformation, with the great needs of the times, as 
just described, we cannot fail to see how far short he fell of 
the requirements. 

Most of the aims indicated were quite strange to him. 
Judging from the standpoint of the olden Church, he 
frequently sought the very opposite of what was required. 
Some few instances may be cited. 

So little did Luther s reformation tend to realise the 



HIS SUBJECTIVISM 129 

sublime moral principle of the union and comradeship of 
the nations, that, on the contrary, he encouraged national 
ism and separatist tendencies even in Church matters. Where 
his idea of a National Church prevailed, there the strongest 
bond of union disappeared completely. 1 The more the 
authority of the Empire was subverted by the separatists, 
by religious Leagues and violent inroads of princes and 
sovereign towns within the Empire, the more the idea of 
unity, which at one time had been so great a power for 
good, had to suffer. He complained that the nations and 
races were as unfriendly to each other as devils. But for 
him, the rude Saxon, to abuse all who dwelt outside his 
borders in the most unmeasured terms, and to pour out the 
vials of his wrath and vituperation on the Latin nations 
because they were Catholic could hardly be regarded as 
conducive to better harmony. When he persistently 
declared in his writings and sermons that the real Turks 
were to be found at home, or when he fanned the flames of 
fraternal hatred against the Papists within the Fatherland, 
such action could scarcely promote a more effectual resist 
ance to the danger looming in the East. The Bible, accord 
ing to him, was to serve as the means of uniting the people 
of God. He flung it amongst the people at a time when 
everything was seething with excitement ; yet he himself, 
in spite of all his praise of Bible study, was moved to 
execrate the results. It seemed, so he declared, as though 
it had been done merely " in order that each one might 
bore a hole where his snout happened to be." 2 

As to subjectivism, the dominant evil of the age, he him 
self carried it to its furthest limits, relentlessly condemning 
everywhere whatever did not appeal to him and exalting 
his personal views and feelings into a regular law ; sub 
jectivism pervades and spoils his whole theology, and, in 
the domain of ethics, puts both personality and conscience 
on a new and very questionable basis. 3 The subjective 
principle as used by him and exalted into an axiom, might 
be invoked equally by any religious faction for its own ends. 
We need only recall Luther s theory of the lonely isolation 
of the individual in the matter of faith. 

1 Wieser rightly points out that Luther claimed above all to be a 
" National Prophet " ; he was fond of saying that he had brought the 
Gospel "to the Saxons," or " to the Germans." Ib., 8, pp. 143 f., 356. 

2 Ib., 8, p. 352. 3 Above, pp. 3 ff. and 66 ff. 

V. K 



130 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Again, if that transition period between mediaeval and 
modern times was suffering from moral and religious 
exhaustion and was inclined to be pessimistic concerning 
spiritual goods, and if, for its moral reform, what was 
needed was a leader deeply imbued with faith in revelation, 
able by the very strength of his faith to arouse the world of 
his day, and to inspire the lame and timid with enthusiasm 
and delight in the ancient treasures of religion then, again, 
one is forced to ask whether such a man as Luther, even 
apart from his new and erroneous doctrines, had the requi 
site strong and overbearing devotion to supernatural 
truths ? Is it not Luther who speaks so often of the weak 
ness of his faith, of his doubts and his inward trials, and who, 
in order to reassure himself, declares that everyone, even 
the Apostles, the martyrs and the saints, were acquainted 
with the like ? 

Not only did he not fight against pessimism, but, as the 
years went by, he even built it into a truly burdensome 
system. Towards the end of his life, owing both to his 
theories and to his experiences, he became a living embodi 
ment of dejection, constituting himself its eloquent advocate. 
His view of the history of the kingdom of Christ was the 
gloomiest imaginable. Everywhere he saw the power of 
the devil predominant throughout the whole course of the 
world s history. 

Not only is everything in the world outside of Christ Satanic, 
but even the ancient people of God, chosen with a view to the 
coming Redeemer, according to Luther, " raged and stormed " 
against the faith. But " the fury of the Jews " was exceeded by 
the " malice " which began to insinuate itself into the first 
Church not very long after its foundation. What the Jews did 
was " but a joke and mere child s play " compared with the cor 
ruption of the Christian religion by means of " human ordinances, 
councils and Papistry." Hardly had the light enkindled by Christ 
begun to shine before it gradually nickered out, until lighted again 
by Luther. In the East prevailed the rule of the Turks, those 
devils incarnate, whilst the West groaned under the Papacy, 
which far exceeds even the Islam in devilry. 1 

His pessimism sees the origin of the corruption in the Church 
in the fact, that, already in the first centuries, " the devil had 
broken into Holy Scripture and made such a disturbance as to 
give rise to many heresies." To counteract these the Christians 
surrendered themselves to human ordinances ; " they knew of 

1 Cp. Wieser, ib., 8, p. 353. 



HIS PESSIMISM 131 

no other way out of the difficulty than to set up a multitude of 
Councils side by side with Scripture." " In short, the devil is 
too clever and powerful for us ; everywhere he is an obstacle and 
a hindrance. If we go to Scripture, he arouses so much dissension 
and strife that we grow sick of the Word and afraid to trust to 
it. Yet if we rely on human councils and counsels, we lose 
Scripture altogether and become the devil s own, body and soul." 
This evil was not solely due to setting up human ordinances in 
the place of Scripture, but also to the preference shown in theory 
to works which arose when people saw, that " works or deeds did 
not follow " from the preaching of the Apostles, " as they should 
have done." " Hence the new disciples set to work to improve 
upon the Master s building and proceeded to confuse two different 
things, viz. works and faith. This scandal has been a hindrance 
to the new doctrine of faith from the beginning even to the present 
day." 

From all this one would rather gather that the fault lay more 
in the nature of Christianity than in the devil. 

Luther s pessimistic tendency also expresses itself in the 
conviction, that it was the " gruesome, frightful and boundless 
anger of God " that was the cause of the desolation of Christen 
dom during so many centuries, though he assigns no reason for 
such anger on the part of God. 

His gloomy view of the world, exercising an increasing domina 
tion over him, led him to take refuge in fatalistic grounds for 
consolation, which, according to his wont, he even attributed to 
Christ who had inspired him with them. Haunted by his dia 
bolical visions he finally became more deeply imbued with 
pessimism than any present-day representative of the pessimistic 
philosophy. 

" Here you are living," so he writes to one of his friends, " in 
the devil s own den of murderers, surrounded by dragons and 
serpents. Of two things one must happen ; either the people 
become devils to you, or you yourself become a devil." 1 

Formerly he had looked forward with some courage and 
confidence to the possibility of a change. But even his 
courage, particularly at critical junctures, for instance, at 
the Coburg and during the Diet of Augsburg, more resembled 
the wanton rashness of a man who seeks to set his own fears 
at defiance. At any rate his peculiar form of courage in 
faith was not calculated to give a fresh stimulus, amid the 
general relaxation and exhaustion, to religious enthusiasm 
and the spirit of cheerful self-sacrifice for the highest aims 
of human life. On the other hand, his success was largely 
due to the discouragement so widely prevalent. We meet 
with a mournful echo of this discouragement in the sayings 

1 Wieser, ib., 8, p. 387. 



132 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

of certain contemporary Princes of the Church, who seem 
to have given up everything for lost. Many who had been 
surprised and overwhelmed by the sudden bursting of the 
storm were victims of this depression. 

Luther not only failed to direct the unfavourable ten 
dencies of the age into better channels, but even to some 
extent allowed himself to be carried away by them. 

Even so strong a man as he, was keenly affected by the 
spirit of the age. In some respects it is true his work 
exercised a lasting effect on the prevalent currents, but in 
others he allowed his work to be dominated by the spirit 
then abroad. To the nominalistic school of Occam he owed 
not only certain of his doctrines but also his disputatious 
and subversive ways, and his method of ignoring the general 
connection between the truths of faith and of making the 
most of the grounds for doubt. Pseudo-mystic influences 
explain both his subjectivism and those quietistic princi 
ples, traces of which are long met with in his writings. 
Humanism increased his aversion to the old-time scholasti 
cism, his animosity to the principles of authority and 
tradition, his contempt for all things mediaeval, his lack of 
appreciation for, and unfairness to, the religious orders no 
less than the paradox and arrogance of his language. A 
strain of coarse materialism runs through the Renaissance. 
In Luther, says Paulsen, " we are reminded of the Renais 
sance by a certain coarse naturalism with which the new 
Evangel is spiced, and which, in his attacks on celibacy 
and the religious life, occasionally leads Luther to speak as 
though to abstain from carnal works was to rebel against 
God s Will and command." 1 To the tendency of the 
Princes to exalt themselves Luther yielded, even at the 
expense of the liberties and well-being of the people, simply 
because he stood in need of the rulers support. The spirit 
of revolt against the hierarchy which was seething amongst 
the masses and even among many of the theologians, and 
which the disorders censured in the Gravamina of the 
various Diets had brought almost to the point of explosion, 
carried Luther away ; even in those writings which con 
temporaries and aftercomers were to praise as his greatest 
achievement and, in fact, in his whole undertaking in so far 
1 " Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts," I 2 , 1896, p. 174. 



THE CHURCH APART 133 

as it involved separation from Rome, he was simply following 
the trend of his time. 



8. The Church Apart of the True Believers 

Luther s sad experiences in establishing a new Church 
led him for several years to cherish a strange idea ; his then 
intention was to unite the true believers into a special band 
and to restrict the preaching of the Gospel to these small 
congregations which would then represent the real Church. 

This idea of his of gathering together the true Christians 
has already been referred to cursorily elsewhere, 1 but it is 
of such importance that it may well be dealt with somewhat 
more in detail. 

Luther s Theory of the Church Apart prior to 1526 

On the whole the idea which Luther, previous to 1526, 
expressed over and over again as clearly as could be desired 
and never rejected later, viz. of uniting certain chosen 
Christians the true believers in a " congregation apart " 
and of regarding the remainder, i.e. the ordinary members 
of the flock which followed him, or popular Church as it was 
termed, as a mere lump still to be kneaded, gives us a deep 
insight into the development which his conception of the 
Church underwent and into his opinion of the position of his 
congregations generally. The idea was an outcome more of 
circumstances than of reflection, more a fanciful expedient 
than a consequence of his theories ; thus it was that it suffered 
shipwreck on the outward conditions which soon showed 
that the plan was impossible of realisation. It really 
originated in the moral disorders rampant in the new 
Church, particularly at Wittenberg. So few of those who 
followed him allowed their hearts to be touched by the 
Evangel, and yet all, none the less, claimed not merely to 
be called Evangelicals but even to share in the Supper. 
Luther saw that this state of things was compromising the 
good name of the work he had started. 

After the refusal of the Princes and nobles to listen to his 
appeal to amend the state of Christendom, he determined 
to take his stand on the congregational principle. He fondly 

1 See above, vol. iii., p. 2-5 ff. 



134 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

expected that, thanks to the supposed inward power of 
reform in the new communities, all his proposals would soon 
be put into execution, the old system of Church government 
swept away and a new order established more in accordance 
with his views. Hence in the writing to the magistrates and 
congregation of Prague, " De instituendis ministris ecclesice " 
(Nov., 1523), which, without delay, he caused to be trans 
lated into German, 1 he strove to show, how, everywhere, 
the new Church system was to be established from top to 
bottom by the selection of pastors by members of the 
congregation filled with faith (" Us qui credunt, hcec scri- 
bimus "). 2 According to this writing, the Visitors and 
Archbishop yet to be chosen by the zealous clergy, were to 
live only for the sake of the pastors and the congregations, 
whom they had to better by means of the Word. The 
faithful congregations " will indeed be weak and sinful " 
Luther had 110 hope of setting up a Church of the perfect 
but, " seeing they have the Word, they are at least not 
ungodly ; they sin indeed, but, far from denying, they confess 
the Word." 3 " Luther s optimism," says Paul Drews, 
" saw already whole parishes converted into congregations 
of real Christians, realising anew the true Church of the 
Apostolic ideal." 4 

In the same year, 1523, on Maundy Thursday, he for the first 
time spoke publicly, in a sermon delivered at Wittenberg, of the 
plan he had long cherished of segregating the " believing " 
Christians from the common herd . This was when publishing a new 
rule on the receiving of the Supper, making Penance, or at least 
a general confession of sin, a condition of reception. In future 
all were no longer to be allowed to approach the Sacrament 
indiscriminately, but only those who were true Christians ; 
hence communion was to be preceded by an examination in 
faith, i.e. by the asking of certain questions on the subject. The 
five questions, and the answers, which were printed with a 
preface by Bugenhagen, practically constituted an assurance of 
a sort to the dispensers of the Sacrament that the communicants 

1 Vol. ii., p. 111. " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 169 ff. ; " Opp. lat. 
var.," 6, p. 494 sqq. 

2 " Werke," ib., p. 192 = p. 528. 3 Ib., p. 194=532. 

4 " Entsprach das Staatskirchentum dem Ideale Luthers ? " 
(" Zeitschr. f. Theol. und Kirche," 1908, Suppl., p. 38.) The striking 
new works of Hermelink, K. Miiller, etc., have already been referred 
to elsewhere. In addition we must mention K. Holl, " Luther und das 
landesherrliche Kircheriregiment " ("Zeitschr. f. Theol. und Kirche," 
1911, Suppl.), where the writer takes a view of the much-discussed 
question different from that of K. Miiller. 



THE CHURCH APART 135 

approached from religious motives and that they received the 
Body and Blood of Christ as a sign of the forgiveness of their 
sins. 

" It must be a faith," says Luther in this sermon, " which God 
works in you, and you must know and feel that God is working 
this in you." But did it come to a " serious self-examination you 
would soon see how few are Christians and how few there would 
be who would go to the Sacrament. But it might be arranged and 
brought about, as I greatly wish, for those in every place who 
really believe to be set apart and distinguished from the others. 
I should like to have done this long ago, but it was not feasible ; 
for it has not been sufficiently preached and urged as yet." 
Meanwhile, instead of " separating " the true believers (later on 
he speaks of private sermons for them to be preached in the 
Augustinian minster) he will still address his discourse to all, 
even though it be not possible to know " who is really touched 
by it," i.e. who really accepts the Gospel in faith ; but it was 
thus that Christ and the Apostles had preached, " to the masses, 
to everyone ; . . . whoever can pick it up, let him do so. . . . 
But the Sacrament ought not thus to be scattered broadcast 
amongst the people in the way the Pope did." 1 

In the " Formula missce " from about the beginning of Dec., 1523, 
he again speaks of the examination of the communicants, and 
adds that it was enough that this should take place once a year, 
while, in the case of educated people, it might well be omitted 
altogether ; the examination by the " bishop " (i.e. the pastor) 
must however extend also to the " life and conduct " of the 
communicants. "If he sees a man addicted to fornication, 
adultery, drunkenness, gambling, usury, cursing or any other 
open vice he is to exclude him from the Supper unless he has 
given proof of amendment." Moreover, those admitted to the 
Sacrament are to be assigned a special place at the altar in order 
that they may be seen by all and their moral conduct more easily 
judged of all. He would, however, lay down no commands on 
such matters, but leave everything, as was his wont, to the good 
will of free Christian men. 2 

The introduction of the innovation was, moreover, to depend 
entirely on the consent of the congregation, agreeably with his 
theory of their rights. This he said in a sermon of Dec. 6, 1523. 3 
It was probably in that same month that the plan was tried. 

These preliminary attempts at the formation of an 
assembly of true Christians were no more crowned with 
success than his plan for the relief of the poor by means of 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 484 f. ; Erl. ed., II 2 , p. 205 f. Cp. ib., 
p. 481 = 201 f., and Erl. ed., IP, p. 82 f. 

2 Ib., Weim. ed., 12, p. 215 f. ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, 13. On the 
" Formula missce" see below, xxix., 9. 

3 Ib., Weim. ed., 11, p. 210. The Latin version reads : " Si 
Dominus dederit in cor vestrum, ut simul probetis" etc. 



136 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the so-called common box, or his efforts to establish a new 
system of penalties. Hence he declared, that, owing to the 
Wittenbergers want of preparation, he was obliged to put 
off its execution " until our Lord God forms some Chris 
tians." For the time being " we have not got the necessary 
persons." In 1524 he told them that " neither charity nor 
the Gospel could make any headway amongst them." 1 In 
the Wittenberg congregation he could " not yet discern a 
truly Christian one." 2 He nevertheless permitted the whole 
congregation to take its share, when, in the autumn of 1523, 
the town-council appointed Bugenhagen to the office of 
parish-priest ; this he did agreeably with his ideas concerning 
the rights of the congregation. 

Meanwhile, however, the ideal of a whole parish of true 
believers seemed about to be realised elsewhere. Full of 
apparent zeal for the new Evangel, the magistrates and 
burghers of Leisnig on the Mulde drafted a scheme for a 
" common box " and begged Luther to send them some 
thing confirming their right to appoint a minister the town 
having refused to accept the lawfully presented Catholic 
priest and also a reformed order for Divine worship. The 
instructive incident has already been mentioned. 3 

Luther seized eagerly on the opportunity of calling into 
existence at Leisnig a community which might in turn prove 
a model elsewhere. From the establishment of such 
congregations he believed there would result a system of 
new Churches independent indeed, though supported by 
the authorities, which might then take the place of the 
Papal Church now thought on the point of expiry. The 
idealistic dreams with which, as his writings show, the 
proceedings at Leisnig filled his mind would seem to have 
been responsible both for his project for Wittenberg and 
for his letter to the Bohemians previously referred to. The 
fact that they belonged to the same time is at any rate 
a remarkable coincidence. 

He promised the town-council of Leisnig (Jan. 29, 1523) 
that he would have their scheme for the establishment of 
a common fund printed, 4 and this he did shortly after, adding 
an introduction of his own. 5 

1 Ib., 12, p. 693 ; cp. 697. On the Wittenberg Poor Box see below, 
vol. vi. xxxv., 4. 2 P. Drews, p. 55. 

3 Vol. ii., p. 113 ; cp. vol. iii., p. 27. 4 " Brief wechsel," 4, p. 70. 
6 " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 11 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 106 ff. 



THE CHURCH APART 137 

In the introduction he expresses his conviction that true 
Christianity, the right belief such as he desiderated, had taken 
up its abode with them. For had they not made known their 
willingness to enforce strict discipline at Leisnig ? " By God s 
grace," he tells them, " you are yourselves enriched by God," 
hence you have " no need of my small powers." Still, he was 
far from loath to draw up for them and for others, too, first the 
writing which appeared in print in 1523 (possibly at the beginning 
of March), "Von Ordenung Gottes Dienst ynn der Gemeyne," 1 
and then, about Easter, 1523, another booklet destined to become 
particularly famous and to which we have already frequently 
referred, " Das eyn Christliche Versamlung odder Gemeyne 
Recht und Macht habe, alle Lere zu urteylen," etc. 2 

In the first, speaking of public worship "to real, heartfelt, holy 
Christians," he says the model must surely be sought in the 
" apostolic age " ; at least the clergy and the scholars, if not the 
whole congregation, were to assemble daily, and on Sundays all 
were to meet ; then follow his counsels he took care to lay down 
no actual rules for the details of public worship, where the 
Word and the awakening of faith were to be the chief thing. 
These matters the congregation were to arrange on their own 
authority. 

The second booklet lays it down that it is the congregation and 
not the bishops, the learned or the councils who have the right 
and duty of judging of the preacher and of choosing a true 
preacher to replace him who does not proclaim the Word of God 
aright needless to say, regardless of the rights of church 
patronage. A minority of true " Christians " is at liberty to 
reject the parish priest and appoint a new one of the right kind, 
whom it then becomes their duty to support. Even " the best 
preachers " might not be appointed by the bishops or patrons 
" without the consent, choice and call of the congregation. "- 
There can be no doubt, that, if every congregation acted as was 
here proposed, this would have spelt the doom of the old church 
system. This too was what Luther s vivid fancy anticipated 
from the power of that Word which never returns empty-handed, 
though he preferred simply to ignore the huge inner difficulties 
which the proposal involved. The tidings that new congregations 
and town-councils were joining his cause strengthened him in his 
belief. His statements then, concerning the near overthrow of 
the Papacy by the mere breath of Christ s mouth, are in part to 
be explained by this frame of mind. 

At Leisnig, however, events did not in the least justify his 
sanguine expectations. 

The citizens succeeded in making an end of their irksome 
dependence on the neighbouring Cistercian monastery, and 

1 /&., p. 35ff=153ff. 

2 76., 11, p. 408 ff.= 22, p. 141 ff. " Ordenug eyns gemeynen 
Kastens," 1523. On the date cp. Drews, p. 43. 



138 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the town-council promptly sequestrated all the belongings 
and foundations of the Church ; it then became apparent, 
however, that, particularly on the side of the council, 
the prevalent feeling was anything but evangelical ; the 
councillors, for instance, refused to co-operate in the 
establishment of a common poor-box or to apply to this 
object the endowments it had appropriated. Grave dis 
sensions soon ensued and Luther sought in vain the assist 
ance of the Elector. Of any further progress of the new 
religious-community ideal we hear nothing. The fact is, 
the fate at Leisnig of the model congregation and " common 
fund " scheme was a great disappointment to Luther. 
Elsewhere, too, attempts at establishing a common poor- 
box were no less unsuccessful. Of these, however, we shall 
treat later. 1 

Luther s next detailed statements concerning the 
" assembly of true Christians " are met in 1525. Towards 
the end of that year Caspar Schwenckfeld, a representative 
of the innovations in Silesia, visited him, and various theo 
logical discussions took place in the presence of Bugenhagen 
and Jonas, 2 of which Schwenckfeld took notes which have 
come down to us. 3 With the help of what Luther said 
then, supplemented by some later explanations, the history 
of the remarkable plan can be followed further. 

In the discussion then held with Schwenckfeld the latter 
voiced his conviction, that true Christians must be separated 
from the false, " otherwise there was no hope " of improvement ; 
excommunication, too, must " ever go hand in hand with the 
Gospel," otherwise " the longer matters went on the worse they 
would get, for it was easy to see the trend throughout the world ; 
every man wanted to be Evangelical and to boast of the name of 
Christ. To this he [Luther] replied : it was very painful to him 
that no one showed any sign of amendment " ; he had, however, 
already taken steps concerning the separation of the true be 
lievers and had announced " publicly in his sermons " his inten 
tion of keeping a "register of Christians " and of having a watch 
set over their conduct, also " of preaching to them in the mon 
astery " while a " curate preached to the others in the parish." 4 

1 See below, vol. vi., xxxv., 4. 2 Above, p. 78 ff. 

3 " Schwenckfelds Epistolar," 2, 2, 1570, p. 39 fi. Cp. K. Ecke, 
" Schwenckfeld, Luther und der Gedanke einer apostolischen Refor 
mation," 1911, p. 101, where the words of the Epistolar, pp. 24 and 39, 
are given, showing that Schwenckfeld " noted down the whole affair 
from beginning to end at the inn while it was still fresh in his memory." 

4 Of these steps and the sermon nothing is known. 



THE CHURCH APART 139 

It was a disgrace, remarked Luther, how, without such helps, 
everything went to rack and ruin. Not even half a gulden had 
he been able to obtain for the poor. 

Concerning the ban, however, "he refused to give a reply" 
even when repeatedly pressed by Schwenckfeld ; he merely 
said : " Yes, dear Caspar, true Christians are not yet so plentiful ; 
I should even be glad to see two of them together ; for I do not 
feel even myself to be one." And there the matter rested. 1 

Hence, even then, he still had a quite definite intention of 
forming such a congregation of true believers at Wittenberg. 2 

During the last months of 1525 Luther concluded a writing 
entitled " Deudsche Messe und Ordnung Gottis Diensts," which 
was published in 1526, in which he speaks at length of the strange 
scheme which was ever before his mind. Its reaction on his 
plans for Mass and Divine worship may here be passed over. 3 
What more nearly concerns us now is the distinction he makes 
between those present at Divine worship. If the new Mass, so 
he says, " is held publicly in the churches before all the people " 
many are present " who as yet neither believe nor are Christians." 
In the popular Church, such as it yet is, " there is no ordered or 
clearly cut assembly where the Christians can be ruled in accord 
ance with the Gospel " ; to them worship is merely " a public 
incentive to faith and Christianity." It would be a different 
matter if we had the true Christians assembled together, " with 
their names registered and meeting together in some house or 
other," where prayer, reading, and the receiving of the Sacrament 
would be assiduously practised, general almsgiving imposed and 
" penalties, correction, expulsion or the ban made use of accord 
ing to the law of Christ." But here again we find him complaining : 
" I have not yet the necessary number of people for this, nor do 
I see many who are desirous of trying it." " Hence until Chris 
tians take the Word seriously, find their own legs and persevere," 
the carrying out of the plan must be delayed. Nor did he wish, 
so he says, to set up " anything new in Christendom." As he put 
it in a previous sermon: "It is perfectly true that I am certain 
I have and preach the Word, and am called ; yet I hesitate to 
lay down any rules." 4 

This hesitation cannot be explained merely by the 
anxiety to which he himself refers incidentally lest com 
mands should arouse the spirit of opposition and give rise 
to "factions," 5 for the absence of authority was evident ; 

1 " Epistolar," ib., pp. 39, 43. 
" Zeitschr. f. KG.," 13, p. 552 ff. 

3 See below, xxix., 9. The writing is reprinted in " Werke," Weini. 
ed., 19, p. 70 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 227 ff. 

4 Sermon of Dec. 6, 1523, ib., Weim. ed., 11, p. 210. 

5 In the " Deudsche Messe," Weim. ed., 19, p. 75 ; Erl. ed., 22, 
p. 231 : "In order that no faction may arise as though I had done it 
of my own initiative." 



140 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

it must also have sprung from the author s own sense of the 
indefiniteness of the plan. His pious wish to establish an 
organisation on the apostolic model was not conspicuous 
for practical insight, however great the stress Luther laid 
on the passages he regarded as authoritative (2 Cor. ix., 
1 Cor. xiv., Mt. xviii. 2, and Acts vi.). " This much is 
clear," rightly remarks Drews, " that Luther was uncertain 
and wavered in the details of his plan. He had but little 
bent to sketch out organisations even in his head ; to this 
he did not feel himself called." 1 

Others, not alone from the ranks of such as inclined to 
fanatism, were also to some extent to blame for the per 
sistence with which he continued to revert to this pet idea. 
Nicholas Hausmann, pastor of Zwickau, and an intimate 
friend, approached him at the end of 1526 on the subject 
of the ban, which he regarded as indispensable for the cause 
of order. On Jan. 10, 1527, Luther replied, referring him to 
the Visitation which the Elector had promised to have held. 
" When the Churches have been constituted ( constitutis 
ecclesiis ) by it, then we shall be able to try excommunica 
tion. What can you hope to effect so long as everything is 
in such disorder ? " 2 

Here we reach a fresh stage in the efforts to establish 
a new system of Church organisation. Luther waited in 
vain for the birth of the ideal community. Everything 
remained " in disorder." 3 The intervention of the State 
introduced in the Visitation was, however, soon to establish 
an organisation and thus to improve discipline. 

The Church Apart replaced by the Popular Church 
Supported by the State 

Luther hoped much from the Visitation of 1527 ; it was not 
merely to constitute parishes but also to serve the cause of the 
" assembly of Christians " and of discipline ; the segregation 
of the true believers was to be effected within the parishes, at least 

1 " Entsprach des Staatskirchentum dem Ideale Luthers ? " p. 65. 
Drews adds : " He was afraid of doing something contrary to God s 
will." That Luther had not thought out the matter plainly is also 
stated by K. Miiller (" Luther und Karlstad t," p. 121). 

2 " Briefwechsel," 6, p. 10. 

3 As late as June 26, 1533 (" Briefwechsel," 9, p. 317), he wrote : 
" In hoc sceculo tarn turbido et nondum satis pro recipienda discipline 
idoneo non ausim consulere tarn subitam innovationem." Cp. p. 142, 
below. 



THE CHURCH APART 141 

when the parishes were not prepared to go over as a whole to the 
true Church, as, for instance, Leisnig had once promised to do. 
Luther again wrote, on March 29, 1527, to Hausmann, the 
zealous Zwickau Evangelical : " We hope that it [the assembly 
of Christians ] will come about through the Visitation." Then, 
he fancies, " Christians and non-Christians would no longer be 
found side by side " as at the ordinary gatherings in church ; but, 
once they were " separated and formed an assembly where it was 
the custom to admonish, reprove and punish," church discipline 
could soon be applied to individuals too. 1 

But the " hope " remained a mere hope even when the Visita 
tion was over. 

Nothing whatever is known of any further attempt of Luther 
in this direction, though, as Drews points out, " it is evident that 
he was unable to understand how Christians who had reached the 
faith could fail to feel themselves impelled to assemble in com 
munities organised on the Apostolic model." 2 He had to look 
on helplessly while the followers of the new preaching formed 
a great congregation, of which many of the members were, as he 
had said, " not Christians at all," and whose prayer-gatherings 
were no more than " an incentive to faith and Christianity." 
(Above, p. 139.) 

In Hesse alone had steps been taken independently of the 
Visitation in the Saxon Electorate and previous to it to bring 
about a condition of things more in accordance with Luther s ideal. 
Moreover, Luther himself preferred to remain entirely neutral in 
respect of this novel attempt, destined to become famous in the 
history of Protestant church-organisation. The prime mover in 
the Hessian plan was the preacher, Lambert of Avignon, an 
apostate Friar Minor ; his draft was submitted to Landgrave 
Philip by a Synod held at Homberg at the end of 1526. 3 Philip 
forwarded it to Luther in order to hear his opinion. Among the 
proposals made in the draft were the following : After preaching 
for a while to the whole of the people, they were to be asked 
individually whether they wished to join the assembly of true 
believers and submit themselves to the discipline prevailing 
amongst them ; those, however few in number, who give in their 
names are the Christians ; as for the others they must be looked 
upon as pagans ; the former have their meetings and choose 
their pastors because it is the duty of the flock to decide in what 
voice the shepherds shall speak. All the clergy were annually to 
meet the delegates of the congregations, nobles and princes in 
synod and to elect a committee and three Visitors for the direction 
and supervision of the whole Church of the land ; these were also 
to ratify the election of all the clergy chosen by the people. 4 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 53 (" Brief wechsel," 6, p. 32), p. 399. 

2 P. 67. 

3 The plan as Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 47 f., rightly points out had 
been formed " mainly on elements previously brought forward by 
Luther." 

4 Reprinted in A. L. Richter, " Die evang. Kirchenordnungen des 
16. Jahrh.," 1, 1846, p. 56. 



142 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Luther advised the Landgrave " not as yet to allow this order 
to appear in print, for I," he adds, " dare not yet be so bold as to 
introduce so great a number of laws amongst us and with such 
high-sounding words." He did not, however, by any means 
reject the plan absolutely. On the contrary he writes, that, in 
his opinion, it were better to allow the project to grow up gradu 
ally " from force of habit " ; a few of the pastors, " say one, 
three, six, or nine " might well make a beginning ; otherwise 
they were sure to find that " the people were not yet ripe for it," 
and that " much would have to be altered." 1 

As Landgrave Philip, after receiving from Luther this rather 
discouraging reply, proceeded no further, the " plan for the 
realisation of Luther s ideas " was carried stillborn to the grave. 2 
" And yet it was the only practical plan which at all corresponded 
with the theories of the Reformer prior to 1525. " 3 Later on 
Philip adopted the Saxon Reformation-book for the organising 
of the Church of Hesse. 

That the project of esoteric congregations of true believers 
still survived in Luther s mind long after, in spite of the 
consolidation of the popular Church in the form of a State 
Church, is plain from a letter of his on June 26, 1533, to 
Tilemann Schnabel and the other Hessian clergy (" episcopi 
Hassice"), again sitting in assembly at Homberg. Schnabel 
was a whilom Provincial of the Saxon Augustinians and 
had taken part in the abortive attempt to establish a 
community of true Christians at Leisnig of which he was 
pastor. Finally, want, misery and his own instability of 
character drove him from the country. 4 From 1526 
onwards he had been living at Alsfeld in Hesse. The new 
assembly at Homberg had submitted to Luther, for his 
approval, the draft of a scheme of church discipline, most 
probably inspired by Schnabel himself. Luther s reply is 
of the utmost importance for the understanding of his 
opinion of the conditions then prevailing in the Church. 5 

He is, at bottom, quite at one with the Hessian preachers, 
but, on practical grounds, chiefly on account of the lack of 
the " veri Christiani" he rejects the well-meant proposals 
as too far-reaching and incapable of execution. 

1 Jan. 7, 1527. " Werke," Erl. ed., 56, p. 170 (" Brief wechsel," 6, 

P- 9). 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 48. 

3 F. Feuchtwanger : " Gesch. der sozialen Politik . . . irn Zeitalter 
der Reformation " (" Schmollers Jahrb. f. Gesetzgebung N.F.," 33, 
1909), p. 193. 

* Cp. Enders, " Luthers Brief wechsel," 5, p. 73 n. 

5 June 26, 1533, to Schnabel, " Brief wechsel," 9, p, 316. 



THE CHURCH APART 143 

The time, according to him, " is not yet ripe for the intro 
duction of discipline." " Verily one must let the peasants 
run riot a little . . . and then things will right themselves." 
We have not as yet taken root in the earth ; when the 
branches and leaves shall have appeared, then we shall be 
better able to oppose the mighty. The Hessian preachers, 
so he tells them, instead of rushing in with the Greater 
Excommunication involving such serious civil consequences, 
would do better to begin with the so-called " Lesser Ex 
communication " in use at Wittenberg, simply excluding the 
unworthy from Communion and from the right to stand as 
sponsors ; for " the Greater Excommunication does not 
come within our jurisdiction ( quod non sit nostri iuris ), 
and, moreover, concerns only those who desire to be real 
Christians ; nor are we in these times in a position to make 
use of the Greater Excommunication ; it would merely 
make us look silly were we to attempt it before we have the 
necessary power. You seem to hope that the Prince will 
take the enforcing of it into his own hands ; but this is 
very uncertain, and it is better he should have nothing to 
do with it." 

Thus, though Luther did not believe in the feasibility of 
a community of real Christians there and then, or that it 
was likely soon to be realised, yet the idea had not quitted 
his mind. The great mass of those belonging to his party 
meanwhile constituted a sort of popular Church. But such 
a popular Church was not in Luther s eyes the real institu 
tion intended by the Gospel. It consisted of the masses 
" who must first be left their own way for a while " before 
the Church can be established. Drews justly observes of 
the above statement : " Luther did not relinquish the ideal 
of a really Christian congregation because he had come to 
see that it was mistaken, the ideal had simply lost its 
practical value in his eyes because it now seemed impossible 
of realisation. Luther resigned himself to take things as 
they were. As he had always regarded it as his mission, not 
to organise, but merely to preach the Evangel, he was easily 
able to console himself. At any rate it would be quite wrong 
to say that the popular Churches which now grew up at all 
corresponded with his ideal." 1 

The popular Church throve, nevertheless, and, soon, 

i Ib., p. 68. 



144 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

owing to the co-operation of numerous factors, became a 
State institution. 

The result was the Lutheran State-Church, to be con 
sidered later in another connection, was something widely 
different from the original idea of its founder ; he frequently 
grumbled about it, without, however, being able to check 
its development, which, indeed, he himself had been the 
first to urge. 1 The sovereigns on their side, particularly the 
Saxon Elector in the very birthplace of the innovations, 
did their best to make ecclesiastical order, so far as externals, 
its organisation and control went, depend upon themselves. 2 

The Visitation of 1527, for which Luther himself had 
asked, furnished the Elector Johann with a welcome pretext 
for such action. 

Even when giving his formal consent to the Visitation 
the Elector says, speaking of the " erection of parishes " : 
" We have considered and weighed the matter and have 
come to the conclusion that it becomes us as ruler of the 
land to see to the business." 3 Luther, moreover, for the 
sake of securing some order in the new Church by the only 
means at his command, outdid himself in assurances to the 
Elector, that, he, being the principal member of the Church, 
must take in hand the adjusting of the parishes and the 
appointment of suitable clergy ; that his very love of his 
country obliged him to this, and, that, owing to the pressing 
needs of the time, he was a sort of " makeshift bishop " of 
the Church. This last title is significant of the reserve 
Luther still maintained ; he was loath to see the Church s 
authority simply merged in that of the State ; he did, 
nevertheless, speak of the sovereign as the head of the new 
congregations and, little by little, allowed him so large 
a share in their government that, even in his own day, the 
secular sovereign was to all intents and purposes supreme 
head of the episcopate. 4 

1 Below, xxxv., 2. 

2 To what extent the Elector was following the example of his 
Catholic ancestors in Church matters is shown by K. Pallas, " Entste- 
hung des landesherrlichen Kirchenregiments in Kursachsen " (" N. 
Mitteilungen aus dem Gebiet historisch-antiquarischer Forschung "), 
24, 2. 

3 To Luther, Nov. 26, 1526, " Brief wechsel," 5, p. 408. 

4 Proofs of this will be given below when we deal with Luther s 
attitude towards State government of the Church. So ineffectual 
was Luther s reserve and even his formal protest, that Carl Holl 



WORSHIP AND RITUAL 145 

9. Public Worship. Questions of Ritual 

The ordering of public worship, particularly at Witten 
berg, was a source of much anxiety to Luther. He was not 
blind to the difficulties which his reformation had to face in 
this department. 

The soul of every religion must be sought in its public 
worship. Hence, in Catholicism, the bishops, from earliest 
times, had bestowed the most diligent and pious care on 
worship. A proof of this is to be found in the grand liturgies 
of antiquity and the prayers, lessons and outward rites with 
which they so lovingly surround the eucharistic sacrifice. 

To build up a new liturgy from the very foundation was 
far from Luther s thoughts. He was not the " creator " 
of any new form of public worship. He preferred to make 
the best of the Roman Mass, for one reason, as he so often 
insists, because of the weak, i.e. so as not needlessly to 
alienate the people from the new Church by the introduction 
of novelties. 1 From the ancient rite he merely eliminated 
all that had reference to the sacrificial character of the Mass, 
the Canon, for instance, and the preceding Offertory. 
He also thought it best to retain the word " Mass " in both 
the writings in which he embodied his adaptation : "Formula 
missce et communionis pro ecclesia Wittenbergensi " 1523, 2 
and " Deudsche Messe und Ordnung Gottis Diensts " 1526. 3 

By the introduction of the German Mass in the latter 
year " the whole Pope was flung out of the Church," 4 to use 
Spalatin s words. It is noteworthy that Luther, in announc 
ing this latest innovation to the inhabitants of Wittenberg, 
admitted that he had been urged by the sovereign to make 
the change. 5 

(above, p. 134, n. 4) remarks (p. 59) : " These exertions on Luther s 
part were of small avail. Facts proved stronger than his theories. Once 
the Visitation had been made in the Elector s name, then, in spite of 
all that might be said, he could not fail to appear as the one to whom 
the oversight of spiritual matters belonged. It must have been fairly 
difficult for the Electoral Chancery to make the distinction between 
the Elector speaking as a brother to other Christians and as a ruler 
to his subjects. It was certainly much easier to treat everything on 
the same lines." Cp. W. Friedensburg, above, vol. ii., p. 333, n. 2. 

1 Cp. vol. ii., p. 319 ff. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 205 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 2 sqq. 

3 /&., Weim. ed., 19, p. 70 ff. ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 227 ff. 

4 To V. Warnbeck, Sep. 30, 1525, see Schlegel, " Vita Spalatini," 
p 222. Cp. Jonas to Spalatin, Sep. 23, 1525, vol. iv., p. 511. 

6 " Since so many from all lands request me to do so, and the secular 

V. L 



146 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

In Luther s " German Mass," as in his even more traditional 
Latin one, we find at the beginning the Introit, Kyrie Eleison, 
Gloria and a Collect ; then follows the Epistle for the Sunday 
together with a Gradual or Alleluia or both ; then the Gospel 
and the Credo, followed by the sermon. " After the sermon the 
Our Father is to be publicly explained and an exhortation given 
to those intending to approach the Sacrament," 1 then comes the 
Consecration. The Secret was omitted with the Offertory. The 
Preface was shortened. Of the whole of the hated " Canon " 2 the 
" priest " was merely to pronounce aloud over the Bread and 
Wine the words of consecration as given in 1 Cor. xi. 23-25, 
saying then the Sanctus and Benedictus. The Elevation came 
during the Benedictus. 3 The Our Father and the Pax follow, 
then the communion of the officiating clergyman and the faithful, 
under both kinds. To conclude there was another collect and 
then the blessing. 

Some of the portions mentioned were sung by the congregation 
and great use was made of German hymns. 4 Whatever had been 
retained in Latin till 1526 was after that date put into German. 
For the sake of the scholars who had to learn Latin Luther would 
have been in favour of continuing to say the Mass in that language. 
The old ecclesiastical order of the excerpts of the Epistles and 
Gospels read in church was retained, though the selection was not 
to Luther s tastes ; it seemed to him that the passages in Holy 
Scripture which taught saving faith were not sufficiently to the 
fore ; he was convinced that the man who originally made the 
selection was an ignorant and superstitious admirer of works ; 6 
his advice was that the deficiency should at any rate be made 
good by the sermon. The celebration of Saints days was 
abolished, saving the feasts of the Apostles and a few others, 
and of the feasts of the Virgin Mary only those were retained 
which bore on some mystery of Our Lord s life. In addition to 
the Sunday service short daily services were introduced consisting 
of the reading and expounding of Holy Scripture ; these were to 
be attended at least by the scholars and those preparing themselves 
for the preaching office. At these services Communion was not to 
be dispensed as a general rule but only to those who needed it. 

power also urges me to it." " Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 50 f. ; Erl. 
ed., 14 2 , p. 278, from the Church-postils. Cp. G. Rietschel, " Lehrb. 
der Liturgik," Berlin, 1900, p. 278. 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 95 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 239. 

2 For Luther s writing : " Von dem Grewel der Stillmesse so man den 
Canon nennet," see above, vol. iv., p. 511 f. 

3 For the fate of this see our vol. iii., p. 392 f., vol. iv., p. 195, n. 4, 
p. 239, and Kawerau, in Holler, " KG," 3 3 , p. 401. 

4 See below, xxxiv., 4. 

5 Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 532. He also repeatedly complains th at 
the hymns and prayers of antiquity failed to make sufficient mention 
of the Redemption and the Grace of Christ. Even in the " Te Deum " 
he misses the doctrine of Redemption, needless to say in tho sense in 
which he taught it. " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 425. 



WORSHIP AND RITUAL 147 

Alb and chasuble continued to be worn by the clergyman 
at the " Mass " in the parish church of Wittenberg, though 
no longer in the monastic church. The Swiss who visited 
Wittenberg were struck by this, and, in their reports, 
declared that Luther s service was still half Popish. At 
Augsburg where Zwinglianism was rampant the " puppet 
show " of the Saxons, with their priestly vestments, candles, 
etc., seemed a " foolish " and scandalous thing. 1 Luther 
wished the use of lights and incense to be neither enjoined 
nor abolished. 

As he frequently declared, the utmost freedom was to 
prevail in matters of ritual in order to avoid a relapse into 
the Popish practice of man-made ordinances. Even the 
adoption of the " Deudsche Messe, etc.," was to be left to 
the decision of the congregations and the pastors. 2 If they 
knew of anything better to set up in its place, this was not 
to be excluded ; yet in every parish-congregation there must 
at least be uniformity. The chief thing is charity, edifica 
tion and regard for the weak. Above all, the " Word must 
have free course and not be allowed to degenerate into 
singing and shouting, as was formerly the case." 3 

Of the whole of the Wittenberg liturgical service, he says 
in his " Deudsche Messe " to the surprise of his readers 
who expected to find in it a work for the believers that 
it did not concern true believers at all : " In short we do 
not set up such a service for those who are already Chris 
tians." 4 He is thinking, of course, of the earnest, convinced 
Christians whom, as stated above (p. 133 f.), he had long 
planned to assemble in special congregations. They alone 
in his eyes constituted the true Church, however imperfect 
and sinful they might be, provided they displayed faith and 
goodwill. 

" They " (the true believers), he here says of his regulations, 
" need none of these things, for which indeed we do not live, but 
rather they for the sake of us who are not yet Christians, in 
order that we may become Christian ; true believers have their 
service in the spirit." 5 In the case of the particular assemblies 
he had in mind for the latter, they would have to "enter their 
names and meet in some house or other for prayer, reading, 

1 W. Germann, " Joliann Forster " (" N. Beitr. zur Gesch. deutschen 
Altertums," Hft. 12), 1894. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 72 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 227. 

3 Ib., 12, p. 37 = 22, p. 156. 4 Ib., 19, p. 73-22, p. 228. 3 Ib. 



148 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

baptism, receiving of the Sacrament and other Christian works." 
" Here there would be no need of loud or fine singing. They 
could descant a while on baptism and the Sacrament, and direct 
everything towards the Word and prayer and charity. All they 
would need would be a good, short catechism on faith, the Ten 
Commandments and the Our Father." Amongst them ecclesi 
astical discipline and particularly excommunication would be 
introduced ; such assemblies would also be well suited for 
" common almsgiving," all the members helping in replenishing 
the poor-box. 1 

Until such " congregations apart " had come into being the 
service, and particularly the sermon, according to Luther, must 
needs be addressed to all. " Such a service there must be for the 
sake of those who are yet to become Christians, or need strengthen 
ing . . . especially for the sake of the simple-minded and young 
... on their account we must read, sing and preach . . . and, 
where this helps at all, I would have all the bells rung and all 
the organs played." He boasts of having been the first to impart 
to public worship this aim and character, "to exercise the young 
and to call and incite others to the faith " ; the " popish services," 
on the other hand, were " so reprehensible " because of the 
absence of any such character. In his Churches he sees " many 
who do not yet believe and are no Christians ; the greater part 
stand there gaping at the sight of something new, just as though 
we were holding an open-air service among the Turks or 
heathen." Hence it seems to him quite necessary to regard the 
worship in common as simply a public encouragement to faith 
and Christianity. 2 

As for those Christians who already believed, Luther cannot 
loudly enough assert their freedom. 

As his highest principle he sets up the following, which 
in reality is subversive of all liturgy : In Divine worship 
" it is a matter for each one s conscience to decide how he 
is to make use of such freedom [the freedom of the Christian 
man given by the Evangel] ; the right to use it is not to be 
refused or denied to any. . . . Our conscience is in no way 
bound before God by this outward order." 3 This has the 
true Lutheran ring. Beside this must be placed his fre 
quently repeated assertion, that we can give God nothing 
that tends to His honour, and that every effort on our 
part to give Him anything is merely an attempt to make 
something of man and his works, which works are invariably 
sinful. 4 He also teaches elsewhere that not only does real 
and true worship consist in a life of faith and love, but that 

1 Ib., p. 75 = 230 f. 2 Ib., 74 ff. = 229 ff. 

3 16., p. 72 = 228. 4 Cp. for instance above, p. 44 f. 



WORSHIP AND RITUAL 149 

the outward worship given in common is in reality a sacri 
fice of praise and thanksgiving (a gift to God after all) 
made in common solely because of all people s need to ex 
press their faith and love; 1 he also calls it a " sacrificium," 
naturally, not in the Catholic, but in the widest sense of the 
word. Even the expression " eucharistic sacrifice," i.e. 
sacrifice of praise, is not inacceptable to him ; but at least 
the sacrifice must be entirely free. 

With such a view the form of worship described above 
seems scarcely to tally. A well-defined outward order of 
worship was first proposed, and then prescribed ; it would, 
according to Luther s statement, have imposed itself even 
on the assemblies of true believers. It is true, he says, that 
only considerations of charity and public order compel such 
outward regulations, that it was not his doing nor that of 
any other evangelical authority. Still it is a fact that they 
were enjoined, that a service according to the choice of the 
individual was, even in Luther s day, regarded with mis 
givings, and that even in the 16th century it fell to the 
secular prince to sanction the form of worship in church 
and to punish those who stayed away, those who failed to 
communicate and those who did not know their catechism. 2 
We have here another instance of the same contradiction 
apparent in matters of dogma, where Luther bound down 
the free religious convictions of the individual supposed 
to be based on conscience and the Bible in cast-iron strands 
in his catechism and theological hymns. The catechism, 
even in the matter of confession, and likewise the theology 
of the hymns, closely trenched on the regulations for Divine 
worship. The Ten Commandments, the Our Father, etc., 
were also put into verse and song. Moreover, those who 
presented themselves for communion had to submit at least 
to a formal examination into their faith and intentions, 
and also to a certain scrutiny of their morals a strange 
limitation surely of Evangelical freedom and of the universal 
priesthood of all believers. 

According to Kawerau, the best Protestant liturgical 
writers agree, that a " false, pedagogic conception of wor- 

1 Cp. above, p. 45, and " Werke," Erl. ed., 14 2 , p. 87. 

2 On Luther s attitude towards such punishment cp. his letter to 
Margrave George of Brandenburg (Sep. 14, 1531), " Brief e," ed. De 
Wette, 4, p. 308 (" Brief wechsel," 9, p. 103). 



150 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

ship " finds expression in Luther s form of service. 1 To 
make the aim of the public worship of the congregation 
whatever elements the latter might comprise a mere 
exercise for the young and a method of pressing " Chris 
tianity " on non-believers was in reality to drag down the 
sublime worship of God, the " sacrifice of praise and thanks 
giving " as Luther himself sometimes calls it, to an un 
deservedly low level. 

This degradation was, however, intimately bound up with 
the fact, that Luther had robbed worship of its most precious 
and essential portion, the eucharistic sacrifice, which, ac 
cording to the Prophet Malachias, was to be offered to 
the Lord from the rising till the going down of the sun as 
a pure and acceptable oblation. To the Catholic observer 
his service of the Mass, owing to the absence of this all- 
important liturgical centre, appears like a blank ruin. 
As early as 1524 he was told at Wittenberg that his service 
was "dreary and all too sober." Although it was his 
opposition to the Holy Sacrifice and its ceremonies which 
called forth this stricture, yet at the same time his objection 
to any veneration of the Saints also contributed to the 
lifeless character of the new worship. It was, however, 
above all, the omission of the sacrifice which rendered 
Luther s clinging to the ancient service of the Mass so 
unwarrantable. 2 

Older Protestant liturgical writers like Kliefoth spoke of 
the profound, mystical value of Luther s liturgy and even 

1 Kawerau in the "Gottinger Gelehrte Anzeigen," 1888, 1, p. 113 f., 
in his review of Joh. Gottschick, " Luthers Anschauungen vom christl. 
Gottesdienst," Freiburg, 1887 : "In practice Luther helped to further 
a worship which, though easily to be explained, constituted neverthe 
less a questionable concession to the needs of the moment ; for he 
vindicates the purely pedagogic character of worship and ascribes it 
to the need of educating backward Christians or of making real 
Christians of them." Kawerau speaks of this as "an object which, on 
every side, spells serious injury to worship itself." Gottschick had 
proved convincingly (p. 19 f.) that " such a conception of worship was 
on every point at variance with Luther s own principles concerning 
the priestly character of the congregation and the relation of prayer 
to faith." In this view Gottschick would find himself " in complete 
harmony with all eminent liturgical writers at the present day." 

2 J. Gottschick (see above, n. 1 ), in concluding, charges Luther s reform 
of divine worship with being merely an adaptation of the Roman 
Mass, absolutely worthless for Lutherans, adopted out of too great 
consideration for the weak ; this form of worship, utterly at variance 
with his own liturgical principles, was not to be regarded as a real 
Lutheran liturgy. 



WORSHIP AND RITUAL 151 

of certain elements as being quite original. Recourse to 
the old scheme of the Mass, duly expurgated, was, how 
ever, a much simpler process than they imagined. We 
must also bear in mind, that Luther himself was not so 
rigid in restricting the liturgy to the forms he himself had 
sketched out as they assumed. On the contrary, he left 
room for development, and allowed the claims of freedom. 
Hence it is not correct to say, that he curtailed the tendency 
towards " free liturgical development," as has been asserted 
of him by Protestants in modern times. 1 For it was no mere 
pretence on his part when he spoke of freedom to improve. 
The progress made in hymnology owing to this freedom is 
a proof that better results were actually arrived at. 

How easy it was, on the other hand, for liberty to lead to 
serious abuses is plain from the history of the Evangelical churches 
in Livonia. Melchior Hofmarm, the preacher, had come from 
that country to Wittenberg complaining that the reformed service 
had given rise to the worst discord among both people and clergy. 
Luther composed a circular letter addressed to the inhabitants of 
Livonia, entitled " Eyne christliche Vormanung von eusser- 
lichem Gottis Dienste unde Eyntracht an die yn Lieffland," which 
was printed together with a letter from Bugenhagen and another 
from Hofmann. 2 Therein he admits with praiseworthy frank 
ness his embarrassment with regard to ceremonial uniformity. 

" As soon as a particular form is chosen and set up," he says, 
" people fall upon it and make it binding, contrary to the freedom 
brought by faith." "But if nothing be set up or appointed, the 
result is as many factions as there are heads. . . . One must, 
however, give the best advice one can, albeit everything is not at 
once carried out as we speak and teach." He accordingly 
encourages those whom he is addressing to meet together 
amicably " in order that the devil may not slink in unawares, 
owing to this outward quarrel about ceremonies." " Come to 
some agreement as to how you wish these external matters 
arranged, that harmony and uniformity may prevail among you 
in your region," otherwise the people would grow " confused and 
discontented." Beyond such general exhortations he does not 
go and thus refuses to face the real difficulty. 

When seeking to introduce uniformity nothing was to be 
imposed as " absolute command," but merely to " ensure the 
unity of the Christian people in such external matters " ; in other 
words, " because you see that the weak need and desire it." The 

1 Cp. Kawerau s quotations in his article in the " Gdttinger Gel. 
Anzeigen," 1888, 1, p. 115. 

2 June 17, 1525, " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 412 ff. ; Erl. ed., 53, 
p. 315 ff. (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 198). For Bugenhagen s letter see 
" Brief wechsel," p. 207, for Hofmann s, ib., p. 213. 



152 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

people, however, were " to inure themselves to the breaking out 
of factions and dissensions. For who is able to ward off the 
devil and his satellites ? " "When you were Papists the devil, of 
course, left you in peace. . . . But now that you have the true 
seed of the divine Word he cannot refrain from sowing his own 
seed alongside." 

The writing did no good, for the confusion continued. It was 
only in 1528 that the Konigsberg preacher, Johann Briesmann, at 
the request of the authorities and with Luther s help, established 
a new form of church government in Livonia. 

Were one to ask which was the principal point in Luther s 
Mass, the Supper or the sermon, it would not be easy to 
answer. 

The term Mass and the adaptation of the olden ritual 
would seem to speak in favour of the Supper. 1 If, how 
ever, the service was to consist principally of the celebration 
of the Supper it was necessary there should always be com 
municants. Without communions there was, according to 
Luther, no celebration of the Sacrament. Now at Witten 
berg there were not always communicants, nor was there 
any prospect of the same presenting themselves at every 
Sunday service, or that things wxmld always remain as in 
1531 when Luther boasted, that " every Sunday the hun 
dred or so communicants were always different people." 2 

At the weekly services, communion in any case was very 
unusual. The custom had grown up under Luther s eyes 
that, on Sundays, as soon as the sermon was over, the 
greater part of the congregation left the church. 3 From 
this it is clear that the ritual involved a misunderstanding. 
In practice the celebration of the Supper became something 
merely supplementary, whereas, according to Luther him 
self, it ought to have constituted either the culmination of 
the service, or at least an organic part of Divine worship ; 
under him, however, it was soon put on the same level with 
the sermon though the organic connection between the 
two is not clear. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say 

1 Kawerau, in Holler, " KG.," 3 3 , p. 400 ; " The influence of the 
Catholic past is still evident in the fact, that, in spite of the predominant 
position assigned to preaching, the view still prevailed that Divine 
worship, in order to be complete, must include the Supper, and 
that it culminated in this office. This, even in the 16th century, 
gave rise to difficulties." 

2 To Margrave George of Brandenburg in the letter quoted above, 
p. 145, n. 2. 3 Kawerau, ib., p. 401. 



WORSHIP AND RITUAL 153 

that predominance was assigned to the sermon, 1 which 
undoubtedly was only right if, as Luther maintains, worship 
was intended only for instruction. 

In our own day some have gone so far as to demand 
that the sermon should be completely sundered from the 
Supper ; and also to admit, that the creation of a real 
Lutheran liturgy constitutes " a problem still to be solved." 2 

It is a fact of great ethical importance, that, what was 
according to Luther the Sacrament of His Real Presence 
instituted by Christ Himself, had to make way for preaching 
and edification by means of prayers and hymns. Even the 
Elevation had to go. From the beginning its retention 
had aroused " misgivings," 3 and, to say the least, Luther s 
reason for insisting on it, viz. to defy Carlstadt who had 
already abolished it, was but a poor one. It was abrogated 
at Wittenberg only in 1542 ; elsewhere, too, it was discon 
tinued. 4 Thus the Sacrament receded into the background 
as compared with other portions of the service. But, like 
prayer and hymn-singing, preaching too is human and 
subject to imperfections, whereas the Sacrament, even 
though it be no sacrifice, is, even according to Luther, the 
Body of Christ. Luther was, indeed, ready with an answer, 
viz. that the sermon was also the Word of God, and, that, 
by means of both Sacrament and sermon, God was working 
for the strengthening of faith. Whether this reply gets rid 
of the difficulty may here be left an open question. At any 
rate the ideal Word of God could not be placed on the 
same footing with the sermons as frequently delivered at 
that time by expounders of the new faith, capable or other 
wise, sermons, which, according to Luther s own loud com 
plaints, contained anything but the rightful Word of God, 
and were anything but worthy of being classed together 
with the Sacrament as one of the two component parts of 
Divine worship. 

Three charges of a general character were made by Luther 
against Catholic worship. First, " the Word of God had not been 
preached . . . this was the worst abuse." Secondly, " many 
unchristian fables and lies found their way into the legends, 
hymns and sermons." Finally, " worship was performed as a 

1 Ib., p. 400. Luther says : " Diligens verbi Dei prcedicatio est 
proprius cultus novi testamenti." " Opp. lat. exeg.," 19, p. 161. 

2 Gottschick. 3 This is Kawerau s opinion, ib., p. 401. 
4 See above, p. 146, n. 3. 



154 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

work whereby to win salvation and God s grace ; and so faith 
perished." 1 

Of these charges it is hard to say which is the most unjust. 
His assertion that the Word of God had not been preached and 
that there was 110 Bible-preaching, has been refuted anew by 
every fresh work of research in the history of preaching at that 
time. Nor was the Bible-element in preaching entirely lacking, 
though it might not have been so conspicuous. The truth is, 
that, in many places, sermons were extremely frequent. 2 

Luther s second assertion, viz. that Catholic worship was full 
of lying legends, does not contain the faintest trace of truth, more 
particularly there where he was most radical in his work of 
expurgation, i.e. in the Canon. The Canon was a part of the 
Mass-service, which had remained unaltered from the earliest 
times. It was only into the sermons that legends had found their 
way to a great extent. 

If finally, as seems likely, Luther, by his third charge, viz. that 
the olden Church sought to " win salvation and God s Grace " 
through her worship, means that this was the sole or principal 
aim of Catholic worship, here, too, he is at sea. The real object 
had always been the adoration and thanksgiving which are God s 
due, offered by means of the sublime sacrifice united with the 
spiritual sacrifice of the whole congregation. Adoration and 
thanksgiving found their expression above all in the sublime 
Prefaces of the Mass. The thought already appears in the 
" Sursum corda, Gratias agamus, etc., Dignum et iustum est," 
whereupon the priest, taking up again the " Dignum et iustum 
est/ proceeds : " &quum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique 
gratias agere . . . per Christum Dominum nostrum." It is not 
without significance that " dignum," " iustum " and " cequum " 
stand first, and that " salutare " comes after ; praise and thanks 
giving are what it becomes us first of all to offer in presence of 
God s Majesty, but they are also profitable to us because they 
render God gracious to us. 3 

The ritual of the Catholic sacrifice, dating as it does from 
the Church s remotest past, expresses adequately the 
highest thoughts of Christian ethics, viz. the adoration of 
the Creator by the creature through the God-man Christ, 
Who alone worthily honours Him. To this idea Luther s 
attempt at a liturgy does not do justice. 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 12, p. 35; Erl. ed., 22, p. 153. "Von 
Ordenung Gottes Dienst ynn der Gemeyne," 1523. 

2 Of the most recent studies we need only mention here H. Greving, 
" Ecks Pfarrbuch fiir U.L. Frau in Ingolstadt " (" RG1. Studien "), Hft. 
4 and 5, 1908, p. 87 ff. Cp. Janssen, "Hist, of the German People " 
(Engl. Trans.), vol. i., passim. 

3 This introduction, together with the whole text of the common 
Preface, enters into Luther s Latin Mass. " Werke," Weim. ed., 12, 
p. 212 ; " Opp. lat. var.," 7, p. 8. In his German Mass it is suppressed. 



SCHWENCKFELD ON LUTHER 155 

10. Schwenckfeld as a Critic of the Ethical Results of 
Luther s Life-work 

Caspar Schwenckfeld, the Silesian nobleman (see above, 
p. 78 ff.), is a type of those men who attached themselves to 
Lutheranism with the utmost enthusiasm, but, who, owing 
to the experience they met with and in pursuance of those 
very principles which Luther himself had at first advocated, 
came to strike out new paths of their own. 

In spite of his pseudo-mystical schemes for the establish 
ment of a Church on the Apostolic model ; in spite of his 
abandonment of doctrines to which Luther clung as to 
an heirloom of the ancient Church ; regardless of his 
antagonism to Luther which the latter repaid with relent 
less persecution this cultured fanatic expressed in his 
numerous writings and letters his lasting gratitude to, and 
respect for, Luther on account of the services which the 
latter had in his opinion rendered in the restoration of 
truth. He extols his " wonderful trumpet-call," 1 and 
without any trace of hypocrisy, says : What Martin 
Luther and others have done aright, for instance in the 
expounding of Holy Scripture ... I trust I will, with 
God s help, never underrate." 2 

At the same time, however, he is not slow to express it 
as his conviction, that, " At the beginning of the present 
Evangel the said [Lutheran] doctrine was far better, purer 
and more wholesome than it is now." 3 " Dr. Martin led us 
out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, 
and there he left us to lose ourselves on the rough roads ; 
yet he seeks to persuade everybody that we are already in 
the Promised Land." This he said in 1528. 4 

" Although Luther has written much that is good," 
" that has been and still may be profitable to believers, for 
which we give praise and thanks to God the Lord, still he 
has also written much that is evil, and in the end it will 
be proved that his and his people s doctrine or theologia was 
neither apostolic, nor pure, nor perfect . . . which certainly 
might have been seen long since by its fruits." 5 

1 "Epistolar," 2, 2, 1570. Ecke (see below, p. 156, n. 1), p. 159. 

2 " Der erste Teil der christl. orthodox. Biicher und Schriften. . . . 
Schwenckfelds . . . durch Mitbekenner zusammengetragen," 1564, 
p. 4. Ecke, p. 160 ; cp. p. 10 f. 

3 "Epistolar," ib., p. 228; cp. p. 246. 4 /&., p. 645. 5 /&., p. 519. 



156 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

His criticisms of Luther, which, in spite of his harsh treat 
ment at the latter s hands, are throughout temperately 
expressed and with a certain aristocratic reticence, deal 
on the one hand with the fruits of the Wittenberg Reforma 
tion, and, on the other, with certain main features of the 
ethical teaching of his master and one-time friend ; his 
strictures thus form a recapitulation of what has gone 
before. 

On the hoped-for Moral Revival 

16 The reformation of life has not taken place," this is 
what Carl Ecke, Schwenckfeld s latest biographer, repre 
sents as the honest conviction of the " apostolic " preacher 
of the faith in Silesia. 1 " The religion of Lutheranism as it 
then was did not, in Schwenckfeld s opinion, as a whole 
reach the standard of Bible Christianity." 2 " The greater 
part of the common herd," says Schwenckfeld, " who are 
called Lutherans do not know to-day how they stand, 
whether with regard to works, or in relation to God and 
to their own conscience." 3 

Schwenckfeld s own standard was certainly somewhat 
one-sided and his own Apostolic Church, so far as it ever 
saw the light, fell considerably short of the ideal. His 
insight into the ethical conditions and doctrines was, how 
ever, keen enough and his judgment was at least far calmer 
and clearer than that of Carlstadt and Luther s other more 
hot-headed antagonists. He was also able to base his 
definite and oft-repeated statements on the experience he 
had gained during his wide travels and in intercourse with 
all sorts of men. 

Thus he writes : " If by God s grace I see the great common 
herd and the poor folk on both sides, as they really are, then I must 
fain admit, that, under the Papacy and in spite of all its errors, 
there are more pious, godfearing men than in Lutheranism. I also 
believe that they might more easily be improved than some of 
our Evangelicals who are now trying to hide themselves and 
their sinful life behind Holy Scripture, nay, behind a fictitious 

1 " Schwenckfeld, Luther und der Gedanke einer apostolischen 
Ref.," Berlin, 1911, p. 161. 

2 Ecke, p. 176. The Protestant author adds in a note : " It must, 
however, be pointed out that this criticism does not affect the apostolic 
nature of the profound phenomena of Evangelical piety seen among 
Lutherans." 

3 " Christl. Biicher," etc. (above, p. 155, n. 2), p. 384. Ecke, p. 177. 



SCHWENCKFELD ON LUTHER 157 

faith and Christ s satisfaction, and in whom no fear of God 
is left." 1 

Many of Schwenckfeld s more specific complaints are supported 
by other witnesses. We may compare what Luther himself and 
his friends report of the conditions at Wittenberg 2 with what 
Schwenckfeld says a little later : " It is credibly asserted con 
cerning their Church at Wittenberg, that there such a mad, 
dissolute life prevails as is woeful to see ; there is no discipline 
whatever, no fear of God, and the people are wild, impudent and 
unmannerly, particularly Philip s students, so that even Dr. 
Major not long since (1556) is himself said to have complained 
of it there in a sermon, saying : Our Wittenberg is so widely 
talked of that strangers fancy there are only angels here ; when, 
however, they come they find only devils incarnate. If Philip, 
who sends out his disciples as Apostles in omnem terram does 
not found any better Churches than these, he has but little to 
boast of before God." 3 

" What harm and damage to consciences such Lutheran 
teaching has brought into Christendom it is easier to bew r ail with 
many tears than to describe." Though Luther s " Evangel and 
office has discovered and made an end of much false worship and 
a great apostasy, for which we give thanks to God the Lord," yet 
" it has but little of the power of grace, of the Holy Spirit, or of 
blessing, for bringing sinners to repentance and true conversion." 4 

" Thus we have Schwenckfeld s witness that he had seen 
nothing of any real awakening or revival among the people 
generally. Whole classes, the merchant class, for instance, 
remained inwardly untouched by the glad tidings ; even where 
the Word was preached, there the bad sermons, of which 
Schwenckfeld had complained as early as 1524, often produced 
evil fruits." Thus writes Ecke. 5 Schwenckfeld, however, does 
not lay all the blame on the preachers, but rather directly on the 
ethical principles resulting from Luther s doctrines, which had 
filled the utterances of the new preachers with so much that was 
dangerous and misleading. " Oh, how many of our nobles have 
I heard say: I cannot help it, it is God s Will, God does all, 
even my sin, and I am not answerable ; if He has predestined 
me I shall be saved. " How many have I heard, who all 
appealed to the Wittenberg writings, and, who, alas, to-day, are 
ten times worse than before the Evangel began to be preached." 6 

Whenever he exhorted his Lutheran co-religionists to con 
version and holiness of life, so he declares in 1543, he always 
received some reply such as the following : " We are poor sinners 
and can do nothing good." " Faith alone without works saves 
us." " We cannot keep God s law " ; " have no free-will." 
" Amendment is not in our power." " Christ has done enough 

1 " Epistolar," ib., p. 602. In 1550. Ecke, p. 196. 

2 See our vol. iv., p. 210ff., forinstance, and below, vol. vi.,xxxix., 1. 

3 " Die ander Verantwortung," 1556, Aiii. Ecke, p. 190 f. 

4 " Christl. Biicher," p. 326 f. Ecke, p. 163. 5 Ib. 
6 " Epistolar," 1, 1566, p. 680. Ecke, p. 164. 



158 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

for us ; He has overthrown sin, death, hell and the devil ; that is 
what we have to believe." 1 When he preached sanctification he 
was dubbed a " Papist." " That the Lutherans accuse me of 
being more a Papist than a Lutheran is due mainly to good works 
and the stress I lay on them." 2 

Even in 1524 he had published an essay on practical 
ethics entitled, " An Exhortation regarding the misuse of 
sundry Articles of the Evangel, etc." (Above, 79 f.) In 
1547 he found it necessary to publish another work on the 
" Misuse of the Evangel." To this misuse he attributes 
most of the above excuses of his " Lutheran co-religionists." 
Luther himself, so he declares here, was much to blame for 
the confusion that prevailed. He quotes many passages 
from Luther s Church-postils, from the edition printed at 
Wittenberg in 1526 with prefaces by Luther and Stephen 
Roth. He also makes use of the same work in another book, 
" On Holy Scripture," which he also wrote in 1547. 3 Many 
of the incriminated passages were " wickedly omitted " in 
the next editions of the Church-postils. 4 

Further Complaints of Schwenckf eld s. The Ethical 
Doctrines 

Schwenckfeld, in his strictures on Luther s preaching and 
its results, deals with the ethical side of the new teaching 
concerning the Law and the Gospel. 

Luther had said, that, with the law, God " wished to do 
110 more than make us feel our helplessness, our weakness 
and our sickness." 5 The critic asks: "Why not also to 
make us eschew evil and do good, 1 Peter iii. ? " On the 
other hand, Luther will have it that the " Law makes all of 
us sinners so that not even the smallest tittle of these com 
mandments can be kept even by the most holy." " Such 
is in short Luther s doctrine concerning the Law and the 
Commandments of God. There he lets it rest, as though 
the ground and contents of the Law and God s intention 
therein which was centred on Christ were nothing. . . . 

1 " Christl. Biicher," p. 362. In 1547. Ecke, ib. 

2 Ecke, p. 164, from a MS. 

3 " Christl. Biicher," p. 477. Ecke, p. 164. 

4 Thus G. Arnold, " Kirchenhistorie," Frankfurt a/M., 1729, 1, 
p. 413. 

5 Ib., p. 395. Ecke, p. 170 f., where he quotes in support of this 
and what follows, " Luthers Werke," Erl. ed., 14 2 , pp. 164 f., 174, 



SCHWENCKFELD ON LUTHER 159 

Of this doctrine, particularly, the common people can make 
nothing save that God has given us His commandments, 
not in order that we may keep them by means of His Grace, 
but only that we may thereby come to the knowledge of 



sin." 3 

" Why should we hate our life in this world . . . and 
follow Christ ? Nay, why take pains at all to enter in at the 
narrow gate and to seek the strait way to life everlasting 
(Mt. vii.) if it is possible to reach heaven along the broad 
way on which so many walk who are called Lutherans, and 
to enter in through the wide gate which they make for 
themselves ! " 2 

Two other points of doctrine which in the same connec 
tion Schwenckfeld censures in the strongest terms as real 
stumbling blocks in ethics, are the preaching of predestina 
tion and the denial of free-will. 

How, at the outset, the " learned had soared far too high " 
with their article of predestination " and, by means of their 
human wisdom, reached a philosophical, heathen conception 
[presumably the ancient fatum ] can readily be seen from their 
books, especially from Luther s against free-will and Melanch- 
thon s first Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans." 3 

" Luther writes that no one is free to plan either good or evil, 
but only does as he is obliged ; that, as God wills, so we live. . . . 
Item, that the man who does evil has no control over himself, 
that it is not in man s power to do evil or not, but that he is 
forced to do it, nos coacti facimus. " God," so Philip tells us, 
" does all things by His own power." 4 

" They have treated of predestination in accordance with 
heathen philosophy, forgetful of Christ and the Grace of the 
Gospel now made manifest ; they wrote of it from a human 
standpoint ; and though Luther and Philip, after they had seen 
the evil results, would gladly have retracted it, yet because what 
they had formerly taught was very pleasing to the flesh, it took 
root in men s hearts so deeply that what they afterwards said 
passed almost unheard." 5 

" This aberration," says Ecke, " was to Schwenckfeld a further 
sign that their method of reformation was not that of good 
missionaries." 6 

Schwenckfeld complains rightly : " Instead of beginning, after 
the Apostles example, by preaching penance in the name of 

1 Ib. 2 Ib., p. 325. Ecke, p. 172. 

3 Ib., p. 377. Ecke, p. 168. 

4 Ib., p. 420. Schwenckfeld s excuse is, however, worthy of note, 
p. 401 : " Such doctrine is not the outcome of an evil mind but is due 
to misapprehension." Ecke, p. 168. 

5 Ib., p. 421. Ecke, p. 169. 6 Ib. 



160 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Christ . . . they preferred vehemently to urge such lofty matters 
as predestination and the Divine election together with the denial 
of free- will." 1 

The universal priesthood as commonly preached and 
understood by the people furnishes Schwenckfeld with a 
further cause for grumbling. " They have also been in the 
habit of preaching and shouting to the multitudes that 
all of them were already Christians, children of God and 
spiritual kings and princes. What corruption of conscience 
and abuse of the Evangel has resulted from all this we see 
and hear to-day from many . . . who thereby have fallen 
into a bold and godless manner of life." 

Finally there was Luther s ethical attitude towards sin. 
" Look at the second sermon for Easter Day in Luther s 
Church-sermons [where he says] : 4 Where now is sin ? It 
is nailed to the cross. ... If only I hold fast to this, I 
shall have a good conscience of being, like Christ Himself, 
without sin ; then I can defy death, devil, sin and hell. 

Schwenckfeld continues : " And again : Seeing that Christ 
allowed Himself to be put to death for sin, it cannot harm me. 
Thus does faith work in the man who believes that Christ has 
taken away sin ; such a one feels himself to be without sin like 
Christ, and knows that death, devil and hell have been conquered 
and cannot harm him any more. Hcec ille. This has proved 
a scandal to many." 3 

He is angered by what Luther says in his sermon for the 8th 
Sunday after Trinity, that " no work can condemn a man, that 
unbelief is the only sin, and that it was the comfort of Christians 
to know that sins do not harm them. Item, that only sinners 
belong to the Kingdom of God." He is much shocked at such 
sayings as, " If you but believe you are freed from sin. ... If we 
believe then we have a Gracious God and only need to direct our 
works to the advantage of our neighbour so that they may be 
profitable to him." 4 

Such a form of neighbourly love does not suffice to reassure 
Schwenckfeld as to the method of justification taught by Luther. 
" We see here that repentance, the renewal of the heart and the 
crucifixion of the flesh with its lusts and concupiscences, as well 
as the Christian combat . . . are all forgotten." " How is it 
possible that such easy indulgence and soft and honeyed sermons 
should not lead to little account being made of sin, seeing the 

1 Ib., p. 401. Ecke, ib. 2 Ib. Ecke, p. 170. 

3 Ib,, p. 361. Ecke quotes " Luthers Werke," Erl. ed., II 2 , p. 217. 

4 Ib., p. 365. Ecke, p. 166, quotes Erl. ed., 13 2 , p. 218 ; 14 2 , pp. 281 f ., 

287 ft 



SCHWENCKFELD ON LUTHER 161 

people are told that God winks at the sins of all those who 
believe ? "* 

Again and again he returns to the patent fact that " the result 
of such shameless preaching and teaching is nothing but a grave 
and damnable abuse of the Evangel of Jesus Christ, since people 
now make but little account even of many and great sins." 2 

For Luther to point to the Crucified and tell the believer that 
" sin is nothing but a devilish spectre and a mere fancy," was 
to speak "fanatically." Luther might write what he pleased, but 
here, at any rate, he was himself guilty of that fanatism of 
which he was fond of accusing others. 3 Schwenckfeld himself 
had been numbered by the preachers among the crazy fanatics. 

The Silesian also ruthlessly attacked the imputation of 
the merits of Christ by means of the Sola Fides. 

The Lutherans, even the best of them, imagine their righteous 
ness to be nothing else " but the bare faith, since they believe 
God accounts them righteous, even though they remain as they 
were before." " They should, however^ be exhorted to search 
Holy Scripture and to ask themselves in their hearts whether 
such faith and righteousness are not rather a human persuasion, 
mere imposition and self-delusion . . . which men invent to 
justify an impenitent life ; not a true, living faith, the gift of the 
Holy Ghost . . . which, as Scripture says, purifies the heart, 
Acts xv. . . ., reconciles consciences, Rom. v. . . ., and brings 
Christ into our hearts, Eph. iii., Gal. ii." 4 

An instructive parallel and at the same time a severe 
censure on Luther s method of building up " faith " on in 
ward assurance is afforded by Schwenckfeld s account of the 
experiences and spiritual trials on which he himself had 
founded his faith. The preachers, insisting on the outward 
Word, urged that he had no right to appeal to his mere 
feelings ; yet, as he points out, this very thing had been 
proclaimed from Wittenberg as the right, nay the duty 
of all. 

" In addition to all this they reject the ghostly feeling and that 
inward sense of the Grace of God which Luther at the outset . . . 
declared to be necessary for salvation, writing that : No one can 
rightly understand God or the Word of God unless he has it 
direct from the Holy Ghost. No one, however, can receive it 
from the Holy Ghost unless he experiences it, makes trial of it 
and feels it ; in this experience the Holy Ghost is teaching us as 

1 Ib. 2 Ib. 3 Ib. 

4 16., p. 343 f. Cp. " Epistolar," 2, 2, p. 912. Ecke, p. 176. Cp. 
Dollinger, on Schwenckfeld, in " Die Reformation," 1, p. 254 ff. 

v. M 



162 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

in His own school, outside of which nothing is learned but all Is 
mere delusion, words and vapouring." 1 

" How would Dr. Luther s own gloss stand," Schwenckfeld 
asks elsewhere, " which he gives on the words of the New Testa 
ment, 1 Cor. xi. : Let a man prove himself, and where he says : 
to prove oneself is to feel one s faith, etc. ? But the man who 
feels his faith will assuredly by such a faith which is a power 
of God and the very being of the Holy Ghost have forgiveness 
of sins and bear Christ in his believing heart." 2 

He reproaches Luther with having in later days failed to 
distinguish between the outward Word or preaching and the 
inward living Word of God. The blunt assertion of the preachers 
which was encouraged by " Luther s unapostolic treatment of 
the problem of Christian experience" 3 that faith referred 
solely to the written Word and was elicited merely by preaching, 4 
leads in practice to neglect of those passages of Scripture which 
speak of the Divine character of faith and of its transmission by 
the Holy Ghost ; owing to the lack of a faith really felt, there was 
also wanting any " holiness of life worked by the Spirit, and any 
moral justice and sanctification." 5 

Schwenckfeld on the Popular Church and the New Divine 

Service 

The system of a State Church then being set up, the 
externalism of the Lutheran Popular Church and the 
worship introduced were naturally looked at askance by 
the promoter of the Church Apart of true believers ; at the 
same time his strictures are not unduly biassed. 6 

He looks at the matter from the standpoint of Lutheran 
freedom, or as Carl Ecke expresses it, of " the early Christian 
individualism rediscovered by Luther." 7 From this point 
of view Schwenckfeld can detect in the official Lutheran 
Church only a shadow of the Apostolic Church. Not merely 
the principle of the multitude, but also the appeal to the 
authorities for help and coercion was opposed to the spirit 
of Christ, at least according to all he had learnt from Luther. 

" He raises the question whether that can possibly be the true 
Church of Christ where human coercion, force, commands and 
prohibitions, rather than Christian freedom and willingness, rule 
over faith and conscience. . . . The secular sword has no place 

1 " Epistolar," 2, 2, p. 913. Ecke, p. 55. 

2 Ib., p. 427. Cp. " Epistolar," I., p. 410. 

3 Ecke s words, p. 161. 

4 " Epistolar," 2, 2, p. 513, cp. p. 403 ff. ; 1, p. 424. Ecke, ib. 

5 Ecke, p. 162. 

Cp. Ecke, p. 160, n. 3. Ib., p. 222. 






SCHWENCKFELD ON LUTHER 163 

in the Churches of Christ, but belongs to the secular authorities 
for the punishment of the wicked. . . . As little as it is in the 
power of the authorities to bestow the faith on anyone, to 
strengthen or increase it, so little does it befit it to force, coerce 
or urge. . . . What the authorities do here [in matters of faith] 
is nothing but violence, insolence and tyranny." 1 

But " we always want to attract the great crowd ! " 2 " They 
saw the great multitude and feared lest the churches should 
dwindle away." 3 How were they to keep "Mr. Omnes, the 
common people, faithful to their churches without the help of 
the secular arm ? " 4 They do not even think of first honestly 
instructing the magistrates how to become Christians and what 
the duty of a Christian is. ... I am unable in conscience to 
agree with those who make idols of them so speedily and per 
suade them that they already have that, which their own con 
science tells them they have never received." 5 

At the Supper, too, so he complains, owing to the want of proper 
discrimination between the converted and unconverted, " a false 
security of conscience is aroused, whereby people are led away 
from true repentance ; for they teach that it is a source of 
grace, indulgence, ablution of sin, and salvation, whereas it is plain 
that no one receives anything of the kind." 6 In his view it is 
not right to say that the Supper leads man to reconciliation with 
God by enlivening his faith, and that even that man " who is 
full of sin or has a bad conscience gnawed and bitten by his sins " 
should receive it, as the preachers teach ; 7 on the contrary, only 
those who are reconciled have the right to approach. " Not the 
man who wants to be holy [the unjustified], but he who has 
already been hallowed by Christ, is fit for the Supper." 8 

From the standpoint of his own peculiar doctrine he charac 
terises it as a downright error on Luther s part to have " put 
Justification even into the Sacrament " Schwenckfeld himself 
had thrown all the sacraments overboard. He also reproaches 
Luther with teaching, that : " Forgiveness of sins, which is only 
to be found in Christ as ruler, is to be sought in the Sacrament." 9 

Now, Schwenckfeld was far from advising people to for 
sake the official Church ; he did not recommend that the 
church service and its ceremonies and sermons should be 
shunned, he feared lest such advice might play into the 
hands of the Anabaptists. He recommends as necessary 
an "external practice of godliness." 10 Yet, according to 
him, this was more readily carried out in private con- 

1 Ecke, p. 180 f. ; from MS. sources. 

2 " Epistolar," 2, 2, p. 639. Ecke, p. 179. 

3 " Epistolar," 1, p. 99. Ecke, p. 181. 4 Ib. Ecke, p. 182. 
5 Ib., 1, p. 92. Ecke, p. 181. 6 Ib., p. 736. Ecke, p. 182. 

7 " Christl. Biicher," p. 363. Ecke, p. 173. 

8 Ib. 9 " Epistolar," 2, 2, p. 1014. Ecke, p. 160. 
10 Ecke, p. 227, MS. 



164 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

venticles, i.e. in some sort of congregation apart of the true 
believers such as Luther himself had long dreamt of, and 
in conversation with Schwenckfeld, in 1525, regretted his 
inability to establish owing to the fewness of true Christians. 
(Above, p. 138 f.) 

Luther in the meantime had become reconciled to the 
outer, Popular, Church, and, with his preachers help, had 
made of the outward Word a law. 

The imperious behaviour of Luther and the preachers 
in the matter of the outward Word was, however, odious 
to Schwenckfeld. He protested strongly against being tied 
down to professions of faith liable at any moment to be 
rendered obsolete by new discoveries in Scripture truth. 1 
Interest in things Divine was regarded as a privilege of the 
pastor s office and the layman was kept in ignorance on the 
ground, that " one must believe blindly." 2 Luther " is 
setting up a new tyranny, and wishes to tie men to his 
doctrine." 3 

1 " Christl. Biicher," pp. 962, 965. Ecke, p. 191. 

2 " Epistolar," 1, p. 173. " Christl. Biicher," p. 74 f., 549. Ecke, ib. 

3 " Epistolar," 1, p. iii. B. Ecke, p. 86. 



CHAPTER XXX 

LUTHER AT THE ZENITH OF HIS LIFE AND SUCCESS, FROM 
1540 ONWARDS. APPREHENSIONS AND PRECAUTIONS 

1. The Great Victories of 1540-1544 

THE opening of the Diet of Ratisbon in 1541 1 coincided with 
the advance of Protestantism in one of the strongholds of 
the power and influence of Albert of Mayence. The usual 
residence of the Archbishop and Elector was at Halle, in 
his diocese of Magdeburg. Against this town accordingly 
all the already numerous Protestants in Albert s sees of 
Magdeburg and Halberstadt directed their united efforts. 
Albert was compelled by the local Landtag to abolish the 
Catholic so-called " Neue Stift " at Halle, and to remove 
his residence to Mayence. Thereupon Jonas, Luther s 
friend, at once, on Good Friday, 1541, commenced to preach 
at the church of St. Mary s at Halle. He then became 
permanent preacher and head of the growing movement 
in the town, while two other churches were also seized by 
Lutheran preachers. 

The town and bishopric of Naumburg, which had been 
much neglected by its bishop, Prince Philip of Bavaria, 
who resided at Freising, fell a prey to the innovations under 
the Elector Johann Frederick of Saxony ; this in spite of 
being an imperial city under the immediate protection of the 
Emperor. The Elector had taken advantage of his position 
as arbitrator, thanks to his influence and to the authority 
he soon secured, gradually to establish himself in Naumburg. 
By his orders, in 1541, as soon as Philip was dead, Nicholas 
Medler began to preach at the Cathedral as " Superintendent 
of Naumburg " ; Julius Pflug, the excellent Provost, who had 
been elected bishop by the Cathedral chapter, was prevented 
by the Elector from taking possession of the see. Even the 

1 See above, vol. iv., p. 367. 
165 



166 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Wittenberg theologians were rather surprised at the haste 
and violence with which the Elector proceeded to upset the 
religious conditions there, and a matter which concerned 
him deeply to seize the city and the whole diocese. (See 
below, p. 191 f.) 

The storm was already gathering over the archbishopric 
of Cologne under the weak and illiterate Archbishop, Her 
mann von Wied. This man, who was in reality more of a 
secular ruler, after having in earlier days shown himself 
kindly disposed to the Church, was won over, first by Peter 
Medmann in 1539 and then by Martin Bucer in 1541, and 
persuaded to introduce Lutheranism. Only by the energetic 
resistance of the chapter, and particularly of the chief 
Catholics of the archdiocese, was the danger warded off ; 
to them the Archbishop owed, first his removal, and then 
his excommunication. 

On March 28, 1546, shortly before the excommunication, 
the Emperor Charles V said to Landgrave Philip of Hesse, 
who had been pleading the cause of Hermann : " Why does 
he start novelties ? He knows no Latin, and, in his whole 
life, has only said three Masses, two of which I attended 
myself. He does not even understand the Confiteor. To 
reform does not mean to bring in another belief or another 
religion." 1 

" We are beholders of the wonders of God," so Luther 
wrote to Hermann Bonn, his preacher, at Osnabriick ; 
" such great Princes and Bishops are now being called of 
God by the working of the Holy Ghost." 2 He was speaking 
not only of the misguided Archbishop of Cologne but also 
of the Bishop of Minister and Osnabriick, who had intro 
duced the new teaching at Osnabriick by means of Bonn, 
Superintendent of Liibeck. Luther, however, was rather 
too sanguine. In the same year he announced to Duke 
Albert of Prussia : " The two bishops of 4 Collen and 
Miinster, have, praise be to God, accepted the Evangel in 
earnest, strongly as the Canons oppose it. Things are also 
well forward in the Duchy of Brunswick." 3 As a matter 
of fact he turned out right only as regards Brunswick. 

1 Ch. v. Rommel, " Philipp der Grossmiithige, Landgraf von 
Hessen," 1, 1820, p. 517. 

2 Aug. 5, 1543, " Brief e," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 580. 

3 May 7, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 557. 



PROGRESS OF THE CAUSE 167 

Henry, the Catholic Duke, was expelled in 1542 by the 
Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse after the 
war which broke out on account of Goslar had issued in his 
loss of the stronghold of Wolfenbuttel ; thereupon with the 
help of Bugenhagen the churches of the land were forcibly 
brought over to Lutheranism. 

In 1544 the appointment at Merseburg of a bishop of the 
new faith in the person of George of Anhalt followed on 
Duke Maurice of Saxony s illegal seizure of the see. So bare 
faced was this act of spoliation that even Luther entered 
a protest against " this rapacious onslaught on Church 
property." 1 The appointment of an " Evangelical bishop " 
at Naumburg took place in 1542 under similar circumstances. 

From Metz, where the preacher Guillaume Farel was work 
ing for the Reformation, an application was received for 
admission into the Schmalkalden League. The Lutherans 
there received at least moral support from Melanchthon 
who, in the name of the League, addressed a writing to the 
Duke of Lorraine. Not only distant Transylvania, but even 
Venice, held correspondence with Luther in order to obtain 
from him advice and instructions concerning the Protestant 
congregations already existing in those regions. 

Thus the author of the religious upheaval might well 
congratulate himself, when, in the evening of his days, he 
surveyed the widespread influence of his work. 

He was at the same time well aware what a potent factor 
in all this progress was the danger which menaced Germany 
from the Turks. The Protestant Estates continued to ex 
ploit the distress of the Empire to their own advantage in 
a spirit far from loyal. They insisted on the Emperor s 
granting their demands within the Empire before they 
would promise effectual aid against the foe without ; their 
conduct was quite inexcusable at such a time, when a new 
attack on Vienna was momentarily apprehended, and when 
the King of France was quite openly supporting the Turks. 

In the meantime as a result of the negotiations an Imperial 
army was raised and Luther published his prudent " Ver- 
manunge zum Gebet wider den Tiircken." In this he 
advised the princes to do their duty both towards God 
and the Evangel and towards the Empire by defending it 
against the foe. The Pope is as much an enemy as the 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 562. 



168 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Turk, and the world has reached its close, for the last Judg 
ment is at hand. 1 

The Emperor found it advisable to show himself even 
more lenient than before ; the violent encroachments of 
the Protestants, which so unexpectedly strengthened their 
position, were allowed to pass unresisted ; the ecclesiastical 
and temporal penalties pronounced against the promoters 
of the innovations remained a dead letter, and for the time 
being the Church property was left in their hands. At the 
Diet of Spires, in 1544, the settlement was deferred to a 
General Council which the Reichsabschied describes as a 
" Free Christian Council within the German Nation." 

As was only to be expected, Paul III, the supreme head 
of Christendom, energetically protested against such a 
decision. With dignity, and in the supreme consciousness of 
his rights and position, the Pope reminded the Emperor that 
a Council had long since been summoned (above, vol. iii., 
p. 424) and was only being delayed on account of the war. 
It did not become the civil power, nor even the Emperor, 
to inaugurate the religious settlement, least of all at the 
expense of the rights of Church and Pope as had been the 
case ; to the Vicar of Christ and the assembly summoned 
by him it fell to secure the unity of the Church and to lay 
down the conditions of reunion ; yet the civil power had 
left the Pope in the lurch in his previous endeavours to 
summon a Council and to establish peace in Germany ; 
" God was his witness that he had nothing more at heart 
than to see the whole of the noble German people reunited 
in faith and all charity " ; " willingly would he spend life 
and blood, as his conscience bore him witness, in the attempt 
to bring this about in the right way." 2 

These admonitions fell on deaf ears, as the evil work was 
already done. The consent, which, by dint of defiance and 
determination, the Protestant princes wrung from Empire 
and Emperor, secured the triumph of the religious revolution 
in ever wider circles. 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 32, p. 75 ff. Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 91 ff. 

2 Letter to the Emperor Charles V, Aug. 24, 1544, in Raynaldus, 
" Annales," a. 1544 ; in German in " Luthers Werke," Walch s ed., 
17, p. 1253 ff. For the former attitude of the Papacy to the idea of the 
Council, cp. our vol. iii., p. 424 ff. 



FEARS AND APPREHENSIONS 169 



2. Sad Forebodings 

In spite of all his outward success, Luther, at the height 
of his triumph, was filled with melancholy forebodings 
concerning the future of his work. 

He felt more and more that the new Churches then being 
established lacked inward stability, and that the principle 
on which they were built was wanting in unity, cohesion 
and permanence. Neither for the protection of the faith 
nor for the maintenance of an independent system of 
Church government were the necessary provisions forth 
coming. Indeed, owing to the very nature of his under 
taking, it was impossible that such could be effectually sup 
plied ; thus a vision of coming disunion, particularly in the 
domain of doctrine, unrolled itself before his eyes ; this 
was one of the factors which saddened him. 

As early as the thirties we find him giving vent to his 
fears of an ever-increasing disintegration. In the forties they 
almost assume the character of definite prophecies. 

In the Table-Talk of 1538, which was noted down by the 
Deacon Lauterbach, he seeks comfort in the thought that every 
fresh revival of religion had been accompanied by quarrels due 
to false brethren, by heresies and decay ; it was true that now 
"the morning star had arisen" owing to his preaching, but he 
feared " that this light would not endure for long, not for more 
than fifty years"; the Word of God would "again decline for 
want of able ministers of the Word." 1 " There will come want 
and spiritual famine " ; " many new interpretations will arise, 
and the Bible will no longer hold. Owing to the sects that will 
spring up I would rather I had not printed my books." 2 

" I fear that the best is already over and that now the sects 
will follow." 3 The pen was growing heavy to his fingers ; there 
" will be no end to the writings," he says ; " I have outlived 
three frightful storms, Miinzer, the Sacramentarians and the 
Anabaptists ; these are over, but now others will come." " I 
wish not to live any longer since no peace is to be hoped for." 4 
" The Evangel is endangered by the sectarians, the revolutionary 
peasants and the belly servers, just as once the Roman empire 
was at Rome." 5 

" On June 27 [1538]," we read, " Dr. Luther and Master Philip 
were dining together at his house. They spoke much, with many 
a sigh, of the coming times when many dangers would arise." 
The greatest confusion would prevail. No one would then allow 

1 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 172 f. 2 Ib., p. 62. 

3 Ib., p. 70. 4 Ib., p. 114. 5 Ib., p. 80. 



170 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

himself to be guided by the doctrine or authority of another. 
" Each one will wish to be his own Rabbi, like Osiander and 
Agricola. From this the worst scandals and the greatest desola 
tion will come. Hence it would be best [one said], that the 
Princes should forestall it by some council, if only the Papists 
would not hold back and flee from the light. Master Philip 
replied : The Pope will never be brought to hold a General 
Council. . . . Oh, that our Princes and the Estates would bring 
about a council and some sort of unity in doctrine and worship 
so as to prevent each one undertaking something on his own 
account to the scandal of many, as some are already doing. The 
Church is a spectacle of woe, with so much weakness and scandal 
heaped upon her." 1 

Shortly after this Luther instituted a comparison which for 
him must have been very sad between the " false Church [of 
the Pope] which stands erect, a cheerful picture of dignity, 
strength and holiness," and the Church of Christ " which lies 
in such misery and ignominy, sin and insignificance as though 
God had no care for her." He fancied he could find some slight 
comfort in the Article of the Creed : "I believe in the Holy 
Church," for, so he observes, " because we don t see it, therefore 
we believe in it." 2 

In the midst of the great successes of those years he still gives 
utterance to the gloomiest of predictions for the future of his 
doctrine, which dissensions would eat to the very core. His pupil 
Mathesius reports him as holding forth as follows : 

" Alas, good God," he groaned in 1540, " how we have to suffer 
from divisions ! . . . And many more sects will come. For the 
spirit of lies and murder does not sleep. . . . But God will save 
His Christendom." 3 In 1542 someone remarked in his presence : 
" Were the world to last fifty years longer many things would 
happen." Thereupon Luther interjected : " God forbid, things 
would get worse than ever before ; for many sects will arise which 
yet are hidden in men s hearts, so that we shall not know how 
we stand. Hence, dear Lord, come with Thy Judgment Day, for 
no further improvement is now to be looked for ! " 4 After 
instancing the principal sects that had arisen up to that time he 
said, in 1540 : " After our death many sects will arise, God 
help us ! " 5 " But whoever after my death despises the authority 
of this school so long as the Church and the school remain as 
they are is a heretic and an evil man. For in this school [of 
Wittenberg] God has revealed His Word, and this school and town 
can take a place side by side with any others in the matter of 
doctrine and life, even though our life be not yet quite above 
reproach. . . . Those who flee from us and secretly contemn us 
have denied the faith. . . . Who knew anything five- and- twenty 

1 Ib., p. 91 f. Cp. " Colloq." ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 90 sq. ; " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 62, p. 42 f. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 101. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 138. 4 Ib., p. 287. 
5 Ib., p. 231. 



FEARS AND APPREHENSIONS 171 

years ago [before my preaching started] ? Alas for ambition ; 
it is the cause of all the misfortunes." 1 

Frequently he reverts to the theory, that the Church must 
needs put up with onsets and temptations to despair. " Now 
even greater despair has come upon us on account of the sec 
tarians," he said in 1537 ; " the Church is in despair according 
to the words of the Psalmist (cviii. 92) : Unless Thy Law had 
been my meditation I had then perhaps perished in my abjec 
tion. " 2 

At an earlier period (1531) a sermon of Luther s vividly 
pictures this despair : "If, in spiritual matters, it comes about, 
that the devil sows his seed in Christ s kingdom and it springs 
up both in doctrine and life, then we have a crop of misery and 
distress. In the preaching it happens, that although God has 
appointed one man and commanded him to preach the Evangel, 
yet others are found even amongst his pupils who think they know 
how to do it ten times better than he. . . . Every man wants 
to be master in doctrine. . . . Now they are saying : Why 
should not we have the Spirit and understand Scripture just as 
well as anyone else ? Thus a new doctrine is at once set up and 
sects are formed. . . . Hence a deadly peril to Christendom 
ensues, for it is torn asunder and pure doctrine everywhere 
perishes." 3 Christ had indeed " foretold that this would happen"; 
true enough, it is not forbidden to anyone " who holds the public 
office of preacher to judge of doctrine " ; but whoever has not 
such an office has no right to do so ; if he does this of " his own 
doctrine and spirit," then " I call such judging of doctrine one 
of the greatest, most shameful and most wicked vices to be found 
upon earth, one from which all the factious spirits have arisen." 4 

Duke George of Saxony unfeelingly pointed out to the innovator 
that his fear, that many, very many indeed, would say : " Do 
we not also possess the Spirit and understand Scripture as well 
as you ? " would only too surely be realised. 

" What man on earth," wrote the Duke in his usual downright 
fashion, " ever hitherto undertook a more foolish task than you 
in seeking to include in your sect all Christians, especially those 
of the German nation ? Success is as likely in your case as it 
was in that of those who set about building a tower in Babylonia 
which was to reach the very heavens ; in the end they had to 
cease from building, and the result was seventy- two new tongues. 
The same will befall you ; you also will have to stop, and the 
result will be seventy- two new sects." 5 

Luther s letters speak throughout in a similar strain of 
the divisions already existing and the gloomy outlook for 
the future ; in the forties his lamentation over the approach - 

1 Ib., p. 169. 2 /6>> PI 417> 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 32, p. 474 ; Erl. ed., 43, p. 263. 

4 Ib., p. 475 = 264 f. 

5 In the " Antwort auf das Schmahbuchlein," etc., " Luthers 
Werke," Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 146. 



172 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

ing calamities becomes, however, even louder than usual 
in spite of the apparent progress of his cause. Much of what 
he says puts us vividly in mind of Duke George s words just 
quoted. 

Amidst the excitement of his struggle with the fanatics 
he wrote as early as 1525 to the " Christians at Antwerp " : 
" The tiresome devil begins to rage amongst the ungodly 
and to belch forth many wild and mazy beliefs and doctrines. 
This man will have nothing of baptism, that one denies the 
Sacrament, a third awaits another world between this and 
the Last Day ; some teach that Christ is not God ; some 
say this, some that, and there are as many sects and beliefs 
as there are heads ; no peasant is so rude but that if he 
dreams or fancies something, it must forsooth be the Holy 
Spirit which inspires him, and he himself must be a prophet." 1 

After the bitter experiences of the intervening years we find 
in a letter of 1536 this bitter lament : " Pray for me that I too 
may be delivered from certain ungodly men, seeing you rejoice 
that God has delivered you from the Anabaptists and the sects. 
For new prophets are constantly arising against me one after the 
other, so that I almost wish to be dissolved in order not to see 
such evils without end, and to be set free at last from this kingdom 
of the devil." 2 

Even in the strong pillars of the Evangel, in the Landgrave of 
Hesse and Bucer the theologian, he apprehended treason to his 
cause and complains of them as " false brethren." At the time 
of the negotiations at Ratisbon, in 1541, he exclaims in a letter to 
Melanchthon : " They are making advances to the Emperor and 
to our foes, and look on our cause as a comedy to be played out 
among the people, though as is evident it is a tragedy between 
God and Satan in which Satan s side has the upper hand and 
God s comes off second best. ... I say this with anger and am 
incensed at their games. But so it must be ; the fact that we 
are endangered by false brethren likens us to the Apostle Paul, 
nay, to the whole Church, and is the sure seal that God stamps 
upon us." 3 

In spite of this " seal of God," he is annoyed to see how his 
Evangel becomes the butt of " heretical attacks " from within, 
and suffers from the disintegrating and destructive influence of 
the immorality and godlessness of many of his followers. 

This, for instance, he bewails in a letter of condolence sent in 
1541 to Wenceslaus Link of Nuremberg. At Nuremberg accord- 

1 April, 1525, " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 547 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 342 
(" Briefwechsel," 5, p. 151). 

2 To the Preacher Balthasar Raida of Hersfeld, Jan. 17, 1536, 
" Briefwechsel," 10, p. 288. 

3 April 4, 1541, " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 291. 



FEARS AND APPREHENSIONS 173 

ing to Link s account the evil seemed to be assuming a menacing 
shape. Not the foe without, writes Luther, but rather " our 
great gainsayers within, who repay us with contempt, are the 
danger we must fear, according to the words of the common 
prophecy : After Antichrist has been revealed men will come 
who say : There is no God ! This we see everywhere fulfilled 
to-day. . . . They think our words are but human words ! 51 

About this time he often contemplates with sadness the 
abundance of other crying disorders in his Churches, 2 the wanton 
ness of the great and the decadence of the people ; he cries : 
" Hasten, O Jesus, Thy coming ; the evils have come to a head 
and the end cannot be delayed. Amen." 3 " I am sick of life if 
this life can be called life. . . . Implacable hatred and strife 
amongst the great ... no hopes of any improvement . . . the 
age is Satan s own ; gladly would I see myself and all my people 
quickly snatched from it ! " 4 The evil spirit of apostasy and 
fanatism which had raged so terribly at Minister, was now, 
according to him, particularly busy amongst the great ones, just 
as formerly it had laid hold on the peasants. " May God prevent 
him and resist him, the evil spirit, for truly he means mischief." 5 

And yet he still in his own way hopes in God and clings to the 
idea of his call ; God will soon mock at the devil : " The working 
of Satan is patent, but God at Whom they now laugh will mock 
at Satan in His own time." 6 

We can understand after such expressions descriptive 
of his state of mind, the assurance with which, for all his 
confidence of victory, he frequently seems to forecast the 
certain downfall of his cause. In the German Table-Talk, 
for instance, we read : "So long as those who are now living 
and who teach the Word of God diligently are still with us, 
those who have seen and heard me, Philip, Pomeranus and 
other pious, faithful and honest teachers, all may be well ; 
but when they all are gone and this age is over, there will 
be a falling away." 7 He also sees how two great and widely 
differing parties will arise among his followers : unbelievers 
on the one hand and Pietists and fanatics on the other ; 
we have a characteristic prophecy of the sort where he says 
of the one party, that, like the Epicureans, they would 

1 To Wenceslaus Link, Sep. 8, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 398. 

2 To the Elector Johann Frederick, Jan. 18, 1545, ib., p. 716 : " I 
will have them [the lawyers] eternally damned and cursed in my 
Churches." 

3 To Justus Jonas, Dec. 16, 1543, ib., p. 612. 

4 To Jacob Probst, Dec. 5, 1544, ib., p. 703. 

5 To Amsdorf, Jan. 8, 1546, ib., p. 773 f. 6 /&., p. 774. 

7 Cp. (E. v. Jarcke) " Studien und Skizzen z. Gesch. d. Ref.," 1846, 
p. 68. 



174 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

acknowledge " no God or other life after this," and of the 
other, that many people would come out of the school of 
enthusiasm, " following their own ideas and speculations and 
boasting of the Spirit " ; " drunk with their own virtues 
and having their understanding darkened," they would 
" obstinately insist on their own fancies and yield to no 
one." 1 

And again he says sadly : " God will sweep His threshing- 
floor. I pray that after my death my wife and children 
may not long survive me ; very dangerous times are at 
hand." 2 " I pray God," he frequently said, " to take away 
this our generation with us, for, when once we are gone, the 
worst of times will follow." 3 The preacher, " M. Antonius 
Musa once said," so he recalls : " We old preachers only 
vex the world, but on you young ones the world will pour 
out its wrath ; therefore take heed to yourselves." 4 

This is not the place to investigate historically the fulfil 
ment of these predictions. We shall content ourselves with 
quoting, in connection with Musa, the words of another 
slightly later preacher. Cyriacus Spangenberg saw in 
Luther a prophet, for one reason because his gloomiest pre 
dictions were being fulfilled before the eyes of all. In the 
third sermon of his book, " Luther the Man of God," he 
shows to what frightful contempt the preachers of Luther s 
unadulterated doctrine were everywhere exposed, just as he 
himself (Spangenberg) was hated and persecuted for being 
over-zealous for the true faith of the " Saint " of Witten 
berg. " Ah," he says in a sermon in 1563 couched in Luther s 
style, " Shame on thy heart, thy neck, thy tongue, thou 
filthy and accursed world. Thy blasphemy, fornication, un- 
chastity, gluttony and drunkenness . . . are not thought 
too much ; but that such should be scolded is too much. 
... If this be not the devil himself, then it is something 
very like him and is assuredly his mother." 5 

3. Provisions for the Future 

Luther failed to make the effectual and systematic efforts 
called for in order to stave off the fate to which he foresaw 
his work would be exposed. He was not the man to put 

1 Ib. 2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 158. 3 Ib., p. 198. 
4 Ib., p. 200. 5 " Theander Lutherus," Ursel s.a., Bl. 59 . 



A COUNCIL SUGGESTED 175 

matters in order, quite apart from the unstirmountable 
difficulties this would have involved, seeing he possessed little 
talent for organisation. He was very well aware that one 
expedient would be to surrender church government almost 
entirely into the hands of the secular authorities. 

A Protestant Council? 

The negotiations which preceded the (Ecumenical Council 
of the Catholic Church, had for one result not only to impress 
the innovators with a sense of their own unsettled state, but 
to lead them to discuss the advisability of holding a great 
Protestant council of their own. Luther himself, however, 
wisely held aloof from such a plan, nay his opposition to 
it was one of the main obstacles which prevented its fulfil 
ment. 

When the idea was first mooted in 1533 it was rejected 
by Luther and his theologians Jonas, Bugenhagen and 
Melanchthon in a joint memorandum. " Because it is 
plain," so they declare, " that we ourselves are not at one, 
and must first of all consider how we are to arrive at unity 
amongst ourselves. In short, though an opposition council 
might be good and useful it is needless to speak of such a 
thing just now." 1 

In 1537 the Landgrave of Hesse, and more particularly 
the Elector of Saxony, again proposed at Schmalkalden 
that Luther, following the example of the Greeks and the 
Bohemians, should summon a council of his own, a national 
Evangelical council, to counteract the Papal Council. 2 The 
Elector proposed that it should be assembled at Augsburg 
and comprise at least 250 preachers and men of the law ; 
the Emperor might be invited to attend and a considerable 
army was also to be drafted to Augsburg for the protection 
of the assembly. At that time Luther s serious illness saved 
him from an embarrassing situation. 

Bucer and Melanchthon were now the sole supporters of 

1 After June 16, 1533, " Werke," Erl. ed., 55, p. 20. (" Brief- 
wechsel," 9, p. 312.) The passage in question in the original at 
Weimar is in Melanchthon s handwriting. Cp. Enders, p. 313, on the 
historical connection of the memorandum. 

" Corp. ref.," 3, p. 139 sqq. Rommel, " Philipp von Hessen," 
1, p. 417. Janssen, "Hist, of the German People" (Engl. Trans.), 
vol. v., p. 527 ff. Pastor, " Die kirchl, Reunionsbestrebungen wahrend 
der Regierung Karls V," p. 95, 



176 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the plan of a council. Both were men who believed in 
mediation and Melanchthon may really have hoped for 
a while, that the " philosophy of dissimulation," for which 
he stood, 1 might, even in a council, palliate the inward 
differences and issue in something tolerably satisfactory. 
Luther himself was never again to refer to the Evangelical 
Council. 

It was the theologians headed by Martin Bucer, who, at the 
Diet of Schmalkalden in 1540 at which Luther was not present, 
lodged a memorandum on the advisability of holding a council. 
The petitioners declared it " very useful and called for, both for 
the saving of unity in doctrine and for the bettering of many 
other things, that, every one or two years, the Estates should 
convene a synod ; Visitors chosen there were to " silence any 
errors in doctrine" that they might discover. 2 The Estates, 
however, did not agree to this proposal ; it was easy to foresee 
that it would be unworkable and productive of evil. It was 
only necessary to call to mind the fruitlessness of the great 
assemblies at Cassel and Wittenberg which had brought about 
the so-called Wittenberg Concord and the disturbances to which 
the Concord gave rise. 3 

Bucer keenly regreted the absence of any ecclesiastical unity 
and cohesion amongst his friends. 

" Not even a shadow of it remains," so he wrote to Bullinger. 
" Every church stands alone and every preacher for himself. 
Not a few shun all connection with their brethren and any 
discussion of the things of Christ. It is just like a body the 
members of which are cut off and where one cannot help the other. 
Yet the spirit of Christ is a spirit of harmony ; Christ wills that 
His people should be one, as He and the Father are one, and that 
they love one another as He loved us. . . . Unless we become 
one in the Lord every effort at mending and reviving morals is 
bound to be useless. For this reason," he continues, " it was 
the wish of (Ecolampadius when the faith was first preached at 
Basle, to see the congregations represented and furthered by 
synods. But he was not successful even amongst us [who stood 
nearest to him in the faith]. I cannot say that to-day there is 
any more possibility of establishing this union of the Churches ; 
but the real cause of our decline certainly lies in this inability. 
Possibly, later on, others may succeed where we failed. For, 
truly, what we have received of the knowledge of Christ and of 
discipline will fade away unless we, who are Christ s, unite our 
selves more closely as members of His Body." 

He proceeds to indicate plainly that one of the main obstacles 

1 To Brenz, April 14, 1537, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 340 : " Ulyssea 
philosophia . . . multa dissimulantes" 

2 Letter of March 10, 1540, in Bindseil, " Melanchthonis epistolae, 
iudicia, etc.," 1874, p. 146. 

3 Cp. above, vol. iii., p4421 ff. 



A COUNCIL SUGGESTED 177 

to such a union was Luther s rude and offensive behaviour 
towards the Swiss theologians : Luther had undoubtedly heaped 
abuse on " guiltless brethren." But with this sort of thing, 
inevitable in his case, it would be necessary to put up. " Will 
it not be better for us to let this pass than to involve so 
many Churches in even worse scandals ? Could I, without grave 
damage to the Churches, do something to stop all this vitupera 
tion, then assuredly I should not fail to do so." 1 

Unfortunately the peacemaker s efforts could avail nothing 
against a personality so imperious and ungovernable as Luther s. 

Bucer continued nevertheless to further the idea of a Protestant 
council, though, so long as Luther lived, only with bated breath. 
He endeavoured at least to interest the Landgrave of Hesse in 
his plan for holding small synods of theologians. 

It was the want of unity in the matter of doctrine and the 
visible decline of discipline that drove him again and again to 
think of this remedy. On Jan. 8, 1544, he wrote to Landgrave 
Philip : In so many places there is "no profession of faith, no 
penalties, no excommunication of those who sin publicly, nor 
yet any Visitation or synod. Only what the lord or burgomaster 
wished was done, and, in place of one Pope, many Popes have 
arisen and things become worse and worse from day to day." 
He reminds the Prince of the proposal made at Schmalkalden ; 
because nothing was done to put this in effect, scandals were on 
the increase. " We constantly find that scarcely a third or fourth 
part communicate with Christ. What sort of Christians will 
there be eventually ? " 2 In the same way he tells him later : 
Because no synods are held " many things take place daily which 
ought really greatly to trouble all of us." 3 In Wiirtemberg and 
in some of the towns of Swabia the authorities were dissuaded by 
the groundless fear lest the preachers should once more gain too 
much influence ; this was why the secular authorities were averse 
to synods and Visitations ; but " on this account daily arise 
gruesome divisions in matters of doctrine and unchastity of life ; 
we find some who are daily maddened with drink and who give 
such scandal in other matters that the enemies of Christ have a 
terrible excuse for blaspheming and hindering our true Gospel. 
... At the last Schmalkalden meeting all the preachers were 
anxious that synods and Visitations should be ordered and held 
everywhere. But who has paid any heed to this ? " And yet 
this is the best means whereby " our holy religion might be 
preserved and guarded from the new Papists amongst us, i.e. 
those who do not accept the Word of God in its purity and 
entirety, but explain it away, pull it to pieces, distort and bend 
it as their own sensual passions and temptations move them." 4 

Once the main obstacle had been removed by Luther s death, 

1 Letter of Dec. 28, 1543, in Lenz, " Brief wechsel des Landgrafen 
Philipp von Hessen," 2, p. 227. " Nihil est quod minus multum [read 
inulturri] relinquerem." 

2 Lenz, ib., p. 241. 3 Letter of Feb. 25, 1545, Lenz, p. 304, 
4 Letter of Dec. 1, 1545, Lenz, p. 379, 

V, N 



178 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Bucer, who was very confident of his own abilities, again mooted 
the idea of a great council. In the same letter to Landgrave 
Philip of Hesse in which he refers to the death of Luther, " the 
father and teacher of us all," which had occurred shortly before, 
he exhorts the Landgrave more emphatically than ever to co 
operate, so that "first of all a general synod may be held of our 
co-religionists of every estate," to which all the sovereigns should 
despatch eminent preachers and councillors i.e. be formally 
convened by the secular authorities and, that, subsequently 
" particular synods be held in every country of the Churches 
situated there." 1 "Short of this the Churches will assuredly 
fare badly." 2 

The Landgrave was not averse, yet the matter never got any 
further. The terrible quarrels amongst the theologians in the 
camp of the new faith after Luther s decease 3 put any general 
Protestant council out of the question. 

We can imagine what such a council would have become, 
if, in addition to the theologians, the lay element had been 
represented to the extent demanded at a certain Disputa 
tion held at Wittenberg under Luther s presidency in 1543. 4 
From the idea of the whole congregation taking its share in 
the government of the Church, Luther could never entirely 
shake himself free. Nevertheless it is probable, that, in 
spite of this Disputation, he had not really changed his mind 
as to the impossibility of an Evangelical council. 

If, with Luther s, we compare Melanchthon s attitude 
towards the question of a Lutheran council we find that 
the latter s wish for such a council and his observations 
about it afforded him plentiful opportunity for voicing his 
indignation at the religious disruption then rampant. 5 

" Weak consciences are troubled," he said in 1536, 
" and know not which sect to follow ; in their perplexity 
they begin to despair of religion altogether." 6 " Violent 
sermons, which promote lawlessness and break down all 
barriers against the passions, are listened to greedily. Such 

1 Letter of April 5, 1546, Lenz, p. 426 f. 

2 Letter of May 12, 1545, Lenz, p. 433. 

3 See below, vol. vi., xl., 3. 

4 Seckendorf, " Comm. hist, de Lutheranismo," 3, Lips., 1694, 
p. 468. The disputant, Johannes Marbach, received from Luther this 
testimony : " Amplectitur pur am evangelii doctrinam, quam ecclesia 
nostra uno spiritu et una voce profitetur." " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, 
p. 543. Cp. Disputationen, ed. Drews, p. 700 ff. Some of Luther s 
other statements concerning unity ring very differently. 

5 Cp. vol. in., pp. 324, 363, 371 f. 

9 " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 230 ; " Incipiunt de tola religione dubilare" 



THE CONSISTORIES 179 

preaching, more worthy of cynics than of Christians, it 
is which thunders forth the false doctrine that good works 
are not called for. Posterity will marvel that there should 
ever have been an age when such madness was received with 
applause." 1 " Had you made the journey with us," he 
writes on his return from a visit to the Palatinate and 
Swabia, " and, like us, seen the woeful desolation of the 
Churches in so many places, you would doubtless long with 
tears and sighs that the Princes and the learned should con 
fer together how best to come to the help of the Churches." 2 
Later again we read in his letters : " Behold how great 
is everywhere the danger to the Churches and how difficult 
their government ; for everywhere those in the ministry 
quarrel amongst themselves and set up strife and division." 
" We live like the nomads, no one obeys any man in any 
thing whatsoever." 3 

Two provisions suggested by Luther for the future in 
lieu of the impracticable synods were, the establishment of 
national consistories and the use of a sort of excommunica 
tion. 

Luther s Attitude towards the Consistories introduced 
in 1539 

With strange resignation Luther sought to persuade him 
self that, even without the help of any synods and general 
laws, it would still be possible to re-establish order by means 
of a certain supervision to be exercised with the assistance 
of the State, backed by the penalty of exclusion. Against 
laws and regulations for the guidance of the Church s life, 
he displayed an ever-growing prejudice, the reason for this 
being partly his peculiar ideas on the abrogation of all 
governing authority of the Church, partly the experiences 
with which he had met. 

" So long as the sense of unity is not well rooted in the 
heart and mind " he wrote in 1545, i.e. after the establish 
ment of the consistories " outward unity is not of much 
use, nor will it last long. . . . The existing observances [in 
matters of worship] must not become laws. On the con- 

1 " Pezelii Object, et resp. Melanchtonis," P. V., p. 289. Dollinger, 
" Die Reformation," 1, p. 373. 

2 Nov., 1536, to Myconius, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 187. 

3 Ib., pp. 460, 488 (1537 and 1538). 



180 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

trary, just as the schoolmaster and father of the family rule 
without laws, and, in the school and in the home, correct 
faults, so to speak only by supervision, so, in the same way, 
in the Church, everything should be done by means of super 
vision, but not by rules for the future. . . . Everything 
depends on the minister of the Word being prudent and 
faithful. For this reason we prefer to insist on the erection 
of schools, but above all on that purity and uniformity 
of doctrine which unites minds in the Lord. But, alas, 
there are too few who devote themselves to study ; many 
are just bellies and no more, intent on their daily bread. 
. . . Time, however, will mend much that it is impossible 
to settle beforehand by means of regulations." 1 

" If we make laws," he continues, " they become snares 
for consciences and pure doctrine is obscured and set aside, 
particularly if those who come after are careless and 
unlearned. . . . Already during our lifetime we have seen 
sects and dissensions enough under our very noses, how each 
one follows his own way. In short, contempt for the Word 
on our side and blasphemy on the other [Catholic] side pro 
claim loudly enough the advent of the Last Day. Hence, 
above all, let us have pure and abundant preaching of the 
Word ! The ministers of the Word must first of all become 
one heart and one soul. For if we make laws our successors 
will lay claim to the same authority, and, fallen human 
nature being what it is, the result will be a war of the flesh 
against the flesh." 2 

In other words Luther foresaw a war of all against all 
as likely sooner or later to be the result of any thorough 
going attempt to regulate matters by means of laws as the 
Catholics did in their councils. He and his friends were 
persuaded that laws could only be made effectual by virtue 
of the power of the State. 

Melanchthon declared : " Unless the Court supports our 
arrangements, what else will they become but Platonic 
laws, to use a Greek saying ? " 3 

The idea to which Luther had clung so long as there was 
any hope, viz. to make the congregations self-governing, was 
but a fanciful and impracticable one ; when again, little by 
little, he came to seek support from the secular authority, 

1 To Prince George of Anhalt, June 10, 1545, " Brief e," ed. De 
Wette, 6, p. 379. 2 Ib. 3 " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 907. 



THE CONSISTORIES 181 

he did so merely under compulsion ; he felt it to involve 
a repudiation of his own principles, nor could he control his 
jealousy when the far-reaching interference of the State 
speedily became manifest. 

In the Saxon electorate the consistories had been intro 
duced in 1539, not so much at the instance of Luther as of 
the committee representing the Estates. They were to deal 
with ecclesiastical affairs and disputes, with complaints 
against, and grievances of, the clergy, but chiefly with the 
matrimonial cases. The earlier " Visitors " had lacked 
executive powers. The consistory established by the 
Elector at Wittenberg for the whole electorate was com 
posed of two preachers (Jonas and Agricola), and two 
lawyers. Luther raised many objections, particularly to the 
consistory s proposed use of excommunication ; he feared 
that, unless they stuck to his theological views, the con 
sistories would lead to " yet another scrimmage." Later, 
however, he gave the new organisation his support. It 
was not till 1541 that the work of the consistories was more 
generally extended. 1 

Luther consoled himself and Spalatin as follows for the loss 
of dignity which they apprehended : " The consistory will deal 
only with matrimonial cases, with which we no longer will or 
can have any more to do ; also with the bringing back of the 
peasants to some sort of discipline and the payment of stipends 
to the preachers." 2 

For the Wittenberg consistory to relieve him of the matri 
monial cases was in many respects just what he desired. He 
had himself frequently dealt with these cases according to the 
dictates of his own ever-changing views on marriage, so far as 
he was allowed by his frequent quarrels with the lawyers who 
questioned his right to interfere. He now declared : "I am glad 
that the consistoria have been established, especially on account 
of the matrimonial cases." 3 As early as 1536, he had written : 
" The peasants and rude populace who seek nothing but the 
freedom of the flesh, and likewise the lawyers, who, whenever 
possible, oppose our decisions, have wearied me so much that I 
have flung aside the matrimonial cases and written to some 
telling them that they may do just as they please in the name of 
all the devils ; let the dead bury their dead ; for though I give 
much advice, I cannot help the people when afterwards they are 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, pp. 441, 574. 

2 To Spalatin, Jan. 12, 1541. " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 246. " Spala 
tin foresaw what was to come better than did Luther." K. Holl, 
"Luther und das landesherrliche Kirchenregiment," 1911, p. 57. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 223, Table-Talk. 



182 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

robbed and teased [by the lawyers]. If the world will have the 
Pope then let it have him if otherwise it cannot be." 

" So far I have not found one single lawyer," he continues, 
speaking of a certain matrimonial question, " who would hold 
with me against the Pope in this or any similar case. . . . We 
theologians know nothing, and are not supposed to count." 1 

It was in part nausea and wounded vanity, in part also his 
abhorrence for the ecclesiastical and sacramental side of marriage 
which caused him repeatedly to declare : "I would we were 
rid of the matrimonial business " ; 2 " marriage and all its circum 
stances is a political affair " (both statements date from 1538) ; 3 
" leave the matrimonial cases to the secular authorities, for they 
concern, not the conscience, but the external law of the Princes 
and magistrates " (1532). 4 

Of the ecclesiastical powers of the sovereign he declared 
however (1539), "We must make the best of him as bishop, 
since no other bishop will help us." 5 

" But if things come to such a pass that the Courts try to rule 
as they please," so he wrote at a time when this principle had 
already begun to bear its bitter fruit, " then the last state will 
be worse than the first ... in that case let the Lords them 
selves be our pastors and preachers, let them baptise, visit the 
sick, give communion and perform all the other offices of the 
Church ! Otherwise let them stop confusing the two callings, 
attend to their own Courts and leave the Churches to the clergy. 
... It is Satan who in our day is seeking to introduce into the 
Church the counsels and the authority of the government officials ; 
we shall, however, resist him and keep the two callings separate." 6 

Yet the " two callings," the secular and the ecclesiastical, 
were to become more and more closely intermingled. As 
was inevitable, the weak spiritual authority set up by 
Luther was soon absorbed by a strong secular authority 
well aware of its own aims ; the secular power treated the 
former as its sacristan charged with carrying out the services 
of the Church, and gradually assumed exclusive control, 
even in matters of doctrine. A moral servitude such as had 
never been seen at any period in the history of the German 
Church was the consequence of the State government of 
the Church, brought about by the consistories. 

1 To Count Albert of Mansfeld, Oct. 5, 1536, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
55, p. 147 (" Brief wechsel," 11, p. 90). Cp. above, vol. iii., 38 f., 263 f. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 121. 

3 Ib., p. 152. 

4 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 82. 

5 To the Visitors in Thuringia, March 25, 1539, " Briefe," 5, p. 173 
(" Brief wechsel," 12, p. 118). 

6 To Daniel Cresser, Oct. 22, 1543, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, 
p. 596, concerning certain occurrences at Dresden. 



THE CONSISTORIES 183 

In order to understand Luther s attitude towards the con 
sistories and to gauge rightly his responsibility, some further 
particulars of their rise and earliest form are called for. 

In 1537 the " Great Committee of the Torgau district " de 
manded, that the Elector should establish four consistories in 
his lands. On these would devolve the looking after of " all 
ecclesiasticce causce, the preaching office, the churches and ministers, 
their vindication contra injurias, all that concerned their conduct 
and life, and particularly the matrimonial suits." Some such 
court was essential in the case of these suits, because, since the 
dissolution of the bishops courts, the utmost disorders had 
prevailed and nobody even knew by which code the questions 
pending were to be judged, whether by the old canon law with 
which the lawyers were familiar, or according to the doctrine 
and statutes of Luther which were quite a different thing. The 
disciplinary system too had become so lax that some revision of 
the Church judiciary appeared inevitable. 

As for the principles which were to direct the new organisation : 
Luther was inclined at times to be forgetful of his theory, that 
his Churches should have no canon law of their own ; x even at 
this grave crisis he does not seem to have been distinctly con 
scious of it ; at the same time his jealousy made him unwilling 
to see all the authority for governing the new Churches conferred 
directly by the State, though, with his usual frankness, he 
admitted it was impossible for things to continue as they were. 
The most influential men of his circle were, however, determined 
to have so-called ecclesiastical courts introduced by the sovereign, 
which should then govern in his name ; hitherto, they urged, it 
was the purely secular courts which had intervened, which was 
a mistake, as had been shown in practice by their failure. Thus, 
as R. Sohm put it, " did Melanchthon s ideas, from about 1537, 
gradually oust those of Luther in the government of the Lutheran 
Church." 2 

It was from this standpoint that, in his Memorandum of 1538 
addressed to the Elector, Jonas, the lawyer and theologian, 
supported the above-mentioned proposal of the Torgau assembly. 

He points out that " the common people become daily more 
savage and uncouth," and that " no Christian Church can hope 
to stand where such rudeness and lawlessness prevail." According 
to him the authority of the consistories was to embrace the whole 
domain of Church government. They were, however, to derive 
their authority direct from the sovereign, " through, and by order 
of, the prince of the land." Hence " their indices were to have the 
right to enforce their decisions " ; they were to be in a position 
to wield the Greater Excommunication with its temporal conse 
quences, also to inflict bodily punishment, fines and " suitable 
terms of imprisonment," and therefore to have " men-at-arms " 
and " a prison " at their disposal. 3 

Jonas and those who agreed with him fancied that what they 

1 See above p. 55, ff., and vol. ii., p. 298. 

2 " Kirchenrecht," 1, 1892, p. 613. 3 R. Sohm, ib., p. 615. 



184 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

were setting up with the help of the secular power was a spiritual 
court ; in reality, however, they were advocating a purely 
secular, coercive institution. 

Luther s views differed from those of his friends in so far as 
he wished to see the new courts which he frowned at and 
distrusted merely invested with full powers for dealing with 
matrimonial suits ; even here, however, he made a reservation, 
insisting on the abrogation of canon law. The Elector s edict 
of 1539 appointing the consistories, out of consideration for 
Luther, was worded rather vaguely. The consistories were, 
" until further notice," to see to the " ecclesiastical affairs " 
which "have occurred so far or shall yet occur and be brought 
to your cognisance." x According to this their authority was 
received only " until further notice " from the ruler, to whom 
it fell to bring cases to their " cognisance," and, who, naturally 
kept the execution of the sentence in his own hands. 

Luther, it is true, accepted the new arrangement, because, as 
he said, it represented a " Church court " which could take over 
the matrimonial cases. But forthwith he found himself in con 
flict with the lawyers attached to the courts because they in 
sisted on taking their stand on canon law. To his very death, 
even in his public utterances, he lashed the men of the law for 
thus submitting themselves to the Pope and to the code against 
which his life s struggle had been directed. Yet the lawyers 
were driven to make use of the old statutes, since they alone 
afforded a legal basis, and because Luther s propositions to the 
contrary on secret marriages, for instance lacked any general 
recognition. The result of Luther s opposition to the consis 
tories was, that, so long as he lived, they remained without any 
definite instructions, devoid of the authority which had been 
promised them, and without the coercive powers they so much 
needed ; for the nonce they were spiritual courts without any 
outward powers of compulsion, the latter being retained by the 
sovereign to use at his discretion. 

After Luther s death things were changed. The consistories 
both in the Saxon Electorate and in most other places where they 
had been copied became exclusively organs of Church government 
by the State, though still composed of theologians and lawyers. 
In 1579 and 1580 the end which Luther had foreseen arrived. 
" The last things became, as a matter of fact, worse than the 
first," as he himself had predicted, nay, as the result of his own 
action ; Satan has introduced " into the Church the counsels 
and the authority of government officials " (above, p. 182). 

This change, which in reality was the realisation of the ideas 
of Jonas, Melanchthon and Chancellor Briick, leads Rud. Sohm, 
after having portrayed in detail the circumstances, to exclaim : 
" The sovereign as head of the Church ! How can such a thing 
be even imagined ? The Church of Christ, governed solely by 
the word of Christ . . . and by command of the ruler of the 
land." 2 Speaking of the disorder in Luther s Church, which 

1 /&., p. 623. 2 16., p. 618. 



THE CONSISTORIES 185 

recognised no canon law, the Protestant canonist says : " Canon 
law was needed to assist the Word ; well, it came, but only to 
establish the lord of the land as lord also of the Church." " The 
State government of the Church is in contradiction with the 
Lutheran profession of faith." " If, however, the Church is 
determined to be ruled by force, then the ruler must be the 
secular authority." 1 

The secular authorities to which Protestantism looked 
for support had been well organised throughout the Empire 
by the League of Schmalkalden. Subsequent to 1535 the 
warlike alliance had been extended for a further ten years. 
In 1539 the state of things became so threatening, th at 
Luther feared lest the Catholic princes should attack the 
Protestants. In a sermon he referred to the " fury of Satan 
amongst the blinded Papists who incite the Emperor and 
other kings against the Evangel " ; he, however, also added, 
that " we, by our boundless malice and ingratitude, have 
called down the wrath of God." They ought to pray, 
" that the Emperor might not turn his arms against us who 
have the pure Word of Christ." 2 As a matter of fact, how 
ever, the Emperor and the Empire were not in a position 
even to protect themselves against the wanton behaviour of 
the innovators. 

Amongst the outward provisions made for the future 
benefit of the new Church, the League of Schmalkalden 
deserves the first place. In the very year before his death 
Luther took steps to ensure the prolongation of this armed 
alliance. 3 

Among the efforts made at home to improve matters 
a place belongs to Luther s attempts to introduce a more 
frequent use of excommunication. 

1 Ib., p. 632. Sohm s standpoint is, that a Church with powers of 
self-government or with a " canon law," as he calls it, is practically 
unthinkable. Cp. Carl Miiller, " Die Anfange der Konsistorialver- 
fassung in Deutschland " (Hist. Zeitschr. Bd. 102, 3. Folge Bd. 6, 
p. 1 ff.). He too arrives at the conclusion, contrary to many previously 
held views, viz. that it was only gradually in the course of the 16th 
century that the consistories changed, from organs of ecclesiastical 
jurisdiction, into organs of State government of the Church. Cp. also 
O. Mejer, " Zum KR. des Reformations] ahrh.," 1891, p. 1 ff. 
" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 66. 

3 " Corp. ref.," 5, p. 720 sq. Memorandum as to whether the 
Schmalkalden League should continue, etc., March, 1545, signed by 
him first. Cp. " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 374. 



186 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Luther seeks to introduce the so-called 
Lesser Excommunication 

The introduction of the ban engrossed Luther s atten 
tion more particularly after 1539, but without any special 
results. In 1541 we find the question raised under rather 
peculiar circumstances in one of the numerous letters in 
which Luther complains of the secular authorities. At 
Nuremberg, Wenceslaus Link had threatened certain persons 
of standing with excommunication, whereupon one of the 
town-councillors hurled at him the opprobrious epithet of 
" priestling." Full of indignation, Luther wrote : " It is 
true the civil authorities ever have been and always will be 
enemies of the Church. . . . God has rejected the world 
and, of the ten lepers, scarcely one takes His side, the rest 
go over to the prince of this world." " Excommunication is 
part of the Word of God." If they look upon our preaching 
as the Word of God then it is a disgrace that they should 
refuse to hear of excommunication, despise the ministers of 
the Word and hate the God Whom they have confessed ; 
they wickedly blaspheme in thus hurling the term 
priestling at His ministers." 1 

Here we get a glimpse of the difficulty which attended 
the introduction of the ban : " They refuse to hear of ex 
communication . 

With the Greater Excommunication which involved civil 
disabilities, and in particular exclusion to some extent from 
social intercourse, Luther had no sympathy ; he was in 
terested in the reintroduction merely of the Lesser Ex 
communication prohibiting the excommunicate to take part 
in public worship, or at least to receive the Supper or to 
stand as godparent. In his view T the Greater Excommunica 
tion was a matter for the sovereign and did not in the least 
concern the ministers of the Church ; this he points out in 
his Schmalkalden Articles. 2 He even was inclined to look 
upon any such action of the ruler with a jealous eye ; from 
anything of the sort it were better for the sovereign to abstain 

1 To Wenceslaus Link, Sep. 8, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 399. 

2 Pars 3, art. 9 : " Maiorem excommunicationem, quam papa ita 
nominal, non nisi civilem poenam esse ducimus non pertinentem ad 
nos ministros ecclesice" " Symbol. Biicher," ed. Miiller-Kolde 10 , 
p. 323. 



LESSER EXCOMMUNICATION 187 

for fear of any awkward confusion of the spiritual with the 
secular power. 1 

The "Unterricht der Visitatorn," printed in 1528, had 
already suggested to the ministers the use of a kind of 
Lesser Excommunication, but, in the absence of anything 
definite, the proposal remained practically a dead letter. 
We learn, however, that Luther pronounced his first ban of 
this sort against some alleged witches. 2 Subsequently he 
had strongly urged at the Court of the Elector that the 
authorities should at least threaten gross contemners of 
religion with " exile and punishment " as in the case of 
blasphemers, and that then the pastors, after instruction 
and admonition had proved of no avail, should proceed 
to exclude such men from church membership 3 as " heathen 
to be shunned." When mentioning this he fails to state 
whether or to what extent his proposal was carried out. 4 On 
the other hand, he often declares that the actual state 
of the masses rendered quite impossible any ordering of 
ecclesiastical life according to the Gospel ; he is also fond 
of speaking of the danger there would be of falling back 
into the Popish regulations abolished by the freedom of the 
Gospel, were disciplinary measures reintroduced. 

What moved Luther in 1538 to advocate the use of the 
ban was, first, the action of the Elector s haughty Captain 
and Governor, Hans Metzsch at Wittenberg, who, in addition 
to Luther s excommunication, was threatened with dis 
missal from his office, or, as Luther expresses it, with the 
Greater Excommunication of the ruler (1538), and, secondly, 
the doings of a Wittenberg burgher who (Feb., 1539) 
dared to go to the Supper in spite of having committed 
homicide. In the case of Metzsch a form of minor ex 
communication was resorted to, Luther declaring invalid 

1 To Tileman Schnabel and the other Hessian clergy, June 26, 
1533, " Brief wechsel," 9, p. 317 : " Hoc sceculo excommunicatio maior 
ne potest quidem in nostrum potestatem redigi, et ridiculi fteremus, ante 
vires, hanc tentantes. Nam quod vos sperare videmini, ut executio vel 
per ipsum principem fiat, valde incertum est, nee vellem politicum magis- 
tratum in id officii misceri,^ etc. 

2 N. Paulus, " Hexenwahn und Hexenprozess," 1911, p. 32, with 
reference to " Luthers Werke," Weim. ed., 29, p. 539, where the note 
of the Wittenberg Deacon, George Rorer to Luther s sermon of Aug. 22 
of that year says : " Hcec prima fuit excommunicatio ab ipso pronun- 
tiata" 

3 Luther to Leonhard Beier, 1533, " Brief wechsel," 9, p. 365. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 275. 



188 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the absolution and permission to communicate granted by 
the Deacon Froschel ; whether or not, after this, he pro 
nounced a further excommunication, this much is certain, 
viz. that, not long after the pair were reconciled. 1 

Many of the well-disposed on Luther s side were in favour 
of the ban as a disciplinary measure ; others were intensely 
hostile to it. Of his latest intention, Luther speaks at some 
length in a sermon of Feb. 23, 1539. He there explains how 
the whole congregation must be behind the clergy in en 
forcing the ban ; they were to be notified publicly of any 
man who proved obstinate and were to pray against him ; 
then was to follow the formal expulsion from the congrega 
tion ; re-admission to public worship was also to take place 
publicly. 

The plan of using the ban as a disciplinary measure was, 
however, brought to nought by the efforts of the Court and 
the lawyers, who wished all proceedings of the sort to 
devolve upon the government as represented in the con 
sistories. 2 Luther also encountered the further difficulty, 
that, in many cases, the ban was simply ignored, even 
greater scandal arising out of this public display of contempt. 
Hence, owing to his experience, he came to enjoin the 
greatest caution. 

To his former pupil, Anton Lauterbach, preacher at Pirna, he 
sent the following not over-confident instructions : " Hesse s 
example of the use of excommunication pleases me. If you can 
establish the same thing, well and good. But the centaurs and 
harpies of the Court will look at it askance. May the Lord be 
our help ! Everywhere licence and lawlessness continue to spread 
amongst the people, but it is the fault of the secular authorities." 3 

The example of Hesse to which Luther referred was the 
Hessian " Regulations for church discipline," enacted in 1539 
at the instance of Bucer, in which, amongst other things, pro 
vision was made for excommunication. So-called " elders," 
appointed conjointly by the town authorities and the congrega 
tion, were to watch over the faith and morals of all, preachers 
inclusive ; to them, together with the preacher, it fell, after 

1 Cp. the passages quoted, ib., p. 675, and Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," 
p. 167. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 291 aqq. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, 
p. 440. 

3 On April 2, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 550. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 
59, pp. 162 ff., 159 f . ; "We must set up excommunication again." 
In the latter passage he speaks of his action against the Wittenberg 
Commandant, Hans v. Metzsch. 



LESSER EXCOMMUNICATION 189 

seeking advice of the Superintendent, to pronounce the ban over 
the obdurate sinner. In the Saxon Electorate, however, so Luther 
hints, this would hardly be feasible on account of the attitude of 
the authorities and the utter lawlessness of the people. 

In 1538 the Elector himself had well put the difficulty which 
would face any such disciplinary measure : "If only people 
could be found who would let themselves be excommunicated ! " 
He had, as Jonas related at Luther s table, listened devoutly to 
the sermon at Zerbst and then expressed himself strongly on the 
universal decline in morals, the " outrageous wickedness, gluttony 
and drunkenness," etc. ; he had also said that excommunication 
was necessary, but had then uttered the despairing words just 
quoted. 1 

Yet in spite of all Luther still continued at times to hold up 
the ban and its consequences as a threat : "I shall denounce 
him from the pulpit as having been placed under the ban " 
this of a burgher who had absented himself from the Sacrament 
for fifteen years " and will give notice that he is to be looked 
upon as a dog ; if, after this, anyone holds intercourse or has 
anything to do with him, he will do so at his own risk ; if he dies 
he is to be buried on the rubbish-heap like a dog ; we formally make 
him over to the authorities for their justice and their laws to do 
their worst on him." 2 " As for our usurers, drunkards, libertines, 
whoremongers, blasphemers and scoffers," he says, " they do 
not require to be put under the ban, as they have done so them 
selves ; they are in it already up to their ears. . . . When they 
are about to die, no pastor or curate may attend them, and when 
they are dead let the hangman drag them out of the town to the 
carrion heap. . . . Since they wish to be heathen, we shall look 
upon them as such." 3 

Such self-imposed excommunication was so frequent that the 
other, viz. that to be imposed by the preacher, was but rarely 
needed. "This is the true and chief reason why the ban has 
everywhere fallen into disuse," Luther declares, echoing the 
Elector, " because real Christians are everywhere so few, so small 
a body and so insignificant in number." 4 He too could exclaim 
with a sigh : "If only there were people who would let themselves 
be banned." 

But even had such people been forthcoming, those who would 
have to pronounce the ban were too often anything but perfect. 
What was needed was prudent, energetic and disinterested 
preachers, for, in order " to make use of the ban, we have need of 
good, courageous, spiritual-minded ministers ; we have too many 
who are immersed in worldly business." " I fear our pastors 
will be over-bold and grasp at temporalities and at property." 5 

1 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 42. His words remind us of Luther s 
own ; above, p. 139. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 160. 

3 /&., p. 179 f. Cp. Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 185 (in 1540). 

4 Ib,, p. 169 f. 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 278 (in 1542-1543). 



190 LUTHER THE REFORMER 



The want of a Hierarchy. Ordinations 

Sebastian Franck of Donauworth, a man responsible for 
some fanatical doctrines, but a good observer of events, 
wrote in 1534 in his " Cosmography " : " Every sect has its 
own teacher, leader and priest, so that now no one can write 
of the German faith, and a whole volume would be necessary, 
and indeed would not suffice, to enumerate all their sects 
and beliefs." " Men will and must have a Pope," he says, 
" they will steal one or dig one out of the earth, and if you 
take one from them every day they will soon find a new 
one." 1 

It was not, however, exactly a " Pope " that the various 
sects desired ; the great and commanding name of the 
author of the schism could endure none other beside it, quite 
apart from the impossibility of anything of the sort being 
realised. On the other hand, the appointment of bishops to 
the new Churches, i.e. the introduction of a kind of hierarchy, 
had been discussed since about 1540. 

Luther saw well enough what a firm foundation the 
Church of the " Papists " possessed in its episcopate. Would 
not the introduction of eminent Lutheran preachers into the 
old German episcopal sees and their investment with the 
secular authority and quality of bishops, serve to strengthen 
the cause of the Evangel where it was weakest ? The 
Superintendents did not suffice, though these officers, first 
introduced in the Saxon Visitation of 1527, held a post of 
supervision duly recognised in the Church. 

: The Papists boast of their bishops," said Luther, " and of 
their spiritual authority though it is contrary to God s ordin 
ances." 2 " They are all set on retaining the bishops, and simply 
want to reform them." 3 " In Germany the bishops are wealthy 
and powerful, they have a position and authority and they rule 
of their own power." 4 " If only we had one or two bishops on 
our side, or could induce them to come over to us ! " 5 

On Ascension Day, May 15, 1539, we are told that " Luther 
dined with his Elector and assisted at a council. It was there 
resolved to maintain the bishops in their authority, if only they 
would renounce the Pope and were pious persons devoted to the 
Gospel, like Speratus. In that case, said Luther, we shall grant 

1 " Kosmographie," Bl. 44 , 163. Janssen, "Hist, of the German 
People " (Engl. Trans.), v., p. 535. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 122. 3 Ib., 1, p. 322. 

4 Ib., 3, p. 306. 5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 367, Table-Talk. 



THE NEW HIERARCHY 191 

them the right and the power to ordain ministers. When Melanch- 
thon attempted to dissuade him, pointing out that it would be 
difficult to make sure of them by examination, he replied : " They 
are to be tested by our people and then consecrated by the laying 
on of hands, just as I am now a bishop." 1 Instead of the words 
" as I am now a bishop " a more likely rendering is, " as we have 
already done as bishops here at Wittenberg." 2 The resolution 
indicated would seem to have been merely provisional and 
non-committal, possibly a mere project. Nor is it likely that 
Melanchthon can have been very averse to it. 

As a matter of fact, Luther had, like a bishop, already ordained 
or inducted into office such men as had been " called " to the 
ministry, viz. by the congregations or the authorities ; this he 
did for the first time in 1525 in the case of George Rorer, who had 
been called to the archdiaconate of Wittenberg. The ordination 
took place with imposition of hands and prayer. Since 1535 
there existed a Wittenberg oath of ordination to be taken by 
the preachers and pastors who should be appointed, by which 
they bound themselves to preserve and to teach the " Catholic " 
faith as taught at Wittenberg. 3 

Luther did not think that any consecration at the hands of 
the existing episcopate was necessary for a new bishop ; 4 such 
necessity was incompatible with his conception of the Church, 
the hierarchy and the common priesthood ; as for the Sacrament 
of Orders in the usual sense of the word, it no longer existed. 

A welcome opportunity for setting up a Protestant " bishop " 
was presented to the Elector of Saxony and to Luther when the 
bishopric of Naumburg-Zeitz fell vacant (above, p. 165 f.). 

Johann Frederick, the Elector, not satisfied with his rights as 
protector, laid claim also to actual sovereignty, and as the inno 
vations had, as stated above, already secured a footing in 
Naumburg, he determined to introduce a Lutheran preacher as 
bishop and to seize upon the rights and lands in spite of the 
Chapter and larger part of the nobility still being true to the 
Catholic faith. He appealed to the fact that the kings of England, 
Denmark and Sweden, and likewise the Duke of Prussia, had set 
their bishops in "order." 5 The noble and scholarly Julius 
Pflug, whom wisely the Chapter at once elected to the vacant see, 
was, as related above, never to be allowed to ascend the episcopal 
throne. 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 306. In the statement the year 
given is uncertain. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 368 : " Anno 34," etc. ; 
elsewhere 1543. 2 Rebenstock, in Bindseil, 1. c. 

3 P. Drews, " Die Ordination, Priifung und Lehrverpflichtuiig der 
Ordinanden in Wittenberg" ("Deutsche Zeitschr. fur KR."), 15, 1905, 
pp. 66 ff., 274 ft ., particularly p. 281 ff. 

4 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 22 f. Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 80 : 
" Doctor dixit : Nos qui prcedicamus Evangelium, habemus potestatem 
ordinandi ; papa et episcopi neminem possunt ordinare " (a. 1540). 
P. 226 : " Doctor ad Cellarium ; Vos cstis episcopus, quemadmodum 
ego sum papa " (a. 1540). Johannes Cellarius was Superintendent at 
Dresden. * j ansse n, ib. (Engl. Trans.), vi., 181 ff. 



192 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

4. Consecration of Nicholas Amsdorf as "Evangelical 
Bishop" of Naumburg (1542) 

At first Luther was loath under the circumstances to 
advise the setting up in Naumburg of a bishop of the new 
faith. To him and to his advisers the step appeared too 
dangerous. Nevertheless, on hearing of the election of 
Pflug, he wrote as follows to the Elector : These Naumburg 
canons " are desperate people and the devil s very own. 
But what cannot be carried off openly, may be won by 
waiting. Some day God will let it fall into your Electoral 
Highness s hands, and the devil s wiseacres will be caught 
in their own wisdom." 1 

When, however, the Elector obstinately insisted on 
putting into execution his plan, contrary to justice and to 
the laws of the Empire as it was, and when his agents had 
already begun to govern the new territory, Luther s views 
and those of the Wittenberg theologians gradually changed. 
It was difficult, they wrote, to " map out beforehand the 
order " of the German Church ; the question whether they 
would have bishops, or do without, had not yet been 
decided ; meanwhile the Prince had better establish a 
consistory. Later on, however, they advised the appoint 
ment of a bishop, for the Church cannot be without its 
bishop and the Chapter had forfeited its rights ; there was, 
nevertheless, to be a real and genuine election at which the 
faithful were to be represented. 2 

Luther arid his friends wanted to have as bishop Prince 
George of Anhalt, Canon of Magdeburg and Merseburg, who 
shared the Wittenberg views. 

To the Elector, however, who had other plans of his own, 
it seemed, that, owing to his position, this Prince might not 
prove an easy tool in his sovereign s hands. Nicholas 
Amsdorf, preacher at Magdeburg, who for long years had 
been Luther s associate, was accounted one of his most 
determined supporters and, as time went on, even gained 
for himself the reputation of being " more Lutheran than 
Luther," appeared a more likely candidate. It was no 
difficult matter to secure Luther s consent. He gave 
Amsdorf the following testimonial : " He was richly 

1 Letter of Jan. 24, 1541, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 253 f. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 553 ff. 



AMSDORF S CONSECRATION 193 

endowed by God, learned and proficient in Holy Scripture, 
more so than the whole crowd of Papists ; also a man of 
good life and faithful and upright at heart." The fact that 
he was unmarried was a recommendation for the post, even 
from the point of view of " Papal law." 1 

It has already been mentioned that Amsdorf was later on 
to write the book " That good works are harmful to Salva 
tion," and that, previously, about 1525, he was active in 
making matches between the escaped nuns and the leaders 
of the innovations. Melanchthon, writing to Johannes 
Ferinarius, says : " He was an adulterer, and lay with the 
wife of his deacon at Magdeburg " ; of this we hear from 
the Luther researcher J. K. Seidemann, who quotes from 
a Dresden MS. 2 

The Ceremony at Naumburg 

The 20 Jan., 1542, was appointed for the " consecration " 
of the bishop. Two days before, the Elector of Saxony made 
his solemn entry into the little town on the Saale escorted by 
some three hundred horsemen, the gentlemen all clothed in 
decorous black. His brother Johann Ernest and Duke 
Ernest of Brunswick were in his train. Luther, Melanchthon 
and Amsdorf also took part in the procession. It was a 
mere formality when the Chapter (or rather the magistrates 
of the towns of Zeitz and Naumburg, and the knights, 
though only such as were Protestant) were asked to cast 
their votes in favour of Amsdorf ; in reality the will of 
Johann Frederick was law. Their scruples concerning the 
oath they had taken under the former bishop, of everlasting 
fidelity to the Catholic Chapter were, at their desire, dealt 
with by Luther himself, who argued that no oath taken by 
the sheep to the wolves could be of any account, and that 
no duty " could be binding which ran counter to God s 
commandment to do away with idolatrous doctrine." 3 

The " consecration " then took place on the day ap 
pointed, within the venerable walls of the mediaeval 
Cathedral of Naumburg, ostensibly according to the usage 
of the earliest ages, when the Church had not as yet fallen 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 126, in the " Exempel " (see below, 
p. 195). 

2 " Zeitschr. f. KG.," 3, p. 302, according to MS. Dresdense B 
193, 4. 3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 554 f. 

v. o 



194 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

away from the Gospel. The Blessing and imposition of 
hands were to signify that the Church of Naumburg, i.e. the 
whole flock, was wedded to its bishop ; he too, in like 
manner, would ceremonially proclaim his readiness to take 
charge of this same flock. The bishops of the adjoining 
sees, who, in accordance with the custom of antiquity 
should have assembled to perform the consecration, were 
represented by three superintendents and one apostate 
Abbot. " At this consecration [to quote Luther s own 
words] the following bishops, or as we shall call them 
parsons, shall officiate : Dr. Nicholas Medler, parson and 
super-attendant of Naumburg, Master George Spalatin, 
parson and super-attendant at Aldenburg [the former 
preacher at the Court of the Elector], Master Wolfgang 
Stein, parson and super-attendant at Weissenfels "* (also 
Abbot Thomas of St. George s near Naumburg). 

Luther is silent concerning the two requirements which, 
according to the olden views, were the most essential for the 
consecration of a bishop, viz. the ritual consecration, which 
only a consecrated bishop could impart, and the jurisdiction 
or authority to rule, only to be derived from bishops yet 
more highly placed in the hierarchy, or from the Pope. 
Both these Luther himself had to supply. 

At the outset of the ceremony Nicholas Medler announced 
the deed which was about to be undertaken " through God s 
Grace," to which the people assented by saying "Amen." 
After this Luther preached a sermon on the Bible-text 
addressed to the Church s heads : " Take heed to yourselves 
and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed 
you bishops to rule the church of God which He hath pur 
chased with His own blood " (Acts xx. 28). After the 
sermon Amsdorf knelt before the altar surrounded by the 
four assistants and the " Veni Creator" was sung. Luther 
admonished the future bishop concerning his episcopal 
duties, and, on the latter giving a satisfactory answer, in 
common with the four others, he laid his hands on his head ; 
after this Luther himself offered a prayer for him. The 
" Te Deum " was then sung in German. Hence the bishop s 
consecration took place in much the same way as the 
ordination of the preachers, viz. by imposition of hands 
and prayer. 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 125, in the " Exempel." 



AMSDORF S CONSECRATION 195 

Luther himself had some misgivings concerning the step 
and its far-reaching consequences. 

He wrote not long after to Jacob Probst, pastor at Bremen, 
whom he here addresses as bishop : "I wonder you have 
not heard the news, how, namely, on Jan. 20, Dr. Nicholas 
Amsdorf was ordained by the heresiarch Luther bishop of 
the church of Naumburg. It was a daring act and will 
arouse much hatred, animosity and indignation against us. 
I am hard at work hammering out a book on the subject. 
What the result will be God knows." He adds : " Jonas is 
working successfully for the kingdom of Christ at Halle 
[where he had been appointed pastor] in spite of the accursed 
Heinz and Meinz [Duke Henry of Brunswick and Arch 
bishop Albert of Mayence]. My own lordship and Katey my 
Moses greet you and your spouse. Pray for me that I may 
die at the right hour, for I am sick of this life, or rather of 
this unspeakably bitter death." 1 

Luther s booklet on the Consecration of Bishops 

The bitter work which Luther, at the request of the 
Elector and the Naumburg Estates, "hammered out," in 
vindication of this act of violence, appeared in the same 
year, i.e. 1542, under the title " Exempel einen rechten 
Christlichen Bischoff zu weihen." 2 

The title itself shows that the pamphlet was no mere attempt 
to justify himself and those who had taken part in the act but 
aims at something more ; Luther s apologia becomes a violent 
attack ; a breach was to be made in the wall which so far had 
hindered Protestants from appropriating the Catholic bishoprics 
of Germany. " Our intention," says Luther quite plainly, " is 
to establish an example to show how the bishoprics may be re 
formed and governed in a Christian manner." 3 

The opening lines show that the book was intended to inflame 
and excite the masses. The jocular tone blatantly contrasts with 
the august subject of the episcopate and supplies a good 
" example " of the author s mode of controversy. The work 
begins : " Martin Luther, Doctor. We poor heretics have once 
more committed a great sin against the hellish, unchristian 
Church of our most fiendish Father the Pope by ordaining and 
consecrating a bishop for the see of Naumburg without any 
chrism, without even any butter, lard, fat, grease, incense, 

1 On March 26, 1542, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 451 : " Venera- 
bili in Domino viro lacobo Probst ecclesice Bremensis episcopo vero," etc. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 93 ff. 3 Ib., p. 121. 



196 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

charcoal or any such-like holy things." Cheerfully indeed did he 
own, acknowledge and confess this sin against those, who " have 
shed our blood, murdered, hanged, drowned, beheaded, burnt, 
robbed and driven us into exile, and inflicted on us every manner 
of martyrdom, and now, with Meinz and Heinz, have taken to 
sacking the land." 

With a couple of Bible passages he bowls over the legal diffi 
culties arising out of the expulsion of the bishop-elect and the 
oath of the Estates : " Thou shalt have none other Gods before 
me " ; " Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep s 
clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves," etc. We must 
sweep away the " wolf -bishops whom the devil ordains and 
thrusts in." " Oath and obedience stand untouched," for they 
" could take no [valid] oath to the wolf." 1 The further question, 
" whether it was right to accept consecration or ordination from 
such damnable heretics [i.e. as he], was disposed of by saying, 
that the Evangel was no heresy, and that though he understood 
Holy Scripture but little, yet at any rate he understood it far 
better and also knew better how to consecrate a Christian 
bishop than the Pope and all his men, who one and all were 
foes of Holy Writ and of the Word of God." 2 

This screed stands undoubtedly far below many of Luther s 
other productions. It tends to be diffuse and to harp tediously 
on the same ideas. Luther had already overwritten himself, and 
when engaged on it was struggling with bad health, the fore 
runner of his fatal sickness three years later. His disgust with 
life spoiled his work. 

The "Popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, canons and parsons" 
he implores to look rather to the beam in their own eye, to the 
" simony, favouritism, sharp practices, agreements, conventions 
and other horrible vices " which prevailed at their own conse 
crations," than at the mote in the eye of the Lutherans. " You 
strainers at gnats and swallowers of camels, wipe yourselves 
first you know where I mean before coming and telling us to 
wipe our noses. It is not fitting that a sow should teach a dove 
not to eat any unclean grain of corn while itself it loves nothing 
better than to feed on the excreta which the peasants leave 
behind the hedge. As for the rest you understand it well 
enough." 3 " Let us stop our ears and not listen to their shouting, 
barking, bellowing, their complaints and their abuse," with 
which I have " put up for many a year from Dr. Sow [Dr. Eck], 
from Witzel, Tolpel, Schmid, from Dr. Dirtyspoon [Cochlaeus], 
Tellerlecker, Briinzscherben, Heinz and Meinz and whatever 
else they may be. . . . The [Last] Day is approaching for which 
we hope and which they must needs fear, however obstinately 
they may affect to despise it. Against their defiance we pit ours ; 
at least we may look forward to The Day with a happy, cheerful 
conscience. On that day we shall be their judges, unless indeed 
there is really no God in heaven or on earth as the Pope and his 
followers believe." 4 

1 Ib., pp. 99, 100, 118, 113. 2 P. 124. 3 P. 125. * P. 115. 



LETTERS TO AMSDORF 197 

How little Luther really knew of the cunning policy of 
his sovereign is plain from his assuring his reader in the 
same booklet, apparently in the best of faith, that it was 
no motive of self-interest that had led the Elector to inter 
vene in the Naumburg business ; " the lands were to remain 
the property of the see," the Elector did not wish " to 
subjugate it, to deprive it of its liberty, or alienate it from 
the Empire," etc. 1 He declares that whatever reports 
Julius Pflug was spreading to the contrary were a " stinking 
lie." Yet the Elector had ousted the rightful occupant of 
the see, as he had intended to do all along, and those who 
ventured to oppose his commands he was to punish by 
sequestration of lands and even by imprisonment. 

The Protestant bishop was assigned a miserable pittance 
of six hundred Gulden so that Amsdorf, as Luther declared, 
had been better off at Magdeburg. 2 Practically nothing 
was done by the sovereign for the ordering of the Church. 
Luther bewailed to Amsdorf : " The negligence of our 
government gives me great concern. They so often take 
rash steps and, then, when we are down in the mire, snore 
idly and leave us on the lurch. I intend, however, to open 
the ears of Dr. Pontanus [Chancellor Briick] and of the 
Prince and give them some plain speaking." 3 

" How is this ? " Luther wrote about this time to Justus 
Jonas, who, at Halle, had gone through much the same 
experience, " We pray against the Turk, we are the teachers 
of the people and their intercessors with God and yet those 
who wish to be accounted Evangelicals rashly excite the 
wrath of God by their avarice, their robbing and plundering 
of the Church. The people let us go on teaching, praying 
and suffering while they heap sin upon sin ! " 4 

Excerpts from Luther s Letters to the New " Bishop " 

Luther s correspondence with his friend Amsdorf affords 
an instructive psychological insight into the working of his 
mind. During those last years of his life he took refuge 
more and more in a certain fanatical mysticism. He sought 
comfort in the thought of his exalted calling and in a kind 

1 P. 126 f. 2 F eb. 6, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 432. 

3 Letter of Jan. 13, 1543, ib., p. 532. 

4 Letter of July 23, 1542, ib., p. 485. 



198 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

of inspiration ; yet all he could do availed but little against 
his inward gloom. 

Amsdorf, the whilom Catholic priest, found little pleasure in 
his episcopal status and felt bitterly both his isolation and the 
contrast between a pomp that was irksome to him and the real 
emptiness of his position ; Luther, accordingly, in the letters 
of consolation he wrote him, appealed to the Divine inspiration, 
which had led to his appointment as bishop. The consecration 
was surely undertaken at the express command of God which 
no man may oppose. " In these Divine matters," he writes, 
"it is far safer to allow oneself to be carried away than to take 
any active part ; this is what happened in your case, and yours 
is a noble and unusual example. We are never in worse case 
than when we fancy we are acting with discernment and under 
standing, because then self-complacency slinks in ; but the 
blinder we are, the more God acts through us. He does more 
than we can think or understand." We have here the same 
principle to which he had been so fond of appealing in the 
early days of his career so as to be able to attribute to God the 
unforeseen and far-going consequences of his deeds, and to 
reassure himself and urge himself on. 

" We must never seek to know," he said to Amsdorf, " what 
God wills to accomplish through us." " The most foolish thing is 
the wisest." 1 " God rules the world by means of fools and 
children, He will finish His work [in you] by our means, just as 
in the Book of Proverbs (xxx. 2), where we are called the greatest 
fools on earth." 2 

" It is the counsel of a fool," so Luther said in his " Exempel " 
of his intentions regarding the bishops sees, " and I am a fool. 
But because it is God s counsel, therefore it is at least the counsel 
of a wise fool." 3 

This pseudo-mystical bent though usual enough in Luther 
seems to have become very much stronger in him at that time. 
To this his sad experiences contributed. More than ever con 
vinced, on the one hand, that everything in the world was of the 
devil and that " Satan and his whole kingdom, full of a terrible 
wrath, were harassing " the Elector, as he declares in a letter 
to Amsdorf, 4 he tends, on the other, to fall back with a fanatical 
enthusiasm on the Evangel " revealed " to him. More than one 
statement which is no mere empty form, shows that he was 
really anxious to find consolation in the Divine truths ; again 
and again he strove to rouse himself to a firm confidence. He is 
also more diligent in his peculiar sort of prayer and strongly 
urges his friends, notably Amsdorf to whom he frankly imparts 
his fears and hopes, to seek for help in prayer. His words are 
really those of one who feels in need of assistance. 

1 To Amsdorf after Jan. 20, 1542, ib., p. 430. 

2 To Amsdorf, Feb. 12, 1542, ib., p. 433. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 26 2 , p. 123. 

4 Jan. 8, 1546, " Brief e," 5, p. 773. 



LETTERS TO AMSDORF 199 

Amidst the trials of increasing bodily ailments and in other 
temporal hardships he knows how to encourage his life s partner, 
Catharine Bora, whose anxiety distressed him. : " You want to 
provide for your God," he says to her in one of his letters, " just 
as though He were not all-powerful and able to create ten Dr. 
Martins should your old one get drowned in the Saale, or smothered 
in the coal-hole or elsewhere. Do not worry me with your cares ; 
I have a better caretaker than even you or all the angels. He 
lies in the crib and sucks at a Virgin s breast, but nevertheless is 
seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Hence be 
at peace, Amen." 1 " Do you pray," he admonishes her not long 
after, " and leave God to provide, for it is written : Cast thy 
care upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee, Ps. lv." 2 

Such ready words of encouragement do not however prevent 
him, when dealing with other more stout-hearted friends who 
were aware of the precarious state of the cause, from giving full 
voice to the depression, nay despair, which overwhelmed him. 
The following example from his correspondence with the " bishop " 
of Naumburg is characteristic. 

After an attempt to parry the charge brought against him of 
being responsible for the public misfortunes which had arisen 
through the religious revolt, and to reassure Amsdorf, and 
incidentally himself too, he goes on gloomily to predict the 
coming chastisement : " Were we the cause of all the evils that 
have befallen us [and others], how much blood should we have 
already shed ! ... It is, however, Christ s business to see to 
this, since He Himself by His Word has called forth so much evil 
and such great hatred on the part of the devil. All this, so they 
fancy, is a scandal and a disgrace to our teaching ! Nevertheless 
ingratitude for God s proffered grace is so great, the contempt 
for the Word goes such lengths, vice, avarice, usury, luxury, 
hatred, perfidy, envy, pride, godlessness and blasphemy are 
increasing by such leaps and bounds that it is hard to believe 
God can much longer deal indulgently and patiently with 
Germany. Either the Turk will chastise us [" while we brood 
full of hate over the wounds of our brethren "] or some inner mis 
fortune [civil war] will break over us. It is true we feel the 
chastisement, we pay the penalty in grief and tears, but yet we 
remain sunk in terrible sins whereby we grieve the Holy Ghost 
and rouse the anger of God against us." 

What faithful Catholics feared for him owing to his obstinacy, 
this, in his sad blindness, he now predicts for the foes of his 
Evangel. "Who can wonder," he cries, "should God, as Holy 
Scripture says, laugh at our destruction in spite of the weeping 
and sighing of the guilty. . . . The worst end awaits the im 
penitent." 

" Let none of us expect the least good of the future. Our sins 
cry aloud to heaven and on earth and there is no hope of any 
good. Now, in a time of peace, Germany affords the eye a terrible 

1 Feb. 7, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 787. 

2 Feb. 10, 1546, ib., p. 790. 



200 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

spectacle, seeing that God s honour is outraged everywhere by 
so many wicked men and that the churches and schools are being 
destroyed. . . . Meanwhile, we at least [the despised preachers 
of the truth] will bewail our own sins and those of Germany ; 
we will pray and humble our souls, devote ourselves to our office, 
teaching, exhorting and consoling. What else can we do ? 
Germany has become blind and deaf and rises up in insolence ; 
we cannot hope against hope." 

" But do you be brave and give thanks to the Lord for the 
holy calling He has deigned to bestow upon us ; He has willed 
to sunder us from these reprobates, who are bent on ruining 
others too, to preserve us clean and blameless in His pure and 
holy Word, and will continue so to preserve us. Let us, however, 
weep for the foes of the cross of Christ, even though they mock 
at our tears. Though we be filled with grief on account of their 
misery still our grief will be assuaged by the holy joy which will 
attend the again-rising of the Lord on the day of our salvation, 
Amen." 

He concludes this curious letter, written on Easter Sunday, 
with the following benediction : " May the Lord be with you to 
support and comfort you together with us. Outside of Christ, in 
the kingdom of the raging devil, there is nothing but sadness to 
be seen or heard." Thus, at the close, he returns to the opening 
thought suggested by the very object of the letter. Amsdorf had 
deplored the \varlike acts undertaken by Duke Maurice of Saxony 
against the Elector. Luther, in turn, had informed him, that 
" here, we are quite certain that what the Duke is doing is the 
direct work of Satan." 1 



5. Some Further Deeds of Violence. Fate of Ecclesiastical 
Works of Art 

End of the Bishopric of Meissen 

The Elector of Saxony, after having been so successful in 
seizing the bishopric of Naumburg, sought to obtain control 
of that of Meissen also. 

Here, however, there was another Protestant claimant in 
the field in the person of the young Duke Maurice of Saxony, 
successor of the late Duke Henry. As for the chartered 
rights, temporal and spiritual, of the bishop of Meissen they 
were simply ignored. The Elector, by a breach of the peace, 
sent a military force on March 22, 1542, to occupy the 
important town of Wurzen, where there was a collegiate 
Chapter depending on Meissen. The Chapter was "re 
formed " by compulsion, the prebendaries who were faithful 

1 April 13, 1542, ib., p. 464. 



SEIZURE OF MEISSEN 201 

to the Church being threatened with deposition and corporal 
penalties, and many sacred objects being flung out of their 
church. When eventually war threatened to break out 
between the two branches of the house of Saxony, Landgrave 
Philip of Hesse stepped in as mediator in the interests of 
the new Evangel. He twice sent express messengers to 
summon Luther to intervene. But, even before this, the 
latter, horrified at the prospect of the " dreadful disgrace " 
which civil war between two Evangelical princes would 
bring upon the Evangel, had addressed a long and earnest 
letter of admonition to both combatants : It was the devil 
who was seeking to kindle a great fire from such a spark ; 
both sides should have recourse to law instead of falling 
upon each other over so insignificant a matter, like tipsy 
yokels fighting in a tap-room over a broken glass ; if they 
refused to do this, he would take the part of the one who 
first suffered acts of violence at the hands of the other and 
would free all the latter s followers from their duty and 
oath of obedience in the war. 1 The writing, which was 
intended for publication and to be forwarded " to both 
armies," was only half -printed when the Landgrave inter 
vened. The author withdrew it in order to be able to take 
up a different attitude in the struggle and to proceed at once 
to denounce Maurice. 

Luther it is true admitted to Briick, the electoral chancellor, 
that certain people at Wittenberg did not consider the Elector s 
claims at all well-founded. 2 At the Landgrave s instigation he 
also addressed a friendly request to the Elector, " not to be too 
hard and stiff " ; of the temporal rights of the case he was 
ignorant ; seeing, however, that there was a dispute the question 
could not be clear ; at any rate Duke Maurice was acting wrong 
fully in " pressing his rights by so bloodthirsty an undertaking. 
At times there may be a good reason for pulling one s foot out 
of the tracks of a mad dog or for burning a couple of tapers at the 
devil s altar." 3 But on the whole he took the part of his Elector 
against Maurice, who, even before this, had appeared to him lax 
and wavering in his support of the new faith. In his history of 
Maurice of Saxony, G. Voigt gives as his opinion that : "In this 
matter Luther neither showed himself unbiassed nor did he act 
uprightly and honourably." 4 

1 To the Elector and the Duke, April 7, 1542, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
56, p. 15 ff. il Briefe," ed. De Wette, 6, p. 304 ff. 

2 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 567. 

3 April 9, 1542, " Werke," Erl. ed., 56, p. liii. " Briefe," ib., p. 311. 

4 Leipzig, 1874, p. 28 f. 



202 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

To Amsdorf, who had helped to fan the flame of mutual hate, 
Luther speaks of Duke Maurice as " a proud and furious young 
fellow, in whom we undoubtedly see the direct work of Satan " ; 
it is not he (Luther) or Amsdorf who have to reproach themselves 
with the conflagration ; he is to be quite at rest on this score. 
Rather, it is Christ Who by His Word has given rise to the 
mischief and to all the hatred of the demons against us. His 
Word alone is to blame, not we, that so many confessors of our 
faith have been slain, drowned and burnt. " In vain do they 
impute to us the bloody deeds which have taken place owing 
to Miinzer, Carlstadt, Zwingli and the [Anabaptist] King of 
Minister." 

" At first Maurice was not regarded by Luther, Melanchthon 
and most of their contemporaries as of such importance, whether 
for good or for evil, as he soon after showed himself to be ; they 
fancied him far more dependent on his nobles and councillors 
than he really was." 1 Luther thought he detected the evil 
influence of the councillors in the twin businesses of Wurzen and 
Meissen. In his reply to the Landgrave concerning the attempt 
to bring the matter to a peaceful issue, without having as yet 
examined the cause, he speaks of Duke Maurice as a " stupid 
bloodhound." 2 To his own Court he wrote, on April 12, as 
though the Duke were without question in the wrong : " May 
God strengthen, console and preserve my most Gracious Lord 
and you all in His Grace and in a good conscience, and bring 
down on the heads of the hypocritical bloodhound of Meissen 
what Cain and Absalom, Judas and Herodes deserved. Amen 
and again Amen, to the glory of His name Whom Duke Maurice 
is outraging to the utmost by this abominable scandal, and 
singing meanwhile so blasphemous a hymn of praise to the devil 
and all the foes of God." 3 

In the meantime, owing to Philip s exertions, a com 
promise was effected between the two parties ready for the 
fray ; by this it was agreed that each should have a free 
hand in one of the two portions of the diocese, the Elector 
retaining Wurzen ; as for the defenceless bishop of Meissen, 
who was not even informed of this, he had simply to bow 
to his fate. Maurice, however, was so greatly angered that 
he soon after abandoned the League of Schmalkalden and 
began to make advances to the Emperor. 

After the conclusion of peace " the Elector had all the 
images in the chief church of Wurzen destroyed, except 
those which were overlaid with gold or which represented 
4 serious events, and the rest buried in the vaults." The 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 568. 

2 According to Luther s report to Briick, April 12, 1542, " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 56, p. liv., " Briefe," p. 314. 3 Ib. 



DEEDS OF ROBBERY 203 

new teaching was then introduced throughout the diocese. 1 
Maurice on his part carried off from the cathedral of Meissen, 
which had fallen to his share, all the gold and silver vessels 
richly studded with jewels and precious stones and all the 
treasures of art. He was taking them, he said, under his 
protection " because the times were so full of risk and 
danger." After he had taken them into his " care " all 
trace of them disappeared for all time. 


Destruction of Church Property 

The fate of the treasures of Meissen Cathedral resembles 
that which befell the riches of many churches at that time. 

We are still in possession of the inventory made by 
Blasius Kneusel of Meissen which gives us a glimpse of the 
wealth and magnificence of the treasures of mediaeval 
German art and industry which perished in this way. 

The list contains the following entries among others : " One 
gold cross valued by Duke George at 1300 florins ; in it there is a 
diamond valued at 16,000 florins, besides other precious stones 
and pearls with which the cross is covered." " A second gold 
cross, worth 6000 florins. A third is worth 1000 florins, besides 
the precious stones and pearls of which the cross is full. I value 
the gold table and the credence table, without the precious 
stones, at 1000 florins in gold. The large bust of St. Benno 
weighs 36| Ibs. ; it is set with valuable stones ; it was made 
by order of the church and all the congregation contributed 
towards it. The small cross with the medallions of the Virgin 
Mary and St. John weighs about 50 Ibs." 

The number of these treasures of art which fell a prey to the 
plunderer amounted to fifty-one. 2 

Two years later Luther wrote to Duke Ernest of Saxony to 
seek help on behalf of two fallen monks then studying theology 
at Wittenberg : in order to support men who " may eventually 
prove very useful " " the chalices and monstrances might well 
be melted down." 3 

The ruthless handling of the Black Monastery at Wittenberg, 
which had been bestowed on Luther after the dissolution of the 
Augustinian community, was to set a bad example. The fittings 
of the church there were scattered and the mediaeval images and 

1 Burkhardt, " Gesch. der sachs. Kirchen- u. Schulvisitationen, 
1524-1545," 1879, p. 209 f. Janssen, "Hist, of the German People" 
(Engl. Trans.), vi., p. 192. 

2 G. A. Arndt, " Archiv der sachs. Gesch.," 2, Leipzig, 1784-1786, 
p. 333 ff. C. G. Gersdorf, " Urkundenbuch von Meissen," 3, Leipzig, 
1867, p. 375 f. Janssen, ib., p. 193. 

3 April 29, 1544, " Werke," Erl. ed., 56, p. 91 ; " Briefe," 5, p. 646. 



204 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

vestments which, though perhaps only of small material value, 
would yet be carefully treasured by any museum to-day, were 
calmly devoted by Luther to destruction. 

" Now at last," he says, "I have sold the best of the pictures 
that still remained, but did not get much for them, fifty florins 
at the most, and with this I have clothed, fed and provided for 
the nuns and the monks the thieves and rascals." He had 
already remarked that the best of the " church ornaments and 
vessels " had gone ; at the " beginning of the Evangel every 
thing had been laid waste " and " even to this very day they do 
not cease from carrying off ... each man whatever he can 
lay hands on." 1 

No one can adequately describe the material damage 
which the Catholic parsonages and benefices, convents and 
bishoprics had to suffer on their suppression. A simple list 
of the spoliations from the hundreds of cases on record, 
would give us a shocking picture of the temporal conse 
quences involved in the ecclesiastical upheaval. Apart 
from the injustice of thus robbing the churches and, inci 
dentally, the numberless poor who looked to the Church for 
help, it was regrettable that there was no other institution 
ready to take the place of the olden Church, and assume 
possession of the properties which fell vacant. The Catholic 
Church was a firmly knit and well-established community, 
capable of possessing property. The new Churches on the 
contrary did not constitute an independent and united 
body ; the universal priesthood, the invisibility of the 
Church of Christ and its utter want of independence were 
ideas altogether at variance with the legal conception of 
ownership upon which, in the topsyturvydom of that age of 
transition it was more than ever necessary to insist. 

Hence the secular element had necessarily to assume the 
guardianship of the property. But of the secular authorities, 
which was to take control ? For these authorities, which 
all were looking forward expectantly to their share of the 
church property heaped up by their Catholic ancestors, 
were not one but many : There was the sovereign with his 
Court, the civil administration, the towns with their 
councils, not to speak of other local claimants ; to make 
the confusion worse there were the church patrons, the 
trustees of monasteries, the founders of institutions, and 
their heirs, and also those endowed with certain privileges 

1 In Luther s household memoranda, " Brief e," 6, p. 326. 



RIGHTS OF POSSESSION 205 

under letters patent. Moreover, the leaders of the religious 
innovations insisted that the property acquired was to be 
devoted to the support of the preachers, the schools and 
the poor. Hence to the above already lengthy list of 
claimants must be added the preachers, or the consistories 
representing them, likewise the administrators of the relief 
funds, the governors of the schools, and the senates of the 
universities which had to furnish the preachers. 

The war- council of the town of Strasburg, in 1538, 
addressed a letter to Luther concerning their prospects or 
intention of securing a share of the church property there. 
On Nov. 20 of that year he replied, peremptorily telling 
them to do nothing of the sort ; under the conditions then 
prevailing they must " de facto stand still." Yet no less 
plain was his hint to them to warn Catholic owners " who 
hold church property but pay no heed to the cure of souls," 
to amend and to accept the new Evangel ; if they " wished 
to go," i.e. preferred banishment, so much the better, 
otherwise they must once for all by some means be "at last 
brought to see that further persistence in their wanton 
ness " was out of question. 1 

To add to the general chaos in many places the powerful 
nobles, as Luther frequently laments, without a shadow of 
a right, set violent hands on the tempting possessions, and, 
by entering into possession, frustrated all other claims. 

The leading theologians of Wittenberg gradually gave up 
in despair their attempts to interfere, and contented them 
selves with exhortations to which nobody paid much heed. 

They saw how the lion s share fell to the strongest, i.e. to 
the Elector, and how everywhere the State took the pennies 
of the devout and the poor, using them for purposes of its 
own, which often enough had nothing whatever to do with 
the Church. 

Nowhere do we find any evidence to show that the 
theologians made use of the authority on which on other 
occasions they laid so much stress, or made any serious 
attempt to check arbitrary action and to point out the 
way to a just distribution, or to lay down some clear and 
general rules in accordance with which the graduated claims 
of the different competitors might have been settled. They 
1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 55, p. 213 (" Brief wechsel," 12, p. 34). 



206 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

might at least have associated themselves with the lawyers 
in the Privy Council and formulated some rule whereby 
the rights of the State, of the towns and of the church 
patrons could have been protected against the worst attacks 
of the plunderers. But no check of this sort was imposed 
by the theologians on the prevailing avarice and greed of 
gain. It is plain that they despaired of the result, and, 
possibly, silence may not have been the worst policy. No 
one can be blind to the huge difficulties which attended 
interference, but who was after all to blame for these and 
so many other difficulties which had arisen in public order, 
and which could be solved only by the use of force ? 

When an exceptionally conscientious town-council sent a 
messenger to Luther in 1544 to ask for advice and instruc 
tions how to deal with the property of two monasteries 
which had been suppressed, the " honourable, prudent and 
beloved masters and friends " received from him only a 
short and evasive answer : " We theologians have nothing 
to do with this . . . such things must be decided by the 
lawyers . . . our theology teaches us to obey the worldly 
law, to protect the pious and to punish the wicked." 1 

If, however, the lawyers were to follow the jurisprudence 
in which they had been trained, then they could but insist 
upon the property being restored to its rightful owners, 
who had never ceased to claim it for the Church, and had 
even appealed to the imperial authority. Luther s reply 
constituted a formal retreat from the domain of moral 
questions, questions indeed which had become burning 
largely through the action of his theologians. It was an 
admission that their theology was of no avail to solve an 
eminently practical question of ethics coming well within 
its purview which was the safeguarding of the moral law, 
and for which, indeed, this theology was itself responsible. 
In this, however, as in so many other instances, they sowed 
the wind, but when the whirlwind came they ran for shelter 
to their theological cell. 2 

Still, the question of church property caused Luther so 
much heart-burning in his old age that his death was 
hastened thereby. 

1 July 7, 1544, " Werke," ib., p. 104 f. 

2 Cp. Luther s attitude at the time when the question of armed 
resistance to the Emperor was mooted, vol. iii., 56 fi., and his views on 
the relations of Church and State. 



STATUES AND PICTURES 207 

The lamentations wrung from him in 1538, his description 
of himself as " tormented " and the " unhappiest of all 
unhappy mortals," 1 were due in no small measure to the 
rapacity he had seen in connection with the church lands. 
The bulwarks he strove to erect against this disorder were 
constantly being torn down afresh by the unevangelical 
disposition of the Evangelicals, and yet he refused to admit, 
even to himself, that he had been the first to open the way to 
such arbitrary action. As in his own house he had set an 
example of destruction of church property, so in his turn 
he met with bitter experiences even in his own dwelling 
and in the case of his own private concerns. His tenure of 
the Black Monastery at Wittenberg was uncertain, and, 
as already stated, hostile lawyers at Court even questioned 
his right to dispose of his possessions by Will on the ground 
that his marriage was null in law, whether canon or civil. 
The Monastery had been given him by the Prince, and 
Luther and Catherine Bora used it both as their residence 
and as a boarding-house for lodgers. It had not, however, 
been given to Luther s family, and from this the difficulty 
arose. He was most careful to note down in his account 
books the things that were to be Katey s inalienable property 
on his death, but, when he was no more, Katey and her 
children had in their turn to make acquaintance with the 
poverty and vicissitudes endured by so many churchmen 
whose means of livelihood had been filched from them. 

Luther and the Images 

Can the charge be brought against Luther s teaching of 
being in part responsible for the outbreaks of iconoclastic 
violence which accompanied the spread of the Reformation 
in Germany ? Did his writings contribute to the destruction 
of those countless, admirable and often costly creations of 
art and piety which fell a prey to the blind fury of the 
zealot, or to greed of gain ? 

Assuredly he would, had he seen them, have disapproved 
of many of the acts of vandalism which history tells us 
were perpetrated against Catholic churches, monasteries 

1 To Amsdorf, Nov. 25, 1538, " Briefe," 5, p. 136 (" Brief wechsel," 
11, p. 38) : " Vides, quantis premor oneribus. . . . Miserrimis miserior, 
ut qui amplius nihil possum prce de/ectu 



208 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

and institutions. Generally speaking the ideas of Carlstadt 
and Zwingli, wherever they gained the upper hand, proved 
far more destructive to ecclesiastical works of art than 
Luther s gentler admonitions against the veneration of 
images. Nevertheless, his exhortations, though more 
guarded, made their way among both the mighty and the 
masses, and were productive of much harm. 

He himself declared frankly, about the end of 1524, that 
" by his writings he had done more harm to the images than 
Carlstadt with all his storming and fanaticism will ever do." 1 
In the course of the next year he boasted of having " brought 
contempt " on the images even before Carlstadt s time. He 
had repudiated the latter s acts of violence and his ill-judged 
appeal to the law of Moses ; 2 on the other hand, he had 
undermined the very foundations of image-worship by his 
Evangelical doctrines ; this was a better kind of " storm 
ing," for in this way those who once had bowed to images 
now " refused to have any made." As much as the most 
fanatical of the iconoclasts, he too wished to see the images. 
" torn out of men s hearts, despised and abolished," but 
he " destroyed them [the images] outwardly and also 
inwardly," 3 and so went one better than Carlstadt, who 
attacked them only from the outside. 

He had, so he continues, speaking to the German people, 
" consented " that the images should be " done away with 
outwardly so long as this took place without fanaticism and 
violence, and by the hand of the proper authorities." 4 " We 
drive them out of men s hearts until the time comes for them 
to be torn down by the hands of those whose duty it is to do 
this." 5 Meanwhile, however, it was " every man s duty " 
to " destroy them by the Evangel," " especially the images 
of God and other idolatrous ones." 6 

In his Church-sermons he makes his own the complaint, 
that, though these images which attracted a great " con 
course of people " should be " overthrown," the bishops 
were actually attaching indulgences to them and thus 
increasing the disorder. 7 

1 To the Christians at Strasburg, Dec. 15, 1524, " Werke," Weim. 
ed., 15, p. 395 ; Erl. ed., 53, p. 275 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 83). 

2 See above, vol. ii., p. 370. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 67 f. ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 141 f. " Against 
the heavenly Prophets." 4 /&., 68=143. 5 /&., p. 73-148. 

6 /&., p. 74=149. 7 " Werke," Erl. ed., 15 2 , p. 334. 



STATUES AND PICTURES 209 

In his sermons against Carlstadt at Wittenberg he had 
said things, and afterwards disseminated them in print, 
little calculated to impose restraint on the zeal of the multi 
tude : "It were better we had none of these images on 
account of the tiresome and execrable abuse and unbelief." 1 

The iconoclasts at Wittenberg were anxious, he says, to 
set about hewing down the images. His reply was : " Not 
yet ! For you will not eradicate the images in this way, 
indeed you will only establish them more firmly than ever." 2 

Accordingly it was then his own opinion that they should 
be " abolished " and " overthrown," particularly such 
images as were held in peculiar veneration ; in 1528 he 
again admitted that this was his object, when once more 
proposing his own less noisy and more cautious policy as 
the more effectual ; in his sermons on the Ten Command 
ments printed at this time he declared that the way to 
" hew down and stamp out the images was to tear and turn 
men s hearts away from them." 3 Then the " images would 
tumble down of their own accord and fall into disrepute ; for 
they [the faithful] will say : If it is not a good work to make 
images, then it is the devil who makes them and the pictures. 
In future I shall keep my money in my pocket or lay it out 
to better advantage." 4 " The iconoclasts rush in and tear 
down the images outwardly. To this I do not object so much. 
But then they go on to say that it must be so, and that it 
is well pleasing to God " ; this, however, is false ; it is a 
mistake to say that such a Divine command exists to tear 
them down. 5 

The grounds on which he opposed the old-time use of 
images were the following : By erecting them people sought 
to gain merit in God s sight and to perform good works ; 
they also trusted in images and in the Saints instead of in 
Christ, Who is our only ground for confidence ; finally a 
reason alleged by him but seldom people adored the 
images and thus became guilty of idolatry. Here it is plain 
how much his peculiar theology on good works and the 
worship of the saints contribute to his condemnation of the 
ancient Catholic practice. In his zeal against the existing 

Ib., Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 26 ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 225 f. 

Ib., p. 29-228. 

Ib., 16, p. 440=36, p. 49. 

Ib., p. 440 f. = 50. 

Ib., p. 444 = 54, Sermon of 1525, 

v. p 



210 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

abuses he overlooks the fact, that to invoke before their 
images the Saints intercession with Christ was not in the 
least opposed to belief in Christ as the one mediator. As 
for the charge of adoring the images to which he resorts 
exceptionally more with the object of making an im 
pression and shielding himself it amounted to an act of 
injustice against all his forefathers to accuse them of having 
been so grossly stupid as to confuse the images with the 
divinity ; even he himself had elsewhere sufficiently absolved 
them of the charge of adoring saints, let alone images. 1 

The real cause of this premature attack on images found 
in these sermons was the storm called forth by Carlstadt, 
which Luther hoped to divert and dominate 2 by the atti 
tude he assumed ; otherwise it is very likely he would have 
refrained from assailing the religious feelings of the people 
in so sensitive a spot for many years to come, or at any rate 
would not have done so in the manner he chose by way of 
reply to Carlstadt. 

Nor assuredly would he have gone so far had he himself 
ever vividly realised the profoundly religious and morally 
stimulating character of the veneration of images, and its 
sympathetic and consoling side as exemplified at many of 
the regular places of pilgrimage at that time. Owing to the 
circumstances of his early years he had never enjoyed the 
opportunity of tasting the refreshment and the blessings 
to be found in those sacred resorts visited by thousands of 
the devout, where those suffering from any ill of soul or 
body were wont to seek solace from the cares and trials of 
life. Indeed it was particularly against such images as 
were the object of special devotion and to which the 
people " flocked " with a " false confidence " that his anger 
was directed. 

His animosity to image-worship would also appear to 
have been psychologically bound up with two tendencies 
of his : first, with the desire to attack the hated Church of 
the Papists at those very spots where her influence with the 
people was most apparent ; secondly, with his plan to bring 
everything down to a dead level, which led him on the 
specious pretext of serving the religion of the spirit to 

1 Cp. Weim. ed., 1, p. 425 ; " Opp. lat. exeg.," 12, p. 51 sq. (1518, 
against the strictures of the Bohemians) and Weim. ed., 10, 2, p. 34 ; 
Erl. ed., 28, p. 310. 

2 See above, vol. ii., p. 97 f, j .vol, iii., p. 385, 



STATUES AND PICTURES 211 

abolish, or to curtail, the most popular and cheering 
phenomena of outward worship. 

It is a reprehensible thing, he says, even in his sermons against 
Carlstadt, to have an image set up in the church, because the 
believer fancies "he is doing God a service thereby and pleasing 
Him, and has thus performed a good work and gained merit in 
God s sight, which is sheer idolatry." In their zeal for their 
damnable good works the princes, bishops and big ones of the 
earth had " caused many costly images of silver and gold to be 
set up in the churches and cathedrals." These were not indeed to 
be pulled down by force since many at least made a good use 
of them ; but it was to be made clear to the people that if " they 
were not doing any service to God, or pleasing Him thereby," 
then they would soon " tumble down of their own accord." 1 

It was a mistake, so he declared in 1528 concerning the grounds 
of his verdict against the images, to " invoke them specially, as 
though I sought to give great honour or do a great service to 
God with the images, as has been the case hitherto." The " trust " 
placed in the images has cost us the loss of our souls ; the Chris 
tians whom he had instructed were now opposed to this " trust " 
and to the opinion " that they were thereby doing a special 
service to God." 2 Amongst them memorial images might be 
permitted, i.e. such as " simply represent, as in a glass, past 
events and things " but " are not made into objects of devotion, 
trust or worship." 3 It is dreadful to make them a pretext for 
" idolatry " and to place our trust in anything but God. " Such 
images ought to be destroyed, just as we have already pulled 
down many images of the Saints ; it were also to be wished," he 
adds ironically, " that we had more such images of silver, for then 
we should know how to make a right Christian use of them." 4 
" I will not pay court to such idols ; the worship and adoration 
must cease." 5 Whoever "with his whole heart has learnt to 
keep" the First Commandment would readily despise "all the 
idols of silver and gold." 6 Yet of the " adoration " of the images 
he had said in a letter of 1522 to Count Ludwig von Stolberg, 
that the motive of his opposition was not so much fear of adora 
tion, because adoration of the Saints so he hints might well 
occur without any images; what urged him on was, on the 
contrary, the false confidence and the opinion of the Catholics 
that " they were thereby doing a good work and a service to 
God." 

We have just quoted Luther s reservation, viz. that he 
was willing to tolerate the use of images which " simply 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 3, p. 31 f. ; Erl. ed., 28, p. 229 f. 

2 Ib., 16, p. 440 = 36, p. 49. Sermons on the Ten Commandments. 

3 Ib., 28, p. 677 f.=36, p. 329 f. Exposition of Deuteronomy. 

4 Ib., p. 716-368. 6 P. 553 = 206. 6 P. 715 = 367. 

7 April 25, 1522, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, p. 133 (" Briefwechsel," 
3, p. 347). 



212 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

represent, as in a glass, past events and things." State 
ments of this sort occur frequently in his writings. They 
go hand in hand with a radical insistence on inward disdain 
for image-worship, and a tendency to demand its entire 
suppression in the churches. It was on these lines that the 
Elector of Saxony acted when ordering the destruction of 
the images in the principal church of Wurzen (above, p. 202) ; 
images which represented " serious events " and those 
overlaid with gold were not to be hewn to pieces. 

In the book "Against the Heavenly Prophets" Luther, in the 
same sense, writes : "Images used as a memorial or for a symbol, 
like the image of the Emperor " on the coins, were not objection 
able ; even in conversation images were employed by way of illus 
tration ; " memorial pictures or those which bear testimony to 
the faith, such as crucifixes and the images of the Saints," are 
honest and praiseworthy, but the images venerated at places of 
pilgrimage are " utterly idolatrous and mere shelters of the 
devil." 1 And in the " Vom Abendmal Christi Bekentnis " (1528) 
he says : " Images, bells, mass vestments, church ornaments, 
altars, lights and such like I leave optional ; whoever wishes may 
discard them, although pictures from Scripture and representa 
tions of sacred subjects I consider very useful, though I leave 
each one free to do as he pleases ; for with the iconoclasts I do 
not hold." 2 

In one passage of his Church-postils he entirely approves the 
use of the crucifix ; we ought to contemplate the cross as the 
Israelites looked upon the serpent raised on high by Moses ; 
we should " see Christ in such an image and believe in Him." 3 
<l If it be no sin," he says elsewhere, " to have Christ in my heart, 
why should it be a sin to have it [His image] before my eyes ? " 4 

But Catholics were saying much the same thing in defence of 
the veneration of images, though to this Luther paid no attention : 
If it be no sin to have in our hearts the saints who are Christ s 
own friends or Mary who is His Mother, how then should it 
be sinful to have their images before our eyes and to honour 
them ? 

As years went by Luther became more and more liberal in 
recommending the use of historical and, in particular, biblical 
representations. In 1545, when he published his Passional with 
his little manual of prayers, he said in the preface, alluding to the 
woodcuts contained in the book : Such pictures ought to be in 
the hands of Christians, more particularly of children and of the 
simple, who can " better be moved by pictures and figures " ; 
there was no harm " in painting such stories in rooms and apart 
ments, together with the texts " ; he was in favour of the 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, pp 74 f., 82 f. ; Erl. ed., 29, pp. 149 1, 
159. 2 Ib., 26, p. 509 = 30, p. 372. 

3 Ib., 10, 3, p. 114= 15 2 , p. 334. 4 Ib., 18, p. 83-29, p. 159. 



WORKS OF ART 213 

" principal stories of the whole Bible " being pictorially shown, 
though he was opposed to all " abuse of and false confidence in " 
images. * 

Such kindlier expressions did not, however, do full justice 
to the veneration of images as practised throughout the 
olden Church, nor did they counteract what he had said of 
the idols of silver and gold, of the uselessness and harmful- 
ness of bestowing money on sacred pictures and religious 
works of art to be exposed for the devotion of the people. 
All was drowned in his incitement to " destroy," " break in 
pieces," " pull down " and " fall upon " the images, first 
by means of the Evangel, and, then through the action of 
the authorities. It is plain what fate was in store particu 
larly for those religious works of art which served as symbols 
of, or to extol, those dogmas and institutions peculiarly 
odious to him, for instance, the sacrifice of the Mass, around 
which centred the ornaments of the altar, the fittings of the 
choir, and, more or less, all the decorations of the church. 
As for the sacred vessels, often of the most costly character, 
and all else that pertained to the dispensing of the sacra 
ments, their destruction had already been decreed. 

Further details regarding the Fate of the Works of Art and 
of Art itself 

The account already given above of the squandering and 
destruction of ecclesiastical works of art, in particular of 
the valuable images of the Saints in the towns of Meissen 
and Wurzen, 2 may be supplemented by the reports from 
Erfurt of the damage done there at the coming of the 
religious innovations ; we must also bear in mind, that the 
suppression of Catholic worship in this town which looms so 
large in Luther s life, took place under his particular in 
fluence and with the co-operation of preachers receiving 
their instructions from Wittenberg. 

Before the lawless peasants entered the town on April 28, 
1525, the Council had already " taken into safe custody " 
the treasures of the churches and monasteries ; chalices 
and other vessels of precious metal were on this occasion 
carried away in " tubs and trogs," and eventually the public 
funds were enriched with the profit derived from their sale. 3 

1 lb., 63, p. 391 f. 2 Cp. above, p. 203. 3 See vol. ii., p. 351 f. 



214 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Amongst the objects taken, were : a silver censer in the 
shape of a small boat, the silver caskets containing the 
heads of Saints Severus, Vincentia and Innocentia, the 
silver reliquary with the bones of SS. Eobanus and Adolarius 
in which they were carried in solemn procession every seven 
years. This art-treasure which belonged to St. Mary s, was, 
not long after, melted down by the town-council when 
pressed for money, " and cast into bars which were taken to 
the mint at Weimar." The silver pennies minted from 
them were later on called coffin pennies. Other valuables 
which the Council had taken in charge were put up for 
auction secretly, without their owners learning anything 
of the matter. " The prebendaries were well- justified in 
urging," writes the Protestant historian who has collected 
these data, " as against these high-handed proceedings 
that the Council should first have laid hands on the valuables 
belonging to the burghers, or at the very least have sum 
moned the rightful owners to be present at the sale of their 
property, in order that they might make a note of the prices 
obtained and thus be able to claim compensation later. 
The Council suffered a moral set-back, while at the same 
time reaping no appreciable material advantage." 1 

Not only the Council but the peasants too, led by the 
Lutheran preachers, were greatly to blame for the destruc 
tion of art treasures wrought at Erfurt in that same year. 
When, in order to put an end to the rule over the town of 
the Elector, Albert of Brandenburg, they stormed the so- 
called Mainzer Hof at Erfurt, " all the jewels, gold, silver 
and valuable household stuff were carried off." Shortly 
after " the peasants, thanks to their sharpness, managed to 
unearth a pastoral staff in silver, worth 300 florins [in the 
then currency], which had been concealed in the privy 
attached to the room of the master cook to save it from the 
greed of the robbers." 2 At the Mainzer Hof they removed 
all monumental tablets, pictures and statues as well as the 
elaborate coats of arms bearing witness to the Archbishop s 
sovereignty. A stone effigy of St. Martin which stood in 
front of the Rathaus and the ancient symbols of the 
sovereignty of Mayence were pulled down and smashed to 
bits. In place of these they scrawled on the new stone 

1 Th. Eitner, "Erfurt u. die Bauernaufstande im 16. Jahrh.," Halle, 
1903, pp. 59, 95. 2 Ib. t p. 72. 



WORKS OF ART 215 

edifice which had been erected there another coat of arms in 
chalk and charcoal, having a plough, coulter and hoe in the 
shield and in the field a horse-shoe. " During all this 
Adolarius Huttner [with Eberlin of Giinzburg, the apostate 
Franciscan] and other Lutheran preachers were going to 
and fro amongst them." The whole row of priests houses 
standing alongside the torrent was searched and the valu 
ables plundered. 1 

" The people of Erfurt did almost as much damage as the 
peasants." 2 

As a matter of fact the citizens frequently outdid the 
agricultural population in this work of destruction. The 
chronicles of the times relate, that they broke down the 
walls of the vaults of the two collegiate churches in hopes of 
finding hidden treasure behind them, and, then, in their 
disappointment, sacrilegiously tore open the tabernacles, 
threw the holy oils to the dogs and treated the things in the 
churches in such a manner as is " heartrending beyond 
description." The mob destroyed not merely the books and 
parchments in which their obligations were recorded, but a 
number of others of importance for literature and learning 
were also wantonly spoiled. 

From another contemporary source we have the following 
on the destruction of the old writings : " And besides all 
this on St. Walpurgis Day in the Lauwengasse the peasants 
and those who were with them tore up more than two waggon- 
loads of books, and threw them out of the houses into the 
street. These the burgher folk carried home in large baskets. 
While gathering up the torn books as best they could, 
putting them into baskets and binding them with ropes as 
one does straw, a whirlwind sprang up and lifted the torn 
books, letters and papers high into the air and over all the 
houses, so that many of them were afterwards found stick 
ing to the poles in the vineyards." 3 

In very many instances, particularly during the Peasant 
War, the destruction and scattering of ecclesiastical works 
of art went much beyond Luther s injunctions. We shall 
hear him protest, that many were good Evangelicals only so 
long as there were still chalices, monstrances and monkish 

1 Ib., pp. 74, 84. 2 Ib., p. 75. 

3 Ib., pp. 78, 76. 



216 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

vessels to be had. 1 It was naturally a very difficult task 
to check the greed of gain and wanton love of destruction 
once this had broken loose, particularly after the civil 
authorities had tasted the sweets to be derived from the 
change of religion, and after the peasants in the intoxication 
of their newly found freedom of the Gospel, and in their 
lust for plunder, had begun to lay violent hands on property. 
It was in accordance with Luther s express injunctions 
that the " proper authorities " proceeded to destroy such 
images as were not a record of history. They went further, 
however, nor was the zeal confined solely to the authorities. 

In Prussia, the land of the Teutonic Order, the crosses and the 
images of the Saints had been doomed to destruction by the 
revolution of 1525 ; the silver treasures of art in the churches 
were hammered into plate for use at the new Lutheran Duke s 
dining-table. The Estates of his country, when he had asked 
them to vote supplies, retorted that he might as well help himself 
to the treasures of the churches. The result was, so the chronicler 
of that day relates, "that all the chalices and other ornaments" 
were removed from the houses of God, barely one chalice being 
left in each church ; some of the country churches were even 
driven to use pewter chalices. " When they had taken all the 
silver they fell upon the bells " ; they left but one in each village, 
the rest being carried off to Konigsberg and sold to the smelters. 2 
At Marienwerder only did the prebendaries, appealing to the 
King of Poland, make a stand for the retention of their church 
plate and other property, until they themselves were sent in 
chains to Preuschmark. 3 

In 1524, during the fair, the images were dragged out of the 
churches at Riesenburg in Pomerania, shamelessly dishonoured 
and finally burnt. The bishop-elect, a dignitary whom the Pope 
had refused to confirm and who was notoriously a " zealous 
instrument of the Evangel," excused the proceeding. In other 
towns similar outrages were perpetrated by the iconoclasts. 

On the introduction of Lutheranism at Stralsund almost all 
the churches and monasteries were stormed, the crucifixes and 
images being broken up in the presence of members of the town- 
council (1525). 4 

In 1525 the Lutherans at Dantzig took possession of the 
wealthy church of St. Mary s, which was renowned for the 
number of its foundations and had 128 clergy attached to it. 

1 See below, p. 230. 

2 Chr. Falk, " Elbingisch-Preuss. Chronik," ed. M. Toppen (" Publik. 
des Vereins f. die Gesch. der Provinzen Ost- und West-Preussen," 
Leipzig, 1879), p. 157 f. Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " 
(Engl. Trans.), v., p. 112 ff. 

3 v. Baczko, " Gesch. Preussens," 4, p. 173 ff. Janssen, ib. 

4 Janssen, ib. 






WORKS OF ART 217 

A list of the articles confiscated or plundered comprises : ten 
chalices of gold with precious stones of great value, and as many 
bejewelled gold patens and ampullae ; a ciborium of gold with 
corals and gems, two gold crosses with gems, an image of the 
Virgin Mary with four angels in gold, a silver statue of the same, 
silver statues of the Apostles, four and twenty silver ciboriums, 
six and forty silver chalices, two dozen of them of silver-gilt, 
twelve silver and silver-gilt ampullae, eleven ungilt silver 
ampullae, twenty-three silver vessels, twelve of them being gilt, 
twelve silver-gilt chalices with lids, twelve silver-gilt crosses with 
corals and precious stones, two dozen small silver crosses, eight 
large and ten small silver censers, etc., twelve chasubles in cloth 
of gold with pearls and gems, twelve of red silk with a gold fringe, 
besides this eighty-two silk chasubles, twelve cloth-of-gold 
antependiums with pearls and gems, six costly copes, twelve 
other silk copes, six and forty albs of gold and silver embroidered 
flower-pattern, sixty-five other fine albs, eighty-eight costly 
altar covers, forty-nine gold-embroidered altar cloths, ninety- 
nine less elaborate altar cloths. 1 

When Bugenhagen had secured the triumph of Lutheranism 
in the town of Brunswick the altars w^ere thrown down, the 
pictures and statues removed, the chalices and other church 
vessels melted down and the costly mass vestments sold to the 
highest bidder at the Rathaus (1528). Bugenhagen, Luther s 
closest spiritual colleague, laboured zealously to sweep the 
churches clean of " every vestige of Popish superstition and 
idolatry." Only the collegiate churches of St. Blasius and St. 
Cyriacus, and the monastery of St. Egidius, of which Duke Henry 
of Brunswick was patron, remained intact. 2 

The wildest outbreak of iconoclasm took place in 1542 in the 
Duchy of Brunswick, when the Elector Johann Frederick of 
Saxony and Landgrave Philip of Hesse occupied the country and 
proceeded to extirpate the Catholic worship still prevalent there. 
Within a short while over four hundred churches had been 
plundered, altars, tabernacles, pictures and sculptures being 
destroyed in countless numbers. 3 

During this so-called " Evangelical War " five thousand 
burghers and mercenaries of the town of Brunswick, shouting 
their war-cry : " The Word of God remaineth for ever," set out, 
on July 21, 1542, against the monastery of Riddaghausen ; there 
they broke down the altars, images and organs, carried off the 
monstrances, mass vestments and other treasures of the church, 
plundering generally and perpetrating the worst abominations. 
The mob also broke in pieces the images and pictures in the 
monastery of Steterburg and then demolished the building. Nor 
did the abbey of Gandersheim fare much better. The preben 
daries there complained to the Emperor, that all the crucifixes 
and images of the Saints had been destroyed together with other 

1 L. Redner s " Skizzen aus der KG. Danzigs," Danzig, 1875 
(" Marienkirchen "). 

2 Janssen, ib., p. 120. 3 Janssen, ib., vol. xi., p. 34 ff. 



218 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

objects set up for the adornment of the church and churchyard 
outside. 1 

The Lutheran preacher, K. Reinholdt, looking back two 
decades later on the devastation wrought in Germany, reminded 
his hearers that Luther himself had repeatedly preached that, 
" it would be better that all churches and abbeys in the world 
were torn down and burnt to ashes, that it would be less sinful, 
even if done from criminal motives, than that a single soul should 
be led astray into Popish error and be ruined" ; "if they would 
not accept his teaching, then, so Luther the man of God had 
exclaimed, he would wish not merely that his doctrine might be 
the cause of the destruction of Popish churches and convents, 
but that they were already lying in a heap of ashes." 2 

At Hamburg iconoclastic disturbances began in Dec., 1528. The 
Cistercian convent, Harvestehude, where the clergy still dare to 
say Mass, was rased to the ground. 3 

At Zerbst, in 1524, images and church fittings were destroyed, 
part of these being used to " keep up the fire for the brewing of 
the beer " ; 4 stone sculptures were mutilated and then used in 
the construction of the Zerbst Town-Hall, whence they were 
brought to light at a much later date, when a portion of the 
building was demolished. The statues, headless, indeed, but still 
gleaming with gold and colours, gave, as a narrator of the find 
said, " an insight into the horrors of the iconoclasm which had run 
riot in the neighbouring churches." 5 

The chronicler Oldecop describes how, at Hildesheim in 1548, 
the heads of the stone statues of St. Peter and St. Paul which 
stood at the door of the church of the Holy Rood were hewn off 
and replaced by the heads of two corpses from the mortuary ; 
they were then stoned by the boys. The magistrates, indeed, 
fined the chief offender, but only because forced to do so. 6 
Hildesheim had been protestantised in great part as early as 
1524. At that time the mob plundered the churches and 
monasteries, rifled the coffins of the dead in search of treasure, 
destroyed the crucifixes and the images of the Saints, tore down 
the side altars in most of the churches and carried off chalices, 
monstrances and ornaments, and even the silver casket contain 
ing the bones of St. Bern ward. 7 From St. Martin s, a church 
belonging to the Franciscans, the magistrates, according to the 
inventory, removed the following : sixteen gilt chalices and 
patens, eleven silver chalices, one large monstrance with bells, 

1 Ib., vol. vi., p. 205. 

2 Whitsuntide Sermon, in Janssen, ib., vol. xi., p. 38. Cp. " Luthers 
Werke," Erl. ed., 7 2 , pp. 121, 131, 222 f., 330. Cp. Janssen, ib., p. 37, 
the passages from the sermons of the superintendent George Nigrinus. 

3 Janssen, ib., v., p. 121. 

4 Beckmann, " Historic des Fiirstentums Anhalt," 6, p. 43. 

5 " Repertorium f. Kunstwissenschaft," 20, p. 46. Janssen, ib., 
vol. xi., p. 36. 

6 Oldecop, in 1548. Janssen, ib., vol. xi., p. 36. 

7 " Hist.-pol. Bl.," 9, p. 316 ff. : 10, p. 15 ff. Janssen, " Hist, of 
the German People " (Engl. Trans.), vi., p. 209. 



WORKS OF ART 219 

one large gilt cross, three silver crosses with stands, a silver 
statue of Our Lady four feet in height, a silver censer, two silver 
ampullae, a silver-gilt St. Lawrence gridiron, a big Pacifical from 
the best cope, all the bangles from the chasubles, seventeen 
silver clasps from the copes, " the jewellery belonging to our 
dear ladies the Virgin Catherine and Mother Anne," and, besides, 
ten altars and also a monument erected to Brother Conrad, who 
was revered as a Saint, were destroyed ; the copper and lead from 
the tower was carried off together with a small bell. x 

When the Schmalkalden Leaguers began to take up arms for 
the Evangel the Evangelical captain Schartlin von Burtenbach, 
commander-in-chief of the South-German towns, suddenly fell 
upon the town of Fiissen on July 9, 1546, abolished the Catholic 
worship and threw the " idols " out of the churches. Before his 
departure he plundered all the churches and clergy, and " set 
the peasants on to massacre the idols in their churches " ; the 
proceeds " from the chalices and silver plate he devoted to the 
common expenses of the Estates." 

This was only the beginning of Schartlin s plundering. After 
joining hands with the Wiirtemberg troops his raiding expeditions 
were carried on on a still larger scale. 2 

During the Schmalkalden campaign the soldiers of Saxony 
and Hesse on their retreat from the Oberland, acting at the 
behest of the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse, 
carried off as booty all the valuable plate belonging to the 
churches and monasteries. Chalices, monstrances, Mass vest 
ments and costly images, none of them were spared. In Saxony 
similar outrages were perpetrated. 

In Jan., 1547, the Elector caused all the chalices, monstrances, 
episcopal crosses and other valuables that still remained at Halle 
and either were the property of the Archbishop of Magdeburg, 
Johann Albert, or had been presented to the place by him, to be 
brought to Eisleben and either sold or coined. The Elector s 
men-at-arms and the mob destroyed the pictures and statues in 
the Dominican and Franciscan friaries. When, shortly after this, 
Merseburg, as well as Magdeburg and Halberstadt, was occupied 
by the Saxon troops, the leaders robbed the Cathedral church (of 
Merseburg) of its oldest and most valuable art treasures, amongst 
which was the golden table which the Emperor Henry II had 
presented to it. 3 

Magdeburg was the rallying-place of Lutheran zealots, such as 
Flacius Illyricus, and was even called the " chancery of God and 
His Christ," by Aquila in a letter to Duke Albert of Prussia ; 4 
before it was besieged in the Emperor s name by Maurice of 
Saxony and was yet under the rule of a Council banned by the 

1 " Hist.-pol. Bl.," 10, p. 17. 

2 Ladurner, " Der Einfall der Schmalkaldener im Tirol, 1546," 
(" Archiv f. Gesch. u. Altertumskunde Tirols," 1), p. 415 ff. Janssen, 
ib., vi., 315 ff. 3 Janssen, ib., vi., p. 349. 

4 J. Voigt, " Brief wechsel der Gelehrten des Zeitalters der Refor 
mation mit Herzog Albrecht von Preussen," 1841, p. 30. 



220 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Empire, it passed through a period of wild outrage directed 
against the Catholic churches and convents, both within and 
outside the walls. The appeal addressed by the cathedral 
Chapter on Aug. 15, 1550, to the Estates of the Empire assembled 
at Augsburg gives the details. 1 The town, "for the protection 
of the true Christian religion and holy Evangel," laid violent 
hands on the rich property of the churches and cloisters, and 
committed execrable atrocities against defenceless clerics. 
Bodies were exhumed in the churches and cemeteries. Never, 
so the account declares, would the Turks have acted with such 
barbarity. Even the tomb of the Emperor Otto, the founder of 
the archdiocese, was, so the Canons relate, " inhumanly and 
wantonly broken open and desecrated with great uproar." 

Several thousand men set out from the town for the monastery 
of Hamersleben, situated in the diocese of Halberstadt. They 
forced their way into the church one Sunday during Divine 
service, wounded or slaughtered the officiating priests, trampled 
under foot the Sacred Host and ransacked church and monastery. 
Among the images and works of art destroyed was some magnifi 
cent stained glass depicting the Way of the Cross. No less than 
150 waggons bore away the plunder to Magdeburg, accompanied 
by the mob, who in mockery had decked themselves out in the 
Mass vestments and habits of the monks. 2 

Hans, Margrave of Brandenburg-Kiistrin, was one who had 
war against the Catholic clergy much at heart. In a letter to the 
Elector Maurice he spoke of the clergy as " priests of Baal and 
children of the devil." It was a proof of his Evangelical zeal, 
that, on July 15, 1551, he ordered the church of St. Mary at 
Gorlitz to be pillaged and destroyed by Johann von Minckwitz. 
All the altars, images and carvings were hacked to pieces, all 
the costly treasures stolen. Minckwitz had great difficulty in 
rescuing the treasures from the hands of a drunken mob of 
peasants who were helping in the work, and conveying them 
safely to the Margrave at Kiistrin. 3 

In the spring of 1552, when Maurice of Saxony levied a heavy 
fine on the town of Nuremberg for having revolted against the 
Emperor, the magistrates sought to indemnify themselves by 
taking nearly 900 Ibs. weight of gold and silver treasures out of 
the churches of Our Lady, St. Lawrence and St. Sebaldus and 
ordering them to be melted down or sold. 4 

In June and July, 1552, Margrave Albert of Brandenburg- 
Kulmbach laid waste the country around Mayence with fire and 
sword to such an extent, that the bishop of Wiirzburg, in order to 
raise the unheard-of sums demanded, had, as we find it stated 
in a letter of Zasius to King Ferdinand dated July 10, to lump 
together " all the gold and silver plate in the churches, the 
jewels, reliquaries, monstrances, statues and vessels of the 

1 Janssen, ib., vi., p. 434. 

2 Aug. 19, 1548, C. W. Hase, " Mittelalterliche Baudenkmale 
Niedersachsens," Hannover, 1858, Hft., 3, p. 100. 

3 Janssen, ib., vi., p. 438 f. * /&., vi., p. 454. 



WORKS OF ART 221 

sanctuary " and have them minted into thalers. " At Neu- 
miinster one reliquary was melted down which alone was worth 
1000 florins." 1 The citizens of Wiirzburg were obliged to give up 
all their household plate and the cathedral itself the silver statue 
of St. Kilian, patron of the diocese. 2 

When the commanders and the troops of the Elector Maurice 
withdrew from the Tyrol after the frustration of their under 
taking owing to the flight of the Emperor to Carinthia, all the 
sacred objects of value in the Cistercian monastery of Stams in 
the valley of the upper Inn were either broken to pieces or carried 
off. The soldiers broke open the vault, where the earthly remains 
of the ruling Princes had rested for centuries, dragged the corpses 
out of their coffins and stripped them of their valuables. 3 The 
inventory of the treasures of art made of precious metal and 
other substances which perished at Stams must be classed with 
numerous other sad records of a similar nature dating from 
that time. 4 

After the truce of Passau, Margrave Albert of Brandenburg, 
with the help of France, turned his attention to Frankfurt, 
Mayence and Treves. At Mayence, after making a vain demand 
for 100,000 gold florins from the clergy, he gave orders to ransack 
the churches, and set on fire the churches of St. Alban, St. Victor 
and Holy Cross, the Charterhouse and the houses of the Canons. 
He boasted of this as a " right princely firebrand we threw into 
the damned nest of parsons." In Treves all the collegiate 
churches and monasteries were "sacked down to the very last 
farthing," as an account relates ; the monastery of St. Maximin, 
the priory of St. Paul, the castle of Saarburg on the Saar, Pfalzel 
and Echternach were given to the flames. 5 " Such proceedings 
were incumbent on an honourable Prince who had the glory of 
God at heart and was zealous for the spread of the Divine Gospel, 
which God the Lord in our age has allowed to shine forth with 
such marvellous light." So Albert boasted to an envoy of the 
Archbishop of Mayence on June 27, 1552, when laying waste 
Wiirzburg. 6 

"The archbishoprics of Treves and Mayence, the bishoprics of 
Spires, Worms and Eichstatt are laid waste with pillage," wrote 
Melchior von Ossa the Saxon lawyer, " the stately edifices at 
Mayence, Treves and other places, where lay the bones of so 
many pious martyrs of old, are reduced to ashes." 7 The com 
plaints of a Protestant preacher who had worked for a consider 
able time at Schwabisch-Hall ring much the same : " Our 
parents were willing to contribute towards the building of 

1 See A. v. Druffel, " Briefe und Akten zur Gesch. des 16. Jahrh.," 
2, 1873 ff., p. 668. 2 Janssen, ib., vi., p. 458. 

3 F. A. Sinnacher, " Beitr. z. Gesch. d. Kirche Saben und Brixen," 
7, 1830, p. 441. D. Schonherr, " Der Einfall des Kurfiirsten Moritz in 
Tyrol," 1868, p. 101 ff. Janssen, ib., vi., p. 478. 

4 See Schonherr, ib., p. 137 ff. 

5 Janssen, ib., vi., p. 496. 6 Ib., vi., p. 459. 

7 Melchior von Ossa in his diary, Jan. 1, 1553. F. A. Langenn, 
" D. Melchior von Ossa," 1858, p. 161. Janssen, ib., p. 505. 



222 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

churches and to the adornment of the temples of God. . . . But 
now the churches have been pilfered so badly that they barely 
retain a roof over them. Superb Mass vestments of silk and 
velvet with pearls and corals were provided for the churches by 
our forefathers ; these have now been removed and serve the 
woman-folk as hoods and bodices ; indeed so poor have some of 
the churches become under the rule of the Evangel, that it is 
impossible to provide the ministers of the Church even with 
a beggarly surplice." 1 

The wanton waste and destruction which took place in 
the domain of art under Lutheran rule during the first fifty 
years of the religious innovations, great as they were, do not 
by any means approach in magnitude the losses caused 
elsewhere by Zwinglianism and Calvinism. 

Yet two things in Lutheranism had a disastrous effect 
in checking the revival of religious art, even when the first 
struggles for mastery were over : first, there was the 
animosity against the Sacrifice of the Mass and the per 
petual eucharistic presence of Christ in the tabernacle ; this 
led people to view with distrust the old alliance existing 
between the Eucharistic worship and the liberal arts for 
exalting the dignity and beauty of the churches. After 
the Mass had been abolished and the Sacrament had ceased 
to be reserved within the sacred walls, respect for and 
interest in the house of God, which had led to so much being 
lavished on it, began to wane. The other obstacle lay in 
Luther s negative attitude towards the ancient doctrine and 
practice of good works. The belief in the meritoriousness 
of works had in the past been a stimulus to pecuniary 
sacrifices and offerings for the making of pious works of art. 
Now, however, artists began to complain, that, owing to 
the decline of zeal for church matters their orders were 
beginning to fall off, and that the makers of works of art 
were being condemned to starvation. 

" In a protocol of the Council of Strasburg, dated Feb. 3, 
1525, we read in a petition from the artists : " Painters and 
sculptors beg, that, whereas, through the Word of God 
their handicraft has died out they may be provided with 
posts before other claimants." The Council answered that 
their appeal would " be borne in mind." 2 

1 Dollinger, " Reformation," 2, p. 318. 

- " Mitteil. der Gesellschaft f. Erhaltung der geschtl. Denkmaler 
im Elsass," 15, 1892, p. 248. Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " 
(Engl. Trans.), xi., p. 46. 



WORKS OF ART 223 

The verses of Hans Sachs of Nuremberg are well-known : 

" Bell-founders and organists, 

Gold-beaters and illuminists, 
Hand-painters, carvers and goldsmiths, 

Glass-painters, silk-workers, coppersmiths, 
Stone-masons, carpenters and joiners, 

Gainst all these did Luther wield a sword. 
From Thee we ask a verdict, Lord." 

In the poet s industrious and artistic native town the decline 
must have been particularly noticeable. According to the 
popular Lutheran poet of Nuremberg the fault is with the 
complainants themselves, who, 

"With scorn disdain 
From greed of gain " 

the Word of Christ. " They must cease worrying about 
worldly goods like the heathen, but must seek the Kingdom 
of God with eagerness." 1 

It is perfectly true that the words that Hans Sachs on 
this occasion places in the mouth of the complainant are 
unfair to Luther : 

"All church building and adorning he despises, 
Treats with scorning, 
He not wise is." 2 

For in spite of his attacks on the veneration of images, on 
the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist and the meritorious- 
ness of pious foundations, Luther was, nevertheless, not so 
" unwise " as to despise the " building and adorning " of 
the churches, where, after all, the congregation must 
assemble for preaching, communion and prayer. 3 

That Luther was not devoid of a sense of the beautiful 
and of its practical value in the service of religion is proved 
by his outspoken love of music, particularly of church-music, 
his numerous poetic efforts, no less than by that strongly 
developed appreciation of well-turned periods, clearness and 
force of diction so well seen in his translation of the Bible. 
His life s struggle, however, led him along paths which make 

1 E. Weller, " Der Volksdichter Hans Sachs u. seine Dichtungen," 
1868, p. 118 ff. 2 J6 . 

3 He frequently laments that the churches were too ill-provided for. 
Cp. Walch s Index, s.v. " Kirche," & " Gotteshauser." 



224 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

it easy to understand how it is that he has so little to say in 
his writings in commendation of the other liberal arts. It 
also explains the baldness of his reminiscences of his visit to 
Italy and the city of Rome ; the young monk, immersed in 
his theology, was even then pursuing quite other interests 
than those of art. It is true Luther, once, in one of the rare 
passages in favour of ecclesiastical art, speaking from his 
own point of view, says : "It is better to paint on the wall 
how God created the world, how Noah made the ark and 
such-like pious tales, than to paint worldly and shameless 
subjects ; would to God I could persuade the gentry and the 
rich to have the whole Bible story painted on their houses, 
inside and out, for everyone s eye to see; that would be 
a good Christian work." 1 Manifestly he did not intend his 
words to be taken too literally in the case of dwelling-houses. 
A fighter such af Luther was scarcely the right man to give 
any real stimulus in the domain of art. The heat of his 
religious polemics scorched up in his soul any good dis 
positions of this sort which may once have existed, and 
blighted in its very beginnings the growth of any real 
feeling for art among his zealous followers. Hardly a single 
passage can be found in which he expresses any sense of 
satisfaction in the products of the artist. 

It is generally admitted that in the 16th century German 
art suffered a severe set-back. For this the bitter contro 
versies w r hich for the while transformed Germany into a 
hideous battlefield were largely responsible ; for such a soil 
could not but prove unfavourable for the arts and crafts. 
The very artists themselves were compelled to prostitute 
their talents in ignoble warfare. We need only call to mind 
the work of the two painters Cranach, the Elder and the 
Younger, and the horrid flood of caricatures and base 
vilifications cast both in poetry and in prose. " The rock 
on which art suffered shipwreck was not, as a recent art- 
writer says, the fact that German art was too early severed 
from its bond with the Church, but that, with regard to its 
subject-matter and its methods of expression, it was forced 
into false service by the intellectual and religious leaders." 2 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 18, p. 82 f. ; Erl. ed., 29, p. 158. 

2 See P. Lehfeldt, " Luthers Verhaltnis zu Kunst und Kiinstlern," 
Berlin, 1892, p. 84. Janssen, ib., xi., 39. On the whole subject see 
Janssen, "Hist, of the German People" (Engl. Trans.), vol. xi., ch. ii. 



CHAPTER XXXI 

LUTHER IN HIS DISMAL MOODS, HIS SUPERSTITION AND 
DELUSIONS 

1. His Persistent Depression in Later Years 
Persecution Mania and Morbid Fancies 

AMONG the various causes of the profound ill-humour and 
despondency, which more and more overshadowed Luther s 
soul during the last ten years of his life, the principal without 
a doubt was his bitter disappointment. 

He was disappointed with what he himself calls the 
" pitiable spectacle " presented by his Church no less than 
with the firmness and stability of the Papacy. Not only 
did the Papal Antichrist refuse to bow to the new Evangel 
or to be overthrown " by the mere breath of Christ s 
mouth," as Luther had confidently proclaimed would be the 
case, but, in the evening of his days, it was actually growing 
in strength, its members standing shoulder to shoulder ready 
at last to seek inward reform by means of a General Council. 

The melancholy to which he had been subject in earlier 
years had been due to other thoughts which not seldom 
pressed upon him, to his uncertainty and fear of having 
to answer before the Judge. In his old age such fears 
diminished, and the voices which had formerly disquieted 
him scarcely ever reached the threshold of his consciousness ; 
by dint of persistent effort he had hardened himself against 
such " temptations." The idea of his Divine call was ever 
in his mind, though, alas, it proved only too often a blind 
guide incapable of transforming his sense of discouragement 
into any confidence worthy of the name. At times this idea 
nickers up more brightly than usual ; when this happens 
his weariness seems entirely to disappear and makes room 
for the frightful outbursts of bitterness, hate and anger of 
a soul at odds both with itself and with the whole world. 

Doubtless his state of health had a good deal to do with 
v. Q 225 



226 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

this, for, in his feverish activity, he had become unmindful 
of certain precautions. Lost in his exhausting literary 
labours and public controversies his state of nervous excite 
ment became at last unbearable. 

The depression which is laying its hand on him manifests 
itself in the hopeless, pessimistic tone of his complaints to 
his friends, in his conviction of being persecuted by all, in 
his superstitious interpretations of the Bible and the signs 
of the times, in his expectation of the near end of all, and in 
his firm persuasion that the devil bestrides and rules the 
world. 

His Depression and Pessimism 

Disgust with work and even with life itself, and an 
appalling unconcern in the whole course of public affairs, 
are expressed in some of his letters to his friends. 

" I am old and worked out old, cold and out of shape, as 
they say and yet cannot find any rest, so greatly am I tormented 
every day with all manner of business and scribbling. I now 
know rather more of the portents of the end of this world ; that 
it is indeed on its last legs is quite certain, with Satan raging so 
furiously and the world becoming so utterly beastly. My only 
remaining consolation is that the end cannot be far off. Now at 
last fewer false doctrines will spring up, the world being weary 
and sick of the Word of God ; for if they take to living like 
Epicureans and to despising the Word, who will then have any 
hankering after heresies ? . . . Let us pray Thy will be done, 
and leave everything to take its course, to fall or stand or perish ; 
let things go their own way if otherwise they will not go." " Ger 
many," he says, " has had its day and will never again be what 
it once was " ; divided against itself it must, so he fancies, 
succumb to the devil s army embodied in the Turks. This to 
Jakob Probst, the Bremen preacher. 1 Not long after he wrote 
to the same : " Germany is full of scorners of the Word. . . . 
Our sins weigh heavily upon us as you know, but it is useless for 
us to grumble. Let things take their course, seeing they are 
going thus." 2 

To Amsdorf he says in a letter that he would gladly die. " The 
world is a dreadful Sodom." " And, moreover, it will grow still 
worse." " Could I but pass away with such a faith, such peace, 
such a falling asleep in the Lord as my daughter [who had just 
died] ! " 3 Similarly, in another letter to Amsdorf we read : 
" Before the flood the world was as Germany now is before her 
downfall. Since they refuse to listen they must be taught by 
experience. It will cry out with Jeremias [li. 9] : We would 

1 March 26, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 451. 

2 Oct. 9, 1542, ib., p. 501. 3 Oct. 29, 1542, ib., p. 502. 



HIS LOW SPIRITS 227 

have cured Babylon, but she is not healed; let us forsake her. 
God is indeed our salvation, and to all eternity will He shield 



us. 



" We will rejoice in our tribulation," so he encourages his 
former guest Cordatus, " and leave things to go their way ; it 
is enough that we, and you too, should cause the sun of our 
teaching to rise all cloudless over the wicked world, after the 
example of God our Father, Who makes His sun to shine on the 
just and the unjust. The sun of our doctrine is His ; what wonder 
then if people hate us." " Thus we can see," so he concludes, 
that " outwardly we live in the kingdom of the devil." 2 

Plunged in such melancholy he is determined, without 
trusting in human help, so he writes to his friend Jonas, " to 
leave the guidance of all things to Christ alone " ; of all 
active work he was too weary ; everything was " full of 
deception and hypocrisy, particularly amongst the power 
ful " ; to sigh and pray was the best thing to do ; " let us 
put out of our heads any thought and plans for helping 
matters, for all is alike useless and deceitful, as experience 
shows." 3 

Christ had taken on Himself the quieting of consciences, 
hence, with all the more confidence, " might they entrust to 
Him the outcome of the struggle between the true Church 
and the powers of Satan." " True, Christ seems at times," 
he writes to his friend Johann August, "to be weaker than 
Satan ; but His strength will be made perfect in our weak 
ness (2 Cor. xii. 9), His wisdom is exalted in our foolishness, 
His goodness is glorified in our sins and misdeeds in accord 
ance with His wonderful and inscrutable ways. May He 
strengthen you and us, and conform us to His likeness for 
the honour of His mercy." 4 

During such a period of depression his fears are redoubled 
when he hears of the atrocities perpetrated by the Turks 
at Stuhlweissenburg ; the following is his interpretation 
of the event : " Satan has noticed the approach of the 
Judgment Day and shows his fear. What may be his 
designs on us ? He rages because his time is now short. 
May God help us manfully to laugh at all his fury ! " He 
laments with grim irony the greed for gain and the treachery 
of the great. " Devour everything in the devil s name," he 
cries to them, " Hell will glut you," and continues : " Come, 

1 Nov. 7, 1543, ib., p. 600. 2 Dec. 3, 1544, ib., p. 702. 

3 March 13, 1542, ib., p. 444. 4 Oct. 5, 1542, ib., p. 501. 



228 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Lord Jesus, come, hearken to the sighing of Thy Church, 
hasten Thy coming ; wickedness is reaching its utmost 
limit ; soon it must come to a head, Amen." 

Even this did not suffice and Luther again adds : "I have 
written the above because it seems better than nothing. 
Farewell, and teach the Church to pray for the Day of the 
Lord ; for there is no hope of a better time coming. God 
will listen only when we implore the quick advent of our 
redemption, in which all the portents agree." 1 

The outpourings of bitterness and disgust with life, which 
Antony Lauterbach noted while a guest at Luther s table 
in 1538, find a still stronger echo in the Table-Talk collected 
by Mathesius in the years subsequent to 1540. 

In Lauterbach s Notes he still speaks of his inner struggles 
with the devil, i.e. with his conscience ; this was no longer the 
case when Mathesius knew him : " We are plagued and troubled 
by the devil, whose bones are very tough until we learn to crack 
them. Paul and Christ had enough to do with the devil. I, too, 
have my daily combats." 2 He had learnt how hard it was " when 
mental temptations come upon us and we say, Accursed be 
the day I was born " ; rather would he endure the worst bodily 
pains during which at least one could still say, " Blessed be the 
Name of the Lord." 3 The passages in question will be quoted 
at greater length below. 

But according to Lauterbach s Notes of his sayings he was also 
very bitter about the general state of things : " It is the world s 
way to think of nothing but of money," he says, for instance, 
" as though on it hung soul and body. God and our neighbour 
are despised and people serve Mammon. Only look at our 
times ; see how full all the great ones, the burghers too, and the 
peasants, are with avarice and how they stamp upon religion. 
. . . Horrible times will come, worse even than befell Sodom and 
Gomorrha ! " 4 " All sins," he complains, " rage mightily, as we 
see to-day, because the world of a sudden has grown so wanton 
and calls down God s wrath upon its head." In these words he 
was bewailing, as Lauterbach relates, the " impending mis 
fortunes of Germany." 5 "The Church to-day is more tattered 
than any beggar s cloak." 6 " The world is made up of nothing 
but contempt, blasphemy, disobedience, adultery, pride and 
thieving ; it is now in prime condition for the slaughter-house. 
And Satan gives us no rest, what with Turk, Pope and fanatics." 7 

" Who would have started preaching," he says in the same 
year, oppressed by such experiences, " had he known beforehand 

1 Dec. 16, 1543, ib., p. 611 f. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 144. 

3 Ib., p. 105. 4 Ib., p. 140. * jb., p. 122. 
6 Ib., p. 113. 7 Ib., p. 132. 



HIS LOW SPIRITS 229 

that such misfortune, fanatism, scandal, blasphemy, ingratitude 
and wickedness would be the sequel ? " x To live any longer he 
had not the slightest wish now that no peace was to be hoped 
for from the fanatics. 2 He even wished his wife and children to 
follow him to the grave without delay because of the evil times 
to come soon after. 3 

In the conversations taken down by Mathesius in the forties 
Luther s weariness of life finds even stronger expression, nor are 
the words in which he describes it of the choicest : "I have had 
enough of the world and it, too, has had enough of me ; with this 
I am well content. It fancies that, were it only rid of me, all 
would be well. ..." As I have often repeated : "I am the 
ripe shard and the world is the gaping anus, hence the parting 
will be a happy one." 4 "As I have often repeated " ; the 
repulsive comparison had indeed become a favourite one with 
him in his exasperation. Other sayings in the Table-Talk contain 
unmistakable allusions to the bodily excretions as a term of 
comparison to Luther s so ardently desired departure from this 
world. 5 The same coarse simile is met in his letters dating from 
this time. 6 

The reason of his readiness to depart, viz. the world s hatred 
for his person, he elsewhere depicts as follows ; the politicians 
who were against him, particularly those at the Dresden court, 
are " Swine," deserving of " hell-fire " ; let them at least leave 
in peace our Master, the Son of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven 
also ; with a quiet conscience we look upon them as abandoned 
bondsmen of the devil, whose oaths though sworn to a hundred 
times over are not the least worthy of belief ; " we must scorn 
the devil in these devils and sons of devils, yea, in this seed of 
the serpent." 7 

" The gruff, boorish Saxon," 8 as Luther calls himself, here 
comes to the fore. He seeks, however, to refrain from dwelling 
unduly on the growing lack of appreciation shown for his au 
thority ; he was even ready, so he said, " gladly to nail to the 
Cross those blasphemers and Satan with them." 9 

" I thank Thee, my good God," he once said in the winter 
1542-43 to Mathesius and the other people at table, " for letting 
me be one of the little flock that suffers persecution for Thy Word s 
sake ; for they do not persecute me for adultery or usury, as I 
well know." 10 According to the testimony of Mathesius he also 
said : " The Courts are full of Eceboli and folk who change with 
the weather. If only a real sovereign like Constantino came to 

Below, xxxii., 6. 

Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 114, in 1538. 3 /&., p. 105. 
Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 303. 

According to Mathesius ("Historien," p. 146) he once said even 
;he pulpit : "A full belly and ripe dung are easily parted." 
To Anton Lauterbach, Nov. 3, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 598. 7 76. 
Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 156 ; " Aufzeichii.," p. 117.1 
To Lauterbach, ib. 10 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 303. 



230 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

his Court [the Elector s] we should soon see who would kiss the 
Pope s feet." " Many remain good Evangelicals because there 
are still chalices, monstrances and cloistral lands to be taken." 1 
That a large number, not only of the high officials, but even of 
the " gentry and yokels," were " tired " of him is clear from 
statements made by him as early as 1530. Wishing then to visit 
his father who lay sick, he was dissuaded by his friends from 
undertaking the journey on account of the hostility of the 
country people towards his person : "I am compelled to believe," 
so he wrote to the sick man, " that I ought not to tempt God by 
venturing into danger, for you know how both gentry and yokels 
feel towards me." 2 " Amongst the charges that helped to lessen 
his popularity was his supposed complicity in the Peasant War 
and in the rise of the Sacramentarians." 3 

" Would that I and all my children were dead," so he repeats, 
according to Mathesius, 4 Satur sum huius vitae " ; it was well 
for the young, that, in their thoughtlessness and inexperience, 
they failed to see the mischief of all the scandals rampant, for 
else "they would not be able to go on living." 5 "The world 
cannot last much longer. Amongst us there is the utmost in 
gratitude and contempt for the Word, whilst amongst the Papists 
there is nothing but blood and blasphemy. This will soon knock 
the bottom out of the cask." 6 There would be no lack of other 
passages to the same effect to quote from Mathesius. 

Some of the Grounds for His Lowness of Spirits 

Luther is so communicative that it is easy enough to fix 
on the various reasons for his depression, which indeed he 
himself assigns. 

To Melanchthon Luther wrote : " The enmity of Satan is too 
Satanic for him not to be plotting something for our undoing. 
He feels that we are attacking him in a vital spot with the eternal 
truth." 7 Here it is his gloomy forebodings concerning the outcome 
of the religious negotiations, particularly those of Worms, which 
lead him so to write. The course of public events threw fresh 
fuel on the flame of his anger. " I have given up all hope in this 
colloquy. . . . Our theological gains tanders," so he says, " are 
possessed of Satan, however much they may disguise themselves 
in majesty and as angels of light." 8 Then there was the terrifying 
onward march of the Turks : "O raging fury, full of all manner 

1 " Hist.," p. 145 f. Ecebolius, under the Emperor Constantine, 
a type of the hypocrite. 

2 To Hans Luther, Feb. 15, 1530, " Werke," Erl. ed., 24, p. 130 
(" Brief wechsel," 7, p. 230). 

3 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 127. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 288. 

5 Ib., p. 179. 6 Ib., p. 155. 
7 Dec. 7, 1540, " Briefe," 5, p. 322. 8 Ib. 



HIS LOW SPIRITS 231 

of devils." Such is his excitement that he suspects the Christian 
hosts of " the most fatal and terrible treachery." 1 

The devil, however, also lies in wait even for his friends to 
estrange them from him by delusions and distresses of conscience ; 
this knowledge wrings from him the admonition : " Away with 
the sadness of the devil, to whom Christ sends His curse, who 
seeks to make out Christ as the judge, whereas He is rather the 
consoler." 2 Satan just then was bent on worrying him through 
the agency of the Swiss Zwinglians : "I have already condemned 
and now condemn anew these fanatics and puffed-up idlers." Now 
they refuse to admit my victories against the Pope, and actually 
claim that it was all their doing. " Thus does one man toil 
only for another to reap the harvest." 3 These satellites of Satan 
who work against him and against all Christendom are hell s 
own resource for embittering his old age. 

Then again the dreadful state of morals, particularly at 
Wittenberg, under his very eyes, makes his anger burst forth 
again and again ; even in his letter of congratulation to Justus 
Jonas on the latter s second marriage he finds opportunity to 
have a dig at the easy-going Wittenberg magistrates : " There 
might be ten trulls here infecting no end of students with the 
French disease and yet no one would lift a finger ; when half the 
town commits adultery, no one sits in judgment. . . . The world 
is indeed a vexatious thing." The civic authorities, according 
to him, were but a " plaything in the devil s hand." 

At other times his ill-humour vents itself on the Jews, the 
lawyers, or those German Protestant Reformers who had the 
audacity to hold opinions at variance with his. Carlstadt, with 
his "monstrous assertions" 4 against Luther, still poisons the air 
even when Luther has the consolation of knowing, that, on 
Carlstadt s death (in 1541), he had been fetched away by the 
" devil." Carlstadt s horrid doctrines tread Christ under foot, 
just as Schwenckf eld s fanaticism is the unmaking of the Churches. 

Then again there are demagogues within the fold who say : 
" I arn your Pope, what care I for Dr. Martin ? " These, according 
to him, are in almost as bad case as the others. Thus, "during 
our lifetime, this is the way the world rewards us, for and on this 
account and behalf ! And yet we are expected to pray and heed 
lest the Turk slay such Christians as these who really are worse 
than the Turks themselves ! As though it would not be better, 
if the yoke of the Turk must indeed come upon us, to serve the 
Turkish foeman and stranger rather than the Turks in our own 
circle and household. God will laugh at them when they cry to 
Him in the day of their distress, because they mocked at Him by 
their sins and refused to hearken to Him when He spoke, implored, 
exhorted, and did everything, stood and suffered everything, 
when His heart was troubled on their account, when He called 

1 To Justus Jonas, Jan. 26, 1543, ib., p. 534. 

2 To Spalatin, Aug. 21, 1544, ib., p. 679 f. 

3 To Amsdorf, April 14, 1545, ib., p. 728. 

4 June 18, 1543, ib., p. 570. 



232 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

them by His holy prophets, and even rose up early on their 
account (Jer. vii. 13 ; xi. 7). 1 But such is their way ; they know 
that it is God Whose Word we preach and yet they say : " We 
shan t listen. In short, the wildest of wild furies have broken 
into them," etc. 2 

Thus was he wont to rave when " excited," though not 
until, so at least he assures us, having first " by dint of much 
striving put down his anger, his thoughts and his tempta 
tions." " Blessed be the Lord Who has spoken to me, com 
forting me : Why callest thou ? Let things go their own 
way. It grieves him, so he tells us, to see the country he 
loves going to rack and ruin ; Germany is his fatherland, and, 
before his very eyes, it is hastening to destruction. " But 
God s ways are just, we may not resist them. May God 
have mercy on us for no one believes us." Even the doctrine 
of letting things go their own way to which in his pessim 
ism Luther grew attached in later life he was firmly 
convinced had come to him directly from the Lord, Who 
had " consolingly " whispered to him these words. Even 
this saying reeks of his peculiar pseudo-mysticism. 

All the above outbursts are, however, put into the shade 
by the utter ferocity of his ravings against Popery. Painful 
indeed are the effects of his gloomy frame of mind on his 
attitude towards Rome. The battle-cries, which, in one of 
his last w r orks, viz. his " Wider das Babstum vom Teuffel 
gestifft," Luther hurls against the Church, which had once 
nourished him at her bosom, form one of the saddest 
instances of human aberration. 

Yet, speaking of this work, the author assures a friend 
that, " in this angry book I have done justice neither to 
myself nor to the greatness of my anger ; but I am quite 
aware that this I shall never be able to do." 3 " For no tongue 
can tell," so he says, " the appalling and frightful enormities 
of the Papal abomination, its substance, quantity, quality, 
predicaments, predicables, categories, its species, properties, 
differences and accidents." 4 

1 To Justus Jonas, Feb. 25, 1542, ib., p. 439 : " Carlstadii ista sunt 
monstra." 

2 Ib. : " Furiis furiosis aguntur, quia ira Dei pervenit super eos 
usque in finem. Quare ergo propter istos perditos nos conficere volumus ? 
Mitte, vadere sicut vadit." 

3 To Dr. Ratzeberger, the Elector s physician, Aug. C, 1545, 
" Briefe," 5, p. 754. 

4 April 14, 1545, ib., a letter not in the least intended as a joke. 



HIS LOW SPIRITS 233 

The more distorted and monstrous his charges, the more 
they seem to have pleased him when in this temper. 

In a morbid way he now heaps together his wonted hyperboles 
to such an extent, that, at times, it becomes very tiresome to 
read his writings and letters ; no hateful image or suspicion 
seems to him sufficiently bad. " Though God Himself were to 
offer me Paradise for living another forty years, I should prefer 
to hire an executioner to chop off my head, for the world is so 
wicked ; they are all becoming rank devils." 1 He compares his 
own times to those which went before the Flood; the "rain of 
filth will soon begin " ; he goes on to say that he no longer 
understands his own times and finds himself as it were in a strange 
world ; " either I have never seen the world, or, while I am 
asleep, a new world is born daily ; not one but fancies he is 
suffering injustice, and not one but is convinced he does no 
injustice." 2 With a strange note of contempt he says: "Let 
the world be upset, kicked over and thrust aside, seeing it not 
only rejects and persecutes God s Word, but rages even against 
sound common sense. . . . Even the seven devils of Cologne, who 
sit in the highest temple, and who, like some of the council, still 
withstand us, will God overthrow, Who breaks down the cedars 
of Lebanon. On account of this [the actual and hoped-for suc 
cesses at Cologne] we will rejoice in the Lord, because by His 
Word He does such great things before our very eyes." 3 

Here, as elsewhere too, in spite of all his ill-humour, the 
progress of his Evangel inspires him with hope. Nor is his 
dark mood entirely unbroken, for, from time to time, his 
love of a joke gets the better of it. His chief consolation 
was, how r ever, his self-imposed conviction that his teaching 
was the true one. 

A certain playfulness is apparent in many of his letters, 
for instance, in those to Jonas, one of his most intimate of 
friends : " Here is a conundrum," writes Luther to him, 
" which my guests ask me to put to you. Does God, the 
wise administrator, annually bestow on the children of men 
more wine or more milk ? I think more milk ; but do you 
give your answer. And a second question : Would a barrel 
that reached from Wittenberg to Kemberg be large and 
ample enough to hold all the wine that our unwise, silly, 
foolish God wastes and throws away on the most ungrateful 
of His children, setting it before Henries and Alberts, the 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 185. Rebenstock, in Bindseil, I.e. 

3 To Amsdorf, Aug. 18, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 584. Cp. p. 789 : " ne 
tandem fiat quod ante diluvium factum esse scribit Moises," etc. 

4 /&., p. 585. 



234 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Pope and the Turk, all of them men who crucify His Son, 
whereas before His own children He sets nothing but water ? 
You see that, though I am not much better than a corpse, 
I still love to chat and jest with you." 1 

In the Table-Talk, recently published by Kroker from the 
notes taken by Mathesius in the last years of Luther s life, 
the latter s irrepressible and saving tendency to jest is very 
apparent ; his humour here is also more spontaneous than 
in his letters, with the possible exception of some of those 
he wrote to Catherine Bora. 2 

Suspicion and Mania of Persecution 

A growing inclination to distrust, to seeing enemies every 
where and to indulging in fearsome, superstitious fancies, 
stamps with a peculiar impress his prevailing frame of mind. 

His vivid imagination even led him, in April, 1544, to 
speak of " a league entered into between the Turks and the 
most holy, or rather most silly, Pope " ; this was un 
doubtedly one of the "great signs" foretold by Christ; 
" these signs are here in truth and are truly great." 3 " The 
Pope would rather adore the Turk," he exclaims later, " nay, 
even Satan himself, than allow himself to be put in order 
and reformed by God s Word " ; he even finds this con 
firmed in a new " Bull or Brief." 4 He has heard of the 
peace negotiations with the Turks on the part of the Pope 
and the Emperor, and of the neutrality of Paul III towards 
the Turcophil King of France ; he is horrified to see in 
spirit an embassy of peace, " loaded with costly presents 
and clad in Turkish garments," wending its way to Con 
stantinople, " there to worship the Turk." Such was the 
present policy of the Roman Satan, who formerly had used 
indulgences, annates and countless other forms of robbery 
to curtail the Turkish power. " Out upon these Christians, 
out upon these hellish idols of the devil ! " 5 The truth is 
that, whereas the Christian States winced at the difficulties 

1 Sep. 3, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 396. 

2 On the psychology of his humour, see below, xxxi., 5. 

3 To Justus Jonas, April 17, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 642. Cp. p. 629 : 
" testes fidelissimi " report an alliance between the Pope, the Turks, 
French and Venetians against the Emperor. " Now give a cheer for 
the Pope." 

4 To Amsdorf, Jan. 9, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 713. 

5 To Amsdorf, July 17, 1545, ib., p. 750 f. 



PAPAL POISONERS 235 

or sought for delay, Pope Paul III, faithful to the traditional 
policy of the Holy See, insisted that it was necessary to 
oppose by every possible means the Turk who was the 
Church s foe and threatened Europe with ruin. The only 
ground that Luther can have had for his suspicions will 
have been the better relations then existing between the 
Pope and France which led the Turkish fleet to spare the 
Papal territory on the occasion of its demonstration at the 
mouth of the Tiber. 1 

But Luther was convinced that the Pope had no dearer 
hope than to thwart Germany, and the Protesters in par 
ticular. It was the Pope and the Papists whom he accused to 
Duke Albert of Prussia of being behind the Court of Bruns 
wick and of hiring, at a high price, the services of assassins 
and incendiaries. To Wenceslaus Link he says, that it will 
be the priests own fault if the saying " To death with the 
priests " is carried into practice ; 2 to Melanchthon he also 
writes : "I verily believe that all the priests are bent on 
being killed, even against our wish." 3 It was the Papists 
sure enough, who introduced the maid Rosina into his 
house, in order that she might bring it into disrepute by her 
immoral life ; 4 they had also sent men to murder him, from 
whom, however, God had preserved him ; 5 they had like 
wise tried to poison him, but all to no purpose. 6 We may 
reqall how he had said : "I believe that my pulpit-chair 
and cushion were frequently poisoned, yet God preserved 
me." 7 " Many attempts, as I believe, have been made to 
poison me." 8 

He had even once declared that poisoning was a regular 
business with Satan : " He can bring death by means of a leaflet 
from off a tree ; he has more poison phials and kinds of death at 
his beck and call than all the apothecaries in all the world ; if one 
poison doesn t work he uses another." 9 He had long been con 
vinced that the devil was able to carry through the air those who 
made themselves over to him; "we must not call in the devil, 

1 Cp. Pastor, " Hist, of the Popes " (Engl. Trans.), vol. x. 

2 June-July, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 379. 

3 June, 22, 1541, ib., p. 372. 

4 Vol. iii., pp. 217, 280 f. 

5 " Colloq,," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 155. 

6 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 423. In 1537. 

7 Above, vol. iii., p. 116. 

8 " Colloq.," I.e., p. 156. Cp. Rebenstock, in Bindseil, I.e. 

9 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 125. 



236 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

for he comes often enough uncalled, and loves to be by us, 
hardened foe of ours though he be. . . . He is indeed a great and 
mighty enemy." 1 Towards the end of his life, in 1541, it came 
to his ears that the devil was more than usually busy with his 
poisons: "At Jena and elsewhere," so he warns Melanchthon, 
" the devil has let loose his poisoners. It is a wonder to me why 
the great, knowing the fury of Satan, are not more watchful. 
Here it is impossible any longer to buy or to use anything with 
safety." Melanchthon was therefore to be careful when invited 
out ; at Erfurt the spices and aromatic drugs on sale in the shops 
had been found to be mixed with poison ; at Altenburg as many 
as twelve people had died from poison taken in a single meal. 
Anxious as he was about his friend, his trust was nevertheless 
unshaken in the protection of God and the angels. I myself am 
still in the hands of my Moses (Katey), he adds, " suffering from 
a filthy discharge from my ear and meditating in turn on life 
and on death. God s Will be done. Amen. May you be happy 
in the Lord now and for ever." 2 

" A new art of killing us," so he tells Melanchthon in the same 
year, had been invented by Satan, viz. of mixing poison with our 
wine and milk ; at Jena twelve persons were said to have died 
of poisoned wine, "though more likely of too much drink" ; at 
Magdeburg and Nordhausen, however, milk had been found in 
the possession of the sellers that seemed to have been poisoned. 
" At any rate, all things lie under Christ s feet, and we shall suffer 
so long and as much as He pleases. For the nonce we are supreme 
and they [the Papist monsters ] are hurrying to destruction. 
... So long as the Lord of Heaven is at the helm we are safe, 
live and reign and have our foes under our feet. Amen." Casting 
all fear to the winds he goes on to comfort Melanchthon and his 
faint-hearted comrades in the tone of the mystic : " Fear not ; 
you are angels, nay, great angels or archangels, working, not for 
us but for the Church, nay, for God, Whose cause it is that you 
uphold, as even the very gates of hell must admit ; these, though 
they may indeed block our way, cannot overcome us, because 
at the very beginning of the world the hostile, snarling dragon 
was overthrown by the Lion of the tribe of Juda." 3 

The hostility of the Papists to Lutheranism, had, so 
Luther thought, been manifestly punished by Heaven in 
the defeat of Henry of Brunswick ; it had " already been 
foretold in the prophecies pronounced against him," which 
had forecasted his destruction as the " son of perdition " ; 
he was a " warning example set up by God for the tyrants 

1 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 156. 

2 To Melanchthon, April 20, 1541, " Brief e," 5, p. 346 ; " Brief - 
wechsel," 13, p. 308. 

3 To Melanchthon, March 24, 1541, ib., p. 336 = 279. 



SUSPECTS HIS FRIENDS 237 

of our days " ; for every contemner of the Word is " plainly 
a tyrant." 1 

Luther was very suspicious of Melanchthon, Bucer and 
others who leaned towards the Zwinglian doctrine on the 
Supper. So much had Magister Philippus, his one-time 
right-hand man, to feel his displeasure and irritability that 
the latter bewails his lot of having to dwell as it were " in 
the very den of the Cyclopes " and with a real " tyrant." 
" There is much in one s intercourse with Luther," so 
Cruciger said confidentially, in 1545, in a letter to Veit 
Dietrich, "that repels those who have a will of their own 
and attach some importance to their own judgment ; if 
only he would not, through listening to the gossip of out 
siders, take fire so quickly, chiding those who are blameless 
and breaking out into fits of temper ; this, often enough, 
does harm even in matters of great moment." 2 Luther 
himself was by no means unwilling to admit his faults in 
this direction and endeavoured to make up for them by 
occasionally praising his fellow-workers in fulsome terms ; 
Yet so deep-seated was his suspicion of Melanchthon s 
orthodoxy, that he even thought for a while of embodying 
his doctrine on the Sacrament in a formulary, which should 
condemn all his opponents and which all his friends, par 
ticularly those whom he had reason to mistrust, should be 
compelled to sign. This, according to Bucer, would have 
involved the departure of Melanchthon into exile. Bucer 
expressed his indignation at this projected " abominable 
condemnation " and at the treatment meted out to Melanch 
thon by Luther. 3 

Bucer himself was several times the object of Luther s 
wrath, for instance, for his part in the " Cologne Book of 
Reform " : " It is nothing but a lot of twaddle in which I 
clearly detect the influence of that chatterbox Bucer." 4 
When Jakob Schenk arrived at Wittenberg after a long 
absence Luther was so angry with him for not sharing his 
views as to refuse to receive him when he called ; he did 

1 To Jakob Probst, Pastor at Bremen, Oct. 9, 1542, " Brief e," 5, 
p. 501. 

2 On Feb. 23, 1545, see Dollinger, " Reformation," 3, p. 269, n. 208, 
from MS. 

3 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 582. On Melanchthon, cp. above, 
vol. iii., p. 370. 

4 To Chancellor Briick, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 708, 



238 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the same in the case of Agricola, in spite of the fact that the 
latter brought a letter of recommendation from the Margrave 
of Brandenburg ; in one of his letters calls him : " the worst 
of hypocrites, an impenitent man ! 51 From such a monster, 
so he said, he would take nothing but a sentence of con 
demnation. As for his former friend Schenk, he ironically 
offers him to Bishop Amsdorf as a helper in the ministry. 
On both of them he persisted in bestowing his old favourite 
nicknames, Jeckel and Grickel (Jakob and Agricola). 

Luther s Single-handed Struggle with the Powers of Evil 

Owing to the theological opinions reached by some of his 
one-time friends Luther, as may well be understood, began to 
be oppressed by a feeling of lonesomeness. 

The devil, whom he at least suspected of being the cause 
of his bodily pains, 2 is now backing the Popish teachers, and 
making him to be slighted. But, by so doing, thanks to 
Luther s perseverance and bold defiance, he will only 
succeed in magnifying Christ the more. 

" He hopes to get the better of us or to make us downhearted. 
But, as the Germans say, cacabimus in os eius. Willy-nilly, he 
shall suffer until his head is crushed, much as he may, with 
horrible gnashing of teeth, threaten to devour us. We preach 
the Seed of the woman ; Him do we confess and to Him would we 
assign the first place, wherefore He is with us." 3 In his painful 
loneliness he praises " the heavenly Father WTio has hidden these 
things [Luther s views on religion] from the wise and prudent and 
has revealed them to babes and little ones who cannot talk, let 
alone preach, and are neither clever nor learned." 4 This he says 
in a sermon. The clever doctors, he adds, " want to make God 
their pupil ; everyone is anxious to be His schoolmaster and 
tutor. And so it has ever been among the heretics. ... In the 
Christian churches one bishop nags at the other, and each pastor 
snaps at his neighbour. . . . These are the real wiselings of 
whom Christ speaks who know a lot about horses bowels, but 
who do not keep to the road which God Himself has traced for 
us, but must always go their own little way." Indeed it is the 
fate of " everything that God has instituted to be perverted by 
the devil," by " saucy folk and clever people." " The devil has 
indeed smeared us well over with fools. But they are accounted 

1 To Amsdorf, May 2, 1545, ib., p. 734. 

2 To Amsdorf, Aug. 18, 1543, ib., p. 585 : " an colaphus Satance ? " 

3 To Anton Lauterbach, Nov. 3, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 599. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 561 f., in his last sermon, Feb. 14, 
1546, on ML xL 25 fL 



PORTENTS OF SATAN 239 

wise and prudent simply because they rule and hold office in the 
Churches." 1 

Let us leave them alone then and turn our backs on them, no 
matter how few we be, for " God will not bear in His Christian 
Churches men who twist His Divine Word, even though they 
be called Pope, Emperor, Kings, Princes or Doctors. . . . We 
ourselves have had much to do with such wiselings, who have 
taken it upon themselves to bring about unity or reform." 2 
" They fancy that because they are in power they have a deeper 
insight into Scripture than other people." 3 "The devil drives 
such men so that they seek their own praise and glory in Holy 
Scripture." But do you say : I will listen to a teacher "only so 
long as he leads me to the Son of God," the true master and 
preceptor, i.e. in other words, so long as he teaches the truth. 4 

In his confusion of mind Luther does not perceive to what 
his proviso " so long as " amounts. It was practically the same 
as committing the decision concerning what was good for salvation 
to the hands of every man, however ignorant or incapable of 
sound judgment. Luther s real criterion remained, however, his 
own opinion. " If anyone teaches another Gospel," he says in 
this very sermon, 6 " contrary to that which we have proclaimed 
to you, let him be anathema " (cp. Gal. i. 8). The reason why 
people will not listen to him is, as he here tells them, because, by 
means of the filth of his arch-knaves and liars, " the devil in the 
world misleads and fools all." 

Luther was convinced that he was the " last trump," 
which was to herald in the destruction, not only of Satan 
and the Papacy, but also of the world itself. " We are weak 
and but indifferent trumpeters, but, to the assembly of the 
heavenly spirits, ours is a mighty call." " They will obey us 
and our trump, and the end of the world will follow. Amen." 6 

Meanwhile, however, he notes with many misgivings the 
manifestations of the evil one. He even intended to collect 
in book form the instances of such awe-inspiring portents 
(" satance portenta ") and to have them printed. 

For this purpose he begged Jonas to send him once more a 
detailed account of the case of a certain Frau Rauchhaupt, which 
would have come under this category ; he tells his friend that 
the object of his new book is to " startle " the people who lull 
themselves in such a state of false security that not only do they 
scorn the wholesome marvels of the Gospel with which we are 
daily overwhelmed, but actually make light of the real " furies 
of furies " of the wickedness of the world ; they must read such 

1 Ib., p. 562 ff. 2 Ib., p. 565. 3 Ib., p. 564. 

4 Ib., p. 566 f. 5 Ib., p. 571. 

6 To Ratzeberger, the Elector s medical adviser, Aug. 6, 1545, 
" Briefe," 5, p. 754 : " Credo nos esse tubam illam novissimam," etc. 



240 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

marvellous stories, for " they are too prone to believe neither in 
the goodness of God nor in the wickedness of the devil, and too 
set on becoming, as indeed they are already, just bellies and 
nothing more." 1 Thus, when Lauterbach told him of three 
suicides who had ended their lives with the halter, he at once 
insisted that it was really Satan who had strung them up while 
making them to think that it was they themselves who committed 
the crime. " The Prince of this world is everywhere at work." 
" God, in permitting such crimes, is causing the wrath of heaven 
to play over the world like summer lightning, that ungrateful 
men, who fling the Gospel to the winds, may see what is in store 
for them." " Such happenings must be brought to the people s 
knowledge so that they may learn to fear God." 2 Happily the 
book that was to have contained these tales of horror never saw 
the light ; the author s days were numbered. 

The outward signs, whether in the heavens or on the earth, 
" whereby Satan seeks to deceive," were now scrutinised by 
Luther more superstitiously than ever. 

Talking at table about a thunder-clap which had been heard 
in winter, he quite agreed with Bugenhagen "that it was down 
right Satanic." " People," he complains, " pay no heed to the 
portents of this kind which occur without number." Melanchthon 
had an experience of this sort before the death of Franz von 
Sickingen. Others, whom Luther mentions, saw wonderful 
signs in the heavens and armies at grips ; the year before the 
coming of the Evangel wonders were seen in the stars ; " these are 
in every instance lying portents of Satan ; nothing certain is 
foretold by them ; during the last fifteen years there have been 
many of them ; the only thing certain is that we have to expect 
the coming wrath of God." 3 Years before, the signs in the heavens 
and on the earth, for instance the flood promised for 1524, had 
seemed to him to forebode the " world upheaval " which his 
Evangel would bring. 4 

Luther shared to the full the superstition of his day. He did 
not stand alone when he thus interpreted public events and every 
day occurrences. It was the fashion in those days for people, 
even in Catholic circles, superstitiously to look out for portents 
and signs. 

In 1537 6 Luther relates some far-fetched tales of this sort. 
The most devoted servants of the devil are, according to him, 
the sorcerers and witches of whom there are many. 6 In 1540 

1 To Jonas at Halle, Jan. 23, 1542, ib., p. 429. 

2 To Lauterbach, July 25, 1542, ib., p. 487. 

. 3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 385 f. (Dec., 1536). 

4 To Wenceslaus Link, Jan. 14, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 72 : 
" videns, rem tumultuosissimo tumultu tumultuantem ; forte hcec est 
inundatio ilia prcedicta anno Zlfutura" 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 423, concluding : " Videte, tanta est 
potentia Sathance in deludendis sensibus externis ; quid faciet in 
animabus ? " 

6 Cp. N. Paulus, " Hexenwahn und Hexenprozess vornehmlich im 
16. Jahrh.," 1910, particularly pp. 20 f., 48 ff. 



THE END OF THE WORLD 241 

he related to his guests how a schoolmaster had summoned the 
witches by means of a horse s head. 1 " Repeatedly," so he told 
them in that same year, " they did their best to harm me and my 
Katey, but God preserved us." On another occasion, after 
telling some dreadful tales of sorcery, he adds : " The devil is 
a mighty spirit." "Did not God and His dear angels intervene, 
he would surely slay us with those thunder-clubs of his which 
you call thunderbolts." 2 In earlier days he had told them, that, 
Dr. " Faust, who claimed the devil as his brother-in-law, had 
declared that if I, Martin Luther, had only shaken hands with 
him he would have destroyed me ; but I would not have been 
afraid of him, but would have shaken hands with him in God s 
name and reckoning on God s protection." 3 

According to him, most noteworthy of all were the diaboli 
cal deeds then on the increase which portended a mighty 
revulsion and a catastrophe in the world s history. Every 
thing, his laboured calculations on the numbers in the 
biblical prophecies included, all point to this. Even the 
appearance of a new kind of fox in 1545 seemed to him of 
such importance that he submitted the case to an expert 
huntsman for an opinion. He himself was unable to decide 
what it signified, " unless it be that change in all things 
which we await and for which we pray." 4 

The change to which he here and so often elsewhere refers 
is the end of the world. 



2. Luther s Fanatical Expectation of the End of the 
World. His hopeless Pessimism 

The excitement with which Luther looks forward to the 
approaching end of the world affords a curious psychological 
medley of joy and fear, hope and defiance ; his conviction 
reposed on a wrong reading of the Bible, on a too high 
estimate of his own work, on his sad experience of men and 
on his superstitious observance of certain events of the 
outside world. 

The fact that the end of all was nigh gradually became 
an absolute certainty with him. In his latter days it grew 
into one of those ideas around which, as around so many 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 227. 2 Ib., p. 129. 

3 Ib., p. 422, from Lauterbach and Weller s Notes in the summer, 
1537. 

4 To Amsdorf, June 3, 1545, " Briefe," 5, p. 741. Amsdorf had sent 
an inquiry " de monstro illo vulpium" 



242 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

fixed stars, his other plans, fancies and grounds for consola 
tion revolve. To the depth of his conviction his excessive 
credulity and that habit which he shared with his con 
temporaries of reading things into natural events con 
tributed not a little. 

A remarkable conjunction of the planets in 1524, x " other 
signs which have been described elsewhere, such as earthquakes, 
pestilences, famines and wars," a predicted flood 2 " all these 
signs agree " 3 in announcing the great day ; never have " more 
numerous and greater signs " occurred during the whole course 
of the world s history to vouch for the forthcoming end of the 
world. 4 " All the firmaments and courses of the heavens are 
declining and coming to an end ; the Elbe has stood for a whole 
year at the same low level, this also is a portent." 5 Such signs 
invite us to be watchful. 6 Over and above all this we have the 
"many gruesome dreams of the Last Judgment" with which he 
was plagued in later years. 7 

He describes to his friends quite confidently the manner of the 
coming of the end such as he pictures it to himself: "Early one 
morning, about the time of the spring equinox, a thick black 
cloud, three lightning flashes and a thunder-clap, and, presto, 
everything will lie in ruins," etc. " I am ever awaiting the day." 8 
"Things may go on for some years longer," 9 perhaps for " five 
or six years," but [no more, because " the wickedness of men 
has increased so dreadfully within so short a time." 10 " We shall 
live to see the day " ; Aggeus (ii. 7 f.) says : " Yet a little while 
and I will shake the heaven and the earth " ; look around you ; 
" surely the State is being shaken . . . the household too, and 
even the very mob, item our own very sons and daughters. The 
Church too totters." 11 

" All the great wonders have already taken place ; the Pope 
has been unmasked ; the world rages. Nor will things improve 
until the Last Day comes. I hope, however, now that the Evangel 
is so greatly despised, that the Last Day is no longer far distant, 
not more than a hundred years off, God s Word will again 
decline . . . and the world will become quite savage and 
epicurean." 12 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 69 f. Kirchenpostille. 2 Ib. 

3 To Jonas, Dec. 16, 1543, "Briefe," 5, p. 612: " congruunt omnia 
signa." 

4 In the " Chronology of the World," " Werke," Walch s ed., 14, 
p. 1278, from the Latin MS. See above, vol. iii., p. 147 f. 

6 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 22. 6 Ib., p. 33. 

7 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 86. 

8 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 208 ; " Historien," p. 143. " Luthers 
Werke," Erl. ed., 62, pp. 18, 25, " Tischreden." 

9 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1., p. 85. 
10 " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 206. 

" Ib., 62, p. 23. 12 Ib., p. 24 f. 



THE END OF THE WORLD 243 

Reason and Ground of Luther* s Conviction of the near 
End of the World 

The actual origin and basis of this strange idea are plainly 
expressed in the statement last quoted : " The Pope is 
unmasked " as Antichrist, such was Luther s starting-point. 
Further, " the Evangel is despised," by his own followers 
no less than by his foes ; this depressing sight, together with 
the sad outlook for religion generally, formed the ground on 
which Luther s conviction of the coming cataclysm grew, 
particularly when the fall of the Papacy seemed to be 
unduly delayed, and its strength to be even on the increase. 
The Bible texts which he twists into his service are an out 
come rather than the cause of his conviction concerning 
Antichrist, while the " signs " in the heavens and on earth 
also serve merely to confirm a persuasion derived from 
elsewhere. 

The starting-point of the idea and the soil on which it 
grew deserve to be considered separately. 

Luther s views on the unmasking of Antichrist and the 
approaching end of the world carry us back to the early 
years of his career. Soon after beginning his attack on the 
Church, he, over and over again, declared that he had been 
called to reveal the Pope as Antichrist. 1 His breach with 
the ecclesiastical past was so far-reaching that he could not 
have expressed his position and indicated the full extent of 
his aims better than by so radical an apocalyptic announce 
ment. Nor did it sound so entirely strange to the world. 
Even according to Wiclif the Papal power was the power of 
" Antichrist " and the Roman Church the " Synagogue of 
Satan " ; John Hus likewise taught, that it was Anti 
christ who, by means of the Papal penalties, was seeking to 
affright those who were after "unmasking" him. 

The idea of Antichrist in Luther s mind embodied all the 
wickedness of the Roman Church which it was his purpose 
to unmask, all the religious perversion of which he wished to 
make an end, and, in a word, the dominion of the devil 
against which he fancied he was to proclaim the last and 
decisive combat. When, by dint of insisting in his writings, 

1 See above, vol. iii., p. 141 ff., on the rise of his idea of the Pope 
as Antichrist. 



244 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

over and over again, and in the most drastic of ways, on the 
Papal Antichrist, the idea came to assume its definitive shape 
in his own mind, his announcement of the end of the world 
could not be any longer delayed ; for, according to the 
generally accepted view, Antichrist was directly to precede 
the coming of Christ to Judgment, or at least the latter s 
coming would not be long delayed after the revelation of 
Antichrist in his true colours. 1 As a rule Antichrist was 
taken to be a person ; Luther, however, saw Antichrist in 
the Papacy as a whole. Antichrist had had a long spell of 
life ; the last Pope would, however, soon fall, he, Luther, 
with Christ s help, was preparing his overthrow, then the end 
would come such is the sum of Luther s eschatological 
statements during the first period of his career. 

Speaking of the end of the world he often says, that the fall 
of the Papacy involves it. " Assuredly," he says, the end will 
shortly follow on account of the manifest wickedness of the Pope 
and the Papists. According to him, the Bible itself teaches that, 
" after the downfall of the Pope and the deliverance of the poor, 
no one on earth would ever again be a tyrant and inspire fear." 
" Tins would not be possible," so Luther thinks, " were the world 
to go on after the fall of the Pope, for the world cannot exist 
without tyrants. And thus the Prophet agrees with the Apostle, 
viz. that Christ, when He comes, will upset the Holy Roman 
Chair. God grant it may happen speedily. Amen ! " 2 

In his fantastic interpretation of the Monk-Calf he declares 
in a similar way, that the near end of the world is certain in view 
of the abominations of the sinking Papacy and its monkish 
system, which last is symbolised in the wonderful calf : " My 
wish and hope are that it may mean the Last Day, since many 
signs have so far coincided, and the whole world is as it were in 
an uproar," 3 the source of the whole to-do being his triumphant 
contest with Antichrist. In the same way his conviction of the 
magnitude and success of his mission against the foe of Christ 
gives the key to his curious reading of Daniel and the Epistle 
to the Thessalonians with regard to the time of Antichrist s 
advent and the end of the world, which we find set forth quite 
seriously in his reply to Catharinus. 4 In short, " Antichrist will 
be revealed whatever the world may do ; after this Christ must 
come with His Judgment Day." 6 

1 Cp. the index to Walch s edition, vol. xxiii., s.v. " Antichrist " and 
" Widerchrist." 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 719 ; Erl. ed., 24 2 , p. 203, " Bulla 
Coense Domini " (1522), appendix. 

3 Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 646. On the Monk-Calf, see vol. iii., 
p. 149 f. * On this Reply see vol. iii., p. 142. 

5 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 72. 



THE END OF THE WORLD 245 

When the Papacy, instead of collapsing, began to gather 
strength and even proceeded to summon a Council, Luther 
did not cease foretelling its fall ; he predicts the end of the 
world in terms even stronger than before, though the reason 
he assigns for his forebodings is more and more the " con 
tempt shown for the Word," i.e. for his teaching and 
exhortations. Disgust, disappointment and the gloomy 
outlook for the future of his work are now his chief grounds 
for expecting the end of all and for ardently hoping that the 
Day will soon dawn. ... It is the self-seeking and vice so 
prevalent in his own fold which wrings from him the exclama 
tion : "It must soon come to a head," 1 for things cannot 
long go on thus. 

The last temptation which shall assail the faithful, he says, 
will be "an undisciplined life " ; then we shall " grow sick of 
the Word and disgusted with it." " Not even the Word of God 
will they endure ; . . . the Gospel which they [his own people] 
once confessed, they now look upon as merely the word of man." 
" Do you fancy you are out of the world, or that Satan, the 
Prince of this world, has died or been crucified in you ? " 2 It is 
bitter experience that causes him to say : " The day will dawn 
when Christ shall come to free us from sin and death." 3 " May 
the world go to rack and ruin and be utterly blotted out," "the 
world which has shown me such gratitude during my own life 
time ! " 4 "May the Lord call me away, for I have done, and 
seen, and suffered enough evil." 5 " Would that the Lord would 
put an end to the great misery [that among us each one does as 
he pleases] ! Oh that the day of our deliverance would come ! " 6 
" The people have waxed cold towards the Evangel. . . . May 
Christ mend all things and hasten the Day of His Coming." 7 

" It is a wonder to me what the world does to-day," he said, 
alluding to the turmoil in the newly acquired bishopric of Naum- 
burg ; he then goes on to complain in the words already given 
(p. 233), that a new world is growing up around him ; no one 
will admit of having done wrong, of having lied or sinned ; those 
only who meet with injustice are reputed unrighteous, liars and 
sinners. Verily it would soon rain filth. " The day of our re 
demption draweth nigh. Amen." " The world will rage, but 

1 To Jonas, Dec. 16, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 612. 

2 To Link, Sep. 8, 1541, ib., p. 398. 

3 To Jonas, March 13, 1542, ib., p. 445. 

4 To Jonas, Feb. 25, 1542, ib., p. 439. 

5 To Jonas, May 3, 1541, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 328 : " Ego et 
cegrotus et pcene morosus sum, tcedio rerum et morborum. Utinam me 
Deus evocet misericorditer ad sese. Satis malorum fed, vidi, passus swm." 

8 To Lauterbach, April 2, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 551 : " ubique 
grassatur licentia et petulantia vulgi." Cp. p. 552. 

7 To the Evangelical Brethren at Venice, June 13, 1543, ib., p. 569. 



246 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

good-bye to it" I 1 "The world is indeed a contemptible thing," 
he groans, after describing the morals of Wittenberg. 2 

The conduct of the great ones at the Saxon Court led him to 
surmise that " soon," after but a few days, hell would be their 
portion. 3 For those who infringe the rights of his Church he has 
a similar sentence ready : " Hell will be your share. Come, 
Lord Jesus, come, listen to the groaning of Thy people, and 
hasten Thy coming ! " -" Farewell and teach your people to 
pray for the day of the Lord ; for of better times there is no 
longer any hope." 4 

" During our lifetime," he laments in 1545, " and under our 
very eyes, we see sects and dissensions arising, each one wishing 
to follow his own fancy. In short, contempt for the Word on our 
own side and blasphemy on the other seem to me to announce 
the times of which John the Baptist spoke to the people, saying : 
The axe is laid to the root of the tree, etc. Accordingly, since 
the end at least of this happy age is imminent, there seems no 
call to]|bother much about setting up, or coming to an under 
standing regarding, those troublesome ceremonies." 5 

In fact, he is determined not " to bother much," not 
merely about the " ceremonies," but about the whole 
question of Church organisation, for of what use doing so 
when the signs of the general end of all are increasing at 
such a rate ? "To set up laws " is, according to him, quite 
impracticable ; let everything settle itself " according to the 
law of God by means of the inspection." 6 

" To Luther the end which Christ was about to put to 
this wicked world seemed so near," so we read in Kostlin- 
Kawerau s biography, 7 " that he never contemplated any 
progressive development and expansion of Christendom and 
the Church, nor was he at all anxious about the possible ups 
and downs which might accompany such development. . . . 
It is just in his later years that we find him more firmly 
established than ever in the belief, that the world will always 
remain the world and that it must be left to the Lord to 
take what course He pleases with it and with His Christen 
dom, until the coming of the longed-for Last Day. 

At any rate, since the sectarians in his own camp and the 
various centrifugal forces inherent in his creation made 
impossible any real organisation, he was all the more ready 

To Amsdorf, Aug. 18, 1543, ib., p. 584. 

To Jonas, June 18, 1543, ib., p. 570. 

To Lauterbach, Nov. 3, 1543, ib., p. 599. 

To Jonas, Dec. 16, 1543, ib., p. 610. 

To Duke George of Anhalt, July 10, 1545, ib. t 6, p. 370. 6 Ib. 

Vol. ii,, p. 522. 



THE END OF THE WORLD 247 

to welcome the thought of the end of the world in that it 
distracted his mind from the sad state of things. 

On the top of the schisms and immorality of the people 
there was also the avarice of those in high places, which 
roused his hatred and contributed to make him sigh for the 
coming of the Day. 

" They all rage against God and His Messias." " This is the 
work of those centaurs, the foes of the Church, kept in store for 
the latter days. They are more insatiable than hell itself. But 
Christ, Who will shortly come in His glory, will quiet them, not 
indeed with gold, but with brimstone and flames of hell, and with 
the wrath of God." 1 It was his displeasure against some of the 
authorities which wrung from him the words : " But the end is 
close at hand," the end which will also spell the end of " all this 
seizing or rather thieving greed for Church property of the 
Princes, nobles and magistrates, hateful and execrable that it is." 2 
Taking this in conjunction with the attitude of the Catholic 
rulers he could say with greater confidence than ever : " Nothing 
good is to be hoped for any more but this alone, that the day of 
the glory of our great God and our Redeemer may speedily 
break upon us." " From so Satanic a world " he would fain be 
" quickly snatched," longing as he does for the Day and for the 
" end of Satan s raging." 3 



The End of the World in the Table-Talk 

In the above we have drawn on Luther s letters. If we 
turn to his Table-Talk, particularly to that dating from his 
later years, we find that there, too, his frequent allusions to 
the approaching end of the world are as a rule connected 
with his experience of the corruption in his surroundings, 
especially at Wittenberg. The carelessness of the young is 
sufficient to make him long for the Last Day, which alone 
seemed to promise any help. 

To Melanchthon, who, with much concern, had drawn his 
attention to the lawlessness of the students, Luther poured out 
his soul, as we read in Lauterbach s Diary : As the students were 
growing daily wilder he hoped that, "if God wills, the Last Day 
be not far off, the Day which shall put an end to all things." 4 
" The ingratitude and profanity of the world," he also says, 
" makes me apprehend that this light [of the Evangel] will not 
last long." " The refinement of malice, thanklessness and dis- 

1 To Lauterbach, Feb. 9, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 629. 

2 To Amsdorf, June 23, 1544, ib., p. 670. 

3 To Probst, Dec. 5, 1544, ib., p. 703. 

4 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch " (1538), p. 34. 



248 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

respect shown towards the Gospel now revealed " is so great 
" that the Last Day cannot be far off." 1 

In his Table-Talk, where Luther is naturally more communi 
cative than in his letters, we see even more plainly how deeply 
the idea of the approaching Day of Judgment had sunk into his 
mind and under how curious a shape it there abides. " Things 
will get so bad on this earth," he says, for instance, " that men 
will cry out everywhere : O God, come with Thy Last Judgment." 
He would not mind " eating the agate Paternoster " (a string of 
beads he wore round his neck) if only that would make the Day 
"come on the morrow." 2 "The end is at the door," he con 
tinues, " the world is on the lees ; if anyone wants to begin 
something let him hurry up and make a start." 3 "The next 
day he again spoke much of the end of the world, having had 
many evil dreams of the Last Judgment during the previous six 
months " ; it was imminent, for Scripture said so ; the present 
hangs like a ripe apple on the tree ; the Roman Empire, " the 
last sweet-william" would also soon tumble to the ground. 4 

In 1530 Luther was disposed to regard the Roman Empire 
under Charles V with a rather more favourable eye. His im 
pression then was that the Empire, " under our Emperor Carol, 
is beginning to look up and becoming more powerful than it was 
for many a year " ; yet strange to say he knew how to bring 
even this fact into connection with the Judgment Day ; for this 
strengthening of the Empire " seems to me," so he goes on, " like 
a sort of last effort ; for when a light or wisp of straw has burnt 
down and is about to go out it sends up a flame and seems just 
about to flare up bravely when suddenly it dies out ; this is 
what Christendom is now doing thanks to the bright Evangel." 6 
Hence all he could see was the last flicker both of the Empire and 
of the new teaching before final extinction. 

The noteworthy utterance about the last flicker of the Lutheran 
Evangel occurs also in the Table-Talk collected by Mathesius 
dating from the years 1542 and 1543. " I believe that the Last 
Day is not far off. The reason is that we now see the last effort 
of the Evangel ; this resembles a light ; when a light is about to 
expire it sends up at the last a sudden flame as though it were 
going to burn for quite a long while and thereupon goes out. 
And, though it appears now as though the Evangel were about 
to be spread abroad, I fear it will suddenly expire and the Last 
Day come. It is the same with a sick man ; when at the point 
of death he seems quite cheerful and on the high road to recovery, 
and, then, suddenly, he is gone." 6 

The Table-Talk from the Mathesius collection recently pub- 

1 P. 172 f. 

2 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," (1531 and 1532), p. 17. 

3 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, pp. 85, 86. 

4 Ib., p. 86. 

5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 41, p. 233. 

6 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 282. Cp. Mathesius, 
" Aufzeichn.," ed. Lcesche, p. 393. 



THE END OF THE WORLD 249 

lished by Kroker, among other curious utterances of Luther s 
on the end of the world, contains also the following : 

In view of the dissensions by which the new Evangel was torn 
the speaker says, in 1542-43 : "If the world goes on for another 
fifty years things will become worse than ever, for sects will 
arise which still lie hidden in the hearts of men, so that we shall 
not know where we stand. Hence, dear Lord, come ! Come and 
overwhelm them with Thy Judgment Day, for no improvement 
is any longer to be looked for." 1 

Here too he repeatedly declares that he himself is tired of the 
world : " I have had enough of the world," he says, and goes on 
to introduce the ugly comparison alluded to above. 2 He adds : 
"The world fancies that if only it were rid of me all would be 
well." He is saddened to see that many of his followers make 
little account of him : "If the Princes and gentry won t do it, 
then things will not last long." 3 Of the want of respect shown to 
his preachers he says : " Where there is such contempt of the 
Divine Word and of the preachers, shall not God smite with His 
fist ? " " But if we preachers were to meet and agree amongst 
ourselves, as has been done in the Papacy, there would be less 
need for this. The worst of it is that they are not at one 
even amongst themselves." He finds a makeshift consolation 
for the divergency in teaching in the thought that "so it always 
was even from the beginning of the world, preachers always having 
disagreed amongst themselves." "There is a bad time coming, 
look you to it " ; things may go on for another fifty years now 
that the young have been brought up in his doctrine, but, after 
that, " let them look out. Hence, let no one fear the plague, but 
rather be glad to die." 4 Not only did he look forward to his own 
death, but, as we know, to that of " all his children," seeing that 
strange things would happen in the world. 5 

We have heard him say, that it was a mercy for the young, 
that, being thoughtless and without experience, they did not see 
the harm caused by the scandals, " else they could not endure 
to live." 6 And, that the world could "not possibly last long." 
Its hours are numbered, for, thanks to me, " everything has now 
been put straight. The Gospel has been revealed." 7 

" Christ said, that, at His coming, faith would be hard to find 
on the earth (Luke xviii. 8). That is true, for the whole of Asia 
and Africa is without the Evangel, and even as regards Europe 
no Gospel is preached in Greece, Italy, Hungary, Spain, France, 
England or Poland. The one little bright spot, the house of 
Saxony, will not hinder the coming of the Last Day." 8 

" Praise be to God Who has taught us to sigh after it and long 
for it ! In Popery everybody dreads it." 9 

" Amen, so be it, Amen ! " so he sighed in 1543 in a letter to 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 287. 2 Above, p. 229. 

3 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 131. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 289. 5 Ib., p. 288. 
6 Ib., p. 179. 7 Ib., p. 108. 8 Ib., p. 209. 
9 Ib., p. 111. 



250 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Amsdorf alluding to the end of the world. " The world was just 
like this before the Flood, before the Babylonian captivity, before 
the destruction of Jerusalem, before the devastation of Rome 
and before the misfortunes of Greece and Hungary ; so it will 
be and so it is before the ruin of Germany too. They refuse to 
listen, so they must be made to feel. I should be glad to console 
ourselves both, by discussing this thought [of the contempt of the 
Papists for us] with you by word of mouth." " We will leave 
them in the lurch " and cease from attempting their conversion. 
" Farewell in the Lord, Who is our Helper and Who will help us 
for ever and ever. Amen." 1 

" Under the Pope," we read in the Colloquies, " at least the 
name of Christ was retained, but our thanklessness and presump 
tuous sense of security will bring things to such a pass that Christ 
will be no longer even named, and so the words of the Master 
already quoted will be fulfilled according to which, at His coming, 
no faith will remain on the earth." 2 

As to the circumstances which should accompany the end of 
the world, he still expected the catastrophe to take place most 
likely about Easter time, "early in the morning, after a thunder 
storm of an hour or perhaps a little more." 3 

Here he no longer gives the world " a bare hundred years 
more," nor even something "not more than fifty years"; 4 he 
almost expects the end to come before the completion of his 
translation of the Bible into German. 5 The world will certainly 
not last until 1548, so he declared, " for this would run counter 
to Ezechiel." 6 He is not quite sure whether the Golden Age 
begins in 1540 or not, though such was the contention of the 
mathematicians ; but " we shall see the fulfilment of Scripture," 7 
or at any rate, as he prudently adds elsewhere, our descendants 
will. But before this can come the " great light " of faith would 
have to be dimmed still more. 8 

Luther concludes by saying that he is unable to suggest any 
thing further ; he had done all he could ; God s vengeance on 
the world was so great, he declares, that he could no longer give 
any advice ; for " amongst us whom God has treated so merci 
fully and on whom He has bestowed all His Graces there is 
nothing left that is not corrupted and perverted." 9 " On divine 
authority we began to amend the world, but it refuses to hearken ; 
hence let it crumble to ruins, for such is its fate ! " 10 

In his predictions concerning the end of the world Luther 
did not sufficiently take to heart the mishap which befell his 
pupil and friend Michael Stiefel, though he himself had been 

To Amsdorf, Nov. 7, 1543, " Briefe," 5, p. 600. 

" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 87. 3 Ib., p. 89. 

Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 172 f. 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 41, p. 233. 

Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 130. 

" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 86. 8 Ib., p. 87. 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 57, p. 95 f. 10 Schlaginhaufen, ib., p. 30. 



THE END OF THE WORLD 251 

at pains to reprove him. Stiefel had calculated that the 
end of the world would come at 8 a.m. on Oct. 19, 1533, at 
which hour he and his parishioners awaited it assembled in 
the church at Lochau. Their watch was, however, in vain ; 
the world continued to go its way and the Court judged it 
expedient to remove the preacher for a while from his post. 

Taking these eschatological ideas or rather ardent wishes 
of Luther s later life in all their bearings, and giving due 
weight to the almost unbounded dominion they exercised 
over his mind, one might well incline to see in them signs 
of an unhealthy and overwrought mind. They seem to have 
been due to excessive mental strain, to the reaction following 
on the labours of his long life s struggle in the cause of his 
mission. It is not unlikely that pathology played some 
part in the depression from which he suffered. 

His early theological development also throws some light 
on the psychological problem, owing to a parallel which 
it affords. 

The middle-point and mainstay of his theology, viz. his 
doctrine of Justification, was wholly a result of his own per 
sonal feelings; after cutting it, so to speak, to his own measure 
he proceeded to make it something of world-wide application, 
a doctrine which should rule every detail of religious life, 
and around which all theology should cluster if it is to be 
properly understood. In a similar way, after beginning by 
adapting to his own case the theory of the near end of the 
world to which he was early addicted he gradually came 
to find in it the clue wherewith to unravel all the knotty 
problems which began to present themselves. It became his 
favourite plan to regard everything in the light of the end 
of the world and advent of Christ. Just as he was fond of 
asseverating, in spite of all the contradictions it involved, 
that he could find in his dogma of Justification endless 
comfort for both himself and the faithful, so, too, he came 
to regard the Last Day, in spite of all its terrors, as the 
source of the highest, nay, of the only remaining, joy of life, 
for himself and for all. With a vehemence incompre 
hensible to sober reason he allowed himself to be carried 
away by this idea as he had been by others. Such was his 
temperament that he could rejoice in the coming of the 
Judge, Who should deliver him from the bonds of despair. 

Hence Luther s expectation of the end of the world was 



252 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

something very different from that of certain Saints of 
whom Church-history tells us. Pope Gregory I or Vincent 
Ferrer were not moved to foretell the approaching end of 
the world by disgust with life, by disappointment, or as a 
result of waging an unequal struggle with the Church of 
their day, nor again because they regarded the destruction 
of the world as the only escape from the confusion they 
had brought about. Nor do they speak of the end of the 
world with any fanatical expectation of their own personal 
salvation, but rather with a mixture of fear and calm trust 
in God s bounty to the righteous ; they have none of 
Luther s pessimism concerning the world, and, far from 
desiring things to " take their course," 1 they exerted every 
nerve to ensure the everlasting salvation of as many of their 
fellow-creatures as possible before the advent of the Judge ; 
to this end they had recourse to preaching and the means 
of grace provided by the Church and insisted greatly on the 
call for faith and good works. Above all, they gave a speak 
ing proof of their faith by their works and by the inspiring 
example of heroic sanctity. 

3. Melanchthon under the Double Burden, of Luther s 
Personality and his own Life s Work 

The personality of Luther counts for much among the 
trials which embittered Melanchthon s life. 

The passages already quoted witnessing thereto 2 must 
here be supplemented by what he himself says of his experi 
ences at Luther s side, in a letter he wrote in 1548 to the 
councillor Carlowitz and the Court of Saxony. There was 
some doubt as to what attitude Melanchthon would adopt 
towards Maurice of Saxony, the new sovereign, the victor of 
the Schmalkalden War, and to his demands in the matter 
of religion. 

In the letter, which to say the least is very conciliatory, 
Melanchthon says that he will know how to keep silence on any 
ecclesiastical regulations, no matter how distasteful to him they 
may be : for he knew what it was " to endure even a truly 
ignominious bondage, Luther having frequently given the rein 
to his own natural disposition, which was not a little quarrelsome, 
instead of showing due consideration for his own position and 
the general welfare." He goes on to explain the nature of the 

1 See above, p. 226. 2 Above, vol. iii., p. 362 ff. 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 253 

habit of silence he had so thoroughly mastered ; it meant no 
sacrifice of his own doctrine and views (" non mutato genere 
doctrince "). For twenty long years, so he complains, he had been 
obliged to bear the reproaches of the zealots of the party because 
he had toned down certain doctrines and had ventured to differ 
from Luther ; they had called him ice and frost, accused him of 
being in league with the Papists, nay, of being ambitious to secure 
a Cardinal s hat. Yet he had never had the slightest inclination 
to go over to the Catholics, for they " were guilty of cruel injustice." 
He must, however, say that he, who by nature was a lover of 
peace and the quiet of the study, had only been drawn into the 
movement of which Luther was the leader because he, like many 
wise and learned contemporaries, thought he discerned in it a 
striving after that truth for which he thirsted and for which he 
lived. Luther it was true, had, from the very first, introduced 
a " rougher element into the cause " ; he himself, however, had 
made it his aim to set up only what was true and essentially 
necessary ; he had also done much in the way of reforms, and, to 
boot, had waged a war against the demagogues (" multa tribunitia 
plebs ") which, owing to the attacks of enemies at Court, had 
drawn down on him the displeasure of the sovereign and had 
even put his life in jeopardy. 

Coming finally to speak of the concessions, speculative and prac 
tical, which he was prepared to make in addition to preserving 
silence, he mentions " the authority to be conceded to the bishops 
and the chief bishop in accordance with the Augsburg Confes 
sion." He adds : " Mayhap I am by nature of a servile turn of 
mind " ("fortassis sum ingenio servili "), but, after all there is a real 
call to be humble and open to advances. He also refers to the 
defeat of the Evangelical Princes, but only to assure Carlowitz 
that he attributes this, " not to blind fate, but rather admit that 
we have drawn down the chastisement on ourselves by many 
and great misdeeds." 1 

This is the oft-quoted declaration which Protestant writers as 
a whole regret more on Melanchthon s than on Luther s account. 
It was " an unhappy hour " in which Melanchthon wrote the 
letter " which gives us so profound an insight into his soul " ; 2 he 
forgot that he was " a public character " ; "in this letter not 
only what he says of Luther and of his relations with him, but 
even his account of the share he himself took in the Reformation," 
" is scarcely to his credit." 3 

Another Protestant holds, however, a different view. In this 
letter we have, as a matter of fact, "the expression of feelings 
which for long years Melanchthon had most carefully kept under 
restraint locked up in his heart. . . . From it we may judge how 
great was the vexation and bitterness Melanchthon had to 

1 April 28, 1548, " Corp. ref.," 6, p. 879 sqq. 

2 G. Kawerau, " Luthers Stellung zu den Zeitgenossen Erasmus, 
Zwingli und Melanchthon " (Reprint from " Deutsch-evang. Bl.," 
1906, 1-3), p. 30. 



f 
fs, 



3 F. Loofs, " DG.," 4, 1906, p. 866, n. 3. 



254 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

endure. ... In an unguarded moment what had been so long 
pent up broke out with elemental force." The historian we are 
quoting then goes on to plead for a " milder sentence," especially 
as " almost every statement which occurs in the letter can be 
confirmed from Melanchthon s confidential correspondence of 
the previous twenty years." 1 



Some of Melanchthon s Deliverances 

It is quite true, that, in his confidential correspondence, 
Melanchthon had long before made allusions to the awkward 
ness of his position. 

He says, for instance, in a letter to the famous physician 
Leonard Fuchs, who wanted him to take up his abode at 
Tubingen : " Some Fate has, as it were, bound me fast 
against my will, like hapless Prometheus," bound to the 
Caucasian rock, of whom the classic myth speaks. Never 
theless, he had not lost hope of sometime cutting himself 
free ; happy indeed would he account himself could he 
find a quiet home amongst his friends at Tubingen where 
he might devote his last years to study. 2 

On a later occasion, when bewailing his lot, the image of 
Prometheus again obtrudes itself on the scholar. 3 

Melanchthon s uneasiness and discontent with his position 
did not merely arise from the mental oppression he experi 
enced at Luther s side ; it was, as already pointed out, in 
part due to sundry other factors, such as the persecution 
he endured from disputatious theologians within the party, 
the sight of the growing confusion which met his eye day 
by day, the public dangers and the moral results of the 
religious upheaval, and, lastly, the depressing sense of being 
out of the element where his learning and humanistic 
tastes might have found full and unhampered scope. His 
complaints dwell, now on one, now on some other of these 
trials, but, taken together, they combine to make up a 
tragic historical picture of a soul distraught ; this is all the 
more surprising, since, owing to the large share he had in 
the introduction of the new Evangel, the cheering side of the 

1 G. Ellinger, " Melanchthon," 1902, p. 535 f. 

2 Nov. 12, 1538, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 606. 

3 To Gelous, May 20, 1559, ib., 9, p. 822 : " Pendeo velut ad Cau- 
casum adfixus, etsi verius sum e7n/j.r)dvs quam -rrpo^dev^ et laceror, non 
ut ille vulturibus tantum, sed etiam a cuculis." 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 255 

great religious reform should surely have been reflected in 
Melanchthon. 

"It is not fitting," writes the Protestant theologian Carl 
Sell, " to throw a veil over the sad close of Melanchthon s 
life, for it was but the logical consequence of his own train 
of thought." Luther s theology, of the defects of which 
Melanchthon was acutely conscious, had, according to Sell, 
" already begun to break down as an adequate theory of 
life " ; l of the forthcoming disintegration Luther s colleague 
already had a premonition. 

In Aug., 1536, when Melanchthon paid a visit to his home and 
also to Tubingen, he became more closely acquainted with the 
state of the Protestant Churches, both in the Palatinate and in 
Swabia. It was at that time that he wrote to his friend Myconius : 
" Had you travelled with us and seen the woeful devastation of 
the Churches in many localities you would undoubtedly long, 
with tears and groans, for the Princes and the learned to take 
steps for the welfare of the Churches. At Nuremberg the good 
attendance at public worship and the orderly arrangement of the 
ceremonies pleased me greatly ; elsewhere, however, lack of 
order and general barbarism is wonderfully estranging the people 
[from religion ; Arabia et barbaries minim in modum alienat 
animos ]. Oh, that the authorities would see to the remedying 
of this evil! " 2 

After he had reluctantly resumed the burden of his Wittenberg 
office he continued to fret about the dissensions in his own camp. 
" Look," he wrote to Veit Dietrich in 1537, " how great is the 
danger to which the Churches are everywhere exposed and how 
difficult it is to govern them, when those in authority are at grips 
with one another and set up strife and confusion, whereas it is 
from them that we should look for help. . . . What we have to 
endure is worse than all the trials of Odysseus the sufferer." 3 

In the following year he told the same friend the real evil was, 
that " we live like gipsies, no one being willing to obey another 
in any single thing." 4 

In the name of Wittenberg University he wrote to Mohr, the 
Naumburg preacher, who was quarrelling with his brethren in 
the ministry, " What is to happen in future if, for so trivial a 
matter, such wild and angry broils break out amongst those who 
govern the Church ? " 5 

The growing tendency to strife he describes in 1544 in these 
words : " There are at present many people whose quarrels are 

1 C. Sell, " Philipp Melanchthon und die deutsche Reformation bis 
1531 " (" Schriften des Vereins f. RG.," 14, 3, 1897), p. 117. 

2 Nov. 13, 1536, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 187. 

3 Dec. 7, 1537, ib., p. 460. 4 Feb. 13, 1538, ib., p. 488. 

5 June 24, 1545, ib., 5, p. 776 : " tarn atrocia certamina inter 
collegas" 



256 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

both countless and endless, and who everywhere find a pretext 
for them." 1 

Many of his complaints concerning the morals of the time, as 
Dollinger remarks, sound very much like those of a " sworn 
Catholic criticising the state of affairs brought about by the 
Reformation." Dollinger also calls attention to the saying of 
1537 : " The only glory remaining in this iron age is that of 
boldly breaking down the barriers of discipline ( audacter dissipare 
vincula discipline ) and of propounding to the people new opinions 
neatly cut and coloured." 2 A similar dictum dates from 1538. 
" Our age, as you can see, is full of malice and madness, and more 
addicted to intrigue than any previous one. The man who is 
most shameless in his abuse is regarded as the best orator. Oh, 
that God would change this ! " 3 The growing evils made him 
more and more downhearted. " People have become barbarians," 
he exclaims twelve years later to his friend Camerarius, " and, 
accustomed as they are to hatred and contempt of law and order, 
fear lest any restraint be put on their licentiousness ( metuunt 
frenari licentiam ). These are the evils decreed for the last age of 
the world." 4 

Over and over again we can see how the timorous man en 
deavours to clear the religious innovations of any responsibility 
for the prevalent lawlessness, which, as he says, deserved to be 
bewailed with floods of tears ; after all, the true Church had been 
revived ; this edifice, this temple of God, still remained amidst 
all the chaos ; even in Noe s day it had been exposed to damage. 5 
At times, though less frequently than Luther, he lays all the 
blame on Satan ; the latter, by means of the scandals, was seek 
ing to scare people away from the true Evangel now brought to 
light, and to vex the preachers into holding their tongues. 

Pessimistic consideration of the " last age of the world " was 
quite in his line ; the dark though not altogether unfriendly 
shadow of the approaching end of all was discernible in the 
moral disorders, in the unbelief and anti-christian spirit of the 
foe. He would not dwell, so he once said, on the state of things 
among the people towards whom he was willing to be indulgent, 
but it could not be gainsaid that, " among the learned open con 
tempt for religion was on the increase ; they lean either towards 
the Epicureans or towards universal scepticism. Forgetfulness 
of God, the wickedness of the times, the senseless fury of the 
Princes, all unite in proving that the world lies in the pains of 
travail and that the joyous coming of Christ is nigh." 6 It was 
his hopelessness and the great solace he derived from the approach 
ing end of all things that called forth this frame of mind. It is 

1 Dec. 25, 1544, to Camerarius, " Corp. ref.," 5, p. 554. 

2 " Die Reformation," 1, p. 376. 

3 Oct. 11, 1538, to Caspar Borner, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 596. 

4 April 30, 1550, ib., 7, p. 580. 

5 Cp. Dollinger, ib., 1, p. 379 f. 

6 From a New- Year s letter (Jan. 1, 1540) to Veit Dietrich, " Corp. 
ref.," 3, p. 895, 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 257 

also plain that he saw no prospect of improvement. " In these 
last days," he says, even a zealous preacher can no longer hope 
for success, though this does not give him the right to quit his 
post. 1 The poetic reference to the frenzied old age of the world 
(" delira mundi senecta ") is several times met with in his letters. 

In 1537 he grumbled to Johann Brenz, the preacher, of 
the hostility of the theologians, especially of the Luther- 
zealots ; he had seen what hatred the mitigations he had 
introduced in Luther s doctrines had excited. " I conceal 
everything beneath the cloak of my moderation, but what 
shall I do eventually faced by the rage of so many ( in tanta 
rabie multorum ) ? " 2 "I seek for a creephole," he con 
tinues, " may God but show me one, for I am worn out 
with illness, old age and sorrow." 

Of Amsdorf he learnt with pain that he had warned 
Luther against him as a serpent whom he was warming in 
his bosom. 3 

Andreas Osiander likewise wrote of Melanchthon to 
Resold at Nuremberg, that, since Apostolic times, no more 
mischievous and pernicious man had lived in the Church, 
so skilful was he in giving to his writings the semblance of 
wholesome doctrine while all the time denying its truth. 
" I believe that Philip and those who think like him are 
nothing but slaves of Satan." On another occasion the 
same bitter opponent of Melanchthon inveighs against the 
religious despotism which now replaced at Wittenberg the 
former Papal authority, a new tyranny which required, that 
" all disputes should be submitted to the elders of the 
Church." 4 It was men such as these who repaid him for 
the labours he had reluctantly undertaken on behalf of the 
Church. Of their bitter opposition he wrote, that, even 
were he to shed as many tears as there was water in the 
flooded Elbe, he would still not be able to weep away 
his grief. 5 

1 Sept. 9, 1541, to Veit Dietrich, ib., 4, p. 654, where he continues : 
" Tegere hcec soleo, sed, mihi crede, manent cicatrices" 

2 About July 16, 1537, " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 390 sq. Before this he 
had said in humanistic style : " Video novum quoddam genus sophis- 
tarum nasci ; velut ex gigantum sanguine alii gigantes nati sunt. . . . 
Metuo maiores ecclesice motus. Hie cum hydra decerto. Uno represso 
alii tnulti exoriuntur." 

3 " Corp. ref.," 3, p. 503 sqq. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 451. 

4 Cp. " RE. f. prot. Th.," 3 , Art. " Melanchthon," p. 523. 

5 Cp. Dollinger, "Reformation," 1, p. 394. 



258 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Melanchthori s Strictures on Luther. His " Bondage " 

If we consider more closely Melanchthon s relations with 
Luther we find him, even during Luther s lifetime, in 
dignantly describing the latter s attacks on man s free-will 
as " stoica et manichcea deliria " ; he himself, he declares, in 
spite of Luther s views to the contrary, had always insisted 
that man, even before regeneration, is able by virtue of his 
free-will to observe outward discipline and, that, in regenera 
tion, free-will follows on grace and thereafter receives from 
on High help for doing what is good. Later, after Luther s 
death, he declared, with regard to this denial of free-will 
which shocked him, that it was quite true that " Luther and 
others had written that all works, good and bad, were 
inevitably decreed to be performed of all men, good and bad 
alike ; but it is plain that this is against God s Word, 
subversive of all discipline and a blasphemy against God." 1 

In a letter of 1535 to Johann Sturm he finds fault with the 
harshness of Luther s doctrine and with his manner of defending 
it, though, from motives of caution, he refrains from mentioning 
Luther by name. He himself, however, was looked upon at the 
Court of the Elector as " less violent and stubborn than some 
others " ; it was just because they fancied him useful as a sort 
of valve, as they called it, that they refused to release him from 
his professorial chair at Wittenberg. And such is really the case. 
" I never think it right to quarrel unless about something of great 
importance and quite essential. To support every theory and 
extravagant opinion that takes the field has never been my way. 
Would that the learned were permitted to speak out more freely 
on matters of importance ! " But, instead of this, people ran 
after their own fancies. There was no doubt that, at times, even 
some of their own acted without forethought. " On account of 
my moderation I am in great danger from our own people . . . and 
it seems to me that the fate of Theramenes awaits me." 2 Thera- 
menes had perished on the scaffold in a good cause but before 
this had been guilty of grievous infidelity and was a disreputable 
intriguer. Of this Melanchthon can scarcely have been aware, 
otherwise he would surely have chosen some less invidious term 
of comparison. He was happier in his selection when, in 1544, 
he compared himself to Aristides on account of the risk he ran 
of being sent into exile by Luther : " Soon you will hear that I 
have been sent away from here as Aristides was from Athens." 3 

1 On March 9, 1559, to the Elector August of Saxony, " Corp. ref.," 
9, p. 766 sq. Cp. " RE.," ib., p. 525. 

2 As early as Aug. 28, 1535, " Corp. ref.," 2, p. 917. 

3 Sep. 8, 1544, to Peter Medmann, ib., 5, p. 478. 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 259 

Especially after 1538, i.e. during the last eight years of Luther s 
life, Melanchthon s stay at Wittenberg was rendered exceedingly 
unpleasant. In 1538 he reminds Veit Dietrich of the state of 
bondage (8ov\6rTjs) of which the latter had gleaned some ac 
quaintance while in Wittenberg (1522-35) ; " and yet," he con 
tinues, " Luther has since become much worse." 1 In later letters 
he likens Luther to the demagogue Cleon and to boisterous 
Hercules. 2 

Although it was no easy task for Luther, whose irritability 
increased with advancing years, to conceal his annoyance 
with his friend for presuming to differ from him, yet, as we 
know, he never allowed matters to come to an open breach. 
Melanchthon, too, owing to his fears and pusillanimity, 
avoided any definite personal explanation. Both alike were 
apprehensive of the scandal of an open rupture and its 
pernicious effects on the common cause. Moreover, Luther 
was thoroughly convinced that Melanchthon s services were 
indispensable to him, particularly in view of the gloomy 
outlook for the future. 

The matter, however, deserves further examination in 
view of the straightforwardness, clearness and inexorable- 
ness which Luther is usually supposed to have displayed in 
his doctrines. 

When important interests connected with his position 
seemed to call for it, Luther could be surprisingly lenient 
in questions of doctrine. Thus, for instance, we can hardly 
recognise the once so rigid Luther in the Concord signed 
with the Zwinglians, and again, when, for a while, the 
English seemed to be dallying with Lutheranism. In the 
case of the Zwinglian townships of South Germany, which 
were received into the Union by the Wittenberg Concord 
the better to strengthen the position of Lutheranism against 
the Emperor, Luther finally, albeit grudgingly, gave his 
assent to theological articles which differed so widely from 
his own doctrines that the utmost skill was required to 
conceal the discrepancy. 3 As for the English, Kolde says : 
" How far Luther was prepared to go [in allowing matters 
to take their course] we see, e.g. from the fact that, in his 
letter of March 28, 1536, to the Elector, he describes the 
draft Articles of agreement with the English only recently 

1 Oct. 6, 1538, ib., 3, p. 594. 

2 See Dollinger, " Reformation," 1, p. 354, and 3, p. 270. 

3 See above, vol. iii., p. 421 f. 



260 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

made public and which (apart from Art. 10, which might at 
a pinch be taken in the Roman sense) are altogether on the 
lines of the Variola as quite in harmony with our own 
teaching." 1 The terms of this agreement were drawn up by 
Melanchthon. As a matter of fact " we find little trace of 
Luther s spirit in the Articles. We have simply to compare 
[Luther s] Schmalkalden Articles of the following year to 
be convinced how greatly Luther s own mode of thought 
and expression differed from those Articles." " They show 
us what concessions the Wittenberg theologians, as a body, 
were disposed to make in order to win over such a country 
as England." 2 

Concerning Luther s attitude towards the alterations 
made by Melanchthon in the Confession of Augsburg (above, 
vol. in., p. 445 f.) we must also assume " from his whole 
behaviour, that he was not at all pleased with Melanch- 
thon s action ; yet he allowed it, like much else, to pass." 3 
This, however, does not exclude Luther s violence and 

1 Kolde in the Preface to the " Symbol. Biicher," 10 , p. xxvi., No. 3. 
The Articles of Agreement were published in full by G. Mentz in 1905, 
" Die Wittenberger Artikel von 1536 " (" Quellenschriften zur Gesch. 
des Prot.," Hft. 2). Letter to the Elector, " Werke," Erl. ed., 55, 
p. 128 ; " Briefe," 4, p. 683 (" Brief wechsel," 10, p. 315, where Enders, 
as late as 1903, had to admit : " The doctrinal articles herewith trans 
mitted are not known "). On the negotiations with the English, see 
vol. iv., p. 10 f. 

2 Thus Mentz, the editor, p. 11. Some theses from these Articles of 
Agreement proposed by the Wittenbergers but not accepted by the 
English deserve to be quoted from the new sources ; their divergence 
from Luther s ordinary teaching is self-evident. Of good works : 
" Bona opera non sunt precium pro vita ceterna, tamen sunt necessaria ad 
salutem, quia sunt debitum, quod necessario reconciliationem sequi debet." 
In support of this Mt. xix. 17 is quoted : " Si vis ad vitam ingredi serva 
mandata." Again : " Docemus requiri opera a Deo mandata et quidem 
non tantum externa civilia opera, sed etiam spirituales motus, timorem 
Dei, fiduciam," etc. (p. 34). " Hcec obedientia in reconciliatis fide iam 
reputatur esse iustitia et qucedam legis impletio " (p. 40). " Docendce sunt 
ecclesice de necessitate et de dignitate huius obedientice, videlicet quod . . . 
hcec obedientia seu iusticia bonce conscientice sit necessaria quia debitum 
est, quod necessario sequi reconciliationem debet " (p. 42). Merit, at 
least in a certain restricted sense, is also admitted : " Ad hcec bona 
opera sunt meritoria iuxta illud (1 Cor. iii. 8) : Unusquisque accipiet 
mercedem iuxta proprium laborem." (Cp. the Apologia of the Con 
fession of Augsburg, " Symb. Biicher," pp. 120, 148.) " Etsi enim 
conscientia non potest statuere, quod propter dignitatem operum detur vita 
ceterna, sed nascimur filii Dei et hceredes per misericordiam (which is also 
the Catholic teaching) tamen hcec opera in filiis merentur prcemia 
corporalia et spiritualia et gradus prcemiorum," etc. (p. 46). The 
ambiguity concerning Christ s Presence in the Eucharist (p. 62) is due 
to Melanchthon, not to Luther. 3 Kolde, ib. 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 261 

narrowness having caused an estrangement between them, 
Melanchthon having daily to apprehend outbursts of anger, 
so that his stay became extremely painful. The most 
critical time was in the summer of 1544, in consequence of 
the Cologne Book of Reform (vol. in., p. 447). Luther, who 
strongly suspected Melanchthon s orthodoxy on the Supper, 
prepared to assail anew those who denied the Real Presence. 
Yet the storm which Melanchthon dreaded did not touch 
him ; Luther s " Kurtz Bekentnis vom heiligen Sacrament," 
which appeared at the end of September, failed to mention 
Melanchthon s name. On Oct. 7, Cruciger was able by letter 
to inform Dietrich, that the author no longer displayed any 
irritation against his old friend. 1 Here again considera 
tions of expediency had prevailed over dogmatic scruples, 
nor is there any doubt that the old feeling of friendship, 
familiarity and real esteem asserted its rights, We may 
recall the kindly sympathy and care that Luther lavished 
on Melanchthon when the latter fell sick at Weimar, owing 
to the trouble consequent on his sanction given to the 
Hessian bigamy. 2 

Indeed we must assume that the relations between the 
two were often more cordial than would appear from the 
letters of one so timid and fainthearted as Melanchthon ; 
the very adaptability of the latter s character renders this 
probable. In Nov., 1544, Chancellor Briick declared : 
" With regard to Philip, as far as I can see, he and Martin 
are quite close friends " ; in another letter written about 
that time he also says Luther had told him that he was 
quite unaware of any differences between himself and 
Melanchthon. 3 

The latter, whenever he was at Wittenberg, also continued 
as a rule to put in an appearance at Luther s table, and 
there is little doubt that, on such occasions, Luther s frank 
and, open conversation often availed to banish any ill-feeling 
there may have been. We learn that Magister Philip was 

1 " Corp. ref.," 5, p. 497. 

2 To Melanchthon, June 18, 1540, " Brief e," ed. De Wette, 5, 
p. 293 ; " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 91 ; " Ratzebergers Gesch.," p. 102 ff. ; 
" Corp. ref.," 3, pp. 1060 sq., 1077, 1081. To Johann Lang, July 2, 
1540, " Briefe," ib., p. 297 ; " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 109 : " mortuum 
enim invenimus ; miraculo Dei manifesto vivit." See vol. iii., p. 162. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 689 ; " Anal. Luth.," ed. Kolde, p. 402 ; 
" Corp. ref.," 5, p. 522. 



262 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

present at the dinner in celebration of Luther s birthday in 
1544, together with Cruciger, Bugenhagen, Jonas and Major, 
and that they exchanged confidences concerning the present 
and future welfare of the new religion. 1 

When Melanchthon was away from Wittenberg engaged 
in settling ecclesiastical matters elsewhere he was careful 
to keep Luther fully informed of the course of affairs. He 
occasionally expressed his thanks to the latter for the 
charity and kindness of his replies ; Luther in his turn 
kept him posted in the little intimacies of their respective 
families, in the occurrences in the town and University of 
Wittenberg, and almost always added a request for prayer 
for help in his struggles with " Satan." This intimate 
correspondence was carried on until the very month before 
Luther s death. Even in his last letters Luther calls the 
friend with whom he had worked for so many years " My 
Philip " ; Melanchthon, as a rule, heads his communications 
in more formal style : " Clarissimo et optima viro D. Martino 
Luthero, doctori theologice, instauratori puree evangelicce 
doctrince ac patri suo in Christo reverendo et charissimo." 2 

The great praise which Melanchthon bestows on the 
deceased immediately after his death is indeed startling, but 
we must beware of regarding it as mere hypocrisy. 

The news of Luther s death which took place at Eisleben on 
Feb. 14, 1546, was received by Melanchthon the very next day. 
In spite of all their differences it must have come as a shock to 
him, the more so that the responsibility for the direction of his 
friend s work was now to devolve on him. 

The panegyric on Luther which Melanchthon delivered at 
Wittenberg boldly places him on the same footing with Isaias, 
John the Baptist, the Apostle of the Gentiles, and Augustine of 
Hippo. In it the humanistic element and style is more noticeable 
than the common feeling of the friend. He hints discreetly at 
the " great vehemence " of the departed, but does not omit to 
mention that everyone who was acquainted with him must bear 
witness that he had always shown himself kind-hearted towards 
his friends, and never obstinate or quarrelsome. 3 Though this 
is undoubtedly at variance with what he says elsewhere, still such 
a thing was expected in those days in panegyrics on great men, 
nor would so smooth-tongued an orator have felt any scruple 
about it. In his previous announcement of Luther s death to 

1 " Corp. ref:," 5, p. 524. 

2 Cp., for instance, " Luthers Brief wechsel," 12, pp. 106, 116, 123, 
etc. ; 13, pp. 282, 318. 

3 Discourse of Feb. 22, 1546, " Corp. ref.," 11, p. 726 sqq. 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 263 

the students he had exclaimed : " The chariot of Israel and the 
driver thereof have been taken from us, the man who ruled the 
Church in these days of the world s senile decay." 1 

Melanchthon s Last Years 

After Luther s death Melanchthon had still to endure fourteen 
years of suffering, perhaps of even more bitter character than he 
had yet tasted. Whilst representing Lutheranism and taking the 
lead amongst his colleagues he did so with the deliberate inten 
tion of maintaining the new faith by accommodating himself 
indulgently to the varying conditions of the times. Our narrative 
may here be permitted to anticipate somewhat in order to give 
a clear and connected account of Melanchthon s inner life and 
ultimate fate. 2 

His half-heartedness and love of compromise were a cause of 
many hardships to him, particularly at the time of the so-called 
Interims of Augsburg and Leipzig. It was a question of intro 
ducing the Augsburg Interim into the Saxon Electorate after the 
latter, owing to the War of Schmalkalden, had come under the 
rule of the new Elector Maurice. Melanchthon had at first 
opposed the provisions of this Interim, by means of which the 
Emperor hoped gradually to bring the Protestants back to the 
fold. In Dec., 1548, however, he, together with other theologians, 
formally accepted the Leipzig articles, which, owing to their 
similarity with the Augsburg Interim, were dubbed by his 
opponents the "Leipzig Interim," 3 In this the "moot ob 
servances (Adiaphora), i.e. those which may be kept without 
any contravention of Divine Scripture," were extended by 
Melanchthon so as to include the reintroduction of fasting, 
festivals, not excluding even Corpus Christi, images of the Saints 
in the churches, the Latin liturgy, the Canonical Hours in Latin 
and even a sort of hierarchy. Melanchthon also agreed to the 
demand for the recognition of the seven sacraments. By strongly 
emphasising his own doctrine of synergism, he brought the Wit 
tenberg teaching on Justification much nearer to Catholic dogma ; 
he even dealt a death-blow to the genuine (Doctrine of Luther by 
appending his signature to the following proposition : " God 
does not deal with man as with a block of wood, but so draws him 
that his will also co-operates." In addition to this the true char 
acter of Luther s sola fides, or assurance of salvation, was veiled 
by Melanchthon under the formula : " True faith accepts, 
together with other articles, that of the Forgiveness of Sins. 

Hence when Flacius Illyricus, Amsdorf, Gallus, Wigand, 
Westphal and others loudly protested against Melanchthon as 
though he had denied Luther s doctrine, they were not so very far 
wrong. The result of their vigorous opposition and of the number 
of those who sided with them was that Melanchthon gradually 

1 " Corp. ref.," 6, p. 59. 

2 For further details, see below, vol. vi., xl., 3. 

3 On what follows, see Loofs, " DG.," 4 , p. 867 f. 



264 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

ceased to be the he*ad of the Lutheran Church, becoming merely 
the leader of a certain party. 

Later on, in 1552, when the position of public affairs in 
Germany was more favourable to Protestantism, Melanchthon 
admitted that he had been wrong in his views concerning the 
Adiaphora, since, after all, they were not so unimportant as he 
had at first thought. In order to pacify his opponents he in 
cluded the following proposition in his form of examination for 
new preachers : " We ought to profess, not the Papal errors, 
Interim, etc. . . . but to remain faithful to the pure Divine 
teaching of the Gospel." 1 

Opposition to the " Papal errors " was indeed the one thing 
to which he steadfastly adhered ; this negative side of his atti 
tude never varied, whatever changes may have taken place in his 
positive doctrines. 

Nevertheless during the ensuing controversies he was regarded 
as a traitor by the stricter Lutherans and treated with a scorn 
that did much to embitter his last years. The attitude of his 
opponents was particularly noticeable at the conference of Worms 
in 1557. Even before this, they, particularly the Jena theologians, 
had planned an outspoken condemnation of all those who " had 
departed from the Augsburg Confession," as Melanchthon had 
done. They now appeared at Worms with others of the same 
way of thinking. " I desire no fellowship with those who defile 
the purity of our doctrine," wrote one of them ; " we must shun 
them, according to the words of the Bible : If any man come 
to you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house 
nor say to him, God speed you. " 2 The friends of Flacius 
Illyricus at the very first meeting made no secret of their unani 
mous demand, so that Melanchthon in his justificatory statement 
could well say : "I see plainly that all this is directed solely 
against me." He opposed any condemnation of Zwingli or of 
Calvin on account of their doctrine on the Supper ; this, he said, 
was the business of a synod. 

At the very outset of the disputations with the Catholics it 
became evident anew that the divergency of the Protestants in 
the interpretation of Holy Scripture was too great to allow of the 
points under discussion being satisfactorily settled in conference ; 
the abrogation of an ecclesiastical authority for the exposition 
of Scripture had resulted in an ever-growing want of unity in the 
interpretation of the Bible. Peter Canisius, the Catholic spokes 
man, pointed out emphatically what obstacles were presented by 
the contradictory opinions on doctrine amongst the Protestants ; 
where every man traced his opinions back to Scripture, how was 
it possible to arrive at any decision ? 3 It was from Canisius, 
" who during the course of the conference distinguished himself 
as the leader of the Catholic party and later repeatedly proved 

1 Ellinger, " Melanchthon," p. 554. 

2 J6., p. 569. 

3 Cp. the report of Peter Canisius to Lainez, General of the Jesuits, 
Brauusberger, " Epistulae b. Petri Canisii," 2, p. 176 sq. 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 265 

himself a sharp observer of the religious conditions in Germany," 1 
that the suggestion came, that the Protestants should define 
their position more clearly by repudiating certain divergent 
sects. This led the followers of Flacius to demand that all the 
Evangelicals should unite in condemning Zwinglianism, Osian- 
derism, Adiaphorism and Majorism, and also Calvin s doctrine 
on the Supper. To this Melanchthon and his friends absolutely 
refused to agree. The result was that the followers of Flacius 
departed greatly incensed, and the conference had to be broken 
off. " The contradictions in the very heart of Protestantism 
were thus revealed to the whole world." 2 

" No greater disgrace befell the Reformation in the 16th 
century." 3 

From that time Melanchthon was a broken man. His friend 
Languet wrote to Calvin, " Mr. Philip is so worn out with old 
age, toils, calumnies and intrigues that nothing is left of his 
former cheerfulness." 4 

Melanchthon characterised the Book of Confutation published 
by the Duke of Saxony in 1558, and finally revised by Flacius, as 
a " congeries of sophisms " which he had perused with great pain, 
and as " venomous sophistry." He therefore once more begged 
for his dismissal. 5 

His longing for death as a happy release from such bitter 
affliction we find expressed in many of his letters. To Sigismund 
Gelous of Eperies in Hungary he wrote, on May 20, 1559, that he 
was not averse to departing this life owing to the attacks on his 
person, and in order that he might behold " the light of the 
Heavenly Academy " and become partaker of its wisdom. 6 He 
looked forward, so he writes to another, to that light " where 
God is all in all and where there is no more sophistry or calumny." 7 
Only a few days before his death he solaced himself by drawing 
up some notes entitled : " Reasons why you should fear death 
less." On the left of the sheet he wrote : " You will escape from 
sin, and will be delivered from all trouble and the fury of the 
theologians ( liberaberis ab cerumnis et a rabie theologorutn } " ; 
and, on the right : " You will attain to the light, you will behold 
God, you will look on the Son of God, you will see into those 

1 Ellinger, ib., p. 570. 2 Ib., p. 571. 

3 Thus the Protestant theologian Nitzsch, see " RE. f. prot. Th.," 3 , 
Art. " Melanchthon," p. 525. Loofs, 4 , p. 904. " The religious confer 
ence suffered shipwreck from want of unity amongst the Evangelicals." 
The Gnesio-Lutherans demanded (Sep. 27) that all errors on " the 
Supper " should be condemned, " whether emanating from Carlstadt, 
Zwingli, CEcolampadius, Calvin or others." Calvin s doctrine was, 
however, substantially identical with Melanchthon s at tl.at time. 

4 "RE.," ib. 

5 To Camerarius, Feb. 16, 1559, " Corp. ref.," 9, p. 744. 

6 Ib., p. 822. As a Humanist he was fond of conjuring up heaven 
under the image of the Academy. In his address to the students on 
Luther s death he says, the former had been snatched away " in 
ceternam scholam et in ceterna gaudia." 

7 To Buchholzer, Aug. 10, 1559, ib., p. 898. 



266 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

wonderful mysteries which you have been unable to comprehend 
in this life, such as why we are created as we are, and how the 
two natures are united in Christ." 1 He finally departed this life 
on April 19, 1560, from the results of a severe cold. 

Review of Melanchthon s Religious Position as a whole 

Melanchthon s last work was a " strong protest against 
Catholicism," which at the same time embodied an abstract 
of his whole doctrine such as it had become during the 
later years of his life. This work he calls his " Confession " ; 
it is professedly aimed at the " godless Articles of the 
Bavarian Inquisition," i.e. was intended to counteract the 
efforts of Duke Albert of Bavaria to preserve his country 
from the inroads of Protestantism. 2 

In this " Confession," dating from the evening of his days, the 
" so-peaceful " Melanchthon bluntly describes the Pope and all 
his train (satellites) as " defenders of idols " ; according to him 
they " withstand the known truth, and cruelly rage against the 
pious." 3 This book, with its superficial humanistic theology, 
justifies, like so many of his earlier works, the opinion of learned 
Catholic contemporaries who regretted that the word of a scholar 
devoid of any sound theological training should exercise so much 
influence over the most far-reaching religious questions of the 
day. 

Writing to Cardinal Sadoleto, Johann Fabri, Bishop of Vienna, 
says, " Would that Melanchthon had pursued his studies on the 
lines indicated by his teacher Capnion [Reuchlin] ! Would that 
he had but remained content with the rhetoric and grammar of 
the ancients instead of allowing his youthful ardour to carry him 
away, to turn the true religion into a tragedy ! But alas . . . 
when barely eighteen years of age he began to teach the simple, 
and, by his soft speeches, he has disturbed the whole Church 
beyond measure. And even after so many years he is still unable 
to see his error or to desist from the doctrines once imbibed and 
from furthering such lamentable disorders." 4 To this letter 
Fabri appended excerpts from various writings of Melanchthon s 
as " specimens of what his godless pen had produced against the 
truth and the peace of the Church." 

Others, for instance Eck and Cochlseus, in their descriptions of 
Melanchthon dwell on the traits that displeased them in their 
personal intercourse with him. 

1 Ib., p. 1098. 

2 Thus in his " Testament " of April 18, 1560, ib., p. 1099. 

3 Reprinted in " Opera Ph. Melanchtonis," t. 1, Vitebergae, 1562, 
p. 364 sqq. 

4 Jan. 28, 1538, " Zeitschr. f. KG.," 20, p. 247 ff. G. Kawerau, 
" Die Versuche Melanchthon zur kathol. Kirche zuriickzufiihren," 
1902 (" Schriften des Vereins f. RG.," No. 73), p. 43. 



HIS FRIEND MELANCHTHON 267 

Johann Eck compares the way in which Melanchthon twice 
outwitted Cardinal Campeggio to the false arts of Sinon the 
Greek, known to us from Virgil s account of the introduction of 
the wooden horse into Troy. 1 Johann Cochlseus, who had met 
him at Augsburg, calls him the " fox," and once warns a friend : 
" Take care lest he cheat you with his deceitful cunning, for, like 
the Sirens, he gains a hearing by sweet and honeyed words ; he 
makes a hypocritical use of lying ; he is ever planning how he 
may win men s hearts by all manner of wiles, and seduces them 
with dishonest words." 2 About the same time in a printed reply 
to Melanchthon s " Apologia," he drew an alarming picture of 
the latter s trickery at the Diet of Augsburg. By worming him 
self into the confidence of the Princes and great men present, 
Melanchthon learned, so he says, things that were little to the 
credit of the Catholic Church ; these he afterwards retailed to 
Luther, who at once, after duly embellishing them, flung the tales 
broadcast amongst the people by means of the press. Melanch 
thon made not the slightest attempt to correct his statements, as 
he was in duty bound to do, and his honeyed words merely fed the 
flames. 3 "Most people," he writes elsewhere, "if not all, have 
hitherto supposed Melanchthon to be much milder and more 
moderate than Luther " ; such persons should, however, study 
his writings carefully, and then they would soon see how unspeak 
ably bitter was his feeling against Catholics. 4 

The latter assertion is only too fully confirmed by the extracts 
already put before the reader, particularly by those from his 
Schmalkalden tract on the Pope, from his Introduction to the 
new edition of Luther s " Warnunge " and from the " Confession " 
just alluded to. 6 Here there glows such deep hatred of the faith 
and practices of the Catholic Church that one seeks in vain for 
the common ground on which his professed love for union could 
thrive. 

His conciliatory proposals were, however, in fact nothing more 
than the vague and barren cravings of a Humanist. 

In connection with this a characteristic, already pointed 
out, which runs through the whole of Melanchthon s 
religious attitude and strongly differentiates him from 
Luther, merits being emphasised anew. This is the shallow, 
numbing spirit which penetrates alike his theology and his 
philosophy, and the humanistic tendency to reduce every 
thing to uniformity. That, in his theological vocabulary he 

1 To Vergerio, June 1, 1534, " Zeitschr. f. KG.," 19, p. 222. Kawerau, 
ib., p. 79. 

2 To Bishop Cricius, June 2, 1534, in his " Velitatio in Apologiam 
Ph. Melanchthonis," 1534, Bl. A. 6 ff. Kawerau, ib., p. 23 f. 

3 " Velitatio," Bl. A. 4. Kawerau, p. 25. 

4 " Zeitschr. f. KG.," 18, p. 424. Kawerau, p. 64 f. 

5 Vol. ii., p. 438 ff., and above, p. 260. Cp. vol. iii., p. 447 (Cologne 
Book of Reform). 



268 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

is fond of using classical terms (speaking, for instance, of the 
heavenly " Academy " where we attend the " school " of 
the Apostles and Prophets) 1 is a detail ; he goes much 
further and makes suspiciously free with the whole contents 
of the faith, whether for the sake of reducing it to system, 
or for convenience, or in order to promote peace. 2 It would 
have fared ill with Melanchthon had he applied to himself 
in earnest what Luther said of those who want to be wiser 
than God, who follow their crazy reason and seek to bring 
about an understanding between Christ and . . . the devil. 
But Melanchthon s character was pliant enough not to be 
unduly hurt by such words of Luther s. He was able, on the 
one hand, to regard Bucer and the Swiss as his close allies 
on the question of the Supper and, on the other, while all 
the time sticking fast to Luther, he could declare that 
on the whole he entirely agreed with the religious views of 
Erasmus, the very " antipodes of Luther." It was only 
his lack of any real religious depth which enabled him so to 
act. In a sketch of Erasmus which he composed for one of 
his pupils in 1557, he even makes the former, in spite of all 
his hostility to Luther, to share much the same way of 
thinking, a fact which draws from Kawerau the complaint : 
" So easy was it for Melanchthon to close his eyes to the 
doctrinal differences which existed even amongst the 
4 docti. " 3 

A similar lack of any just and clear appreciation of the 
great truths of the faith is also apparent in Melanchthon s 
letters to Erasmus, more particularly in the later ones. 
Here personal friendship and Humanist fellow-feeling vie 
with each other in explaining away in the most startling 
manner the religious differences. 4 Many elements of 
theology were dissolved by Melanchthon s subjective 
method of exegesis and by the system of philosophy he had 
built up from the classical authors, particularly from Cicero. 
Melanchthon s philosophy was quite unfitted to throw light 

1 Cp. above, p. 265, n. 6. 

2 The authors of the Article on Melanchthon in the " RE. f. prot. 
Th.," 3 , say, p. 535 : "A Humanist mode of thought forms the back 
ground of his theology " ; Melanchthon strove for a kind of com 
promise between Christian truth and ancient philosophy. 

3 " Versuche," p. 83, with the above example taken from " Corp. 
ref.," 12, p. 269. 

4 Cp., for instance, the letter of May 12, 1536, to Erasmus, " Corp. 
ref.," 3, p. 68 sq. Kawerau, ib., p. 32. 



MELANCHTHON LEGENDS 269 

on the doctrines of revelation. To him the two domains, 
of philosophy and theology, seemed, not only independent, 
but actually hostile to each other, a state of things absolutely 
unknown to the Middle Ages. If, as Melanchthon avers, 
reason is unable to prove the existence of God on philo 
sophical grounds, then, by this very fact, the science of the 
supernatural loses every stay, nor is it possible any longer to 
defend revelation against unbelief. 

It is the merest makeshift, when, like other of his Humanist 
contemporaries, Melanchthon seeks to base our knowledge 
of God s existence on feeling and on a vague inward experi 
ence. 1 

Thus we can quite understand how old-fashioned Protes 
tantism, after having paid but little attention to Melanchthon 
either in the days of orthodox Lutheranism or of Pietism, 
began to have recourse to him with the advent of Rational 
ism. The orthodox had missed in him Luther s sparkling 
" strength of faith " and the courageous resolve to twit the 
" devil " within and without ; the Pietists failed to discern 
in him the mysticism they extolled in Luther. Rationalists, 
on the other hand, found in him many kindred elements. 
Even of quite recent years Melanchthon has been hailed as 
the type of the easy-going theologian who seeks to bridge 
the chasm between believing and infidel Protestantism ; at 
any rate, Melanchthon s positive belief was far more ex 
tensive than that of many of his would-be imitators. 

Melanchthon Legends 

The tale once current that, at the last, Melanchthon 
was a Lutheran only in name, is to-day rejected by all 
scholars, Protestant and Catholic. 

Concerning the " honesty of his Protestantism " "no 
doubts " are raised by Protestant theologians, who call 
his teaching a " modification and a toning down " of that 
of Luther ; nor can we conclude that " he was at all shaky 
in his convictions," even should the remarkable utterance 
about to be cited really emanate from him. 2 A Catholic 
historian of the highest standing agrees in saying of him : 
" Even though Luther s teaching may not have completely 

1 Cp. the Article quoted, p. 268, n. 2. 

2 Ib., and pp. 532, 537 of the " Realenzyklopadie." 



270 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

satisfied Melanchthon, yet there is no reason to doubt, that, 
on the whole, he was heart and soul on the side of the 
innovations. . . . We may now and then come upon 
actions on his part which arouse a suspicion as to his 
straightforwardness, but on the whole his convictions 
cannot be questioned." 1 

In Catholic literature, nevertheless, even down to the present 
day, we often find Melanchthon quoted as having said to his 
mother, speaking of the relative value of the old and the new 
religion : " Hcec plausibilior, ilia securior ; Lutheranism is the 
more popular, but Catholicism is the safer." 2 

This story concerning Melanchthon assumed various forms as 
time went on. We must dismiss the version circulated by Flori- 
mond de Raemond in 1605, to the effect that the words had been 
spoken by Melanchthon on his death-bed to his mother who had 
remained a Catholic, when the latter adjured him to tell her the 
truth ; 3 his mother, as a matter of fact, died at her home at Bretten 
in the Lower Palatinate long before her son, in 1529, slightly 
before July 24, being then in her fifty-third year. 4 

Nor is there much to be said in favour of another version of 
the above story which has it that Melanchthon s mother, after 
having been persuaded by him to come over, visited him in great 
distress of mind, and received from him the above reply. 

Melanchthon called on her at Bretten in May, 1524, during 
his stay in his native place, and may have done so again in 1529 
in the spring, when attending the Diet of Spires. A passage in 
his correspondence construed as referring to this visit is by no 
means clear, 5 though the illness and death of his mother would 
seem to make such a flying visit likely. On a third occasion 
Melanchthon went to Bretten in the autumn of 1536. 

We shall first see what Protestant writers have to say of the 
supposed conversation with the mother. 

K. Ed. Forstemann, who, in 1830, 6 dealt with the family records 
of the Schwarzerd family, says briefly of the matter : " Strobel 
was wrong in declaring this story to be utterly devoid of historical 

1 F. X. Funk in the " KL.," 2 , Art. " Melanchthon," p. 1212 f. 

2 For a supposed remark of Luther s to Catherine Bora which 
would seem even more clearly to admit the uncertainty of the new 
faith, see below, p. 372 f. 

3 " L Histoire de la naissance, progrez et decadence de Fheresie de 
ce siecle," 1. 2, ch. 9 (Rouen, 1648), p. 166 : " On escrit, qu estant sur 
le poinct de rendre Fame, Fan 1560, sa mere," etc. The author is quite 
uncritical (see below, p. 271). 

4 " Corp. ref.," 1, p. 1083, Melanchthon to Camerarius. C. G. 
Strobel, " Melanchthoniana," 1771, p. 9. 

5 Cp. N. Miiller, " Jakob Schwarzerd," 1908 (" Schriften des Vereins 
f. RG.," Nos. 96-97), p. 42, on " Corp. ref.," 2, p. 563. Miiller assumes 
(p. 41) that the visit took place in 1524. 

6 " Theol. Stud, und Krit.," 1, 1830, p. 119 ff., " Die Schwarzerd." 



MELANCHTHON LEGENDS 271 

foundation." 1 C. G. Strobel, in his " M elanchthoniana " (1771), 
had expressed his disbelief in the tale under the then widespread 
form, according to which Melanchthon had spoken the words, 
when visiting his dying mother in 1529 ; he had been much 
shocked to hear it told in rhetorical style by M. A. J. Bose of 
Wittenberg in a panegyric on Melanchthon. Bose, whose lean 
ings were towards the Broad School, had cited the story approv 
ingly as an instance of Melanchthon s large-mindedness in re 
ligion. 2 Against the account Strobel alleges several a priori 
objections of no great value ; his best argument really was that 
there was no authority for it. 

Forstemann s brief allusion was not without effect on the 
authors of the article on Melanchthon in the " Realenzyklopadie 
fiir protestantische Theologie " ; there we read : " The tale is 
at least not unlikely, though it cannot be proved with certainty " ; 3 
even G. Ellinger, the latest of Melanchthon s biographers, 
declares : " We may assume that Melanchthon treated the 
religious views of his mother, who continued till the end of her 
life faithful to the olden Church, with the same tender solicitude 
as he displayed towards her in the later conversation in 1529. " 4 

It is first of all necessary to settle whether the conversation 
actually rests on reliable authority. Forstemann, like Strobel, 
mentions only Melchior Adam (f 1622), whose " Vitce theologorum " 
was first published in 1615 (see next page). 

Adam, a Protestant writer, gives no authority for his state 
ment. JEgidius Albertinus, a popular Catholic author, writing 
slightly earlier, also gives the story in his " Rekreation " (see 
next page), published in 1612 and 1613, likewise without indi 
cating its source. 

Earlier than either we have Florimond de Raemond, whose 
" Histoire," etc. (above, p. 270, n. 3) contains the story even in 
the 1605 edition ; he too gives no authority. So far no earlier 
mention of the story is known. It seems to have been a current 
tale in Catholic circles abroad and may have been printed. 
Strange to say the work of the zealous Catholic convert and 
polemic, de Raemond (completed and seen through the press by 
his son), contains the story under the least likely shape, the 
dying Melanchthon being made to address the words to his mother, 
who really had died long before. 

It is quite likely that ^Egidius Albertinus, the well-read priestly 
secretary to the Munich Council, who busied himself much with 

1 P. 122. 

2 In the collection of essays published by the Wittenberg 
" Academy," " Memoria Ph. Melanchthonis, finite post eius exitum 
sseculo II." 

3 3rd ed., Art. " Melanchthon," p. 531. 

4 G. Ellinger, " Melanchthon," 1902, p. 191. F. X. Funk remarks 
in the " KL.," 2 , Art. "Melanchthon," p. 1212: Melanchthon, "after 
having made her [his mother] repeat her prayers, is said to have 
assured her, that if she continued thus to believe and to pray, she might 
well live in hopes of being saved." 



272 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Italian, Spanish and Latin literature, was acquainted with this 
passage. He nevertheless altered the narrative, relating how 
Melanchthon s " aged mother came to him " after he had " lived 
long in the world and seen many things, and caused many 
scandals by his life." He translates as follows the Latin words 
supposed to have been uttered by Melanchthon : "The new 
religion is much pleasanter, but the old one is much safer." 1 

Next comes the Protestant Adam. The latter gives a plausible 
historical setting to the story by locating it during the time of 
Melanchthon s stay at Spires, though without mentioning that 
the mother was then at death s door. " When asked by her," 
so runs his account, which is the commonest one, " what she was 
to believe of the controversies, he listened to the prayers [she 
was in the habit of reciting] and, finding nothing superstitious 
in them, told her to continue to believe and to pray as heretofore 
and not be disturbed by the discussions and controversies." 2 
Here we do not meet the sentence Hcec plausibilior, ilia securior. 
The fact that Adam, who as a rule is careful to give his authorities, 
omits to do so here, points to the story having been verbally 
transmitted ; for it is hardly likely that he, as a Protestant, 
would have taken over the statements of the two Catholic 
authorities Albertinus and Raemond, which were so favourable 
to Catholicism and so unfavourable to Protestantism. Probably, 
besides the Catholic version there was also a Protestant one, 
which would explain here the absence of the sentence ending 
with " securior." Both may have risen at the time of the 
Diet of Spires, where Catholics and Protestants alike attended, 
supposing that the visit to Bretten took place at that time. 

All things considered we may well accept the statement of the 
" Realenzyklopadie," that the story, as given by Adam, apart 
from the time it occurred, is "not unlikely, though it cannot be 
proved with certainty." Taking into account the circumstances 
and the character of Melanchthon, neither the incident nor his 
words involve any improbability. He will have seen that his 
beloved mother whether then at the point of death or not 
was in perfect good faith ; he had no wish to plunge her into 
inward struggles and disquiet and preferred to leave her happy 
in her convictions ; the more so since, in her presence and amid 
the recollections of the past, his mind will probably have travelled 
to the days of his youth, when he was still a faithful son of the 
Church. He had never forgotten the exhortation given by his 
father, nine days before his death, to his family "never to quit 
the Church s fold." 8 The exact date of the incident (1524 or 
1529) must however remain doubtful. N. Miiller in his work on 
Melanchthon s brother, Jakob Schwarzerd, says rightly : " No- 

1 " DesTeutschen . . . Rekreation," Munich, 1612, 4, p. 143. The 
author, who died in 1620, is no authority on historical matters beyond 
his own times and surroundings. 

2 " Vitas theologorum," p. 333. 

3 "RE. f. prot. Th.," 3 , Art. "Melanchthon," p. 531, with reference 
to Melanchthon s " Postille," 2, p. 477. 



MELANCHTHON LEGENDS 273 

thing obliges us to place the conversation between Melanchthon 
and his mother assuming it to be historical in 1529, for it may 
equally well have taken place in 1524." 1 

r 

Two unsupported stories connected with Melanchthon s 
Augsburg Confession must also be mentioned here. The 
twofold statement, frequently repeated down to the present 
day, takes the following shape in a recent historical work 
by a Protestant theologian : " When the Confession was 
read out, the Bishop of Augsburg, Christoph von Stadion, 
declared, What has just been read here is the pure, unvar 
nished truth ; Eck too had to admit to the Duke of Bavaria, 
that he might indeed be able to refute this work from the 
Fathers of the Church, but certainly not from Scripture." 
So convincing and triumphant was Melanchthon s attitude 
at the Diet of Augsburg. 

The information concerning Stadion is found only in the 
late, Protestant history of the Diet of Augsburg written by 
George Coelestinus and published in 1577 at Frankfurt; here 
moreover the story differs slightly, relating, that, during the 
negotiations on the Confession on Aug. 6, Stadion declared : 
" It was plain that those who inclined to the Lutheran views 
had, so far, not infringed or overthrown a single article of the 
faith by what they had put forward in defence of their views." 2 
Any decisive advocacy of the Catholic cause was of course not 
to be expected from this bishop, in view of his general bearing. 
A good pupil of Erasmus, he had made the latter s reforming 
ideas his own. He was in favour of priestly marriage, and was 
inclined to think that Christ had not instituted auricular con 
fession. There is, however, no proof that he went so far in the 
direction of the innovations as actually to approve the Lutheran 
teaching. It is true that the words quoted, even if really his, 
do not assert this ; it was one thing to say that no article of the 
faith had been infringed by the Confession or by what had been 
urged in vindication of Lutheranism, and quite another to say 
that the Confession was nothing but the pure, unvarnished truth. 
At any rate, in the one form this statement of Stadion s is not 
vouched for by any other authority before Ccelestinus and, in 
the other, lacks any proof whatever. F. W. Schirrmacher, who 
relates the incident in his " Brief en und Akten zur Ges- 
chichte des Reichstags zu Augsburg " on the authority of Coeles 
tinus, admits that "its source is unknown." 3 Moreover an 
historian, who some years ago examined into Stadion s attitude 
at Augsburg, pointed out, that, in view of the further circum- 

1 Above, p. 270, n. 5, p. 41. 

2 " Historia comitiorum a. 1530 Augustse celebratorum," 3, p. 20, 
8 Gotha, 1876, p. 191, 

V, -T 



274 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

stances related by Coelestinus, the story " sounds a little fabu 
lous." 1 He tells us how on the same occasion the bishops of 
Salzburg and Augsburg fell foul of one another, the former, in 
his anger at Stadion s behaviour, even going so far as to charge 
the latter before the whole assembly with immorality in his 
private life. All this, told at great length and without mention 
of any authority, far from impressing us as historically accurate, 
appears at best as an exaggerated hearsay account of some 
incident of which the truth is no longer known. 

As for what Johann Eck is stated to have said, viz. that he 
could refute Melanchthon s Confession from the Fathers but not 
from the Bible, no proof whatever of the statement is forthcoming. 
The oldest mention of it merely retails a piece of vague gossip, 
which may well have gone the rounds in Lutheran circles. It is 
met with in Spalatin s Notes and runs : " It is said " that Eck, 
referring to the whole doctrine of Melanchthon and Luther, told 
Duke William : "I would not mind undertaking to refute it 
from the Fathers, but not from Scripture." 2 It is true these 
notes go back as far as the Diet of Augsburg, but they notoriously 
contain much that is false or uncertain, and often record mere 
unauthenticated rumours. Neither Melanchthon nor Luther 
ever dared to appeal to such an admission on the part of their 
opponent, though it would certainly have been of the utmost 
advantage to them to have done so. 

Not only is no proof alleged in support of the saying, but it 
is in utter contradiction with Eck s whole mode of procedure, 
which was always to attack the statements of his opponents, 
first with Scripture and then with the tradition of the Fathers. 
This is the case with the " Confutatio confessionis," etc., aimed at 
Melanchthon s Confession, in the preparation of which Eck had 
the largest share and which he presented at the Diet of Augsburg. 

According to his own striking account of what happened at 
the religious conference of Ratisbon in 1541, it was to his habitual 
and triumphant use of biblical arguments against Melanchthon s 
theses that Eck appealed in the words he addressed to Bucer 
his chief opponent : " Hearken, you apostate, does not Eck use 
the language of the Bible and the Fathers ? Why don t you reply 
to his writings on the primacy of Peter, on penance, on the Sacri 
fice of the Mass, and on Purgatory ? " etc. 3 

What also weighs strongly against the tale is the fact that a 
charge of a quite similar nature had been brought against Eck 
ten years before the Diet of Augsburg by an opponent, who 
assailed him with false and malicious accusations. What 
Protestant fable came wantonly to connect with Melanchthon s 
" Confession " had already, in 1520, been charged against the 
Ingolstadt theologian by the author of " Eccius dedolatus." 

1 J. B. Hablitzel, " Liter. Beil. zur Augsburger Postztng.," 1905, 
No. 40 f . 

2 Printed in the Jena edition of Luther s German works, 6, 
1557, p. 41. 

3 " Apologia," Ingolstadii, 1542, p. clii. 



DEVIL LORE 275 

There he is told, that, in his view, one had perforce (on account 
of the Bible) to agree with Luther secretly, though, publicly, he 
had to be opposed. 1 

Theodore Wiedemann, who wrote a Life of Eck and who at 
least hints at the objection just made, was justified in concluding 
with the query : " Is it not high time to say good-bye to this 
historic lie ? " 2 When, as late as 1906, the story was once 
more burnished up by a writer of note, N. Paulus, writing in the 
" Historisches Jahrbuch," could well say: "Eck s alleged utter 
ance was long ago proved to be quite unhistorical." 3 



4. Demonology and Demonomania 

" Come O Lord Jesus, Amen ! The breath of Thy mouth 
dismays the diabolieal gainsayer." " Satan s hate is all too 
Satanic." 4 

Oh, that the devil s gaping jaws were crushed by the 
blessed seed of the woman ! 5 How little is left for God. 6 
" The remainder is swallowed by Satan who is the Prince of 
this world, surely an inscrutable decree of Eternal Wisdom." 7 
" Prodigies everywhere daily manifest the power of the 
devil ! " 8 

Against such a devil s world, as Luther descried, what can 
help save the approaching " end of all " ? 

" The kingdom of God is being laid waste by Turk and 
Jew and Pope," the chosen tools of Satan; but "greater 
is He Who reigns in us than he who rules the world ; 
the devil shall be under Christ to all eternity," 9 "The 
present rage of the devil only reveals God s future wrath 
against mankind, who are so ungrateful for the Evangel." 10 
" We cannot but live in this devil s kingdom which sur 
rounds us " ; 11 " but even with our last breath we must 

1 Willibald Pirkheimer, who was then on Luther s side, is usually 
regarded as the author of this screed published under the pseudonym 
of J. F. Cottalambergius. Like some others, K. Bauer (" Schriften des 
Vereins f. RG.," No. 100, 1910, p. 272) rejects his authorship. The 
passage in question appears in Booking s edition, " Hutteni opp.," 4, 
1860, p. 533. 

2 " Johannes Eck," 1865, p. 275 f. 3 1906, p. 885. 

4 To Melanchthon, Dec. 7, 1540, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 227. 

5 To Melanchthon, Nov. 21, 1540, ib., p. 215. 

6 To Link, Sep. 8, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 399. 

7 To Jonas, Jan. 23, 1542, ib., p. 429. 

8 To Lauterbach, April 2, 1543, ib., pp. 551, 552. 

9 To the Evangelical Brethren at Venice, June 13, 1543, ib., p. 569. 

10 To Lauterbach, July 25, 1542, ib., p. 487 f. 

11 To Cordatus, Dec. 3, 1544, ib., p. 702. 



276 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

fight against the monsters of Satan." 1 Let the Papists, 
whose glory is mere " devil s filth," rejoice in their suc 
cesses. 2 As little heed is to be paid to them as to the 
preachers of the Evangel who have gone astray in doc 
trine, like Agricola and Schwenckfeld ; they calmly " go their 
way to Satan to whom indeed they belong " ; 3 " they are 
senseless fools, possessed of the devil." The devil " spues 
and ructates " his writings through them ; this is the devil 
of heresy against whom solemnly launch the malediction : 
" God s curse be upon thee, Satan ! The spirit that sum 
moned thee be with thee unto destruction ! " 4 

Luther s letters during his later years are crammed with 
things of this sort. 

The thought of the devil and his far-spread sphere of 
action, to which Luther had long been addicted, assumes 
in his mind as time goes on a more serious and gloomy 
shape, though he continues often enough to refer to the 
Divine protection promised against the powers of darkness 
and to the final victory of Christ. 

In his wrong idea of the devil Luther was by no means 
without precursors. On the contrary, in the Middle Ages 
exaggerations had long prevailed on this subject, not only 
among the people but even among the best-known writers ; 
on the very eve of Luther s coming forward they formed no 
small part of the disorders in the ecclesiastical life of the 
people. Had people been content with the sober teaching 
of Holy Scripture and of the Church on the action of the 
devil, the faithful would have been preserved from many 
errors. As it was, however, the vivid imagination of laity 
and clergy led them to read much into the revealed doctrine 
that was not really in it ; witness, for instance, the startling 
details they found in the words of St. Paul (Eph. vi. 12) : 
" For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood : but 
against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the 
world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in 
the high places." Great abuses had gradually crept into 

1 To Probst, Jan. 17 (the year of his death), 1546, ib., p. 778. 

2 To Jonas, Sep. 30, 1543, ib., p. 591 : " quorum glorias pro stercore 
diaboli habeo." 

3 To Justus Menius, Jan. 10, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 426, on " Master 
Grickel," i.e. Agricola. 

4 To Caspar Schwenckfeld s messenger (1543), " Briefe," 5, p. 614 : 
" Increpet Dominus in te, Satan," etc. 



DEVIL LORE 277 

the use of the blessings and exorcisms of the Church, more 
particularly in the case of supposed sorcery. Unfortunately, 
too, the beliefs and practices common among the people 
received much too ready support from persons of high stand 
ing in the Church. The supposition, which in itself had the 
sanction of tradition, that intercourse with the devil was 
possible, grew into the fantastic persuasion that witches 
were lurking everywhere, and required to have their mali 
cious action checked by the authority of Church and State. 
That unfortunate book, "The Witches Hammer," which 
Institoris and Sprenger published in 1487, made these de 
lusions fashionable in circles which so far had been but little 
affected by them, though the authors purpose, viz. to 
stamp out the witches, was not achieved. 

It is clear that at home in Saxony, and in his own family, 
Luther had lived in an atmosphere where the belief in spirits 
and the harm wrought by the devil was very strong ; miners 
are credited with being partial to such gloomy fancies owing 
to the nature of their dangerous work in the mysterious 
bowels of the earth. As a young monk he had fancied he 
heard the devil creating an uproar nightly in the convent, 
and the state of excitement in which he lived and which 
accompanied him ever afterwards was but little calculated 
to free him from the prejudices of the age concerning the 
devil s power. His earlier sermons, for instance those to be 
mentioned below on the Ten Commandments, contain much 
that is frankly superstitious, though this must be set down 
in great part to the beliefs already in vogue and above 
which he failed to rise. Had Luther really wished to play 
the part of a reformer of the ecclesiastical life of his day, he 
would have found here a wide field for useful labour. In 
point of fact, however, he only made bad worse. His lively 
descriptions and the weight of his authority merely served 
to strengthen the current delusions among those who looked 
to him. Before him no one had ever presented these things 
to the people with such attractive wealth of detail, no one 
had brought the weight of his personality so strongly to 
bear upon his readers and so urgently preached to them on 
how to deal with the spirits of evil. 

Among non-Catholics it has been too usual to lay the 
whole blame on the Middle Ages and the later Catholic 
period. They do not realise how greatly Luther s influence 



278 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

counted in the demonology and demonomania of the ensuing 
years. Yet Luther s views and practice show plainly enough, 
that it was not merely the Catholic ages before his day that 
were dishonoured with such delusions concerning the devil, 
and that it was not the Catholics alone, of his time and the 
following decades, who were responsible for the devil-craze 
and the bloody persecutions of the witches in those dark 
days of German history in the 17th century. 1 

The Mischief Wrought by the Devil 

Luther s views agree in so far with the actual teaching of 
the olden Church, that he regards the devils as fallen angels 
condemned to eternal reprobation, who oppose the aims of 
God for the salvation of the world and the spiritual and 
temporal welfare of mankind. " The devil undoes the 
works of God," so he says, adding, however, in striking con 
sonance with the teaching of the Church and to emphasise 
the devil s powerlessness, " but Christ undoes the devil s 
works ; He, the seed [of the woman] and the serpent are 
ever at daggers drawn." 2 But Luther goes further, and 
depicts in glaring and extravagant colours the harm which 
the devil can bring about. He declares he himself had had 
a taste of how wrathful and mighty a foe the devil is ; this 
he had learned in the inward warfare he was compelled to 
wage against Satan. He was convinced that, at the Wart- 
burg, and also later, he had repeatedly to witness the sinister 
manifestations of the Evil One s malignant power. 

Hence in his Church-postils, home-postils and Catechism, 
to mention only these, he gives full vent to his opinions on 
the hostility and might of Satan. 

In the Larger Catechism of 1529, 3 "when enumerating the 
evils caused by the devil, he tells of how he "breaks many a 
man s neck, drives others out of their mind or drowns them in 
the water " ; 4 how he " stirs up strife and brings murder, sedition 
and war, item causes hail and tempests, destroying the corn and the 
cattle, and poisoning the air," etc. ; 6 among those who break the 

1 Cp. for what follows N. Paulus, " Hexenwahn und Hexenprozess 
vornehmlich im 16. Jahrh.," 1910, where not only Luther s (pp. 20 ff., 
48 ff.) but also the Zwinglians and Calvinists attitude to the matter 
is dealt with. 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 305. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 1, p. 123 ff. ; Erl. ed., 21, p. 26 ff. ; 
cp. p. 127 = 28 ff. 4 Ib., p. 211-127. 5 /&., p. 205 = 121. 



DEVIL S POWER FOR EVIL 279 

first commandment are all " who make a compact with the devil 
that he may give them enough money, help them in their love- 
affairs, preserve their cattle, bring back lost property, etc., like 
wise all sorcerers and magicians/ 1 

In his home-postils he practically makes it one of the chief 
dogmas of the faith, that all temporal misfortune hails from the 
devil ; " the heathen " alone know this not ; " but do you learn 
to say : This is the work of the hateful devil." " The devil s bow 
is always bent and his musket always primed, and we are his 
target ; at us he aims, smiting us with pestilence, Franzosen 
[venereal disease], war, fire, hail and cloudburst." "It is also 
certain that wherever we be there too is a great crowd of demons 
who lie in wait for us, would gladly affright us, do us harm, and, 
were it possible, fall upon us with sword and long spear. Against 
these are pitted the holy angels who stand up in our defence." 2 

The devil, so he teaches in his Church-postils, a new edition of 
which he brought out in 1543 towards the end of his life, could 
either of himself or by the agency of others " raise storms, 
shoot people, lame and wither limbs, harrow children in the 
cradle, bewitch men s members, etc." 3 Thanks to him, "those 
who ply the magic art are able to give to things a shape other than 
their own, so that what in reality is a man looks like an ox or a 
cow ; they can make people to fall in love, or to bawd, and do 
many other devilish deeds." 4 

How accustomed he was to enlarge on this favourite subject 
in his addresses to the people is plain from a sermon delivered 
at the Coburg in 1530, which he sent to the press the following 
year : " The devil sends plagues, famines, worry and war, 
murder, etc. Whose fault is it that one man breaks a leg, another 
is drowned, and a third commits murder ? Surely the devil s 
alone. This we see with our own eyes and touch with our hands." 
" The Christian ought to know that he sits in the midst of demons 
and that the devil is closer to him than his coat or his shirt, nay, 
even than his skin, that he is all around us and that we must 
ever be at grips with him and fighting him." In these words there 
is already an echo of his fancied personal experiences, particu 
larly of his inward struggles at the time of the dreaded Diet of 
Augsburg, to which he actually alludes in this sermon ; the sub 
jective element comes out still more strongly when he proceeds 
in his half -jesting way : " The devil is more at home in Holy 
Scripture than Paris, Cologne and all the godless make-believes, 
however learned they may be. Whoever attempts to dispute 
with him will assuredly be pitched on the ash heap, and when it 
comes to a trial of strength, there too he wins the day ; in one 
hour he could do to death all the Turks, Emperors, Kings and 

1 Ib., p. 134-36. 

2 Ib., Erl. ed., 3 2 , p. 477 f., in the first Sermon on the Angels. 

3 Ib., Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 590 f. ; Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 359. In the 
editions from 1522 to 1540 the word " conjugal " is inserted before 
" members." 

4 Ib. 



280 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Princes." 1 " Children should be taught at an early age to fear 
the dangers arising from the devil ; they should be told : * Darling, 
don t swear, etc. ; the devil is close beside you, and if you do he 
may throw you into the water or bring down some other mis 
fortune upon you. " 2 It is true that he also says children must 
be taught that, by God s command, their guardian angel is ever 
ready to assist them against the devil ; " God wills that he shall 
watch over you so that when the devil tries to cast you into the 
water or to affright you in your sleep, he may prevent him." 
Still one may fairly question the educational value of such a fear 
of the devil. Taking into account the pliant character of most 
children and their susceptibility to fear, Luther was hardly 
justified in expecting that : "If children are treated in this way 
from their youth they will grow up into fine men and women." 

According to an odd-sounding utterance of Luther s, every 
bishop who attended the Diet of Augsburg brought as many 
devils to oppose him " as a dog has fleas on its back on Mid 
summer Day." 3 Had the devil succeeded in his attempt there, 
" the next thing would have been that he would have committed 
murder," 4 but the angels dispatched by God had shielded him 
and the Evangel. 

When a fire devastated that part of Wittenberg which lay 
beyond the Castle gate, Luther was quite overwhelmed ; watch 
ing the conflagration he assured the people that, "it was the 
devil s work." With his eyes full of tears he besought them to 
" quench it with the help of God and His holy angels." A little 
later he exhorted the people in a sermon to withstand by prayer 
the work of the devil manifested in such fires. One of his pupils, 
Sebastian Froschel, recalled the incident in a sermon on the 
feast of St. Michael. After the example and words of the " late 
Dr. Martin," he declares, " the devil s breath is so hot and 
poisonous that it can even infect the air and set it on fire, so that 
cities, land and people are poisoned and inflamed, for instance 
by the plague and other even more virulent diseases. . . . The 
devil is in and behind the flame which he fans to make it spread," 
etc. 6 This tallies with what Luther, when on a journey, wrote 
in later years to Catherine Bora of the fires which were occurring : 
" The devil himself has come forth possessed with new and worse 
demons ; he causes fires and does damage that is dreadful to 
behold." The writer instances the forest fires then raging (in 
July) in Thuringia and at Werda, and concludes : " Tell them to 
pray against the troublesome Satan who is seeking us out." 6 

Madness, in Luther s view, is in every case due to the devil ; 
"what is outside reason is simply Satanic." 7 In a long letter 

1 /&., 32, p. 112ff. = 18 2 , p. 64 ff. 2 !&., p. 120 = 76. 

3 16., 34, 2, p. 263 f. = 19 2 , p. 75. 4 Ib., 32, p. 114= 18 2 , p. 68. 

5 " Drey Sermon, Von den Heiligen Engeln, Vom Teufel, Von der 
Menschen Seele," Witteberg, 1563. In the sermon " Vom Teufel." 
See N. Paulus, " Augsburger Postztng.," 1903, May 8. 

6 July 26, 1540, " Brief wechsel," 13, p. 147. 

7 Mathesius, " Tischreden," ed. Kroker, p. 331. 



DEVIL S POWER FOR EVIL 281 

to his friend Link, in 1528, dealing with a case raised, he proves 
that mad people must be regarded " as teased or possessed by 
the devil." " Medical men who are unversed in theology know 
not how great is the strength and power of the devil " ; but, 
against their natural explanations, we can set, first, Holy Scrip 
ture (Luke xiii. 16 ; Acts x. 38) ; secondly, experience, which 
proves that the devil causes deafness, dumbness, lameness and 
fever ; thirdly, the fact that he can even " fill men s minds with 
thoughts of adultery, murder, robbery and all other evil lusts " ; 
al] the more easily then was he able to confuse the mental powers. 1 
In the case of those possessed, the devil, according to Luther, 
either usurps the place of the soul, or lives side by side with it, 
ruling such unhappy people as the soul does the body. 2 

Thus it is the devil alone who is at work in those who commit 
suicide, for the death a man fancies he inflicts on himself is 
nothing but the " devil s work " ; 3 the devil simply hoodwinks 
him and others who see him. To Frederick Myconius he wrote, 
in 1544 : " It is my habit to esteem such a one as killed simpli- 
citer et immediate by the devil, just as a traveller might be by 
highwaymen. ... I think we must stick to the belief that the 
devil deceives such a man and makes him fancy that he is doing 
something quite different, for instance praying, or something of 
the sort." 4 In the same sense he wrote to Anton Lauterbach, in 
1542, when the latter informed him of three men who had hanged 
themselves : " Satan, with God s leave, perpetrates such abomin 
ations in the midst of our congregation. . . . He is the prince 
of this world who in mockery deludes us into fancying that those 
men hanged themselves, whereas it was he who killed them By 
the images he brought before their mind, he made th&n think 
that they were killing themselves "-a statement at variance 
with the one last given. 5 Whereas in this letter he suggests that 
the people should be told of such cases from the pulpit so that 
they may not despise the " devil s power from a mistaken sense 
of security," previously, in conversation he had declared, that 
it ought not to be admitted publicly that such persons could not 
be damned not having been masters of themselves : " They do 

1 On July 14, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 299. Cp. Mathesius, ib., 
p. 179 : " Nothing is more certain than that the insane are not with 
out their devils ; these make them madder ; the devil knows those 
who are of a melancholy turn, and of this tool he makes use." Thus 
Luther in 1540. 

2 " Sic informal [diabolus] animam et corpus, ut obsessi nihil audiant, 
videant, sentiant ; sed ipse est Us pro anima," Mathesius, ib., p. 198 
(in 1540). Cp. also " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 13, with reference to 1 Cor. 
v. 5. The passage occurs in the Table-Talk, ch. 24, No. 68. Cp. Erl. 
ed., vol. 59, p. 289 to vol. 60, p. 75. This chapter is followed by others 
on similar subjects. Demonology occupies altogether a very large 
place. Ch. 59, " On the Angels," comprises hardly four pages. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 326 (in 1543). 

4 Dec. 1, 1544, " Brief e," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 699 f. 

6 July 25, 1542 : " quitm ipse occiderit eos et imaginatione animis 
impressa coegerit eos putare, quod se ipsos suspenderent." 



282 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

not commit this wilfully, but are impelled to it by the devil. . . , 
But the people must not be told this." 1 Speaking of a woman 
who was sorely tempted and worried, he said to his friends, in 
1543 : " Even should she hang herself or drown herself through 
it, it can do her no harm ; it is just as though it all happened in 
a dream." The source of this woman s distress was her low 
spirits and religious doubts. 2 



On all that the Devil is able to do 

Many, in Luther s opinion, had been snatched off alive 
by the devil, particularly when they had made a compact 
or had dealings with him, or had given themselves up to 
him. 

For instance, he had carried off Pfeifer of Miihlberg, not far 
from Erfurt, and also another man of the same name at Eisenach ; 
indeed, the devil had fetched the latter away in spite of his being 
watched by the preacher Justus Menius and " many of his 
clergymen," and though " doors and windows had been shut so 
as to prevent his being carried away " ; the devil, however, 
broke away some tiles " round the stove " and thus got in ; 
finally he slew his victim " not far from the town in a hazel 
thicket." 3 Needless to say it is a great crime to bargain with the 
devil. 4 This Dr. Eck had done and likewise the Elector Joachim I 
of Brandenburg (f!535), who wanted to live another fifteen years ; 
this, however, the devil did not allow. 5 Amsdorf too was dragged 
into the diabolical affair ; one night at an inn two dead men 
appeared to him, thanks to some " Satanic art," and compelled 
him to draw up a document in writing and hand it over to 
Joachim. Two spirits assisted on the occasion, bearing candles. 6 

During battles the devil is able to carry men off more easily, 
but then the angels also kill by Divine command, as the Old 
Testament bears witness, for there " one angel could cause the 
death of many persons." 7 In war the devil is at work and makes 
use of the newest weapons " which indeed are Satan s own inven 
tion," for these cannon " send men flying into the air " and that 

1 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 59. Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," 
p. 198. 

2 Mathesius, ib. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 21, p. 127. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 24 ; cp. pp. 25, 27. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 269 ; " Aufzeichn.," p. 300. 

5 Mathesius, in both the passages quoted. Cp. Lauterbach, " Tage- 
buch," p. 105 (1538) : " habuit fcedus cum Sathana ipse et pater eius, et 
foedissima scortatione occubuit securissime." 

6 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 207, under the heading " Spectra." 
In the same volume pp. 218-242 treat of the devil under the heading 
" Diabolus, illius natura, conatus, insidice, figura, expulsio." In the 
second volume the ch. on " tentationes," pp. 287-320, and, in the third, 
that on " fascinationes et incantationes," pp. 9-14, are important. 

7 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 224 f. (1540). 



DEVIL S POWER FOR EVIL 283 

"is the end of all man s strength." 1 It is also the devil who 
guides the sleep-walkers " so that they do everything as though 
wide awake," " but still there is something wanting and some 
defect apparent." 2 

Elsewhere too Luther discerns the work of the devil ; for 
instance, when Satan sends a number of strange caterpillars into 
his garden, 3 pilfers things, hampers the cattle and damages the 
stalls 4 and interferes with the preparation of the cheese and 
milk. 5 " Every tree has its lurking demon. 6 You can see how, 
to your damage, Satan knocks down walls and palings that 
already totter ; 7 he also throws you down the stairs so as to make 
a cripple of you. 8 

In cases of illness it is the devil who enables the Jews to be so 
successful in effecting cures, more particularly in the case of the 
" great and those of high standing " ; 9 on the other hand he is 
also able maliciously to hinder the good effect of any medicine, 
as Luther himself had experienced when he lay sick in 1537. He 
can alter every medicine or medicament in the boxes, so that 
what has served its purpose well once or twice no longer works 
at all ; " so powerful is the devil." 10 Luther, as his pupils bear 
witness, had frequently maintained that many of his bodily 
ailments were inflicted on him solely by the devil s hatred. 

Satan is a great foe of marriage and the blessing of children. 
" This is why you find he has so many malicious tricks and ways 
of frightening women who are with child, and causes such mis 
fortune, cunning, murder, etc." 11 " Satan bitterly hates 
matrimony," he says in 1537, 12 and, in 1540, "he has great power 
in matrimonial affairs, for unless God were to stand by us how 
could the children grow up?" 13 In matrimonial disputes "the 
devil shows his finger " ; the Pope gets along easily, " he simply 
dissolves all marriages " ; but we, " on account of the conten 
tions instigated by the devil," must have " people who can give 
advice." 14 

Not him alone but many others had the devil affrighted by the 
"noisy spirits." 15 These noisy spirits were, however, far more 
numerous before the coming of the Evangel. They were looked 
upon, quite wrongly, as the souls of the dead, and Masses and 
prayers were said and good works done to lay them to rest ; 16 

1 Ib., p. 402 : " dixit de machinis bellicis et bombardis," etc. (1537). 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 23. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 262 (1542-43). 

4 Ib., p. 380 (1536). 

5 Ib., " Werke," Erl. ed., 32, p. 291 : " We see how the milk thieves 
and other witches often do great mischief " (1543). Cp. Lauterbach, 
" Tagebuch," p. 121. 

6 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 117 (1532). 

7 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 304. 8 Ib., 60, p. 73. 
9 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 322 (1543). 10 Ib., p. 412 f. 

11 " Werke," Weim. ed., 24, p. 130 ; Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 70 (1530). 

12 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 395 f. (1537). 13 Ib., p. 198 (1540). 
14 Ib., p. 240. 15 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 70. 



i c 



Ib., Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 585 ; Erl. ed. 10 2 , p. 354. 



284 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

but now " you know very well who causes this ; you know it is 
the devil ; he must not be exorcised, 1 rather " we must despise 
him and waken our holy faith against him ; 2 we must be willing 
to abide the " spooks and spirits " calmly and with faith if God 
permits them to " exercise their wantonness on us " and " to 
affright us." 3 Nevertheless, as he adds with much truth, "we 
must not be too ready to give credence to everyone, for many 
people are given to inventing such things." 4 

At the present time the noisy spirits are not so noticeable ; 
" among us they have thinned " ; 5 the chief reason is, that the 
devils now prefer the company of the heretics, anabaptists and 
fanatics; 6 for Satan "enters into men, for instance into the 
heretics and fanatics, into Miinzer and his ilk, also into the 
usurers and others " ; 7 " the fanatic spirits are greatly on the 
increase." 8 The false teachers prove by their devilish speech 
how greatly the devil, " clever and dangerous trickster that he 
is," " can deceive the hearts and consciences of men and hold 
them captive in his craze." " What is nothing but lies, idle 
error and gruesome darkness, that they take to be the pure, 
unvarnished truth ! " 9 

If the devil can thus deceive men s minds, surely it is far easier 
for him to bewitch their bodily senses. " He can hoax and cheat 
all the senses," 10 so that a man thinks he sees something that he 
can t see, or hears what isn t, for instance, "thunder, pipes or 
bugle-calls." Luther fancies he finds an allusion to something of 
the sort in the words of Paul to the Galatians iii. 1 : " Who hath 
bewitched you before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set 
forth [that you should not obey the truth] ? )J11 Children can be 
bewitched by the evil eye of one who is under a spell, and Jerome 
was wrong when he questioned whether the illness of children in 
a decline was really due to the evil eye. 12 It is certain that " by 
his great power the devil is able to blind our eyes and our souls," 
as he did in the case of the woman who thought she was wearing 
a crown, whereas it was simply "cow dung." 13 He tells how, in 
Thuringia, eight hares were trapped, which, during the night, 

1 Ib., Erl. ed., 60, p. 70. Cp. p. 31 and Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 585 ; 
Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 354. 2 Ib., Erl. ed., 60, p. 63. 

3 Ib., Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 585 ; Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 354. 

4 Ib., Erl. ed., 60, p. 63. 5 Ib., 59, p. 348. 6 Ib. 
7 Ib., 60, p. 70. 8 Ib., 59, p. 348. 

9 Ib., Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 316 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 279, in the fuller 
Commentary on Galatians (1535). Cp. Mathesius, " Tischreden," 
p. 357 : " In Antinomis furit Sathan " (1539). Ib., p. 206 : " Ana- 
baptistce non intelligunt iram Dei, sic exccecantur a diabolo ; quare non 
anguntur, ut sancti, qui hcec omnia sentiunt ; diabolus enim ipsorum aures 
et animos tenet occupatos," etc. (1540). 

10 " Werke," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 316 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 279. ll Ib. 

12 Ib., Weim. ed., 2, p. 505 f. ; Irmischer, 3, p. 251, in the first 
Commentary on Galatians. 

13 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 97 (1540). Cp. " Werke," Weim. ed., 
1, p. 409 ; "Opp. lat. exeg.," 12, p. 23, in the Exposition 6f the Ten 
Commandments, 1518. 






THE DEVIL S DWELLING-PLACE 285 

were changed into horses heads, such as we find lying on the 
carrion heap." 1 Had not St. Macarius by his prayers dispelled 
the Satanic delusion by which a girl had been changed into a 
cow in the presence of many persons, including her own parents ? 
The distressed parents brought their daughter in the semblance 
of a cow to Macarius " in order that she might recover her human 
shape," and " the Lord did in point of fact dissolve the spell 
whereby men s senses had been misled." Luther several times 
relates this incident, both in conversation and in writing. 2 

There is certainly no lack of marvellous tales of devils 
either in his works or in his Table-Talk. 3 

The toils of the sorcerer are everywhere. Magic may 
prove most troublesome in married life, more particularly 
where true faith is absent ; for, as he told the people in a 
sermon on May 8, 1524, " conjugal impotence is sometimes 
produced by the devil, by means of the Black Art ; in the 
case of [true] Christians, however, this cannot happen." 4 



On the Abode of the Devil ; his Shapes and Kinds 

It is worth while to glance at what Luther says of the 
dwelling-places of the devil, the different shapes he is wont 
to assume, and the various categories into which demons 
may be classed. 

First, as to his abode. In a sermon recently published, and 
dating from June 13, 1529, Luther says : " The devil inhabits 
the forests, the thickets, and the waters, and insinuates himself 
amongst us everywhere in order to destroy us ; sleep he never 
does." Preaching in the hot weather, he warns his hearers 
against the cool waters in which the devil lurks : "Be careful 
about bathing in the cold water. . . . Every year we hear of 
people being drowned [by the devil] through bathing in the 
Elbe." 5 

In another sermon incorporated in the Church-postils he 
explains how in countries like ours, " which are well watered," 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 321. 

2 /&., Weim. ed., 40, 1, pp. 315, 317, 319 ; Irmischer, 1, pp. 278, 280, 
283 ; Erl. ed., 49, p. 19, in the Exposition of St. John xiv.-xvi. Erl. ed., 
59, p. 335. 

3 Cp., for instance, Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," pp. 55, 111. Mathesius, 
" Tischreden," pp. 97, 130, 174, 198, 279, 380, 436. " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 59, pp. 317, 320-323 ; 60, pp. 24, 27, 57, 63, 71, etc. 

4 " Werke," Weim. ed., 15, p. 560. 

5 /&., 29, p. 401. Sermon of 1529. Similarly in the sermon of 
July 2, 1536, ib., 41, p. 633. Cp. N. Paulus, " Hexenwahn " (see above, 
p. 278, n. 1), p. 31. 



286 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the devils are fond of infesting the waters and the swamps ; 
they sometimes drown those who venture there to bathe or even 
to walk. Item, in some places Naiades are to be met with who 
entice the children to the water s edge, drag them in and drown 
them : all these are devils. 1 Such devils can commit fornication 
with the maidens, and " are able to beget children which are 
simply devils " ; 2 for the devil will often drag a girl into the water, 
get her with child and keep her by him until she has borne her 
baby ; he then lays these children in other people s cradles, 
removing the real children and carrying them off. 3 

Elsewhere the devils prefer " bare and desolate regions," 
" woods and wildernesses." 4 " Some are to be found in the 
thick black clouds, these cause hailstorms, thunder and lightning, 
and poison the air, the pastures, etc." Hence " philosophi " 
ought not to go on explaining these phenomena as though they 
were natural. 5 Further, the devil has a favourite dwelling-place 
deep down in the earth, in the mines, where he " pesters and 
deceives people," showing them for instance what appears to be 
" solid silver, whereas it is nothing of the kind." 6 " Satan hides 
himself in the apes and long- tailed monkeys," who lie in wait 
for men and with whom it is wrong to play. 7 That he inhabits 
these creatures, and also the parrots, is plain from their skill in 
imitating human beings. 8 

In some countries many more devils are to be found than in 
others. " There are many evil spirits in Prussia and also in 
Pilappen [Lapland]." In Switzerland the devils make a " fright 
ful to-do " in the " Pilatus tarn not far from Lucerne " ; in 
Saxony, " in the Poltersberg tarn," things are almost as bad, for 
if a stone be thrown in, it arouses a " great tempest."" " Damp 
and stuffy places " are however the devils favourite resort. 10 He 
was firmly convinced that in the moist and swampy districts of 
Saxony all the devils " that Christ drove out of the swine in 
Jerusalem and Judaea had congregated " ; "so much thieving, 
sorcery and pilfering goes on that the Evil One must indeed be 
present in person." 11 The fact of so many devils inhabiting 
Saxony was perhaps the reason, so he adds quaintly enough, 
" why the Evangel had to be preached there, i.e. that they might 
be chased away." It was for this reason, so he repeats, " that 
Christ came amongst the Wends [Prussians], the worst of all 
the nations, in order to destroy the work of Satan and to drive 
out the devils who there abide among the peasants and towns- 

" Werke," Erl. ed., II 2 , p. 136. Sermon on Oculi Sunday. 
Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 248. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 22. Cp. p. 38 f. 
16., II 2 , p. 136. 5 /&., 59, p. 287. 6 /&., p. 324. 

Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 110. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, 
p. 108. 

8 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 179 ; " Aufzeichn.," pp. 87, 127. 

9 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 13. 

10 Ib., 59, p. 287. There ever was a widespread tendency to connect 
the Evil One with the water. 

11 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 380 (1536). 



THE DEVIL S SHAPES 287 

people." 1 That he was disposed to believe that a number, by no 
means insignificant, of devils could assemble in one place is plain 
from several statements such as, that at the Wartburg he him 
self had been plagued by "a thousand devils," that at Augsburg 
every bishop had brought as many devils with him to the Diet 
as a dog has fleas in hot weather, and, finally, that at Worms 
their number was probably not far short of the tiles on the roofs. 

The forms the devil assumes when he appears to men are very 
varied ; to this the accounts sufficiently bear witness. 

He appeared as a goat, 2 and often as a dog ; 3 he tormented a 
sick woman in the shape of a calf from which Luther set her free 
at least for one night. 4 He is fond of changing himself into 
cats and other animals, foxes, hares, etc., " without, however, 
assuming greater powers than are possessed by such animals." 5 
The semblance of the serpent is naturally very dear to the devil. 
To a sick girl at Wittenberg with whom Luther happened to be, 
he appeared under the form of Christ, but afterwards transformed 
himself into a serpent and bit the girl s ear till the blood came. 6 
The devil comes as Christ or as a good angel, so as to be the better 
able to tempt people. He has been seen and heard under the guise 
of a hermit, of a holy monk, and even, so the tale runs, of a preacher ; 
the latter had " preached so earnestly that the whole church was 
reduced to tears " ; whereupon he showed himself as the devil ; 
but " whether this story be true or not, I leave you to decide." 7 
The form of a satyr suits him better, what we now call a hob 
goblin ; in this shape he " frequently appeared to the heathen in 
order to strengthen them in their idolatry." 8 A prettier make 
under which he appears is that of the " brownie " ; it was in this 
guise that he was wont to sit on a clean corner of the hearthstone 
beside a maid who had strangled her baby. 9 From the behaviour 
of the devils we may infer that, " so far they are not undergoing 
any punishment though they have already been sentenced, for 
were they being punished they would not play so many roguish 
tricks." 10 

Amongst the different kinds of devils he enumerates, using 
names which recall the humorous ones common in the old folk 
lore of Germany, are not merely the stupid, the playful, the mali 
cious and the murderous fiends, but also the more sightly ones, 11 

1 Ib., p. 118 (1540). 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 340. 3 Ib., 60, pp. 64, 66. 

Ib., 59, p. 138. 

Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 129 (1540). 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 129. The account assures us that he 
claimed to have seen the apparition himself. 

Ib., 31, p. 363. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 25, p. 140, in the shorter Exposition of 
Isaias iii. 21. 

9 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 71. 

10 Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 300 (1542-44). 

11 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 73. 



288 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

viz. the familiar and friendly demons ; then again there are the 
childish little devils who allure to unchastity and so forth though 
not to unbelief or despair like the more dangerous ones. 1 He is 
familiar with angelic, shining, white and holy devils, i.e. who 
pretend to be such, also with black devils and the " supreme 
majestic devil." The majestic devil wants to be worshipped like 
God, and, in this, being "so quick-witted," he actually succeeded 
in the ages before Luther s day, for " the Pope worshipped him." 2 
The devil repaid the Pope by bewitching the world in his favour ; 
he brought him a large following and wrought much harm by 
means " of lies and magic," doing on a vast scale what the 
" witches " do in a smaller way. 3 

There are further, as Luther jestingly explains, house-devils, 
Court-devils and church-devils ; of these " the last are the worst." 4 
" Boundless is the devils power," he says elsewhere, " and count 
less their number ; nor are they all childish little devils, but 
great national devils, devils of the sovereigns, devils of the Church, 
who, with their five thousand years experience, have grown very 
knowing ... in fact, far too cunning for us in these latter days." 5 
" Satan knows his business and no one but Jesus Christ can cope 
with him." 6 Very dangerous indeed are the Court-devils, who 
"never rest," but "busy themselves at Court, and work all the 
mischief in the councils of the kings and rulers, thwarting all 
that is good ; for the devil has some fine rakehells at Court." 7 
As for the noisy devils, they had troubled him even in his youth. 8 

The Papists have their own devils who work supposed miracles 
on their behalf, for the wonders which occur amongst them at the 
places of pilgrimage or elsewhere in answer to their prayers are 
not real miracles but devil s make-believe. In fact, Satan fre 
quently makes a person appear ill, and, then, by releasing him 
from the spell, cures him again. 9 

The above ideas Luther had to a large extent borrowed 
from the past, indeed we may say that the gist of his fancies 
concerning the devil was but part of the great legacy of 
credulity, folk-lore and the mistaken surmises of theologians 
handed down verbally and in writing from the Middle Ages. 
Only an age-long accumulation of prejudice, rife particu 
larly among the Saxon people, can explain Luther s rooted 
attachment to such a congeries of wild fancies. 

1 Ib., 59, p. 294 ; cp. 60, p. 123. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, pp. 235, 
318. For an explanation of the word here used see Forstemann, 
" Tischreden," 3, p. 132, n. 3. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 281 f. 

3 Ib., 32, p. 291 in " Vom Schem Hamphoras," 1543. 

4 Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 258 (1542-43). 

5 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 208. 6 Ib., p. 218. 

7 " Werke," Erl. ed., 46, p. 211 f., in the Exposition of John i. and ii. 
(1537-38). 8 Ib., 60, p. 70. 

9 " Werke," W T eim. ed,, 40, 1, p. 315 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 277 sq. 



WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY 289 

Assisted by the credulity of Melanchthon and other of his 
associates Luther not only added to the number of such 
ideas, but, thanks to his gift of vivid portraiture, made them 
far more strong and life-like than before. Through his widely- 
read works he introduced them into circles in which they 
were as yet scarcely known, and, in particular, established 
them firmly in the Lutheran world for many an age to come. 

The Devil and the Witches 

" It is quite certain," says Paulus in his recent critical 
study of the history of witchcraft, " that Luther in his ideas 
on witchcraft was swayed by mediaeval opinion." " In 
many directions the innovators in the 16th century shook 
off the yoke of the Middle Ages ; why then did they hold 
fast to the belief in witches ? Why did Luther and many 
of his followers even outstrip the Middle Ages in the stress 
they laid on the work of the devil ? ?1 

Paulus here touches upon a question which the Protestant 
historian, Walter Kohler, had already raised, viz. : " Is it 
possible to explain the Reformers attachment to the belief in 
witchcraft simply on the score that they received it from the 
Middle Ages ? How did they treat mediaeval tradition in other 
matters ? Why then was their attitude different here ? " 2 

G. Steinhausen, in his " Geschichte der deutschen Kultur," 
writes : " No one ever insisted more strongly than Luther on 
his role [the devil s] ; he was simply carried away by the idea. . . . 
Though in his words and the stories he tells of the devil he speaks 
the language of the populace, yet the way in which he weaves 
diabolical combats and temptations into man s whole life is both 
new and unfortunate. Every misfortune, war and tempest, 
every sickness, plague, crime and deformity emanates from the 
Evil One." 8 

Some of what Luther borrowed from the beliefs of his own 
day goes back to pre-Christian times. The belief in witches 
comprised much heathen tradition too deeply rooted for the early 
missionaries to eradicate. Moreover, certain statements of olden 
ecclesiastical writers incautiously exploited enabled even the 
false notions of the ancient Grseco-Roman world to become also 
current. Fear of hidden, dangerous forces, indiscriminating repe 
tition of alleged incidents from the unseen, the ill-advised dis 
cussions of certain theologians and thoughtless sermons of popu 
lar orators, all these causes and others contributed to produce 

1 " Hexenwahn " (see above, p. 278, n. 1), pp. 45, 67. 

2 " Theol. Literaturztng.," 1909, p. 147. Paulus, ib., p. 46. 

3 Leipzig, 1904, p. 518. Cp. Paulus, ib., pp. 1-10. 

V. U 



290 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

the crass belief in witches as it existed even before Luther s day 
at the close of the Middle Ages, and such as we find it, for instance, 
in the sermons of Geiler von Kaysersberg. 

The famous Strasburg preacher not only accepted it as an 
undoubted fact, that witches were able with the devil s help to 
do all kinds of astounding deeds, but he also takes for granted 
the possibility of their making occasional aerial trips, though it 
is true he dismisses the nocturnal excursions of the women with 
Diana, Venus and Herodias as mere diabolical delusion. He 
himself never formally demanded the death-penalty for witches, 
but it may be inferred that he quite countenanced the severe 
treatment advocated in the " Witches Hammer." In his remarks 
on witches he follows partly Martin Plantsch, the Tubingen priest 
and University professor, partly, and still more closely, the 
" Formicarius " of the learned Dominican Johannes Nider 
(1380-1438). 1 

Concerning the witches and their ways Luther s works 
contain an extraordinary wealth of information. 

In the sermons he delivered on the Ten Commandments 
as early as 1516 and 1517, and which, in 1518, he published 
in book form, 2 he took over an abundance of superstition 
from the beliefs current amongst the people, and from such 
writers as Geiler. In 1518 and 1519 were published no less 
than five editions in Latin of the sermons on the Decalogue ; 
the book was frequently reprinted separately and soon made 
its appearance in Latin in some collections of Luther s 
writings ; later on it figures in the complete Latin editions 
of his works ; six German editions of it had appeared up to 
1520 and it is also comprised in the German collections of 
his works. In his old age, when the " evils of sorcery seemed 
to be gaining ground anew," he deemed it " necessary," as 
"he said, 3 "to bring out the book once more with his own 
hand " ; certain tales, amongst which he instances one 
concerning the devil s cats and a young man, might serve to 
demonstrate " the power and malice of Satan " to all the 
world. One cannot but regard it as a mistake on Luther s 
part, when, in his sermons on the Ten Commandments, he 
takes his hearers and readers into the details of the magic 

1 Cp. Paulus, ib., pp. 1-19. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 398 ff. ; " Opp. lat. exeg.," 12, 
p. 3 sqq. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 129 (1540) : " hoc malum (sagarum) 
invalescit iterum." In 1519 he had lamented that " this evil is notice 
ably on the increase." " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 590 ; Irmiseher, 3, 
p. 426, first Commentary on Galatians. 



WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY 291 

and work of the witches, though at the same time emphasis 
ing very strongly the unlawfulness of holding any com 
munication with Satan. This stricture tells, however, as 
much against many a Catholic writer of that day. 

It is in his commentary on the 1st Commandment that he gives 
us a first glimpse into the world of witches which later was to 
engross his attention even more. 

He is anxious to bring home to the " weaklings " how one can 
sin against the 1st Commandment. 1 He therefore enumerates 
all the darkest deeds of human superstition ; of their reality he 
was firmly convinced, and only seldom does he speak merely of 
their " possibility," or say, " it is believed " that this or that took 
place. He also divides into groups the people who sin against 
the virtue of Divine love, doing so according to their age, and 
somewhat on the lines of a Catechism, in order that " the facts 
may be more easily borne in mind." 

" The third group," he says, " is that of the old women, etc." 
" By their magic they are able to bring on blindness, cause sick 
ness, kill, etc." 2 " Some of them have their fireside devil who 
comes several times a day." " There are incubi and succubi 
amongst the devils," who commit lewdness with witches and 
others. Devil-strumpetry and ordinary harlotry are amongst the 
sins of these women. Luther also speaks of magic potions, 
desecration of the sacrament in the devil s honour, and secret 
incantations productive of the most marvellous effects. 

His opinion he sums up as follows : " What the devil himself 
is unable to do, that he does by means of old hags " ; 3 " he is a 
powerful god of this world " ; 4 " the devil has great power 
through the sorceresses." 5 He prefers thus to make use of the 
female sex because, "it comes natural to them ever since the 
time of Mother Eve to let themselves be duped and fooled." 6 
" It is as a rule a woman s way to be timid and afraid of every 
thing, hence they practise so much magic and superstition, the 
one teaching the other." 7 Even in Paradise, so he says, the devil 
approached the woman rather than the man, she being the 
weaker. 8 

It is worthy of note that he does not merely base his belief in 
witchcraft on the traditions of the past but preferably on Scrip 
ture directly, and the power of Satan to which it bears witness. 

In 1519 he had attempted to prove on St. Paul s authority 
against the many who refused to believe in such things, that 
sorcery can cause harm, omitting, however, to make the neces- 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 401 ; " Opp. lat. exeg.," 12, p. 7. 

Ib., p. 406 f.- 16. 

Ib., Erl. ed., 60, p. 57 (heading). 4 16., p. 79. 

Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 129 (1540). 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 406 f. ; " Opp. lat. exeg.," 12, p. 20. 

16., 12, p. 345. Sermon of 1523. 

" Opp. lat. exeg.," 1, p. 190. 



292 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

sary distinctions. 1 In 1538 he declares : " The devil is a great 
and powerful enemy. Verily I believe, that, unless children were 
baptised at an early age no congregations could be formed ; for 
adults, who know the power of Satan, would not submit to be 
baptised so as to avoid undertaking the baptismal vows by which 
they renounce Satan." 2 

In the Commentary on Galatians he not merely appeals anew 
to the apostolic authority in support of his doctrine concerning 
the devil, but also directly bases his belief in witchcraft on the 
principle, that it is plain that Satan "rules and governs the whole 
world," that we are but guests in the world, of which the devil is 
prince and god and controls everything by which we live : food, 
drink, clothing, air, etc." 3 By means of sorcery he is able to 
strangle and slay us ; through the agency of his whores and sor 
ceresses, the witches, he is able to hurt the little children, with 
palpitations, blindness, etc. " Nay, he is able to steal a child 
and lay himself in the cradle in its stead, for I myself have heard 
of such a child in Saxony whom five women were not able to 
supply with sufficient milk to quiet it ; and there are many 
such instances to be met with." 4 

The numerous other instances of harm wrought by witches 
with which he is acquainted, such as the raising of storms, thefts 
of milk, eggs and butter, 5 the laying of snares to entrap men, 
tears of blood that flow from the eyes, lizards cast up from the 
stomach, 6 etc., all recede into the background in comparison 
with the harlotry, substitution of children, etc., which the devil 
carries out with the witches help. "It is quite possible that, 
as the story goes, the Evil Spirit can carnally know the sorceresses, 
get them with child and cause all manner of mischief." 7 Change 
ling children of the sort are nothing but a " lump of flesh without 
a soul " ; the devil is the soul, as Luther says elsewhere, 8 for 
which reason he declared, in 1541, such children should simply be 
drowned ; he recalls how he had already given this advice in one 
such case at Dessau, viz. that such a child, then twelve years of 
age, should be smothered. 9 

It sometimes happens, so he says, that animals, cats for in 
stance, intent on doing harm, are wounded and that afterwards 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 2, p. 590 ; Irmischer, 3, p. 426. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 156 ; Nov. 4, 1538. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 40, 1, p. 314 ff. ; Irmischer, 1, p. 277 sqq., 
detailed Commentary on Galatians which is fuller on the question of 
sorcery than the Commentary of 1519 (" Werke," Weim. ed., 2, 
p. 590 ; Irmischer, 3, p. 426). 

4 16., 40, 1, p. 314 ; Irmischer, 1, p. 277. 

5 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 121. Mathesius, " Tischreden," 
p. 380. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 12. 

6 See Lauterbach s " Tagebuch," p. 117, for both. 

7 " Werke," Weim. ed., 24, p. 162 ; Erl. ed., 33, p. 161. Cp. Erl. 
ed., 60, pp. 37, 39. 

8 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 198 (1540). " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, 
p. 39 f. 

9 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 198. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 40. 



WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY 293 

the witches are found to have wounds in the same part of the 
body. In such case the animals were all sham. l A mouse trying 
to steal milk is hurt somewhere, and the next day the witch comes 
and begs for oil for the wound which she has in the very same 
place. 2 If milk and butter are placed on coals the devil, he says, 
will be obliged to call up the witches who did the mischief. 3 " It 
is also said that people who eat butter that has been bewitched, 
eat nothing but mud." 4 

In such metamorphoses into animals it was not, however, the 
witches who underwent the change, nor were the animals really 
hurt, but it was " the devil who transformed himself into the 
animal " which was only apparently wounded ; afterwards, 
however, " he imprints the marks of the wounds on the women 
so as to make them believe they had taken part in the occurrence." 6 
At any rate this is the curiously involved explanation he once 
gives of the difficult problem. 

In some passages he, like others too, is reluctant to accept the 
theory that afterwards grew so prevalent, particularly during 
the witch persecutions in the 17th century, viz. that the witches 
were in the habit of flying through the air. In 1540 he says that 
this, like the changes mentioned above, was merely conjured up 
before the mind by the devil, and was thus a delusion of the 
senses and a Satanic deception. 6 Yet in 1538 he assumes that it 
was in Satan s power to carry those who had surrendered them 
selves to him bodily through the air ; 7 he had heard of one instance 
where even repentance and confession could not save such a man, 
when at the point of death, from being carried off by the devil. 
At an earlier date he had spoken without any hesitation of the 
witches who ride " on goats and broom-sticks and travel on 
mantles." 8 

The witches are the most credulous and docile tools of the 
devil ; they are his hand and foot for the harm of mankind. 
They are " devil s own whores who give themselves up to Satan 
and with whom he holds fleshly intercourse." 9 

" Such persons ought to be hurried to justice ( supplicia ). 
The lawyers want too much evidence, they despise these 
open and flagrant proofs." When questioned on the rack 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 129 (1540). 

2 Ib., p. 380 (1536). 

3 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 121. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, 
p. 12. 4 Lauterbach, ib. 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 129. 

6 Ib. : there is no " motus de loco" etc., all this " phantasm,ata 
sunt." Similarly in " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 409 ; " Opp. lat. 
exeg.," 12, p. 17 sq. : the metamorphosis of old women into tom-cats 
and the nocturnal excursions of the witches to banquets are " delusions 
of the devil, not actual occurrences " ; he, however, admits the 
possibility. 7 Lauterbach, "Tagebuch," p. 111. 

8 See Paulus, ib., pp. 25 ft, 49. 

9 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 111. 



294 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

they answer nothing, " they are dumb, they despise punish 
ment, the devil will not let them speak. Such deeds are, 
however, evidence enough, and for the sake of frightening 
others they ought to be made an example." 1 

" Show them no mercy ! " so he has it on another occasion. 
" I would burn them myself, as we read in the Law [of 
Moses] that the priests led the way in stoning the evil 
doer." 2 And yet here all the ado was simply about ... a 
theft of milk ! But sorcery as such was regarded by him as 
" lese majeste " [against God], as a rebellion, a crime whereby 
the Divine Majesty is insulted in the worst possible of ways. 
" Hence it is rightly punished by bodily pains and death." 3 
He first expresses himself in favour of the death-penalty 
in a sermon in 1526, 4 and to this point of view he adhered 
to the end. 5 

Luther s words and his views on witches generally became 
immensely popular. The invitation to persecute the witches 
was read in the German Table-Talk compiled by Aurifaber 
and published at Eisleben in 1566. It reappeared, together 
with the rest of the contents, in the two reprints published 
at Frankfurt in 1567, also in the new edition which Aurifaber 
himself undertook in 1568, as well as in the Frankfurt and 
Eisleben editions of 1569. 6 Not only were the people 
exhorted to persecute the witches, but, intermixed with the 
other matter, we find all sorts of queer witch-stories just of 
the type to call up innumerable imitations. He relates, for 
instance, the experiences of his own mother with a neighbour 
who was a " sorceress," who used to " shoot at her children 
so that they screamed themselves to death " ; also the tale 
told him by Spalatin, in 1538, of a little maid at Altenburg 

1 Ib., p. 117, Aug. 20, 1538. 

2 16., p. 121, Aug. 25, 1538. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 12. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 79. 

4 "Werke," Weim. ed., 16, p. 551 (" occidantur" etc.). 

5 See Paulus, ib., p. 43 f., where he quotes Luther s " Von den 
Conciliis und Kirchen " (1539), in support of the duty of burning 
witches on account of their compact with the devil, quite apart from 
the harm they may cause " Werke," Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 441 f. : The 
witches or " devil s whores, who are burnt at the stake whenever they 
are caught, as is right, not for stealing milk but because of the blasphemy 
by which they strengthen the cause of the devil, his sacraments and 
Churches." 

6 Cp. the Eisleben edition (1569), pp. 280, 280 : " They should be 
hurried to the stake. The lawyers require too many witnesses and 
proofs, they despise these open, etc." The same occurs in the Frank 
furt edition (1568), p. 218 . 



WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY 295 

over whom a spell had been cast by a witch and who " shed 
tears of blood." 

The demonological literature which soon assumed huge 
proportions and of which by far the greater part emanated 
from the pen of Protestant writers, appealed constantly to 
Luther, and reproduced his theories and stories, and like 
wise his demands that measures should be taken for the 
punishment of the witches. It may suffice to draw attention 
to the curious book entitled " Pythonissa, i.e. twenty-eight 
sermons on witches and ghosts," by the preacher Bernard 
Waldschmidt of Frankfurt. He demonstrates from Luther s 
Table-Talk that the devil was able to assume all kinds of 
shapes, for instance, of " cats, goats, foxes, hares, etc.," just 
as he had appeared at Wittenberg in Luther s presence, first 
as Christ, and then as a serpent. 1 

Many Lutheran preachers and religious writers were accus 
tomed to remind the people not only of the tales in the Table- 
Talk, but also of what was contained in the early exposition of 
the Ten Commandments, in the Prayer-book of 1522 and in the 
Church-postils, Commentary on Galatians, etc. Books of instances 
such as those of Andreas Hondorf in 1568 and Wolfgang Biittner 
in 1576 made these things widely known. David Meder, Lutheran 
preacher at Nebra in Thuringia, in his " Eight witch-sermons " 
(1605), referred in the first sermon to the Table-Talk, also to 
Luther s exposition of the Decalogue, to his Commentary on 
Genesis and his work " Von den Conciliis und Kirchen." Bernard 
Albrecht, the Augsburg preacher, in his work on witches, 1628, 
G. A. Scribonius, J. C. Godelmann and N. Gryse all did the same. 

In what esteem Luther s sayings were held by thp Protestant 
lawyers is plain from certain memoranda of the eminent Frank 
furt man of law, Johann Fischart, dating from 1564 and 1567. 
Fischart was against the " Witches Hammer " and the other 
Catholic productions of an earlier day, such as Nider s " Formi- 
carius," yet he expresses himself in favour of the burning of 
witches and appeals on this point to Luther and his interpreta 
tion of Holy Scripture. 

Holy Scripture and Luther were as a rule appealed to by the 
witch-zealots on the Protestant side, as is proved by the writings 
of Abraham Saur (1582) and Jakob Grater (1589), of the preacher 
Nicholas Lotichius and Nicholas Krug (1567), of Frederick 
Balduin of Wittenberg (1628) whose statements were accepted 
by the famous Saxon criminalogist Benedict Carpzov, who signed 
countless death sentences against witches and by J. Volkmar 
Bechmann, the opponent of the Jesuit Frederick von Spee. We 

1 "Pythonissa," Frankfurt, 1660, pp. 471, 472, from Luther s 
Works, Erl. ed., 58, p. 129 (above, p. 287). 



296 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

may pass over the many other names cited by N. Paulus with 
careful references to the writings in question. 1 

It must be pointed out, however, that an increase in the severity 
of the penal laws against witches is first noticeable in the Saxon 
Electorate in 1572, when it was decreed that they should be burnt 
at the stake, even though they had done no harm to anyone, on 
account of their wicked compact with the devil. 2 As early as 
1540, at a time when elsewhere in Germany the execution of 
witches was of rare occurrence, four persons were burnt at Witten 
berg on June 29 as witches or wizards. 3 Shortly before this Luther 
had lamented that the plague of witches was again on the in 
crease. * 

Even the Catholic clergy occasionally quoted Luther s 
statements on witches, as given in his widely read Table- 
Talk ; thus, for instance, Reinhard Lutz in his " True 
Tidings of the godless Witches " (1571 ). 5 This writing, at the 
very beginning and again at the end, contains a passage from 
the Table-Talk dealing with witches, devils children, incubi 
and succubi ; on the other hand, it fails to refer either to 
the " Witches Hammer " of 1487 or to the Bull, " Summis 
desider antes," of Innocent VIII (1484). 

Thus the making of this regrettable mania w r as in great 
part Luther s doing. 6 And yet a reformer could have found 
no nobler task than to set to work to sweep away the 
abusive outgrowths of the belief in the devil s power. 

We still have instructive writings by Catholic authors of 
that day which, whilst by no means promoting the popular 
ideas concerning the devil, are unquestionably rooted in the 
Middle Ages. Such a work is the Catechism of Blessed 

1 " Hexenwahn," p. 75 ff. 2 Ib., p. 54 ff. 

3 See Janssen, " Hist, of the German People " (Engl. Trans.), vol. 
xvi., pp. 269 to 526, a very full account of the Witch trials, etc. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 129. From May 21 to June 11, 1540. 
See above, p. 290, n. 3. 

5 Cp. N. Paulus, " Hexenwahn," pp. 52, 66. 

6 Karl Adolf Menzel, " Neuere Gesch. der Deutschen," 3 2 , 1854, 
p. 65, is of opinion that the reformers of the 16th century lent the 
whole weight of their position and convictions to strengthening the 
belief in witches. Janssen, " Hist, of the German People," loc. cit. : 
" Through Luther and his followers belief in the power and influence 
of the devil, who was active in all men and who exercised his arts 
especially through witches and sorcerers, received an impetus and 
spread in a manner never known before." J. Hansen, " Zauberwahn 
und Hexenprozess im MA.," 1900, p. 536 f., also admits that Protestant 
ism had increased the readiness to accept such belief. Cp. the admis 
sions of Riezler, v. Bezold and Steinhausen quoted by Paulus, " Hexen 
wahn," p. 48 f. 



HIS DEVIL-MANIA 297 

Peter Canisius. One particular in which the " Larger " 
Canisian Catechism differs from Luther s Larger German 
Catechism is, that, whereas in the latter the evil power of 
Satan over material things is dealt with at great length, the 
Catechism of Canisius says never a word on the material 
harm wrought by the devil. While Luther speaks of the 
devil sixty-seven times, Canisius mentions him only ten 
times. Canisius s book was from the first widely known 
amongst German-speaking Catholics and served down to the 
last century for purposes of religious instruction. 1 Though 
this is true of this particular book of Canisius, the influence 
of which was so far-reaching, it must in honesty be added 
that even a man like Canisius, both in his other writings 
and in his practical conduct, was not unaffected by the 
prevailing ideas concerning the devil. 

Luther s Devil-mania ; its Connection with his Character and 
his Doctrine 

Had Luther written his Catechism during the last period 
of his life he would undoubtedly have brought the diabolical 
element and his belief in witches even more to the fore. For, 
as has been pointed out (above, pp. 227, 238), Luther s views 
on the power the devil possesses over mankind and over the 
whole world were growing ever stronger, till at last they 
came to colour everything great or small with which he had 
to deal ; they became, in fact, to him a kind of fixed idea. 

In his last year (1546), having to travel to Eisleben, he fancies 
so many fiends must be assembled there on his account, i.e. to 
oppose him, " that hell and the whole world must for the nonce 
be empty of devils." 2 At Eisleben he even believed that he had 
a sight of the devil himself. 3 

Three years before this he complains that no one is strong 
enough in belief in the devil ; the " struggle between the devils 
and the angels " affrights him ; for it is to be apprehended that 
" the angels whilst fighting for us often get the worst for a time." 4 
His glance often surveys the great world-combat which the few 
who believe wage on Christ s side against Satan, and which has 

1 Cp. J. Diefenbach, " Der Zauberglaube des 16. Jahrh. nach den 
Katechismen Luthers und Canisius," 1900. 

2 To Catherine Bora, Feb. 7, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 787. 

3 See below, vol. vi., xxxvi., 3. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 295 (1542). " Werke," Erl. ed., 
61, p. 117. 



298 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

lasted since the dawn of history ; now, at the very end of the 
world, he sees the result more clearly. Christ is able to save His 
followers from the devil s claws only by exerting all His strength ; 
they, like Luther, suffer from weakness of faith, just as Christ 
Himself did in the Garden of Olives ( ! ) ; they, like Luther, stumble, 
because Christ loves to show Himself weak in the struggle with 
the devil ; mankind s and God s rights have come off second best 
during the age-long contest with the devil. In Jewry, for which 
Luther s hatred increases with age, he sees men so entirely de 
livered over to the service of the devil that " all the heathen in a 
lump " are simply nothing in comparison with the Jews ; but 
even the "fury of the Jews is mere jest and child s play " com 
pared with the devilish corruption of the Papacy. 

" The devil is there ; he has great claws and whosoever falls 
into them him he holds fast, as they find to thei^ cost in Popery. 
Hence let us always pray and fear God." This in 1543. l But we 
must also fear the devil, and very much too, for, as he solemnly 
declares in 1542 : " Our last end is that we fear the devil " ; for 
the worst sins are " delusions of the devil." 2 " The whole age is 
Satanic," 3 and the "activity of the devil is now manifest" ; 
the speaker longs for " God at length to mock at Satan." 4 " The 
devil is all-powerful at present, several foreign kings are his 
train-bearers. . . . God Himself must come in order to resist 
the proud spirit. . . . Shortly Christ will make an end of his 
lies and murders." 5 

The whole of his work, the struggle for the Evangel, seems to 
him at times as one long wrestling with the boundless might of 
Satan. 6 All his life, so he said in his old age, he had forged ahead 
" tempestuously " and " hit out with sledge-hammer blows " ; 
but it was all against Satan. " I rush in head foremost, but . . . 
against the devil." 7 As early as 1518, however, he knew the 
" thoughts of Satan." 8 

It is not difficult to recognise the different elements which, 
as Luther grew older, combined permanently to establish 
him in his devil-mania. 

Apart from his peculiar belief in the devil, of which he was 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 317. 

2 16., p. 267, speaking of a case of long-continued adulterous incest 
between brother and sister (1542) : " This was the work of the devil 
himself," etc. 

3 " Satanicum tempus et sceculum" To Jakob Probst, Dec. 5, 1544, 
" Briefe," 5, p. 703. 

4 To Amsdorf, Jan. 8, 1546, ib., p. 774. 

5 Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 174 (1540). 

6 On the great tragedy between God and Satan in which he (par 
ticularly in 1541) is so prominently entangled, see the letter to Melanch- 
thon, April 4, 1541, " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 291. 

7 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 307 (1542-43). 

8 To Johann Silvius Egranus, March 24, 1518, " Briefwechsel," 1, 
p. 173. 



HIS DEVIL-MANIA 299 

never to rid himself, there was the pessimism which loomed 
so large in his later years ; l there was also his habit of 
regarding himself and his work as the pet aversion and chief 
object of Satan s persecution, for since, according to his own 
contention, his great struggle against Antichrist was in 
reality directed against the devil, the latter naturally 
endeavoured everywhere to bar his way. If great scandals 
arise as the result of his sermons, it is Satan who is to blame ; 
" he smarts under the wounds he receives and therefore 
does he rage and throw everything into confusion." 2 The 
disorderly proceedings against the Catholics at Erfurt which 
brought discredit on his teaching were also due to the 
devil. The Wittenberg students who disgrace him are 
instigated by the devil. Dr. Eck was incited against him 
by Satan. The Catholic princes who resist him, like Duke 
George of Saxony, have at least a " thousand devils " who 
inspire them and assist them. Above all, it is the devil 
himself who delivers his oracles through the mouthpiece of 
those teachers of the innovations who differ from Luther, 
deluding them to such an extent that they lose " their 
senses and their reason." 3 If Satan can do nothing else 
against the Evangel he sends out noisy spirits so as to 
bolster up the heresy of the existence " of a Purgatory." 4 

Such ideas became so habitual with him, that, in later 
years, the conviction that the devil was persecuting his 
work developed into an abiding mania, drawing, as it were, 
everything else into its vortex. 

Everywhere he hears behind him the footsteps of his old 
enemy, the devil. 

" Satan has often had me by the throat. . . . He has fre 
quently beset me so hard that I knew not whether I was dead 
or alive . . . but with God s Word I have withstood him." 6 He 
lies with me in my bed, so he says on one occasion ; "he sleeps 
much more with me than my Katey." 6 His struggle with him 
degenerates into a hand-to-hand brawl, " I have to be at grips 
with him daily." 7 His pupils related, that on his own giving, 
when he was an old man " the devil had walked with him in the 

1 See above, p. 226 ft. 

2 Thus as early as June 27, 1522, to Staupitz at Salzburg, " Brief - 
wechsel," 3, p. 407, with the emphatic assurance : " sed Christus, qui 
co&pit, conteret eum, frustra renitentibus omnibus portis inferi." 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 117. 4 Ib., 59, p. 342. 
5 Ib., 57, p. 65. 6 Ib., 58, p. 301. 
7 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 222. 



300 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

dormitory of the [former] monastery . . . plaguing and torment 
ing him " ; that " he had one or two such devils who were in the 
habit of lying in wait " for him, and, " that, when unable to get 
the better of his heart, they attacked and troubled his head." 1 
Whether the narrators of these accounts are referring to actual 
apparitions or not does not much matter. 

Later on, when dealing with his delusions, we shall have to 
speak of the diabolical apparitions Luther is supposed to have 
had. There is no doubt, however, that Luther s first admirers 
took his statements concerning his experiences with the devil 
rather more seriously than he intended, as, for instance, when 
Cyriacus Spangenberg in his " Theander Lutherus " 2 relates a 
disputation on the Winkle-Mass which he supposed Luther to 
have actually held with the devil, and even goes so far as to prove 
from the bruises which the devil in person inflicted on him that 
Luther was " really a holy martyr." 3 Even some of his opponents, 
like Cochlaeus, fancied that because Luther said " in a sermon 
that he had eaten more than one mouthful of salt with the devil, 
he had therefore most probably been in direct communication 
with the devil himself, the more so since some persons were said 
to have seen the two hobnobbing together." 4 Here we shall 
merely point out generally that to Luther the power of Satan, 
his delusions and persecutions, were something that seemed very 
near, 5 an uncanny feeling that increased as he grew older and 
as his physical strength gave out. 

" The devil is now very powerful," he says in 1540, " for he 
no longer deals with us through the agency of others, of Duke 
George, for instance, of the Englishman [Henry VIII], or of the 
Mayence fellow [Albert], but fights against us visibly. Against 
him we must pray diligently." 6 "Didn t he even ride many 
grand and holy prophets. Was not David a great prophet ? 
And yet even he was devil-ridden, and so was Saul and Bileam 
too." 7 

We must, moreover, not overlook the link which binds 
Luther s devil-mania to his doctrinal system as a whole, 
particularly to his teaching on the enslaved will and on 
justification. 

Robbed of free-will for doing what is good, when once 
the devil assumes the mastery, man must needs endure his 
anger and perform his works. Luther himself found a cruel 
rider in the devil. Again, though man by the Grace of God 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, pp. 73, 55. Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," 
ed. Lcesche, p. 113. 

2 P. 200. Cp. above, p. 174. 3 P. 193 . 

4 " Cochlsei Acta, etc." (1549), p. 2 : " quod etiam corporaliter visus 
quibusdam fuerit cum eo conversari." 

5 " I feel him well enough." " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 301. 

6 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 198. 7 Ib., p. 331. 



HOW TO FIGHT THE DEVIL 301 

is justified by faith, yet the old diabolical root of sin remains 
in him, for original sin persists and manifests itself in 
concupiscence, which is essentially the same thing as original 
sin. All acts of concupiscence are, therefore, sins, being 
works of our bondage under Satan ; only by the free grace 
of Christ can they be cloaked over. The whole outer world 
which has been depraved by original sin is nothing but the 
" devil s own den " ; the devil stands up very close (" propin- 
quissimus") 1 even to the pious, so that it is no wonder 
if we ever feel the working of the spirit of darkness. " Man 
must bear the image either of God or of the devil." Created 
to the image of God he failed to remain true to it, but 
" became like unto the devil." 2 

Hence his doctrines explain how he expected every man 
to be so keenly sensible of " God s wrath, the devil, death 
and hell " ; everyone should realise that ours is " no real life, 
but only death, sin and power of the devil." 3 It is true that 
in his doctrine faith affords a man sufficient strength, and 
even makes him master of the devil ; but, as he remarks, this 
is " in no wise borne out by experience and must be believed 
beforehand." Meanwhile we are painfully " sensible " that 
we are " under the devil s heel," for the " world and what 
pertains to it must have the devil for its master, who also 
clings to us with all his might and is far stronger than we 
are ; for we are his guests in a strange hostelry." 4 



The Weapons to be used against the Devil 

On the fact that faith gives us strength against all Satanic 
influences Luther insists frequently and in the strongest 
terms. 

He tries to find here a wholesome remedy against the 
fear that presses on him. He describes his own attempts to 
lay hold on it and to fill himself with Christ boldly and 
trustfully. Even in his last days such words of confidence 
occasionally pierce the mists of his depression. " We see 
well," he says, "that when the devil attacks a [true] 
Christian he is put to shame, for where there is faith and 

1 To Wenceslaus Link, July 14, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 301. 

2 " Werke," Weim. ed., 24, p. 51 ; Erl. ed., 33, p. 55. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 51, p. 90 f. (1534). 

4 Ib., cp. above, p. 5. 



302 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

confidence he has nothing to gain." This he said in 1542 
when relating the story of an old-time hermit who rudely 
accosted the devil as follows, when the latter sought to 
disturb him at his prayers : " Ah, devil, this serves you 
right ! You were meant to be an angel and you have 
become a swine." 1 

" We must muster all our courage so as not to dread the devil." 2 
We must " clasp the faith to our very bosom " and " cheerfully 
fling to the winds the apparitions of the spirits " ; " they seek 
in vain to affright men." 3 Contempt of the devil and awakening 
of faith are, according to Luther, the best remedies against all 
assaults of the devil. 4 A man who really has the faith may even 
set an example that others cannot imitate. 5 Luther knows, for 
instance, of a doctor of medicine who with boundless faith stood 
up to Satan when the latter, horns and all, appeared to him ; the 
brave man even succeeded in breaking off the horns ; but, in a 
similar case, when another tried to do the same in a spirit of 
boasting, he was killed by Satan. 6 Hence let us have faith, but 
let our faith be humble ! 

But, provided we have faith and rely on Christ, we may well 
show the devil our contempt for him, vex him and mock at his 
power and cunning. He himself, as he says, was given to breaking 
out into music and song, the better to show the devil that he de 
spised him, for " our hymns are very galling to him " ; on the 
contrary, he rejoices and has a laugh when we are upset and cry 
out " alas and alack ! " 7 To remain alone is not good. " This is 
what I do " ; rather than be alone "I go to my swineherd 
Johann or to see the pigs." 8 

In this connection Luther can tell some very coarse and vulgar 
jokes, both at his own and others expense, in illustration of the 
contempt which the devil deserves ; they cannot here be passed 
over in silence. 

Thus, on April 15, 1538, he relates the story of a woman of 
Magdeburg whom Satan vexed by running over her bed at night 
" like rats and mice. As he would not cease the woman put her 
a over the bedside, presented him with a f - (if such lan 
guage be permissible) and said : There, devil, there s a staff, 
take it in your hand and go pilgriming with it to Rome to the 

1 Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 279. 

2 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 235. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 1, 1, p. 586 ; Erl. ed., 10 2 , p. 355, 
Church-postils. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 70. 

5 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 55 f. 

6 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 340. Lauterbach, ib., p. 56. 

7 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 228. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 60, 
under the heading " Satan flees from music " : "It was thus that 
David with his harp abated Saul s temptations when the devil plagued 
him " (3 Kg. xvi. 23). 

8 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 313. 



HOW TO FIGHT THE DEVIL 303 

Pope your idol. " Ever after the devil left her in peace, for " he is 
a proud spirit and cannot endure to be treated contemptuously." 1 
According to Lauterbach, who gives the story in somewhat 
briefer form, Luther sapiently remarked : " Such examples do 
not always hold good, and are dangerous." 2 

He himself was nevertheless fond of expressing his contempt 
for the devil after a similar way when the latter assailed him with 
remorse of conscience. 

" I can drive away the devil with a single f -" 3 " To shame 
him we may tell him : Kiss my a -", 4 or " Ease yourself into 
your shirt and tie it round your neck," etc. 5 On May 7, 1532, 
when troubled in mind and afraid lest " the thunder should 

strike him, he said : Lick my a , I want to sleep, not to 

hold a disputation. " 6 On another occasion he exclaims: "The 
devil shall lick my a even though I should have sinned." 7 
When the devil teased him at night, "suggesting all sorts of 
strange thoughts to him," he at last said to him : " Kiss me on 
the seat ! God is not angry as you would have it." Of course, 
seeing that the devil " fouls the knowledge of God," he must 
expect to be " fouled " in his turn. Luther frequently said, so 
the Table-Talk relates, that he would end by sending " into his 

a where they belonged " those " twin devils " who were in 

the habit of prying on him and tormenting him mentally and 
bodily ; for " they had brought him to such a pass that he was 
fit for nothing." 8 The Pope had once played him (Luther) the 
same trick : " He has stuck me into the devil s behind " ; 9 " for 
I snap at the Pope s ban and am his devil, therefore does he hate 
and persecute me." 10 

He relates, in May, 1532, according to Schlaginhaufen s Notes, 
his method of dismissing the devil by the use of stronger and 
stronger hints : When the devil came to him at night in order to 
plague him, he first of all told him to let him sleep, because he 
must work during the day and needed all the rest he could get. 
Then, if Satan continued to upbraid him with his sins, he would 
answer mockingly that he had been guilty of a lot more sins 
which the devil had forgotten to mention, for instance, he had, 
etc. (there follows the choice simile of the shirt as given above) ; 
thirdly, "if he still goes on accusing me of sins I say to him 
contemptuously : * Sancte Satanas ora pro me ; you have never 
done a wrong and you alone are holy ; be off to God and get 
grace for yourself. " 11 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 343 f. 
Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 56. 
" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 165. 
Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 27. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 3. 
Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 82. 
" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 222. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 60, pp. 55, 73. 

Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 30. 10 Ib., p. 163. 

Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 88 f. Cp. " Luthers Werke," 
Erl. ed., 60, p. 101 f., n. 59. 



304 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

The way in which Bugenhagen or Pomeranus, the pastor of 
Wittenberg, with Luther s fullest approval, drove the devil out 
of the butter churn (vol. iii., p. 229 f.) became famous at Witten 
berg, and, thanks to the Table-Talk, elsewhere too. It may here 
be remarked that the incident was no mere joke. For when, in 
1536, the question of the harm wrought by the witches was dis 
cussed amongst Luther s guests, and Bartholomew Bernhardi, the 
Provost, complained that his cow had been bewitched for two 
years, so that he had been unable to get any milk from her, 
Luther related quite seriously what had taken place in Bugen- 
hagen s house. (" Then Pommer came to the rescue, scoffed at 
the devil and emptied his bowels into the churn," etc.). Accord 
ing to Lauterbach s " Diary " Luther returned to the incident 
in 1538 and stamped the whole proceeding with his approval : 
" Dr. Pommer s plan is the best, viz. to plague them [the witches] 
with muck and stir it well up, for then all their things begin to 
stink." 1 What is even more remarkable than the strange 
practice itself is the way in which Luther comes to speak of 
" Pommer s plan." It is his intention to show that the method of 
combating witches had made progress since Catholic times. For, 
in Lauterbach, the passage runs : " The village clergy and school 
masters had a plan of their own [for counteracting spells] and 
plagued them [the witches] not a little, but Dr. Pommer s 
plan, etc. (as above). 2 Hence not only did Luther sanction the 
superstition of earlier ages, but he even sought to improve on it 
by the invention of new practices of his own. 

Luther is also addicted to the habit dear to the German Middle 
Ages of using the devil as a comic figure ; as he advanced in age, 
however, he tended to drop this habit and also the kindred one of 
chasing the devil away by filthy abuse ; the truth is that the 
devil had now assumed in his eyes a grimmer and more tragic 
aspect. 

Formerly he had been fond of describing in his joking way how 
the devil, " though he had never actually taken his doctor s 
degree," 3 proved himself an "able logician " in his suggestions 
and disputations ; when he brought forward objections Luther 
would reply : " Devil, tell me something new ; what you say 
I already know." 4 In his book on the " Winkle-Mass," pretend 
ing to " make a little confession," he tells how, " on one occasion, 

1 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 121. Cp. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, 
p. 12, and Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 380, from Notes of Lauterbach 
and Weller. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 78. 

2 Lauterbach, ib. In the Latin " Colloquia " as well as in the 
German Table-Talk (ib.), in connection with " the clergy and school 
masters " of the past, it is related, that, in their day, the head of an ox 
was taken from the fence and thrown into the St. John s bonfire, 
whereby a great number of witches were attracted to the place. 
Then follows at once in both passages, in order to emphasise the 
advance which had been made : " But Dr. Pommer s plan is the best," 
etc., etc. See vol. iii., p. 230, n. 2. 

3 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 218. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 59. 



HOW TO FIGHT THE DEVIL 305 

awakening at midnight," the devil began a disputation against 
the Mass with the words: "Hearken, oh most learned Doctor, 
are you aware that for some fifteen years you said such Winkle- 
Masses nearly every day ? J>1 Whereupon he had " seized on the 
old weapons " which " in Popery he had learnt to put on and to 
use " and had sought an excuse. " To this the devil retorted : 
Friend, tell me where this is written, etc. " 2 Formerly he had 
been fond of poking fun at the Papists by telling them how they 
" were beset merely by naughty little devils, legal rather than 
theological ones"; 3 that they were tempted only to homicide, 
adultery and fornication," in short, to sins of the second table of 
the Law, by "puny fiendkins and little petty devils," whereas 
we on the other hand have "by us the great devils who are 
doctor es theologice " ; " these attack us as the leaders of the army, 
for they tempt us to the great sins against the first table," to 
question the forgiveness of sins, to doubts against faith and to 
despair. 4 

He was very inventive and quite indefatigable in devising new 
epithets with the help of the devil s name ; his adversaries were, 
according to him, "full of devils, on whose backs moreover lived 
other and worse devils " ; it seems to him to fall all too short of 
the truth to say they are " endevilled," " perdevilled," or " super- 
devilled " and "the children of Satan." 5 The devil s mother, 
grandmother and brothers and sisters are frequently alluded to 
by Luther, particularly when in a merry mood. In hours of gloom 
or emotion he could, however, curse people with such words as 
"may the devil take you," 6 "May the devil pay you out," or 
" May he tread you under foot ! " 

He was perfectly aware, nevertheless, of the failings of his 
tongue, and even expressed his regret for them to his friends. 
During his illness, in 1527, we are told how he begged pardon 
for and bewailed the " hasty and inconsiderate words he 
had often used the better to dispel the sadness of a weak 
flesh." 7 

Melancholy is " a devil s bath " (" balneum diaboli "), so 
he remarked on another occasion, against which there is no 
more effective remedy than cheerfulness of spirit. 8 

1 Ib., 31, p. 311. 2 Ib., p. 316 f. 

3 Ib., 60, p. 61. 4 Ib., and 59, p. 294. 

5 See below, xxxiii., 4. 

6 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 129. 

7 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 312. Cp. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, 
p. 160 sq., and below, p. 314, n. 3. 

8 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 179 (1540), where Kroker remarks : 
"A favourite saying with Luther," and quotes Cordatus, "Tagebuch," 
pp. 130 and 295. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 215, " Werke," Erl. ed., 
60, p. 124. 



V. X 



306 LUTHER THE REFORMER 



5. The Psychology of Luther s Jests and Satire 

Joking was a permanent element of Luther s psychology. 
Often, even in his old age, his love of fun struggles through 
the lowering clouds of depression and has its fling against 
the gloomy anxiety that fills his mind, and against the world 
and the devil. 

Gifted with a keen sense of the ridiculous, it had been, 
in his younger days, almost a second nature to him to delight 
in drollery and particularly to clothe his ideas in playful 
imagery. His mind was indeed an inexhaustible source of 
rich and homely humour. 

Nature had indeed endowed Luther from his cradle with 
that rare talent of humour which, amidst the trials of life, 
easily proves more valuable than a gold mine to him who 
has it. During his secular studies at Erfurt he had been 
able to give full play to this tendency as some relief after 
the hardships of early days. His preference for Terence, 
Juvenal, Plautus and Horace amongst the classic poets 
leads us to infer that he did so ; and still more does 
Mathesius s description, who says that, at that time, he was 
a " brisk and jolly fellow." Monastic life and, later, his 
professorship and the strange course on which he entered 
must for a while have placed a rein on his humour, but it 
broke out all the more strongly when be brought his marvel 
lous powers of imagination and extraordinary readiness in 
the use of the German tongue to the literary task of bringing 
over the masses to his new ideas. 

Anyone desirous of winning the hearts of the German 
masses has always had to temper earnestness with jest, 
for a sense of humour is part of the nation s birthright. 
The fact that Luther touched this chord was far more 
efficacious in securing for him loud applause and a large 
following than all his rhetoric and theological arguments. 

Humour in his Writings and at his Home 

It was in his polemics that Luther first turned to account 
his gift of humour ; his manner of doing so was anything 
but refined. 

The first of his German controversial works against a literary 
opponent was his " Von dem Bapstum tzu Rome wider dem 



HUMOUR AND SATIRE 307 

hochberumpten Romanisten tzu Leiptzk " l (the Franciscan 
Alveld or Alfeld), dating from May and June, 1520. Here he 
starts with a comical description of the " brave heroes in the 
market place at Leipzig, so well armed as we have never seen 
the like before. Their helmets they wear on their feet, their 
swords on their heads, their shields and breastplates hang down 
their back, and their lances they grip by the blade. ... If 
Leipzig can produce such giants then that land must indeed be 
fertile." On the last page of the same writing he puts the con 
cluding touch to his work by telling Alveld, the " rude miller s 
beast," that he does " not yet know how to bray his hee-haw, 
hee-haw " ; were I, says Luther, " to permit all the wantonness 
of these thick-heads even the very washerwomen would end by 
writing against me." " What really helps it if a poor frog [like 
this fellow] blows himself out ? Even were he to swell himself 
out to bursting-point he would never equal an ox." 

In his first German booklet against Emser, viz. his " An den 
Bock zu Leyptzck " (1521), 2 he plays on the motto of Emser s 
coat-of-arms " Beware of the goat." There was really no call for 
Emser to inscribe these words on his note-paper, for from his 
whole behaviour there was no doubt that he was indeed a goat, 
and also that he could "do no more than butt." Luther s reply 
to all his threats would be : " Dear donkey, don t lick ! But 
God save the poor nanny-goats, whose horns are wrapped in silk, 
from such a he-goat ; as for me, so God wills, there is no fear. 
Have you never heard the fable of the ass who tried to roar as 
loud as the lion ? I myself might have been afraid of you had 
I not known you were an ass," etc. 

It is certainly not easy to believe his assertion, that it was only 
against his will that he had recourse to all this derision which he 
heaped on his adversaries in religious matters of such vital im 
portance. He has it that his words, " though maybe biting and 
sarcastic," are really " spoken from a heart that is breaking with 
grief and has been obliged to turn what is serious into abuse." 3 
As a matter of fact the temptation to use just such weapons was 
too great, and the prospect of success too alluring for us to place 
much reliance in such an assurance. His " grief " was of quite 
another kind. 

At a later date his humour, or rather his caustic and satirical 
manner of treating his opponents, looked to him so characteristic 
of his way of writing, that as he said, it would be quite easy to 
tell at a glance which were the polemical tracts due to his pen, 
even though they did not bear his name. This was his opinion 
of his " satirical list " of the relics of the Cardinal of Mayence. 4 
Writing of this work to his friend Jonas he says : " Whoever 
reads it and has ever been familiar with my ideas and my pen 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 277 ff. ; Erl. ed., 27, p. 86 ff. 

2 16., 7, p. 262 ff. = 27, p. 200 ff. 

3 In the writing against Alveld, " Werke," Weim. ed., 6, p. 286 ; 
Erl. ed., 27, p. 87. 

4 " Brief e," 6, p. 321, of 1542. See above, vol. iv., p. 292. 



308 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

will say : Here is Luther ; the Cardinal too will say : This is 
the work of that scamp Luther ! . . . But never mind ; if they 
pipe then I insist on dancing, and, if I survive, I hope one day 
to tread a measure with the bride of Mayence [the Cardinal]." He 
had still "some sweet tit-bits " which he would like " to lay on her 
red and rosy lips." 1 This last quotation may serve as a specimen 
of the rough humour found in his controversial letters. 

The reader already knows how the Papacy had to bear 
the brunt of such jests and of an irony which often descends to 
the depths of vulgarity. (Above, vol. iii., p. 232-235 ; vol. iv., 
pp. 295 f., 304 f, 318 ff..) 

But it was not only in his polemics that his jests came 
in useful. The jovial tone which often characterises his 
domestic life, the humour that seasons his Table-talk (even 
though too often it oversteps the bounds of the permissible) 
and makes itself felt even in his business letters and intimate 
correspondence with friends, appears as Luther s almost 
inseparable companion, with whose smile and whose caustic 
irony he cannot dispense. 

The monotony and the hardships of his daily life were 
alleviated by his cheerfulness. His intercourse with friends 
and pupils was rendered more stimulating and attractive, 
and in many cases more useful. Under cover of a jest he 
was often able to enforce good instruction more easily and 
almost without its being noticed. His cheerful way of 
looking at things often enabled Luther lightheartedly to 
surmount difficulties from which others would have shrunk. 

There is not the slightest doubt that his extraordinary 
influence over those who came into contact with him was 
due in no small part to his kindly addiction to pleasantry. 
It was indeed no usual thing to see such mighty energy as 
he devoted to the world-struggle, so agreeably combined 
with a keen gift of observation, with an understanding for 
the most trivial details of daily life, and, above all, with 
such refreshing frankness and such a determination to amuse 
his hearers. 

In order to dispel the anxiety felt by Catherine Bora during 
her husband s absence, he would send her letters full of affection 
and of humorous accounts of his doings. He tells her, for 
instance, how, in consequence of her excessive fears for him 
" which hindered her from sleeping," everything about him had 
conspired to destroy him ; how a fire " at our inn just next door 

1 Nov. 6, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 505 ; cp. 6, p. 320. 



HUMOUR AND SATIRE 309 

to our room " had tried to burn him, how a heavy rock had 
fallen in order to kill him ; " the rock really had a mind to 
justify your solicitude, but the holy angels prevented it." 1 In 
such cheerful guise does he relate little untoward incidents. 
" You try to take care of your God," he writes to her in a letter 
already quoted, " just as though He were not Almighty and able 
to create ten Dr. Martins were the old one to be drowned in the 
Saale, suffocated in the coal-hole, or eaten up by the wolf." 2 

He was also joking, when, about the same time, i.e. during his 
stay with the Counts of Mansfeld, he used the words which 
recently were taken all too seriously by a Catholic polemist and 
made to constitute a charge against Luther s morals : "At 
present, thank God, I am well, only that I am so beset by pretty 
women as once more to fear for my chastity." 3 

The irony with which he frequently speaks and writes of both 
himself and his friends is often not free from frivolity ; we may 
recall, for instance, his ill-timed jest concerning his three wives; 4 
or his report to Catherine from Eisleben : " On the whole we 
have enough to gorge and swill, and should have a jolly time were 
this tiresome business to let us." 5 The last passage reminds us 
of his words elsewhere : I feed like a Bohemian and swill like 
a German. 6 Among other jests at Catherine s expense we find 
in the Table-Talk the threat that soon the time will come when 
" we men shall be allowed several wives," words which perhaps 
are a humorous echo of the negotiations concerning the Hessian 
bigamy. 7 

Now and again Luther, by means of his witticisms, tried to 
teach his wife some wholesome lessons. The titles by which he 
addresses her may have been intended as delicate hints that her 
management of the household was somewhat lordly and high 
handed : My Lord Katey, Lord Moses, my Chain (Kette) 
("catena mea"). To seek to infer from this that she was a 
" tyrant," or to see in it an admission on his part that he was 
but her slave, would be as mistaken as to be shocked at his 
manner of addressing her elsewhere in his letters, e.g. " to the 
holy, careful lady, the most holy lady Doctor ; to my beloved 
lady Doctor Self -martyr ; to the deeply-learned Lady Catherine," 
etc. 

It has already been pointed out that many of the mis 
understandings of which Luther s opponents were guilty 
are due to their inability to appreciate his humour ; they 
were thereby led to take seriously as indicative of " un 
belief," statements which in reality were never meant in 

1 Feb. 10, 1546, ib., 5, p. 789. 2 Feb. 7, 1546, ib., p. 787. 

3 Feb. 1, 1546, ib., p. 784. 

4 Above, vol. ii., p. 140 f. ; also vol. iii., pp. 233 ff., 264 ff., 301 ; 
vol. iv., pp. 161 ff., 318 ff. 

5 Feb. 6, 1546, " Briefe," 5, p. 786. 

6 Above, vol. iii., p. 305. 7 Ib., p. 268. 



310 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

earnest. 1 On the other hand, however, certain texts and 
explanations of Luther s have, on insufficient grounds, been 
taken as humorous even by Protestant writers, often 
because they seemed in some way to cast a slur upon his 
memory. For instance, his interpretation of the Monk- 
Calf was quite obviously never intended as a joke. 2 nor can it 
thus be explained away as some have recently tried to do. 
Nor, again, to take an example from Luther s immediate 
circle, can Amsdorf s offer of the nuns in marriage to 
Spalatin 3 be dismissed as simply a broad piece of pleasantry. 

Humour a Necessity to Luther in his Struggle with Others 
and with Himself 

There can be no doubt that a remarkable psychological 
feature is afforded by the combination in Luther of cheerful 
ness with intense earnestness in work, indeed the per 
sistence of his humour even in later years when gloom had 
laid a firm hold on his soul constitutes something of a 
riddle ; for even the sufferings of the last period of his life 
did not avail to stifle his love of a joke, though his jests 
become perhaps less numerous ; they serve, however, to 
conceal his sadder feelings, a fact which explains why he 
still so readily has recourse to them. 

First of all, a man so oppressed with inner difficulties and 
mental exertion as Luther was, felt sadly the need of 

1 On certain frivolous expressions which Luther was fond of using 
of holy things his opponents seized as proofs that he was little better 
than an atheist or blasphemer. There is indeed no doubt that religious 
reverence suffered by his jests. Do you suppose Christ was drunk, he 
repeatedly asks, when He commanded this or that ? The Son of Man 
came to save what was lost, but He set about it foolishly enough. 
Unless Our Lord God understands a joke, then I shouldn t like to go to 
heaven. He even has a jest about the feathers of the Holy Ghost, 
pokes fun at the Saints, etc., etc. On the occasion of his journey to 
Heidelberg, in 1518, undertaken at a grave juncture when the penalties 
of the Church were hanging over his head, he said jestingly, that he 
had no need of contrition, confession or satisfaction, the hardships of 
the journey being equal to " contritio perfecta," etc. (" Brief wechsel," 
1, p. 184). The Pietists were not so far wrong when they asked in their 
day : " Who would wish to approve all the jests of that holy man, 
our dearly-beloved Luther ? " (Cp. Frank, " Luther im Spiegel seiner 
Kirche " (" Zeitschr. f. wiss. Theol.," 1905, p. 473.)) " Some readers 
may, for instance, be scandalised at the passages where Luther makes 
fun of Scripture texts or articles of faith, e.g. the Trinity." Thus in the 
" Beil. z. M. Allg. Ztng.," 1904, No. 26. 

2 See vol. in., p. 149 ff. 3 See vol. ii., p. 137. 



HUMOUR AND SATIRE 311 

relaxation and amusement. His jests served to counteract 
the strain, physical and mental, resulting from the rush of 
literary work, sermons, conferences and correspondence. 
In this we have but a natural process of the nervous system. 
A further explanation of his cheerfulness is, however, to 
be found in the wish to prove against his own misgivings and 
his theological opponents how joyous and confident he was 
at heart concerning his cause. 

He hints at this himself. I will answer for the " Word of 
Christ," so he assures Alveld in his writing against him, " with a 
cheerful heart and fresh courage, regardless of anyone ; for 
which purpose God too has given me a cheerful, fearless spirit, 
which I trust they will be unable to sadden to all eternity." 1 He 
often gives the impression of being anxious to show off his 
cheerfulness. He is fond of speaking of his " steadfast and 
undaunted spirit " ; let Emser, he says, take note and bite his 
lips over the " glad courage which inspires him day by day." 

Seeking to display this confidence in face of his opponents he 
exclaims satirically in a writing of 1518 : " Here I am." If there 
be an inquisitor in the neighbourhood he had better hurry up. 2 

His courage and entire confidence he expressed as early as 
1522 to the Elector Frederick of Saxony who had urged him to 
fight shy of Duke George : " Even if things at Leipzig were 
indeed as bad as at Wittenberg [they think they are], I should 
nevertheless ride thither even though I hope your Electoral 
Highness will excuse my foolish words for nine days running it 
were to rain Duke Georges, each one nine times as furious as he. 
He actually looks upon my Lord Christ as a man of straw ! " 3 
In such homely words did he speak, even to his own sovereign 
whose protection counted for so much, in order to make it yet 
clearer, that he was quite convinced of having received his 
Evangel, " not from man, but solely from heaven through our 
Lord Jesus Christ" ; the Prince, his protector, should know, that 
God, " thanks to the Evangel, has made us happy lords over 
death and all the devils." For this reason, according to his 
famous boast, he would still have ridden to Worms in defiance 
of the devils, even had they outnumbered the tiles on the 
roofs. 4 

From the castle of Coburg, though himself a prey to all sorts 
of anxiety, he addressed the following ironical, though at the 
same time encouraging, admonition to faint-hearted Melanch- 
thon : Why don t you fight against your own self ? " What 
more can the devil do than slay us ? What then ? You fight in 
every other field, why not then fight also against your own self, 

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

2 Ib., p. 391 f. = 23. 

3 March 5, 1522, ib., Erl. ed., 53, p. 106 f. (" Brief wechsel," 3, 
p. 296). * Ib. 



312 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

viz. your biggest enemy who puts so many weapons against you 
in Satan s hands ? J>1 It was thus that Luther was wont to fight 
against himself and to rob the devil of his fancied weapons. 

Often enough did he find salvation in humour alone, for 
instance, when he had to overcome serious danger, or to beat 
down difficulties or the censure of his friends and followers. 
The plague was threatening Wittenberg ; hence he jokes 
away his own fears and those of others with a jest about his 
" trusty weathercock," the governor Metzsch ; the latter 
had a nose which could detect the plague while yet five ells 
below the ground ; as he still remained in Wittenberg they 
had good reason to know that no danger existed. On the 
same occasion he laughs and cries in the same breath over 
the behaviour of the schoolboys, all the schools having been 
already closed as a measure of precaution ; the plague had 
got into their pens and paper so that it would be impossible 
to make of them " either preachers, pastors, . or school 
masters ; in the end swine and dogs will be our best cattle, 
towards which end the Papists are busily working." 2 

Further instances of jests of this sort, made under 
untoward circumstances, are met with in connection with 
his marriage. His union with Catherine Bora, as the reader 
already knows, set tongues wagging, both in his own camp 
and outside. The resentment this aroused in him he 
attempted to banish by a sort of half -jesting, half -earnest 
defiance. " Since they are already cracked and crazy, I will 
drive them still madder and so have done with it ! " 3 He 
jests incidentally over the suddenness of his marriage, over 
the proof needed to convince even himself that he was really 
a married man, over his surprise at finding plaits of hair 
beside him when he awoke ; he also makes merry over his 
not very seemly play on the words Bore and bier. 4 

At a later date he found the arrangement of the new 
ritual very irksome, both on account of the difficulty of 
introducing any sort of uniformity and also owing to the 
petty outside interests which intruded themselves. Here 
again he tries to throw such questions to the winds by the 

1 June 27, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 35. 

2 To the Elector Johann Frederick, July 9, 1535, " Werke," Erl. ed. 
55, p. 95 (" Brief wechsel," 10, p. 169). 

3 To Johann Riihel, etc., June 15, 1525, " Werke," Erl. ed., 53, 
p. 314 (" Brief wechsel," 5, p. 195). 

4 See vol. ii., p. 184. 



HUMOUR AND SATIRE 313 

use of humour : " Put on three copes instead of one, if that 
pleases you," he wrote to Provost George Buchholzer of 
Berlin, who had sent him an anxious letter of inquiry ; and 
if Joachim, the Brandenburg Elector, is not content with 
one procession " go around seven times as Josue did at 
Jericho, and, if your master the Margrave does not mind, 
His Electoral Highness is quite at liberty to leap and dance, 
with harps, kettledrums, cymbals and bells as David did 
before the ark of the Lord." 1 

During the whole of his career he felt the embarrassment 
of being called upon by the Catholics to produce proof of his 
higher mission. At times he sought to escape the difficulty, 
so far as miracles went, by arguing on, and straining for 
all they were worth, certain natural occurrences ; on other 
occasions, however, he took refuge in jests. On one occasion 
he even whimsically promised to perform a manifest miracle. 
This was at a time when he was hard put to provide lodgings 
for the nuns who had fled to Wittenberg and when it was 
rumoured that he had undertaken a journey simply to 
escape the trouble. " I shall arm myself with prayer, he 
said, and, if it is needful, I shall assuredly work a miracle. 
And at this he laughed," so the notes of one present relate. 2 

Luther frequently lays it down that merry talk and good 
spirits are a capital remedy against temptations to doubts 
on the faith and remorse of conscience. 

He exhorts Prince Joachim of Anhalt, who had much to suffer 
from the " Tempter " and from " melancholy," to be always 
cheerful, since God has commanded us ".to be glad in His 
presence." " I, who have passed my life in sorrow and looking 
at the black side of things, now seek for joy, and find it whenever 
I can. We now have, praise be to God, so much knowledge 
[through the Evangel] that we can afford to be cheerful with a 
good conscience." It was perfectly true so he goes on in a 
strangely shamefaced manner, to tell the pious but faint-hearted 
Prince that, at. times, he himself still dreaded cheerfulness, as 
though it were a sin, just as the Prince was inclined to do ; " but 
God-fearing, honourable, modest joy of good and pious people 
pleases God well, even though occasionally there be a word or 
merry tale too much." 3 

" Nothing does more harm than a sadness," he declares in 
1542. " It drieth up the bones, as we read in Prov. xvii. [22]. 

1 Dec. 4, 1539, " Brief wechsel," 12, p. 317. 

2 Amsdort to Spalatin, April 4, 1523, see Kolde, " Anal. Lutherana," 
p. 443. 

3 May 23, 1534, " Werke," Erl. ed. 55, p. 54 f. " Brief wechsel," 
10, p. 48. 



314 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Therefore let a young man be cheerful, and for this reason I would 
inscribe over his table the words Sadness hath killed many, 
etc. " (Eccles. xxx. 25). x "Thoughts of fear," he insists on 
another occasion, " are the sure weapons of death " ; " Such 
thoughts have done me more harm than all my enemies and all 
my labours." They were at times so insistent that my " efforts 
against them were in vain." . . . "So depraved is our nature that 
we are not then open to any consolation ; still, they must be 
fought against by every means." 2 

For certain spells, particularly in earlier years, Luther never 
theless succeeded so well in assuming a cheerful air and in keep 
ing it up for a considerable while, in spite of the oppression he felt 
within, that those who came into contact with him were easily 
deceived. Of this he once assures us himself ; after referring to 
the great " spiritual temptations " he had undergone with " fear 
and trembling " he proceeds : " Many think that because I 
appear outwardly cheerful mine is a bed of roses, but God knows 
how it stands with me in my life." 3 

In a word, we frequently find Luther using jocularity as an 
antidote against depression. As he had come to look upon it as 
the best medicine against what he was wont to call his " tempta 
tions " and had habituated himself to its use, and as these 
" temptations " practically never ceased, so, too, he was loath to 
deprive himself of so welcome a remedy even in the dreariest 
days of his old age. In 1530, to all intents and purposes, he 
openly confesses that such was the case. In a letter to Spalatin, 
written from the Coburg at a time when he was greatly disturbed, 
he describes for his friend s amusement the Diet which the birds 
were holding on the roof of the Castle. His remarks he brings to 
a conclusion with the words : " Enough of such jests, earnest and 
needful though they be for driving away the thoughts that worry 
me if indeed they can be driven away." 4 

Still deeper is the glimpse we get into his inmost thoughts 
when, in his serious illness of 1527, he voiced his regret for his 
free and offensive way of talking, remarking that it was often due 
to his seeking " to drive away the sadness," to which his " weak 
flesh " was liable. 

One particular instance in which he resorted to jest as a 
remedy is related in the Table-Talk; "In 1541, on the Sunday 
after Michaelmas, Dr. Martin was very cheerful and jested with 
his good friends at table. . . . He said : Do not take it amiss of 
me, for I have received many bad tidings to-day and have just 
read a troublesome letter. Things are ever at their best," so he 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 249. 

2 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 450. For other remedies against 
sadness mentioned here or elsewhere see above, p. 92 f., and below, 
p. 323, and vol. iii., pp. 175 ff., 305 ff. ; vol. iv., p. 311 f. 

3 Bugenhagen s account of Luther s illness and temptations of 
1527, from the Latin. Walch s ed. of Luther s Works, 21, p. 158* ; 
Vogt, " Bugenhagens Brief wechsel," 1888, p. 64 ff. 

4 April 23, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 308. 



HUMOUR AND SATIRE 315 

concludes defiantly, " when the devil attacks us in this way." 1 
It is just the same sort of defiance, that, for all his fear of the 
devil, leads him to sum up all the worst that the devil can do to 
him, and then to pour scorn upon it. During the pressing 
anxieties of the Coburg days at the time of the Diet of Augsburg, 
it really seemed to him that the devil had " vowed to have his 
life." He comforts himself with the words : " Well, if he eats me, 
he shall, please God, swallow such a purge as shall gripe his belly 
and make his anus seem all too small." 2 

It is a matter of common knowledge that people addicted 
to melancholy can at certain hours surpass others in cheerful 
ness and high spirits. When one side of the scale is weighed 
down with sadness many a man will instinctively mend 
things by throwing humour into the other ; at first, indeed, 
such humour may be a trifle forced, but later it can become 
natural and really serve its purpose well. The story often told 
might quite well be true : an actor consulted a physician for 
a remedy against melancholy ; the latter, not recognising 
the patient, suggested that he might be cheered by going to 
see the performance of a famous comedian who was no 
other than the patient himself. 

More on the Nature of Luther s Jests 

The character of Luther s peculiar and often very broad 
and homely humour is well seen in his letter-preface to a 
story on the devil which he had printed in 1535 and which 
made the round of Germany. 3 

The devil, according to this " historia . . . which happened 
on Christmas Eve, 1534," had appeared to a Lutheran pastor in 
the confessional, had blasphemed Christ and departed leaving 
behind a horrible stench. In the Preface Luther pretends to be 
making enquiries of Amsdorf, " the chief and true Bishop of 
Magdeburg," as he calls him, as to the truth and the meaning of 
the apparition. He begs him " to paint and depict the pious 
penitent as he deserves," though quite aware that Amsdorf, the 
Bishop, would refer back the matter to him as the Pope (" which 
indeed I am "). He had ready the proper absolution which 
Amsdorf was to give the devil : "I, by the authority of Our 
Lord Jesus Christ and the most holy Father Pope Luther the 
First, deny you the grace of God and life everlasting and here 
with consign you to hell," etc. Meanwhile he himself gives his 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 310. 

2 To Melanchthon, June 29, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 43. 

" Werke," Erl. ed., 55, p. 86 ff. (" Briefwechsel," 10, p. 127). The 
preface is addressed to Amsdorf. 



316 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

view of the tale, which he assumes to be true, and, as so often 
elsewhere when he has to do with the devil, proceeds to mingle 
mockery of the coarsest sort with bitter earnest. When the Evil 
One ventures to approach so close to the Evangel, every nerve of 
Luther is strung to hatred against the devil and his Roman Pope ? 
both of whom he overwhelms with a shower of the foulest 
abuse. 

" The devil s jests are for us Christians a very serious matter " ; 
having a great multitude of kings, princes, bishops and clergy on 
his side he makes bold to mock at Christ ; but let us pray that he 
may soil himself even as he soiled himself in Paradise ; our joy, 
our consolation and our hope is, that the seed of the woman 
shall crush his head. Hence, so he exclaims, the above absolution 
sent to Amsdorf is amply justified. Like confession, like absolu 
tion ; "as the prayer, so the incense," with which words he turns 
to another diabolical apparition, which a drunken parson had in 
bed ; he had meant to conclude the canonical hours by reciting 
Compline in bed, and, while doing so, " se concacavit," 1 whereupon 
the devil appeared to him and said: "As the prayer, so also is 
the incense." 2 

He applies the same " humorous " story to the Pope and his 
praying monks in his " An den Kurfursten zu Sachsen und Land- 
graven zu Hesse von dem gefangenen H. von Brunswig " (1545). 3 
They neither can pray nor want to pray, nor do they know 
what it is to pray nor how one ought to pray, because they have 
not the Word and the faith " ; moreover, their only aim is to 
make the " kings and lords " believe they are devout and holy. 4 
" On one occasion when a tipsy priest was saying Compline in 
bed, he heaved during the recital and gave vent to a big born- 
bart ; Ah, said the devil, that s just right, as the prayer so also is 
the incense ! " All the prayers of the Pope and " his colleges and 
convents " are not one whit better " than that drunken priest s 
Compline and incense. Nay, if only they were as good there 
might still be some hope of the Pope growing sober, and of his 
saying Matins better than he did his stinking Compline. But 
enough of this." 6 

Of this form of humour we have many specimens in 
Luther s books, letters and Table-Talk, which abound in 
unsavoury anecdotes, particularly about the clergy and the 
monks. He and his friends, many of whom had at one time 
themselves been religious, seem to have had ready an 
inexhaustible fund of such stories. Some Protestants have 
even argued that it was in the convent that Luther and his 
followers acquired this taste, and that such was the usual 
style of conversation among " monks and celibates." It is 
indeed possible that the sweepings of the monasteries and 

1 See Dietz, " Wdrterbuch, etc." 2 Ib., p. 89. 

3 Ib., 26 2 , p. 251. 4 Ib., p. 275. 6 Ib. 



HUMOUR AND SATIRE 317 

presbyteries may have furnished some contributions to this 
store, but the truth is that in many cases the tales tell 
directly against the monks and clergy, and are really 
inventions made at their expense, some, of them in pre- 
Reformation times. Frequently they can be traced back 
to those lay circles in which it was the fashion to scoff at the 
clergy. In any case it would be unjust, in order to excuse 
Luther s manner of speech, to ascribe it simply to " cloistral 
humour " and the " jokes of the sacristy." The evil had its 
root far more in the coarseness on which Luther prided 
himself and in the mode of thought of his friends and table 
companions, than in the monastery or among the clergy. 
Nearly everywhere there were regulations against foul 
speaking among the monks, and against frivolous conversa 
tion on the part of the clergy, though, of course, the existence 
of such laws does not show that they were always complied 
with. That Luther s manner of speech was at all general 
has still to be proved. Moreover, the reference to Luther s 
" monkish " habits is all the less founded, seeing that the 
older he gets and the dimmer his recollections become, the 
stronger are the proofs he gives of his love for such season 
ing ; nor must we forget that, even in the monastery, he 
did not long preserve the true monastic spirit, but soon 
struck out a way of his own and followed his own tastes. 

Luther was in high spirits when he related in his Table- 
Talk the following tales from the Court of Brandenburg and 
the city of Florence. At the Offertory of the Mass the grand 
father of Margrave Casimir of Brandenburg, attended by a 
trusty chamberlain, watching the women as they passed up 
to make their offering at the altar, amused themselves by 
counting up the adulteresses, supposed or real ; as each 
passed the Margrave told the chamberlain to " draw " a 
bead of his rosary. The chamberlain s wife happening to 
pass, the Margrave, to his courtier s mortification, told him 
to draw a bead also for her. When, however, the Margrave s 
mother came forward the chamberlain had his revenge and 
said : Now it s your turn to draw. Upon which the Margrave 
gathered up his rosary indignantly with the words : " Let 
us lump all the whores together ! "* The Florentine storiette 
he took from a book entitled " The Women of Florence." 
An adulteress was desirous of entering into relations with a 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 390. 



318 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

young man. She accordingly complained quite untruthfully 
to his confessor, that he had been molesting her against her 
will ; she also brought the priest the presents she alleged 
he had brought her, and described how by night he climbed 
up to her window by means of a tree that stood beneath it. 
The zealous confessor thereupon, no less than three times, 
takes the supposed peccant lover to task ; finally he speaks 
of the tree. Ah, thinks the young man, that s rather a good 
idea, I might well try that tree. Having learned of this mode 
of entry he accordingly complies with the lady s wishes. 
" And so," concludes Luther, " the confessor, seeking to 
separate them, actually brought them together. Boundless 
indeed is the poetic ingenuity and cunning of woman." 1 

Strong as was Luther s whimsical bent, yet we are 
justified in asking whether the delightful and morally so 
valuable gift of humour in its truest sense was really his. 

" Genuine humour is ever kindly," rightly says Alb. 
Roderich, " and only savages shoot with poisoned darts." 
Humour as an ethical quality is the aptitude so to rise 
above this petty world as to see and smile at the follies and 
light sides of human life ; it has been defined as an optim 
istic kind of comedy which laughs at what is funny without, 
however, hating it, and which lays stress on the kindlier side 
of what it ridicules. 

Of this happy, innocent faculty gently to smooth the 
asperities of life Luther was certainly not altogether devoid, 
particularly in private life. But if we take him as a whole, 
we find that his humour is as a rule disfigured by a bitter 
spirit of controversy, by passion and by hate. His wit tends 
to pass into satire and derision. Here we have anything but 
the overflowing of a contented heart which seeks to look at 
everything from the best side and to gratify all. He may 
have delighted his own followers by his unmatched art of 
depreciating others in the most grotesque of fashions, of 
exaggerating their foibles, and, with his keen powers of 
imagination, of giving the most amusingly ignominious 
account of their undoing, but, when judged impartially 
from a literary and moral standpoint, his output appears 
more as irritating satire, as clever, bitter word-play and 
sarcasm, rather than as real humour. 

1 Ib. 



CHAPTER XXXII 

A LIFE FULL OF STRUGGLES OF CONSCIENCE 

1. On Luther s "Temptations" in General 

AN account given by Luther himself in 1537 and taken 
down by his pupils from his own lips is the best introduction 
to the subject now to be considered. 

" He spoke of his spiritual sickness ( morbus spiritualis ). 
For a fortnight he had tasted neither food nor drink and had 
had no sleep. During this time, so he said, I wrestled 
frequently with God and impatiently upbraided Him with 
His promises. While in this state he had been forced to 
complain, with the sick and troubled Job, that God was 
killing him and hiding His countenance from him ; like Job, 
however, he had learnt to \vait for His assistance, for here 
too his case was like that of the " man crushed, and delivered 
over to the gates of death " and on whom the devil had 
poured forth his wrath. How many, he adds, have to 
wrestle like he and Job until they are able to say " I know, 
O God, that Thou art gracious." 1 

Other statements of Luther s at a later period supply us with 
further information. Lauterbach notes, on Oct. 7, 1538, the 
complaint already quoted : "I have my mortal combats daily. 
We have to struggle and wrangle w T ith the devil who has very 
hard bones, till we learn how to crack them. Paul and Christ 
had hard work enough with the devil." 2 On Aug. 16 of the same 
year Lauterbach takes down the statement : " Had anyone else 
had to undergo such temptations as I, he would long since have 
expired. I should not of my own have been able to endure the 
blows of Satan, just as Paul could not endure the all-too-great 
temptations of Christ. In short, sadness is a death in itself." 3 

With the spiritual sickness above mentioned was combined, as 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 406 : " Mentionem fecit morbi sui 
spiritualis. Nam in 14 diebus nihil edit neque bibit neque dormivit. 
Quo tempore scepius disputavi cum Deo, " etc. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 144. 

3 16., p. 113. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 62, p. 16. 

319 



320 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

has been already pointed out (above, p. 226 f.), a growing state of 
depression: "I have lived long enough," he said in 1542; "the 
devil is weary of my life and I am sick of hating the devil." 1 
Terrible thoughts of the " Judgment of God " repeatedly rose up 
before him and caused him great fear. 2 

Before this, according to other notes, he had said to his table 
companions, that he was daily " at grips with Satan " ; 3 that 
during the attacks of the devil he had often not known whether 
he were "dead or alive." 4 "The devil," so he assures them, 
" brought me to such a pitch of despair that I did not even know 
if there was a God." 5 " When the devil finds me idle, unmindful 
of God s Word, and thus unarmed, he assails my conscience with 
the thought that I have taught what is false, that I have rent 
asunder the churches which were so peaceful and content under the 
Papacy, and caused many scandals, dissensions and factions by 
my teaching, etc. Well, I can t deny that I am. often anxious 
and uneasy about this, but, as soon as I lay hold on the Word, 
I again get the best." 6 

To the people he said, in a sermon in 1531 : " The devil is 
closer to us than we dream. I myself often feel the devil raging 
within me. Sometimes I believe and sometimes I don t, some 
times I am cheerful and sometimes sad." 7 A year later he 
describes in a sermon how the devil, who " attacks the pious," 
had often made him " sweat much and his heart to beat," before 
he could withstand him with the right weapon, viz. with God s 
Word, namely, the office committed to him and the service he 
had rendered to the world, " which it was not his to belie ! " 8 
Some ten years before this he had spoken still more plainly to 
his hearers at Wittenberg, telling them, strange to say, of his 
experience in early days of the good effects of confession : "I 
would not for all the treasures of the world give up private 
confession, for I know what strength and comfort it has been to 
me. No one knows what it can do unless he has fought often and 
much with the devil. Indeed, the devil would long ago have done 
for me, had not confession saved me." In fact whoever tells his 
troubles to his brother, receives from him, as from God, comfort 
" for his simple conscience and faint heart " ; seldom indeed did 
one find a " strong, firm faith " which did not stand in need of 

1 To Justus Menius, May 1, 1542, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 467. 

2 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 159, June 18, 1540 : " tentari de 
blasphemia, de iudicio Dei, ibi nee peccatum intelligimus nee remedia 
novimus" According to other passages he is here speaking from his 
own experience. 

3 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 222. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 57, p. 65. 5 Ib., p. 66. 

6 Ib., 60, p. 82 f. 

7 " Werke," Weim. ed., 34, 2, p. 266 ; Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 76. Sermon 
at Michaelmas. In place of the devil s " raging " (" Rasen "), as in 
Erl. ed., the Weim. ed. reads " nosing " (" Nasen ") [? " Nahsein "]. 
Rorer s MS. reads : " Et in me sentio satance nisum." 

8 " Werke," Weim. ed., 36, p. 476 ; Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 359, Sermon on 
1 John iv. (16-21). 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 321 

this ; hardly anyone could boast of possessing it. " You do not 
know yet," he concludes, " what labour and trouble it costs to 
fight with and conquer the devil. But I know it well, for I have 
eaten a mouthful or two of salt with him. I know him well, and 
so does he know me." 1 

After all these remarkably frank admissions there can 
remain no doubt that a heavy mist of doubts and anxieties 
overshadowed Luther s inner life. 

A closer examination of this darker side of his soul seems 
to promise further information concerning his inner life. 
Here, too, it is advisable to sum up the phenomena, retracing 
them back to their very starting-point. Though much of 
what is to be said has already been mentioned, still, it is 
only now, towards the end of his life, that the various traits 
can in any sense be combined so as to form something as 
near a complete picture as possible. We have to thank 
Luther s communicativeness, talkativeness and general 
openness to his friends, that a tragic side of his inner life has 
been to some extent revealed, which otherwise might for 
ever have been buried in oblivion. 

It is true that, to forestall what follows, few nowadays 
will be disposed to |ollow Luther and to look on the devil as 
the originator of his doubts and qualms of conscience. His 
fantastic ideas of the " diabolical combats " he had to wage, 
form, as we shall see (below, p. 329 ff .), part of his devil-mania. 
Nevertheless his many references to his ordinary, nay, 
almost daily, inward combats or "temptations," as he is 
accustomed to style them, are not mere fabrications, but 
really seem to come from a profoundly troubled soul. In 
what follows many such utterances will be quoted, because 
only thus can one reach a faithful picture of his changing 
moods which otherwise would seem barely credible. These 
utterances, though usually much alike, at times strike a 
different note and thus depict his inner life from a new and 
sometimes surprising side. 

2. The Subject-matter of the "Temptations" 

The spiritual warfare Luther had to wage concerned 
primarily his calling and his work as a whole. 

You have preached the Evangel," so the inner voice, 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 10, 3, pp. 61 f., 63 f. ; Erl. ed., 28, pp. 283, 
285, at the end of the eight sermons against Carlstadt. 



322 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

which he describes as the devil s tempting, says to him ; 
" But who commanded you to do so, quis iussit ? Who 
called upon you to do things such as no man ever did 
before ? How if this were displeasing to God and you had 
to answer for all the souls that perish ? !1 

" Satan has often said to me : How if your own doctrine were 
false which charges the Pope, monks and Mass-priests with such 
errors ? Often he so overwhelmed me that the sweat has poured 
off me, until I said to him, go and carry your complaints to my 
God Who has commanded me to obey this Christ." 2 " The devil 
would often have laid me low with his argument : Thou art not 
called, had I not been a Doctor." 3 "I have had no greater 
temptation," he said after dinner on Dec. 14, 1531, " and none 
more grievous than that about my preaching ; for I have said to 
myself : You alone are at the bottom of this ; if it s all wrong you 
have to answer for all the many souls which it brings down to 
hell. In this temptation I have often myself descended into hell 
till God recalled me and strengthened me, telling me that it was 
indeed the Word of God and true doctrine ; but it costs much 
until one reaches this comfort." 4 "Now the devil troubles me 
with other thoughts [than in the Papacy], for he accuses me 
thus : Oh, what a vast multitude have you led astray by your 
teaching ! Sometimes amidst such temptation one single word 
consoles me and gives me fresh courage." 5 

Not merely does he say this in the Table-Talk but even writes 
it in his Bible Commentaries. In his exposition of Psalm xlv. he 
speaks of an " argumentation and objection " which the devil 
urges against him : " Lo, you stand all alone and are seeking to 
overthrow the good order [of the Church] established with so 
much wisdom. For even though the Papacy be not without its 
sins and errors, what about you ? Are you infallible ? Are you 
without sin ? Why raise the standard of revolt against the 
house of the Lord when you yourself can only teach them what 
you yourself are full of, viz. error and sin ? These thoughts," he 
continues, " upset one very much. . . . Hence we must learn 
that all our strength lies in hearing God s Word and laying hold 
on it, in seeing God s works and believing in them. Whoever 
does not do this will be taken captive by the devil and over 
thrown." He is fully cognisant of the strength of the objection 
which dogs his footsteps : Though sins and faults are to be met 
with in individual members of the hierarchy, still we must honour 
their " office and authority." 6 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 221 sq. 

2 Ib., 3, p. 154 sq. " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 70. Cordatus, " Tage- 
buch," p. 107. Taken from Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 26, 1532. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 243. 

Schlaginhaufen, p. 11 (Dec. 14, 1531). Cp. "Werke," Erl. ed., 
60, p. 46. 5 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 128. 

6 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 18, p. 223. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 323 

Among Luther s peculiar doctrines the principal ones 
which became the butt of " temptations " were his funda 
mental theses on Justification, on the Law and on good 
works. 

With regard to his doctrine of Justification, on Dec. 14, 1531, 
he gave his pupil Schlaginhaufen, who also failed to find comfort 
in it, some advice as to how he was to help himself. The devil 
was wont " to come to him " [Luther] with righteousness and to 
"insist on our being actively righteous," and since none of us are, 
" no one can venture to stand up to him " ; what one should do 
was, however, resolutely to fall back on passive righteousness and 
to say to Satan : Not by my own righteousness am I justified, 
but by the righteousness of the man Christ. " Do you know 
Him ? " In this way we vanquish him by " the Word." Another 
method, also a favourite one of his, 1 so he instructs his anxious 
pupil, was to rid oneself of such ideas by " thinking of dancing, 
or of a pretty girl ; that also is good," eating and drinking are 
likewise helpful ; for one who is tempted, fasting is a hundred times 
worse than eating and drinking." 2 "This is the great art," he 
repeats at the beginning of the following year, looking back upon 
his own bitter experiences, " to pass from my sin to Christ s 
righteousness to know that Christ s righteousness is mine as 
surely as I know that this body is mine. . . . What astonishes 
me is that I cannot learn this doctrine, and yet all my pupils 
believe they have it at their finger-tips." 3 

The doctrine of the Law in its relation to the Gospel, a point 
which he was never able to make quite clear to himself, con 
stituted in his case an obstacle to peace of mind. 4 In consequence 
of his own experience he warns others from the outset against 
giving way to any anxious thoughts about this : " Whoever, Law 
in hand, begins to dispute with the devil is already a beaten man 
and a prisoner. . . . Hence let no one dare to dispute with him 
about the Law, or about sin, but let him rather desist in good 
time." 5 " When Satan reproaches me and says : The Law is 
also the Word of God, I reply : God s Word is only the promise 
of God whereby He says : Let me be Thy God. In addition to 
this, however, He also gives the Law, but for another purpose, not 
that we may be saved thereby." 6 

But God, as Luther was well aware, will, as He threatens, 
judge people by their fulfilment of the Law and only grant 
salvation to those who keep it. 

The stern and clear exhortations of Scripture on fidelity to the 

1 See vol. iii., pp. 175 f., 178 f. 

2 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 11. Cp. ib., Veit Dietrich s 
statement, and vol. iii., p. 177 f. 

3 Schlaginhaufen, p. 41, Jan.-March, 1532. Cp. Cordatus, p. 131 ; 
" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 298 ; " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 402. 

4 Above, p. 7 ff. * " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 301. 
6 Ib., p. 301 f. 



324 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Law and on penance for its transgression often filled his soul 
with the utmost terror, and so did the text : " Unless you do 
penance, you shall all likewise perish " (Luke xiii. 3). Even in 
one of his sermons he confessed to the people in this connection, 
that he was acquainted from experience " with the cunning of 
the devil and his malicious tricks, how he is wont to upbraid us 
with the Law ... to make a real hell for us so that the wide 
world seems all too narrow to hold us " ; the devil depicts Christ 
" as though He were angry with sinners " ; "he grabs a text of 
Holy Scripture, or one of Christ s warnings, and suddenly stabs 
us so hard in the heart . . . that we actually believe it, nay, our 
conscience would swear to it a thousand times," that " it was 
indeed Christ Who inspired such thoughts, whereas all the while 
it was the devil himself." " Of what I say I have had some 
experience myself." 1 He then goes on to quote the above 
exhortation to penance as an instance of the sort of warning on 
which the devil seizes, though these words have ever been 
regarded by God-fearing Christians as a powerful incentive to 
religion and not at all as productive of excessive fear, at least in 
those who put their trust in grace. Luther, however, thinks it 
right to add : " By fear the devil fouls and poisons with his venom 
the pure and true knowledge of Christ." 

Hence it is useless, or at best but a temporary expedient, to 
refrain from disputing with Satan on the Law. Nor is Luther s 
invitation much better : " When a man is tempted, or is with 
those who are tempted, let him slay Moses and throw every stone 
at him on which he can lay hands." 2 

His doctrine of good works was no less a source of disquietude 
to Luther. He declared that Satan was sure of an " easy victory " 
" once he gets a man to think of what he has done or left undone." 
What one had to do was to retort to the devil, strong in one s 
fiducial faith : " Though I may not have done this or that good 
work, still I am saved by the forgiveness of sins, as baptised and 
redeemed by the flesh and blood of Christ " ; beyond this he 
should not go : " Faith ranks above deeds " ; still, so he adds, 
before a man reaches this point, all may be over for him. "It is 
hard in the time of temptation to get so far ; even Christ found it 
difficult " ; " it is hard to escape from the idea of works," i.e. 
from believing that they as much as faith are required for salva 
tion and that they are meritorious. 3 

The " devil " also frequently twitted Luther, so he 
declares, with the consequences of his doctrines. 

" Often he tormented me," he says, " with words such as these : 
Look at the cloisters ; formerly they enjoyed a delightful peace, 

1 16., 20 2 , 1, p. 161, Sermon on Gal. i. 4 f. (1538). 

2 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 48, with the addition : " But 
the Law must be preached to those who are well." 

3 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 222. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 325 

of which you have made an end ; who told you to do such a 
thing ? On one occasion, when making some such admissions 
concerning the effect of his teaching on the religious vows, one 
interrupted him and tried to show that he had merely insisted 
that God was not to be worshipped by the doctrines and com 
mandments of men (Mt. xv. 9), and that the dissolution of the 
monasteries was not so much his work as a consequence ordained 
by God ; Luther replied frankly : " My friend, before such a 
thought would have occurred to me during such temptations I 
should indeed have been in a fine sweat." 1 

" When Satan finds me idle and not armed with the Word," 
so we read in the notes made of one of his sermons, 2 "he puts it 
into my conscience that I am a disturber of the public order, 
a preacher of false doctrines and a herald of revolt. This he often 
does. But as soon as I make use of the Word as a weapon I get 
the best, for I answer him. ... It is written you must hear this 
man [the Son of God] or everything falls. God heeds not the 
world, even were there ten rebellious worlds. It was thus that 
Paul, too, had to console himself when accused of preaching 
sedition against God and the Emperor." 3 In this wise does 
Luther seek to fall back on Christ and on his divine commission. 

He frequently, indeed usually, appeals to this source of consola 
tion, and it is therefore due to him to quote a few more such 
statements. He struggles, in spite of all his fears, not to relinquish 
his peculiar trust in Christ. 

Yet, as he often complains in this connection, " the devil knows 
well how to get me away." 4 

" He says to me : See how much evil arises from your doctrine. 
To which I reply : Much good has also come of it. Oh, says he, 
that is a mere nothing ! He is a fine talker and can make a great 
beam of a little splinter, and destroy what is good and dissolve 
it into thin air. He has never been so angry in his life. ... I 
must hold fast to Christ and to the Evangel. He frequently 
begins to dispute with me about this, and well knows how to get 
me away. He is very wroth, I feel it and understand it well." 3 
The moral consequences of the religious innovations, and the 
disunion so rife undoubtedly weighed heavily on Luther. " We, 
who boast of being Evangelical," so he is impelled to exclaim in 
1538, "fling the most holy Gospel to the winds as though it were 
but a quotation from Terence." "Alas, Good God, how bitter 
the devil must be against us, to incite the very ministers of the 
Word against each other and to inspire them with mutual 
hatred ! " 6 

Misgivings as to his own salvation also constituted a 
source of profound anxiety for Luther. 

1 Schlaginhaufen, ib., p. 122. 

2 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," ed. Lcesche, p. 411. Cp. Khummer, in 
Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 74. 

3 Cordatus, "Tagebuch," p. 363. 4 "Werke," Erl. ed., 58, 301. 
5 Ib. 6 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 21. 



326 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

So repeatedly did he hear in fancy the devil announcing 
to him in a voice of thunder his eternal damnation, that he 
was, as he confesses, almost reduced to despair and to 
blasphemy. 

" When we are thus tempted to blasphemy on account 
of God s judgment," so he said on June 18, 1540, " we fail 
to see either that it is a sin, or how to avoid it," " such 
abominable thoughts does the prince of this world suggest 
to the mind : Hatred of God, blasphemy, despair ; these 
are the devil s own fiery darts ; St. Paul understood them 
to some extent when he felt the sting of the devil in his 
flesh [2 Cor. xii. 7]. These are the high temptations [which, 
as he explains elsewhere, were reserved for himself and for 
his preachers]. No Pope has known them. These stupid 
donkeys were familiar with no other temptations than those 
of carnal passion. ... To such they capitulated, and so 
did c Jeronimus. Yet such temptations are easily to be 
remedied while virgins and women remain with us." 1 But 
in that other sort of temptation it is hard to " keep cheerful " 
and to tell the devil boldly : " God is not angry as you say." 2 

On one occasion Melanchthon watched him during such 
a struggle, when he was battling against despair and the 
appalling thought that he had been delivered over to the 
" wrath of God and the punishment of sin." Luther, he 
says, was in " such sore terror that he almost lost conscious 
ness," and sighed much as he wrestled with a text of Paul 
on unbelief and grace. 3 

Several incidents and many utterances noted down from 
Luther s own lips give us an even better insight into the 
varying character of his " temptations " and into their nature 
as a whole. 

3. An Episode. Terrors of Conscience become Temptations 
of the Devil 

Schlaginhaufen and Luther 

Johann Schlaginhaufen, the pupil of Luther whom we 
have had so frequent occasion to mention, complained to his 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 159. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 47. 

3 " Vitse reformatorum," ed. Neander, " Vita Lutheri," c. 4, p. 5. 
The text was Rom. xi. 32. 



" COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS " 327 

master in the winter of 1531 of the deep anxiety from which 
he could not shake himself free, which led him to fear for the 
salvation of his soul. Luther sought in vain to comfort the 
troubled man by pointing to his own case. 1 The fact that 
the master attributed the whole matter to the devil only 
added to the confusion of his unfortunate pupil. So much 
was Schlaginhaufen upset, that on one occasion, on New 
Year s Eve, 1531, he actually swooned whilst on a visit 
to Luther s house. Luther, nothing abashed, promptly 
exorcised the devil who had brought on the fainting-fit, 
using thereto the Bible words : " The Lord rebuke thee, 
Satan " (Zach. iii. 2 : " Increpet te Dominus ") ; he added : 
" He [the devil], who should be an angel of life, is an angel 
of death. He tries us with lying and with murder." 

Schlaginhaufen, after having been put to bed, began to come 
to, whereupon Luther consoled him thus : " David suffered such 
temptations ; I too have often experienced similar ones, though 
to-day I have been free from them and have had nothing to 
complain of save only a natural weakness of the head. Let the 
godless, Cochlaeus, Faber and the Margrave [Joachim I of 
Brandenburg] be afraid and tremble. This is a temptation of the 
spirit ; it is not meant for us, for we are ministers and vicars of 
God." Here Schlaginhaufen groaned : " Oh, my sins ! " Luther 
now tried to make him understand that he must turn to the 
thought of grace and forget all about the Law. " Oh, my God," 
replied the young man, echoing his master s own thoughts, " the 
tiniest devil is stronger than the whole world ! " But Luther 
pointed out that there were even stronger good angels present for 
the Christian s protection. He went on, " Satan is as hostile as 
can be to us. Were we only to agree to worship the Pope, we 
should be his dear children, enjoy perfect peace and probably 
become cardinals. It is not you alone who endure such tempta 
tions ; I am inured to them, and Peter too and Paul were 
acquainted with them. . . . We must not be afraid of the 
miscreant." When Schlaginhaufen had sufficiently recovered to 
return to his lodgings close by, Luther paternally admonished 
him to mix more freely with others and, for the rest, to trust 
entirely in his teacher. His own waverings did not prevent him 
from giving the latter piece of advice. 2 

Of the temptations by which he himself was visited, " to 
despair, and to dread the wrath of God," he had already said to 
Schlaginhaufen, on Dec. 14, 1531 : Had it not been for them he 
would never have been able to do so much harm to the devil, or 
to preserve his own humility ; now, however, he knew to his 
shame that " when the temptation comes I am unable to get the 

1 Cp. above, p. 323. 

2 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 19 ff. 



328 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

better of a single venial sin. Thanks to these temptations I have 
attained to such knowledge and to such gifts, that, with the help 
of God, I won that glorious victory ( illam prceclaram victoriam ), 
vanquishing my monkish state, the vows, the Mass and all those 
abominations." " After that I had peace," he says, speaking of 
those earlier years, " so that I even took a wife, such good days 
had I." 1 Yet his own contemporary statements show that 
inward peace was not his at the time when he took a wife. 2 

An incident related of Luther by Schlaginhaufen shows how 
a single text of Scripture, and the train of ideas it awakened, 
could reduce him, and Bugenhagen too, to a state verging on 
distraction. " The devil on one occasion," so Luther said to him, 
" tormented and almost slew me with Paul s words to Timothy 
[1 Tim. v. 1112], so that my heart melted in my bosom; the 
reason was the abandoning by so many monks and nuns of the 
religious state in which they had vowed to God to live." (Paul, 
in the passage cited, has strong things to say of widows who prove 
unfaithful to the widowhood in which they had promised to* live.) 
" The devil," he continues concerning his attitude towards the 
devil at that time, " hid from my sight the doctrine of Justifica 
tion so that I never even thought of it, and obtruded on me the 
text ; he led me away from the doctrine of grace to dispute on 
the Law, and then he had me at his mercy. Bugenhagen happened 
to be near at the time. I submitted it to him and went with him 
into the corridor. But he too began to doubt, for he did not 
know that I was so hard put about it. Thereupon I was at first 
much upset and passed the night with a heavy heart. Next clay 
Bugenhagen came to me. I am downright angry, he said, I 
have now looked into that text more closely, and, right enough, 
the argument is ridiculous ! Thus he [the devil] is always on the 
watch for us. But nevertheless we have Christ ! " 3 We are not 
told why the argument from this Bible-passage, which insists so 
solemnly on the sacred character of vows, was regarded as 
" ridiculous." 

The last incident reminds us of the scene between Luther 
and Bugenhagen on June, 1540, narrated in the Table-Talk ; 
there Luther declares : " No sooner am I assailed by 
temptation than the flesh begins to rebel even though I 
understand the spirit. . . . Gladly would I be formally 
just, but I do not find it in me." And Bugenhagen chimed 
in : " Herr Doctor, neither do I." 4 

1 Ib., p. 9. Cp. above, vol. iii., p. 177 f. 

2 See vol. ii., p. 180 f. Cp. Melanchthon s statement, p. 177. 

3 Schlaginhaufen, ib., p: 10. 

4 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 147 f., June 11-19, 1540. See vol. iii., 
p. 203 f. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 329 

From Remorse of Conscience to Onslaughts of the Devil 

The actual cause of Luther s anxiety, as is plain from the 
above, was a certain quite intelligible disquiet of conscience. 
Yet, he chose to regard all reproaches from within as merely 
the sting of the Evil One. As time went on this became 
more and more his habit ; it is always the evil spirit who 
is at his heels, at whose person and doings, Luther, following 
his bent, pokes his jokes. 

Hieronymus Weller, another pupil tormented with inner 
pangs, once, without any beating about the bush, put down 
all his sadness to his conscience ; he declared in Luther s 
presence in the spring of 1532 : " Rather than endure such 
troubles of conscience I would willingly go through the 
worst illnesses." 1 Luther tried his best to pacify him with 
the assurance that the devil was " a murderer," and that 
" God s Mercy endureth for ever and ever." , 

Yet Luther himself had admitted to his friend Wenceslaus 
Link, that "it is extremely difficult thoroughly to convince 
oneself that such thoughts of hopelessness emanate from 
Satan and are not our very own, but the best help is to be 
found in this conviction. One must by a supreme effort 
contrive to turn one s mind to other things and chase such 
thoughts away." " But you can guess how hard it is," he 
continues, " when the thoughts refer to God and to our 
eternal salvation ; they are of such a nature that our 
conscience can neither tear itself away from them nor yet 
despise them." 2 Simply to tear itself away from such 
disquieting thoughts was certainly not possible for a con 
science in so luckless a position as Luther s, oppressed as it 
was with the weight of a world catastrophe. 

Luther once, in 1532, says quite outspokenly and not 
without a certain reference to himself : " The spirit of 
sadness is conscience itself " ; here, however, he probably 
only means that we are always conscious within ourselves 
of a painful antagonism to the Law, for he at once goes on : 
" This we must ever endure," we must necessarily be ever 
in a state of woe because in this life we " lie amidst the 
throes of childbirth that precede the Last Day ; " but the 
devil who condemns us inwardly " has not yet condemned " 

1 Schlaginhaufen, ib., p. 39. 

2 July 14, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 300. 



330 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

Christ. Those who are thus tempted " do not feel those 
carnal temptations, which are so petty compared with the 
spiritual." 1 

At any rate, so he will have it, there was a call to struggle 
most earnestly against all the inward voices that make 
themselves heard against the new teaching and the apostasy, 
just as though they came from the devil. 2 

He was helped in this, on the one hand, by his terrible 
energy, and, on the other, by a theological fallacy : " God 
has commanded that we should look to Christ for forgiveness 
of our sins ; hence whoever does not do so makes God a 
liar ; I must therefore say to the devil : Even though I be 
a scamp, yet Christ is just." 3 

Thus we find him declaring, for instance, in July, 1528 : 
" to yield to such disquiet of conscience is to be overcome by 
Satan, nay, to set Satan on the throne ! " " Such thoughts 
may appear to be quite heavenly and called for, but they are 
nevertheless Satanic and cannot but be so." When they 
refuse to depart, even though spurned by us, and we endure 
them patiently, then do we indeed " present a sublime 
spectacle to God and the angels." 4 " Away with the 
devil s sadness ! " so, at a later date, in 1544, he exhorts his 
old friend Spalatin ; " conscience stands in the cruel service 
of the devil ; a man must learn to find consolation even 
against his own conscience." 5 

4. Progress of his Mental Sufferings until their Floodtide 
in 1527-1528 

If we glance at the history of Luther s so-called " tempta 
tions " throughout the whole course of his career, we shall 
find that they were very marked at the beginning of his 
enterprise. Before 1525 they had fallen off, but they 
became again more frequent during the terrors of the 
Peasant War and then reasserted themselves with great 
violence in 1527. After abating somewhat for the next two 

1 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 40 : " Tristitice spiritus est ipsa 
conscientia" Cp. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, pp. 296, 298, and " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 60, 108. 

2 Cp. above, p. 66 ff. 

3 Schlaginhaufen, ib., p. 26, Jan.-March, 1532. 

4 To Link, July 14, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 301 f. 

5 March 8, 1544, " Brief e," 5, p. 635 : " solari contra conscientiam, 
quce est mortis scevissimum ministerium." Cp. above, p. 67. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 331 

years they again assumed alarming proportions in 1530 in 
the solitude of the Coburg and thus continue, with occasional 
breaks, until 1538. From that time until the end of his life 
he seemed to enjoy greater peace, at least from doubts 
regarding his own salvation, though, on the other hand, 
gloomy depression undoubtedly darkened the twilight of 
his days, and he complains more than ever of the weakness 
of his own faith ; we miss, however, those vivid accounts of 
his struggles of conscience which he had been wont to give. 

The Period Previous to 1527 

Let us listen first of all to Luther s self-reproach in the 
early days of his public labours ; we may recall those words 
of 1521 where he confesses, that, before he had grown so bold 
and confident, " his heart had often quaked with fear," when 
he thought of the words of his foes : " Are you alone wise 
and are all others mistaken ? Is it likely that so many 
centuries were all in the wrong ? Supposing, on the con 
trary, you were in the wrong and were leading so many 
others with you into error and to eternal perdition ! ?1 He 
admits similarly that he had still to fight with his con 
science even after having passed through the storm in 
which, " amidst excitement and confusion of conscience," 
he had discovered the true doctrine of salvation. 2 That 
discovery did not bring him into a haven of rest even though 
we have his word that, for a while, he was quite overcome 
with joy. " Oh, what great trouble and labour did it cost me, 
even though grounded on Holy Scripture, to convince my 
conscience that I had a right to stand up all alone against 
the Pope, and denounce him as Antichrist, the Bishops as 
his Apostles and the Universities as his brothels." 3 

The days he spent in the Wartburg and the opportunity 
they afforded him to look back on his past, awakened anew 
these self-reproaches; whilst in the solitude, we hear him 
complaining, that his " distress of soul still persisted and 

1 To the Wittenberg Augustinians, Nov. 1, 1521, in the dedication 
of his writing " De abroganda missa privata," " Werke," Weim. ed., 
8, p. 411 f. ; " Opp. lat. var.," 6, p. 116 (" Briefwechsel," 3, p. 243). 
Cp. above, vol. ii., p. 79 ff. 

2 " Furebam ita sceva et perturbala conscientia," etc. " Opp. lat. 
var.," 1, p. 22. Vol. i., p. 388 ff. 

3 From the letter to the Augustinians, p. 411 f. = 116. 



332 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

that his former weakness of spirit and of faith had not yet 
left him." 1 Later on he remembered having had to battle 
with every kind of despair (" omnibus desperationibus ") for 
three long years. 2 At a much later date, in 1541, he reminds 
his friends of the many inward struggles (" tot agones ") the 
first proclamation of the Evangel and his crusade against 
the word of man had cost him. 3 

About 1521 he must have arrived at a pitch of " despair 
and temptation regarding the wrath of God " such as he 
never before had tasted ; for he told one of his pupils, on 
Dec. 14, 1532, that it was " about ten years since he had 
felt this struggle so severely ; after that better days had 
dawned, but later the difficulties began anew." 4 

But, as he often admits, he was all too addicted to 
thoughts of despair, thanks to the devil who was ever lying 
in wait for him ; as for the " better days " they might easily 
be counted. " When these thoughts come upon me I forget 
everything about Christ and God, and even begin to look 
upon God as a miscreant " ; the " Laudate " stops, so he 
says, and the " Blasphemate " begins as soon as we begin to 
think of the fate to which from all eternity we are pre 
destined. 5 

Subsequent to 1525 his new state of life with its domestic 
cares and distractions, added to his satisfaction with the 
growing damage inflicted on the Papacy, appear to have 
contributed to diminish his trouble of mind. 

Later, however, in 1527, it " began anew." 

Atrocious suffering of mind and bitter anxiety concerning the 
abuses in the new Church " a vinegar sourer than all other 
vinegars, as he calls it," immediately preceded his illness which 
began about July 7, 1527. 6 Mental uneasiness and self-reproaches 
accompanied the fainting-fits which at that time seemed to 

1 To Melanchthon, May 26, 1521, " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 163. 

2 Khummer (1539), in Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 36: " per 
totum triennium laboravi omnibus desperationibus" The reading 
" omnibus desperantibus " is excluded by what follows : " scripserunt 
quidam ad me fratres ad constantiam me adhortantes" 

3 To Link, Sep. 8, 1541, " Briefe," 5, p. 399. 

4 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 9. 

5 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 205. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, p. 80. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 160 f. 

6 " Acetissimum mihi acetum" speaking of the rapacity of the 
despoilers of the churches and of the use of church property for purely 
private purposes. To Spalatin, Jan. 1, 1527, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 3. 
On this illness, see below, vol. vi., xxvi., 1. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 333 

threaten his life. His inward struggles were so severe that 
Bugenhagen, who tried to comfort him, compares them with the 
darkness of the soul " so frequently mentioned in the Psalms as 
illustrative of the spiritual pangs of hell." " Dr. Martin," writes 
the latter, who was pastor at Wittenberg and Luther s " con 
fessor," " had in all likelihood been through other such tempta 
tions, but none had ever been so severe ; this he admitted on 
the following day to Dr. Jonas, to Dr. Christian [Schurf] and to 
me. He said they were worse and more dangerous than the 
bodily ailment which befell him on that same Saturday evening 
about five o clock and which was so serious that we feared he 
would succumb under it." Luther himself, in those critical days, 
declared " that he would not retract his doctrine," and, after 
making his confession to Bugenhagen as the latter relates, 
" spoke at considerable length of the spiritual temptation he had 
been through the same morning, with such fear and trembling as 
could not be described in words." 1 It was then that the curious 
complaint was involuntarily wrung from him that those who saw 
his outward behaviour fancied he "lay on a bed of roses, though 
God knew how it stood with him." Bugenhagen and Jonas have 
embellished their accounts of this illness of their friend with many 
pious utterances supposed to have been spoken by him then. 2 

The Height of the Storm, 1527-28 

The worst struggles, lasting over many months, followed 
upon Luther s illness of 1527. 

Hardly had he recovered his normal health than we find 
his letters full of sad allusions to his abiding state of despair 
and to his fears concerning the faith, probably the most 
melancholy outpourings of his whole life. 

" For more than a week I have been tossed about between 
death and hell," he writes to Melanchthon, " so that I still 
tremble in every limb and feel utterly broken. Waves and 
storms of despair and blasphemy against God broke over me and 
I lost Christ almost entirely. But, at the intercession of the 
saints [his friends] God has begun to take pity on me and has 
delivered my soul from the lowest hell." 3 "This struggle," he 

1 " Luthers Werke," Walch ed., 21, appendix, p. 158*, from the 
Latin. Best rendered in the original Latin text in O. Vogt, " Brief - 
wechsel Bugenhagens," 1888, p. 64 ff. 

2 Cp. the account of Jonas, " Colloq.." ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 160 sqq., 
and better still, Kawerau, " Brief wechsel des Jonas," 1, 1884-85, 
p. 104 ff. The account begins : " Cum mane, ut ipse fatebatur nobis, 
habuisset grandem tentationem spiritualem et tamen utcunque ad se 
rediisset." Kawerau, ib., p. 109 : " Dixit (Lutherus) hesternam tenta 
tionem spiritualem duplo fuisse maiorem, quam hanc cegritudinem ad 
vesperam subsecutam" 

8 Aug. 2, 1527, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 71 : " Agebar ftuctibus et 



334 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

writes to Justus Menius, " goes beyond my strength. ... I am 
tried not only in body but still more, and. worst of all, in soul. 
God allows Satan and his angels thus to torment me." 1 

In a letter of Aug. 21, addressed to Johann Agricola, then still 
his friend, he informed him that the fight was not yet at an end. 
" Satan rages against me with all his might. Like another Job 
[Job xvi. 12), God has set me up as a mark, and He tempts me 
with intolerable weakness of spirit. The prayers of holy men 
indeed save me from remaining in his hands, but the wounds I have 
received in my heart will be hard to heal. I trust that my 
strivings will turn to the salvation of many." He concludes by 
saying that those in power (the Catholics) were unable to get at 
him, but that so much the more was he plagued in spirit "by 
the Prince of this world." 2 He writes in much the same vein on 
Aug. 26 to Nicholas Hausmann. 

Truly, so he again wrote to Johann Agricola, on Aug. 31, 
" neither world nor reason can understand how hard it is to 
realise that Christ is our righteousness, so deeply rooted in us is 
the doctrine of works, which has grown up with us and become 
part of us. That Christ may strengthen me I commend myself 
to your prayers." 3 Hence it was his chief dogma, the very rock 
of his Evangel, that " Satan " was then tampering with. The call 
for good works was, as he felt, beyond even his power to deny. 

" For wellnigh three months I have been feeling wretched," he 
wrote on Oct. 8, " not so much in body as in soul, so that I have 
written little or nothing, so greatly has Satan tossed me in the sieve 
[Luke xxii. 31] " 4 " God has not yet completely restored me to 
health," he announces on Oct. 19, " but in His wisdom leaves me 
a prey to Satan who assails me and buffets me ; but God also 
sends help and protection." 5 

He speaks of himself, on Oct. 27, as "a wretched and abject 
worm, harassed by the spirit of sadness," " I seek and thirst for 
nought else than for a gracious God, for as such He reveals Him 
self even to His enemies and contemners." 6 Luther had claimed, 
that, through his new doctrine and through flinging aside his 
monkish frock he had found " a gracious God," and proclaimed 
Him to men for their reconciliation ; this has been extolled as 
the greatest gain achieved by the Lutheran schism ; yet here we 
have his word for it that the solace of a Gracious God was still 
withheld from him. " I have always been in the habit of 
comforting others," he says in a letter to Amsdorf on Nov. 1 ; 
" and now I myself stand in desperate need of such consolation ; 
only one thing, however, do I wish, viz. never to be the foe of 
Christ, although I have offended Him by many and great sins. 

procellis desperationis et blasphemiae. . . . Deus emit animam meam de 
inferno inferiori " (Ps. Ixxxv. 13). 

1 Aug. 12, 1527, ib., p. 73, "Agon iste meus," etc. 

2 Ib., p. 78. 3 Ib., p. 84 f. 

4 To Michael Stiefel, ib., p. 104. 6 To Justus Jonas, ib., p. 106. 
6 To Melanchthon, ib., p. 110 : " cum aliud non quceram aut sitiam 
quam propitium Deum" 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 335 

Satan tries to make a Job of me ; he would like to sift me like 
Peter and his brethren. Oh, that God would say to him : Yet 
spare his life [Job ii. 6], and to me : I am thy salvation [Ps. 
xxxiv. 3]. Even now I still hope that His anger at my sins will 
not last for ever. . . . Meanwhile fighting goes on outside and 
fears reign within, yea, very bitter ones indeed." 1 

Thus in spite of everything he tries to buoy himself up with 
hope. 

Yet his lamentations continue. " Hardly can I breathe for 
storms and faintheartedness. . . . My Katey, however, is strong 
in faith and in good health. . . . As for me, my body is whole 
but I am tempted" (Nov. 4). 2 "From several sides at once 
fears rush in on me. My temptations torment me . . . for 
months storms and faintness of spirit have never left me ; pray 
that my faith may not fail " (Nov. 7)." I have surely troubles 
enough already, please do not add to them by crucifying me with 
your dissensions " (Nov. 9). " Erasmus and the Sacramentarians 
are now come to stamp me under foot, to persecute a man already 
utterly worn out in spirit ! " 3 " I endure God s wrath because I 
have sinned against Him. My sins, death, and Satan with his 
angels all rage against me without a break ; and now Pope and 
Emperor, Princes, Bishops and the whole world too storms in 
upon me, making common cause with the crew who vex me " ; 
everything would be endurable provided only Christ for Whose 
sake he, the " most abject of all sinners," was hated did not 
desert one " whom God has smitten " 4 and whom they persecute 
(Nov. 10). " I believe that it is no mere fiend from the ranks of 
the devil s hosts who fights with me, but the Prince of the demons 
himself ; so powerful is he and so armed to the teeth with Bible- 
texts that my knowledge of the Bible is left stranded and I am 
obliged to have recourse to the words of others ; from this you 
may get some idea of the devil s height, as they say " (Nov. 17). 

" I am well in body, but as to how it stands with me in spirit 
I am not certain. ... I seek only for a gracious Christ. . . . 
Satan wants to prevent me from writing and to drag me down 
with him to hell. May Christ tread him under foot, Amen ! " 
(Nov. 22). 5 

His work and his doctrine must, according to him, be pleasing 
to heaven ; the difficulties and the attacks from without and 
from within, all these he attributes to Satan s raging and sees in 

1 Ib., p. 111. 2 Cor. vii. 5 : " Foris pugnce, intus timores " ; Luther : 
" pavores." 

2 To Jonas, ib., p. 113. He, however, has a joke even here at the 
expense of Bugenhagen, who was then staying in his house : " Salutat 
te Pomeranus, hodie cacator purgandus factus." 

3 Cp. Ps. cviii. 17 : " compunctum corde mortificare." Luther, 
quoting from memory, says : " contritum corde ad mortificandum." 

4 " Novissimus omnium hominum" Cp. Ps. liii. 3 : " novissimus 
virorum" of the Messias ; 1 Cor. iv. 9 : " novissimos ostendit," of the 
Apostles. " Quern Deus percussit, persequuntur " ; cp. Ps. Ixviii. 27. 

5 For the letters quoted, see " Brief wechsel," under the dates given. 



336 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

them proofs " that our word is the Word of God ; this alone it is 
that makes him so furious against us " (Dec. 30). It has been 
said that Luther held fast to this with a " bold faith " ; it would, 
however, be more correct to say that he catches at such thoughts 
as a drowning man does at a straw, a phenomenon which of itself 
throws a lurid light on his delusions and the misty trend of his 
thoughts. He is determined to be sure of his cause and at this 
very time, with the help of the State, he has a Coburg Zwinglian 
put to silence, because the latter "neither is nor can be sure 
of his cause." 1 

" I myself am weak and in wretchedness," he again confesses. 
" If only Christ does not forsake me. . . . Satan expends his 
fury on me because I have attacked him by deed, and word, and 
writing; but I feel consoled when I % boldly believe ( fortiter 
credo ) that what I did was pleasing to the Lord and to His 
Christ. I am tossed about between the two warring princes 
[Christ and Satan] till all my bones are sore. Many works of 
Satan have I done and still do, nevertheless I hope to please my 
Christ Who is merciful and inclined to forgive ; but from Satan 
I desire no forgiveness for what I have done against him and for 
Christ. He is a murderer and the father of lies. ... I feel in the 
depths of my soul how, with unbelievable wrath, he plots against 
me, assuming even the guise of Christ, to say nothing of that of 
the angel of light " (Nov. 27, 1527). The " guise of Christ " 
and of the " angel of light," to which he here alludes, are sufficient 
to show those who look below the surface that what was troubling 
him was something not very different from the inner voice of 
conscience. 

How far he could go in deluding himself the better to appease 
his conscience is plain from what he says in his letter " to the 
Christians at Erfurt " : During the whole time he had spent at 
Erfurt in his Catholic days he had longed in vain to hear " a 
Gospel or even a little Psalm " ; there, as was everywhere the case 
in Popery, Holy Scripture lay buried deep, and " no one had even 
thought of preaching a really Christian sermon. 2 

No less vain than this consolation from the past was that which 
he sought in the future. He clung wildly to his delusion that the 
end of all was at hand ; " Satan," he cries, " has but a short 
respite before being completely overthrown, therefore does he 
make such furious and incredible efforts " (Dec. 31). 

" Now that the Word is preached Satan plainly comes off 
second best ; hence he persecutes me secretly ; he is unchained, 
and, with all his engines he seeks to tear Christ from me." Thus 
on Nov. 28). " I am the wretched * off-scourings of Christ 
(Nov. 29). " I am to all intents and purposes dead, as the 
Apostle calls it, yet still I live " (Dec. 10). 

1 To the Elector Johann of Saxony, Jan. 16, 1528, " Werke," 
Erl. ed., 53, p. 215 (" Brief wechsel," 6, p. 195). 

2 Jan. or Feb., 1527, " Werke," Weim. ed., 23, p. 15 ; Erl. ed., 53, 
p. 412 (" Briefwechsel," 6, p. 15). 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 337 

The long and terrible year was drawing to a close. He 
had almost grown accustomed to his inward troubles. " I 
have not yet shaken off my temptation, nor do I desire to be 
free if it is to God s glory. The devil rages against me 
simply because Christ has vanquished him through me, his 
most wretched of vessels " (Dec. 14). " Well in body, in 
soul I am as Christ wills, to Whom I am now bound only by 
a slender thread. The devil on the other hand is moored 
to me with mighty cords, nay, real cables ; he drags me 
down into the depths, but the weak Christ has still the 
upper hand owing to your prayers, or at least He puts up a 
brave fight " (Dec. 29). 

The Trouble Continues 

Even his lectures on the 1st Epistle of St. John testify 
to Luther s inward excitement during that unhappy year 
(1527). The Preface to the commentary as preserved in the 
Vatican MS. (Palat., 1825) is dated Aug. 19, and begins : 
You know that we are so placed by God in this life as to 
be exposed to all the darts of Satan. And not Satan alone 
storms against us, but also the world, and our heart, and 
our flesh. Hence we must despair of peace so long as we 
remain here below. Against all these evils God has given 
us no other weapon than His Word which He commands 
us to preach, who live in the midst of wolves. . . . Thus, 
since we are exposed to all these dangers, to death, sin, 
heretics and the whole might of Satan, I have undertaken 
to expound this Epistle." 

Amidst all this inward woe there was a cheerier side of things 
to look at. A little daughter had been born to him at the end of 
1527, He and his family had happily been spared by the plague. 
He had succeeded in imposing silence on most of his opponents 
among the preachers of the new faith. His sovereign too was 
more than ever resolved to support him in his work. In the 
German lands, and even beyond, the Evangel was daily gaining 
new ground. Hence there was every reason for self-gratulation. 
In spite of all this what he says to his friends retains a tone of 
bitterness and apprehension : " Help me in my agony ! " "At 
times indeed the temptation becomes less severe, but then again 
it overwhelms me more relentlessly than before " (Dec. 30). 
" We are all well excepting Luther himself, who, though he feels 
well in body, is tormented outwardly by the whole world and 
inwardly by the devil and all his angels." " Satan gnashes his 

V. z 



338 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

teeth furiously all around us" (Dec. 31). "I have been well 
acquainted with such temptations from my youth upwards, but 
that they could assume such dimensions I had never dreamed. 
Christ holds His own with the utmost difficulty, yet so far He has 
been victorious. I commend myself to your prayers and those 
of your brethren. I have saved others and cannot save myself. 
Praised be my Christ," he adds, convinced in spite of all that he 
was in the right, " praised be He in the midst of despair, death and 
blasphemy. ... It is our glory to have lived in the world 
agreeably with the will of Christ, forgetful of our former very 
evil life. Let it suffice that Christ is our life and our righteousness, 
though this is indeed a hard truth and one which the flesh knows 
not. It is a bitter chalice that I must drink as the end of the 
world draws nigh " (Jan. 1, 1528). 



After this sad New Year s letter Luther s complaints of 
his pains of soul cease for a while, though, not long after, 
they reappear at intervals in an even more startling form. 

That bodily sickness was not entirely responsible is clear 
from his frequent allusions to his good state of health even 
during such spells of stress ; in the end, too, he got the 
better of these fears, not as the result of any improvement 
in bodily health, but thanks to the defiant spirit with which 
he clung to what he deemed was his Divine mission. Every 
body knows how much a forceful will is able to do, even in 
the profoundest depths of the soul. Nevertheless the un 
happy victory he ultimately succeeded in gaining over his 
own self has a right to be accounted something quite out of 
the common, something of which few in his position would 
have been capable. Hardly ever has a man had such 
Titanic forces at his disposal as Luther. He neither could 
nor would go back, the gap was already too wide ; the 
inward voices spoke in vain which urged him to put away 
the " hard truth " of the doctrine he had discovered, and to 
return to the Church which he had spurned. 

On the contrary, quite in his own fashion, he declared, on 
Jan. 27, 1528, that " he was determined still further to 
provoke Satan, who was raging against him with the utmost 
fury," and thus make an end once for all of his struggles and 
fears. " But after I am dead," so he begs his friends, 
"then do you who survive me avenge me on Satan and his 
apostles " (Jan. 6). 

In the same year, on the strength of his own experience, 
he gave his friend Wenceslaus Link detailed directions for 






-COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 339 

those followers of the Evangel who are " tempted in faith 
and hope." They are to make the " greatest efforts " 
against the devil who is so plainly to be discerned ; they are 
to build blindly on the certainty that all thoughts to the 
contrary are mere devil s treason. Further, they are to 
cling to the Word of a good man as to a voice from God in 
Heaven, just as he himself had often found strength by 
revolving in mind Bugenhagen s simple words : " You must 
not despise our consolation." 1 Luther seems to have sent 
Link several such letters on the means of escaping from 
" despair." 2 He knew only too well the fears which many 
underwent in the new Evangel. 3 

" Our conscience tells us," so he says in one of his sermons, 
" I am a sinner, it goes ill with me, and this I have richly 
deserved. Then the conscience begins to quake and says : 
It will not be well with me when I die. Such is fear of 
death." 4 

The return of his friends to Wittenberg in 1528 and social 
intercourse with his own circle gradually changed his frame 
of mind. He was very susceptible to the influence of 
cheerful conversation and to the exhilarating effects of drink. 
The new and important tasks which confronted him also 
tended to take his mind from the trouble that reigned 
within him. 

" My Satan," he was able to write on Feb. 25, 1528, " is 
now rather more bearable ; your prayers are taking effect." 5 

But, in the following year (1529), it became apparent that 
the storm was not yet over. As early as Feb. 12 he again 
asks his friend Amsdorf for the help of his prayers that he 
may not "be delivered into Satan s hand." 6 Curiously 
enough, on the very day that the famous Protest of Spires 
was made (April 19, 1529). Luther was again passing 
through one of the worst bouts of his " wrestling with the 
devil " ; he poured out his heart and conscience to his 
friend Jonas : If it was really an apostolic attribute to be 

1 July 14, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 300. 

2 Cp. the letter to Link of March 7, 1529, ib., 7, p. 63. 

3 Cp. vol. iii., p. 218 ff. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 350 f., Sermon on Rom. viii. 31 (1537). 

5 To Link, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 214. 

6 " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 52 : " ut Dominus non me deserat in tnanu 
Satance" 



340 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

" in deaths often " (2 Cor. xi. 23) then indeed he was in 
this respect a " very Peter or Paul " ; but, unfortunately, 
he had other less apostolic qualities, " qualities better 
fitting robbers, publicans, whores and sinners." 1 Elsewhere 
he indeed compares himself with the Apostle Peter, but 
with Peter while still weak in the faith and wavering, as he 
was before the descent of the Holy Ghost : " Though I feel 
fairly well in body yet I am weak in the spirit, and, like 
Peter s, my faith is shaky " 2 (July 31). 

When he wrote this he had already consented to take part 
in the Marburg Conference with Zwingli. We already know 
how, outwardly at least, he triumphed over Zwingli at 
Marburg ; yet, when returning home in good health and 
spirits, the "temptations" suddenly came upon him again 
at Torgau in Oct., 1529, with such violence, that he 
admitted he had " only with difficulty ( vice et cegre ) 
continued his journey to Wittenberg, after having given up 
all hope of again seeing his family." 3 Very likely appre 
hension of danger from the Turks contributed to this. He 
himself says : "It may be that, by this combat ( agon ), 
I myself am doing my bit in enduring and conquering the 
Turk, or at least his god, viz. the devil." 4 Just before this, 
however, and on this very journey home, he had composed 
the so-called Articles of Schwabach, which contain not a 
trace of his doubts and self-reproaches, but, on the contrary, 
are full of that firm defiance which characterises his other 
writings. They insist most strongly on his views as against 
those of both Zwinglians and Catholics. 

Before reaching Torgau Luther preached several sermons, 
including one at Erfurt. 

Outbursts and Relief 

At Erfurt, as though to relieve his fears, Luther stormed 
against the Evangelical fanatics, and likewise against the 
monks and the holy-by-works. Maybe the sight of the town 
where he had passed his youth set him thinking of the 

1 Ib., p. 87. 

2 To Johann Brismann at Riga, ib., p. 139. On the extraordinary 
states and temptations of certain Saints which some have likened to 
Luther s " temptations," see below, vol. vi., xxxv., 5, at the end. 

3 To Link, Oct. 28, 1529, ib., p. 179 f. On the Marburg Conference, 
see vol. iii., p. 381 f. 

4 16., p. 180. Cp. Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 180. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS 3 341 

zealous and peaceful years he had spent in the monastery 
and thus added to his sense of disquiet. Nor was this the 
first time that his anger had gushed forth on Erfurt in one 
of those outbursts by which he was wont to forestall the 
reproaches of his conscience. 

One such eruption of an earlier date may serve as an instance 
of the fits of rage to which he was liable when battling with his 
temptations. 

The Erfurt Evangelicals had failed to silence the Franciscan 
preacher, Dr. Conrad Kling. That this valiant friar, the ablest 
priest at Erfurt and a powerful pulpit orator, should continue to 
attract large crowds, annoyed Luther exceedingly. In his writing 
to the " Christians at Erfurt " of Jan. or Feb., 1527, he invoked 
" God s anger and judgments " upon them and threatened all 
with Christ s warnings against " Capharnaum, Chorozain and 
Bethsaida " unless at the order of their Councillors they expelled 
the preacher and in this way safeguarded the " great fulness and 
wealth of the Word " which he himself had proclaimed to them. 
Satan, verily, was not asleep in their midst, as they could very 
well see from the working of that " doctor of darkness," the 
shameless monk. 1 

Kling, who was much esteemed by the Catholics, and was 
seeking to save the last remnants of the faithful, was pictured by 
the fanatism of his furious opponent as a glaring example of that 
most dreadful of all sins, viz. the sin against the Holy Ghost. 
Now that the world, by the preaching of the Evangel, has been 
delivered from the lesser sins of " blindness, error and darkness," 
so Luther told the people of Erfurt, " why do we rage with the 
other sin against the Holy Ghost and provoke God s wrath to 
destroy us in time and for all eternity ? God will not forgive this 
sin, nor can He endure it ; there is no need to say more." "When 
they start wantonly fighting against the plain, known truth, then 
there is no further help or counsel." 2 

Such action can only be explained by a quite peculiar mental 
state. Boundless irritation, probably not unconnected with his 
struggles of conscience, combined with a positive infatuation for 
his own ideas, was the cause of the following outbursts, which 
almost remind us of the ravings of a maniac. 

In 1528, in the preface to a book of Klingenbeyl, he inveighs 
against the celibacy of the clergy : " .They are devils in human 
skins and so are all who knowingly and wilfully hold with them." 
" Amongst themselves they are the worst of all whoremongers, 
adulterers, women-stealers and girl-spoilers, so that their shame 
less record of sins fills the heaven and the earth." Their wicked- 

1 "Werke," Weim. ed., 23, p. 13; Erl. ed., 53, p. 411 (" Brief - 
wechsel," 6, p. 15). Cp. the article on Kling by N. Paulus, " Katholik," 
1892, 1, p. 146 ff. 

" Werke," Weim. ed., 23, p. 322 ; Erl. ed., 63, p. 259, in the 
Preface to the work of Justus Menius against Conrad Kling : " Etlicher 
gottloser Lere . . . Verlegung," etc., 1527. 



342 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

ness is matched only by their stupidity. " The people [the 
Papists] have become a Pope-Ass, so that they are and remain 
donkeys however much we may boil them, roast them, flay them, 
turn them over, baste them, or break them ; all they can do is 
abuse Luther. . . . And because I have driven them to Scripture 
and they can neither understand nor make use of it, God help us 
what a wild bawling and outcry I have caused. Here one howls 
about the sacrament under one kind, there another bellows 
against the marriage of the clergy ; one shrieks about the Mass, 
and another yells about good works." " The vermin and the 
ugly crew I have rounded up understands not a bit even its own 
noise and howling." " Hence you may see how they love justice, 
viz. their own tyranny." 

To the measure of their viciousness, stupidity and obstinacy 
must be added vulgar impudence of the worst sort : " They 
shamelessly and scandalously relieve themselves of their filth in 
front of all the world." " Such rude fellows remind me of a 
coarse clod-hopper who would ease himself in the marketplace 
before everyone, all the while pointing to a house where a little 
child is modestly and privily relieving nature, and who would 
imagine that he had thereby excused himself and provoked 
everybody to laugh at the child." " Ought not such rascals to 
be hunted down with hounds and driven out with rods. . . . Let 
them go, blind leaders of the blind that they are ! God s endless 
wrath has come upon them so that now they can no longer see 
anything." 1 

According to recent research it is to this trying time of inward 
conflict, after his recovery from his illness in 1527, that Luther s 
famous Hymn " A safe stronghold our God is still " (." Ein feste 
Burg") belongs. This "great hymn of the evangelical com 
munity," as Kostlin termed it, proclaims, in the words of the 
Psalmist, that God is the strong bulwark and sure refuge of 
Luther s cause. 

" The ancient Prince of Hell 

Hath risen with purpose fell ; 
Strong mail of Craft and Power 
He weareth in this hour, 
On Earth is not his fellow. 

And were this world all devils o er, 

And watching to devour us, 
We lay it not to heart so sore, 

Not they can overpower us. 

God s Word, for all their craft and force, 
Shall not one moment linger." 2 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 26, p. 530 ff. ; Erl. ed., 63, p. 271. 

2 lb., Erl. ed., 56, p. 343 f. Cp. below, xxxiv., 4. [We give it above 
in Carlyle s rendering, " Miscellanies," " Luther s Psalm."] 



" COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS " 343 

" This hymn came from the very bottom of his heart," says 
Kostlin, " being written with a bold faith under stress of tempta 
tion," The first trace of the hymn is now believed to be found 
in a recently discovered Leipzig hymn-book, which is supposed to 
be a reprint of the Wittenberg " Gesangbiichlein " of 1528, in 
which this hymn may have figured. 1 

A Protestant researcher, P. Tschackert, has pointed out, 
that, in that same year (1528), the Wittenbergers went in fear 
of an attack on the Evangelicals by the Catholic Estates. 
Luther s attitude towards the supposed menace, intensified 
as it was by his inward struggles about that time, calls for 
some further remarks. 

The alleged disclosures of Otto von Pack to the Landgrave 
of Hesse concerning the secret plans of the Catholics to 
dethrone the Protestant Princes by force of arms had proved 
to be a mere fabrication. 2 Luther, nevertheless, stormed 
against the Duke of Saxony who was supposed to be impli 
cated most deeply in the business. He wrote : " Duke 
George is a foe of my doctrine, hence he rages against the 
Word of God ; I must therefore believe he rages against 
God Himself and His Christ. But if he rages against God, 
then, privily, I must believe him to be possessed of the devil. 
If he is possessed of the devil, then in my heart I must 
believe that he cherishes the worst of intentions." 3 Thanks 
to such dialectics, Luther again formulates the charges 
embodied in the Pack disclosures. As Tschackert points 
out, Luther persisted in crediting his opponents with all that 
was worst. 

In 1528 he preached on John xvii. ; in the tone of these sermons, 
printed in 1530, we find several remarkable echoes of Luther s 
hymn " Ein feste Burg." 4 

The preacher speaks to his hearers both of inward temptations 
and of outward hardships, and uses words which recall, now his 
complaints of his experiences with the devil, now the trustful 
defiance he voices in his hymn on the " Safe stronghold." 

" We must know that there is no way of resisting the devil s 
temptations than by holding fast to the plain word of Scripture 

1 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, pp. 177, 646. 

2 Cp. vol. iii., pp. 48 f., 325 f. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 30, 2, p. 41 ; Erl. ed., 31, p. 20. " Von 
heimliche und gestolen Brieften," 1529. 

4 P. Tschackert, " Die Entstehung des Lutherliedes Ein feste, " 
etc. (" Theol. Literaturblatt," 1905, No. 2, and before, in the " N. 
kirchl. Zeitschr.," 1903, Hft. 10). 



844 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

and not thinking or speculating further. . . . Whoever does not 
do this will be disappointed, and err, and have a fall." l If you do 
not simply believe in the Word, he repeats to the people, you will 
" rush in headlong and be overthrown ; for the devil is able to 
persuade our heart that he is God, and to disguise himself in 
great splendour and majesty " ; "in the assumption of prudence, 
holiness and majesty no one in the world excels him " ; " hence 
no one can cheat him better than by tying himself to the tree 
where God has placed him ; otherwise, if he seizes you, you are 
lost and he will carry you off as the hawk does the chick from 
under the wing of the clucking hen." 2 

In the same sermon, however, he also prophesies the shame and 
destruction of " our wrathful foes who seek to stifle the Evangel 
and to stamp out the Christians, many of whom they have 
already burned and murdered ; for even prouder kings and lords 
in comparison with whom our princes and lords are the merest 
beggars 3 have come to grief over the Evangel and been wrecked 
by it." Speaking of the Catholic princes headed by the Emperor 
Charles V, he exclaims : " Our furious tyrants, when they abuse 
the Evangel, and persecute, murder and burn all our people are 
termed Christian princes, and defenders of the Church ; this 
exonerates whatever shameful and wicked practices they may 
commit against both God and man." 4 

Again he extols the Word, making Christ say : "I have given 
them the Word whereby Thy Name has been made known to 
them" ("Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn," as the original of 
the hymn runs) ; " but neither the Papacy nor any other fanatics 
will accept it," i.e. the knowledge of Christ ; " for this reason we 
are forced unceasingly to wrangle, grapple and fight with them 
and the devil." 5 Still, "all our protection, our redemption from 
sin, death, the world and the devil s power is comprised in the 
Word alone " ; holding fast to this we have all the prophets, 
martyrs, apostles and the whole of Christendom on our side. 
But Christendom is a " powerful lady, Empress of heaven and 
earth, at whose feet devil, world, death and hell must fall as soon 
as she drops a word." "For," so he continues, thinking of him 
self, " who can check or harm a man who has so defiant a 
spirit ? " " Whether the devil attacks singly a weak member of 
Christendom and fancies he has gobbled him up [cp. the use of 
this same word below, p. 347] or even Christendom as a whole," 
he must nevertheless " tremble and fall to the ground." " If a 
sin attacks him [the Christian], and seeks to affright, gnaw, and 
oppress his conscience and threaten him with devil, death and 
hell, then God and His multitude [the saints and angels] will say : 
Good sin, let him be ; death, do not slay him ; hell, do not 
swallow him ! " 6 

1 Exposition of John xvii., " Werke," Weim. ed., 28, p. 91 ; Erl. ed., 
50, p. 174. 2 Ib., p. 137 = 213. 3 Ib., p. 85 f. = 169. 

4 Ib., p. 159 f.=233 f. 5 Ib., p. 199 = 264. 

6 Ib., p. 182 ff. = 252 f. 



u COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS " 345 

" But here faith comes in," he at once goes on, " for, to the 
eyes of the world and to reason, everything seems just the 
reverse." [" And were the world all devils o er," sings the hymn 
on the " Safe stronghold."] 

The outside menace from the Papists and their princes, and the 
inward, " sudden, baneful attacks of the devil in our conscience," 
Luther writes in his interpretation of John xviii. (v. 28), all 
" this is written to put to blush our high-priests and elders, 
viz. the bishops and princes who go about the world with noses 
in the air as though they were pious and holy, w r hereas they 
drive out of their land the pious, God-fearing Christians and 
preachers. Who in the devil s name gave them power to pass 
judgment on the teaching of the Evangel ? " But the devil, too, 
persecutes us with his machinations. " When he finds some poor 
conscience that would fain be pious, he attacks it with trifles. . . . 
Amongst us Evangelicals there is not one who has not great, big 
sins and difficulties, such as doubts, and waverings in the faith, 
and other awkward knots. But such big sins and great difficulties 
the devil is willing to discard while he attacks us about some 
paltry thing . . . and torments and plagues our conscience." 
But when thereby we are upset and become troubled we ought 
to " console ourselves and say : If Our Lord God can have 
patience with me even though my faith in Him be not firm, but 
often wavering and doubtful, why then do you torment me, you 
devil, with other petty matters and sins ? I can see through all 
your artfulness and wicked malice ; you cloak over the great sins 
and big difficulties so that I may not heed them, or make any 
conscience of them, nor seek forgiveness for them. . . . There 
fore a Christian must learn not to allow himself to be too easily 
troubled with remorse of conscience ; but if he believes in Christ, 
wishes to be pious, strives against sin as far as he is able and yet 
occasionally makes mistakes, stumbles and falters, he must not 
allow such stumbling to upset him in conscience, but rather he 
must say : Away with this error and this stumbling ! Let it join 
my other faults and crimes and be included among the other 
sins of which the Creed teaches us the forgiveness." 1 

The further course of Luther s inner history will show 
more clearly how far the article of the forgiveness of sins 
served its purpose in his own case and how he contrived to 
prop up a faith, which, during the years 1527 and 1528, was 
so distressingly inclined to " doubt and wavering." 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 28, p. 295 ff. ; Erl. ed., 50, p. 328 f. 



346 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

5. The Ten Years from 1528-38. How to win back 
Peace of Conscience 

The Years Previous to 1537 

During the time when the Diet of Augsburg was in 
preparation Luther s complaints about his inward struggles 
recede somewhat into the background, outward events 
engrossing all his attention. 

Matters changed, however, when the Diet actually began 
its sessions and he himself took up his residence in the 
fortress of Coburg. There he was a prey to overwhelming 
suffering both of body and of mind. 

His nervous ailments, particularly the noises in his head, 
became much worse at that time, owing partly to his deep 
concern for his cause, partly to his too great literary output 
during his sojourn in the solitude. Against his inner 
anxieties he tried the weapon of humour. 1 But all in vain. 
The " spiritual temptations " set in, and his loneliness made 
them even worse. It was at the beginning of May that he 
received Satan s famous " embassy." Because he had been 
left quite alone (in the absence of Veit Dietrich and Cyriacus 
Kaufmann), so he says, Satan had so far got the better of 
him that he had been obliged to flee from the room and to 
seek the society of men. When writing to Melanchthon 
about this he uses some strange-sounding words : " Hardly 
can I await the day when I shall at last behold the tremen 
dous power of this spirit and his majesty, which, in its kind, 
is quite divine ( planeque divinam maiestatem quandam )." 
Here he is presumably alluding to the time of his death and 
of the judgment when he would behold Satan. He had, 
however, not to wait so long, for, in the following month and 
while still at the Coburg, he was vouchsafed a glimpse of the 
Enemy under a certain shape ; at least such was his belief ; 
the actual vision will be described later (vol. vi., xxxvi., 3). 

He must have suffered grievously from his fears whilst in 
the castle ; he compares himself to the parched country 
surrounding it, so greatly was he tried inwardly by storms 
and heat ; 3 but " our cause is safe if our Word is true, and 

1 To Spalatin, April 23, 1530, " Brief wechsel," 7, p. 308. See 
above, p. 315. 

2 To Melanchthon, May 12, 1530, ib., p. 332 f. 

3 To Jonas, May 19, 1530, ib., p. 338. 



" COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS " 347 

that it is true is sufficiently demonstrated by the ferocity 
and frenzy of our foes." 1 He was visited by thoughts of 
death, and, during these, he sought, as he related later, the 
spot in the castle chapel where he would be laid to rest. 2 
Then, when his disquiet of mind began to abate, intense 
bodily weakness again made him think of death ; this too, 
in his opinion, was Satan s doing. When ultimately he left 
the Coburg he felt himself a broken man and began to sigh 
more and more over his burden of years, though, as a matter 
of fact, he was still comparatively young. 

Nevertheless, in a letter to Melanchthon of June 29, 1530, 
he praised the comfort of his place of residence. Above all he 
was able to report that " the spirit who formerly beat me 
with fists [in mind] seems to be losing heart." 3 Yet, allud 
ing to his bodily pains, he says sadly : "I fancy that 
another has taken his [the other tormentor s] place and 
plagues my body ; but I prefer to endure this torture of the 
body rather than that hangman of the spirit. But he has 
sworn to have my life, this I feel plainly, and will never stop 
until he has gobbled me up." 4 

But when he had returned safe and sound to Wittenberg 
he was disposed to look back with utter horror on what he 
had gone through, physically and mentally, when at the 
Coburg. " Now my shoulders are really beginning to feel 
the weight of my years," he writes to trusty Amsdorf ; " and 
my powers are going. The angel of Satan has indeed dealt 
hardly with me." 5 

" My thoughts did me more harm than all my work," he 
said, in May, 1532, speaking of those which came by night 
(" curce nocturnes"). 6 Nothing, so he says elsewhere, had 
brought him so nigh to death as these ; with them all his 
labours, to which the great numbers of letters he received 
bore witness, were not to be compared. 7 To young Schlagin- 
haufen Veit Dietrich related, as a memory of the Coburg 
days, how Luther had said to him there : " Were I to die 

To Melanchthon, May 15, 1530, ib., p. 335. 
Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 203. 

" Spiritus ille, qui me colaphizavit hactenus." Cp. 2 Cor. xii. 7 : 
igelus satance, qui me colaphizet." 
" Brief wechsel," 8, p. 43. 
Oct. 31, 1530, ib., p. 301. 
Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 87. 
Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 374, Oct. 28-Dec. 12, 1536. 



348 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

now and be cut open, my heart would be found all shrivelled 
up in consequence of my distress and sadness of spirit." 1 

His having to wrestle with such moods is also in great 
part responsible for the stormy and extravagant tone of the 
works he wrote during, or shortly after, his stay at the 
Coburg. 2 

" / should have Died without any Struggle " 

In 1537, in his second serious illness, at Schmalkalden, and 
on the return journey from this town to Wittenberg, Luther 
displayed the same stubborn spirit as in 1527. In 1537 it 
was an attack of stone which brought him to the brink of 
the grave. Later on he himself declared of this crisis, that 
he would have died quite easily and trustfully. Into his 
deepest feelings at that time we have, of course, no means 
of probing, but it may be, that, by dint of persistently 
repressing his earlier scruples, he had indeed reached the 
state of calm resignation he depicts. At the same time his 
great bodily exhaustion will probably have reacted on his 
spirit, his very weakness thus explaining the silence of the 
inward voices. 

" At Gotha [on my way back]," so he told his friends in 1540, 
" I was quite certain I was to die ; I said good-bye to all, called 
Bugenhagen, commended to him the Church, the school, my wife 
and all else, and begged him to give me absolution. . . . Thus 
I should have died in Christ with a perfectly quiet soul and with 
out a struggle. But the Lord wished to preserve me in life. My 
Catena [Katey] too," so he goes on to speak of one of his wife s 
illnesses, " when once we had already given up all hopes for her 
life, would have died gladly, and readily, and with a quiet soul ; 
she merely repeated a thousand times over the words : In Thee, 
O Lord, have I hoped, I shall not be confounded for ever. " From 
such experiences in her case and in his own Luther draws the 
conclusion, that " at times the devil desists from tempting to 
blasphemy." " At other times God allows him," so he thinks, 
" to try us thereby, so that we may not become indolent but may 
learn to fight. At the end of our life, however, all such tempta 
tions cease ; for then the Holy Spirit is at the side of the faithful 
believer, restrains the devil by force and pours into the heart 
perfect peace and security." 3 

Such was his interpretation of the case. 

1 Schlaginhaufen, ib. 

2 See above, vol. ii., pp. 391 ff. ; vol. iv., pp. 191 ff. 

3 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 115, March 21 to June 11, 1540. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 349 

At other times Luther expresses wonder at the wrong-headed 
sectarians who can with such confidence look even death itself 
in the face. He refuses to apply to them what has just been said ; 
it is no real peace that they die in, rather they are blinded by 
Satan s delusions. " This new sect of the Anabaptists," he says 
indignantly, " grows marvellously, they live with a great show 
[of the spirit] and boldly face death by fire and water." 1 He is 
thinking of the Anabaptists who were executed in 1527 " May 
God have mercy on these poor captives of Satan. . . . They can 
not be coerced either by fire or by the sword ; so greatly does 
Satan rage in this hour because it is his last." And yet the whole 
thing was little more than a joke of Satan s. 

" With me, however, he certainly does not jest ; I believe that 
I am pleasing to God and displeasing to Satan." 2 

He overlooks the fact that the Anabaptists, too, fancied they 
were pleasing Christ, nay, were passionately convinced that they 
were living for Christ and not for Satan ; they even exposed 
themselves of their own accord to the worst torments of the 
executioner before they passed out of life, obstinately declaring 
that it was impossible for them to recant. The words in which 
Luther complains of their obstinacy are a two-edged sword. 

He is fond of bewailing the stubbornness of the heretics ; it was 
a subject of wholesome fear for all ; it penetrated " like water 
into their inward parts and like oil into their bones" : so far do 
they go that they see " salvation and blessing " in their own 
doctrine alone ; few are they who " come right again," " the others 
remain under their own curse." "Neither have I ever read," 
he assures us, " of any teacher who originated a heresy being 
converted " ; " the true Evangel which teaches the contrary of 
their doctrine is and always will be to them a devil s thing." 3 
" No heretic," he cries, " will let himself be talked over. . . . 
A man is soon done for when the devil thus lays hold of him." 4 
Such a one boasts that, "he is quite certain of things " ; " No 
Christian ever held so fast to his Christ as a Jew or a fanatic does 
to his pet doctrine." 5 He also believes his opponent to be a liar 
"as surely as God is God." 6 And yet, so Luther argues, the 
sectarian or fanatic can never be certain at all ; not one of his 
gainsayers is sure of his cause ; not one has " felt the struggle and 
been at grips with the devil " like himself. 7 

But I, " I am certain that my word is not mine but the word 
of Christ," and " every man who speaks the word of Christ is 



1 To Jakob Probst, Dec. 31, 1527, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 169. 

2 To Johann Hess, Jan. 27, 1528, ib., p. 199 f. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 19, p. 609 f. ; Erl. ed., 38, p. 445 f., "Vier 
trostliche Psalmen " (1526). 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 295. In 1542-43. 

5 Ib., p. 317, Spring, 1543. His statement runs, that " no heresiarch 
can be converted." " Werke," Weim. ed., 26, p. 262 ; cp. 23, p. 73 ; 
Erl. ed., 30, p. 22. 

6 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 5. 7 Ib. 



350 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

free to boast that his mouth is the mouth of Christ." 1 " Had not 
the devil attacked us with such power and cunning during all 
these years," he says in his second exposition of the 1st Epistle 
of Peter (published in 1539), " we should never have acquired this 
certainty on doctrine." 2 It is to his awful " temptations," that, as 
we have heard him repeatedly assure us, he owes the strength 
of his faith. 3 Unceasingly did he strive to acquire a feeling of 
strong certainty in defiance of the devil, as indeed his theology 
demanded : We must by fiducial faith have made our position 
secure against the devil, otherwise we have no stay at all. 4 

" Even though I stumble yet I am resolved to stand by what 
I have taught." And, as though to falter in this way was inevit 
able, he continues : " for although a Christian holds fast until 
death to his doctrine, yet he often stumbles and begins to doubt ; 
but it is not so with the fanatics, they stand firm." 5 And yet, 
according to Luther, everyone must " stand firm," for in theology 
there is no room for " fears and doubts." And we must have 
certainty concerning God. But in conversing with other men we 
must be modest and say, If anyone knows better let him 
say so. " 6 



The "Struggles by Day and by Night" gradually Wane 

Hardly had Luther recovered from his second bout of 
illness than the gloomy thoughts once more emerged from 
their hiding-place and began again to dog his footsteps, 
though perhaps not quite so persistently as after his recovery 
from his previous sickness ten years earlier. It is as though 
on both occasions the sight of the gaping jaws of death had 

1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 8, p. 683 ; Erl. ed., 22, p. 53. Eyn trew 
Vormanung," etc. Cp. his outbursts against the " obstinacy of the 
heretics," " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 37 sqq. : " Temeritas Schwer- 
meriorum pestilentissima est," etc. P. 40, under the heading : " Quo- 
modo sit cum fanaticis agendum." 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 52, p. 24 f. According to his sermons. 

3 Cp. below, p. 355 f . 

4 " There is only one article and rule in theology, viz. true faith or 
trust in Christ. . . . The devil has opposed this article from the 
beginning of the world." " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 398. " A Chris 
tian must be quite convinced that a thing is so and not otherwise . . . 
so that he may be able to withstand every temptation and stand up to 
the devil and all his angels, nay, even to God Himself, without waver 
ing." Ib., p. 394. " Whoever is not sure of his teaching and faith, and 
yet wishes to dispute, is done for." Ib. " Satan comes to accuse what 
is best ; hence a man must have certainty." " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 
1, p. 221. " For it is absolutely necessary that consciences should 
reach certainty and confidence in all matters ; if never a doubt 
remains, then everything wobbles." To N. Hausmann, Dec. 17, 
1533, " Brief wechsel," 9, p. 363. 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 317. 

6 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 38. 



"COMBATS AND TEMPTATIONS" 351 

set free the troubled spirits within, and as though the spell 
which momentarily restrained his terrors of soul had been 
loosed as soon as his bodily powers returned. This was the 
last great attack he had to endure, or at least from this time 
onward definite allusions to his struggles of conscience are not 
forthcoming as before. 

In 1537 he lay for a fortnight under the stress of that 
" spiritual malady " (above, p. 319), during which he 
" disputed with God," was scarcely able to take food, to 
sleep or to preach, in spite of his " understanding a little " 
" the Psalter and its consolation," viz. that one must be 
patient. 1 On Oct. 7, 1538, he bewails his " daily agony." 2 
In the same year he wrings some comfort out of Paul, who 
also had been unable to " lay hold of " what was right ; 3 he 
also has a poke at the devil : " Why arraign us so sternly 
before God as though you were quite holy, and the highest 
judge ! " 4 

He then realised in his own person how one thus oppressed 
with terrors of soul could be tempted, like Job (iii. 1 ff.), to 
curse the day of his birth. After having, during the night 
of Aug. 1, 1538, suffered severe pains in the joints of the 
arm, he said next day, that such pains were tolerable in 
comparison with others : " The flesh can get used to this sort 
of thing. But when the spiritual temptations come and the 
4 Cursed be the day I was born follows, that is a harder 
matter. Christ was tried in a similar way in the Garden of 
Olives . . . He, on account of His temptations, is our best 
advocate in all temptations. . . . Let us but cling fast to 
hope ! " 5 

It cannot be established that he was speaking seriously or 
was prompted by despair when he wished that " he had 
died as a child," nay, " had never been born," and stated 
that he would gladly see " all his books perish." We must 
beware of laying too great stress on occasional deliverances 
spoken in moments of irritation, or on little tricks of speech 
such as his depreciatory remarks concerning his books. 6 

1 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 406, March 21-28, 1537. Cp. above, 
p. 319, n. 1. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 144. 

3 Ib., p. 128, Sep. 10. 

4 Ib., p. 4, Jan. 5. 

5 Ib., p. 106. 

6 See below, p. 369 ff. Cp. the previous passage. 



352 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

It may be to the purpose to quote here some undated state 
ments of Luther s which paint in lurid style his frequent struggles 
of mind and his manner of resistance. 

Jerome, Augustine and Ambrose had " carnal and childish 
temptations " ; " these are nothing compared with Satan who 
strikes us, the <r/c6Xo^, that, as it were, fastens us to the gallows ; 
then Jerome s and the others child-temptations are chased away 
entirely." 1 "On one occasion I was greatly tempted in my 
garden near the bush of lavender, whereupon I sang the hymn 
Now praise we Christ the Holy One, otherwise I should have 
expired on the spot. Hence, when you feel such a thought, say, 
This is not Christ. . . . This I preach and write, but I am not 
yet at home in this art when tempted in this way." 2 

The worst temptations of all are those when " one does not 
know whether God is the devil or the devil God." 3 " The Apostle 
Judas, when the hour [of temptation] came, walked into the snare 
and knew not how to get out. But we who have taken the field 
against him [the devil] and are at grips with him know, by God s 
grace, how to meet and resist him." 4 " The devil can affright me 
to such an extent that in my sleep the sweat breaks out all 
over me ; otherwise I do not trouble about dreams or signs. . . . 
Sad dreams are the work of the devil. Often has he driven me 
from prayer and put such thoughts into my head that I have run 
away ; the best fights I have had with him were in my bed by 
the side of my Katey." 5 

Elsewhere, however, he says : "I have found the nocturnal 
encounters far harder than the daylight ones " ; " but, that 
Christ is master, this I can show not merely by Holy Scripture but 
also by experience " ; " God gives richly of both. But all has 
become bitter to me through these temptations." 6 " I know 
from my ow r n experience what we read of in the Psalms (vi. 7) : 
Every night I will wash my bed : I will water my couch with 
my tears. In my temptations I have often wondered and asked 
myself whether I had any heart left in my body, so great a 
murderer is Satan ; but he will not long keep the upper hand, for 
he has indeed burnt his fingers on Christ." 7 

To add to the terrors of such struggles came thoughts of 
suicide. When Leonard Beyer, an Augustinian, who had 
become pastor of Guben, spoke to Luther of his temptations 
to take his own life, and of the voice which occasionally 
whispered to him " Stick a knife into yourself," Luther 
answered : " This used to be the same with me. No sooner 

1 " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 315. The passage 2 Cor. xii. 7 : 
" Datus est mihi stimulus carnis mece, angelus satance, qui me colaphizet," 
is generally taken with St. Thomas to refer to temptations of the flesh. 

2 Khummer in Lauterbach s " Tagebuch," p. 73 f. In 1539. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 61, p. 197. 4 Ib., 58, p. 286. 
5 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 49. 6 Ib., p. 97. 

7 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 39, Jan. to March, 1532, 



REMEDIES FOR "TEMPTATIONS" 353 

did I take a knife in my hand, than such thoughts came to 
me ; nor could I kneel down to pray without the devil 
driving me out of the room. We have to suffer from the 
great devils, the theologies doctores ; but the Turks and 
Papists have only the little devils " to tempt them. 1 It 
would indeed be no wonder if Luther in his excited frame 
of mind was for a while troubled by such thoughts of suicide. 
By thoughts of the sort sufferers of gloomy disposition are 
often tormented quite involuntarily and without any fault 
of their own. It is hardly worth our while to prove that 
another passage, which occurs in Cordatus, is not at all to the 
point though it has been quoted against Luther as showing 
his inclination to suicide. There, in his usual vein of exag 
geration, he says that he " would hang himself on the 
nearest tree " were Satan to succeed in dragging down 
Christ from heaven. Surely there was just as little likelihood 
of his being his own hangman as of the enemy succeeding 
in this. 2 And yet some Catholic polemists who believed in 
the fable that Luther killed himself, seized on such passages 
in order to show that Luther had long been bent on suicide. 

How to find Peace of Conscience 

If, towards the end of the thirties, Luther was more suc 
cessful in countering his inward anxieties, this may have 
been due to the means he used and the efficacy of which he 
frequently extols. Some of the remedies to which he had 
recourse appear comparatively innocent, and had even been 
recommended by Catholic spiritual writers to be used when 
the circumstances demanded. Others, however, must be 
described as doubtful and even dangerous, particularly con 
sidering what his moral position was. 

Above all he recommends distraction ; people tempted 
should engage in cheerful intercourse, or in games ; in his 
own case he had urgently desired the return of his friends, 
" in order that Satan may no longer rejoice that we are so 
far apart." 3 He also bears witness to the improvement 
which resulted from cheerful, animated conversation. 

1 Ib., p. 214. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 60. Mathesius, " Auf- 
zeichn.," p. 213 f. Leonard Beyer had defended Luther s Theses as 
a young Augustinian at the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518. 

2 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 129. 

3 To Jonas, Dec. 30, 1527, " Briefwechsel," 6, p. 167. 

V. 2 A 



354 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

He also advises people to awaken some " stronger emotion 
so as to counteract the disquieting thoughts. 1 For instance, 
it is a good thing " to break out into scolding," 2 or to give 
vent to a " brave outburst of anger." 3 

Further, animal pleasures are, according to him, of 
advantage ; he himself, on his own admission, sought to 
distract his thoughts by sensual joys of the most material 
kind. 4 In the case of gloomy thoughts " a draught of beer " 
was, so he avers, of much greater use than, e.g. astrology. 5 

Sensuality, however, is not always sufficiently powerful 
or effective. It is better to have recourse from the beginning 
to religious remedies. " If I but seize the Scripture [text] 
I have gained the day," 6 but, unfortunately, the verse 
wanted often won t come. In general, what is required is 
prayer, much patience and the arousing of confidence. 7 
One s patience may be fortified by the thought that " per 
haps, thanks to these temptations, I shall become a great 
man," as he himself had actually become, thanks largely to 
his temptations. 8 

Further, the words oj: " great and learned men to one who 
is tempted may serve him as an oracle or prophecy, which 
indeed they may really be." 9 To hold fast to a single word 
spoken by a stranger had often proved very helpful. We 
may recall how he compared Bugenhagen s words to him : 
" You must not despise our consolation," to " a voice from 
heaven." 10 Another saying of his same friend and confessor, 
had, so he declares, greatly strengthened him. " Surely 
enough, God thinks : What more can I do for this man 
[Luther] ? I have given him such excellent gifts and yet 
he despairs of my grace ! " X1 

In these " temptations," whether in his own case or in that 

1 Cordatus, "Tagebuch," p. 450: " aliquis vehementior affectus." 
Vol. iii., p. 174, n. 1. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 69, p. 129 ; above, vol. iv., p. 311. 

3 Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 515. 

4 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 450. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, 
p. 299. To Hier. Weller, July (?), 1530, " Brief wechsel," 8, p. 160. 
Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 11. See vol. iii., p. 175 ff. 

5 From Veit Dietrich s MS. Notes, in Kostlin-Kawerau, 2, p. 516. 

6 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 97. 

7 To Wenceslaus Link, July 14, 1528, " Brief wechsel," 6, p. 301. 

8 To Hier. Weller, July (?) 1530, ib., 8, p. 160. 9 Ib. 

10 To Wenceslaus Link, in the passage quoted under n. 7 ; above, 
p. 339. 

11 Kostlin-Kavrerau, 2, p. 176, from Veit Dietrich. 



REMEDIES FOR "TEMPTATIONS" 355 

of others, he hardly gives a thought to penance and morti 
fication, such as olden Churchmen had always recommended 
and employed. On the contrary, ascetic remedies of the 
sort would, according to him, only make things worse. 
Needless to say, even Catholics were anxious that such 
remedies should not be applied without discretion, since 
lessening of the bodily powers might conceivably weaken 
the resistance of the spirit, nay, even promote fears and 
temptations. Luther says, in 1531 : " Were I to follow my 
inclination I should [when in this state] go three days with 
out eating anything. This then is a double fasting, to eat 
and drink without the least appetite. When the world sees 
it, it looks on it as drunkenness, but God will judge whether 
it is drunkenness or fasting. They will have fasts, but not 
as I fast. Therefore keep head and belly full. Sleep also 
helps." 1 Sleep seemed to him especially important, not 
merely as a condition for hard work, but also to enable one 
to resist low spirits. It was when unable to sleep, that, as 
he tells us, " the devil had annoyed him until he said : 
Lambe mihi nates, etc. We have the treasure of the 
Word ; God be praised." 2 

His practice and teaching with regard to inward sources 
of troubles were indeed miles apart from those of earlier 
Catholic times, and even from what in his own day Catholic 
masters of the first rank in the spiritual life had written for 
the benefit of posterity. Everybody knows how these 
writers are, above all, desirous to provide their readers with 
a method whereby they may discern between, on the one 
hand, the voice of conscience, whether it warns us to desist 
from wrong or encourages us to do what is good, and, on the 
other, the promptings of the Evil Spirit. They say that it 
is the devil s practice alternately to disquiet and to cheer, 
though in a way very different from that of the spirits from 
above. It was unfortunate for Luther that he chose to 
close his eyes to any such " discerning of the spirits." He 
resolutely steeled his conscience once for all against even 
wholesome disquietude and anxiety, and of set purpose he 
bore down all misgivings. Of one thing he was determined 
to be convinced : " Above all hold fast to this, that thoughts 

1 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 11, Nov. to Dec., 1531. Same 
in Veit Dietrich. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 47. 

2 Schlaginhaufen, ib. 



356 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

bad and sad come, not from God, but from the devil ; " " make 
it your wont at once to tell all inward reproaches : c You 
were not sent by God. 

" At first," he adds, as though describing his own case, 
" this struggle is hard, but practice makes it easier." 1 

He claimed that, owing to the amount of practice he had 
had in inward combats, his " faith had been much strength 
ened " ; the " temptations " had won for him a " wealth 
of Divine gifts," had taught him humility and qualified him 
for his task, nay, had set a Divine seal on his mission ; 2 his 
" theologia " he had learnt in the school of the devil s tempta 
tions ; without such a devil to help, one remains a mere 
speculative theologian. 3 

Such sayings lead us to ask whether his life of faith really 
underwent a strengthening as he advanced in years. 

6. Luther on his Faith, his Doctrine and his Doubts, 
particularly in his Later Years 

Whoever would judge correctly of the remarkable state 
ments made by Luther which we are now about to consider 
must measure them, at least in the lump, by the standard 
of his doctrine on faith. If anything in him calls for explan 
ation and consideration in the light of the views on doctrine 
which he held, surely this is especially the case with the 
mental state now under discussion to which he alludes so 
frequently in both public and private utterances. At the 
same time it must not be overlooked that occasionally he is 
speaking with his wonted hyperbole and love of paradox, and 
that sometimes what he says is not meant quite seriously ; 
moreover, that sometimes, when apparently blaming him 
self, he is really only trying to describe the heights which 
he fain would attain ; the true standard by which to judge 
all these many statements which are yet so remarkably 
uniform must, however, be sought in the theological ground 
work of his attitude towards faith. 

1 To Hier. Weller, June 19, 1530, " Briefwechsel," 8, p. 5. 

2 Schlaginhaufen, ib., pp. 9, 88. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 2, p. 316. 
" Werke," Erl. ed., 52, p. 24 f. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 57, p. 99. 



THE NEW FAITH 357 

Luther s Notion of Faith 

As we already know, by faith he understands on the one 
hand the accepting of all the verities of revelation as true ; 
more often, however, he means by it simply a believing 
trust in salvation through Christ, a certainty of that justi 
fication by faith which constitutes his " Evangel." 1 

For faith in the former sense he rightly appeals to the 
firm and immovable foundation of God s truth. But, as 
regards the source whence mankind obtains its knowledge 
of revealed truth, he practically undermines the authority 
of Scripture which he nevertheless esteems so highly- 
first, by his wanton rejection of whole books of the Bible 
and by his neglect of the criteria necessary for determining 
which books belong to Holy Scripture and for recognising 
which are canonical; 2 secondly, by his interpretation of the 
Bible, more particularly in ascertaining the Divine truths 
therein contained, he flings open the door to subjectivism 
and leaves each one to judge for himself, refusing even to 
furnish him with any sure guidance. 3 He set aside the teach 
ing office of the Church, which had been for the Catholic 
the authentic exponent of Scripture, and at the same time 
had guaranteed the canonicity of each of its parts. Of the 
Church s olden creeds he retained only a fragment, and even 
this he interpreted in his own sense. 4 

Thus, under the olden name of faith in revelation he had 
really introduced a new objective faith, one utterly devoid 
of any stay. 

It is sufficient to consider certain of his quite early theses 
to appreciate the blow dealt at the Church s traditional view 
of faith. To these theses he was moved by his polemics 
against certain, to him, distasteful dogmas of the ancient 
Church, but from the very outset his attack was, at bottom, 
directed against all barriers of dogma, and, even later, con 
tinued to threaten to some extent the very foundations of 
that religious knowledge which he held in common with all 
other Christians. 5 The unrestrained freedom of opinion 
which many Protestants claim to-day as part of the heirloom 

1 See vol. iii., p. 13 ff. ; vol. iv., pp. 413 ff., 440 ff., 444, 448. 

2 Above, vol. iv., p. 398 ff. 

3 Above, vol. iv., p. 403 ff. 4 /&., pp. 404 f., 410 ff., 414 f. 
5 Above, vol. iii., pp. 8 ff., 18 ff., and below, xxxiv., 1. 



358 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

of Christianity they are wont to justify by citing passages 
from Luther s writings, e.g. from his work of 1523, " Das eyn 
Christliche Versamlung odder Gemeyne . . . Macht habe, 
alle Lere zu urteylen," etc. 1 

The fact of having taught faith in the second sense men 
tioned above, and of having put it in the place of faith in 
the first and olden sense is, according to many moderns, the 
achievement that more than any other redounds to Luther s 
credit. He made an end of the " unevangelical idea of 
faith as a mere holding for true, and of the submission of the 
most inward and tender of questions to the decision of 
courts of law"; 2 in the trustful belief in Christ he redis 
covered the only faith deserving of the name and thereby 
brought back religion to mankind. 

This trusting faith, however, by its very nature and 
according to Luther s express admission is, as has already 
been pointed out in detail, also devoid of any true stay, is 
ever exposed to wavering and uncertainty and is wholly 
dependent on feeling ; above all, for a conscience oppressed 
with the sense of guilt to lay hold on the alien righteousness 
of Christ by faith alone is a task scarcely within its power ; 
it admittedly involves an unceasing struggle ; 3 lastly, true 
faith, according to Luther, comes only from God, from whom 
man, who has no free-will, can only passively look for it, 4 
nay, it belongs in the last instance only to the Revealed 

1 The " Siiddeutsche Blatter f. Kirche u. freies Christentum " 
(1911, No. 24) appealed, as against the deposition of Pastor Jatho by 
the Spruchkollegium of Berlin, to Luther s words in the above writing : 
" In this matter, i.e. in judging of doctrine, deposing teachers or those 
holding a cure of souls, we must pay no heed to human regulations and 
laws, to ancient custom and usage, etc. . . . the soul must be ruled 
and gripped only by the Eternal Word." " It is high time," adds the 
Editor, " for us again to call to mind that view of faith which gives to 
the soul and the conscience that sacred and inalienable right to which 
every man has a claim"; he also points out, again appealing to 
Luther, the "impossible state of things" to which any compulsion 
exercised under plea of the Creed must lead, of which each of the 
twelve judges of the Spruchkollegium has a different opinion. " It 
is admittedly allowable to deviate to a certain extent from the Con 
fession of the Church. In this case, however, the judges suddenly turn 
on a man and say : But not so far as this. The question is : How 
far then may one go ? 

2 " Siiddeutsche Bl.," ib. 

3 See above, vol. iv., p. 441. 

4 Vol. i., pp. 92, 203 f., 213, 231 f. ; vol. ii., pp. 232 ff., 286 ff. ; 
vol. iv., p. 434 f. 



DIFFICULTIES OF BELIEF 359 

God, for of the dispensations of the Hidden Will of God 
concerning our future in heaven or in hell we are entirely 
ignorant. 1 

Here too, then, we have a new kind of faith. 

This explains how it is that in Luther s statements con 
cerning his personal faith, his preaching, his absorption in 
the religious point of view he has discovered, his doubts 
and his fears, we meet with so much that sounds strange. 
We say strange, for they cannot but unpleasantly surprise 
anyone accustomed to regard faith in the truths of religion as 
a firm possession of the mind and heart, above all a Catholic 
believer. Before Luther s day scarcely can a single Christian 
teacher be instanced who was so open in speaking of the 
weakness of his own faith or who so frequently and so per 
sistently insisted on pitting his own experience against the 
calm inward certainty with which God ever rewards a 
humble and heartfelt faith, even in those most beset with 
temptations. 

When, in spite of this, we find Luther throughout his life 
plainly and indubitably accepting as true a large portion of 
the common body of faith (as we have repeatedly admitted 
him to have done), 2 then it is easy to see that in so doing 
he is not taking his stand on his new and shaky foundations, 
but on the old and solid basis to which he reverts with a 
happy want of logic, often perhaps unconsciously. We 
should see him taking his stand on this foundation even more 
frequently had not his sad breach with the whole past moved 
his soul to its very depths. There can be no doubt that his 
terrors of conscience, or " struggles with the devil," had 
much to do in inducing the condition in which he reveals 
himself to the reader of what follows. 

Luther as Pictured by Himself during Later Years 

It is clear that, in order to judge of Luther s life of faith, 
stress must not be laid on isolated statements of his torn 
from their context, but that they must be taken in the lump. 

When speaking of his temptations, as a man of fifty-six, he 
bewailed the prevailing unbelief, at the same time including him 
self : "If only we could believe concerning the [Divine] promises 

1 Vol. i., p. 187 ff. ; vol. ii., pp. 268 ff., 291. 

2 Vol. ii., p. 397 ff. ; vol. iv., p. 526 f., etc. 



360 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

that it was God Who spoke them ! If only we paid heed to His 
Word we should esteem it highly. But when we hear it [God s 
Word] from the lips of a man, we care no more for it than for the 
lowing of a cow." 1 Shortly before this, again including all, he 
consoles himself as follows : Our weakness was ever disposed to 
doubt of God s mercy, and even Paul felt his shortcomings. " I 
am comforted when I see that even Paul did not rise high enough. 
Away with the ambitious who pretend they have succeeded in 
everything ! We have God s words to strengthen us and yet even 
we do not believe." 2 "I have preached for five-and-twenty 
years," so he said about that time, " and do not yet understand 
the text The just man liveth by faith. " 3 

Of his trusting belief in his personal salvation he admits, in 
1543, that he did not feel it to be very steadfast, and that it still 
lagged behind that of ordinary believers. He speaks of a woman 
at Torgau who had told him that she looked upon herself as 
" lost," and shut out from salvation, because she was unable to 
believe (i.e. trust). He had thereupon asked her whether she did 
not hold fast to the Creed, and when she assured him that she did 
he had said : " My good woman, go in God s name ! You believe 
more and better than I do." " Yes, dear Dr. Jonas," so he said, 
turning to his friend, " yes, if a man could verily believe it as it 
there stands, his heart would indeed jump for joy ! That is 
certain." 4 

So strongly did he express himself on this point on May 6, 1540, 
that, taking the words as they stand, he would seem to deny his 
belief in Christ s miracles and work. " I cannot believe it and yet 
I teach others. I know it is true, but I am unable to believe it. 
I think sometimes : Sure enough you teach aright, for you are 
in the sacred ministry and are called, you are helpful to many and 
glorify Christ ; for we do not preach Aristotle or Csesar, but Jesus 
Christ. But when I consider my weakness, how I eat, drink, 
joke and am a merry man about the town, then I begin to doubt. 
Oh, if only a man could believe it ! " 5 These words were spoken 
on Ascension-Day, after Luther had expressed his marvel at the 
strong faith of the Apostles in the Divinity of Him Who was 
ascending into heaven. " Wonderful ; I cannot understand it 
nor can I believe it, and yet all the Apostles believed." 6 " I am 
fond of Jonas [who was seated near him] but if he were to ascend 

1 Khummer, in Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 73. For Khummer s 
Notes (which end in 1554) see Kroker, Mathesius, " Tischreden," 
p. xxii., and Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," Introduction, p. ix. f. Cp. 
" Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 3, p. 219. 

2 Lauterbach, " Tagebuch," p. 128, in 1538. Cp. " Colloq.," ed. 
Bindseil, 2, p. 229 sq. 

3 Lauterbach, ib., p. 81 (1538). Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 374. 

4 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 313. Cp. " Historien," p. 147 . 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 79. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, 
p. 103 : " That I eat and drink and am at times merry and a good 
boon companion," etc. 

6 " Ego non intelligo nee possum credere, et omnes apostoli credi- 
derunt " (even before the descent of the Holy Ghost). 



DIFFICULTIES OF BELIEF 361 

into heaven here and now, and disappear out of our sight, what 
should I think ? " 

" Oh, if only a man could believe it ! " 

It is evident that he did not wish by such words to give him 
self out as an unbeliever or a sceptic in religious matters. What 
he was painfully aware of was the fact that that strong, clear 
faith in the ordinary truths of revelation and matters of faith, 
which he himself was wont to depict as essential, was absent in 
his own case. His former violent struggles of conscience seem in 
later years to have been replaced by this uncomfortable feeling. 

The depressing sense of the feebleness of his religious belief 
was not removed by the frequent references Luther was so fond 
of making in his old age to the coming of the Redeemer and Judge 
of the world, and to the nighness of the devil s downfall, who is 
the Lord of this world. 1 We know already the psychological 
reasons for the stress he lays on such expectations. Yet all the 
unnatural ardour he showed in voicing them could not disguise 
the fact that his faith lacked any real strength or fervour. 
Spiritual coldness could quite well co-exist with a virulent hatred 
of the devil and a longing desire for the end of the world. 

" The devil is an evil spirit ... as I do not fail to realise day 
after day ; for a man waxes cold, and the more so the longer he 
lives." Thus to Count Albert of Mansfeld in 1542. 2 He was " in 
pain and very morose," he tells Jonas in 1541, " feeling disgusted 
w.ith everything, especially with his illnesses. 3 In 1544, and 
frequently about that time, he declares that he was quite tired of 
the devil and of his struggles with him ; his only wish was to see 
the " end of his raging," and to " die a good and wholesome 
death." 4 "God Himself may see to my soul s lodging" ; He 
loved souls, says Luther, and it was a good thing that his salva 
tion was not in his own hands, otherwise he " would soon be 
gobbled up by Satan " ; but God s care and the " many mansions " 
in His gift were a sufficient consolation (1539). 5 

On one occasion, in 1542, he mentioned that, unless he had 
escaped from certain " thoughts and temptations," he would 
have been drowned in them and would have long ago found him 
self in hell " ; for such " devilish thoughts " breed " desperate 
people," and " contemners of God." 6 

" Though, towards the end of life, such temptations are wont 
to cease," he says, in 1540, yet other inward worries remain : "I 
am often angry with myself because I find so much in me that is 
unclean. But what can I do ? I cannot strip off my nature. 
Meanwhile Christ looks upon us as righteous because we desire to 
be righteous, abhor our uncleanliness, and love, and confess the 
Word." 7 Others, like Spalatin, in their old age, felt the bite of 

1 See above, p. 241 ff. 2 Dec. 8, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 514 f. 

3 May 5, 1541, " Briefwechsel," 13, p. 328. 

4 To Jakob Probst, Dec. 5, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 703. Above, p. 226 ff. 

5 Mathesius, " Tischreden," p. 360. 

6 To Count Albert of Mansfeld, Dec. 8, 1542, " Briefe," 5, p. 513. 

7 Mathesius, "Tischreden," p. 115. 



362 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

conscience more strongly than did Luther ; they had not been 
through the same violent struggles and mental gymnastics as 
Luther, nor had they learnt how to suppress the voice from 
within. It was to Spalatin, then sunk in melancholy, that, in 
1544, Luther addressed the words already quoted : He (Spalatin) 
was "too timid a sinner" (" nimis tener peccator"). "Unite 
yourself with us great and hardened sinners, in a believing trust 
in Christ ! " l 

Earlier Undated Statements 

Many utterances and confidences of Luther s still exist, 
about the meaning of which there can be no doubt, though 
it is difficult correctly to place them. Some of these con 
cern the subject now under discussion ; several may well 
date from Luther s later years, and thus throw light on his 
interior in his old age. We shall give first of all his state 
ments concerning St. Paul in their bearing upon himself. 

Speaking once of a pet view of his in which he seems to 
have found great consolation, viz. that even Paul had not 
believed firmly (neque Paulum fortiter credidisse), Luther 
went so far as to question the apostle s belief in the " crown 
of justice" which he professed to look for, as "laid up 
for him in heaven " (2 Tim. iv. 8). Jonas, who was present, 
had declared " he could not bestow any credence on this 
statement of Paul s." Luther replied : It is quite true 
that Paul did not believe it firmly, " for it was above him. 
I too am unable to believe as I preach, although they all 
think I believe these things firmly." He goes on to allege 
the Divine Clemency, and jestingly says : Were we to fulfil 
the will of God perfectly we should be cheating God of His 
Godhead ; and what would then become of the article of 
the forgiveness of sins ? 2 At any rate he would fain have 
believed his own doctrines more strongly and vividly. 

" Temptations against the faith," says Luther, " are St. Paul s 
goad and sting of the flesh [2 Cor. xii. 7], a great skewer and roast- 
ing-spit which pierces right through both spirit and flesh, both 
body and soul." 3 And elsewhere : "At times I think : I really 
do not know where I stand, whether I preach aright or not. 
This was also St. Paul s temptation and martyrdom, which, as 

1 Aug. 21, 1544, " Briefe," 5, p. 680. See above, vol. iii., p. 197, n. 1. 

2 " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, pp. 380, 393. " Colloq.," ed. Bindseil, 1, 
p. 59 sq. Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 209. From Schlaginhaufen s 
" Aufzeichn.," p. 132 f., June to Sept., 1532. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 113. 



DIFFICULTIES OF BELIEF 363 

I believe, he found it hard to speak of to many." Yet, so Luther 
opines, Paul sufficiently hinted at it in the words " I die daily " 
(1 Cor. xv. 31). The fact is, the Apostle is far from attributing to 
himself doubts on the faith either here or elsewhere. Luther, 
however, would gladly have us believe, that, with his doubts, he 
had been through precisely that experience to which St. Paul 
refers when he says, * I die daily " ; he, too, has his agonies, he, 
too, has descended into hell. 1 Not merely in this does he re 
semble Paul, but also in his inability to distinguish between the 
Law and the Gospel : " Paul and I have never been able to 
manage this." 2 He saw also another point of similarity between 
himself and the Apostle of the Gentiles. For, like him, St. Paul, 
too, " had been much bothered by the objection, that, one should 
listen to the Fathers (cp. Rom. ix. 5) and not oppose the whole 
world single-handed. 3 

Not Paul alone, according to Luther, but all the other Apostles 
too had been assailed by doubts. 

He was always consoled to find new and illustrious com 
panions in his misery. Christ, he declares, had foretold this to 
the Apostles ; He had also spoken to them of this sort of perse 
cution : " Your conscience will grow weak so that you will often 
think : Who knows whether I have been right ? Alas, have 
I not gone too far ? Thus in the eyes of the world and to your 
own conscience you will seem to be in the wrong " ; it had, 
however, been the duty of the Holy Ghost to comfort the Apostles 
in all such trials. 4 

And did not " even the man Christ have His momentary failing 
in the Garden ? " 6 Did not Christ then confess : " I know not 
how I stand with God, or whether I am doing right or not. This 
occurred even in the case of Christ." 6 " All who are tempted must 
set Christ, Who also was tempted in everything, as a model before 
their eyes ; but it was much harder for Him than for us and for 
me." 7 Luther fails to take into account the world- wide difference 
between the sadness of Christ, Who could never waver in the 
Truth, and his own doubts and wavering in the faith. 

" O, my God," he said on another occasion, " the article on 
faith won t go home ; hence so many sad moods arise. Often 
I have to take myself to task for failing to master such moods 
when they come, I who have so often taught in lectures, sermons 
and writings how such temptations are to be overcome." 8 

His pupil Mathesius relates the following in his sermons on 
Luther, the preface to the printed edition of which he wrote in 
1565 : " Antony Musa, pastor of Rochlitz, told me that he once 
complained bitterly to the Doctor of being unable to believe him- 

1 Ib., 58, p. 26. 2 Ib., p. 308. 

3 " Opp. lat. exeg.," 18, p. 223, Expos, of Psalm xlv. 

4 " Werke," Erl. ed., 58, p. 159. 

5 Schlaginhaufen, " Aufzeichn.," p. 1, in 1531. 

6 Ib., p. 84, May, 1532. 7 " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, p. 45. 

8 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 452. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 60, 
p. 110 f. 



LUTHER THE REFORMER 

self what ho preached to others. Praise uiul thanks bo to God, 
replied the Doctor, Unit tlii.s also happens to others. I fancied 
it was true only in my case. All his life Musa never forgot this 
consolation." 1 So full of admiration for Luther was Mathesius, 
and probably so well schooled by his master in the theory and 
practice of a faith which has ever to strive after firmness, that he 
saw in this statement nothing at all unfavourable to his hero. On 
the contrary, he includes the story in a list of "all manner of wise 
sayings" which had fallen from the lips of Luther. JIc even 
assures us at the beginning of these notes that, " The man was 
full of grace and of the Holy (Jhost, hence all who went to him for 
advice as to a prophet of (.Joel found what they sought." 2 .Judging 
by this Mathesius must have been very easily satisfied in the 
matter of firmness of faith. Perhaps had his faith been stronger 
it would have fared better with him in the melancholy which came 
upon him towards the end of his life. 1 

" Ah," said Dr. Martin, so we read elsewhere in Notes made by 
his pupils, " I \ised to believe every single thing that the Tope 
and the monks chose to say, but now I actually cannot believe 
even what Christ says. Who assuredly does not lie. This is very 
sad and distressing. Never mind, we must and will keep it for 
that Day." 4 "When the words of the prophet Hosoa, Thus 
saith the Lord/ wet. to music by Josquinus, were sung at Dr. 
Martin Luther s table, the Doctor said to Dr. Jonas : As little 
as you believe this singing to bo good, so little do 1 believe 
theology to bo true. ... 1 do indeed love Christ, but my faith 
ought to be much stronger and warmer." 6 "Many boast of 
having at their fingers ends the doctrine of the forgiveness of 
sins, and J, wretch that 1 am, find so little comfort in the passion, 
resurrection, and forgiveness of sins ! One thing indeed 1 can do, 
viz. eat our Lord (lod s bread and drink His beer ; but- to take 
that far more necessary treasure which is the free forgiveness of 
sins, this I cannot succeed in doing." 

Not merely does he ascribe his own experiences to the 
iirst followers of Christ, vi/. to Paul and the other Apostles, 
but again and again he seeks to make them out l<> be an 
evil common to nil, an heritage of all Christians, nay, some 
thing iict.iiii.lly involved in the idea of failh. Often lie speaks 
of faith as of something altogether mystical and intangible 
of the presence of \vhieh no man ean be conscious. Faith, 
he thinks, might well not be present at nil just when a man 
fancies he possesses it; again, it might exist in the man who 
thought lie lucked it. ; or " at any rale such is the cji.se in 

1 Muthrsius, " I listorion," p. 147 . 

2 Ib., p. 147. 3 Seo above, vol. iv., p. 218 IT. 

4 " Worke," Krl. <><!., 57, p. 21W, and similarly. 58, p. . 185. 
1 lh., 58, p. 397. n " Colloq.," ed. Bindaeil, , J, p. 51! </. 



DIFFICULTIES OF BELIEF 365 

times of stress and temptation ; for it often happens with 
faith that he who fancies he believes, believes nothing at 
all, while the man who thinks he believes nothing and lies 
in despair, really believes the most. . . . He who has it, 
has it. We must believe, but we neither must nor can know 
it for certain " [i.e. whether we really believe]. Thus in 
1528. 1 Needless to say this theory of his was far removed 
from the strong, simple and perfectly conscious faith of so 
many thousands even of the humblest followers of the olden 
religion. 

Some years before this, in a work intended for all, he had 
made a practical application to himself of this curious doc 
trine of the frequent impossibility of saying whether one 
really has the faith. Owing to his temptations he admitted 
that he was not qualified to be reckoned an authority on 
this question, nor " even a disciple, much less a master." 

" Whoever boasts," he says in his work on Psalm cxvii., 
" that he knows very well we must be saved without our 
works by the grace of God, does not know what he is saying "; 
" it is an art which keeps us ever schoolboys," a scent after 
which we must " sniff and run." " Let anyone who chooses 
take me as an example of this, which I admit myself to be. 
Several times, when I was not thinking of this cardinal 
doctrine, the devil has caught me and plagued me with texts 
from Scripture till heaven and earth seemed too tight to 
hold me. Then human works and laws would serin quite 
right and not an error would be noticed in the whole of 
Popery. In short, no one but Luther had ever erred ; and 
all my best works, doctrines, sermons, books were con 
demned. . . . You hear now how I am confessing to you 
and admitting what the devil was able to do against Luther, 
who of all men ought surely to have been a very adept in 
this art. For he has preached, told, written, spoken, sung 
and read so much about it and yet remains a, tyro in it, and 
is at times not even a disciple, much less a master." 2 

What he is trying to impress on the reader is, that even 

1 " Worko," Woim. od., 2<>, p. 1/35 ; Krl. od., 2(> 2 , p. 2<K>. " Von dor 
Widdortauffo." In this passage ho trios to provo that tho toxt : " Ho 
who bolioves and is baptised shall bo saved " (Mk. xvi. 1C)), could not 
!>(> (jiiolcil iii fjiviuir <>f iv l;i|il ism ; lln> |><TSIUI I >:i | >l i ;in: could mil In- 
cortairi that tho adults brought faith with thorn to baptism, nor could 
tho adult catochumon always bo certain ho had tho faith. 

a " Worke," Erl. od., 40, p. 325 f., in 1530. 



366 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

if you " can do all things," take care that " your art does 
not fail you." 

Thus he did not enjoy the happiness which, according to 
the testimony of Catholics both learned and unlearned, was 
shared by all the faithful so long as they paid attention to 
their religious duties. Guided from their youth by the hand 
of the Church they were acquainted with no fears and un 
certainties, for, thanks to her divine commission and gift of 
infallibility, she could make up for the insufficiency of human 
knowledge. Catholics did not look for salvation in a blind 
and unattainable trust in an imputation of Christ s righteous 
ness. 

Their attitude indeed presents a striking contrast to 
Luther s restless struggle after faith. 

Not only in the last cold, barren years of his life but even 
at an earlier period we notice in him a tendency to regard 
this clutching at faith as the one great matter. In some 
quite early statements he depicts himself as on the look-out 
for a believing trust, as violently striving to clasp it to his 
breast, and, generally, as making this the end of all religious 
effort. 

Even in 1517 in his unpublished Commentary on Hebrews we 
find a remarkable and oft-repeated admonition which bears on 
the subject in hand. He sees the troubled conscience "in fear 
and oppressed whichever way it turns " ; hence it must learn 
to embrace faith in the power of Christ s blood : " By faith 
conscience is cleansed and put to rest." It is this faith in the 
blood of Christ which we must seek with all our powers to reach. 
It follows, " that the best of contemplating the sufferings of Christ 
is that it awakens in the soul this faith or believing trust." " The 
oftener he dwells on the Passion, the more strongly will every man 
believe that the blood of Christ was shed for his own sins. This 
is to eat and drink spiritually, i.e. to feed on Christ in faith and 
thus become one body with Him." 1 

1 According to the MS. in the Vatican Library (Palat. 1825, fol. 
117) : "Dum (conscientia mala) prceteritum peccatum non potest mutare 
et iram futuram nullo modo vitare, necesse est, ut, quocunque vertatur, 
angustetur et tribuletur ; nee ab his angustiis liberatur, nisi per sanguinem 
Christi, quern si per ftdem intuita fuerit, credit et intelligit, peccata sua 
in eo abluta et ablata esse. Sic per fidem purificatur simul et quietatur, 
ut iam nee pcenas formidet prce gaudio remissionis peccatorum. Ad hanc 
igitur munditiam nulla lex, nulla opera et prorsus nihil nisi unicus 
sanguis Christi facere potest ; ne ipse quidem, nisi cor hominis crediderit 
eum esse effusum in remissionem peccatorum." Fol. 117 : " Quce (fides 
remissionis peccatorum) haberi non potest nisi in verbum Dei, quod 
prcedicat nobis, sanguinem Christi effusum esse in remissionem pecca 
torum Fol. 118 : " Unde sequitur, quod hi qui meditantur Christi 



DIFFICULTIES OF BELIEF 367 

On the other hand, the teaching of antiquity concerning 
meditation on Christ s Passion and likewise the hints contained 
in the language of the Church s liturgy, do not stop short at such 
an arousing of faith. Taking for granted the Christian s faith, 
what they seek to awaken is a real love ; meditation on the 
sufferings and death of our Lord was above all to stimulate the 
faithful to feelings of loving gratitude, holy compassion and self- 
sacrifice ; in wholesome compunction people were wont, by 
dwelling on the sufferings of the innocent Lamb, to rouse them 
selves to a sense of shame, to a holy desire to imitate Christ by 
good works of self-conquest and by zeal for souls. The ancient 
hymn, the " Stdbat Mater," which is at the same time so profound 
and wonderful a prayer, says never a word of faith, precious as 
this grace is, but, taking it for granted as the ground-work, it 
teaches us to pray : Fac ut tecum lugeam fac ut ardeat cor meum 
in amando Christum Deum passionis fac consortem," etc. This 
is surely something higher than that mere appropriation of 
trusting faith in which Luther sums up all the heights and depths 
of our union with Christ. 

Luther, in his exaggerated language, declares that it was 
something " almost Gentile " for a man when contemplating the 
Passion of Christ to " strive after anything else but faith " ; this 
statement, however, he refutes in practice by himself occasionally 
introducing other good and moral reflexions on the Passion, 
though he is always chiefly concerned with its bearing on his 
own peculiar view of faith. 

He was too ready to confuse the sentiment of faith with actual 
faith. 

Religious writers before Luther s day, when dealing with 
distrust and unbelief, had been careful to distinguish between the 
involuntary acts of man s lower nature which do not rise above 
the realm of feeling, and those which have the definite consent of 
the will and which alone they regarded as grievous sins against 
faith or the virtue of hope. With Luther everything is sin ; he 
bewails the actual distrust, and real weakness of faith springing 
from a fault of the will ; but, according to him, the involuntary 
movements of our corrupt nature also deserve God s signal anger ; 
original sin whereby we bring this upon ourselves must daily be 
cloaked over by means of the faith wrought by God. But since 
it is God alone Who works this faith Luther might well have 
excused himself even had he lost the faith completely. When he 
is upset and begins to reproach himself as he often does on 
account of the weakness of his faith, he is really saying good-bye 
to his own teaching and again reverting to the standpoint of the 
olden faith, for only the assumption of man s free-will can justify 
self-reproaches. 

passionem, tantum ut compatiantur aut aliud quam fidem consequantur, 
prope infructuose et gentiliter meditantur. . . . Quo frequentius medi- 
tetur, eo plenius credatur, sanguinem Christi pro suis peccatis effusum. 
Hoc est enim bibere et manducare spiritualiter, scilicet hac fide in Christum 
impinguari et incorporari," 



368 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

" Sin " and " the devil " are made to bear the blame for the 
deeds of man who lacks free-will. 

" The sin which still persists in us," says Luther, in his last 
sermon at Eisleben, 1 " compels us not to believe." " Because we 
have it daily before our eyes and at our door, it goes in at one ear 
and out at the other." " This is what the rude, savage folk do 
who care nought for God and place no trust in Him ; we, the best 
of Christians, also do the same." " We are too prone to obey 
original sin, the taint of evil which yet sticks to our flesh, and 
although we would willingly believe, and are fond of hearing and 
reading God s Word, still we cannot rise as high as we ought." 2 
Before this he had said : " If a man were to ask you : Good 
fellow, do you believe that the Son of God . . . died for your 
sins ? and that it is really true ? You would have to say did 
you wish to answer right and truthfully and as you really feel 
and confess with dismay, that you cannot after all believe it so 
strongly and indubitably. . . . You would have to say . . . 
Alas, I see and feel that I do not . . . believe as I ought." 3 Later 
he returns to this thought which evidently was much before his 
mind : " Although we cannot now believe so strongly as we 
should, still God has patience with us." 4 Yet " we ought to go on 
and believe more firmly and be angered with ourselves and say : 
Heavenly Father, is it true that I must believe that Thou didst 
send Thine only-begotten Son into the world ? . . . And whej| 
I hear that there is no doubt, then I shall go on to say : Wen, 
for this shall I thank God all the days of my life and praise and 
extol Him." 5 

In reality, according to him, we should " run and jump for 
joy " because by faith " we hear the Lord Christ speaking." 
" The life of the Christian ought, by rights, to be all joy and 
delight, but there are few who really feel this joy." The martyrs, 
with their glad, nay, even jubilant confession of faith amidst 
their torments, are to him an example of a sound, hardy, unshaken 
faith, for in them the Word was strong and the teaching of the 
Gospel all-powerful. 6 But, as he had remarked in another of his 

i " Werke," Erl. ed., 20 2 , 2, p. 502 ff. 2 Ib., p. 548 f. 

3 Ib., p. 547. 4 Ib., p. 573. 

5 Ib., p. 554. It is obvious that words such as : I do not believe as 
I ought, and : We cannot rise as high as we ought, may, in themselves, 
be taken in the best sense seeing they are to be met with even on the 
lips of saints. The prayer "Credo Domine, sed adiuva incredulitatem 
meam " was a usual one with the faithful, even the most devout. Nor 
was Luther alone in envying the children their pious faith (below, 
p. 369). These passages are, however, not the most characteristic of 
Luther s faith and doubts, rather all those other sayings, for which he 
was first and solely responsible and which are placed in their true light 
by his theological doctrines, must be taken together. The plausible- 
sounding words given above may well be accepted as proofs of deep 
feeling, seeing they stand side by side with other strong expressions of 
his belief in certain central truths of Christianity. The longing for 
improvement may quite well have remained alive even though the 
spirit of faith frequently felt itself slighted. 6 Ib., p. 549. 



MISUNDERSTANDINGS 369 

Eisleben sermons, " We, owing to the weakness of our faith, feel 
doubts and fears, as by our very nature we cannot help doing" ; 
yet we must " have wisdom enough again and again to run to 
Christ and cry aloud and awaken Him with our shouts and 
prayers." 1 

Luther s farewell address where these words occur furnishes 
at the same time an example of how, throughout his life, when 
assailed by doubts and fears, or when the Evangel was in danger, 
as it then was owing to the Emperor s warlike preparations, he 
carried out his injunction of " running to Christ." He seeks to 
pour into his faith a little of the strengthening cordial of defiance, 
and calls upon all his followers to do the same : " Christ says . . . 
Obey me ; if you have My Word, hold fast to it. ... Leave 
Pope, Emperor, the mighty and learned to be as wise as ever 
they please, but do not you follow them. . . . Do not that which 
even the angels in heaven may not do. ... The poor, wretched 
creatures, the Pope, Emperor, kings and all the sects fear not to 
presume this ; but God has set His Son at His right hand and 
said, Thou art My Son, I have given Thee all the kings and the 
whole world for Thy possession, etc. To Him you kings and lords 
must hearken." " I will give you courage," Christ says, " to 
laugh when the Turk, Pope and Emperor rage and storm their 
very worst ; come ye only to me. Though you be burdened, faced 
by death or martyrdom, though Pope and Turk and Emperor 
attack you, fear ye not." 2 

It is, in fact, quite characteristic of his faith, that, when in 
difficulties, the more he becomes conscious of its lack of theological 
foundation and of its purely emotional character, the more he 
arms himself with the weapons of defiant violence. On the one 
hand he can say, as he does in the Table-Talk of Cordatus : "Had 
I such great faith as I ought to have, I should long ago have slain 
the Turk and curbed every tyrant. 3 " I have indeed tormented 
myself greatly about them. But my faith is wanting." And yet 
on another occasion, with a sadness which does him credit, he 
expresses his envy of the " pure and simple faith " of the children, 
and laments : " We old fools torment ourselves and make our 
hearts heavy with our disputations on the Word, whether this be 
true, or whether that be possible." 4 



Luther s Pretended Condemnations of his whole Life-work 

Certain controversialists have alleged that Luther came 
outspokenly to disown his doctrine and his work ; they tell 
us that he expressed his regret for ever having undertaken 
the religious innovation. Words are even quoted as his 

1 Ib., p. 523. 2 Ib., pp. 568 f., 571. 

3 Cordatus, : Tagebuch," p. 209. Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 58. 
pp. 92, 373. 

4 " Werke," ib., p. 362. 

v. 2 B 



370 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

which furnish " the tersest condemnation of the Reforma 
tion by the Reformer himself." 

No genuine utterances of his to this effect exist. 

The first abjuration of the whole of his life s work is supposed 
to be contained in the statement : " Well, since I have begun it 
I will carry it through, but, not for the whole world would I begin 
it again now." 1 But why was he disinclined to begin again 
anew ? Not by a single word does Luther give us to understand 
the reason to be that he regarded what he had done as repre 
hensible ; on the contrary, he explains that he would not begin it 
again " on account of the great and excessive cares and anxieties 
this office brings with it." That he by no means regarded the 
office itself as blameworthy is plain from the words that im 
mediately follow : " If I looked to Him Who called me to it, then 
I would not even wish not to have begun it ; nor do I now desire 
to have any other God." And before this, in the same passage, 
extolling his office, he had said : Moses had besought God as 
many as six times to excuse him from so arduous a mission. 
" Yet he had to go. And in the same way God led me into it. 
Had I known about it beforehand He would have had difficulty 
in inducing me to undertake it. It was Luther s wont thus to 
represent the beginning of his undertaking as having been 
entirely directed by God. He is fond of saying that he had 
foreseen neither its final aims nor its immense difficulties and 
then to proceed : My ignorance was a piece of luck and a dis 
pensation of providence, for, otherwise, affrighted by the dangers, 
I should have drawn back from my labours. Here his idea is 
much the same, and is as far removed as possible from any self- 
condemnation. Of course the question, whether his idea that 
God alone was responsible for his work was based on truth, is 
quite another one. 

The second utterance of Luther s which has been brought 
forward against him merely voices anew his disappointment with 
this wicked world and his complaint of the cold way in which 
people had received his Evangel though it is the Word of God : 
" Had I known when I first began to write what I have now seen 
and experienced, namely that people would be so hostile to the 
Word of God and would so violently oppose it, I would assuredly 
have held my tongue, for I should never have been so bold as to 
attack and anger the Pope and indeed all mankind." 2 Here, 
moreover, we have little more than a rhetorical exaggeration of 
the difficulties he had overcome. 

Nor is it hard to estimate at its true value a third utterance 
wrung from him : "I can never rid myself of the thought and 
wish, that I had better never have begun this business." 3 The 
feeling which prompted this deliverance is plainly expressed in 
what follows immediately : " Item, I would rather be dead than 
witness such contempt of God s Word and of His faithful 

1 /&., 59, p. 245. 2 /&., 57, p. 32. 

3 /&., 58, p. 429. 



MISUNDERSTANDINGS 371 

servants." Here again he is simply giving vent to his ill-temper, 
that his preaching of the divine truths should receive such scant 
attention ; not in the least can this be read as an admission of 
the falsehood of his mission. 

Two other curious statements which have further been cited, 
besides having been spoken under the influence of the dis 
appointment above referred to, also bear the stamp of his peculiar 
rhetoric which alone can explain their tenor. The context at 
any rate makes it impossible to find in them any repudiation of 
his previous conduct. 

One of these sayings of Luther s does indeed ring strange : 
" The tyrants in the Papacy " " plagued the world with their 
violence " ; but the people, now that they have been delivered 
from them, refuse to lend an ear to those who preach " at God s 
command," but prefer to run after seducers. " Hence I am going 
to help to set up again the Papacy and raise the monks on 
high, for the world cannot get along without such clowns and 
comedians." The truth is, however, that Luther never seriously 
contemplated carrying out such a threat or countenancing the 
rule of " Antichrist." People simply misapprehended him when 
they read into this jest of his a real intention to re-establish "the 
Papal rule." 

In the other saying brought up against him he states : " Had 
I now to begin to preach the Evangel, I would set about it other 
wise." Here he is referring to a preceding remark, viz. that a 
preacher must have great experience of the world. He then 
proceeds : "I would leave the great, rude masses under the 
dominion of the Pope, for they are no better off for the Evangel 
but only abuse its freedom. But I should preach the Evangel and 
its comfort to the troubled in spirit and the meek, to the despon 
dent and the simple-minded." A preacher, he declares, could not 
paint the world in colours bad enough, seeing that it belongs 
altogether to the devil ; he must not be such a " simple sheep " 
as he himself (Luther) had been at the outset when he had 
expected all " at once to flock to the Evangel." 1 Thus there is 
again no question of any repentant condemnation of the whole 
work of his lifetime. He clothes in his strange " rhetoric " an idea 
which is indeed peculiar to him, viz. the special value of his 
Evangel for those troubled in mind. It is his sad experiences, his 
personal embitterment and also a certain irritation with his own 
party that lead him here to lay such stress on the preference to be 
shown to troubled consciences, even to the abandonment of all 
others. Of his own exaggeration he himself was perfectly aware, 
for he also makes far too much of his simplicity and lack of 
prudence. The resemblance between what we have just heard 
him say and his theory of the Church Apart of the True Believers, 
can hardly escape the reader. 2 

The wish Luther is supposed to have expressed, viz. never to 
have been born, and some other strong things to which he gave 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 59, p. 242. 2 See above, p. 133 ff. 



372 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

vent, when in a state of depression, have likewise been quoted in 
support of the assertion that he himself branded his work " more 
cruelly than any foe dared to do." If, however, we take the 
statements in their setting we find they have quite a different 
meaning. As an instance we may quote one passage from a tract 
of 1539 "Against the Antinomians >?1 where, apparently, he 
curses the day of his birth and regrets that all his writings had 
not been destroyed. Alluding to Johann Agricola, an opponent 
within the camp, he writes : "I might in good sooth expect my 
own followers to leave me in peace, having quite enough to do 
with the Papists. One might well cry out with Job and Jeremias : 
Would that I had never been born ! and in the same way I am 
tempted to say : Would I had never come with my books, I care 
nothing for them, I should not mind had they all been destroyed 
and did the works of such great minds [as Agricola] outsell them 
in all the booksellers shops as they would like, being so desirous 
of being fed up with honour." 

Here both his good wishes to his adversary and his repudia 
tion of his own books are the merest irony, though, reading 
between the lines, we get a glimpse of his pain and annoyance at 
the hostility he encountered. In the same vein of mingled grief 
and sarcasm he continues : Christ too (like himself) had com 
plained through the Prophet (Isaias xlix. 4) : "I have laboured 
in vain " ; but it was plain (so little does he condemn his own 
preaching), that " the devil is master of the world " since the 
Gospel of the " beloved master of the house," which Luther 
taught, was so violently attacked. " We must and shall strive 
and suffer," so he cries, " for it cannot fare better with us than 
with the dear prophets and apostles who also had to bear these 
things." Seeing that, throughout the tract, he is inveighing 
against " devilish " deformations of his doctrine, is it likely that 
here he is cursing the day of his birth out of remorse for his 
teaching ? 2 

An old story that has repeatedly found its way even in recent 
times into popular writings tells how Luther, in conversation, 
sadly admitted to Catherine that " heaven is not for us." 

" One fine evening," so the tale goes, " Luther was in the 
garden with Catherine and both were looking up at the starlit sky. 
Oh, how beautiful heaven is, Catherine exclaimed. Yes, 
said Luther ruefully, but I fear it will not be ours. Will not be 
ours ? cried Catherine, then in God s name let us retrace our 
steps. It is too late, replied Luther, and went back into his 
study with a heavy heart." 

A recent work against Luther quotes in support of the legend 
a modern Danish writer, Pastor Stub. It would have been better 
to cite J. M. Audin, an uncritical French author of a " Vie de M. 
Luther," who helped to spread the story. 3 Audin, on his side, 

1 " Werke," Erl. ed., 32, 1 ff. Cp. " Briefe," 5, pp. 147 ff., 183. 

2 Cp. " Werke," Erl. ed., 32, p. 9, in the same work. 

3 German Trans., Augsburg, 1843, p. 212. 



MISUNDERSTANDINGS 373 

refers to George Iwanek, S. J. (fl693), who relates it in his " Norma 
Vitce J>1 ; also to Johannes Kraus, S.J., author of a rather 
credulous polemical work entitled " Ovicula ex lutheranismo 
redux." z Kraus certainly took it from Iwanek, but from what 
source the latter had it we do not know. He mentions no 
authority and probably took the legend on hearsay and gave 
it too ready credence. As Luther seems occasionally to have 
said his night prayers in the open air, and as he frequently enough 
admits his struggles of conscience, the two together may have 
given rise to the legend. 

Far from being sorry for the work he had undertaken 
Luther, on the contrary, is ever throwing on the devil the 
blame for all its drawbacks. He it is who has to bear the 
blame for Luther s own wretchedness, for inward wavering 
no less than for the lack of order, faith and morals among 
the Evangelical preachers and laity. He so works upon me 
"that I sometimes believe, and sometimes do not." 3 He 
could not view Satan s raging as of small account ; it was 
far more to be dreaded than all the persecution of men. 
" You see from my books what scorn I have for those men 
who withstand me. I look upon them as fools " ; even the 
lawyers I am ready to defy ; " but when these fellows, the 
evil spirits, come, then the congregation must back me up 
in the fight," for then the devil, the very " Lord of the 
world," is entering the lists against me. 4 A glance at what 
has gone before shows how these " combats " must be 
understood. 

The tone he adopts, though frequently humorous and 
satirical, does not conceal the deep depression which un 
questionably underlies many of his utterances. 

Such depression would quite well explain passing fits of 
real sorrow for all he had done. But that he really felt such 
sorrow is not sufficiently attested, so that all one can say 
is, that the ground for such a feeling of remorse was there. 

1 " Norma vitce ad instituendas recte actiones" Pragse, 1685, p. 276. 
This very rare book has only been found in the Gymnasialbibliothek at 
Mariaschein in Bohemia. 

2 Op. cit., Pragse, 1709, pars II., p. 39. " Erigebat illos [oculos] 
interdum hceresiarcha Lutherus ad ccelum, cum illud sub mortem scintil- 
lantibus stellis pulcherrime rutilaret ; sed quia turpissimo voluptaum 
cceno animum gerebat immersum, simul ita dicebat : Quam pulchrum est, 
Marline, ccelum, sed non est pro te." The passage occurs in connection 
with the Feast of the Ascension. The dialogue with Catherine was 
a later addition to the story. 

3 " Werke," Weim. ed., 34, 2, p. 266 ; Erl. ed., 19 2 , p. 76. 

4 Mathesius, " Aufzeichn.," p. 411. 



374 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

A discouraging sense of the instability of his doctrine and 
" reformation " might well have aroused contrition, for 
Luther himself saw only too plainly, as Dollinger rightly 
remarks, that, though he was strong enough to bring about 
an apostasy from the ancient Church yet he was powerless 
to effect a moral regeneration, or even to preserve religious 
order. 1 Dollinger adds very truly : The reasons for his 
doubts were, " first of all the recognition of the evil effects 
produced by his doctrine, then the consciousness of having 
cut himself adrift from the Church for the sake of a new 
doctrine previously unknown, and lastly the inward con 
tradictions from which his doctrinal system suffered and the 
impossibility of squaring it with the many Bible passages 
which embody or presuppose a contrary doctrine." 2 

The words " agonies " and " nocturnal combats " which 
Luther so often used to describe his struggles of conscience 
remain to testify to their severity. 

In the years immediately preceding Luther s death, these 
seem to have become less violent. Remorse of conscience, 
as experience teaches, however great it may at one period 
have been, can in progress of time be lulled to rest. We may 
quote in this connection the words of one of the most highly 
esteemed of the older Catholic spiritual guides, without 
however applying them unconditionally to Luther, as it is 
always difficult to gauge the extent and working of inward 
prejudice in the various stages of a man s mental growth, 
particularly in the case of such a man as Luther. " Some 
times God withdraws himself from the soul," writes this 
author, " on account of secret grievous sins which have been 
committed from culpable ignorance, or from that ignorance 
which, at the instigation of the Evil One, seeks to hide itself 
beneath a mantle of virtue. God then departs from the 
man, though the latter is not aware of it, and may remain 
unaware for the rest of his life until the night of death comes. 
The deluded man fancies . he possesses God, but, to his 
infinite pain and loss, ultimately finds that he has been all 
the while without Him. In the Book of Proverbs (xiv. 12) 
it is written : There is a way which seemeth just to a man, 
but the ends thereof lead to death. " 3 

1 Cp. Dollinger, " Reformation," 3, p. 259. 2 /&., p. 246. 

3 Louis de Ponte (de la Puente), " Meditaciones," 1605 ; Latin ed. 
of 1857, t. 2, p. 216. 



MORAL RESPONSIBILITY 375 

Who would venture to determine in Luther s case when 
exactly he first clearly realised his moral responsibility, and 
when exactly he succeeded in forming himself a false con 
science ? Though on the one hand it is certain to every 
Catholic that at first, and for a considerable while, his attack 
on the Church was extremely culpable, still one cannot 
close one s eyes to the fact that Luther himself was con 
vinced that he was in the right, and that this conviction 
grew with advancing years. (See vol. iv., p. 306 f .) It was, 
however, of his own free-will that he persisted in the un 
happy attitude of apostasy and revolt which had become a 
habit with him and thus, in itself, his burden of moral 
responsibility remained. 1 

1 Cp. what Suarez says of habit : " Habitus quidem per se ac forma- 
liter, seu facta suppositione, minuit libertatem, quia inclinando magis 
voluntatem ad alterant partem minuit indifferentiam eius ; tamen moraliter 
et in ordine ad effectus morales non censetur minuere, quamdiu ilia 
consuetudo libera ac voluntaria est, propter eandem rationem, quia 
dispositio libera, ut sic, non minuit liberum. " Opp." 4, Paris., 1856, 
p. 209, n. 16. 



CHAPTER XXXIII 

THE COUNCIL OF TRENT IS CONVOKED, 1542. 
POLEMICS AT THEIR HIGHEST TENSION 

1. Steps taken and Tracts Published subsequent to 1537 
against the Council of the Church 

AT the meeting held in 1537 by the protesting Princes and 
Estates at Schmalkalden the General Council, which had 
been suggested as a means of bringing about a settlement 
and of establishing religious peace, was most outspokenly 
rejected, and that in a way very insulting to Rome. 1 In its 
blunt refusal the assembly was more logical than Luther 
and his theologians, who as yet were averse to an absolute 
repudiation of the Council. The hatred of the Pope which 
Luther himself had been so earnest in inculcating at Schmal 
kalden caused those with whom the decision rested to over 
look certain considerations of prudence and diplomacy. 

If Luther opposed a thoroughgoing rejection of the Coun 
cil it was not because he had the slightest intention of accept 
ing any Council that did not at once declare in his favour. 
He knew very well that under the conditions on which he in 
sisted there could be no question of a real Council as the 
Church had always understood it. The real motive for his 
hesitation was that, for him and his followers, it was a 
delicate matter, irf view of the attitude they had previously 
adopted on this question, to oppose too abruptly the idea 
of a Council. He foresaw that the Catholic Imperialists 
would overwhelm the Protestants with most righteous and 
bitter reproaches for now turning their backs upon the 
Council after having at one time been loudest in their 
demands for it, and outdone themselves in complaints and 
murmurs on account of its postponement. What impression 
would the attitude of the protesting Princes make on the 
Emperor, who was now full of plans for the Council ? And 

1 See vol. iii., p. 430 ff. 
376 



"VON DEN CONCILIIS" 377 

would not many be scared away who were still halting at 
the parting of the ways and were inclined to delay their 
decision until the looked-for Council ? " The Papists assert 
that we are so reprobate," wrote Luther, "that we refuse 
to listen to anybody, whether Pope, Church, Emperor, or 
Empire, or even the Council which we had so often called 
for." 1 Such considerations, however, were not strong 
enough to prevent him at once lending the whole weight of 
his voice in support of the resolution arrived at by the 
Schmalkalden Leaguers. 

After so offensive a rejection of any further attempts at 
reunion, the armed conflict with the Emperor which had 
so long been threatening now seemed bound to come. 
Luther, putting all subterfuge aside, looked this contingency 
boldly in the face. In a memorandum to his Elector dating 
from the end of January, 1539, he expressed himself even 
more strongly than before in favour of the right of armed 
resistance to the Emperor and the Empire ; should the 
former have recourse to violent measures against the Evangel, 
then there w r ould be no difference between the Emperor and 
a hired assassin ; if the overlord attempts to impose on his 
subjects blasphemy and idolatry, he must expect to meet 
with bloody resistance on the part of those attacked. 2 

While negotiations on which hung war or peace were in 
progress at Frankfurt, and while, in consequence of this, 
the question of the Council receded once more into the back 
ground, Luther was putting the finishing touch to his " Von 
den Conciliis und Kirchen," which appeared in the spring of 
1539. 3 In spite of being weak and unwell his powers of work 
seemed inexhaustible ; his own troubles and worries were 
all forgotten when it was a question of entering the lists as 
the leader of the movement. The work was intended to 
forestall the (Ecumenical Council should it ever become an 
accomplished fact, and to frustrate as far as possible its 
harmful effects on himself. In it with the utmost audacity 
the author pits his own authority against that of the highest 
secular and ecclesiastical powers ; his tone is at once so self- 
confident and so coarse that here again it provides the 
psychologist with an enigma. 

1 To Amsdorf, July 9, 1546, " Briefe," ed. De Wette, 5, p. 746. 

2 See vol. iii., p. 59 ff., particularly p. 70. 

3 " Werke," Erl. ed., 25 2 , p. 278 ff. 



378 LUTHER THE REFORMER 

With his projected Council, so he says at the commencement, 
the Pope in reality only wanted to deal the Emperor and all 
Christians " a blow on the snout." He held out the Council to 
them just as, in playing with a dog, we offer him a morsel on the 
point of a knife, and, when he snaps at it, we hit him with the 
handle. He declares roundly that, " the Papists would not and 
could not hold a Council unless indeed they first took captive the 
Emperor, the kings and all the princes." 1 If the Emperor and 
the Princes wished "reprobates to slap their cheeks," then let 
them continue to debate about the Council. The alleged im 
possibility of the Council he proclaims still more rudely, asserting 
that, the Papists being what they are, the whole world must 
despair of any amelioration of the Church : " They would rather 
leave Christendom to perish, and have the devil himself for their 
God and Lord, than accept Christ and give up even one jot of 
their idolatry." Hence we must look for reformation from Christ 
our Lord, " and let them fare devilwards as they are bent on 
doing." 2 

He then goes on to explain that amendment was impossible on the 
olden principles of the Fathers and canons, but could come about 
only by means of Holy Scripture ; the Fathers and canons were 
not at one ; even the first four (Ecumenical Councils the history 
of which he treats summarily though with little real historical 
knowledge had only been able to ratify the belief laid down in 
Scripture ; for faith a surer and more stable foundation was 
necessary than that of ecclesiastical Councils ever subject to make 
mistakes. At the same time he has nothing but scorn for the 
claims of the ancient and universal Church to be the permanent 
infallible teacher on matters of faith ; he has no eye for her 
divinely guaranteed power as it had been exemplified in the 
General Councils, so solemnly representing the Churches of the 
whole world. On the other hand, his own pretensions are far 
above question. He knows, so he asserts, much more about the 
ancient Councils than all the Papists in a lump. He could 
instruct the Council, should one actually be summoned, on its 
procedure and its standards. It has, according to him, no power 
in the Church save to reject new errors which do not agree with 
Scripture (as though a Council had ever adopted any other 
course). Even the office of a clergyman or schoolmaster may, he 
says, be compared with that of the Councils in so far as, within 
their own small sphere, they judge human opinions and human 
rules by the standard of the Word of God, and seek to oppose the 
devil. But just as, in the case of these, he cannot guarantee that 
they will always read Holy Scripture aright, so also in the case 
of the Councils. 

If, however, such a solemn Council was convened and such a 
thing might conceivably be of some use then the first require 
ment, so he declares with surprising frankness, was " that, in the 
Council, the Pope should not merely lay aside his tyranny of 
human law, but also hold with us. ... The Emperor and the 

1 P. 281. 2 P. 282 f. 



VON DEN CONCILIIS" 379 

kings must also help in this and compel the Pope should he 
refuse." 1 This he wrote for the disabusal of the infatuated, for at 
that time, strange to say, some Germans of the greatest influence 
still fancied it possible to pave the way for a reconciliation by 
means of negotiations and religious conferences, and were anxious 
to leave the Lutheran question in suspense until a General Council 
should meet. Luther further demands, that " the thoroughly 
learned in Holy Scripture . . . and a few prudent and well- 
disposed laymen . . . should also be invited to the Council. Then 
the abominations of the Pope would speedily be condemned." 

He adds : " Yes, you will say, but of such a Council there is no 
hope. That is what I think too." 2 

He is ready, however, to be content with a Provincial Council 
of the same sort held in Germany, and expresses the strange hope, 
that " the other monarchs would in time approve and accept the 
decisions of such a Council." With this reference to the Provincial 
Council he is dallying with a proposal made by some shortsighted 
imperial advisers, viz. that a " free, German Council " should 
attempt to settle the controversy. 

The author then proceeds to set forth his jumbled theories on 
the " Church " and finally brings the lengthy work to a con 
clusion with a protestation that his doctrine forms the very pillars 
on which the Church rests : " Whoever teaches differently, even 
were he an angel from h